The strangest wedding ever shows the minister at left, the bride and groom in the middle and bridesmaid, Doris Ishikawa, right. Behind them, U.S. troops watch as a captured Japanese officer marries his beloved nurse at the end of World War II. Photo: Carol Nitta,1945.
John Wayne and Pilar Pallete were married in Kona in 1954. Photo: Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Bob Sigall, Special to Star-Advertiser, Sept. 18, 2020
Last month I wrote about John Wayne owning The Forbidden City, originally on the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Ward Avenue.
Wayne bought it for his mistress. They rendezvoused on his boat, docked across the street at Kewalo Basin. When Wayne’s wife, Pilar Pallete, found out, he gave the restaurant to Jack Cione and Francis Tom and moved the mistress to the mainland.
Mark Norman Olds Jr. called to tell me he attended Wayne and Pallete’s wedding in Kona on Nov. 1, 1954. He was a child at the time. His dad, a state senator and district judge, performed the ceremony.
The sunset wedding was held at the home of Sen. William “Doc” Hill at Keauhou Bay. Golfer Francis I‘i Brown was the best man, and his girlfriend, Winona Love, also attended. Brown said he met the actor at Pebble Beach, Calif., where he had a home, and they became friends.
Olds said a party of about 150 was in progress, with music playing, when he arrived. “It was the first wedding I had been to where the reception started before the ceremony,” the judge chuckled.
He was also surprised to learn the actor’s real name. The marriage certificate read, “Marion Michael Morrison.”
The vows did not include the word “obey,” the judge said. The idea of an obedient wife was on its way out in the 1950s. The ceremony took only about 90 seconds.
Wayne was on the Big Island filming “Sea Chase,” which co-starred Lana Turner. The director, John Farrow, gave the bride away.
Wayne and Pallete had three children. Wayne died in 1979. Pallete is 92 and lives in California.
The strangest wedding
Two weeks ago I wrote about another wedding. This one was between a captured World War II Japanese officer and an Okinawan nurse.
The Japanese officer agreed to tell the Americans everything he knew, if he was allowed to marry the woman he loved. Gen. Hodge gave it his blessing.
The bride managed to find a kimono in which to be wed. A GI played the wedding march on an accordion. A Mormon chaplain was quickly found to lead the ceremony.
An AJA interpreter acted as best man, while Doris Ishikawa of Maui, who was a refugee on Okinawa, was bridesmaid.
Army Intelligence officer Paul Tognetti said the officer did cooperate, and his information saved hundreds of American lives. After that the newlyweds passed into obscurity. Their names and fate remain unknown to me.
But I did hear from Ishikawa’s daughter, Carol Nitta, last week, and she had a photograph of the wedding. It clearly shows her mom, on the right, the bride and groom in the middle and the minister at left.
Nitta said her mom barely talked about the wedding and had no new details to provide.
Found in Okinawan cave
In the same article, I shared with readers that, long ago, I heard a story about an American GI from Hawaii coming upon a woman in an Okinawan cave and recognizing her as a schoolmate. I asked whether any reader knew more.
Richard Ito replied that he knew a variation of the story. It involved U.S. Sgt. Takejiro Higa (EdNote: a JAVA member before he died], part of the Military Intelligence Service during World War II.
Following the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, Higa interrogated two men in threadbare clothes who were found by U.S. servicemen in an Okinawan cave. They both feared they would be executed by the Americans.
Higa was born in Hawaii but grew up on Okinawa. His family returned to Hawaii in 1939.
He asked them basic questions about their age, where they lived and where they went to school. “Kishaba Shogakko,” they said.
Did they know Nakandakari sensei? The two were shocked. How would an American GI know about a teacher there?
By now Higa recognized the two. “Do you remember one of your classmates named Takejiro Higa from Shimabuku?” They replied that he had gone back to Hawaii.
“I looked them straight in the face and in the Okinawan dialect said, ‘Don’t you recognize your own classmate?’”
They began crying in relief. “The three of us grabbed each other’s shoulders, huddled together and wept aloud,” Higa recalled.
Higa also was tasked with interrogating a man in a civilian relief center. “I recognized him instantly, because he was my teacher for the seventh and eighth grades.
“Sensei,” Higa said.
The teacher turned and recognized Higa, “Ah, kimi ka” (“Oh, it’s you”). They were both choked up, Higa said. He made sure all three were treated well.
Joel Yoshiyuki Fujita
My summer series on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II prompted Cynthia Fujita, whose father was in the 442nd, to write me. How he got in was an interesting story, she said.
“He volunteered because he initially got a draft notice. He told his boss off at work when he quit his job, and his co-workers threw him a going-away party and bought him a beautiful leather jacket.”
Shortly thereafter he received a letter from the government to disregard the draft notice, Cynthia said.
He said, “I felt I had no choice but to volunteer, ’cause no can go back work after telling my boss off and my co-workers giving me a nice gift.”
He and his nephew, Mitsuyuki (Mitz) Fujita, volunteered for the 442nd and were shipped off to Camp Shelby, Miss.
“My dad liked to tell us the story of what happened to them while in Hattiesburg, Miss. He and his buddies had a pass for the evening and got on the bus heading into town, but they noticed that the bus driver drove right past an elderly African American lady with bags of groceries who was waiting at the bus stop.
“They were surprised, as the bus was half empty. When they spoke up to the driver, he ignored them. So when the bus pulled up to the next stop, one of my dad’s friends, ‘Wacky,’ threw the driver off the bus, commandeered it and drove back to the previous bus stop to pick up the elderly woman.
“When she boarded the bus, they told her the ride was free for her and everybody else who was riding the bus to town. When they returned to camp, they knew that they most likely would be punished for what they did.
“The commanding officer learned about the incident and called them in to hear their side of the story. He did ‘lecture’ them about their behavior but did not punish them. He said he understood why they did what they did, but unfortunately, segregation and discrimination was still rampant in the South.”
After the war Fujita returned to Honolulu, got married and worked at different jobs using his artistic talent as a sign maker for the state of Hawaii, painting and designing the logos of the public school signs. He retired in 1985.
In November 2019, Fujita received the French Chevalier Legion of Honor medal for his contribution in the liberation of France during WWII.
Joel Fujita died in June at 100 years of age
Lynn Heirakuj, President of Nisei Veterans Legacy. Interview Screenshot.
Hawaii television station KITV recently aired a special salute to WWII Veterans, Honoring Hawaii's Heroes. JAVA member and Nisei Veterans Legacy (NVL) President Lynn Heirakuji was interviewed for a segment on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (click the link below to watch).
442nd Regimental Combat Team
Honouring Hawaii’s Heroes: Go for Broke Song
The Expanded Caregiver program is live. Pre-1975 veterans are now allowed to apply for the Caregiver program! APPLY TODAY!
Dear Caregivers and Veterans:
Yesterday, the VA announced they are now accepting applications from pre-1975 Veterans for the Caregiver program. If you are a Veteran already in the Caregiver program, no application needs to be made, but if you are a Veteran who was injured on military duty before May 7, 1975, you can now submit your application at the VA website here. If you are not comfortable submitting online, you can print the VA Form 10-10CG at home and mail in with supporting documents. Detailed information regarding the new, expanded caregiver program can be found here.
If you are already in the Caregiver program, and you wonder how these changes will affect you, the VA’s produced a factsheet which you can review here.
We recommend Veterans not already in the caregiver program apply as soon as practicable, as stipend and benefit payments are usually computed from the date of application for the program. Lastly, if you are having problems with your application for the program, The Independence Fund Casework program is here to help you – you can contact the program at Casework@IndependenceFund.org.
JAVA sends a warm Aloha to our new Veterans as well as new Friends of JAVA.
Sgt. Adam Bell, USMC
Dylan Brocar, USN
SGT Rimie Charo, USA
Shogo Cottrell, USMC
COL Julia Coxen, USA
Mayumi Doty, USN
LCDR James Farrens, USN (Ret)
Thomas Foerstel, USMC
LtCol David Gersen, USMC
Lon Horiuchi, USA
MSgt Todd Iguchi, USAF (Ret)
Dennis Ito, USA
Justin Kim, USN
Roger Onaga, USN
CW3 Gordon Watanabe, USA (Ret)
Gean Writesel, USAR
CSM Tony Wyno, USA (Ret)
Masaru "Mas" Hashimoto, USA
Foreign Service Officer Yukio Kuniyuki Jr. (Ret)
SPC TJ Okamura, USAR
Rhianna Taniguchi, ARNG Veteran
Pam Momoko Yan
Friends of JAVA
JAVA offers a heartfelt thanks to our generous members and friends for their gifts, memorials and tributes given in support of our mission, events and scholarships. We are truly grateful.
Richard P. Baks - Operations
Tom Graves - IMO Lawson Sakai
Foreign Service Officer Yukio Kuniyuki Jr. - New Member
LTC Jason Kuroiwa, USA (Ret) - Operations
Robert and Sheri Nakamoto - Bob Nakamoto Scholarship
Isami Yoshihara - New Member
For his service in Vietnam, Vincent Okamoto was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. He often spoke of the soldiers who never came home as the “real heroes.”
OBITUARY: VINCENT OKAMOTO, 76; JUDGE, VIETNAM WAR HERO
Reprint from Rafu Shimpo with permission.
Posted on September 29, 2020
Rafu Staff Report
Okamoto was a 24-year-old lieutenant leading a platoon on Aug. 24, 1968 near Dầu Tiếng, when his unit came under attack by North Vietnamese troops. To protect his men, he led five men to plug a gap blown in the defensive perimeter by the enemy.
Realizing the need for supporting fire, he ran to a disabled armored personnel carrier and manned its heavy machine gun, pouring fire into the advancing enemy.
When the weapon became inoperable, he ran to a second damaged armored vehicle and manned its .50 cal. machine gun. This vehicle was on fire and could have detonated at any moment. The flames illuminated Okamoto and exposed him to more enemy fire. Yet he remained atop the APC, firing the machine gun until it ran out of ammunition.
Then, Okamoto ran to a third armored vehicle, removed the dead gunner from the turret, manned the heavy machine gun and resumed firing into the advancing enemy troops, blunting their attack until he ran out of ammunition.
In an act of courage Okamoto launched a one-man attack against the attackers. Arming himself with grenades, he crawled toward the enemy until he was only ten meters away from a heavy machine gun being set up to rake the American position. Okamoto destroyed the weapon and its gun crew with hand grenades.
He returned to the perimeter wounded, yet assisted another injured American soldier to the aid station. Refusing aid for himself, he returned to direct the defense of the threatened sector of the perimeter. His actions saved the lives of scores of his fellow Americans.
During his tour of duty, Okamoto was wounded three times and received 14 combat decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross. In 2007, he was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame in Fort Benning, Ga. — the first Japanese American so honored since World War II. He memorably shared his experiences as a young soldier, including eating a bowl of rice for the first time in a long while, in the 2017 Ken Burns documentary “The Vietnam War.”
Judge Vincent Okamoto
At veterans’ gatherings, Okamoto would often speak about the “real heroes,” the young men who died too young, often the sons of working-class families who didn’t have wealth and privilege to let them avoid military service.
Okamoto wrote two books: “Wolfhound Samurai,” a novel based on the story of a Japanese American soldier during Vietnam, and “Forged in Fire,” the story of the friendship between Medal of Honor recipient Hershey Miyamura and Joe Annello during the Korean War.
Ken Hayashi, president of the JA Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, said Okamoto was the driving force behind the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Wall at the JACCC. The black granite monument was the beginning of what is now the Japanese American National War Memorial Court, which honors JAs who perished in combat.
“Vince approached politicians, businessmen and community leaders, all of whom did not offer a home. The still remaining controversy of the long and unpopular war was an obstacle none wanted to be associated with. Through almost five years of rejection, Vince continued to persevere. Finally Min Tonai, then president of the JACCC, said ‘Yes’ and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial had a home. The Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1995,” Hayashi said.
“He was a dear friend and I will miss him dearly, but the JA community and the country has lost an inspirational leader and role model,” Hayashi said.
At that dedication, Okamoto recalled visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., with his wife Mitzi and son Darby.
“We have a limit on the tomorrows allotted to us. I say to the veterans of Vietnam, let us put the tomorrows that remain to us to good use. To savor each day and not let the anger and bitterness of the Vietnam War poison our lives,” Okamoto said. “I hope, as veterans, that we can come to this place and find a sense of peace. I hope that a healing process can begin. I hope that this memorial will remind you what a precious gift life is. I hope you can bring your families here and allow yourself to accept the love and support they want to give you.”
Vincent Okamoto, joined by wife Mitzi, was honored as Nisei Week grand marshal in 2018. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo).
As news spread of Okamoto’s unexpected passing, friends and fellow veterans paid tribute.
“His eloquent voice of reason, logic and humor will be sorely missed,” stated David Miyoshi.
Mia Frances Yamamoto, posted on Facebook that she had lost a friend of more than 50 years. Both had served in Vietnam and attended law school after the war.
“He was the best, most soulful people I have ever known and I already miss him. Rest in Power, my good brother, you showed us a life well-lived,” Yamamoto said.
Okamoto was born on Nov. 22, 1943 in the Poston, Ariz. internment camp; the 10th child and the seventh son born to Japanese immigrants. All six of his older brothers served in the U.S. military. The eldest two fought in Europe during World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Another brother volunteered for the Marines and fought in the Korean War.
After three years of active duty, Okamoto left the Army with the rank of captain. He attended the USC School of Law and served as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney for five years before entering private practice
Vincent Okamoto (center, standing) with fellow Japanese American Vietnam War veterans and Rep. Maxine Waters in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica in Gardena’s Mas Fukai Park in April 2018. (Courtesy of Terry Weber)
In the 1970s, as a deputy district attorney, Okamoto was among the founders of the Japanese American Bar Association. He also was elected to the Gardena City Council, and served on the board of the California Veterans Affairs Commission.
In 2002, Okamoto was appointed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench by Gov. Gray Davis. He submitted an application for a judgeship at the encouragement of his mentors, role models, and friends in the Japanese American legal community.
In 2018, Okamoto was named grand marshal of the Nisei Week Parade. That same year he spoke at the opening of a temporary display of a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Gardena.
His last public remarks were for the annual Memorial Day service at the JACCC, held this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hayashi explained that when organizers produced a video, they didn’t want to intrude on the judge during the shelter-at-home restrictions. And so his daughter Kristyn read Okamoto’s words, which offered comfort to families who have lost loved ones in combat.
“Recognize that unwritten beside each name is the broken heart of a mother, a father and the grief of family and loved ones left behind,” Okamoto wrote. “The wall serves to tell the parents of those who perished that we remember and honor their sons and share the pain of their loss.”
Okamoto’s survivors include his wife, Mitzi, and son, Darby.
[EdNote: Judge Vincent Okamoto was a JAVA Member and was a guest speaker at a JAVA luncheon in the fall of 2011. Ken Hayashi, also a JAVA member and President of the President of Japanese American National War Memorial Court Alliance passed along the sad news of Judge Okamoto's death. JAVA sends the family and friends of Judge Okamoto our heartfelt condolences as they mourn his passing.]
Nelson Takeo Akagi
June 27, 1923 -September 19, 2020
Nelson Takeo Akagi, JAVA life member, passed away peacefully surrounded by family in his home on Saturday, September 19, 2020, in Murray, Utah at the age of 97.
Nelson was born on June 27, 1923, in Lindsay, California to Otoemon and Masano Takehara Akagi, where he grew up on the family farm. He attended Lindsay High School, lettering in football, basketball, and track. He was working toward a major in electrical engineering and a minor in mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Akagi was immediately sent home. WWII turned his family’s lives upside down. They were stripped of their rights, classified 4C enemy aliens, and forced to sell their properties for pennies on the dollar. Their choice was to relocate to an internment camp or a sugar beet farm in Parker, Idaho. To avoid internment, they chose to work on the farms of the U&I Sugar Company in Parker, Idaho.
Nelson never returned to California Polytechnic State University, until years later, in 2010, when he was awarded an Honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters. In 1943, when Japanese-Americans were able to serve in the military, Nelson enlisted. He was 19 years old. He served as a machine gunner and forward observer. He belonged to the highly-decorated all Japanese-American “Go For Broke” 442nd Regimental Combat Team, nicknamed “The Purple Heart Battalion.” He was honorably discharged in 1946. In 2011, he was awarded the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal and in 2020, the highest French decoration, the French Legion of Honor.
During WWII, his family moved to Utah to farm. Upon returning from the war, Nelson resumed his education at the University of Utah. He married Atsuko Noda in the Salt Lake Temple in 1969, and they had three children: Douglas, Paul, and Jeanette. When Jeanette was still an infant, Atsuko succumbed to pulmonary hypertension, a fatal lung disease. Nelson married Lois Kilbourn Bennett in 1974. A year later, he received a Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship as a machinist from the State of Utah. Nelson doubled as a fruit farmer on the family farm in Draper, Utah, and as a machinist at Hercules (now ATK), where he worked on intercontinental ballistic missiles, retiring in 1987.
Nelson continued to farm until 1995 when the family decided to develop the land. In 1997, Nelson and LaVar Christensen were presented the Developers of the Year Award by the City of Draper for their development of Akagi Farms.
Nelson was a Christian all his life. He converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1965. He was an early member of the Japanese Dai Ichi Branch where he served in many capacities including ward missionary, executive secretary, and in the High Priests Group leadership. Nelson is survived by his sisters Betty and Marie, his children Doug (Jani), Jeanette (Grant) Spencer, Craig Bennett, Scott (Robyn) Bennett, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
[EdNote. We thank Peggy Mizumoto for providing this obituary.]
Roger Eaton, 1942 - 2020
La Palma, CA. Roger Eaton, historian, resident of La Palma, CA, passed away at home on September 3, 2020. He celebrated his 78th birthday the day before. Roger requested that no obituary be written, however, his wife, Dianna, approved the following write-up to record what she called “Roger’s passion.”
Roger partnered with Jim Yamashita to produce Echoes of Silence, a compilation of over 20,000 names of Japanese Americans who served in the armed forces during WW II. Roger enriched this database by including information obtained from obituaries collected nationwide from any time period.
Earlier this year, Roger, using his own database, Echoes of Silence and Seiki Oshiro’s MIS Registry, compiled a list of 3,342 names of MISers who served overseas. This settled the guesswork noted in various publications ranging from 2,800 to 7,000.
Knowing virtually zero about Japanese names, the 100th, 442nd and MIS, Roger became interested in the Nisei WWII veterans after speaking with George Ryoji Yamada, Dianna’s father, a veteran of the 232nd Combat Engineers Company, 442nd RCT. Roger dedicated his total post retirement life from his career job to recording pro bono the legacy of this Nikkei wartime generation.
Date: Wednesday, Oct. 7
Time: 7pm EDT, 4pm PDT, 1pm HT
Register at: https://bit.ly/3i4dEPx
The JACL DC Chapter is pleased to invite members and friends to our 3rd virtual book talk. The upcoming book talk is with Shirley Ann Higuchi on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 7pm EDT. In this presentation, Shirley will include a focus on the multigenerational impact of the incarceration to Japanese Americans. Her new book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration, can be ordered through Amazon or directly through the distributor at:
Chicago Distribution Center
1-800-621-2736 (toll-free, U.S.)
9 a.m. and 5 p.m. U.S. CST/GMT-6, Monday-Friday
A Zoom link for the event will be emailed to you once you register through Eventbrite at: https://bit.ly/3i4dEPx
Back row, left to right: Yozo Yamamoto, Henry Shiyama (killed in combat), Yoshikatsu Matsumoto, Kaoru Yamamoto, Charles J. Okimoto, Takeshi Lefty Kimura. Front row, left to right: Kunio Fujimoto, Susumu Kunishige, Raymond Yokoyama, Katsumi Jinnohara (killed in combat), Kaoru Yonezawa. Nine received the Purple Heart Medal. These are a few of the 1,400 Nisei in the 100th Bn, an oversized battalion consisting of 6 line companies and a headquarters company when it went overseas. Photo: Signal Corps.
Mark Matsunaga and Isami Yoshihara
Honolulu, HI. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s battlefield heroics delivered America’s Japanese populace from the shameful injustice of mass removal and incarceration in World War II. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. That vindication could not have occurred without the Americans of Japanese ancestry from Hawaii who were in the fight first: pre-war soldiers who became the 100th Infantry Battalion, Territorial Guard members who became the Varsity Victory Volunteers, and two spies in the Philippines. And two-thirds of the 650 soldiers of the 100th and 442nd who were killed in action or died of wounds in World War II were from Hawaii.
In 1940, there were nearly 127,000 ethnic Japanese on the continent, 158,000 in Hawaii. The wartime experiences of the two groups differed dramatically. All of the Nikkei living on the West Coast -- 112,000 -- were forced from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps. About 2,000 suspect Japanese were removed from Hawaii, where martial law had been imposed on December 7, 1941.
The attack thrust Hawaii’s 450,000 residents onto the front line of America’s new war. Two thousand American soldiers of Japanese ancestry -- of the 298th and 299th Infantry regiments and engineer and service units -- were among the active duty personnel who rushed to defend Hawaii that day. Another 300 AJAs, most of them University of Hawaii ROTC cadets, were called up as members of the Hawaii Territorial Guard. The Nisei soldiers and guardsmen performed faithfully during and after the attack. Despite rampant rumors, thorough investigation concluded there had been no sabotage or subversion by any local Japanese during or since the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Under pressure from Washington, LTG Delos Emmons, the Army’s new commander in Hawaii, ordered all AJAs discharged from the Territorial Guard in late January. But he resisted orders to remove all Japanese to the continent or at least to one of the neighbor islands. Rather than sulk, 169 of the discharged Territorial Guard Nisei offered themselves as a labor battalion. The offer was accepted, and the Varsity Victory Volunteers was born. Soon afterwards, a VVV crew quarrying rocks at Kolekole was visited by the Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy. Fresh from approving the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the west coast, McCloy was in Hawaii to meet with Emmons and inspect units there. The trip changed his attitude toward AJAs. Emmons suggested to McCloy that the Nisei infantrymen from the Hawaii regiments be sent to fight in Europe. This would be a chance to demonstrate their loyalty, Emmons said, and he believed they would acquit themselves well. Meanwhile, reports were filtering back to Washington about the valuable intelligence being produced for General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines by Arthur Komori and Richard Sakakida, Army spies who had been recruited in Honolulu and served in Manila under commercial cover.
In May 1942, AJA soldiers of the 298th and 299th were reorganized into the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion, which sailed from Honolulu in June 1942. On arrival in Oakland, it was designated the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. The 1,400 Hawaii Nisei would spend another year training. General Dwight Eisenhower refused them for European service. But they impressed other Army officials with their skill and discipline, and their supporters continued to press for their deployment. Approval came in late 1942. In short order, despite opposition from officers such as LTG John DeWitt, who ordered the west coast evacuation, the War Department and President Franklin Roosevelt acceded to pleas from within the Army and the Nikkei community to create a larger Nisei unit of AJAs, a regimental combat team of 4,500 troops. It is unlikely that the combat team would have been approved if any of the trail-blazing Hawaii Nisei soldiers had said or done something disloyal to America.
Some of the new combat team’s slots would be filled by mainland prewar soldiers who had been benched after Pearl Harbor. Because AJAs were no longer being drafted, the new outfit needed volunteers. The call went out in February 1943. The Army initially expected two-thirds of the recruits to come from the continent, but ill feelings about their mistreatment and a flawed loyalty questionnaire resulted in barely 1,000 volunteers from the camps. In Hawaii, nearly 10,000 volunteered, and 2,600 were accepted.
The 100th Battalion and the new recruits crossed paths at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, that summer, but the 100th soon left for the Mediterranean. Assigned to the veteran 34th Division, the 100th Bn entered combat in September 1943 near Salerno. The Hawaii Nisei soon earned the respect of fellow GIs in bloody fighting along the Volturno and Rapido rivers and at Cassino. By the end of March 1944, the 100th Battalion had only 500 men and was being called the Purple Heart Battalion.
War correspondent Lynn Crost wrote in her book Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at war in Europe and the Pacific: “As years pass, statistics of decorations and the numbers of men killed and wounded may be forgotten. But the record of that original 100th Infantry Battalion and what it meant in the acceptance of Japanese Americans as loyal citizens of the United States must be remembered. If it had failed in its first months of fighting in Italy, there might never have been a chance for other Americans of Japanese ancestry to show their loyalty to the United States as convincingly as they did on the battlefields of Europe.”
Replacements from Shelby bolstered the 100th for Anzio and the drive to Rome. In late June, the 442nd arrived in Italy and the 100th became its first battalion. The combat team foundered in its first battle, at Suvereto and Belvedere, until the 100 th was called out of reserve to save the day.
As the combat team slogged through Italy and France in the months that followed, the initial differences between kotonks and buddhaheads melted away under fire. Neither group had a monopoly on challenges, service or courage. Both earned a place in the story of Japanese Americans in World War II.
[EdNote. Matsunaga and Yoshihara are both Hawaii residents with family members who served in WW II.]