Harry Shizuo Yamasaki

Harry Shizuo Yamasaki
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company

Harry Shizuo Yamasaki was born on November 7, 1911, in Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.  He was the second son of Shozuchi and Sami (Morishige) Yamasaki.  There were six children in the family:  brothers Henry Kiyoshi, Noble Noboru, Takashi, and Toshimi; and sister Chizuko.  His father emigrated in 1904 from Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, and worked for a plantation railroad.  His mother emigrated on the Nippon Maru from Kitakawachi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, arriving on May 16, 1908.

In 1910, the family lived on Aala Street in downtown Honolulu.  Shozuchi worked at a “rail boy” for the railroad and Sami worked as a servant for a private family.  In 1920, they had moved to nearby Kauluwela Lane and Shozuchi (also spelled Sozuchi or Shotsuchi) was a salesman/clerk in a drugstore.

By 1922, Shozuchi was no longer with his family as Sami had married Kuramatsu Murata and their son Robert Shigeru was born.  Kuramatsu was an immigrant from Kumamoto Prefecture.

Harry attended Kauluwela Elementary School.  About age fifteen, he began working for Consolidated Amusement Company, Ltd., at the corner of Bethel and Pauahi Streets in downtown.  He was an “ace” basketball star for Hui Eleu and Kauluwela in his teenage years.

By early 1940, the combined Murata/Yamasaki families lived at nearby 1608 McGrew Lane.  Harry now had five half-siblings:  Robert Shigeru, Helen Chiyoma, Sunao, Florence Yaeko, and Richard Tametoshi.  The parents were not working, but the three Yamasaki boys were working.  Harry worked as an office boy in a tailor shop.  Harry also played in the Citywide-Palama barefoot football league and Consolidated Amusement’s Office Pen-Pushers team in its softball league at this time.

Harry signed his draft registration card on October 26, 1940, Local Board No. 6 at the O. R & L Depot in Honolulu.  He was living at home with his family, and his point of contact was his older brother, Henry Kiyoshi, of the same address.  He was still working for Consolidated Amusement, now as a clerk.  He was 5’2” tall and weighed 140 pounds.

On March 25, 1943, Harry enlisted in the U.S. Army at Schofield Barracks.  He was sent to Boom Town, the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks where all the recent volunteers were housed.  On March 28, they were given an aloha farewell ceremony by the community at Iolani Palace.  On April 4, they left on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco.

After arriving on the mainland, Pappy, as he was known in the Army – due to being older than most of the other soldiers, and the rest of the new soldiers were sent by train to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training, arriving on April 18.  He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, I Company, 4th Platoon (Weapons Platoon, Mortar Section).

An interesting description of Private Yamasaki while at Camp Shelby was reported in the September 4, 1943, Honolulu Star-Bulletin.  Lt. Edward Androvette, the platoon commander from New Jersey, during a training exercise called on a 60mm mortar gun crew to show how they could handle their weapon.  Private Ed Yamaguchi lay prone ahead of the battery to observe the fire with binoculars; about ten yards behind the gun stood ammo bearer Pappy Yamasaki, and three gunners.  Yamashita, Tanaka, and Sagahara assembled the piece in short order and “sighted.”.  All of a sudden, Yamasaki came boiling up the rear packing a shell like a fullback going into the line with a football in his arms.  ‘Fire,’ Yamashita yelled.  The observer called for a slight change in the angle of fire, Yamashita made the adjustments, and the mortar was fired.   A second round was called for and Yamasaki again ran up with another shell.  The reporter witnessing this noted that the men had performed well and there was a snap about the performance that these boys are becoming professional fighting men.

Above:  4th Platoon at Camp Shelby; Pappy is front row, far right

While at Camp Shelby, the 442nd soldiers were each given a “memory book,”  The Album, 1943.  It contained photos and was a good place to write a note to a buddy.  Pappy Yamasaki wrote the following in Takeo Suma’s book:  To Suma, Hope that some day over there we two will be fighting side by side.  After all, we gunners must stick together.  Hope to see you in Hawaii.  Always, Pfc. Harry “Pappy” Yamasaki.

Right:  Pappy Yamasaki at Camp Shelby

After months of training, Pappy and the 442nd left Camp Shelby for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944.  They shipped out from nearby Hampton Roads to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in a large convoy of troop ships on May 2, and arrived in Naples, Italy, on May 28.  Pappy then participated in the Rome-Arno Campaign in Italy, pushing the Germans up Italy to the Arno River.  The 442nd was then sent to France to join in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.

They left for France on September 27, 1944.  Once they arrived in Marseilles, the Combat Team was in a bivouac area in nearby Septèmes until October 9, when they were transported north to participate in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.  Third Battalion was moved from the staging area in Septèmes on October 10, by rail up the Rhone Valley and north to the Vosges.  The train was an assortment of “40 and 8” boxcars.

They arrived in the assembly area at Charmois-devant-Bruyères at midnight on October 13.  At 2:00 p.m. the next day, the Combat Team began moving into position to attack the important rail and road center of Bruyères the following morning.  After several days of intense fighting, the enemy had been cleared from the town and its surrounding hills, and on October 23, the 442nd was ordered to take the next town, Biffontaine.  Finally on October 24, they were taken off the front lines and put in reserve in nearby Belmont for a rest after eight days of heavy fighting, little to no sleep, harsh weather conditions, and many casualties.

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.

After several days of severe fighting, on October 30 the Lost Battalion was rescued.  It came at great loss for the 442nd, with very high casualties.  I Company had only eight riflemen remaining – the full-strength complement consists of 150 riflemen in a company.

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.

The 442nd’s 3rd Battalion was then immediately ordered to push on down to the end of this ridge.  On November 5, the higher command decided that the town of St. Dié, in the valley, needed to be taken.  The 3rd Battalion met stiff resistance from the Germans, and ended the day withdrawing to their original positions.

It was during this attack on November 5, 1944, that Private First Class Harry Shizuo Yamasaki was killed by artillery fire.  The fighting would go on until November 9.  The German line was completely shattered, but 442nd losses were so great that the Combat Team was temporarily ineffective as a fighting force.

Private First Class Harry Shizuo Yamasaki was interred in the U.S. Military Cemetery at nearby Epinal, France.  His half-brother, Sergeant Robert Shigeru Murata of L Company, was also buried at Epinal after being killed in action a week before Pappy.

On December 9, 1944, his family held a memorial service for Pfc. Harry Yamasaki at the Nishi Hongwanji Mission on upper Fort Street, at 3:30 p.m.  On December 12, a Card of Thanks was printed in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin by his family, expressing their gratitude to their family and friends for the kindnesses shown and floral offerings received during their recent bereavement.  Especially thanked were the employees of Consolidated Amusement Company.

For his service, Pfc. Harry Shizuo Yamasaki was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct 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.

On May 30, 1948, Yamasaki’s mother, Mrs. Sami Murata, received a Gold Star button from Maj. General George H. Decker, Chief of Staff of USARPAC (U.S. Army-Pacific), at Memorial Day services at the War Memorial on King Street in Honolulu.  The button was a token of appreciation given to the next of kin of soldiers of World War II dead.  It was noted that Mrs. Murata gave two sons to the conflict.

Left:  Mrs. Murata receiving Gold Star button

In 1948, the remains of Americans buried overseas began slowly to return to the US if the family so wished.  As a result, on October 18, 1948, Pfc. Harry Shizuo Yamasaki arrived home.  The USAT Sergeant Truman Kimbro brought back 79 men, arriving at Pier 40 in Honolulu Harbor’s Kapalama Basin.  There were hundreds of family and friends present to attend the dockside service.  The Secretary of Hawaii, Oren E. Long, officiated, the 264th Army Band played, and military Chaplains participated.  One of the Chaplains was Hiro Higuchi, who had served in the 442nd with the men who were returning home that day.  Speaker Long eulogized the men, saying, They were volunteers in the struggle to preserve democracy.  Hawaii is proud to have such sons.  The flag-draped caskets were stored in the Army mausoleum at Schofield Barracks pending funeral arrangements.

On August 9, 1949, Pfc. Harry Shizuo Yamasaki was reinterred at 3:00 p.m. at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in Honolulu, Section D, Site 215.  His half-brother, Richard Shigeru Murata, was buried next to him at the same time.  On August 11 the family published a Card of Thanks in the newspaper for all of the sympathy and floral tributes from family and friends.

Pappy Yamasaki’s half-brother, Richard Shigeru Murata, served in L Company, 442nd RCT.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021.

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