Hawaii Herald Articles

The 100th Infantry Battalion

June 5th, 2012 marks the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the 100th  Infantry Battalion.  Here is an article from The Hawaii Herald archives published on the 50th Anniversary (1992).

History/Roland Kotani From: “The Japanese in Hawaii: A Century of Struggle”
America’s “Purple Heart Battalion”
The Hawaii Herald (June 19, 1992)

The following historical profile on the 100th Infantry Battalion is excerpted from the chapter titled, “The Nisei Soldier” in Roland Kotani’s 1985 book, “The Japanese in Hawaii: A Century of Struggle.” The book was published by the Hawaii Hochi, Ltd. And was designated the official booklet of the Oahu Kanyaku Imin Centennial Committee.

On the barren Italian hillside, Masayuki “Sparky” Matsunaga huddled behind a terrace wall and prayed for the dawn. He could barely move his wounded leg. But the darkness seemed to be lifting from the corpse-strewn battlefield.

The young man from Hanapepe wondered if he’d ever be able to do anything about his Kauai High School teacher’s advise that he should become a politician. His father had always said, “Kuro ga ate fukai jinsei ga wakaru,” “Deeper understanding of human values comes only through personal suffering.” As he pulled his jacket close around himself, Masayuki though he’d become a compassionate politician with a definite understanding of human suffering-if he survived this war.

Although the men of the 100th Battalion had already seen several weeks of action, Hill 600 in Italy had been a tough nut to crack. The Nazis had strewn the hill with mines. From apparently inaccessible positions, the enemy fired down on the attacking nisei troops. German artillery pounded the Japanese Americans, making them pay for each inch of precious soil with blood and guts.

Masayuki Matsunaga had been moving up the hill with his platoon when he was wounded the first time. One of the messengers tripped a teller mine, sending shrapnel whizzing below his neck. Matsunaga wiped the blood from his shirt and concluded the injury wasn’t too bad. He scrambed forward with his fellow troops, while shells roared down from the heights and rocked the smoke-filled air with the surrealistic din of continuous explosions.

Then a messenger tripped another mine trigger. This time it was a dreaded “Bouncing Betty,” which burst in the air. Desperately trying to avoid the shell fragments sprayed in a deadly radius of the detonated mine, the nisei troops dropped to the ground. But Matsunaga felt a dull thud hit his right thigh. A sharp jolt of pain rocked him when he tried to move his leg.

Around him other infantrymen had received worse hits. Blood streamed from the eyes of one of Matsunaga’s buddies. Limping and awkwardly dragging the blinded soldier to the nearby terrace wall, Matsunaga covered his comrade with his own body. When the medics finally came, his backpack, which faced outward, had been torn open by mine and shell fragments. Although military protocol gave priority to a wounded officer’s evacuation, Matsunaga instructed the medics to take the other fellow down the hill first.

But the medics never came back. Matsunaga spent a gloomy night, bleeding behind the stone wall on Hill 600 in Italy. Finally, the twilight darkness gave way to the sight he’d patiently awaited for so many hours. With the morning’s first light, the medics finally returned. Matsunaga breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the stretcher bearers pick him up. Within a few moments, the future U.S. senator from the 50th state would see the last of Hill 600 and front line combat in Europe. Matsunaga’s wounds would mean yet another emblem of loyalty and sacrifice for the “Purple Heart Battalion” from Hawaii.

When war clouds were still on the horizon, hundreds of nisei joined the U.S. Army. In the 12 months before the Pearl Harbor attack. About 50 percent of the 3,000 young men inducted through selective service boards in Hawaii were of Japanese ancestry. About 900 of the AJA inductees had volunteered.

Anti-Japanese sentiments were on the rise and the nisei recruits felt a need to demonstrate during basic training at Schofield Barracks that they were serious about being good soldiers for Uncle Sam. “When 4 o’clock came, after a long hard day, and others turned to rest or recreation, the Japanese kept right on at drill or study,” recalled Lt. Gen. Charles D. Herron, former commander of the Hawaiian Department. “There were no malingerers among them and they were quick to learn.” Since AJA students had actively participated in high school and university ROTC programs, at least half of the nisei inductees had already received military training. In a private letter, Gen. Herron called the nisei at Schofield Barracks “the best recruits I have ever seen in 45 year.”

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, most of the nisei recruits had been assigned to former Hawaii National Guard units-the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments. For the next six months, the soldiers in the 298th Infantry Regiment strung barbed wire, constructed machine gun emplacements, and patrolled beaches on Oahu’s windward shore. In the 299th Infantry Regiment, Neighbor Island nisei guarded airfields and beaches and assisted in building military installations. Although the War Department suggested in February 1942 that all soldiers of Japanese ancestry be released from active duty, discharged, or transferred, Gen. Delos Emmons replied that the Americans of Japanese ancestry in the former National Guard units were needed because of the troop shortage in the Islands.

By the early summer of 1942, conditions had changed. Military authorities in Hawaii were forewarned of a major Japanese offensive in the central Pacific. Faced by the threat of an attack against the Islands, Gen. Emmons was concerned about the reliability of the nisei soldiers and the possibility of their being mistaken for enemy troops during an invasion. On May 12, Emmons recommended to the Pentagon that all AJA officers and men in the 298th and 299th be organized into a special battalion and evacuated to the Mainland. He suggested that the nisei soldiers could be stationed at an inland Army post or dispersed among various Army combat units. Since sizeable troops reinforcements had arrived in the Islands, the 298th Infantry Regiment was recalled from the beaches on May 19 and placed in reserve3 at Schofield Barracks, with Mainland troops taking over its defense positions.

Receiving authorization from Gen. George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff, Gen. Emmons ordered the reorganization of the nisei troops into a provisional battalion on May 29. Lt. Col. Farrant L. Turner, executive officer of the 298th Infantry, immediately volunteered to command the new outfit. A kamaaina haole from the Big Island, Turner had graduated from Punahou Academy, Hawaii’s elite prep school, and had worked as a clerk for Waialua Agricultural Company and as a bookkeeper for Lewers & Cooke, Ltd. As an officer of the 298th Regiment, he had been impressed by the discipline and determination of the nisei troops.

Capt. James Lovell, whom Turner selected as his second-in-command, was also confident in the loyalty of the AJA soldiers. Before the war, he had taught nisei students at Washington Intermediate and McKinley High School. Since no AJA officer was allowed to command any of the rifle companies, Turner selected three kamaaina haole Punahou graduates and two other malihini haoles who were well-acquainted with Hawaii’s people to be his company commanders. Four AJAs-Capt. Taro Suzuki, Capt. John Tanimura, Capt. Isaac Kawasaki and 1st Lt. Katsumi Kometani-were selected by Turner as officers of the Headquarters Company. Overall, 16 of the original 24 officers of the provisional battalion were Americans of Japanese ancestry.

On June 5, 1942, the 1,432 men of the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion departed on the transport ship S.S. Maui for the West Coast. At least 95 percent of the battalion’s members were second-generation Japanese. While the majority were Hawaii public high school graduates and about 12 percent had attended college, in most cases the University of Hawaii, 85 percent had also attended Japanese language schools. Thirty-five percent of these American soldiers were still dual citizens and twice as many had been to Japan as to the U.S. mainland. The average age was 24 years, relatively old for infantry troops. Although the unit was supposed to be an all-AJA outfit, there were a few soldiers of other nationalities, including two Hawaiian brothers who claimed Japanese ancestry to join the battalion.

After five days of seasickness and non-stop crap games, the nikkei troops finally arrived in Oakland, Calif. There, battalion officers learned from orders received that the unit had acquired a new name-the “100th Infantry Battalion.”

The movement of the 100th Infantry Battalion was shrouded in secrecy. Before leaving Honolulu, the battalion’s members had received no information on their final destination and had been instructed not to reveal any details of their departure to friends or family. The tight security continued upon arrival at Oakland; after a brief inspection at the pier, the soldiers were loaded on three waiting troop trains, each of which embarked on a different route to the battalion destination. After five days, word was passed on one of the trains rolling through Wisconsin that the journey would soon be over. A few minutes later, when the train pulled into a railroad siding next to an iron fence topped with barbed wire and broken at intervals by watchtowers, some pessimistic nisei soldiers worried that their final destination was an internment camp.

A battalion historian wrote, “For half an hour we sat silently in our seats, thinking only of the worst; many were pensive with grim and hollow faces. Then, suddenly, as if to alleviate our pained thoughts, the train backed slowly out of the yard, switched to another track and continued on.”

Finally the nikkei troops arrived at Camp McCoy, Wis., with its 14,000 acres of fields and woods for training maneuvers and artillery practice. Army Ground Forces designated the AJA outfit as a “separate” battalion without the regular regimental affiliation. The Hawaiian Provisional Battalion henceforth became, officially, the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)-and unofficially, to its members, the “One Puka Puka.” Because of its separate status, the 100th Infantry Battalion was an “oversized” battalion, with two additional rifle companeis, a medical section, a service company and a transportation platoon. On their second day at Camp McCoy, the battalion members began their training regiment of short order drills, assembly and disassembly of weapons, hikes and obstacle courses.

After work, the Hawaii GIs enthusiastically participated in various recreational activities. The nearby water hold was a popular swimming spot until somebody informed the Island boys about the deadly water moccasin snakes. Another extracurricular activity was brawling, with AJA roughnecks something allying with Chicano and Native American troops in fights with “redneck” Texans. On November 28, 1942, 38 overly aggressive soldiers ended up in the McCoy Hospital for treatment of wounds incurred in “battle.” The 100th Battalion’s baseball team, wearing jackets lettered with the word “Aloha” and accompanied by the “Hawaiian Serenaders” musical group, engaged in more friendly competition and won eight of 14 games with civilian teams.

Since residents of the rural area in Wisconsin showed little prejudice against the “Hawaiians,” soldiers with passes immediately headed for the town of Sparta, three miles from Camp McCoy. “Old Man” Turner had to warn them to remember not to take liberties with the local girls. He also reminded them that Wisconsin made beer and it was simply impossible to drink it all up while on pass. To thank the friendly Wisconsin residents who invited AJA soldiers to family dinners, church suppers, parties and dances, the battalion sponsored a farewell luau for civilian friends before leaving for Mississippi. Later, Japanese on Oahu held a free luau to which every soldier from Wisconsin on the island was invited.

In January 1943, the 100th Battalion was transferred to Camp Shelby, Miss. For further training, the nisei troops found the racial atmosphere of the Deep South hostile and cold. Hawaii GIs stuck up acquaintances with black soldiers and civilians, but battalion officers soon agreed that this practice must be stopped. An AJA soldier wrote:

“We have strict orders not to associate with the colored people because if we are seen together, the public will treat us as Negroes and it will be just too bad for us. Fortunately, we enjoy all the privileges of the “white” and are considered as one of them. To be a Negro in the South is simply pitiful.”

Turner was determined that his men would not be treated as inferior human beings. When an officer in the headquarters of the 85th Division, to which the battalion was attached for training, asked about the Turner’s “Japs,” the commander of the Hawaii troops curtly replied, “Sir, my men at not Japs…My troops are Americans of Japanese ancestry serving in the American Army.” Although the officer muttered under his breath, he didn’t use the term again.

After participating in coordinated maneuvers at Camp Shelby, the second largest Army training camp in the United States, the 100th Battalion was moved to the Louisiana Maneuver Area for war games in early April. In the toughest phase of the outfit’s training, the nisei soldiers spent two months hiking and camping in the sweltering Louisiana heat, scratching for chiggers and ticks and warily scanning the ground for poisonous coral snakes and water moccasins. To simulate real battlefield conditions, drinking rations were reduced to a quart a day and troops had to wash their clothes in stagnant, stinking ground water. On June 13, the battalion was sent to Camp Claiborne, La., for two days of intense firing practice. When the weary men of the “One Puka Puka” finally returned to their barracks at Camp Shelby, they learned that 2,686 AJA volunteers from Hawaii in the 442nd Regimental Combat team had already arrived there.

During the month of July 1943, the 100th Infantry Battalion received its colors-replicas of a Hawaiian chief’s feather helmet and the ape leaf emblazoned with the slogan, “Remember Pearl Harbor”-and passed a rigorous inspection by three officers from the inspector general’s staff. With the directive that no AJA might command a rifle company no longer in effect, Turner assigned Capts. Taro Suzuki and Jack Mizuha to command Companies B and D. Sixteen of the 100th’s 60 commissioned officers were AJAs, and 10 of the nikkei C.O.s were first lieutenants. Before the battalion left for the front lines, Turner rejected a proposal that his men be issued a distinctive kind of dog tag. He agreed to vouch for the loyalty of his troops, including the few kibei about whom Army Intelligence still had doubts. On August 21, the “One Puka Puka” boarded the troop ship James Parker and left the United States.

On September 2, 1943, the Hawaii nisei arrived in Oran, North Africa. Assigned to the battle-tested 34th “Red Bull” Division of the Fifth Army, the 100th Battalion spent only two weeks at its new parent outfit’s 100-acre bivouac before receiving orders to leave for the battlefields of Italy. As part of the 133rd Regiment of the 34th Division, the 100th Infantry Battalion landed on the beachhead at Salerno on September 22. Joining in the Allied pursuit of the retreating German troops, the “One Puka Puka” saw its first frontline action. On September 29, Sgt. Shigeo “Joe” Takata advanced on an enemy machine gun nest to draw their fire and expose their position. A piece of shrapnel caught him in the head. Dying, he managed to point out where the Nazi gunners were. He was the first Hawaii nisei to be killed in action in the European theater.

During the next three months, the 100th Infantry Battalion crossed the chilly waters of the Volturno River three times and fought the Nazis in succession at St. Angelo d’Alife, Castello d’Alife, and the well-defended hills near Pozzilli and Colli. Observing the Hawaii battalion in action, a war correspondent in Italy reported:

“Mistrusted after Pearl Harbor, their aim, according to their officers, 15 percent of whom are Japanese, is to prove beyond question that they can fight loyally and well and thus directly protect the honor and reputation of Japanese in America. This pulse seems to make them fight more eagerly, if anything, than their neighbors in Allied line. In the last month the have charged repeatedly into murderous machine gun and automatic fire.”

Although “Old Man” Turner could be proud of his troops, he was ordered to the hospital for a rest and relieved of his command in favor of a younger, “tougher” officer on October 29.

After leaving from Piedmonte de Alife for Persenzano during a blizzard on New Year’s Eve, the 100th Battalion and the “Red Bulls” of the 34th Division received orders to assault the heavily fortified Gustav Line at Cassino, where the crack S.S. troops of the 1st German Parachute Division were entrenched. The terrain was a nightmare for the attacking forces. To reach the hills defended by the Nazis, the American troops had to cross a submerged road, flooded farm land, two 4-foot-deep irrigation ditches, a more shallow ditch, a muddy cornfield sown with mines, another 6-foot-deep irrigation ditch, a retaining wall, a dry riverbed and a double row of mined barbed wire. German machine guns covered the whole approach area, which had been cleared of brush and trees to eliminate protective cover.

After an artillery barrage on January 24, Companies A and C of the 100th Battalion led the attack and reached the river wall, holding there to establish a position for an attack across the Rapido River’s dry channel. The following morning, Company B also attempted to move up to the river but was caught in a murderous hail of hostile artillery and machine-gun fire. Only 14 men reached the river; the rest of the 187 men were killed, wounded, driven back or forced to find whatever shelter they could. Maj. Caspar Clough, Jr., the 100th’s commanding officer, was wounded and his battlefield replacement was killed. Stripped of its leadership, the “One Puka Puka” was pulled back to San Michele. On January 29, Maj. James W. Lovell, just released from the hospital the previous week, assumed command of the battalion.

On February 8, the nisei troops attacked and advanced rapidly, until ordered to secure Hill 165. All other units had been stopped by the fierce resistance. Although both flanks of the battalion were now exposed and a change in wind direction drove away the curtain of smoke which had offered some protection, the 100th Battalion dug in and held its position for four days. Finally, the dogged AJA troops were ordered to withdraw. On February 18, the 34th Division launched another attack on Monte Cassino. The 100th Battalion fought its way halfway up to the German lookout at the old stone Abbey, but again found no support on its flanks.

Four days later, the 34th Division ended its 40-day struggle against impossible terrain and the cream of the Fuhrer’s army. In the end, five fresh divisions finally took Cassino. The 34th Division, which included the “One Puka Puka,” almost made it alone.

On March 24, 1944, the 100th Infantry Battalion embarked for the war-torn village of Anzio. For the next two months, the nisei troops slept, wrote letters and played cards in their shelters during the day and foraged at night for chickens and cows abandoned by fleeing Italian peasants. On May 24, the Allied troops at the Anzio beachhead finally broke through the German lines, sending the enemy in retreat. By the first week of June, the “One Puka Puka” was helping eradicate remnants of the German 29th Panzer Group and marching on the road to Rome.

On the afternoon of June 4, the nisei soldiers saw a sign which indicated that Rome was only 10 kilometers ahead. Here, much to the disgust of “One Puka Puka” members who wanted to be the first Allied battalion to enter Rome, the troops were ordered to halt and wait for truck transport. The following day, two years after the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion had departed from the Hawaiian Islands, the 100th Infantry Battalion rolled through the quiet streets of Rome. However, the disappointment at failing to receive the cheering welcome which had greeted the first American troops was quickly forgotten. Less than a week later, shortly after the 100th Battalion arrived at a rest area seven miles north of the seacoast town of Civitavecchia, they were joined by their AJAs in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Since the AJA regiment’s 1st Battalion had been left behind at Camp Shelby the 100th Infantry Battalion was attached to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Because of its prior record in battle, the “One Puka Puka” was allowed to retain its name. By the time the 100th Battalion joined their fellow nisei troops, the “One Puka Puka,” originally 1,300 men in strength, had already suffered more than 900 casualties. It had earned the nickname, “Purple Heart Battalion.”

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