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Yoshio James Morita (1919-2015) Knight in the National Order of the French Légion d’honneur A Timeless 100th/442nd "Go for Broke" Tribute and Legacy

08 May 2021 2:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


Circa 1940 — U.S. Army Private Yoshio James Morita in military uniform before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (potentially Company A, 29th Engineers, Oceanside, California — note U.S. Army Engineer brass insignia on lapel, and U.S. 4th Army shoulder patch).  Photo:  Courtesy Morita Family.

Jeff Morita (Hawai'i)

Ann (Morita) Shima (California)

The following account is based on Morita family-centric information, official documentation (1973, fire damaged and reconstructed) obtained from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) / National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA) digital archives, the Washington University School of Medicine archives, and first-hand accounts described in publication, "The Men of F Company" by the late Ronald “Ron” Masami Oba, F “Fox” Company.

On November 9, 2015, the Republic of France posthumously inducted World War II U.S. Army veteran (Corporal) Yoshio James Morita into the “Chevalier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur" (Knight in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor).  James and many more American of Japanese Ancestry men contributed to France's liberation from years of oppression.  James was assigned to F "Fox" Company, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) — "Go for Broke."  Roughly 14,000 men served in the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), and 100th/442nd RCT.  The 100th/442nd is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military.  Over 4,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Star Medals, 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, and seven *Distinguished Unit Citation/Badges (DUC/B).

*The DUC/B is now known as the Army Presidential Unit Citation.

Born on October 16, 1919, in Glendale, California, Yoshio James Morita was the fourth of five siblingsMasao "Mas," Tom Katsuto, Ruth Shizue, Yoshio James, and Bob Hideto—born to Kaichi and Kazuyo (Hashimoto) Morita.  In 1913, Kaichi and Kazuyo immigrated from Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan to the U.S.  The Morita Family ran a vegetable truck farming business under the Dominguez (Hills) Estate Company, Los Angeles County, California before the outbreak of World War II. 

The Kaichi Morita Family in front of their house, Dominguez (Hills) Estate Company.  Left to right: Tom Katsuo, Yoshio James, Ruth Shizue, Kazuyo, Kaichi, Masao "Mas," and Bob Hideto.  Photo:  Courtesy Morita Family

On September 16, 1940, the U.S. instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, and required men between 21 and 45 to register for the U.S. military draft.  On October 16, 1940, on his 21st birthday, James dutifully registered for the U.S. military draft.  On November 23, 1940, a full year before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawai'i, James was drafted into the U.S. Army.  According to Morita family 'folklore' James held the distinction as the first American of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) "Nisei" U.S. Army draftee in Los Angeles County.

1940 commemorative photograph of Kaichi and Yoshio James Morita, and an unidentified U.S. military draft board official.  Photo:  Courtesy Morita Family

James was inducted into the U.S. Army at the Fort MacArthur Reception Center, San Pedro, California.  On December 12, 1940, then Private Morita was assigned to Company A, 29th Engineers, Oceanside, California.  On October 1, 1941, James was appointed to the rank of Private First Class and on November 18, 1941, to Specialist 5th Class.  On December 12, 1941, five days after Japan's attack at Pearl Harbor, James was assigned to the 54th Signal Battalion, Fort Ord, California.  In 1942, under U.S. Presidential Executive Order 9066, the Morita Family, less James, were uprooted to the Santa Anita Assembly Area (horse race track) and on September 2, 1942, incarcerated at the War Relocation Agency (WRA) Gila River Relocation (Concentration) Center, Rivers, Arizona.  James' follow-on military assignments included the 102nd Radio Intelligence Company, Presidio of San Francisco, California, the Corps Area Service Command (CASC) #1902, Fort Douglas, Utahand the Detachment Quartermasters Corps, Fort Snelling, Michigan.  In March 1943, James was redesignated to the rank of Corporal.

On August 5, 1944, James embarked from the U.S. East Coast for Naples, Italy and the European Theater of Operation (ETO).  On September 7th, James arrived in Naples and was assigned to the 24th Replacement Depot until September 18th when he received orders for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT).  On September 26th, James departed Naples and on September 29th arrived in Marseille, France and then transported to Eastern-France.  From October 1-7, the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd RCT (100th/442nd) bivouacked near Septemes, France, and from October 9-11, en route to vicinity of Épinal.  From October 12-14, the 100th/442nd was in an assembly area at Charmois-Devant-Bruyères.  James was assigned to F "Fox" Company, 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT as a replacement infantry assault rifleman and joined the many other men of the 100th, 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Cannon, 232nd Combat Engineer, and Service Companies, and Medical Detachment.  The Anti-Tank Company had also recently rejoined their parent 442nd RCT after participating in the Southern France Invasion (Operation Anvil / Dragoon) in an airborne/glider combat assault.  The Anti-Tank Company supported the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, First Airborne Task Force.  On October 13th, the reconstituted 100th/442nd was attached to the 36th Infantry Division.  Their initial French combat would occur during the early winter months in the Vosges Mountains  a mountainous, cold, rainy area of dense pine forested hills, and strongly defended by crack German troops.  By October 14th, James and the entire 100th/442nd were positioned near the strategic town of Bruyères.  Bruyères at the time was a German military strongpoint and communications hub of multiple crossing highways and a railroad; in essence, Bruyères strategically blocked the way to the east and the German Border.  From mid-October  to early November 1944, the 100th/442nd was involved in some of the most difficult, horrific and heroic combat the Nisei RCT encountered throughout their time in the ETO.  On October 15, the 100th/442nd initiated the liberation of Bruyères.  The 2nd Battalion and 100th Battalion attacked in a line abreast.  Fox Company led the entire 2nd Battalion.  On October 18, after many attacks and German counterattacks, the men successfully liberated Bruyères (“The Men of Company F,” by Ron Oba, pages 73-76).  On October 18th, right after liberating Bruyères, Fox Company took a strategic position on “Hill B” overlooking Bruyères.  One of the men of Fox Company was wounded in this combat action and during his medical evacuation the Germans shot at the litter bearers and killed the wounded man.  This angered the men of the Fox Company so much that they affixed their bayonets and charged mercilessly at the Germans, annihilating them in what would become legendary as the Fox Company’s “banzai charge.”  (“The Men of Company F,” page 82).

In less than two weeks, Fox Company/2nd Battalion earned two DUC/Bs, the highest possible award for an American military unit.  The first of two citations follows   

"The 2d Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action on 19 October 1944 near Bruyeres, France, on 28 and 29 October 1944 near Biffontaine, France, and from 6 to 10 April 1945, near Massa, Italy.  The 2d Battalion executed a brilliant tactical operation in capturing Hill 503, to expedite the forward movement beyond Bruyères, France and to erase the German threat from the rear.  While two companies pressed forward against a formidable enemy main line of resistance, other elements of the battalion struck the enemy paralyzing blows from all directions, practically eliminating an entire German company and destroying numerous enemy automatic weapons.  Attacking the strategic heights of Hill 617 near Biffontaine, France, on 28 October 1944, the 2d Battalion secured its objective in a 2-day operation, which eliminated a threat to the flanks of two American divisions.  In the face of intense enemy barrages and numerous counterattacks, the infantrymen of this battalion fought their way through difficult jungle-like terrain in freezing weather and completely encircled the enemy.  Methodically, the members of the 2d Battalion hammered the enemy, inflicting heavy casualties upon the defenders and wresting this vital feature from the surviving Germans.  Maintaining its admirable record of achievement in the vicinity of Massa, Italy the 2d Battalion smashed through and exploited the strong Green Line on the Ligurian Coast.  Surging over formidable heights through strong resistance, the 2d Battalion, in 5 days of continuous, heavy fighting, captured a series of objectives to pave the way for the entry into the important communications centers of Massa and Carrara, Italy, without opposition.  In this operation, the 2d Battalion accounted for more than 200 Germans and captured or destroyed large quantities of enemy materiel.  The courage, determination, and esprit de corps evidenced by the officers and men of the 2d Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team, exemplify the highest traditions of the armed forces of the United States." (General Orders 83, War Department, 6 August 1946.)

On October 21, near Belmont, Fox and L "Love" Companies became key elements of the O’Connor Task Force (TF); named after the then TF Commander, Major Emmet L. O'Connor.  The TF attacked north at the German enemy flank, toward Biffontaine, and engaged the retreating enemy, fighting house to house.  The second citation follows 

"Companies F and L, 442d Regimental Combat Team, are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action on 21 October 1944, in the vicinity of Belmont, France.  Assigned the mission of assaulting the flank and rear of the resistance which had stopped two frontal attacks by the combat team, Companies F and L, 442d Regimental Combat Team, designated the O'Connor Task Force, launched an attack down the north slope of the wooded ridge, Foret de Belmont, Company L, leading the assault, defeated a security group in a short, sharp action, capturing several prisoners.  Then, by the prompt use of ride grenades and mortars, the garrisoned houses just outside the woods were quickly reduced.  The capture of these houses was an important factor in the success of the mission as It gave the task force observation on the ground to the enemy rear.  To complete its work the task force now had to interdict enemy movement, drive a wedge through the forces resisting the combat team, and effect a junction with the main force.  Heavy casualties were inflicted by artillery fire directed by the task force's forward observer on the enemy positions.  Then assault groups began to clear the defenders from houses to the north of Lo Broqunime.  The capture of these houses not only divided the enemy forces, but made certain that large numbers of the enemy would be trapped between the task force and the advancing combat team.  By midafternoon the task force and the combat team made contact and what enemy troops were not surrounded were completely routed, thus bringing to a close a plan brilliantly conceived and expertly executed.  By the next day the combat team had secured the high ridge which dominates Belmont.  This ridge was both a protective arc around the recently won communications center of Bruyeres and an entering wedge in the drive to the Meurthe River.  In destroying the enemy Main Line of Resistance and advancing the Divisional front lines by approximately 2000 meters, the Task Force captured fifty-six prisoners, killed eighty of the enemy, and captured considerable quantifies of enemy materiel and equipment.  The fearless determination, daring, and intrepidity displayed by the officers and enlisted men of the O'Connor Task Force exemplify the finest traditions of the armed forces of the United States." (General Orders 14, War Department, 4 March 1945.)

*From June 1944 to April 1945 (10 months), the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), and the 100th/442nd received a total of seven (7) Presidential Unit Citations.

The 100th/442nd was taken off the line and replaced by other 36th Infantry Division units.  Designed to allow the 100th/442nd to resupply/rearm, receive replacements and give the men much deserved and needed rest; however, the reprieve was short-lived.  The morning of October 24th, one of the units that replaced the 100th/442nd was the 1st Battalion, 141st Regiment, ordered to attack and advance along a ridge.  As the men of the 100th/442nd rested, unforeseen new and alarming military orders arrived and would cement the RCT's legacy deep in the Vosges Mountains.  The 100th/442nd was called upon to what would become known as the rescue of the “Lost (Texas) Battalion."  The 1st Battalion had overextended itself and became isolated and surrounded by the German military.  Adolph Hitler also knew the plight of the "Lost Battalion" and personally ordered prevention of the rescue of the encircled lost battalion "at all cost."  All previous rescue efforts by other U.S. units proved ineffective, and although physically and mentally exhausted from days on end of constant combat the 100th/442nd was ordered to rescue the Lost Battalion "at any cost."  The 100th and 3rd Battalions of the 442nd RCT led the direct attack, while the 2nd Battalion veered northeast to weaken German resistance in the area.  The 2nd Battalion was assigned the tough job of eliminating German guns on the heights that could have otherwise shot downwards upon the 100th and 3rd Battalions.  After this operation, the 2nd Battalion drove back south toward the lost battalion, clearing farmhouses along the way and holding the Germans back from attacking the Lost Battalion.  On October 31st, the 100th/442nd finally reached and rescued the embattled Lost Battalion.

Mid-October thru mid-November 1944 presented days of unremitting and epic combat.  The 100th/442nd suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, an astonishing one-third of the unit's assigned strength.  184 Nisei soldiers of the 100th/442nd were killed in action (KIA), over 800 wounded in varying degrees, many missing limbs like French Légion d'honneur nominee Mr. Tadashi Ayabe of Pearl City, Hawai'i, a Cannon Company veteran who lost a leg in the Vosges.  Regrettably, some remain to this day missing in action (MIA).  Ultimately, the 100th/442nd rescued 211 fellow U.S. soldiers of the embattled "Lost Battalion."  Documented as one of the U.S. Army's bloodiest battles, the rescue also ranks as one of the top ten battles in U.S. Army history.  Their gallant sacrifice, blood and toil is aptly captured in the 1941 black and white movie "Go For Broke."  All veterans of the World War II 100th/442nd were later bestowed the distinction as honorary Texans (1963), and Iowans (1997) by each State's Legislature.

Although exhausted from constant combat action, the 100th/442nd was kept on the front-lines, ordered to continue and push forward.  On November 2, 1944, near Grebefosse (North of Biffontaine), Fox Company came under heavy enemy fire from SP (self-propelled) guns, killing 3 and wounded 15 men in the company.  The following day, during a lull in combat, medical personnel looked for the wounded and dead.  James was discovered lying along a roadside and first thought dead.  In fact, James was severely wounded in the shoulder, lower back and legs from shrapnel and unconscious from loss of blood.  He was carried to a 2nd Battalion medical aid station for stabilization and medically evacuated to the 21st General Hospital / Base Hospital 21 / Ravenel Hospital, Mirecourt, France.  The 21st General Hospital's (GH), now known as the Washington University School of Medicine, archived records listed James' admission on November 5, 1944.

Image from Washington University School of Medicine webpage - "The 21st General Hospital / Base Hospital."



November 17, 1944 -- War Department Casualty Message Telegram sent to Mrs. Kazuyo Morita (James' mother) at Gila River Relocation (Concentration) Center, Rivers, Arizona.

Notes:

- Struck in the shoulder, lower back and legs by artillery shrapnel and found almost dead from loss of blood, yet James was listed as "Slightly Wounded in Action".  Throughout his life, James retained foreign metallic bodies within the muscles of his buttocks and legs, and as with most World War II 100th/442nd veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).1

- Burnt bottom edging from 1973 NPRC fire.2

On November 24, 1944, James was transferred from the 21st GH to the 167th GH located in Cherbourg, France, for further surgeries and medical treatment.  Special Orders 63, Headquarters 826 Convalescent Center APO 514-A (Mansfield, and Sudbury, England), dated 4 March 1945, transferred James to the 10th Replacement Depot in Lichfield (North of Birmingham), England.  He departed on 8 March 1945, "Purpose:  Processing of hospital returnees."  A very interesting note, per subsequent (declassified) Secret Letter O AG300.4, dated 29 Apr 1945, James found himself back in France at the 19th Replacement Depot APO 176 (Étampes, a commune a few hours drive South of Paris).




1945, a recovering James in front of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris,  France. Photo:  Courtesy Ann (Morita) Shima.

On November 16, 1945, James departed Europe for his long-awaited cross-Atlantic return to America.  James arrived stateside on November 27, 1945, and on December 5, 1945, honorably discharged (separated) at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.  He returned to Southern California to rejoin his family and begin his civilian life.  For his honorable U.S. military service Corporal Yoshio James Morita received the Bronze Star Medal; Purple Heart Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Campaign Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Bronze Campaign/Battle Star (Rhineland-Vosges Campaign); World War II Victory Medal; Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster (2nd award); Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB); Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle bar; and the Honorable Service Lapel Button-World War II.





In 2011, James was proudly recognized as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and included in the Nisei Soldiers of World War II U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.  The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by the United States Congress.  James was unable to attend the November 2, 2011 gala Washington, D.C. ceremony and nephew Jeff Morita sent him a bronze replica.

http://cgm.smithsonianapa.org/honors/congressional-gold-medal.html

https://capac-chu.house.gov/press-release/capac-members-release-statements-congressional-gold-medal-ceremony-japanese-american


November 26, 2011 — James at his Gardena home proudly displaying his bronze replica of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.  Photo:  Courtesy Morita Family.

On November 17, 1951 James married the former Fusako Takemoto.  They had two children, Ann Reiko and Barry Takashi.  For over 30 years, James was the upholstery owner/operator of the former Tru-Line Chair in Gardena, California.  On April 3, 2015, seven months before his historic induction into the “Chevalier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur” (Knight in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor) James passed away at the age of 95.  Wife Fusako passed away on December 25, 2020.  Both now rest together and eternally at Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes, California.




Note:  To date, approximately 170 World War II 100th/442nd veterans are known inductees of the prestigious “Chevalier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur” (Knight in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor).

Undated — a recovered James, prior to his U.S. Army discharge. Photo:  Courtesy Morita Family.

January 29, 2016 — Century City, Los Angeles, California — Ms. Terri Gans, Assistant to the Consul General of France in Los Angeles presenting daughter Ann (Morita) Shima with her Father's French Chevalier Medal.  Photo:  Courtesy Ann Shima.



Texas and Iowa “442nd RCT Honorary Citizen” certificates.

Pro Bono / Public Service  Jeff Morita (James Morita's nephew), a retired U.S. Army Veteran and Department of the Army Civilian, totaling 40 years of proud and devoted service meticulously researches and submits French Légion d'honneur nominations.  To date, Jeff has submitted 55 nominations of which the Government of France has inducted 36 100th/442nd veterans.  The remaining 19 nominations are pending French Government review.  The French Chevalier nominee must be living at the time of the nomination, and served “boots on the ground” in France prior to May 8, 1945.  Jeff offers his pro bono / public service to all interested.

jeff_kine_57@icloud.com 


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