Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
Takeo Sakai was born on August 13, 1910, in Mountain View, Hawaii island, Territory of Hawaii. He had at least one sibling: Jacob Yoshio Sakai. Available records have not confirmed the names of his parents or other siblings.
In 1930, 19-year-old Takeo was living on the island of Lanai, in Block 15, with a friend, Sadajiro Sakamoto, and working as a truck driver for a pineapple farm. By 1935 he had moved to Honolulu and on August 10 he married Beatrice Fusako Imada. She was the daughter of Shoichi and Haru (Uyetake) Imada of Puunene, Maui. Their son Ernest Noboru Sakai was born on March 12, 1936. The following year they were living at 512 Lana Lane and Takeo was employed by CPC. Sakai and Beatrice separated or divorced by 1940.
Francis, as he became known, signed his draft registration card on October 26, 1940, Local Board No. 5 in the Tax Office Building in Honolulu. He was living at 512 Lana Lane and employed by Melim Service and Supply Company at 333 Queen Street. His point of contact was Harry Miname, whose residence was near the Yamane Store on Cooke Street.
On March 25, 1943, Sakai enlisted in the U.S. Army. His civilian occupation was listed as “Semi-skilled non-processing occupations in manufacturing.” He had completed two years of high school, was 5’6” tall, and weighed 140 pounds. He was sent with approximately 2,600 other new soldiers to Boom Town, the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks. On March 28 they were given an aloha farewell ceremony by the community at Iolani Palace before leaving on the S.S. Lurline on April 4 for California. There were 25 officers and 2,855 enlisted men in the contingent.
From San Francisco the men traveled by train across country, arriving on April 13 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Francis was assigned to Regimental Headquarters Company. After a year of basic, unit, and combat training and field maneuvers, the 442nd left for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. They left from nearby Hampton Roads on May 2 in a convoy of over 100 ships. They arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28.
Private First Class Sakai served as the driver for Colonel Charles W. Pence, commanding officer of the 442nd RCT, and as the orderly for Executive Officer Lieutenant Colonel Virgil R. Miller.
After a week in bivouac at Bagnoli, near Naples, the 442nd moved to a large bivouac area in Civitavecchia, just north of Rome. From there they entered combat near Suvereto on June 26. After fierce battles pushing the Germans north, on July 22 the Combat Team was moved back to a rest area around Vada. The men devoted their time to bathing, cleaning their equipment, relaxing, and, basically, just unwinding.
One of the men’s favorite stories to tell in later years involved Pfc. Sakai and the two top “old men” in the 442nd. While at Vada, Sakai acquired a goose – it was never revealed how he had accomplished this. He decided to make hekka, the classic poultry and vegetable stew in Hawaii. He headed to the mess and proceeded to chop up the goose and gather every available type of vegetable he could find. When it was finally ready, he dished up the stew and gave some to Lt. Col. Miller, who accepted it. Then he offered a mess kit full to Col. Pence. Pence declined it, saying he wasn’t “very hungry.” Sakai gave him his best cold stare and said, “Sir, I didn’t spend two hours cooking this stuff so you could tell me you’re not hungry. You eat it.” And the Colonel ate it.
After this brief respite at Vada, between August 16-21 the 442nd was once again moved to the line – this time on the south side of the Arno River west of Florence. The Combat Team was directed to make a considerable show of strength along the river, patrolling aggressively all along the front to keep the enemy off balance and wondering where the next strike would come from. Then, in early September the decision was made in the higher echelons of command to send the 442nd to the Seventh Army in France to fight in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. As a result, the unit moved to the port of Piombino on September 10 and embarked on Liberty ships for Naples. After arriving the next day, they settled into bivouac in a group of olive groves outside the city. On September 27 they left on troop transport ships for the port of Marseilles.
Pfc. Francis T. Sakai with his jeep
After arriving on September 30, the unit moved to a staging area in nearby Septèmes. Due to logistical problems, only one battalion was moved the 500 miles north by rail. The bulk of the 442nd was moved by truck – a three-day trip in the rain, bivouacking in wet pastures and exposed to the cold weather.
The Vosges Campaign saw the most intense battles the 442nd had experienced. Weather conditions and the terrain were miserable, the men were still in their summer uniforms, and the fighting was especially fierce. Col. Pence was wounded in his leg when his jeep was hit by artillery fire. He was replaced as commander of the Combat Team by his Executive Officer, Lt. Col. Virgil R. Miller. Miller was promoted to Colonel and Pfc. Sakai became his driver.
After the fighting in the Vosges, which resulted in a very high casualty rate, the depleted ranks of the 442nd were sent to the south of France to participate in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign, which was mostly a defensive position guarding the border with Italy. From here, they were sent in mid-March 1945, back to Italy to fight in the Po Valley Campaign to complete the liberation of Italy from the Nazis.
The Combat Team’s presence in Italy was a closely kept secret as their mission was to launch a decoy attack on the western anchor of the Germans’ Gothic Line, an elaborate system of fortifications hewn out of solid rock and reinforced with concrete. The enemy’s positions were built for all-around protection and observation. On March 28, the Combat Team left their Pisa staging area and moved to a bivouac at San Martino, near the walled city of Lucca. The move was made in absolute secrecy and under cover of darkness. While in bivouac, they went through more training – with new replacements who had seen little or no combat, practicing small-unit problems with their squads and platoons far into the night.
The 442nd entered battle on April 3, and engaged in hard-fought and hard-won successes as they pushed the enemy farther north. Not satisfied with the successes of the decoy attacks, the 442nd continue to aggressively attack and made a complete breakthrough of the western flank of the Gothic line. On May 2, 1945, the German forces in Italy surrendered, a week before the final surrender in Germany. The 442nd went into bivouac at Nove Liguri, followed by occupation duties at Ghedi Airport and Livorno.
Pfc. Francis T. Sakai served in four of the campaigns of the 442nd: Rome-Arno in Italy, Rhineland-Vosges and Rhineland-Maritime Alps in France, and Po Valley back in Italy. He served during the occupation until later in the year, returning to the US and on to Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu on the USAT Aconcagua on December 17, 1945. He was among the 551 returning veterans on the troop ship. Soon afterwards, he was discharged from the U.S. Army.
For his military service, Pfc. Francis T. Sakai was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge. He also 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 1947, Francis Sakai was working again as an attendant at Melim Service and Supply Company. By 1950 he was living at and working as head engineer for Waimano Home, a Territory of Hawaii institution for the mentally ill. He was a member of the 442nd Veterans Club.
On February 10, 1952, he met up with Colonel Charles W. Pence, former commander of the 442nd. Pence had come to Honolulu to meet with the 442nd veterans at a reception and dinner at Ishii Garden attended by about 40 men. Pence was “mildly surprised” to see his former driver.
In June 1961, Colonel and Mrs. Virgil R. Miller visited Hawaii for the Nisei Veterans Reunion. Miller really treasured his relationship with Sakai, and one of the highlights of the trip for him was reconnecting with his former driver.
Francis Takeo Sakai died on September 16, 1964, at the age of 54. His address was Waimano Training School in Pearl City where he was employed as the head engineer. A Requiem Mass was held on September 18 at 9:00 a.m. at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. He was survived by his son Ernest Noboru Sakai, brother Jacob Y. Sakai, two granddaughters, and several nieces and nephews. He was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Section W, Site 20. His tombstone notes that he was a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 442nd RCT.
Sakai’s tombstone at Punchbowl
Postscript. Noboru Sakai served in the U.S. Army as a Private First Class from 1958 to 1960. His mother, who had remarried and become Beatrice Grumbrecht, died in 1959 in Alameda, California. Noboru died on October 9, 2004, and was buried at Punchbowl, Section Q, Site 675A. He was a retired draftsman. Noboru was survived by his wife, two daughters, one son, and three grandchildren.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022, at the request of Col. Virgil R. Miller’s grandson.