Hiroshi Okura

Hiroshi Okura
442nd Regimental Combat Team
522nd Field Artillery Battalion, A Battery

Hiroshi Okura was born on November 3, 1921, in Honomu, Hawaii island, Territory of Hawaii.  He was the son of Kanta and Miyo (Kozai) Okura.  Kanta arrived in Hawaii from the village of Oda, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, in 1907.  Miyo arrived in Hawaii from the village of Konoha, Tamana District, Kumamoto Prefecture, on the S.S. China on September 6, 1911.  She and Kanta lived in the Pahala area of Kau District, where he worked on a sugar plantation.  Hiroshi’s siblings were:  brothers Kazuki, Atsushi, and Toru; and sisters Harue and Yukiko.

In 1930, the family was living at Camp 15, south Hilo.  Kanta was a laborer on the sugar plantation.  Hiroshi attended Hilo High School, graduating in 1940.  The previous fall, he and 34 other Hilo boys helped to alleviate the labor shortage by picking coffee beans in Kona.  For their efforts, they were each awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by local Army officials.  He also attended Hilo Japanese School and participated in their judo training program.  The summer of 1940 he spent picking pineapple on Lanai, among 150 boys from Hawaii island, Maui, and the University of Hawaii called as seasonal workers.

Before the war, Okura was disillusioned, working various jobs in which he found no future.  He had moved to Honolulu in 1941, and on December 7 he was doing construction work at Fort Armstrong at Honolulu Harbor when the attack came.  He witnessed a Japanese plane fly over, and when he saw a bomb drop from the plane, he dove under a truck for cover.  The next day, Okura went back to work, where he and the rest of the Japanese workers were rounded up by angry Military Police.  They were escorted to the post entrance gates at gunpoint and told, “Run!”  They all thought they were going to be shot.  Regardless of this bad experience, Hiroshi later looked at the Army as an opportunity to “get out of Hawaii” and hopefully change his future for the better.

By early 1942, Hiroshi had returned to the Big Island.  He signed his draft registration card on February 14, 1942, Local Board No. 2, at the Federal Building in Hilo.  At the time, he was employed by the Honomu Sugar Company; his point of contact was his older brother Kazuki; and he was 5’6½” tall and weighed 135 pounds.  He lived with his family in Honomu.  On September 16, he and Kazuki set up a company to operate the Okura Store, selling retail groceries and general merchandise in Honomu.

On March 27, 1943, Johnny, as Okura was known, was in the second group of Hawaii island volunteers to be inducted into the U.S. Army.  At the time, his civilian occupation was listed as “Farm hands/crop specialty.”  The 146 Big Island volunteers were assembled that day at the Hilo Armory for roll call, then marched to Kalakaua Park opposite the Federal Building for the oath of induction.  The previous evening, his parents had hosted a farewell party for him at their home with many friends and family members attending.  The party featured Ichiro Shishido as master of ceremonies and musical entertainment by Seigi and his String Lads.

After a trip on an inter-island steamer, Okura arrived in Honolulu just in time for the March 28 aloha farewell ceremony by the community at Iolani Palace.  He then went to Boom Town, the tent city at Schofield Barracks where all the recent volunteers were housed.  On April 4, they left on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco.

After arriving on the mainland, Okura 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 A Battery, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.  During the next year he underwent basic and specialized training before “D Series” maneuvers in Louisiana.  While there, Johnny and some buddies caught an armadillo.  The following anecdote was written by Pfc. Abraham Sakamoto:

I can’t forget the night when the wire section had choice armadillo meat prepared by Sergeant Fujita.  We sure drank up that night, what with beer by the cases and whiskey and gin brought back by some of the boys who just returned from their New York furlough.  Poor Make-Cow and Johnny passed out that wild night.

Johnny Okura at Camp Shelby in 1943/1944

The 442nd left Camp Shelby on April 22, 1944, by train for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.  On May 2, the 442nd left Hampton Roads in a convoy of over 100 troop ships.  As the ships neared Italy, the USAT Johns Hopkins, carrying the 522nd, sailed around the south end of the Italian peninsula, arriving at Brindisi and Bari on May 28.  They went by train to Naples, arriving on May 29, where they met up with the rest of the 442nd who had arrived the previous day.  After a week in a bivouac area in the nearby town of Bagnoli, they all left for Anzio, arriving on June 7.  The 522nd was on the LST 526.  The 442nd entered combat on June 26 near Suvereto in the Rome-Arno Campaign.  Private Okura was present for all the action seen by the 442nd/522nd in Italy.

On September 10, 1944, the 522nd Battalion left Rosignano on the S.S. Richard K. Call for the overnight trip to Qualiano, where they were in another bivouac area until September 21.  Following six days in the staging area at Bagnoli near Naples, they left on the U.S.S. Thurston for France on September 27 with the rest of the 442nd.

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.  In October-November, the 522nd Field Artillery helped to liberate the important road junction of Bruyères, followed by Biffontaine, and the famous “Rescue of the Lost Battalion” – the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry Regiment that had advanced beyond its support, become surrounded by the enemy, and was unable to extricate itself.

Following the Vosges, Private Okura went with the 442nd for participation in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign in southern France.  They were in the area of Nice, Menton, and Sospel beginning on November 21.

On March 9, 1945, the 522nd Field Artillery was separated from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (who were being sent back to Italy) and assigned to General Alexander Patch’s Seventh Army to add fire power for its assault on the Siegfried Line in Germany.

The 522nd Field Artillery left Menton, France, and convoyed north.  They entered Germany at Kleinbittersdorf on March 12, 1945.  The fast-moving 522nd moved constantly, giving chase to the retreating enemy across southern Germany toward the Austrian border.  During the German campaign, the Battalion made 52 displacements and fired 15,219 rounds of artillery during the 619 miles enroute.  When the war ended on May 8, they were in Schaftlach, south of Munich.

The Battalion moved from Schaftlach on May 9, north to the area of Donauworth.  A Battery was assigned to the towns of Ellgau and Ebermergen and was quartered in tents for most of the occupation.  The 522nd was deactivated on October 5, 1945, and men with more than 70 “points” began preparing for the long journey home.

Okura sitting on his helmet (front row, right), with 522nd buddies in Oberndorf during the occupation

Okura had signed up to transfer to the Pacific Theater of Operations; however, in the process of being transferred, the war with Japan came to an end on August 15.  He remained in Germany for several more months of the occupation, arriving back in Honolulu on the U.S. Army transport ship USAT Tabinta on November 20, 1945, with 101 other returning veterans.  He was discharged on November 24 at the Army Separation Center (at Fort Kamehameha) in Honolulu.

For his wartime service, Private Hiroshi Okura was awarded the following decorations:  Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal, and Army of Occupation Medal.  He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on October 5, 2010, along with the other members of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.  This is the highest Congressional Civilian Medal.

In an indirect way, the Army had provided him with the future opportunities he was hoping for.  During his time at Camp Shelby, while on furlough Johnny had visited Chicago with some friends and discovered that he liked the city.  After the war, he first settled back home in Hawaii and worked for a while as a painter.  He married Toshiko Tomiyama, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Inosuke Tomiyama of Wailea, Hakalau District, Hawaii island.  They soon decided to leave their island paradise and make Chicago their new home.  He left Honolulu on a Pan American flight to San Francisco on May 3, 1948, enroute to the Coyne Electrical School in Chicago.  On May 24, Toshiko followed him there.  By mid-1950, they were living at 1050 LaSalle Street with their first child.  Taking advantage of the GI Bill, Hiroshi also enrolled in art school, and eventually he worked in the commercial art field.

Early in his life, their elder son, Gerry, contracted a terminal kidney disease, but in the late 60s or early 70s, when transplant operations were still in their infancy, Hiroshi successfully donated one of his kidneys to Gerry.  In 1996, Gerry peacefully passed away at the age of 46, but the years extended to him by the transplant from his father were very fulfilling.  On April 2, 2016, Aloha Daisy, as Toshiko was known, passed away just before her 91st birthday.

Hiroshi and granddaughters on his 99th birthday

On October 20, 2021, Okura was awarded the Légion d’honneur, the highest award given by the Government of France, for his military service in the Vosges and southern France during World War II.  French Consul Yannick Tagand made the presentation at Hiroshi’s care home.  Below is the write-up for the application made to France:

Okura was a key member of Able Battery without whom reliable, continuous, and timely communications between his battery and the battalion as a whole could not effectively support the assault infantry of the 100th/442nd.  Okura laid, maintained, and took up the wire or cable of a telephone or telegraph communications system.  He ran wire along the ground guiding it from a wire reel in a 1/4-ton wire truck.  He fastened wire to poles, stakes, or trees, and carried it across roads or other obstructions, and buried it in a shallow ditch or suspended it from trees, telephone poles, or lance poles.  He located and determined the cause of line trouble, such as opens, shorts, and grounds, by testing the length of wire at intervals.  He made appropriate repairs, such as splicing breaks and cutting out defective wire and splicing new wire.  All of these vital communications requirements were accomplished under harsh weather and terrain, and often under vicious combat conditions.

Hiroshi Okura died on August 21, 2022, at the age of 100.  He was survived by his son Terrence, granddaughters Lauren and Lynn, and great-grandchildren – Asher, Navy, Graham, and Archie. 

Okura wearing his French Legion of Honor Medal

Hiroshi epitomized the Go for Broke motto of the 442nd:  He loved gambling and betting – with the exception that he didn’t go broke doing it.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021 (updated 2022) with the assistance of his son, who is a Lifetime Member of the Sons & Daughters.

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