Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
2nd Battalion, G Company
Kazuichi Hamasaki was the youngest of nine children born to Kijiro and Yoshi (Harai) Hamasaki. “Kaz,” as he was known, was born on May 2, 1922, in Wailuku, Maui, Territory of Hawaii. His brothers were Yoshio, Midori, Shigeru, Tadayoshi, and Haruo; and his sisters were Bessie Shizuka, Yoshiko, and Ann Misao. Kijiro and Yoshi emigrated from the village of Niho, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Kijiro arrived on April 4, 1892, at Honolulu on the S.S. Batavia. Yoshi arrived in 1900. Both worked as field laborers for a sugar plantation on Maui. In 1920, the family was living in the Market Street Stable Camp in Wailuku. By 1930, they were living on Main Street in Wailuku.
Kaz graduated from St. Anthony’s High School in Wailuku in 1942. He registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, at Local Board No. 2, Bank of Hawaii Building, Wailuku. He was employed at the Duco Liquor Store; his next of kin was his brother Midori. He was 5’4” tall and weighed 128 pounds.
Kazuichi Hamasaki enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 24, 1943. His occupation was listed as “bookkeeper and cashier.” He was sent to the “tent city,” known as Boom Town, at Schofield Barracks with the other recruits. They were given a farewell aloha ceremony by the community on March 28 at Iolani Palace. On April 4, the new soldiers left on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco enroute to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Following basic training, he was assigned to 2nd Battalion, G Company, of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
After many months of training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby on April 22, 1944, for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia,. On May 2 they shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in a large convoy of troop ships and arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28. They entered battle near Suvereto north of Rome on June 26. Kaz 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, to join the battle to liberate France from the Nazis. They next 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 Belmont for a brief rest. After two days, on the afternoon of October 26, they were ordered to the front lines again to rescue 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. They were successful in defeating the Germans, but at great cost in lives lost and wounded. The 442nd left the Vosges Mountains on November 19, by truck convoy for Nice, in the south of France, where they would receive replacement soldiers to rebuild the regiment.
Once in Nice, the Combat Team was part of the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign, also called the Champagne Campaign. G Company moved into the lines on November 28 near the mountain town of Sospel. The 2nd Battalion, with Kaz Hamasaki, was then in the lines at Peira Cava from December 1-14, when they were again posted to Sospel. This pattern of the 2nd Battalion alternating between the Sospel area and holding a position on the lines at Peira Cava continued until the middle of March 1945.
Right: Kaz during the Champagne Campaign in southern France
The Combat Team was next sent back to Italy for the Po Valley Campaign, the final attacks to liberate Italy from the Nazis. Their mission was to conduct a decoy attack on the western end of the Germans’ Gothic Line in the final push to drive them out of Italy. This area contained an elaborate system of fortifications, hewn out of solid rock and reinforced with concrete. They were built to give all-around protection to the Germans – and they were dug into mountain peaks rising almost sheer from the coastal plain, giving the enemy unlimited observation of the coast.
The 442nd left France on March 20-22, 1945, for Pisa, Italy. From the staging area near Pisa, the regiment left on March 28 to a bivouac area at San Martino, near Lucca. After several months of not engaging in heavy combat, all units utilized their available hours for training, including practicing small-unit problems with their squads and platoons far into the night.
On April 5, the 2nd Battalion was committed to the attack. Climbing the mountain at night, with total silence maintained, they gained the ridge of 2,800-foot Mt. Folgorito and was poised for an attack on Mt. Carchio and Mt. Belvedere to the north. The attack was successful in driving the Germans off the high ground, and the decoy was turned into a full-on breakthrough of the Gothic Line, causing the Germans to divert important military resources to try and stop the 442nd. As a result, the German Army in the center of their defense line was weakened and the main Allied attack could also not be stopped. The 442nd had captured the western part of Italy north as far as Turin, the main attack to liberate Bologna was successful, and the Germany army in Italy surrendered on May 2, despite orders from Hitler to fight on. For its part in achieving this victory, the 442nd was later awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for the 10 days of bitter action from April 5 to 14.
When the war ended in Italy the 442nd was sent to bivouac at Novi Ligure. Over the next few months, they were assigned to occupation duties at Ghedi Airfield disarming and guarding thousands of German soldiers who had surrendered, then Lecco, and finally the vicinity of Livorno, Pisa, and Tombolo. After serving in the occupation of Italy for several months, Kaz returned home on the USAT Evangeline, one of 787 soldiers on board. They arrived at Pier 24 in Honolulu Harbor on December 19, 1945. The men were given one hour to visit with families and friends before they were sent by bus to Fort Kamehameha for processing prior to discharge.
For his military service, Private First Class Kazuichi Hamasaki was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Distinguished Unit Badge. Kaz 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 August 27, 1946, Kaz sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco on the S.S. Mariposa enroute to attend the University of Omaha. He earned a Master’s degree in Sociology, and returned to Hawaii where he worked for the State Department of Public Welfare. In 1955, the Department awarded him with a scholarship to further his education. He graduated from the University of Hawaii in Social Work.
In July 1954, Kaz married Grace K. Izuo. They raised two children – one boy and one girl. He was active in the Lions International, and served as 1st Vice President of the Haleakala Chapter. He was a major player in the annual Maui Fair, and served as Chairman in 1966.
Kazuichi Hamasaki passed away on September 4, 2017, in Wailuku. A memorial service was held on September 22 at Honpa Hongwanji Temple on Oahu.
His brother Tadayoshi Hamasaki was a Second Lieutenant in the 442nd’s 100th Battalion, D Company.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022.