Brothers Matsuei & Tokio Ajitomi

On Oct. 17, 1944, almost a year after Matsuei’s death, Tokio, then 27, was killed in the battle to capture Hill A, one of four strategic hills that surrounded the small town of Bruyeres, an important German transportation and communications link. The four hills had to be taken from German control before the 100th/442nd could even attempt to liberate the 4,000 residents of Bruyeres.

Lieutenant Takeichi Miyashiro, who led C Company, 2nd Platoon, saw Tokio go down. He said Tokio was running across a wooded area to a shack less than 10 yards away when he was hit by machine gun fire, killing him instantly.

The Ajitomi brothers were buried in American military cemeteries in Europe until August 1949 when Matsuei’s remains were returned to Hawaii from Carano, Italy, and interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Tokio was laid to rest in the gravesite just below his brother. He had been buried temporarily at the Epinal American Military Cemetery in the Vosges Mountains, where the Ajitomi family joined the touring veterans and their families for a solemn service honoring the memory of the Nisei soldiers who died serving their country in Europe.

Robert Ajitomi recalled that his father always reminded him and his siblings that their uncles had died in order for them to have a better life, so they needed to do well in school and take advantage of the opportunities made available to them.

Robert graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and had worked in California since 1978.

He admitted that while growing up, his father’s words were simply words. Only after Robert had graduated from college and begun working as an engineer did his father’s words make sense to him. “After I graduated from school and got my job and started working, I found out that all that stuff he was telling me was true,” he said.

For the first time, Robert understood that he was a beneficiary of his uncles’ sacrifices, of what all the Nisei soldiers had sacrificed for their families and their country. “For me to go into an interview and just because I got a college education, there were different opportunities [open to me].”

However, only recently had he developed an interest in learning about his uncles. All he knew prior to the trip to Europe was that one uncle was killed in Italy and the other at Bruyeres, and he didn’t know of anyone who had known either of them.

C Company veteran Mike Tokunaga knew the brothers. He recalled that Matsuei and Tokio were very soft-spoken young men. “They were always together. They never mingled too much with the others,” he said.

They were also good soldiers, Tokunaga remembered. “Very disciplined. You could rely on them.” He said he always wanted one of the Ajitomi brothers with him on patrol.

One, he stressed, but not both. Brothers should never be assigned to the same company, Tokunaga said, recalling the overwhelming grief Tokio felt after Matsuei was killed.

After the war, Tokunaga returned to Lahaina before enrolling at the University of Hawaii. He said he had hoped to visit Yoshio to pay his respects, but was told that he had already moved to Honolulu.

Mike Tokunaga and Yoshio Ajitomi never connected during the 1994 trip to Europe, so Tokunaga never got to tell Yoshio what good soldiers his brothers had been. But he hoped to have the chance to share that with the nephew Matsuei and Tokio never had a chance to know.

“You tell Robert, if he wants to talk to me about his uncles, just call me . . .”

-by Karleen C. Chinen

Karleen Chinen is the editor of the Hawaii Herald, Hawaii’s Japanese-American Journal, and a writer. She is the daughter of Wallace Seiko Chinen, who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, E and D Companies. This article originally appeared in the Hawaii Herald in 1994.

Postscript: Mike Tokunaga, a former Club 100 president, passed away in 2005 after a lifetime of service to his fellow World War II veterans, the state of Hawaii and the Hawaii Democratic Party.