Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company
Cooper Toshiyuki Tahara, son of Kumakichi and Tsune (Maruyama) Tahara, was born on November 8, 1919, in Florin, California. Cooper was the third born of eight siblings – Howard Hiroyuki, Yoshiko, Cooper T., Mitsuo, Shiro, Goro Richard, Mitsuye, and Shigeo. Kumakichi emigrated from Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, on the S.S. Monmouthshire, arriving in Portland, Oregon, on March 18, 1900. He worked on a vineyard farm near Sacramento, California. By 1930, he owned his own farm with grapes and strawberries. Tsune emigrated in 1904.
Cooper attended Elk Grove Elementary School and graduated from Elk Grove High School. He was a member of the Florin Buddhist Young Men’s Association (YMBA), and Florin Athletic Club. Cooper graduated from the National Diesel Mechanic School in Los Angeles, California, to become a mechanic, and he also continued to help on the farm.
He registered for the draft on June 9, 1941, at Local Board No. 23 in Sacramento. At the time he was living with his family in Florin. He was 5’7” tall and weighed 150 pounds. He listed his father as his point of contact, and he was self-employed.
Cooper T. Tahara was inducted into the Army at Sacramento, California, on October 20, 1941, and received his basic training at Camp Roberts, San Luis Obispo, California. He was also stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and Fort George Meade, Maryland, before being transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
The Tahara family was incarcerated at the Rohwer WRA Relocation Camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, on June 10, 1944. They were later relocated to the Jerome WRA Relocation Camp in Jerome, Arkansas, and released in April 1945.
He arrived at Camp Shelby and was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 3rd Battalion, I Company in September 1944 – which was five months after the original 442nd soldiers had left for the war. He was one of 672 replacements sent to Italy to replace combat losses from the Rome-Arno Campaign. There would be no opportunity for orientation or getting acquainted with fellow comrades before the Combat Team was ordered back to the front line.
Cooper experienced traveling from the Replacement Depot to the Staging Area Number 1 at what had once been the University of Naples. On September 26 and 27, the 442nd RCT, including the new replacements, boarded light assault boats, which shuttled them out to the waiting transport ships. At precisely 12:00 p.m. on September 27, 1944, the regiment sailed for Marseilles, France, aboard the Army transport ships Thurston, Dickman, Chase, and Henrico. Ahead lay the most bitter fighting the men were ever to see.
The troops went ashore on September 30. By the following morning, most of the unit had moved about ten miles by train to a staging area in the vicinity of Septèmes, just outside Marseilles. At this time, the staging area consisted of several open fields on top of a hill. Living conditions for the first two or three days were not especially bad, although the wind blew constantly. All companies drew new machine guns, mortars, and bazookas, and proceeded to test them on whatever suitable ground could be found.
Meanwhile, Seventh Army Headquarters was moving heaven and earth to get the Combat Team to the battle lines. Delta Base Section had no transportation it could spare. Matters stood there for a day or so, until Colonel Pence was notified that a Quarter Master Truck Company was on its way from Epinal, 500 miles away, to pick up the unit and take it to the front. The final decision was that the bulk of the Combat Team would move by truck, while the 3rd Battalion moved by rail. After three days of traveling in the rain and bivouacking in pastures, all elements, except the 3rd Battalion, closed into an assembly area at Charmois-devant-Bruyères at 12:30 p.m. on October 11, 1944. The 3rd Battalion, which had left by train a day ahead on October 10, had rattled up the Rhone Valley in a weird assortment of “40 and 8” boxcars.
After the intense battles to take Bruyères and Biffontaine, the 442nd was given two days of rest in nearby Belmont. On the afternoon of October 26, the Regiment was ordered to the front lines again to aid in the rescue of 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 assigned the mission. The initial objective of the Texas “lost battalion” had been to clear the Germans from the entire long, densely forested ridge where it had become surrounded – until their rescue by the 442nd. After the rescue had been effected, the 442nd’s 3rd Battalion was then ordered to push on down to the end of this ridge.
On November 5, 1944, Pfc. Cooper Tahara was killed by sniper fire during this action to take the ridge from the Germans. The hospital admission card said that he was hit in the upper extremity/scapular region by a bullet. (Note: The fighting on this mountain would go on for five more days. The German line was completely shattered, but 442nd losses were so great that the Combat Team was temporarily ineffective as a fighting force.)
The battle location where Pfc. Tahara died in his heroic stand against the enemy is shown in the following illustrated map. See hand-written notation in lower right corner.
Pfc. Cooper T. Tahara was interred at the American Military Cemetery in Epinal, France.
For his military service, Private First Class Cooper Toshiyuki Tahara was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, 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
Tahara’s Bronze Star Medal was posthumously received by his parents from General Joseph W. Stilwell, former commander of Allied forces in the China-Burma-India Theater, during an “appreciation banquet” for Nisei soldiers held at the Whitcomb Hotel in San Francisco on the first anniversary of V-E Day, May 8, 1946. More than 300 members of the Japanese-American Citizens League were present.
In a letter from Major General Edward F. Witsell, The Adjutant General, dated April 18, 1946, to Pfc. Tahara’s father Kumakichi Tahara, the citation for the Bronze Star Medal reads:
For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States in France. On 5 November 1944, during an advance near La Houssiere, France, Private First Class Tahara’s company was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from two concealed emplacements. With deadly automatic rifle fire, he dispersed one crew and forced the other to abandon its position. When the enemy launched a fierce counter-attack the following morning, he vigorously defended an exposed flank of his company and stood his ground to cover withdrawing comrades until wounded mortally by hostile fire. Private Tahara’s aggressiveness, his unselfish actions and supreme devotion to duty, live on as an inspiration to the men with whom he fought.”
In 1947, the remains of Americans buried overseas began slowly to return to the US if the family so wished. Cooper was brought home according to his family’s wishes. His remains were among those of 6,785 war dead that arrived on March 9, 1949, at the Brooklyn Army Base in New York Harbor on the USAT Barney Kirschbaum.
Over 400 family and friends attended the shipside services at Pier 3 immediately after the ship docked at 3:30 p.m. The returned war dead were from cemeteries in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and England. An open hatch on the ship revealed the flag-draped coffins. The pier was hung with the flags of every state and every fighting unit that saw action in Europe. A band played the National Anthem and Army Chaplain Col. Edward R. Martin gave a brief eulogy. He said that “the world soon forgot the sacrifices of brave men, but a greater power beyond human understanding comforts us in our hour of need. We must realize that these men gave their lives for freedom – liberty not for one individual nor for one nation, but for the entire world, for all races and creeds, in order that they may call their home their own.” After a final prayer, a bugler played Taps and as it ended another bugler took up the notes from far down the pier. The band then struck up Onward ,Christian Soldiers as the honor guard and a detachment of troops marched out in formation.
On April 27, 1949, a funeral service for Pfc. Cooper T. Tahara was held at the Florin Buddhist Church. Afterwards he was buried in the Sacramento Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento. The graveside service was held under the auspices of the Nisei Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Veterans Affiliated Council conducted. His survivors included his parents, brothers Hiroyuki, Shiro, Goro, Shigeo, and sister Mitsue Tahara. His brother Mitsuo and parents are buried in the same plot.
His brother, Goro Richard Tahara, served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021.