The Price they paid.
On Wednesday afternoon the boy found Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa, sitting on the steps of her barracks Block 31, Building 3, Apartment 4 in the Manzanar California concentration camp. He walked slowly up to her, removed his cap, bowed and handed her the envelope. He knew what was inside. She did too.
Washington D.C. 1017 pm, 26th of July, 1944.
Mr and Mrs Takeyoshi Arikawa, Manzanar California.
The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son, Private First Class Frank Nobuo Arikawa, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team has been killed in action near Castellina, Italy on 6, July. Letter follows.
The Adjutant General
So there it was. Frank was the first.
American families would have recognized the name James A. Ulio from one of nearly 900,000 telegrams he signed—all of which began with the words: “…regret to inform you…” 800 Japanese families would suffer the same devastating hammer blow as the Arikawas. Nearly every Japanese-American family in the Western United States received that telegram behind barbed wire.
The depth of understanding required to see how and why a family would sacrifice a son for a country who herded them behind barbed wire and guard towers, who denied them rights available to every resident and citizen of the United States; A country which denied them the rights guaranteed them under the Constitution is almost beyond belief. And the boys and girls who served? Why did they do it?
Because they were Americans and they knew it. If it meant sacrifice, they would make it. Like parents of soldiers in every war ever fought, the Arikawas held their breath for, and prayed for their sons to return. American families would have recognized General Ulio’s name from one of nearly 900,000 telegrams he signed—all of which began with the words: “…regret to inform you…” My family received one too in December, 1944.
As a result of the registration program in February-March 1943, approximately 100 Nisei at Manzanar volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Every single drafted man responded and reported for a physical examination.
This was not the case in all the camps. Many young men and their families were furious that a government which herded them behind barbed wire and forced them to live under wretched circumstances could be so cruel and yet expect them to sacrifice their sons for a country that distrusted them, jailed them, starved them and was openly hostile to an entire population.
Some families forbid their children to go, others tried to reason with boys who were brimming with eagerness to prove to the American people that they were worthy citizens. “We aren’t Japs, I was born here and so was my father, we’re American citizens and we hate the Japanese as much as they do. Why I’ve never been to Japan and I don’t even speak the language.” ——Shigueru “Shig” Tomoka
Much of it was the sense of duty to your family and your country instilled by parents who had emigrated from a country where such values were held with great reverence. “Do nothing to embarrass your family,.” were words spoken by many fathers to sons who were enlisting.
The whole thing was a mess. At the beginning of the war there were thousands of Japanese Americans in the Army. There were college students who served in the ROTC, Territorial Guard from Hawaii and National Guard troops all over the country. They were eager to fight for their country and at first didn’t realize they were an embarrassment to the Army which did it’s best to hide them. Nisei soldiers were actually moved around the country on trains with blinds drawn, not allowed to detrain when there was a stop. Almost all were sent to Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi where they discovered they were considered “White” and were allowed all the privileges claimed by white Americans except for the one prohibiting dating white girls. Just another confusing experience with their status. The boys of the 100th from Hawaii were the most perplexed, being from a place where ethnicity was not a major factor in society.
About 5,000 Japanese Americans were serving in the U.S. Army when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The U.S. military soon called for another 5,000 volunteers from the mainland and Hawaii. In Hawaii alone more than ten thousand showed up. In January 1942, however, The Selective Service quickly classified all eligible Japanese American men as 4-C. 4-C being “Enemy Alien,” and not qualified to serve even though they were all American Citizens. Draft age boys showed up at recruiting centers all over the country only to be summarily showed the door. “We don’t want you,” they said, ”You can’t be trusted.”
Emotions were intense during 1942 as the United States entered the war and Japanese Americans on the west coast were moved to the concentration camps. “I was in 3rd grade at Orchard school in Arroyo Grande when this happened. I remember going to school that morning and lots of the kids were gone. Teachers tried to explain where they were. I really didn’t understand as I had moved so much it was no big deal to move. But lots of the kids were crying. When I got home my Mom explained to me that they had to move because of the war and some of their Grandfathers out on the farms had shortwave radios and were telling the Japanese submarines where they could shoot at us and harm us.* I really didn’t understand if their Grandfather’s were wrong why were my friends punished. It still puzzles me to this day. My family tried to calm me but they really didn’t have an answer. Sad times.” —–Patsy Hall, the authors aunt.
Various protests and disturbances occurred at some centers over political differences, wages, and rumors of informers and black marketing. Staff workers at Manzanar stole food meant for inmates and sold it on the black market in Independence, Lone Pine and Bishop.
The camp staff were fed conspicuously better food, their office were heated and air conditioned. The inmates were treated as if they had committed some crime, housed in barracks little better than shacks, provided poor food and paid as little as two dollars a week if the were fortunate enough to have a job. In the beginning, during the worst period of incarceration there was a great deal of resentment especially among the young. During a peaceful protest over living conditions some one threw a rock at the soldiers threatening the Japanese-Americans. They opened fire. Two young men were killed and 10 were wounded by military police during the so called “Manzanar Riot” in December 1942. Those of the prisoners who could be identified were immediately sent off to the punishment camp at Tule Lake. It’s ludicrous to think that those being punished in one concentration camp had to be sent to another “worse” concentration camp.
Tensions intensified in 1943 when the government required internees to answer a “loyalty questionnaire.” They were asked if they would serve in combat and if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States. Some older internees answered “no” because they were not allowed to become U.S. citizens and could not serve under any circumstances. Others refused to serve while their families were behind barbed wire. Those who answered “yes” were considered “loyal” and became eligible for military service outside the West Coast military area. Those who answered “no,” who were referred to as the “No-No” boys were quickly transferred to the punishment camp at Tule Lake, Calif.
In January 1944 the draft was reinstated for the Nisei Americans. Most of those who were drafted or volunteered joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, the 442nd fought with distinction in North Africa, France, and Italy. With 9,846 casualties, the 100th/442nd had the highest casualty rate and was the most highly decorated Army unit for its size and length of service. Nearly 26,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II. As has always been the case, hard fighting units were used as assault troops in the most difficult campaigns. The fight up the Italian Peninsula was one of the most brutal series of battles in modern warfare, a grinding, foot by foot slog against top German Wermacht and elite Waffen SS troops that took from July 10th 1943 until the Germans surrendered in Italy on May 8th 1945.
For those familiar with WWII history, Monte Cassino, the Rapido River, the landings at Anzio on Italy’s west coast once home to the Roman Emperor Nero, and the the final campaign from the Arno river up the northern spine of the country had the 100th/442 in it every step of the way. Nearly constant combat for almost two years. A daily meat grinder from which death or wounds was the only possible escape. Few grown men will do it, thats why the military like to take boys from hardscrabble backgrounds or those with something to prove. Boys from city ghettos, rural farms, recent immigrants children, those with chips on their shoulders, like the Nisei. The 100th/442 saw the most combat of any infantry regiment in the war. In 1944/45 the unit saw combat for 225 consecutive days. They were hands down the best infantry regiment in World War Two. Something to prove.
This was not a picture book campaign. Central Italy is dominated by a north to south mountain range, the Cisalpine Alps. With a succession of rivers running from its summit, both to the east and to the west, a more difficult place to attack a veteran army dug into the heights of those mountains can scarcely be imagined. Yet it had to be done. From the heights the germans could see the Adriatic sea to the east and the Tyrrhrenian to the west, there was no place to go but up. The valleys were dominated by German artillery, the rivers they had to cross, the Rapido, Volturno, and the Liri were fast flowing with no bridges left intact by the retreating Werhmacht. The mountains were very steep. Trucks and jeeps could not be used. The 100th, like all the infantry battalions used mules to pack in ammunition, food and supplies for the rifleman fighting towards the top. The last 1000 feet was too steep even for mules so it was packed the last few hundred yards by soldiers. They climbed hand over hand up and an over the rocks and boulders, able to carry only a single Jerry can of water or a case of mortar rounds. They even packed in the mail, though often much of it was passed back down. The recipient either evacuated wounded or dead. Add the cold, the freezing cold and the mud and the fact that it was all done in the dark. It was too dangerous in daylight. German snipers saw to that. You are just as dead from a ricochet stone chip off a granite boulder as you are from a copper jacketed slug. Their artillery targeted anything where a soldier might hide. Olive trees, pockets of boulders or any sign of loose dirt from a fox hole could bring a shell.
Human packers, regular soldiers from the infantry and service corps where just astonishing. In one ten day period, soldier packers carried nearly one hundred thousand pounds of supplies up the mountains for their battalion. Thats just one outfit. The same thing was happening in dozens of places at the same time. Most of these trails, if they can be called that were out in the open, across bare rock and exposed to artillery and small arms fire. The top of some trails were so steep that rope was strung along so that the men could pull themselves up.
The Nisei kids at times fought like primitive cavemen, so close to the Germans that they threw rocks at each other or used them in close, hand to hand combat. Grenades, more grenades were used in the mountains of Italy than in any other place in the war.
In the mountain war, rocks played a major part. Soldiers hid behind them, threw them, slept in their crevices, and were killed by them. In a single Nisei company, fifteen percent of the wounded and dead were from flying rocks.
There are no words to describe what combat does to a boy. For him its too horrible to contemplate and very quickly a sense of futility sets in, there is no hope, then, perhaps its acceptance and this allows him to go and do his job. It’s a sort of mental wreckage, boys who must break under the strain of combat. In the 100th they had every reason to break but the surprising thing is that so few did. The mystery being that anyone at all, no matter how strong, can keep his spirit from breaking in the middle of battle.
Consider Sergeant, later Lieutenant, Daniel Inouye from Hawaii. He stands a prime example of who the Nisei were. After he enlisted in Honolulu, he later said, “My father just looked straight ahead, and I looked straight ahead, and then he cleared his throat and said, ‘America has been good to us. It has given me two jobs. It has given you and your sisters and brothers education. We all love this country. Whatever you do, do not dishonor your country. Remember – never dishonor your family. And if you must give your life, do so with dignity and honor.”
Inouye Fought in Sicily, in the Italian campaign and in France. In France he also picked up what would be a consistent streak of luck when he was shot in the chest by a bullet only to be saved by a pair of silver dollars he kept in his pocket. These lucky charms would remain with him until he lost them. Just weeks before the end of World War II, Inouye found his unit fighting near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy during April of 1945. Despite having realized that he had lost his lucky silver dollars, he led an attack, pressing the attack as if he had a guardian angel riding his shoulder the entire time.
They were attacking one of the last German strongholds in Italy against a backed-up yet determined German Army where Inouye would lead an assault on the heavily defended town, Colle Musatello.
As the attack pressed on against heavy machine gun fire, Inouye stood up and was struck in the stomach by a bullet. While such a wound would send most men back to the medics, Inouye was no such man.
Pressing on as if it never happened, he continued to rake the German gun positions with his Thompson submachine gun, throwing grenades as he led his men against the German positions. Such action might be enough for one day but Inouye did not quit. Why anyone would do this is unknown. There is no explanation.
Approaching another machine gun position, Inouye stood to throw a grenade when he was struck in the elbow by a German grenade launcher. Despite the fact that the grenade nearly severed his entire right arm, he looked down at his then useless arm, pried the live grenade out of his immobile hand, and threw it at the German position wiping out the crew.
Then, almost beyond belief, he picked up the Thompson with his left hand and continued the assault. It was only when he was struck again in the leg and lost consciousness from the loss of blood that his body finally relented. He fell back into some bushes and lay there until an aid man pulled him out.
Despite his nine horrific wounds, Daniel Inouye survived. His right arm would be amputated without anesthesia, and for his actions he would be awarded just the Distinguished Service Cross. Only one medal of Honor was awarded to a Japanese-American soldier during the war. Apparently his actions weren’t good enough.
Perhaps their best known action was the relief of the “Lost Battalion.” The first battalion of the 141st Infantry of the Texas 36th division which was surrounded by German SS troops in the Vosges mountains of France in October of 1944. The Texas battalion was encircled in the freezing cold and snow, trapped in a ravine with no escape.
Major General John Dahlquist, commander of the 36th Infantry Division, was pushing the unit forward in an effort to liberate more French territory from the retreating Germans, but the 1-141 advanced at too fast a pace, General Dahlquist failing to provide advance reconnaissance, the 141st advanced with no flank support enabling the German forces to surround them. The men in the Battalion would soon succumb to the combination of cold weather, low rations, almost no munitions and German firepower as they took cover in a narrow valley surrounded by high mountains and German troops on all four sides. Dahlquist then threw more Texans into the fight attempting to break the line but the Texans advanced very little distance taking terrible casualties in the process. Dahlquist, knowing the reputation of the 442nd which he had on loan from General Mark Clark in Italy, yes, that Mark Clark, who defended the American kids as loyal and ready to serve their country in 1942 and who had jumped at the chance to command them when they were sent to Italy, decided to sent them into the fight in a last ditch attempt to rescue the Texans. After five days of combat from October 26 to October 30, the 442nd’s relief effort broke through the German defenses and were able to rescue 211 of the 275 Soldiers that had originally been trapped. In the process, however, the 442nd suffered more than 800 casualties.
Dahlquist had violated one of the most important tactical challenges there is. He had sent those boys into an assault against an enemy who enjoyed superior firepower along a sharply narrow trail, a very narrow and constrained corridor in which they laid down their lives by the dozens. Through freezing rain and dense fog, the men trudged up nine miles of thickly wooded ridges on heavily mined, serpentine paths as Germans fired artillery and machine guns from fortified positions above them. German tanks firing their 88’s into the trees at point blank range, dozens of machine gun pits on three sides and the slopes both above and ahead of them with mortars on all sides. It was quite literally a suicide run. In five days of battle the 442nd broke through German defenses and rescued 211 men. The 442nd suffered over 800 casualties. I Company went in with 185 men; 8 came out unhurt. K Company engaged the enemy with 186 men; 169 were wounded or killed. Additionally, a patrol of 55 men were sent to find a way to attack a German road block by the rear and try to liberate the remainder of the trapped men. Only five returned. Dahlquist harangued his commanders to “Keep them going and don’t let them stop.” Dahlquist even ventured near the lines himself and with his aide, the son of Author Upton Sinclair, was verbally pushing the Colonel commanding on the ground, a German sniper killed Sinclair with a shot to the back of the head. Splattered with the boys blood, the General quickly retreated to his much safer headquarters.
General Dahlquist called for a parade after the battle, proud of his command efforts. He intended to hand out a few medals and have newsreel film taken while doing it. When the remainder of the 442 assembled on the parade ground, only a few hundred of the more than 4,000 men and officers stood in line. When Gen. Dahlquist angrily reiterated that he had ordered all the soldiers to assemble, Lt. Col. Virgil Miller responded simply and with tears rolling down his cheeks, “This is all that’s left, Sir.”
Instead of allowing the Battalions to rest, Dahlquist sent them back up the line three days later. The Nisei hated the man.
During the Battle of the Lost Battalion, Lt. Col. Alfred Pursall, commander of the Nisei 3rd Battalion, contradicted the general, “Those are my boys you’re trying to kill…I won’t let you kill my boys…” One war correspondent observed that General Dahlquist “used the Nisei more ruthlessly than his own Texas troops, pushing them into death traps, day after day, to reach the Lost Battalion of his 36th Division.” At a 1982 military ceremony, then Col. Gordon Singles, the 100th’s commander, refused to publicly shake the hand of Gen. Dahlquist. The officers and men never forgave the man who built his military reputation on the backs of those young American Nisei boys.
Lest we forget how this impacted our little town of Arroyo Grande, PFC Sadami Fujita of the 100th Battalion, company B was killed by intense German small-arms fire in the Vosges Mountains on October 28th, 1944. Sadami had volunteered to run back through the curtain of German fire bring up more ammunition for his rifle company. He was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart, both posthumous. Before he volunteered he had worked for Juzuo Ikeda, Kaz’s father. Kaz remembered him well as an outgoing and friendly young man from Hawai’i.
Harry Sakamoto was a staff Sergeant with the 100th, company C, he was wounded in the heel in the Vosges mountains. He had farmed with his father and brother in the upper Arroyo Grande valley before the war.
The Arroyo Grande Herald-Recorder newspaper listed among it “Boys in the Service” column in August 1943;
- Fuchiwaki, Hiroaki Hilo; Military Intelligence Service; volunteered from Gila River, AZ internment camp,
- Fujita, Sadami; Private 1st Class; 100th Battalion Company B; Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge; killed in action 28 Oct 1944 in France. Volunteer.
- Kamitsuka, Joseph H; 1st Sergeant; Military Intelligence Service; assigned to Company E, 100th infantry regiment,
- Maruyama, Takuo; Military Intelligence Service; Allied Translator & Interpreter Section General MacArthur’s Headquarters-Tokyo,
- Nakamura, George Itsuo; Military Intelligence Service; volunteered from Gila River, AZ internment camp, “Dixie Mission”-Mao Tse-tung’s headquarters, Yenan, India, China, Order of Battle information;
- Nakayama, Shoji; Private 1st Class; 442nd Company F; volunteered from Poston, AZ internment camp,
- Otani, Tadashi; Private 1st Class; volunteered from Poston, AZ internment camp,
- Sakamoto, Harry; Staff Sergeant; 100th Battalion Company C; Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Badge, Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
- Tsutsumi, Harry M; Military Intelligence Service.
All of these young men had volunteered before the military closed enlistments for the Nisei and listed them as 4-C, enemy aliens in 1942. By the time the High School classes of 1943 and 1944 rolled around they were glad to get as many Nisei as they could. By that time most of the volunteers and draftees were held in the camps but still served though they had many reasons not to. They were Americans and they knew it.
Combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard, the 442nd fought with distinction in North Africa, France, and Italy. With 9,846 casualties, the 100th/442nd had the highest casualty rate and was the most highly decorated Army unit for its size and length of service. Nearly 30,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II. More than 800 gave their lives for a country that didn’t want them. In combat arms, those that actually saw action the death rate was nearly one in three. Consider Marine deaths on Saipan where just four percent. Forgive the comparison but casualties in the Nisei regiments were just horrific.
The combat arm of the 100th/442 RCT was awarded 21 Congressional Medals of Honor,* 588 silver stars, 5.200 Bronze Stars, and over 9,486 purple hearts plus numerous Soldiers Medals, Legions of merit, Unit Commendations, Division Commendations and one Presidential Unit Commendation.
.At Manzanar, before the camp was closed, there were nearly three hundred blue and gold stars hung in the windows of the barrack homes. People were intensely proud of their children, both boys and girls who were serving in the military. No different than other families in America no matter the race or religion or place of origin.
- Only one Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded a Japanese-American soldier during the war. The recommendations from field officers who served with the Nisei were routinely downgraded by senior staff. Only many years after the war did the Army begin reviewing the awards given. To this date, 30 medals have been upgraded and awarded, half posthumously.
- The 100th/442 RCT’s motto was “Go For Broke,” the unit motto, was actually adopted by the Regiment from a Hawaiian pidgin phrase used by gamblers to mean staking everything on a single roll of the dice in a game of craps.
- When Hawai’i Statehood was finally achieved in 1959, it was in spite of considerable conservative Republican opposition in Congress. Some of the credit for passing the bill went to the Texas Congressional Delegation including Congressman Jim Wright and the House Speaker, Sam Rayburn and fellow Texan Senator Lyndon Johnson in the Senate; all acknowledged the 442nd’s rescue of the Texas “Lost Battalion” in France during WWII as having greatly influencing their decision. Nine former Confederate state senators voted no. That number included both Democrats and Republicans. The only southern state to Texas fully supported statehood. Senator James Eastland D-Miss. famously said, “Admission of Hawaii would mean two votes for socialized medicines, two votes for government ownership of industry, two votes against all racial segregation and two votes against the South on all social matters.” “Perhaps we should become the United States of the Pacific and finally should become the United States of the Orient,” said Sen. George Smathers, D-Fla. The Florida lawmaker went on to claim that Hawaii statehood threatened “our high standard of living” and “the purity,” he meant white men, “of our democracy.” Segregationists also worried that Hawaii statehood would mean an end to Jim Crow, the systematic, legal enshrinement of racist policies in the South. Texas Rep. W.R. Poage suggested that the proposal for Hawaii statehood might result in “two more votes in the Senate” for civil rights.
- In 1962, Texas Governor John Connolly made each of the members of the 100th Infantry/442RCT honorary Texans.
- The Navy, Air Corps, Coast Guard and Marines never allowed Japanese-American citizens to serve in any capacity whatsoever.
- Three people were convicted of spying for the Japanese. One was a Japanese embassy employee in Hawaii, another a German national and the third a white woman, an American. As for sabotage, a farmer, enraged at the forced evacuation of his family, plowed under his strawberry crop because he could not bring it in before leaving with his family for Poston AZ. He was charged in absentia by a local magistrates court, and convicted of sabotaging the war effort.
- Not a single rumor of sabotage by Issei or Nisei was ever proved, and their were no convictions of note.
- The only firearms confiscated were a few hunting rifles mostly from two hardware stores in the Salinas valley.
- There was not a conviction of a single Japanese-American in any serious case of espionage or sabotage after Pearl Harbor. People who are convinced that our neighbors were communicating, via radio, with Japanese submarines or selling them oil while lying offshore San Pedro or those in Hawaii, who allegedly carved arrows in cane-fields pointing to the anchorage at Pearl Harbor—are simply uninformed and repeating a third generation of ignorant lies propagated by newspaper, radio and syndicated columnists looking for profit at any expense, monetary or political.
- Former California governor Earl Warren, and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wrote his memoirs he stated that the faces of the children separated from their homes and friends bore down on him; he could not die without at least confessing his error to them. The Japanese relocation program was a vivid example of the use of arbitrary governmental power at the expense of the rights of a virtually helpless minority. He had come to the realization that the Japanese evacuation, even in wartime, was offensive to America’s libertarian and egalitarian traditions and conspicuously racist.
And then when it was nearly over they went home. Many of the internees, particularly those from California knew by late 1944 that homecoming might not be such a welcoming thing. Properties they owned or leased were in most instances gone. Fishing boats, houses, farmland, businesses of all kinds, money left in banks or other investments were confiscated by the government as Alien property and considered forfeit or simply stolen by neighbors and other opportunists. For many years there was an individual in my hometown who drove a Japanese Farmers truck he had taken after the man was transported to Gila River. My father said he never showed any embarrassment and in fact was known to have said, “Served them right.”………