Staff Sergeant Itsumu Sasaoka

He was not forgotten

It is 2020. Copies of e-mail messages from Stevin Oudshoorn of the Netherlands were discovered among the documents Mrs. Joy Teraoka had given to the 100th Infantry Battalion Education Center. Mrs. Teraoka, wife of 100th veteran Dr. Denis Teraoka, had been the long-serving editor of the organization’s monthly newsletter, the Puka Puka Parade.

In July 2004 Mr. Oudshoorn had written a message to the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) in Maryland asking for information about SSgt Itsumu Sasaoka. Mr. Oudshoorn was researching all the men who were listed on the Wall of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. The only American cemetery in the Netherlands, Margraten is where 8301 American soldiers are buried, and 1722 names are listed on their Wall of the Missing. Mr. Oudshoorn wrote that he was “building a website dedicated to all Allied soldiers that were KIA and/or buried in The Netherlands during World War II.”

Terry Shima of JAVA forwarded his message to several people, including Dr. Teraoka of Honolulu who responded with an entry in “Ambassadors in Arms: The Story of Hawaii’s 100th Battalion” by Thomas Murphy, published in 1954:

Pence was becoming increasingly worried about the 100th. During the afternoon he sent an armored task force down the soggy Belmont-Biffontaine road to try to push through with rations, water, and ammunition. Some soldiers of the Company A platoon rode on the tanks, which soon ran into Jerry small-arms fire. Sergeant Itsumu Sasaoka, firing a machine gun atop one of the tanks, was badly wounded but kept shooting until they had pushed past the enemy fire. Then, weakened by loss of blood, he fell to the ground. Later reported missing in action, he was awarded a DSC.

Who was Itsumu Sasaoka? He was born on the island of Oahu in 1916, the son of immigrants from Japan. Inducted into the Army in June 1941, he served in the 298th Infantry Regiment of the Hawaii National Guard and along with other Japanese American soldiers was transferred to the newly formed Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion, later renamed the 100th Infantry Battalion. SSgt Sasaoka was wounded on October 23, 1943 in Italy, and a year later, on October 24, he was wounded in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France and captured by the Germans. He was taken to Stalag III C near Kuestrin, Germany.

Staff Sergeant Michael M. Tokunaga, also of the 100th, lived in the same barracks as Sasaoka and gave the War Department a detailed account of the last time he saw him on January 31, 1945. The prisoners were being evacuated further inland and about three miles from the Stalag III camp, they were fired upon by Russians who had mistaken the identify of these prisoners. Tokunaga tried to discover the fate of Sasaoka without success and concluded he must have been killed during this attack. Sasaoka was later officially listed as Missing in Action. Among the medals he was awarded were the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters to the Purple Heart. His body was never found.

Mrs. Teraoka also responded to Mr. Oudshoorn’s messages. She wrote:

“I am the wife of Denis Teraoka. Since I am the one who operates the computer in our home and inputs all the messages, may I just add a note. The miracles of the internet are amazing. From the cryptic note that originated in the Netherlands from you, Stevin Oudshoorn, about SSgt Sasaoka’s name inscribed on the memorial in Margraten, what happened to Sasaoka after his tumble from the tank has been unfolding bit by bit because of all the information each one of your correspondents has contributed. It is a fascinating though sad story of this brave soldier. It is a tribute to him that through all these years he has not been forgotten.”

Published in 2016, “Honor Before Glory: The Epic World War II Story of the Japanese American GIs Who Rescued the Lost Battalion” by Scott McGaugh included an account of Sasaoka’s bravery in “Chapter 1, A Strong Force Will Follow.”

Copies of the War Department’s efforts to find out what happened to Itsumu Sasaoka were also in Mrs. Teraoka’s files.

  • 1945 February 3 – General Orders, Headquarters Seventh Army, awarding the Distinguished Service Cross to SSgt Sasaoka for his “extraordinary heroism in action” near Belmont, France.
  • 1945 December 12 – Michael M. Tokunaga’s letter to the War Department answering its inquiry about the fate of S/Sgt Sasaoka.
  • 1946 March 1 – War Department’s Finding of Death of Missing Person
  • 1946 March 1 – Adjutant General’s letter to his brother Masaru Sasaoka
  • 1946 March 9 – Reply to War Department Inquiry
  • 1947 January 24 – War Department’s Battle Casualty Report
  • 1949 June 6 – Memorandum for Record: Circumstances Surrounding the Disappearance of Personnel Presumed Dead.
  • 1953 December 30 – Disposition Form of his Casualty Status