Mitsuyoshi Fukuda

Fukuda was shocked by the youth of the replacements sent to him. Most of the men of the original group had been in their 20’s. These soldiers were far younger. Ben Tagami, who was 17 at the time, recalls seeing Fukuda with tears in his eyes, looking at him and his fellow greenhorns and asking, “Is this what we’ve come to?” He then assigned each of the young men an experienced veteran to act as a surrogate father to help them survive.

There were many other battlefield exploits. Fukuda earned the Bronze Star at Anzio and a Silver Star at the Battle of Belvedere. He would also earn the Legion of Merit and the Italian La Croce al Merito de Guerra. In numerous other instances under extreme conditions he made key decisions that saved lives and helped take objectives. “Mits was a born leader,” recalls one veteran. “Everybody respected him and followed him.”

In September 1944, Fukuda received orders for leave. He went to visit his wife, Toshiko, and infant son, David, in Wisconsin. While he was away, the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) fought the Battle of the Lost Battalion in northern France, an action that decimated the unit.

He returned to duty in November, and on January 18, 1945 Fukuda was promoted to Executive Officer of the 100th. In April, “Task Force Fukuda,” consisting of the 442nd’s Company B from the 100th, Company F of the Second Battalion, and a platoon from the Anti-Tank Company, was formed. Commanded by Fukuda, it helped to break the final line of German resistance in northern Italy. The next month, on May 7th just before the war in Europe had officially ended, Fukuda was awarded the rank of major. Two months later, on July 7th, Major Fukuda was named the twelfth and last commanding officer of the 100th Battalion, the first Asian American to command a battalion. A final barrier of discrimination fell when he became the Executive Officer of the 442nd Regiment on October 5th.

On a special plane reserved for high-ranking officers, Fukuda flew home as the last original member of the 100th Battalion in Europe.  He requested and was granted a meeting with John J. McCloy,  the Assistant Secretary of War. He asked for three things from McCloy: that the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion be able to take furloughs on the mainland before going back to Hawaii, so they could visit colleges; the colors of the 100th be returned to Hawaii; and the official policy of segregation against Japanese Americans in the military be formally discontinued.

Fukuda then returned to Hawaii and accepted a position as an assistant to the industrial relations manager at Castle and Cooke, one of the oldest firms in the islands. It was one of the most prestigious jobs for a Japanese in Hawaii, as well as one of the rare positions that could change employment discrimination practices. But before he started work, he took a month off to visit the families of the deceased veterans in Hawaii and on the West Coast.

Fukuda and Toshiko built a house and had three more children. According to his son, David, he never told a single story about the war. “My father’s great love was plants,” says David.  “He had books on plants and in his spare time he raised plants at home and he participated in the many orchid shows put on by the  members of the Club 100, where he served two terms as president.” Members of the 100th came over to the house to play poker, laugh and help him built rock walls. They would meet for the occasional memorial services and the memories were painful. “The only time I saw him cry was at one of those services,” says David. After 36 years with Castle and Cooke, Fukuda retired as executive vice president of industrial relations. On March 13, 1988, he died of a heart attack. He was 71 years old.

— by Michael Markrich

Michael Markrich is a Honolulu-based researcher, writer and editor. He and Monica Yost co-edited the memoirs of Chaplain Israel Yost, who served the first group of Japanese American soldiers in World War II. The book, “Combat Chaplain: The Personal Story of the World War II Chaplain of the Japanese American 100th Battalion,” was published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2006.

Fellow veteran Ben Tamashiro’s interview with Mits Fukuda appeared in the November 1980 and January 1981 issues of the Puka Puka Parade.