James Takashi Okamoto
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, K Company
James Takashi Okamoto was born on March 26, 1923, in Wainaku, Hawaii island, Territory of Hawaii. He was the son of Kazuo and Daisy Matsue (Asakura) Okamoto. James had three sisters: Sayoko, Mieko, and Hideko.
Father Kazuo Okamoto was born in Olaa, Hawaii island. He was the son of Kamekichi and Seki (Harafuji) Okamoto, who arrived in 1889 from Takamiza District, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Kamekichi was from the village of Kameyama and Seki from the village of Uebara. Upon arriving in Hawaii, Kamekichi worked for several sugar plantations – Waiakea, Amauulu, and Olaa – before becoming a coffee planter.
James’ mother, Daisy Matsue, was also born on the Big Island. Matsue was a resident of Wainaku and the daughter of Saihachi and Omonie (Uehara) Asakura. Kazuo and Matsue married in 1923, while Kazuo was living and working at Volcano House at Kilauea in the Volcanoes National Park.
James was educated at Haaheo School and Hilo Intermediate School. In 1930, the family lived in Kilauea at the Volcano House where Kazuo was a waiter. By 1938, father Kazuo worked at the Kona Inn in Kailua-Kona. By 1940, Kazuo and Daisy Mitsue were divorced and Daisy had married Yoshio Nakano. In 1940, James was employed as a bellboy at the Kona Inn. Before entering the service, he moved to Oahu and was a defense worker for the U.S. Navy at the Aiea Naval Hospital Project.
He registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, Local Board No. 4, Pensacola Street, Honolulu. He listed his mother, who was living in Hilo, as his point of contact. Okamoto was 5’7” and weighed 140 pounds. His address was 1222 South King Street. He was employed by the C.P. Naval Air Base in Aiea.
James enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 24, 1943. He had attended one year of high school, and was working as a semi-skilled structural metal worker. He was sent with other inductees to the “tent city” known as Boom Town at Schofield Barracks. On March 28, they were given a community farewell at Iolani Palace. On April 4, they sailed on the S.S. Lurline to San Francisco. After a train trip across the US, they arrived at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training. After basic training, James was assigned to 3rd Battalion, K Company.
After over a year of training, James shipped out to Europe with the 442nd on May 2, 1944, from Hampton Roads, Virginia, in a convoy of over 100 ships. They arrived in Naples, Italy, on May 28. Okamoto and the 442nd entered battle near Suvereto north of Rome on June 26. James fought in the Rome-Arno Campaign, up the western side of Italy, driving the German Army north of the Arno River.
On September 27, 1944, the 442nd was pulled out of the battle lines and sent by ship to Marseilles, France.
Two days later, on September 29, the War Department issued a list of men wounded in the Mediterranean Theater. James was listed among the wounded, indicating he was wounded toward the end of the Rome-Arno Campaign.
From Marseilles, the 442nd traveled north 500 miles to the battle front in northeastern France to join the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. Their first objective was to liberate the important road junction of Bruyères in the Vosges Mountains. The intense battles to liberate Bruyères and neighboring Biffontaine lasted from October 16-24. The combat team was then put into reserve in nearby Belmont for a brief rest. After two days, on the afternoon of October 26, they were 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 called in.
On October 29, 1944, the 100th and 3rd Battalions attacked at dawn. Fierce fighting in the steep, forested hillside of the Vosges was slow-going; the Germans had dug in and controlled the high ground. Artillery fire was heavy and casualties on both sides were very high. By the end of the day, K Company had heavy losses and casualties, including the loss of all the officers.
It was during this battle to rescue the Lost Battalion that Private First Class James Takashi Okamoto was killed.
Private First Class James Takashi Okamoto was interred in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Epinal, France, about 20 miles west of where he died. He was survived by his parents, sisters Sayoko, Mieko, and Hideko, and a brother, Lloyd Nakano.
On November 24, 1944, the family of Pfc. James Okamoto, son of Mrs. Daisy Nakano of Wainaku Mill Camp, published a Card of Thanks in the Hilo Tribune-Herald expressing their deepest gratitude to their relatives and friends, the AJA Morale Committee, ILWU Local 142/Unit 2, Rainbow Athletic Club, and Kona Inn employees for their floral offerings and expressions of sympathy during their recent bereavement.
Okamoto was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal on March 3, 1945, by Headquarters, Sixth Army Group, as follows:
…for gallantry in action near Biffontaine, France on 29 October 1944. When his company was pinned down by an enemy machine gun which was supported by rifle, grenade, bazooka, and sniper fire, Private Okamoto crawled forward alone to locate the gun position. Realizing that he would not be able to outflank the emplacement because of the supporting fire, he advanced directly on the position, firing at it and forcing the enemy gunners to return fire and reveal their position. This action resulted in a concentration of fire upon Private Okamoto and enabled his platoon to encircle the position and to destroy it. While engaged in a subsequent fire fight with the enemy he was mortally wounded by a sniper. Next of kin: Mrs. Daisy M. Nakano (Mother), Hilo, Hawaii, Territory of Hawaii.
For his military service, Private First Class James Takashi Okamoto was awarded the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific 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.
Right: Mrs. Nakano received her son’s Purple Heart from Maj. Bryan
On March 26, 1945, it was announced in the Hilo Tribune-Herald that Pfc. Okamoto’s Purple Heart Medal was presented to his mother, Mrs. Daisy M. Takano, in a ceremony at her home in Hilo. The presentation was made by Major Lester W. Bryan, District Intelligence Officer, and Colonel Hollis Muller, Hawaii island military commander. Friends and relatives were present for the ceremony.
When the Army was closing the many small wartime cemeteries in Europe in 1948, the Okamoto family was given the choice to have his remains shipped home or remain at Epinal. They chose to have James’ body brought home.
On September 1, 1948, James Okamoto was among 78 soldiers whose remains arrived in Honolulu Harbor from San Francisco on the USAT Dalton Victory at Pier 40 at 1:00 p.m. This was the first of the ships bearing Hawaii’s fallen sons to return home.
Earlier that morning in waters off Diamond Head, the Coast Guard cutter Iroquois and the Navy destroyer escort George circled the choppy seas to meet the Dalton Victory. Four 442nd veterans were aboard the Iroquois and each dropped a giant orchid, rose, and anthurium wreath into the ocean next to the Dalton Victory. As the ship entered the harbor, a 21-gun salute was fired from Fort Armstrong, and Army, Navy, and Marine planes flew overhead. As the ship docked at Pier 40, church bells tolled throughout Honolulu.
Hundreds of family and friends were there to greet the ship. George Miki, President of the 442nd Veterans Club, and Earl Finch of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, were on the dock to welcome the soldiers home and talk to the parents who were awaiting the arrival of the ship. The flag-draped caskets were held at the Army mausoleum at Schofield Barracks pending burial arrangements.
The following day there was a memorial processional with the caskets of two anonymous soldiers carried on caissons through downtown to a service at Iolani Palace, where they later lay in state in the Throne Room.
On October 29, 1948, the remains of Pfc. James T. Okamoto and three other war dead returned to Hawaii island aboard the inter-island steamer Hualalai from Honolulu. The memorial service was held on October 31 at 2:00 p.m. in Kalakaua Park in Hilo, with Reverend Hiro Higuchi, 442nd wartime chaplain, officiating. At the same ceremony, the Hawaii War Memorial was unveiled, honoring the 156 Big Island men who died in the war. Immediately afterwards, the men were buried with full military rites and a graveside service at Veterans Cemetery No. 1 at Homelani.
Below: Hilo War Memorial, Kalakaua Park; names of 156 war dead inscribed on top
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021.