Bertram Akira Tsunematsu
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, K Company
Bertram Akira Tsunematsu was born in Waialua, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, on December 12, 1915. He was the eldest of three children of Masao and Hatsune (Uramoto) Tsunematsu. His two sisters were Yuriko and Helen Tsuyuko.
Masao and Hatsune emigrated from the village of Fukada, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. Masao arrived on December 6, 1907, on the S.S. Siberia. Hatsune arrived on the Tenyo Maru on February 6, 1914, and the next day she and Masao were married at the U.S. Immigration Station in Honolulu. Masao worked for the Waialua Sugar Mill, and by 1940 was working as a locomotive cleaner for the plantation. They lived in Mill Camp 8, House 60.
Akira was educated at Waialua Elementary School, Waialua Intermediate School, and Cox School in Waialua. On November 20, 1936, he arrived at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on the S.S. Niagara. From there, he went to Los Angeles, California, where he enrolled in a mechanic trade school. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, in El Monte, Local Board No. 208. His point of contact and employer was Frank T. Osugi, part-owner of the O & K Garage, 508 Mountain View in El Monte. He was living at the shop, where he worked as an auto mechanic. He was 5’3” tall and weighed 135 pounds.
Akira was drafted into the Army on January 23, 1942, at Fort MacArthur, California. His civilian occupation was listed as “Semi-skilled mechanic and repairmen.” In 1943, he was transferred to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, K Company.
After many months of training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944. They shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in a large convoy of troop ships from nearby Hampton Roads on May 2 and arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28.
The 442nd entered battle near Suvereto north of Rome on June 26. Akira fought in the Rome-Arno Campaign, up the western side of Italy, driving the German Army north of the Arno River.
On September 27, 1944, the 442nd was pulled out of the battle lines and sent by ship to Marseilles, France. They next traveled north 500 miles to the battle front in northeastern France to join the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. Their first objective was to liberate the important road and rail junction of Bruyères in the Vosges Mountains. The intense battles to liberate Bruyères and neighboring Biffontaine lasted from October 16-24. The Combat Team was then put into reserve in Belmont for a brief rest. After two days, on the afternoon of October 26, they were ordered to the front lines again to rescue the Lost Battalion – the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry Regiment. This battalion had gotten ahead of the lines and was surrounded on three sides by the enemy. Attempts by the 141st and other units to free it had been unsuccessful, so the 442nd was called in.
In the pursuit of the German forces following the rescue of the Texans, Akira was wounded by hand grenade fragments in November 1944. He was treated and returned to duty.
After the intense and costly battles in the Vosges Mountains, the 442nd left on November 19 by truck convoy for southern France. They remained in the area of Nice and Menton on the coast and Sospel and Peira Cava in the mountains for several months – this was the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign. The mission of the Combat Team was to protect the east flank of the 6th Army Group, and guard against a possible enemy breakthrough down the southern coast of France. Combat and reconnaissance patrols roamed back and forth between the lines.
During a patrol on February 17, 1945, Corporal Bertram Akira Tsunematsu died after being hit in the abdomen and thorax by fragments from a land mine.
He was buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Draguignan, France, about 60 miles from Nice. A memorial service was held for him on March 11, 1945, at the Waialua Hongwanji. He was survived by his parents and sisters.
For his military service, Corporal Bertram Akira Tsunematsu was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on October 5, 2010, along with the other veterans of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. This is the highest Congressional Civilian Medal.
In 1948, the smaller wartime cemeteries in France were being closed and families were given the choice of having their loved one reinterred at the large U.S. Military Cemetery at Epinal or returned home. His family chose to bring Akira home.
Corporal Bertram Akira Tsunematsu arrived on December 24, 1948, on the USAT Sinnett to Dock M-3 at Pearl Harbor with 121 other of Hawaii’s war dead. Over 700 relatives and friends were waiting on the pier where the 265th Army Band played Aloha Oe as the ship docked at 8:30 a.m. They were eulogized in a shipside service by the Secretary of Hawaii, Oren E. Long, who said, “We are proud to have had such sons. These men stood the test of action and added a new chapter of American heroism to our history.” The flag-draped caskets were taken to the Army mausoleum at Schofield Barracks awaiting burial arrangements.
On May 30, 1949, Corporal Tsunematsu was among the sixteen war dead from Waialua and Kahuku who were memorialized in a ceremony at 10:00 a.m. at the Memorial Tower at Waialua Park in Haleiwa. It was sponsored by the Waialua Lions Club with the cooperation of the American Legion Post, 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Club, 442nd Regimental Combat Team Veterans Club, and Waialua National Guard. The program included prayers by local clergy, greetings from several organizations, the keynote speech from the Lions Club, music by the Waialua High School band, and a volley fired by a squad from the Waialua National Guard.
Corporal Bertram Akira Tsunematsu was reinterred on September 19, 1949, at 11:00 a.m. at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl), Honolulu, Plot Q, Grave 1184.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022