Here is an article from the Hawaii Herald on the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Education Center.
Susan Muroshige (left) and Pauline Sato at the entrance to Turner Hall in the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans clubhouse. Turner Hall is named for the 100th’s first commanding officer, Col. Farrant Turner.
Stories and images are courtesy of the Hawaii Herald.
PRESERVING THE ONE PUKA PUKA STORY
State Grant Perpetuates 100th Infantry Battalion’s Pioneering Role
The Hawai‘i Herald (November 4, 2011)
Thanks to a $1 million grant awarded by the state of Hawai‘i Department of Defense in 2008, the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans clubhouse is looking a lot different these days.
The bright blue-colored, single-story building located directly across from ‘Iolani School in McCully is now not only a daily gathering place for the aging veterans, but also the home of the 100th’s new education center. The makeover includes graphic panels depicting the battalion’s exploits, display cases containing historic artifacts, a multipurpose room, a library and a 10-minute informational video on the 100th Battalion that runs on a video monitor near the entrance.
She’s an old girl and this will definitely bring back a lot of freshness to it,” said Pauline Sato, 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Club president and the daughter of Robert Sato, an original member of the 100th Battalion, about the upgraded building.
The word “original” is a reference to the 1,432 men and officers who sailed out of Honolulu Harbor on June 6, 1942, as the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion, an ethnically segregated Army unit. The majority of the men were Japanese American draftees who had been serving in either the 298th (from O‘ahu) or the 299th (from the neighbor islands) Infantry of the Hawai‘i National Guard. Upon arriving in Oakland, Calif., the unit was renamed the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and transported by train to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin to undergo basic training again.
The label “separate” indicated that the 100th was basically an “orphan” battalion — not attached to any military unit. In fact, it was not until 15 months later, after the 100th had completed basic and combat training and was sent to Oran, Algeria, that the unit was finally attached to the 133rd Regiment of the highly decorated 34th “Red Bull” Division, the first American military unit to arrive in Europe after the U.S. entered the war. It was an affiliation the men in the 100th remain extremely proud of to this day.
Within days of landing at Salerno, Italy, on Sept. 22, 1943, the 100th almost immediately began incurring casualties, losing its first two men within one hour of each other on Sept. 29, one week after entering combat. The casualties continued to mount and hit a high point during the battle for Monte Cassino in Italy in early 1944. By the end of the Monte Cassino battle, about two-thirds of the unit had either been killed in action or wounded, requiring soldiers from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was still in training at Camp Shelby, Miss., to be sent in as replacements. By early June of 1944, the 442nd had arrived in Italy, bolstering the casualty-plagued 100th, which came to be known as “the Purple Heart Battalion.” In August, the 100th was formally attached to the 442nd, becoming the combat team’s first battalion. However, the 100th was allowed to retain its name, the 100th Infantry Battalion, because of its outstanding record in training and combat.
Helping Sato bring the education center project to fruition was volunteer grant administrator Susan Muroshige, an O‘ahu-born Sansei who resides in San Francisco. According to Muroshige, whose father, Kenneth Muroshige, also was an original member of the 100th, the new education center is a testament to the battalion’s groundbreaking place in history.
“The 100th was the first [Japanese American military unit]; they were what the Japanese call senpai (senior),” she said. “They were the pioneers.”
While in training at Camp McCoy, the soldiers often talked about having a place back home in Hawai‘i where they could all get together with their families after returning from the war. The men decided to start a fund towards that dream. Each month, $2 was deducted from their soldier’s pay and deposited into the fund. After the war, the fund, supplemented with monies raised through additional fundraisers, enabled the veterans to collectively purchase the 21,600-square-foot parcel of undeveloped land on Kamoku Street and build their clubhouse for $58,000. In 1952, the veterans opened their clubhouse, the 100th Infantry Battalion Memorial Building, which they affectionately called Club 100. They dedicated the building to the comrades they lost in battle.
“The guys who came home, they’re the lucky ones. They worked really hard and they changed society, but there were many who just never came back home,” Sato said. “I think that’s what people remember, at least the veterans; they probably think about it every day — the guys they had to leave behind.”
In its heyday, the clubhouse was a place for the veterans to socialize with each other and their families. Wedding receptions, Christmas parties, birthday celebrations and “family night” get-togethers by the veterans and their families for chicken hekka or beef stew dinners were all held at the clubhouse regularly in the decades after it opened.
But as the 100th members got older and their children matured, there were fewer social gatherings at the clubhouse. With the 100th veterans currently in their late 80s and 90s, Sato hopes that the renovations will renew interest in the building and revive its reputation as a “home away from home.”
Ninety-five-year-old Sonsei Nakamura, another original soldier of the 100th, called the education center a “good idea.”
“I thought we needed some kind of [way] to preserve [it] for the future for people who are interested in learning about the unit’s history — how it started, what they did and what they did after they came back after the war,” he said.
Pauline Sato cautions, however, that the organization has no interest in turning the updated clubhouse into a for-profit venture.
“We’re not calling it a museum, we’re not making it a destination point for tourists or even lots of school groups to come because, frankly, there’s no parking; it’s a limited space, so it’s mostly for people who really, really want to come,” she said.
Fortunately for admirers of the 100th and those who want to learn more about the unit, the veterans club dedicated a portion of the grant money to develop another learning tool — a website dedicated to the unit, https://100thbattalion.org. It will allow anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world to learn about the 100th.
The ambitious website situates the 100th within the greater narrative of Japanese American war service and also pays homage to the exploits of the 100th’s fellow Nisei units — the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion.
Special attention is paid to the varied socioeconomic background of the soldiers in the 100th as well as the postwar impact the veterans had in revolutionizing Hawai‘i’s Democratic Party and combating racial discrimination against Japanese Americans and other ethnic groups. There is even a section on the handful of battalion members who were not ethnically Japanese.
While the website does not devote much space to retelling military battles blow by blow, it does make a conscious effort to highlight the “voices of the veterans” through primary sources and photographs. Sato and Muroshige decided on that approach by holding focus groups and talking with the veterans about how they wanted to be remembered.
According to Sonsei Nakamura, who served in B Company, his fellow veterans wanted their descendants and the public to have access to as much information on the battalion as possible.
“That’s the idea: to put it in black and white so people can go back and look at the history (of the 100th),” he said.
One particular treasure trove of information came in the form of the club’s monthly newsletter, the Puka Puka Parade. Muroshige’s team digitized virtually every edition dating back to April 1946 and launched a successful, albeit exhaustive campaign to find works penned by the veterans themselves.
“One of the people working on my staff went through and read every single article and chose the ones that were written by veterans,” Muroshige said. “They were memories of what they went through. It comes to over 250 of those articles.”
The website also features in-depth profiles of key officers, over 100 letters sent by veterans and thousands of never-before-seen photographs — and the site is far from complete.
“It’s really much more than just a website,” Sato said. “It’s a really rich, living repository that will, hopefully, be added to over time.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the website is that it has a search feature. By simply typing in a soldier’s name in the database, the site will sift through thousands of documents for information on that individual, including letters he may have written or photographs in which he is pictured.
Muroshige said that such a tool is valuable because many 100th members did not talk about their military experience with their families. “You can type in your father’s name and you might come up with something,” she said.
She echoed Sato’s hope that the website will be a living — and continually growing — repository of information on the 100th Infantry Battalion. She hopes the veterans’ families and others will continue to come forth with photos, letters, diaries and stories on the 100th Battalion veterans.
Muroshige also made a concerted effort to involve the grandchildren of the veterans while developing the education center so that they would come to learn more about their grandfathers’ service in World War II. She tapped the computer and technical expertise of 29-year-old Marc Mizuire, grandson of Susumu Kunishige. “It was a meaningful experience,” said Mizuire, who is studying computer networking at the University of Hawai‘i.
She also enlisted 27-year-old Jason Clements, grandson of 100th veteran Richard Kunio Hamada, as one of the website’s researchers and writers. Clements, who recently earned his master’s degree in English from UH, knows firsthand what that moment of discovery feels like. While working on the project, he uncovered some old photographs of his grandfather.
That led him to the clubhouse, where he talked with other veterans and gained an understanding of what his 93-year-old grandfather must have gone through during the war.
“This is a part of his personal life that I had never really gone into and never seen,” Clements said. “It’s amazing. It’s not that it changed him in my eyes, but it gave me a wider insight into the person he is.”
Clements hopes that those with ties to the battalion will use the website to learn more about their relatives, both as individuals and as freedom fighters.
“Part of it is just knowing exactly what their loved ones went through to provide this world that we enjoy,” he said. “If it weren’t for what the 100th Battalion did during World War II, the public perception of Asian Americans in the United States would be radically different. Not only did they go to war on a physical plain, they went to war against prejudice.”
Sato, likewise, championed the website as a way to educate younger individuals about the price of their freedom, so that future generations of Americans will not have to prove their loyalty on the field of battle ever again.
“We need to constantly remind people, especially the younger ones, to never take it for granted, and also to always look out for others who might be in the same situation of prejudice or discrimination,” she said. “We can’t just be the lucky ones. It’s our responsibility to make sure it does not happen to other people, no matter what their race is.”
Anyone wishing to support the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Club education center can call (808) 946-0272.