Go For Broke National Education Center announces Letters to Home - an effort to collect written material: letters, diaries and journals both to and from Japanese American soldiers during WWII. By gathering these stories, GFBNEC hope sto illustrate and explore the individual humanity expressed through these correspondences. This project is the basis for a future documentary that is in partnership with ABC7 News Anchor and documentarian, David Ono, who is also a member of our Board of Directors. Submissions and inquiries may be sent to email@example.com.
GFBNEC also announces the “Lawson Iichiro Sakai Memorial Scholarship,” a new opportunity focusing on students’ engagement and commitment to their community. This scholarship is funded by the family and friends of Lawson Sakai, who served in the 442nd RCT during WWII. Applications are in tandem with our 9th Annual GFBNEC High School and College Student Contest for which they are currently accepting essay and poetry submissions. First place winners from each category will be awarded $1,000 and additional monetary awards will be given to second and third place winners.
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 siblings—Masao "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, Utah, and 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.
- 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.
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.
Gerald Yamada, JAVA President
In celebration of National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I want to share with you the lessons that all Americans can learn from the legacy forged by Japanese American soldiers who served during World War II. These lessons were the subject of my presentation last month to the Coalition of Veterans Organizations in the Chicago area.
I started with the prewar prejudice and resentment in America against persons of Japanese ancestry. Built on prewar overt discrimination, government officials used war hysteria to further their prejudice and political ambitions to disrupt the lives of 120,000 innocent persons of Japanese ancestry. I credited how Japanese Americans who served in World War II proved their loyalty and restored the freedoms and dignity of the Japanese American community. I summarized the reasons why the governmental actions to forcibly remove 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to military-styled prison camps were illegal and unjust.
I explained how Japanese Americans reacted when they were asked to serve in the military as the way to show their loyalty to America. Thirty-three thousand (33,000) Japanese American men and women decided to serve. They kept their faith in America and its opportunities.
Japanese American soldiers served beyond expectations, defeating America’s enemies and against prejudice at home. Their valor and sacrifices made them America’s heroes, and a grateful Nation has bestowed many tributes in their honor. Their service created a legacy for future generations.
In concluding my presentation, I pointed out that there are four lessons that all Americans can embrace from the legacy that was forged by the World War II Japanese American soldiers. It is not just a Japanese American story. It is an American story.
First, the Japanese American soldiers’ willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to show their loyalty promotes patriotism, freedom, and equality as American values.
Second, their legacy urges all Americans to keep faith in America and its values, as did the Japanese American soldiers during World War II, to overcome the hate and prejudice that divided Americans.
Third, the Japanese American soldiers’ willingness to serve to overcome the public distrust of their ethnicity condemns racial profiling. Actions by governmental officials to promote fear, hatred, and prejudice based solely on ethnicity are not acceptable.
Fourth, their legacy symbolizes the best of American democracy – America committed a wrong, admitted its mistakes, took responsibility, made amends, and affirmed its commitment to equal justice for all.
As we begin May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, let us renew our commitment to JAVA’s mission to embrace the Japanese American soldiers’ legacy from World War II by promoting these lessons that are important for all Americans to follow.
Please Join Us*
Sunday, May 30, 2021
10:00 am ET / 1:00 pm PT / 4:00 pm HT
Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium
“Honoring the Legacy of the Nisei Soldiers”
LTG Michael K. Nagata, USA (Ret)
Japanese American Citizens League, Washington DC Chapter Japanese American Veterans Association
National Japanese American Memorial Foundation
Event to be livestreamed on JAVA Facebook
Click Here To Watch!
*ANC may have restrictions on the number of attendees. We will update event details once we are notified of ANC's policy.
VA's Veteran Legacy Memorial website. Photo: Screenshot.
In time for Memorial Day 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has upgraded the capabilities of the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM) website (https://www.va.gov/remember). The new VLM experience includes a complete redesign for a fresh look, better usability, and more ways to submit content. And for the first time, VLM visitors may upload photos and documents to a Veteran’s VLM page.
The Veterans Legacy Memorial website is the nation’s first digital platform dedicated entirely to the memory of the 3.7 million Veterans interred in VA national cemeteries. Launched in 2019, the site gives every Veteran interred in a VA national cemetery his or her own dedicated web page, with information such as dates of birth and death, military branch, highest rank held, conflicts in which the Veteran served, and significant military awards received. The site also includes headstone photographs and mapped locations for most Veterans, with more being added every day. Last May, family, friends, and visitors gained the ability to leave “Tributes” or comments on a Veteran's personal page.
Coming this May, visitors to VLM will be able to submit photos and biographical summaries of a Veteran’s life, along with historical documents such as award citations, letters, and newspaper clippings. Another feature will allow visitors to follow their Veteran's page and receive email alerts when new content is posted.
"Grandpa, thanks for everything. For providing for a family and bringing us so much happiness. For always taking care of us until your last breath. For always having a smile and laughing at your grandchildren. We love you and we thank you so much not only for your years of service to the country but to your family. Love you grandpa."
All content submitted to VLM is reviewed by Veterans Legacy Memorial administrators before being posted to the site to ensure dignity and decorum consistent with VA national cemetery standards. Visitors to the site can also flag any questionable content for further review by administrators.
The National Cemetery Administration operates 155 national cemeteries and 34 soldiers' lots and monument sites in 43 states and Puerto Rico. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service. Information on VA burial benefits is available from local VA national cemetery offices, online at https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/ or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. To make burial arrangements at any open VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
On March 29, 1973, the U.S. ended United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam and U.S. combat troops left the country. In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, the U.S. established March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Over 11,000 organizations around the country remembered and honored the nine million Americans who served. JAVA salutes our Vietnam Vets for their service and sacrifice. For more information about the 50th Anniversary and the U.S.A. Vietnam War Commemoration visit https://www.vietnamwar50th.com/.
Jack Nakamura. Reprint approved per Ednote below.
[EdNote. This “Story of My Life”, dated September 26, 2014, is reprinted from the 100th Battalion Veterans Hawaii website. We thank Sandra Tanamachi, who provided the article and obtained approval from Ann Kabasawa, President 100th Veterans Hawaii, to reprint it. Kabasawa also obtained for Tanamachi the following information from Jack Nakamura who also approved the reprint of the Letter and provided the photos for our use. Nakamura who is 98 shared that his middle name is Seitoku. His wife is the late Alice Masuoka and they have two children. The Nakamura's resided in Pearl City followed by Aiea. Jack Nakamura was employed by H&R Block as an auditor and instructor. Finally, he worked for the Internal Revenue Service at Barber's Point as an auditor. Nakamura volunteered for the 442nd, was assigned to Co B, trained in Camp Shelby, MS, was shipped to Italy as a replacement to the 100th Battalion, and served in all 442nd campaigns. He was wounded twice.]
September 26, 2014
STORY OF MY LIFE by Jack Nakamura
To my children and grandchildren:
I was born and raised in Ewa Village, a small sugar plantation, which was also called “B Village.” One day while playing kickball I heard drumbeats and somebody singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain.” Later, I found out that it was Captain and Mrs. Sainsbery of the Salvation Army. This was my introduction to Christianity because I grew up in a Buddhist town and my mother and father were Buddhist. I never was a Buddhist, but I believe there are no bad religions.
Mother and father were the most important people in my life while I was growing up. One day while playing in the street I got hurt and started crying and ran to my mother. Mother came out of the house and held me in her arms and it didn’t hurt anymore. Ironically, when I became a soldier and the enemy shell blew me 20-25 feet, I did not call for mother but called for God and did not find God. The second time I was wounded, I found myself calling for mom. Many other soldiers called for their moms when they were wounded or thought they were dying.
Between the ages of 12 to 17 I was in the Boy Scouts of America. However, at about age 14 I was more interested in school, especially studying English and Japanese. I earned my Boy Scouts Star and Life Scout Badges and became an Eagle Scout about the time when war broke out between the Japanese and the United States.
On December 7, 1941, a cold Sunday morning, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Barbers Point, Hickam Airfield and Kaneohe Marine Base. I heard bombs falling everywhere. At first I thought it was a maneuver, but minutes later realized that the bullets were real. When some bullets ripped by my feet and our outhouse, that was when I knew we were being attacked. All the neighborhood kids ran to their own houses.
I was curious to see more of the action so I climbed up on the roof of our house. I saw a dog fight between an American plane and a Japanese plane. One plane burst into flames and dove into the ocean and the other one flew away. When the Japanese air force attacked our airplanes and ships, all of Hawaii was damaged and hurt. At that time many Japanese Americans were serving in the 298th and 299th infantry regiments of the Hawaii National Guard. As the initial shock of the attack wore off, loyalty of the Americans of Japanese ancestry (or AJA) came into question. For months Caucasian politicians and military leaders in Hawaii defended the AJAs and urged that they be given a chance to show their allegiance to America.
Finally, in May 1942 the Army ordered the Japanese Americans of the Hawaii National Guard, the Army Reserve and regular Army to be formed into a provisional battalion. It would be organized, equipped [sic] and trained for future use as an infantry combat unit. The oversized battalion of 1,432 soldiers was designated the 100th Infantry Battalion. It did not yet belong to any regiment of a larger unit. From the beginning the 100th Battalion was distinctive because it was formed based on ethnicity. It was to serve America when the land of their ancestors was among the enemies of this country.
(The 99th Infantry Battalion of Norwegian ancestry, the 100th Battalion was Americans of Japanese ancestry and the 101st Battalion was of Austrian ancestry.)
Assigned to the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, the 100th Battalion landed in Salerno, in southern Italy on September 22, 1943. On September 29 it suffered its first casualties when Shigeo Takata and Keichi Tanaka were killed. The 100th crossed the Volturno River attacking the Winter Line of German defenses, participated in the battle for Mount Cassino and made an amphibious landing at Anzio.
I volunteered in the Army and was placed in the 442nd Regiment, 1st Battalion. While still in training at Camp Shelby, there was a request for volunteers to join the 100th Battalion because they had lost many in combat. I volunteered along with several other members of the 442nd to replace those wounded or killed in action serving in the 100th Battalion. We were shipped to Anzio, Italy.1 There was no action for a week, after which the Germans started shooting in our direction. One of the blasts from their artillery hit the shack that three of us were were hiding in. The blast killed Yoshio (2), blew my buddy about 40 feet and blew me about 30 feet.
The explosion was so intense I couldn’t hear, feel, or see anything for a few minutes. I thought I was dead and was in heaven. I went looking for God or Jesus Christ and I saw lots of flowers and an angel flying around. Just then one of my buddies shook me and woke me up. I was not dead! Boy was I happy. I earned my first Purple Heart from that incident.
After a bitter battle at Anzio, we had the enemy on the run. In May 1944, we made our move to Pian Marano. Under heavy enemy fire, we fought into Civitavecchia, Belvedere, Sassata, and onto Livorno just before the Arno River and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Before we got to Leghorn, we were to have two weeks of rest and recreation but before the two weeks were up, we had an urgent call back to duty.
(Note from Puka Puka reviewer: Mr. Nakamura included two paragraphs about the battles in the Vosges Mountains of northwest France during October 1944 which included the liberation of Bruyeres and Biffontaine and the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.” However, his memory of the dates and sequence of these battles are not accurate. The 100th/442nd took part in a four-day battle to rescue the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry of the 36th “Texas” Division which had been surrounded in the forest east of Biffontaine. His story continues of his experiences after participating in these battles during which the 100th and 442nd suffered a high number of casualties.)
I was shocked when a Caucasian soldier we had rescued said, “I never thought I would be so happy to see Japs.” The nurse was so mad to hear that she looked at me and said you should have left him there in the woods. I don’t think it was meant to be discriminatory or derogatory. Everyone was well and happy.
In the course of ten weeks in 1944, people of France and Japanese Americans became very good friends. After we helped liberate Italy and France, people in both countries were very friendly toward Japanese Americans. Even if they lacked provision, they invited me to their dinner tables. It broke my heart, but I refused their food. I stole some food from our kitchen and gave it to them. They loved our chocolate. I gave them mostly through the children, but I bet the adults took some from the children.
(Note from Puka Puka reviewer: Mr. Nakamura wrote one paragraph that mentioned that the 100th/442nd “were battling our way to the German’s last stronghold, the Gothic Line.” After the rescue of the Lost Battalion, the troops were withdrawn to a rest camp at the beginning of November 1944, then to southern France for a period called the “Champagne Campaign.” General Mark Clark, commander of the 5th Army, requested Allied Command for the return of the 100th/442nd to Italy to participate in the final battles in March/April 1945 to break through the Gothic Line. For its part in this campaign, the 100th received its third Presidential Unit Citation. Mr. Nakamura story continues when the battalion was back in Italy.)
I don’t remember what happened after that because I landed in the hospital. After about a week in the hospital I finally got to my senses and asked why I was there. I was not wounded. She smiled at me and said, “You are here because of battle fatigue.” In other words I went “nuts,” I said. She smiled again and said, “Look at all these guys. They are all in the same situation. All you need is some rest. You are ok.”
Two days later I went back to my outfit. My first assignment on patrol was to reconniter [sic] the German stronghold. While on this recon patrol we were on a trail on a mountainside. As we made a turn towards the enemy location, a machine gun fire startled me and I fell about 12 feet head first down the mountain slope. I was unconscious for a few seconds, sliding down the slope. I found myself hanging on to thick grass or weeds. My buddies from above yelled, “Sargent, Sargent [sic], are you ok? I had blood all over my face but said, “Yes, I’m ok.” I looked down the slope about ten feet more, then after that a sheer drop of about 300 feet. Boy, was I lucky I didn’t slide further. I hung on to the grass and climbed to the ledge. My buddies lowered a rifle with a strap. I grabbed the rifle strap and hung on to the butt end and they lifted me to safe ground. I’m glad I’m still alive today. This was the incident that gave me the second Purple Heart.
On the Gothic Line, the 34th Division and Unit of British and Canadians were on the frontal attack against the German army. The 100th and 442nd circled around the mountainside and attack their right flank and surprised the Germans. Soon after that they surrendered and the war ended. We were still on duty because we had about three months more before we could be honorably discharged. Because the American Air Force and our artilliary [sic] had damaged the water main, I was assigned to German prisoners of war to repair a section of the area.
That afternoon I went over to the German dining from where they gathered to drink beer and sing. When I entered the dining room, everybody stopped singing and were quiet. They looked at me and my M1 rifle on my shoulder. I took the rifle off and leaned it against the wall and spoke to them in English. “Anyone speak English?” Two Germans said, “yah.” I said, my name is Sergeant Nakamura. What is yours?” One said Erick. The other shy guy said Rudolph. I paused, then said to Erick: “Did you know me before today?” He said, “No, I don’t know you.” Then, I said “why are we trying to kill each other?” Erick and Rudolph said, “yah, I don’t know why.” I said, “Let’s keep on singing and drinking.” We drank and sang until almost dawn. I finally passed out. When I got up the next morning, I was on my bunk with my rifle next to me. My German war prisoners had carried me to my bunk and laid my rifle next to me. Boy, did I have a hang-over and I was dizzy.
I had the Germans working on the detail fixing the pipeline while I laid down to take a nap. All of a sudden three German prisoners came running to me, yelling, “Officer, officer, coming.” I jumped to my feet, straightened my tie and stood at attention. The lieutenant said, “Everything seems ok.” I said, "Yes, sir.” He said, “Carry on Sergeant.”
(1) Arrived April 4, 1944. He was in the second group of replacements from the 442nd.
(2) May be Albert Yoshio Nozaki.
To access letter online: https://www.100thbattalion.org/wp-content/uploads/Jack-Nakamura-Memoir.pdf.
Col. Danielle Ngo shares a laugh with Soldiers during training at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in 2018. Ngo is now the executive officer to the Army's inspector general in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Behlin.)
By Joseph Lacdan, U.S. Army News Service
March 29, 2021
Reprinted with permission.
WASHINGTON -- At Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, 3-year-old Danielle Ngo sat in a terminal with her mother and infant sister. For hours they had waited for a plane that would take them out of Vietnam.
Then they felt a rumble.
The ceiling began to peel as the building shook. Debris fell onto terrified onlookers.
North Vietnamese had sent rockets crashing onto the sprawling airport on April 29, 1975, a day before the fall of Saigon.
Earlier, Danielle’s mother, Ngo Thai-An, learned that the North Vietnamese forces had been closing onto the city. A relative who worked for the U.S. embassy had acquired tickets for them to travel to the U.S. The young mother knew she needed to take her children and leave immediately. The commercial plane never arrived.
“What came to my mind was just get the kids somewhere safe,” Thai-An said.
Moments after the rockets landed, Danielle, her 1-year old sister, Lan-Dinh, and their mother were rushed to the tarmac. In the distance, Thai-An heard more rockets falling onto the airport as they stood in line to board a military aircraft. “I didn’t look back,” she said.
Thai-An said they likely became one of the last Vietnamese refugees to escape the airport, which served as a military base for South Vietnamese and U.S. aircraft. They and other South Vietnamese climbed into the back of one of the final U.S. military planes to leave the battle-torn nation.
The Ngos family left the war behind them as the plane climbed over the South China Sea.
Danielle, now the executive officer to the U.S. Army inspector general in Washington, D.C., remembers little of that day when she and her family fled their homeland and the war that embroiled it. She only knows what happened from her mother’s stories.
Ngo Thai-An with her daughters, Lan-Dinh, left, and Danielle, in their native country, Vietnam, in 1973. The family left the southeast Asian nation as Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport was under attack by North Vietnamese forces. The Ngos were among the last Vietnamese to evacuate just as the Vietnam War was coming to an end in 1975. Danielle is now a colonel in the U.S. Army. (Courtesy photo used with permission.)
The military plane eventually landed at a camp in the remote U.S. territory, Wake Island, about 2,300 miles west of Hawaii. They were officially refugees. There, they spent three months waiting for a country to accept them. Finally they learned that the U.S. would offer them sanctuary, her mother said.
With only a few bags of belongings, they boarded planes to camps in Hawaii and then Arkansas.
Throughout the trip, Danielle never let her sister out of her sight. At times, her mother had to carry the luggage that contained their change of clothes and diapers.
“She always [held] onto her sister’s hand,” Thai-An recalled. “She wouldn’t let go.”
They later spent several weeks in Dallas before an uncle agreed to sponsor them. All the while, her mother told her to hold onto her sister.
They finally moved into government housing in Melrose, a predominantly white suburb of Boston just north of the Mystic River.
When the Ngo family migrated to America, much of the U.S. still harbored anti-war sentiments and remained apprehensive toward accepting Vietnamese refugees.
During her early years, Danielle learned to take responsibility for her sister and to respect her mother’s wisdom. Through her mother’s strength, she said, she learned to become someone who could lead Soldiers.
The family of U.S. Army Col. Danielle Ngo poses for a photo in the early 1970s, during the Vietnam War. Pictured are, from left; Ngo's uncle, Son, her grandmother, Ho Ngoc Vien, aunt Thai Anh, her mom Thai An, aunt Nhu-Y, and her grandfather, Ngo Ngoc Tung. Danielle Ngo is being held by her aunt, Tuong Van, on the far right. (Courtesy photo used with permission.)
A brown and red oil painting hangs above the fireplace of Col. Danielle Ngo’s Fairfax, Virginia, home. The painting shows Thai-An as a young mother cradling baby Danielle in her arms after her birth in the South Vietnamese port town of Vung Tau.
It has been more than 46 years since the Ngos left their lives in Saigon. She only can recall the memory of her grandfather placing a dollar bill in the pocket of her blue shirt, and the name he gave her, Nhu-Nguyen, which means “wish came true” in Vietnamese. She has forgotten how to read and speak Vietnamese.
She didn’t know much about her father, except that he served as an officer in the South Vietnamese Army and trained with U.S. Special Forces. Northern Vietnamese forces eventually took him prisoner after his family left for the U.S. To this day, the family does not know his whereabouts.
In America, they lived in subsidized housing for eight years. The family had little money for new clothes and toys. For years Danielle rode a small bicycle that didn’t have a seat cushion.
First photo: Lan-Dinh, left, with her older sister, Danielle, in 1977. Danielle would go on to serve about 30 years in the Army and is now the executive officer to the Army inspector general in Washington, D.C. Lan-Dinh attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served seven years of active duty. Second photo: The sisters pose for a photo with their mother, Thai-An, in 1978. (Courtesy photo used with permission.)
When Danielle reached the seventh grade, the family moved to the affluent southern Boston suburb of Hingham along the Massachusetts Bay. As a single mother, Thai-An often could not be home to take care of her children. She had married young at age 17 and gave birth to Danielle at 18. Thai-An, still in her early 20s, had aspirations to attend college and build a career and better life for her children.
Despite only a 15-month age gap between the Ngo sisters, responsibilities often fell to Danielle, who watched over Lan-Dinh. She held her younger sister’s hand once again when they walked to school or the local YMCA, where they took swimming and gymnastics lessons. She always made sure that Lan-Dinh had something to eat when she became hungry.
In high school, Lan-Dinh played organized sports for the first time, competing in basketball and soccer before settling on joining the school’s dancing production. Danielle joined the choir and French clubs and even started her own volunteer group, where she served bread to Boston’s homeless and cared for the elderly.
“It was such an inspiration to watch her do that,” Lan-Dinh said. “I would say that was the first time she actually like led and organized something.
“Probably most of the leadership [skills] she actually learned came from the military, because in an Asian household, children did not really demonstrate any leadership. They are very obedient.”
Col. Danielle Ngo, then the commander of the 130th Engineer Brigade at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, shares a laugh with members of the People's Liberation Army of the Republic of China while on break during the U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange's Expert Academic Dialogue Nov. 9, 2016, in Kunming, China. As a child, Ngo emigrated to the U.S. in 1975 as a Vietnamese refugee. She is now the executive officer to the Army inspector general. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Behlin.)
Although Danielle and Lan-Dinh cannot recall the fateful day in 1975, they listened to their mother’s words.
Her mother remembers seeing the uniforms of the U.S. Soldiers who welcomed them onto Wake Island. At each camp they traveled, they saw the Army fatigues. When Lan-Dinh became sick as in infant, Army nurses treated her at the island’s military hospital and learned she had been allergic to milk.
Danielle valued her life in the United States, so much that she had decided she would join the U.S. Army at 17 to repay the debt she felt she owed.
“I wanted to give something back to America, which was my country now,” Danielle said. “[America] had saved me from the war.”
At first her mother resisted. She didn’t want to risk the possibility of her eldest daughter going to war after she had sacrificed so much to escape one in Vietnam. She wanted Danielle to find a way to attend college.
Danielle, intent on enlisting, pledged that she would use the Montgomery G.I. Bill to get an education after active duty and eventually her mother agreed. With hopes of becoming a doctor, she had enlisted as an operating room technician in 1989.
She now wore the uniform of the Soldiers who gave her family safe passage.
In 1991, Danielle decided to return to her homeland alone after joining the Army. Her plane landed at Tan Son Nhat, the same airport where she and her family escaped the Vietnam War years before.
She visited her place of birth in the Ba Ria-Vung Tau province. And finally she sat with her grandfather in the family’s dusty art studio in Saigon, which the North Vietnamese renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Each day her grandfather would ride his bicycle to the studio where they would sit inside and communicate by writing questions and answers on notepads. Her grandfather, Ngo Ngoc Tung, had taught himself English, but felt more comfortable conversing that way.
There she learned about her grandfather’s life in Vietnam, how he built his house with his own hands without the aid tools. He told her about how he taught his children how to paint and create works of art. He showed her the beautiful pieces her family had created through the years.
About a year after her visit, her grandfather died.
Thai-An shifted from job to job, first earning an associate’s degree while working as a caretaker for the elderly. She eventually earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree before finally finding work as a librarian.
Her mother instructed her children to only speak English in the household, so that she could teach herself through them. “It was a very stressful and trying time for her,” Danielle said.
By witnessing her struggle, it left an impact on her daughters.
“My mother," Danielle said. "is an incredible woman."
Then-Pvt. Danielle Ngo after graduating from basic combat training in 1990. Ngo is now a colonel and the executive officer to the Army inspector general. (Courtesy photo used with permission.)
Following her lead
Danielle enjoyed her time as an enlisted Soldier, but remembered the promise she had made to her mother. She left active duty briefly after two years to attend the University of Massachusetts Boston in late 1991 on a scholarship to study finance. She worked at the Veterans Affairs office at her school and she later joined Boston University’s ROTC program in her second year, all while helping to care for her youngest sister, Stefanie, at home.
Lan-Dinh, inspired by Danielle’s commitment, attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
In 1994 Danielle graduated from UMass Boston and earned her commission as a combat engineer officer.
As a young captain, she saw wars on fronts vastly different from the one she escaped in her childhood. She traveled to Bosnia in 1998 as a company executive officer. Then, 18 months after America watched the twin towers fall, she deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Being the lone woman in units dominated by men had its challenges, but fueled her to train harder. As she climbed the officer ranks, she kept a stern level of professionalism, but with humility.
The sisters’ military careers crossed paths in 1998 when both received assignments at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1998. They lived together for three years until Lan-Dinh left active duty in 2001. During unit dinners Lan-Dinh saw the impact her sister had on her troops. Danielle would even invite Soldiers to her house for Thanksgiving dinner.
“I just [knew] they loved her,” Lan-Dinh said. “When they're there with their families … You can see they have a huge amount of respect for her.”
Danielle listens to Soldiers’ concerns. She values the opinions of her non-commissioned officers, Lan-Dinh said.
Danielle had opted to become a female engineer, in part because she felt the career presented the toughest challenge for a female Soldier.
In 2001, prior to the events on 9/11, she became the first female company commander in a combat engineer battalion directly assigned to a combat brigade, which was 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade. In 2003, the brigade, originally designated to go into Iraq through Turkey, ended up following the 3rd Infantry Division into Iraq through Kuwait.
She spent the first sixth months as the brigade's logistics officer helping equip a combat brigade so it could convoy from Kuwait to Tikrit, Iraq. The length of the convoy spanned over 800 kilometers. Her unit often had to improvise as the U.S. military had not established any facilities yet and had to fight in austere conditions.
Males and females bunked together. They made makeshift showers and dug burn pits. During the days she endured sweltering heat while keeping a vigil for enemy fire. “It was almost impossible to sleep during the day,” Danielle said. “It got so hot.”
U.S. officials would later credit her unit, the 4th Infantry Division, with being among those who helped capture Saddam Hussein. Danielle would go on to deploy to Afghanistan to help plan the surge, command an engineering battalion at Fort Carson, Colorado, and work as a military assistant to the chairman of the NATO Military Committee.
She eventually became the commander of the 130th Engineer Brigade at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. There she provided combat and construction support across the Pacific, deploying Soldiers to 17 countries. For example, her team helped coordinate the civil service agreement between the U.S. and the government of Palau to bring teams of Army craftsman and laborers for crucial construction projects in the remote Pacific island nation.
Then and now. Left, then-1st Lt. Danielle Ngo in Bosnia in 1998 and her as a colonel in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo used with permission.)
Today she ranks as the highest active-duty woman of Vietnamese descent in the Army and the second highest only to Maj. Gen. Viet Xuan Luong. She has three children who she has raised with the values she learned from her mother and her late grandfather.
“As a role model to others … she is most proud of her roles as a wife, mother, daughter and friend to those around her,” wrote Lt. Gen. Leslie Smith, the Army’s inspector general. “It shows in her actions every day.”
Excellence runs in the family. After Lan-Dinh graduated from West Point and served seven years of active duty, she spent 18 years with Bank of America where she retired as a vice president. Now she teaches English in Thailand as the center director at the Bangkok location of Point Avenue, a company founded by West Point graduates.
Danielle’s uncle, Ngo Vinh Long, who sponsored the family so they could find refuge in Massachusetts, became the first student to attend Harvard University directly from Vietnam. He taught himself English before traveling to the U.S. by memorizing British novels.
Danielle hopes to inspire other Asian Americans to join the armed forces by her example. The colonel said Asian families prioritize education, which may contribute to underrepresentation in the U.S. military.
“The path for many Asians is to go to college, get an education, make something more of yourself than what your parents are,” Danielle said. “It's pretty strong in Asian culture. And then on top of that, if you look around the military, you don't see much of yourself.
“So the conversation is, we should have more African-American generals in the military, so other African Americans have someone to look up to and strive to become. But they're missing the Asian and Hispanic communities. Somehow, we've got to convince the Asian community that it's worthwhile to join the military.”
The colonel said she wants to encourage other Asian Americans to join the Army, the same way the efforts of U.S. Soldiers motivated her to serve decades ago.
To access the news story online: https://www.army.mil/article/244704/once_a_war_refugee_soldier_rises_through_armys_ranks.
White House Press Release. On April 14, 2021 the White House announced the appointment of Erika Moritsugu, US Senator Duckworth’s general counsel, as its Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison. Moritsugu was an assistant secretary of housing and urban development during the Obama administration.
The Washington Post on April 15 reported that “Moritsugu is expected to report to Bruce Reed, Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff, with the rank of Deputy Assistant to the President. … Moritsugu previously worked at the Anti Defamation League and served on the staffs of Senator Tammy Duckworth and former Senator Daniel Akaka. She has also held policy roles at the Democratic Policy Committee and at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
Senators Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono criticized the administration last month for a lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander representation. Both lawmakers had threatened to block President Joe Biden's nominees, but they reversed course after they got reassurances from the administration. The country is also grappling with a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“I applaud President Biden for swiftly addressing my concerns and creating a new senior-level AAPI liaison position at the White House," Duckworth said in a statement Wednesday. "I know first-hand that President Biden will benefit from her counsel, policy expertise and strong relationship-building skills, especially as his Administration seeks to make sure AAPI leaders are present at the highest levels of government."