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 "The best troops are called upon to do the hardest fighting.   Whenever a general finds himself up against a tough proposition he sends for the best troops he has.  In a critical situation he can't take chances with anything less than the best.  A man who is being shot at daily has a hard time recognizing it as a compliment when, dead tired, bruised and battered, he is called upon to make one more effort to risk his life another time--but it is a compliment, nevertheless."
( Colonel Sherwood Dixon, a War Department staffer in a letter to 442d RCT Chaplain Masao Yamada, 22 November 1944.")

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"Pushed To The Limit"

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Fighting for Survival

 

The rescue of the Lost Battalion was indeed a defining moment for the 442d Regimental Combat Team.  The Presidential Unit Citation was awarded, individually, to each Battalion of the Go For Broke Regiment, the 100th adding a second such award to the one received earlier in Italy and the 3d Battalion earning two in the 21 day campaign.  A PUC was also awarded to the Regiment's 232d Combat Engineer Company.

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100th Infantry
Battalion

2d Battalion

3d Battalion

232d Combat
Engineers

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Five men of the regiment were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their individual heroism during the incredible 5-day ordeal to save the Lost Battalion.  The rescued survivors of the Lost Battalion felt a debt of gratitude to the Nisei that still exists 56 years later.  Veterans still are moved to tears when they recount the joy of seeing the small Japanese-American soldiers breaking through the forest to approach their position.

The rank and file among the Lost Battalion survivors launched a campaign to have all members of the 442d declared "honorary Texans".  But for the sacrifice of the brave Nisei, Texas might have claimed a second Alamo.  Such an honor was promised, but the promise 442_battletank.jpg (34552 bytes)quickly forgotten.  A few years after the war the men who owed their lives to the Nisei, now most of them civilians, would not let the forgotten promise fall by the wayside.  Texas Governor John Connolly took the unprecedented step of issuing a proclamation declaring each and every member of the 442d Regimental Combat Team to be "Honorary Texans".  Also, after the war, a painting was commissioned to depict the members of the 442d in action, battling through the Vosges to rescue the Lost Battalion.  That painting has hung since at the Pentagon, a constant reminder of the incredible feat.

 

Private Barney Hajiro was submitted by I Company Commander Captain James Wheatley for both the Medal of Honor and the Victoria Cross.   The wounded private, because of his nomination for his Nation's highest award, was not allowed to rejoin his unit after recovering from his wounds.  Instead, he was transferred to a segregated all-black unit.  In 1948 he indeed received the Victoria Cross, the British equivalent of the United States Medal of Honor.  His nomination for the latter award however, was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.   (This was finally upgraded to the Medal of Honor 56 years after his heroic actions.)


As quickly as the rescued members of the Lost Battalion were moved down the hill from the grasp of the enemy, the badly battered soldiers of the 442d pushed into the forest to secure the area.  The Vosges were literally crawling with enemy soldiers including hundreds of fresh troops brought in to prevent the rescue that the Nisei had just miraculously accomplished.  Sergeant Senzaki ordered his 8-man company to continue past the liberated Lost Battalion and into the forest on the far side of the ridge.  A short time later the remains of Company K moved over to join them.

Upon learning that the Lost Battalion had been rescued, General Dahlquist wasted little time sending his thanks to his Nisei troops.   His message came with new orders, "Take the next hill."  Company K took the lead as the 3d Battalion continued forward in the offensive to secure the entire ridge.  The day after the rescue, Company K was assigned a new officer to command the unit.  Within 24 hours he was killed in action.  By November 1st the 3d Battalion was down to 200 men, less than a quarter of its full authorized strength.   Lieutenant Colonel Pursall told Regimental headquarters that if he didn't get more men he would have to withdraw and give the hill up to the Germans.     Still, orders from Division headquarters were for the 442d, led by what remained of 2d Battalion, to not only hold but to push forward to completely remove the entrenched enemy from the ridge. 

Companies I, K and L fought down the middle the the ridge, with Companies F, G, and E covering the flanks.  It was intense, bitter fighting that wore down soldiers already suffering the strain of too much misery, too many brushes with the enemy, and too many friends killed.  On November 2d while radioing back to S-3, Lieutenant Colonel Pursall was asked if there was anything that could be done for him.  His simple reply, "Relieve us!" 

The only relief that arrived was the infusion of a few replacements on November 3d.  They were not infantrymen, but members of the 232d Engineers, assigned to replace the lost infantrymen of the 2d Battalion.  Throughout the day they fought side by side with their comrades.  As darkness fell on the night of November 3d, the Nisei had pushed the enemy to the forward areas the ridge, withstood a strong counter-attack, and lost more men.   Despite the fact that finally the entire ridge was controlled by the men of the 442d, on the morning of November 4th General Dahlquist ordered the 442d to attack and push the enemy from their positions on the forward slope of the ridge.

If the last week of October was a "shining star" in the crown of achievements of the 442d Regimental Combat Team, the first week of November was the blemish that dimmed a brilliant glow.  Historians will treat the manner in which General Dahlquist deployed and used his Nisei unit with mixed reviews.   Among the veterans of the 442d there would be no doubt.  They felt used, abused, squandered and pushed beyond any reasonable limits.  Indeed years later after the war, Lieutenant Colonel Singles who had remained to pursue a career in the military, met General Dahlquist at a military ceremony.  The white, former commander of the 442d dutifully rendered a proper salute to the General who now sported 4 stars on his uniform.  After returning the salute, General Dahlquist proffered his right hand saying, "Let bygones be bygones.  It's all water under the bridge, isn't it?"  Singles maintained his salute, ignoring the General's extended hand...rendering proper military protocol but refusing to forgive what many considered the blatant waste of a brave group of Japanese-American soldiers.

Despite the fact that historians may dispute General Dahlquist's performance, no one can dispute the performance of the soldiers of the 442d Regimental Combat Team during their darkest hours.  Every advance meant fighting past the bodies of dead and dying comrades with the knowledge that for each soldier it was probably just a matter of time.  You survived today, only to be lost tomorrow.   The ridge was littered with the wounded, brave infantrymen as well as engineers forced to take up rifles and fight beside them.  Among them moved the medics, struggling against hope to patch up broken bodies.  There could be little satisfaction or sense of accomplishment in lives saved.  A medic might patch up one soldier with minor wounds today, only to find him laying on the battlefield the next day with limbs shattered or missing, or dead.  Indeed, 13 medics were themselves killed in action during the brief campaign in the Vosges Mountains.

On the morning of November 4th an impatient division commander asked when the 2d Battalion was going to push their way through the enemy along the forward edges of the ridge, and enter the villages below.  He hung the "carrot" of hot showers in the houses below as an incentive.  So thin were the ranks of the Nisei and so ever-present the power of the enemy, Lieutenant Colonel Pursall asked, "Who is going to hold the hill while we get down in those houses?"  It was all too easy to remember how quickly Hill C had fallen back into enemy hands near Breyeres three weeks earlier after the 100th had fought so hard to take it.  Colonel Pursall could not envision taking his men downhill to the farmhouses below, only to have the enemy retake the hill and use it to rain death on his men.  Their showers could quickly turn into showers of death.  General Dahlquist refused to budge.  The showers were simply an excuse.  The goal was to keep the advance moving forward.  Colonel Pursall followed orders, leading his men down the hill and directly into a minefield.  Suddenly the enemy was everywhere, unleashing torrents of fire on the weary American soldiers.

recip_okubo.jpg (6587 bytes)Among the medics still trying to save lives was James Okubo, who had stayed in the field to treat wounded for more than a week of continuous combat.  Early in the effort to reach the Lost Battalion he had repeatedly risked his life to reach, treat and rescue wounded Nisei.   Most notably he had been cited for a specific incident on October 28th, then again on October 29th.  On November 4th as the soldiers pushed deeper into the forest and ever closer to the German homeland, T/5 Okubo saw smoke rising from a tank that had been hit and destroyed by the Germans.  Since the armor-protected tanks led the way for the infantrymen, the burning ruins were far forward of most friendly support, and dangerously close to the enemy.  While small arms fire rained around him, he ran more than 75 yards into the fusillade to removed a wounded crewman from the burning tank, and carried him to safety.  The commanding officers of the 442d recommended the brave medic for the Medal of Honor for his repeated efforts in the face of fierce enemy fire, to rescue and treat the wounded.  They were told that, as a non-combatant medic, T/5 Okubo was not eligible for the Medal of Honor.  Believing the Silver Star was the highest award for which the brave soldier was eligible, they submitted him for what is our Nation's third highest combat decoration.  After the war James Okubo returned home, eventually becoming a dentist in Detroit.  When a review of the Asian-Americans awarded the Distinguished Service Cross was undertaken in the 1990s to determine which should possibly be upgraded to the Medal of Honor, 21 were selected.  To that group was added one additional hero.  Under separate legislation James Okubo's Silver Star was upgraded, and the Medal of Honor presented to his family.  Dr. Okubo had died in an automobile accident 33 years earlier.

Meanwhile, there would be no showers for the weary Nisei.  Their advance into the houses below the hill had been halted by a determined enemy.


Though the incessant rain had turned into snow on the day of the Lost Battalion's rescue, the snow had been a wet, slushy snow that quickly melted.  The first serious snowfall in the Vosges occurred on November 7th.   Company I continued to push forward though the entire company that had numbered 205 at the beginning of the push had, even with replacements, dwindled to only 34 riflemen.   Though each of the 442d's three regiments were assigned four infantry companies as well as a headquarters company, all three regiments were barely at the strength of a single company.  The Purple Heart Battalion that numbered 1,432 a little more than a year earlier when the full-strength battalion had landed in Italy, now numbered only 239 infantrymen, commanded by 21 officers.  The Second Battalion was largest, numbering 316 riflemen with 17 officers.  Not a single company in the Third Battalion had as many as 100 riflemen.  The entire regiment had less than 800 soldiers. 

recip_nishimoto.jpg (7700 bytes)The 2d Battalion's Company G had a total of 87 men and 5 officers.  For three days the soldiers had fought their way across the ridge, unable to dislodge the well fortified enemy.  Each day men fell, hidden mines and booby traps exploded, the enemy dropped more artillery, and soldiers suffered.  On November 7th Private First Class Joe M. Nishimoto had had enough.  The slightly built, mild mannered young infantryman from California turned into a one-man army.  Though he was only a Pfc, due to the loss of so many men, Joe Nishimoto was acting as an assistant squad leader.  First he crawled through an enemy mine field to destroy one machinegun nest with a grenade.  Upon locating a second enemy position, he circled it to approach from the rear.  His submachine gun spitting fire, he advanced on the startled Germans, killing one and wounding the second.  Even when enemy soldiers tried to withdraw from the fearless soldiers onslaught, he refused to quit...chasing until he either destroyed them or forced them so far into the forest they could no longer be a threat to his men.  Before concluding his one-man campaign to win the war in the Vosges that day, he wiped out still another enemy machinegun, chasing the enemy from their position. For his actions Pfc Joe M. Nishomoto would be subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.


On November 9th, the 442d was finally ordered back.   The soldiers had been in the field since October 15th with only the 1-2 day respite afforded them at Belmont on October 24-25 prior to the mission to rescue the Lost Battalion.  When the Go For Broke Regiment had been attached to the 36th Infantry on October 13, 1944, the unit had been at full strength with 2,943 riflemen and officers.   From the beginning of the first battles for Breyeres until the unit was relieved near La Houissiere 24 days later, 140 brave soldiers were killed in action, more than 1800 wounded, and 43 were missing in action.  Two days later, Veterans Day, General Dahlquist ordered the men of the 442d RCT to stand formation, during which he intended to recognize the men for their accomplishments.  Afterwards the Chaplains would conduct a memorial service to honor those who had fallen in battle.  As the general approached the small formation he was at first upset to see such a small gathering.  "I want ALL your soldiers to stand for this formation," he told Lieutenant Colonel Miller of the 442d.   The response:

"This is all there is!"


Soon afterwards the 100th Battalion began preparing to move south.  Meanwhile, on November 13th after less than four days rest, the 2d and 3d Battalions were again committed to combat.  Compared to the hell the soldiers had just left, their return to the field for four days was a tolerable interruption of their recuperation period.  It was not without casualties.  On November 15th Pfc Joe Nishimoto was killed in action, never to wear the DSC earned a week earlier, or to know it was upgraded 56 years later to the Medal of Honor.  And, though not as severe as the previous weeks, there were others.

It would take months for the unit to rebuild to effective fighting strength.  On November 19th General Dahlquist spoke of the Combat Team's five weeks with his division:

"The courage, steadfastness, and willingness of your officers and men were equal to any ever displayed by United States troops.  Every man of the (36th Infantry) Division joins me in our best personal regards and good wishes to every member of your command, and we hope that we may be honored again by having you as a member of our Division."

With those words General Dahlquist relinquished command the the 442d Regimental Combat Team.  What remained of the Regiment was to be attached to the 44th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade with a mission to guard the Franco-Italian border.  Compared to the hell the regiment left behind in the Vosges, it would be an almost five month "R & R" (Rest and Recuperation).   There would still be casualties, more than 60 in the first 90 days in southern France.  But as the Go For Broke Regiment left behind a Vosges campaign the that had earned the unit an unprecedented FIVE Presidential Unit Citations in 21 days, it was a welcomed reprieve.  For the men of the 442d it became known as

 

 

" The Champagne Campaign"


 

December, 1944
South France

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was almost Christmas and the sun warmed the Mediterranean and the hillsides along the French Riviera.  From high above a small, sheltered bay a soldier from the 442d looked out across the distant range of the Alps, then back to the bright waters of the sea.  The Go For Broke Regiment had finally been assigned some "pretty choice" duty. 

From Switzerland to the north, the Alps ran down the western border of France, separating its boundaries from neighboring Italy.   The 442d had been tasked with patrolling an 18-mile stretch from the coast northward.  It was not without hazard, Nisei encountered enemy patrols from time to time.  But it was certainly a whole different way to fight a war than what the weary soldiers had experienced in the Vosges.  During the entire month of December, 20 members of the 442d were killed in action, which when compared to 140 KIAs in 21 days in the Vosges, was quite preferable.

The 100th Battalion had arrived first, snatching the prime job of patrolling near Nice on the French Riviera.  Third Battalion had been assigned further north near Sospel, with Second Battalion going into the high mountains of the Alps.  New replacements were arriving almost daily, as well as badly needed resupply.

The lookout chuckled to himself as he thought of the latter.  Going into the Rhineland Campaign (the official title for the Vosges Mountains actions), the 442d had not had any winter clothing.  A requisition had been sent in for winter wear and other clothing for the Nisei.  Finally some of the supplies had caught up to the quickly moving regiment:  raincoats and clean underwear.  When the men opened the boxes containing raincoats they found labels inside reading "WAC" (Women's Army Corps).  Due the small stature of the Nisei as compared to other GIs, the Army Quartermasters had resorted to the women's' wear to find small enough raincoats for the men battling in the Vosges.  When it is cold outside, you take what you can get, and the Nisei had bundled against the elements in the WAC raincoats without any sense of embarrassment.  The clean underwear would have to wait.  None of them would wear the panties that had arrived in boxes marked "shorts".

As the lookout chuckled to himself he noticed a sudden flash of light on the waters of the bay.  It was a reflection unlike the normal reflection from the sea.  He shifted his position and peered more closely through the binoculars.  It looked like a large whale might be floating on the surface.  The lookout peered more closely through the binoculars and the "whale" began to take a more distinct shape.  It was a small, two-man German submarine.  Quickly he radioed his report back to headquarters, which dispatched a squad armed with 50 caliber machine guns and trench mortars.

8_submarine.jpg (35038 bytes)The submarine seemed to be floundering in the bay, its crew struggling with mechanical difficulties, as the Nisei began a fifteen minute attack on the submersible.  In the face of the American attack, the two enemy soldiers guided their vessel to the sandy beach and surrendered.  The submarine and its two submariners were handed over to the Navy.  Less than a year later the story was related in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Reporter Robert O'Brien indicated "The 442d Regimental Combat Team is probably the only infantry unit in history to capture an enemy submarine."


It wasn't all work for the Go For Broke team, passes were dispersed liberally.  Certainly the brave soldiers of the 442d had earned some respite.  It was a brief interlude that allowed them to rebuild the Team, heal their bodies, and push horrible memories of the Vosges into the back of their subconscious.  Of course, the best sites in Southern France were restricted, but there has never been a war weary GI that would let an "Off Limits" sign keep him from attractions like Monaco. 

Amid the juggling act between mountain patrols and parties in the city, the Nisei even found time to become sympathetic to Southern France's innocent victims of World War II.  As Christmas approached the men of 2d Battalion decorated a Christmas tree in the town square of one small French city, then invited the residents to join them in a holiday celebration.  After a time of singing Christmas carols and sharing their own holiday spirit with the local citizens, the GIs started handing out Christmas gifts to the children.  Each man had give a weeks rations to accumulate the candy and gifts they shared so freely with others.

 

Back in the United States, newspapers and magazines were beginning to relate the tale of the rescue of the Lost Battalion just weeks before.  The 442d gained a National attention few military units ever achieved.   Decorated veterans, wounded beyond further service were returning home and providing visual evidence of the courage and sacrifices of the Japanese-Americans of the 442d, as well as those serving in the Pacific in other units.  One would be led to believe that such high praise for the tremendous sacrifice of the Nisei would have a positive impact.  While it did in many areas, prejudice dies hard.  In January, 1945 the American Legion Post in Hood River Oregon removed the names of 16 Nisei servicemen, including one who had earned the Bronze Star Medal and another killed in action in the Philippines, from its honor roll of Veterans.  And such acts of prejudice and hatred were not limited only to Oregon.  Despite the sacrifice, many Americans refused to recognize the courage of our Japanese citizens.

Others however, began to deal with their irrational fears and prejudice.  Collier's magazine blasted the act in Oregon calling it "tops in blind hatred".  In the spring of 1944 Mary Masuda had returned to her home in Talbert, California from the relocation center in Gila.   On May 4th a group of local men made a late night visit to terrorize her, warning that if she did not leave she might be physically injured.  Frightened, she quickly departed.  Then, in December the Army announced the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to Mary's brother Staff Sergeant Kazuo Masuda who had heroically sacrificed his life in Italy.  Mary and her family were encouraged to return home to receive his award in a very public ceremony.  The award was presented by General "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell who made his thoughts on such prejudice quickly clear:

"The Nisei bought an awful big hunk of America with their blood.  You're damn right those Nisei boys have a place in American heart, now and forever.  And I say we soldiers ought to form a pickax club to protect Japanese Americans who fought the war with us.  Any time we see a barfly commando picking on these kids or discriminating against them, we ought to bang him over the head with a pickax.  I'm willing to be a charter member.  We cannot allow a single injustice to be done to the Nisei without defeating the purposes for which we fought."

General Joseph Stillwell

 

They didn't call the big American General "Vinegar Joe" for no reason.  Back in south France Lieutenant Colonel James M. Hanley was more tactful but he still got his point across.

8_hanley.jpg (10415 bytes)LTC Hanley was commander of the 2d Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team and a veteran of the fierce battles of the Vosges.  As he relaxed with his men in southern France he had occasional opportunities to connect to his home via the receipt of his hometown newspaper.   One day as he perused a copy of the Mandan Daily Pioneer from his home town of Mandan, North Dakota he was both hurt and stunned by a comment in Editor Charles F. Pierce's column that read, "A squib in a paper makes the statement that there are some good Jap-Americans in this country but it didn't say where they are buried."   On March 10th he scribbled off a reply that was printed 21 days later.  It read:

Dear Charlie:

Just received the Pioneer of Jan. 20 and noted the paragraph enclosed.

Yes, Charlie, I know where there are some GOOD Japanese Americans--there are some 5000 of them in this unit.  They are American soldiers--and I know where some of them are buried.  I wish I could show you some of them, Charlie.  I remember one Japanese American.  He was walking ahead of me in a forest in France.  A German shell took the right side of his face off.  I recall another boy, an 88 had been trying to get us for some time--finally got him. When they carried him out on a stretcher the bloody meat from the middle of the thighs hung down over the end of the stretcher and dragged in the dirt--the bone parts were gone.

I recall a sergeant--a Japanese American if you will--who had his back blown in two--what was he doing?  Why, he was only lying on top of an officer who had been wounded, to protect him from shell fragments during a barrage.

I recall one of my boys who stopped a German counterattack single handed.  He fired all his BAR ammunition, picked a German rifle, emptied that--used a German Luger pistol he had taken from a prisoner.**

I wish I could tell you the number of Japanese Americans who have died in this unit alone.

I wish the boys in the "Lost Battalion" could tell you what they think of Japanese Americans.

I wish that all the troops we have fought beside could tell you what they know.

The marvel is, Charlie, that these boys fight at all--they are good soldiers in spite of the type of racial prejudice shown by your paragraph.

I know it makes a good joke--but it is the kind of joke that prejudice thrives upon.  It shows a lack of faith in the American ideal.   Our system is supposed to make good Americans out of anyone--it certainly has done it in the case of these boys.

You, the Hood River Legion post, Hearst (newspapers) and a few others make one wonder just what we are fighting for.  I hope it isn't racial prejudice.

Come over here, Charlie, I'll show you where "some good Japanese Americans" are buried.

J. M. Hanley,
HQ. 442d INF. APO 758

 

It was the dedication of the Nisei themselves that proved the loyalty and patriotism of our Nation's Japanese-American citizens.   Men like General Stillwell and Lieutenant Colonel Hanley did their best to point this fact out.  Little by little the United States grew to truly appreciate the sacrifice of some of our Nation's bravest sons.  Colonel Hanley would have been proud to note that, though it would take 56 years, one day the last vestiges of that prejudice would disappear and one of the soldiers he had spoken of in his letter would live to see the President hang the Medal of Honor around his neck.

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Rudolph Davila (Center) and **George Sakato(Right) at Arlington just prior to being presented the Medal of Honor.


Even as Lieutenant Colonel Hanley was mailing his letter home, the period of rest was coming to an end for the men of the 442d Regimental Combat Team.  In Italy General Mark Clark wanted his Japanese-American unit back.  They would return to some of the bitterest fighting yet.  The Regiment's 522d Field Artillery would be spared the horrors of the last bitter campaign in Italy's Po Valley.  Before the rest of the Regiment shipped out to Italy, the artillery unit was sent back up the Rhine Valley to join the 63d Division in their assault on the Siegfried Line. 

From March 12 - 21 the unit gave fire support to the 63d.  In the last week of March the Artillery Battalion crossed the Rhine River to provide support to the 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, then the famed 101st Airborne.  On April 26th the regiment crossed the Danube with the 4th Infantry Division.  During the period the unit supported seven different army divisions, fired more than 150,000 rounds on the enemy, and served in the post-war occupation army of Austria.  It would be many months before the Nisei Artillerymen would be reunited with their brothers.  Before that reunion the rest of the 442d would make a final visit into a nightmare of combat on foreign shores.

For the men of the 522d Field Artillery, the pathway to victory in Europe led to an entirely different kind of nightmare...one perhaps, even worse than combat.

 

 

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[Introduction] [Purple Heart Battalion]  [Go For Broke]
[Monte Cassino] [Anzio] [Reunion] [The Vosges Mountains]
[The Lost Battalion] [Champagne Campaign]  [Final Victory]
[War in the Pacific] [Retiring The Colors]
[The Medal Of Honor]  [Citations]
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