By Randall Kusaka, Puka Puka Parade, April 2021. No. 4/2021
[EdNote. Puka Puka Parade condensed the original article and we are condensing it even more but providing a link to the PPP version by pressing here. This story is unique for the detailed description and effects of combat. We recommend you read the skillfully-written fountain pen story. It is difficult not to become emotional. We thank Jayne Hirata, editor of PPP Parade and Randal Kusaka for approval to reprint.] (PPP Editor’s Note: The Club received an email from Randall Kusaka, son of Kisuke “Richard” Kusaka, Able Company, 100th Battalion. To honor his dad’s 100th birthday in 2019 [Richard passed away in 2000], Randall put together a booklet about his father’s life based on the stories that Richard told him in response to Randall’s many childhood questions about Richard’s wartime experience and how his father lost his leg. Thank you Randall for the great memories. Unfortunately, due to space, I couldn’t include the entire article in the print version of the April Puka Puka Parade.)
Papaikou, near Hilo, HI, Kisuke Kusaka was born into a family of sugar cane plantation laborers. His father, Kiichiro, and paternal grandfather, Okisaburo, worked in the fields around Kalaoa Camp, near Papaikou on the Big Island. Kisuke was 12 when he started part-time work at the plantation to help feed the growing family. He dropped out of English school after the eighth grade for full-time plantation work. He continued Japanese schooling for two more years before dropping out. Some of his English school teachers could not pronounce his name and assigned him various names. He finally settled for Richard K. Kusaka or Kisuke R. Kusaka.
He saw no future as a plantation laborer, so in 1939 he ran away from his Big Island home for what had to be a better life in Honolulu. He worked short stints at Pearl Harbor and a bakery in Palama. He was drafted into the Army on November 14, 1941. He was at Schofield Barracks when Japanese warplanes attacked Oahu on December 7, 1941. He put on his uniform and rushed to report for duty, but when the Caucasian soldiers looked at his face and name, they arrested him and locked him in the stockade, where he was joined by other Japanese American soldiers.
In 1942, Kusaka and other Japanese American soldiers formed the 100th Infantry Battalion, the famed "One Puka Puka" whose battlefield courage, heroism and sacrifices earned the nickname "Purple Heart Battalion. "He was wounded three times while fighting in Europe. The first time, shrapnel hit the bridge of his nose and knocked him to the ground. When he opened his eyes, he was shocked to find he could not see. For a moment he feared the shrapnel blinded him, but he quickly realized blood covered his eyes. After wiping away the blood, he was relieved he could see. The second wound was a minor left leg wound on November 30, 1943, near Scapoli, Italy. The third wound occurred in the vicinity of Seravezza, Italy on April 6, 1945 when he stepped on a landmine about a month before Germany surrendered. When he opened his eyes, someone was tying a tourniquet around his mangled left leg .
Kusaka said wartime soldiers had few personal items they carried in the field from battle to battle. Soldiers carried Zippo lighters, letters from home, Bibles, photographs and other small personal objects, but he possessed something few had: a fountain pen. After a hard-fought firefight, a wounded friend called his name. He knelt by his buddy's side as a medic patched his wounds. The friend asked to borrow his pen because he wanted to write a letter to his mother back in Honolulu. He promised that after he recovered he would find him and return it. He was reluctant to part with his pen because it was his cherished connection to his civilian life and he didn't know where or when he would find another. But this was his friend and for his friend's mother, so he took it out of his pocket and placed it in the man's and. His friend smiled and promised again he would give it back.
But fate intervened. He stepped on a landmine a month before the European War ended. He went to a hospital in Michigan, where he stayed a year, and transferred to another hospital for six months of rehabilitation. He returned to Honolulu and was discharged at Tripler Hospital in 1947. He remembered the friend who had his pen. The friend had probably recovered from his wounds and might be living at his family home. He didn't blame him for not returning the pen because war made such promises hard to keep. He found the friend's address and decided to visit. He walked up to the man's house. Behind the fence an elderly woman tended her flowers. He caught her attention and, speaking Japanese, asked if his friend was living there. The woman looked quizzically at him and questioned why he was asking for her son. He introduced himself and said he was a friend from the Army. Tears came to the woman's eyes and she beckoned him to enter her home. She said nothing as she led him into the living room toward the family shrine. Her tears made him suspect his friend had not survived. The friend's photograph in front of the shrine confirmed it. And in front of the photograph, on a small wooden stand, was his fountain pen.
The mother said her son's last letter mentioned how he borrowed a fountain pen from his buddy, Kisuke Kusaka, to write to her. He had promised to return it after his wounds healed. So when she found the pen among his possessions returned to her, she put it in an honored place awaiting the day she could fulfill that promise. Although it was one of the saddest days of his life, he felt some joy that his pen allowed the man to write a final note to his mother.
While he willingly shared some wartime stories, other stories upset him. For example, when asked how many men he killed, he reacted with an ice-cold glare, but after a moment, he answered he killed seven men. There might have been an eighth, but the soldier fell off a cliff and he could not see the body to confirm the kill. He was awarded Purple Heart Medals for his second and third wounds. His other decorations included the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Presidential Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, six Battle Stars, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon, and European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon. Kusaka died in 2000 and his ashes are interred at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe. He was 80 years old, just a little more than four months short of his 81st birthday.