Hiroshi Watanabe

Hiroshi Watanabe
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, L Company

Hiroshi Watanabe was born on November 2, 1922, in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, to Rinnosuke and Iki (Yomogida) Watanabe.  Rinosuke emigrated at the age of 16 from the village of Mutsuai, Date District, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, arriving on the Nippon Maru on February 25, 1907.  Iki arrived on January 27, 1911, on the S.S. Siberia from the same village.

There were five children in the Watanabe family:  sons Yutaka, Hiroshi, Takashi, and Yoshiaki; and daughters Pearl Sadako and Mitsuko.

After arrival, Rinnosuke worked on the sugar plantation in Ewa on Oahu.  In 1917, Rinnosuke and Iki were married and living near the North Shore in Kawailoa, Waialua, and he was employed by the Waialua Agricultural Company, Ltd.  In early 1920, they were living in Alewa Heights in Honolulu and Rinnosuke was working on a pineapple farm.  They were lodgers in the home of John N. Okazaki.  Mother Iki died on September 9, 1927.

By 1930, the family was back in Waialua and living in Shimamoto Camp in the village.  Rinnosuke was a retail vegetable merchant.  By 1940, they were living in Waialua mill town and Rinnosuke operated his own business selling vegetables.  Yutaka worked as a tractor operator for the sugar plantation and Mitsuko was a teacher at a private school.

Hiroshi was educated at Waialua Elementary, Intermediate, and High Schools, graduating in 1940.  He played for the Puuiki Juniors in the Waialua Athletic Association basketball league.  Father Rinnosuke died on September 15, 1941.

Hiroshi signed his draft registration card on June 30, 1942, Local Board No. 10 in Wahiawa, Oahu.  His address was shown as 454 Kaukohonua Camp in Wahiawa and his mailing address as P.O. Box 239 in Waialua.  On August 22, these were crossed out and his address was written in as 458 Keawe Street in Honolulu.  His point of contact was his sister Sadako’s husband, Stanley Yamagata, in Waialua.  He was employed by Hawaiian Pineapple Company in Wahiawa.  This was crossed out on August 27 and written in as Hawaiian Constructors, Base Yard #9 in Wahiawa.  Hiroshi was 5’3” tall and weighed 138 pounds.

He was enlisted into the U.S. Army on March 23, 1943.  His occupation was “Semiskilled repairman and mechanic, motor vehicles.”  He had completed high school.  He sent to Schofield Barracks where he was in the “tent city” named Boom Town with the other new soldiers who would be part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  They were given an aloha farewell ceremony by the community at Iolani Palace on March 28, and shipped to San Francisco on the S.S. Lurline on April 4.  After a train trip across the US, they arrived at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training.  Watanabe was assigned to 3rd Battalion, L Company, 4th Platoon.

After a year of basic, unit, and combat training and field maneuvers, the 442nd left for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944, enroute to the Theater of War.  On May 2, L Company boarded the troop ship S.S. George W. Campbell in nearby Hampton Roads and left in a convoy of 100 ships, arriving at Naples, Italy, on May 28.  The 442nd was in bivouac at Bagnoli, near Naples, for a week, then they boarded LSTs for the overnight trip to Anzio, that was followed by a truck convoy around the recently liberated city of Rome.  They arrived at their large bivouac near Civitavecchia, 50 miles from Rome, where they made final preparations for combat in the Rome-Arno Campaign.

On June 24, L Company travelled by motor convoy to the forward assembly area four miles northwest of Gavoranno.  The next day they marched five miles to another assembly area.

When the 442nd entered combat on June 26, 1944, near Suvereto, L Company was a support company, in reserve and ready for action.  After the successful action to liberate Suvereto, L Company occupied the town at about 5:00 p.m with no casualties.  L Company then advanced under cover of darkness to the outskirts of Sassetta where they bivouacked for the night.  The next day they engaged the enemy.  That evening they were hit by a German artillery barrage.  They were then directed to push northwest and seize Castagnetto.  Soon after dark they were hit by an ambush of two machine guns, one or two 81mm mortars, and several rifles.

Pfc. Watanabe was killed in this action on June 27 on the outskirts of Sassetta.

He was buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Tarquinia 100 miles south, in Plot D, Row 20, No. 517.

For his wartime service, Pfc. Hiroshi Watanabe was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze star, World War II Victory Medal, 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 July 30, 1944, a memorial service was held for Pfc Watanabe at 1:30 p.m. at the Waialua Christian Church.  That weekend there were eleven other such services throughout Oahu for men who had been killed on the Italian front.

In November 1944, Hiroshi’s brother Yoshiaki was presented his Purple Heart Medal posthumously in a private ceremony at home by Lieutenant Colonel Edward M. Blight representing Lieutenant General Robert C Richardson, Commanding General U.S. Army Pacific.

On May 31, 1949, the North Shore community held a memorial service in Haleiwa sponsored by the Waialua Lions Club, American Legion, 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans, 442nd Veterans Club, and the National Guard.  It was held at the base of the Memorial Tower built in 1947 to honor their war dead.  Hundreds attended the ceremony, which especially honored the 16 war dead of World War II who were from the North Shore.

After the war, the US was closing most of the overseas wartime cemeteries and families were given the choice of having their son reinterred in one of the few remaining cemeteries or returned home.  The Watanabe family wished to have Hiroshi return to Hawaii.  He arrived on July 11, 1949, at Kapalama Basin in Honolulu Harbor, one of 34 war dead aboard the USAT Arlo L. Olsen.  A large throng of family and friends gathered at the dock to meet the ship.  A brief ceremony was held with Acting Governor Oren E. Long giving the main address.  He said, “We are proud to have such sons.”  Brother Yutaka Watanabe of 276 Ilima Street in Wahiawa was Hiroshi’s next of kin.

Hiroshi Watanabe was reinterred on August 10, 1949, at 3:00 p.m. at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Section D, Site 252, one of 20 World War II burials that day.  He was survived by his five siblings.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022.

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