Technician Fifth Grade
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, M Company
Norio Akutagawa was born on December 10, 1914, in Wahiawa, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. He was one of two sons and two daughters of Gonroku and Kitsu (Nishimoto) Akutagawa who arrived in Hawaii from Ashigata-mura, Kumamoto Prefecture, in 1905 and 1910, respectively.
Norio, whose nicknames were “Aku” and “Butch,” signed his WWII Draft Registration card on October 26, 1940, Local Board No. 7, Farrington High School, Honolulu. He was living with his widowed mother and siblings at 1517 Matzie Lane; his mother was his point of contact; he was employed by Bishop Trust Company at King and Bishop Streets; and he was 5’6” tall, and weighed 131 lbs.
In early 1943, the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was approved and the call for Nisei volunteers went out. Norio was one of the 2,645 Nisei selected from the 10,000 in Hawaii that answered that call, and on March 25, 1943, he was enlisted in the U.S. Army at Schofield Barracks. His civilian occupation was listed as bookkeeper/cashier. He was sent to the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks with other volunteers. 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. After basic training he was assigned to M Company, then specialized training and field maneuvers until April 1944. The 442nd shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations on May 2 in a large convoy of ships from Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Norio served in four of the 442nd campaigns: Rome-Arno in Italy, Rhineland-Vosges and Rhineland-Maritime Alps in France, and Po Valley back in Italy.
While enroute home from the war on November 28, 1945, Norio was among the victims of a military C-47 troop transport plane that crashed at night near Auburn, California. The flight was due to land at McClellan Field in Sacramento and “plunged into a mountainside in rainswept darkness and immediately caught on fire,” according to the news report. The crash was blamed on a storm-caused power outage that made it impossible for the pilots to locate the airfield. The soldiers had been scheduled to sail home to Hawaii from Oakland the next day. There were eight fatalities, including the three-man crew, and 16 injured. Norio’s injuries were burns to his left hand and face, scalp lacerations, fractured ribs, and a lacerated left kidney. The injured 442nd soldiers were hospitalized at DeWitt General Hospital in Auburn.
Aku eventually recovered and arrived back in Hawaii on February 5, 1946, on the troop ship USAT President Buchanan, one of 253 returning veterans. He was discharged on February 7 at an Army Separation Center on Oahu.
For his wartime service, Norio Akutagawa was awarded the following decorations: Bronze Star 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. The four bronze stars on the EAME Medal were given for the four campaigns in which he fought.
On October 5, 2010, Akutagawa was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with all men of the 100th/442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team.
After the war, Norio married Mary Y.C. Ho of Honolulu and they raised one son. He returned to his former job with Bishop Trust and remained there for his working career. He was active in the 442nd Veterans Club and served as an officer in Mike Chapter.
Norio also continued his pre-war pastime as a baseball player on various teams – Wong’s Produce of the ACA Softball League, Aloha Sons of the Recreation Juniors, and Kapiolani Grill of Smile Open Softball League. He was a noted “hefty hitter.” (Photo right: Aku is on the far right, front row seated)
Norio Akutagawa died on October 6, 2002. His wife had died the previous January, and they were survived by their son. They were inurned at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in the Columbarium, Ct-5-U, Row 300, Site 338.
Researched and written by 442nd S&D 6/11/2021.