The mountains you see in the background are a composite of the rugged Appenine range. The ridge in the foreground shows a series of peaks, first Florida, then Georgia to the right and above it. Stretching further to the east were Ohio 1, 2, and 3. Just beyond these ridges, 3d Battalion was preparing to storm Mount Folgorita.
April 5, 1945
Private First Class Sadao Munemori watched from his place of concealment as the first American artillery rounds began to rain down on Georgia Hill. He knew the "vacation" was over. The young soldier had joined the Purple Heart Battalion as a replacement at Anzio nearly a year before. After fighting through Italy, then the Vosges, the 22-year old Nisei had aged far beyond his years. Life had already too often given the young man from Los Angeles a hefty burden to bear.
Sadao had been born in Los Angeles shortly after his parents emigrated from Japan, and the family quickly became Americanized. Sadao and his two brothers and sisters had heard stories of Japan from their parents, who frequently reminded their children how fortunate they were to be raised in the United States with its freedom and liberty. Then, when Sadao was only 18 years old, his father had died leaving the young man to assume the responsibilities for the Munemori household. Young Sadao had worked hard as an auto mechanic in his native Los Angeles to support the family. The following year Pearl Harbor was attacked. Outraged, young Sadao Munemori tried to enlist in the Army. He was rejected because of his parentage. Then, to further darken the young American's future, the country his parents had always praised for its freedoms, took away the liberty of the Munemori family. The family lost almost everything, allowed only to carry a few items to their new "home"....the Manzinar relocation camp. When finally the success of the 100th Infantry Battalion convinced the War Department to seek volunteers for an all Japanese-American military unit, Sadao had quickly volunteered.
Pfc Munemori watched for ten minutes as the heavy American artillery rounds pounded Georgia Hill, the thunder of their explosive force reverberating through the valley below. In their fortified positions, the enemy took cover from the fierce shelling. At 0500 the artillery fire began to cease. As the enemy tried to regroup they were faced with a sight they had not expected to see. Hundreds of Japanese-American soldiers were making a frontal assault on the hilltop the Germans had held for months. The Go For Broke Regiment had returned to Italy, and their presence was no longer a secret.
Quickly the enemy began to recover from the shelling to rain machinegun fire on the advancing Nisei, intersperced with occasional grenades. As Company A attacked, Pfc Munemori watched his squad leader fall, wounded by a German grenade. The Private First Class took control of the squad, leading them through the enemy's protective minefield to within 30 yards of the first machinegun nest. Then the Germans turned their machineguns on the advancing squad. Quickly the men, many of them replacements tasting combat for the first time, dived for the protection of the craters the earlier artillery barrage had created on the hilltop. Pressing their bodies firmly into the dirt, the continuious fire from two enemy gun emplacements had them pinned down and at the mercy of the enemy.
Checking his own supply of ordinance, Pfc Munemori grabbed grenades from a couple of his men, arming himself for a one-man assault. Moving within 15 yards of the enemy as lethal missiles of death rained around him, the 22-year old combat veteran threw his first grenade, then another, and another. In all, the brave Nisei managed to lob six grenades, destroying both enemy machinegun nests.
The immediate threat destroyed, the Pfc began to work his way back to his squad of men huddled in their shell holes. Other machinegun nests opened fire as he moved back, and enemy soldiers began throwing grenades. As Pfc Sadao Munemori reached his men he felt something hard slam into his helmet, then fall to the ground inside the shell hole where two of his soldiers waited. Quickly the young Nisei dove on top of the grenade, covering it with his body as it detonated. Beside him, two soldiers survived because of the young hero's sacrifice.
All along the slopes of Georgia, other soldiers of the Purple Heart Battalion pressed the assault. Half an hour later the shooting began to die down...the enemy routed. In half an hour the Purple Heart Battalion had taken Georgia Hill, the opening steps in the month-long campaign to end the war in Italy.
To the north-east, 3rd Battalion had spent the previous night climbing towards Mount Folgorita. There would be no rest for, after the all-night hike, at 0600 hours Company L launched the attack on its objectives. The enemy alerted the coastal batteries at La Spezia and German artillery and mortars began to create a curtain between the Nisei and the well fortified Germans. Heedless of the explosions that ripped the mountainside, the Nisei pressed forward, often engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile Company K, reinforced by an M Company mortar platoon, began a bold, daylight climb towards the crest of Mount Folgorita. From their high vantage point on Mount Altissimo, the enemy rained effective mortar fire on the brave Nisei. Seventeen young Nisei were killed, eighty-three wounded. Still the company pressed their attack, destroying one enemy strong-hold after another.
As the exhausted, battle-weary Nisei settled in for the night, they knew that some of the worst was yet to come. That very night the Germans launched a counter-attack on the Purple Heart Battalion in a strong effort to retake their strategic positions. Despite the fact that the men had been nearly two days without sleep, they fought back valiantly and repulsed the enemy.
The attack of the Combat Team had caught the Germans totally unprepared. The secret arrival of the Nisei had been well guarded. The sudden appearance of the Japanese-American unit had stunned the enemy, both by its presence on the Gothic Line as well as by the ferocity of its fighting men. In the first day the Germans lost 30 men killed in action, more wounded or captured. Perhaps more importantly, they had lost a dozen well fortified bunkers, 17 machineguns, and three big 75mm howitzers.
In the darkness the Nisei pondered their own losses as well, 100 casualties for Company K alone. Stories of the heroism of the day also passed among the exhausted soldiers, giving them new resolve. Stories like that of Pfc Henry Arao who had single-handedly knocked out two enemy machinegun nests, one after crawling through a minefield. And the story of the young Pfc from Los Angeles who lost everything in an American relocation camp to come to Italy and fight for the Nation that had once disowned him, ultimately giving his own life to save the lives of his men. The story of Sadao Munemori could not be ignored. If indeed there was still racial prejudice in the American military that prevented the Japanese-American soldiers from receiving their Nation's highest award for military valor, that prejudice was silenced by Munemori's valiant spirit. Two years almost to the day later, on April 7, 1947, a quiet but dignified ceremony was held to honor an American hero. On that day Sadao Munemori's mother accepted his Medal of Honor. For 56 years it would remain the only Medal of Honor awarded to a Japanese-American for heroism in World War II. (Sadao Munemori's Medal of Honor is now on public display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.)
April 6, 1945
With the dawn of April 6th the soldiers of the 442d continued to press the attack. By mid-day the Nisei had secured the area all the way from Georgia to Mount Folgorita. Only Ohio 1, 2 and 3 remained with any measured resistance, much of the enemy now cut off from the rest of their command. Throughout the day American artillery pounded the last defenders, effectively nulifying their impact on the advance through the mountains.
Meanwhile, Company L assaulted and took control of Mount Cerreta and Company F and Company I took control of Mount Carchio in the shadow of Mount Belvedere and Mount Altissimo. The latter were the only remaining major enemy positions between the Nisei and a complete breach of the Gothic Line.
Company F had been able to lend their assistance to 3d Battalion's I Company at Mount Cerreta because the 2d Battalion was already in the area. While the fighting had raged on the ridgelines from Georgia to Mount Folgorita, the Second Battalion had been positioning itself for the assault on the all-important Mount Belvedere overlooking Massa and the Frigido River. Limited action on April 6th gave way to the full-scale assault on April 7th. It would culminate two days of combat to roust the crack Kesselring Machine Gun Battalion and the effort to break open the Po Valley campaign. In three days the 442d Regimental Combat Team would end a stalemate that had existed for the entire six months they had been gone.
April 7, 1945
Mount Belvedere was the one remaining major obstacle facing the advance of the 442d, and Second Battalion attacked from the heights of Mount Folgorita with a vengence. As seemed to be the modus operandi for the entire effort to move up the coastline, the Nisei had spent the previous night hiking up mountain trails to get into position, then already exhaused and without sleep, they attacked at dawn. One unfamiliar with the terrain might envision a series of individual mountains among the dominant peaks stretching along the Gothic Line. In actual fact, it was more a series of peaks along a continuous ridgeline, each separated by a low-lying saddle. The approaches varied from dense forests to dangerous open expanses of loose shale. Embeded on all approaches were the hidden, well fortified machinegun nests of the crack Kesselring Battalion.
Darting from boulder to boulder, the Second Battalion advanced on the Germans entrenched on Mount Belvedere. Mortar fire began to fall among the ranks of the Nisei as the enemy struggled to hold their last bastion in the chain of mountains that sheltered Massa and the Frigido River. Company F was moving forward when three enemy emplacements opened up on one of its platoons in a deadly crossfire that halted the advance and sent the men seeking cover. Huddled among the rocks, the scattered Nisei were at the mercy of the enemy fire, unable to move in any direction. Unless something dramatic happened soon, the enemy would be able to drop accurate mortar fire on the embattled platoon while the machineguns kept them pinned in position.
Technical Sergeant Yukio Okutsu watched the deadly fire criss-cross the hillside, lethal missiles of hot lead reaching out to kill his men. Slowly he began to crawl towards the first enemy position, moving within 30 yards. Then he raised up, throwing two grenades. The enemy gun fell silent, the men who had manned it dead. Sergeant Okutsu moved on. Locating the position of the second gun, he darted from rock to rock, then hugged the barren ground to crawl from one vantage point to the next. Again he raised up to throw a well-aimed grenade in the direction of the enemy. The second position fell silent, two of its gunners wounded. The remaining enemy quickly surrendered. A third position continued to rain a torrent of death on the Nisei. Bullets richocheted off the hard shale of the hillside as Sergeant Okutsu continued his one-man assault. His men watched his onslaught in amazement, rendering what cover fire they could. Suddenly the brave sergeant staggered from the impact of a hard blow to the head. As Okutsu staggered, his men could hear the sound of the impact on his helmet. Fortunately, the round was deflected by the steel pot and, recovering quickly, Sergeant Okutsu rushed the enemy position with his submachine gun spitting fire. Under the unrelenting charge, the enemy withdrew. Sergeant Okutsu's men were spared, able to rise up and move forward.
The Nisei of the 2d Battalion spent the day going head-to-head with the fortified positions of some of Germany's finest machine gunners. In the end, it was the brave American soldiers who prevailed. The Kesselring Machine Gun Battalion was, for all practical purposes, not only nullified....but destroyed.
April 8, 1945
The secret return of the 442d Regimental Combat Team was certainly no longer a secret, the valiant unit had made an astonishingly quick and successful assault on the Gothic Line, and broken it. The two-day offensive left the German forces stunned, survivors pulling back in a hasty and poorly organized withdrawal. The April 8th issue of Stars and Stripes told the story under a headline that read:
THE 45th's ATTACK SPEARHEADED BY 442 NISEI REGIMENT
|"They (the 442d) remained within carefully guarded bivouac
areas until last Wednesday. Then under cover of darkness, they moved into the line,
and hid within mountain villages until the attack was launched. Germon prisoners
said they had been caught completely by surprise."
Stars And Stripes
So swiftly had the Nisei taken their objectives, it was often hard for the supply line behind them to keep up with the advancing soldiers on the front line. While 2d Battalion had been assaulting Mount Belvedere the previous day, 3d Battalion's Company K had been moving so swiftly they had actually moved beyond their initial enemy-held objective. Turning back, they approached their assigned position from the rear, catching the enemy unprepared and quickly capturing 20 of them.
The battle was still far from over. Pockets of resistance still confronted the advancing Nisei in the days that followed. But the Allies now controlled Highway 1 along Italy's western coastline. Needed supplies flowedg quickly and freely northward from Pisa to Massa. The soldiers of the 442d pressed their advantage, liberating the Italian towns at a rate of two or three a day. Within three days of the opening assault they had taken the high ground around Massa, opened Highway 1 from Pisa to Massa, and continued to push the enemy off their vaunted Gothic Line. For the following five days the Team continued to fight, taking the towns of Montignoso, Altagnana and Pariana. The latter was a small village to which the survivors of the Kesselring Machine Gun Battalion had withdrawn. All day and into the night, 2d Battalion's E and F Companies took the battle to the 150 survivors of the infamous German battalion. By April 10th, of the 150 enemy trapped in the village, 65 were killed and 62 were captured. Twelve enemy mortars and 8 enemy machineguns were taken as well in the fierce fighting.
Without a pause, the 442d pushed onward past Massa and towards Carrara, half a mile past the Frigido River. Carrera fell quickly as the enemy retreat turned into a rout. The following day the towns of Gragnana and Sorgnano were taken, almost without a shot. By Thursday, April the twelth, Highway 1 was opened from Massa to Carrara, and it seemed nothing would stop the invincible Nisei. But that was the day before...
FRIDAY THE 13th
Second Battalion had moved five miles north of Carrara, passing by the towns of Gragnana and Castelpoggio and chasing the fleeing enemy. Unknown to the Nisei, from high atop Mount Pizzacuto, the Germans could plainly view the advance of the American Soldiers below. Just as Second Battalion reached the base of the mountain the German gunners opened fire. The battalion was quickly pinned down, as was the Purple Heart Battalion slightly a mile behind them. The advance halted and casualties began to mount. The enemy had been retreating in disarray, but it became quickly appearant that the war in Italy wasn't over yet.
The heavy enemy coastal guns at La Spezia pounded both American battalions, also dropping heavy artillery on 3d Battalion being held in reserve at Carrara. For the Americans there was no friendly heavy fire support. So quickly had the Go For Broke Regiment advanced, their supporting artillery could not keep up with them. Under cover of darkness that night, Company B slipped quietly into Castelpoggia to support the 2d Battalion's command group. Meanwhile, also during the night, the Allied artillery moved its big guns forward to lend support.
As dawn broke the skies on April 14th, the Germans sent a battalion to attack Castelpoggia. They were caught unprepared by the developments of the dark hours of the previous night. In the bitter fighting that followed the enemy was thrown back with many casualties. The Nisei suffered five of their own comrades killed in action, five more wounded. But the Americans had held.
In the week that followed the Allied advance continued at a furious pace. On April 17th the Germans destroyed their railroad guns at La Spezia, pulling back to concentrate their forces in and around Aulla in the Po Valley. For three days the enemy continued to destroy their fortifications to keep them from falling to the Allies, while pulling all their manpower into a tight "last ditch defense" of Aulla. To take Aulla the Nisei battled their way over Mount Pizzaculo and Mount Grugola stretching along the coast from Castelpoggio to Aulla. Along the way they entered the small town of San Terenzo. From there the attacks would be launched to take Aulla, Task Force Fukuda (consisting of Companies B and F) sweeping in from the coast, the 100th and 3d Battalions attacking from the inland side. In their path loomed the towering heights of Mount Nebbione southeast of Aulla, the last highground to protect the Germans fighting for survival in Italy.
On April 19th, 2nd and 3d Battalions assaulted Mount Nebbione. After a day of fierce fighting, the enemy held and the Nisei pulled back to recover and plan for a renewed effort. On their flank the 100th was lending support by taking the town of Marciaso and Posterla. Next in line for the Purple Heart Battalion was Colle Musatello. The order to attack came early on the evening of April 20th.
April 21, 1945
Lieutenant Daniel Inouye positioned his rifle team for the assault in the early morning darkness. With the first rays of sunshine, his rifle platoon would join two others in the assault on the heavily defended ridge that was Colle Musatello. Lieutenant Inouye and his men had faced far too many ridges like this in the previous weeks, but today things were different. The 20-year old Nisei officer had an eerie feeling something bad was about to happen.
Daniel Inouye had trained with the 442d at Camp Shelby, shipped out with the Team to Europe, and landed with it nearly a year earlier at Naples. Promoted enroute to buck sergeant, he was transfered to the 100th Infantry Battalion as a replacement, and had fought through the first drive north to the Arno River. He had survived war in the Vosges, missing the Rescue of the Lost Battalion only because he had been pulled back to headquarters for a field promotion to lieutenant. By the time he got back to his men, the rescue was completed. His platoon had been cut in half by the horrible fighting, and Lieutenant Inouye began the arduous task of rebuilding his part of the Go For Broke Team.
Lieutenant Inouye had seen nine months of combat, and had served with pride and honor...remembering the words of his father the day he had left to begin training with the 442d:
you know what 'on' means?"
("On" is a Japanese colloquialism, very deep in the Japanese culture. It requires that when one man is aided by another, he incurs a debt that is never canceled, one that must be repaid at every opportunity.) From Daniel Inouye's Autobiography
As the first rays of sunlight began breaking through the morning skies, Lieutenant Inouye still couldn't shake his uneasy feeling. He put his hand to the breast pocket of his uniform again, feeling nothing. And that was the problem. Throughout nine months of combat, he had always felt the hard shape of two silver dollars in that pocket. One was cracked, the other bent...but the enemy round that had damaged the two coins was halted and had left only a dark bruise on the flesh over his heart. Had it not been for the two coins, Lieutenant Inouye would have been killed in the battlefields of France. From the moment the two silver dollars saved his life, the Nisei officer had carried them in the same pocket through every campaign, through every battle. The previous day, somehow, they had fallen out. Well into the night he had searched in vain to find them. Now, with the order to attack, their absence sent a foreboding sense of disaster to his young mind.
Realizing how irrational his regard for the two "lucky charms" was, Lieutenant Inouye prepared his men for the assault. Two other rifle platoons would attack Colle Musatello from the front, Lieutenant Inouye's 3d platoon moving in on the left flank. At the first sounds of gunfire from the other two platoons, Inouye led his own men forward.
At first it seemed the feelings of impending disaster had been foolish. Lieutenant Inouye skillfully led his men forward and, despite heavy opposition, quickly overcame every enemy position. Third platoon met and quickly defeated an enemy patrol, captured a mortar position, and moved within 40 yards of the main defensive force the Germans had emplaced on Colle Musatello. So well had the attack been coordinated by third platoon, it was in position to attack the main fortifications while first and second platoons were still struggling to make their way through enemy defenses further down the ridge. Almost within grenade range of the enemy, Lieutenant Inouye had to make a decision. Either his men could take shelter and wait for the other two platoons to catch up or they could attack.
Lieutenant Inouye didn't ORDER his men forward, he LED them forward. Rising, the platoon began their assault on the last German stronghold, Lieutenant Inouye well out in front of them. Three enemy machineguns began spitting lethal death at the advancing Nisei, pressing them to take cover. Alone in advance of his men, Lieutenant Inouye took a grenade from his belt and raised up to throw it. As he did, he felt a powerful blow to his side. Ignoring the pain, he counted down three seconds and lobbed the lethal orb. As the enemy pulled back from their destroyed positon, Lieutenant Inouye stood his ground to cut them down, all the while motioning his men forward. When finally they reached Inouye's position, one of them said, "My God, Dan, you're bleeding! Get down and I'll get an aid man." It was only then that the young officer realized he had been shot in the side as he had raised up to throw his grenade.
The other two enemy gun positions continued to rain fire on the Nisei platoon. They had to be destroyed. Ignoring his pain, Lieutenant Inouye forced his body forward, rushing towards the second enemy position. Moments before his legs collapsed from under him, he managed to close in on the second position and throw two more grenades. The second enemy gun fell silent, even as the broken body of Dan Inouye collapsed to the ground.
"Go For Broke", yelled one of the soldiers of Inouye's platoon as the brave Nisei charged headlong into the third enemy machinegun. They were met by a curtain of death. Heedless of the danger, they pressed forward. Struggling to maintain consciousness, their wounded Lieutenant watched their display of raw courage with great pride and admiration. But raw courage could not shield flesh and blood from the ravages of the hot lead the enemy guns rained on the platoon. The attack faltered, the survivors of Inouye's third platoon forced to pull back and seek cover.
The valiant charge had given the wounded officer more than just an opportunity to observe his men in action. Their assault had monopolized the attention of the enemy in the last machinegun nest. Lieutenant Inouye had used the diversion to great advantage, dragging himself unseen along the enemy flank. Even as the attack faltered, Lieutenant Inouye was close enough. He forced his body, weakened by loss of blood, to respond beyond its limits. He pulled the pin on his last grenade, then stood to release the spoon and throw it. As he rose, one of the enemy spotted him and quickly fired a rifle grenade at the lone Nisei. There was a horrible explosion and a searing pain in the young lieutenant's arm. When Inouye looked down, his arm was destroyed, hanging in place by only a few stringy tendons. Clutched in the nearly detached hand that could no longer respond to impulses from the brain, was the grenade.
The men of third platoon were horror-struck, rising up to rush to the aid of their commander. "Get back!" Inouye screamed at them. With his one good hand he pried the grenade from the frozen fingers of his useless right and threw it at the enemy. Then, stumbling to his feet and firing his tommy-gun left handed, he continued to advance through the smoke and dust of its explosion to kill all but one of the enemy. The last survivor sent a burst of fire in the direction of the brave lieutenant, advancing fearlessly while the destroyed tissue that had one been an arm, flopped uselessly at his right side. One round hit Lieutenant Inouye in the right leg, halting his advance and sending him rolling down the hillside.
Quickly the men of third platoon rushed to the side of their leader's body. He had been shot in the stomach, the right leg, and his right arm had been destroyed beyond repair. As they reached his side, the young officer gritted his teeth through the pain and ordered, "Get back up that hill! Nobody called off the war." They did, and inspired by their brave lieutenant, they took their position.
April 22, 1945
On the same day that Lieutenant Inouye had lost his two silver dollars, and as Company E was preparing for their assault on Colle Musatello, 3d Battalion had moved within ten miles of Aulla. Company K had attacked along the hillsides above Tendola when enemy machinegun fire halted the advance and left the slopes littered with the bodies of wounded Nisei. Private Joe Hayashi had moved his men within 75 yards of the enemy before they fell to the enemy fire. Despite the heavy enemy fire, Private Hayashi dragged the bodies of his wounded friends downhill and out of harm's way. Then he returned to the center of combat, boldly advancing alone and in full view of the enemy, to direct and adjust supporting mortar fire. When the bombardment began to die down, Private Hayashi took command of what remained of his platoon and led them forward to capture the hilltop. In that action, because of Hayashi's courage in standing openly in the field of battle to direct the fire of the mortar crews, three machinegun nests had been destroyed and 27 enemy soldiers killed.
Throughout the remainder of the 20th and into the following day, while Lieutenant Inouye and the 100th Battalion had battled for control of the San Terenzo area, 3rd Battalion fought to claim each of the hillsides above Tendola. The attack on Tendola itself commenced on April 22nd.
Private Hayashi's squad was assigned to take a steep hillside above Tendola, a mission not unlike the one two days earlier when the brave infantryman had so distinguished himself. On this day Private Hayashi moved his squad up the steep, teraced hillside to within 100 yards of the enemy. As the Germans opened fire on the advancing Nisei with their heavy machineguns, Private Hayashi crawled forward alone until he was close enough to destroy the enemy position with a well-aimed grenade. While pursuing the enemy that had previously held the position, Hayashi noticed other elements of his platoon being raked by fire from four additional enemy positions. Hayashi lobbed a grenade at the closest, destroying it. Then he crawled to the right flank of another, killing four of the enemy gunners and forcing the remaining enemy to abandon the position. As he attempted to pursue the fleeing enemy soldiers, a burst of machine pistol fire erupted his way. Private Hayashi would become one of the last casualties of the war for the 442nd. When his posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor 56 years later, his would become the last Medal of Honor action by a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the last such action by any U.S. Army infantryman on the fields of battle in Europe during World War II.
San Terenzo fell on April 23rd, second battalion killing 40 enemy and capturing 135. Meanwhile third battalion finally took Mount Nebbione and Mount Carbolo, and Major Mitsuyoshi Fukuda led his "Task Force Fukuda" to control the important road junction that was the German lifeline to Aulla. Two days later Aulla fell with second battalion and Task Force Fukuda advancing into the town in a pincer movement that cut off all hope for the enemy. In the days that followed, 2d Battalion moved into Alessandra and Asti, the 100th Battalion took Busalla, and 3d Battalion moved in to control Genoa after it had fallen to the Italian Partisans. The Fifth and Eighth Armies continued their advance into the Po Valley where, on April 24-25 Army Air Force First Lieutenant Raymond Knight received the last Medal of Honor of WWII's European theater of operations for his low-level strafing missions over the Po Valley. He was killed in action on the 25th.
On May 2, 1945 the war ended in Italy. On May 6th the Go For Broke Regiment held a memorial service at Novi Liguria near Genoa for its fallen comrades. In all, the regiment had suffered nearly 700 killed in action, 67 missing in action, and nearly 10,000 wounded in action. Three days after the memorial service, Germany surrendered.
On May 9, 1945 World War II ended in Europe.