From the Go For Broke Bulletin Archives, here is an article on a tour of Italy and France taken in 2004 to see former battlefields and remember the the challenges that were faced and honor the memories of the fallen.
Go For Broke Bulletin Volume 55, No. 3 – April – June 2004
The Battlefields Tour: May 2004
By Sadaichi Kubota & Andy Ono
The Italian Phase of the Tour:
I could not resist the K Co sponsored tour – May 18 – June 3 – because I had promised myself I would one day make the pilgrimage to honor our buddies who fell along the way.
There were 11 veterans – K Co 5, M Co 1, 100th Bn 2, MIS 1, 522nd 1, and myself from I Co. With families and guests of veterans there were 41 of us on the tour. We flew Continental to New Jersey and arriving in early morning stayed at the Ramada Inn in Newark before flying off that afternoon to Milan. There, we were met by Al Resch, the tour director, and a 45 passenger bus to travel to Pisa.
George Watanabe, a retired soldier from Hilo who lives with his Italian wife in Livorno [Leghorn] is the person most responsible for the tremendous success of the Italian phase of the tour. He devoted three full days to us, taking Friday off from work. And Friday was the day he had specially taken the two 100th Bn vets, Fred Kurisu and Stanley Izumigawa to the peak of Georgia [code name]. They went in two vans, as others also wanted to see the 100th’s battle-site. I went instead to Florence with the others – for me, a visit to the grave of Tadao “Beanie” Hayashi buried at the American Cemetery near that city.
Saturday, the second day, took us to (1) Suvereto – Belvedere – Sasetta; (2) Hill 140 – Castellina; and (3) Luciana. Suvereto was the site of the 442nd’s first battle, where we first encountered our enemy and witnessed, just north of town, the slaughter of a German battalion by our 100th Bn.
Although the summer foliage obstructed the view of Hill 140, we were able to see where it dropped off precipitously into a deep ravine at its western end. As Hill 140 is surrounded to the south and east by crests that rise over 200 meters, it was probably mis-named, and possibly because of the caves and entrenchments that gave the 442nd so much trouble had congregated near the 140 meters elevation of a slope with a crest at a higher elevation.
At Luciana, we climbed up to the church located at the top of the hill around which the town mingled its houses. According to Isaac “Ike” Ikehara’s account, units from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions had combined there in the 442nd’s first banzai charge. From the adjoining trees [now replaced by a building], the troops had fired at assigned windows, and rising and firing their weapons from the hips had advanced, charging. What had previously appeared to be an impregnable fortress, was taken after a hard fight.
What George Watanabe had done at Luciana, is that he had driven out there during the week before to find the best way to show us that town. He had found a door on the side of a hill near the church. He had asked and found that the door was the entrance of a wine storage cave, but more remarkable than that, he had asked and the people had responded that the cove had another door on the other side of the hill – just as Ike had described in his 1990 article in the Go For Broke Bulletin.
Luciana was also where K Co’s Gordon Yamashiro had exhibited his first act of valor, which earned him the Silver Star. Just four months later, he was to exhibit heroism again on October 28, 1944, which earned him a Distinguished Service Cross in opening up a gap in the German defenses leading up to La Croisette. It was the combined valor of those two incidents that had made some of the K Co veterans pine for a Medal of Honor for Gordon Yamashiro.
The third day in Italy, Sunday, started with a ceremony at the town of Montignoso, the first village we entered after breaching the Gothic Line. The mayor and the townspeople greeted us with open arms. Each of the veterans were presented with certificates of appreciation in liberating the town. Mine reads, “Sadaiki Kubota of Co I 442nd”, in Italian “ch” is pronounced like our “k”.
Then, in special vans provided by the veterans of the WWII partisan group, Patrioti Apuani, we drove up to the village of Azzano, where the 442nd had lay hidden from German view on April 4, 1945. It is a village on the slope of a deep valley. From there, we viewed the crests and steep wall of the opposing slope. Pointing their jagged tips to the sky were [from east to west] of Mt. Altissimo, Mt. Carchio, Mt. Folgorito and Mt. Cerreta. Those crests are all parts of a geological uplift descending along the 100th’s Ohio, Georgia and Florida peaks down to the flat of the Italian boot’s western seacoast.
Looking at the deep, steep valley that separates Azzano from those crests and seeing the upward 60 degree forward slope, I wondered how in heck, climbing in the dark of night, we had been able to reach the top by daybreak, and then reaching the peak, how we had been able to oust the well-fortified Germans off the almost impregnable Gothic line. I believe it had been pure guts.
We were then driven around to the reverse slope of the uplift and up to Mt. Carchio. From Azzano, Mt. Carchio had appeared a desolate waste of chipped white marble. Many of the tour were surprised to find a house nestled there and being used as the clubhouse of the Alleluiah Club. We had lunch there.
After lunch, some of the tour group hiked up to Mt. Belvedere [not to be mistaken with previously mentioned Belvedere north of Suvereto} to the north of Mt. Carachio, the site of the 2nd Bn’s battle. Others were driven along the reverse slope to where Mt. Fologorito juts up prominently from the blade of the uplift to form its pointed peak.
When the landrover reached the base of the tip of Mt. Folgorito, it was evident that there had been no cover during L Co’s assault of that crest sixty years ago, as there was no cover now. If L Co had not reached the crest from the Azzano side without having been discovered, the Germans would have been firing at them over the sharp blade down at the men climbing while grasping at every handhold on the forward slope. It could have been a massacre of Nisei soldiers. That they had made it to the crest took them over only the initial hurdle. Now, they had to deal with well-dug in German entrenchments, when they themselves had no cover except for the marble-blade of the uplift itself.
So, if climbing the wall of the steep valley in darkness had been a stuff for heroes, what about having to fight without cover, naked except for the men’s clothing and helmets? At least, that was the questioned awe of the non-veterans of the tour group.
That afternoon, special arrangement had been made by George Watanabe’s friend Davide del Giudice to drive me to Tendola to visit the site where Beanie Hayashi fell. Along the way Davide told me that he had found the cave near Fordinovo where I Co’s command post had been hit. He said the entrance is now covered and closed.
I was met by the mayors of Tedola and Fordinovo and through an interpreter (a woman teacher of English) and was presented with a glass enclosed, metal-framed certificate that reads, “… Tenant Sadaichi Kubota of I Co. 442nd RCT contributed to the liberation of Tendola and Fordinovo.” I responded, “The partisans were of great help, and I thank you for your dangerous work. If it were not for you our progress to liberate your villages would have been much harder.”
At Tendola I tried to find the spot where “Beanie” fell. It’s been sixty years and things had changed since we had passed through. Sergio Bondielli, who had accompanied me, spoke fluent English, and it was he who found a likely knoll. I kneeled, set up incense sticks and lighting them, bowed my head in reverence and saluted. Sergio asked my permission and explained my action to the people. I appreciated what George, Davide, Sergio and others had done for me. I was glad because it had been important for me to honor “Beanie.”
We drove along the seacoast to Nice, France and a trip to Sospel on the mountainous French-Italian border. There, the 442nd had rested after the battle of the Vosges Mountains and rested out the winter of 1944-45 in its “Champaign Campaign”. We found the steps of the high school where Larry Miura, uncle of tour member Ronald Yamada had been killed. Ronald, his mother Alice and his sister Susan Scott, walked up the steps to honor Larry.
Next, the ladies got a break. We re-crossed the French-Italian border into Switzerland, for two nights in Lucerne where we brought “beaucoup” watches and chocolates. Leaving Lucerne we crossed into France to La Bresse, where we lodged during the visit to the Vosges Mountains battlefields, Bruyeres and Biffontaine.
At Biffontaine and Bruyeres, the people gave us a royal welcome. Both townspeople feasted us with sumptuous lunches. At Bruyeres, led by a brass band, we marched to the town square where speeches were delivered and the band played the national anthems of both countries. Memorial services were also held at both ends of the Peace and Freedom Trail [so dedicated by the people and marked with roadside plaques explaining the battles that had been fought along the trail].
The eastern end of the trail is marked by the memorial at Helledraye, where Hill 555 begins to form the ridge west of Bruyeres. The other end is graced by the monument, originally and affectionally put together with branches by George Henri, the past mayor of Biffontaine, and replaced with a granite monument provided generously by Jean Bianchetti of Le Syndicat.
On the first day in the Vosges Mountains, we were driven to the many battle sites including – a climb to the top of Hill D with its all-around panorama; La Chapelle de la Roche where Robert Kuroda was killed earning his Medal of Honor, and where Ian Ono’s kendo sensei, Takao Hedani earned his Silver Star; a quick view of Vervezelle and Hill C; and Hill 555 and Hill A, among others.
As in Italy, development, progress in agriculture and warming climate now obstruct the view of the terrain, especially in the verdant month of May. So the thick foliage made it difficult for us to see what we wanted to see, but that was no fault of the French hosts.
We did climb the trail to the location of the Lost Battalion. In fact, only a few, if at all, from among the tour failed to make the climb. Even 86 year old Fred Kurisu, proudly accompanied by his four doting grand-daughters made the climb. They had said beforehand with gusto and determination, “Our Grandpa is going to go where he wants to go, even if the four of us have to carry him.” Perhaps, that was similar to the 100th/442nd’s attitude, when they fought through German defenses to rescue the Lost Battalion.
Driving back down the Freedom Trail from the Lost Battalion site, Andy Ono had caused a total chaos. He had those who were riding one of the vans to all get off and had the veterans, himself and his son, ride the van. Those displaced had to find seats in the many autos the French provided. If Andy counted on the French hosts not leaving anybody behind, he guessed correctly.
The van then stopped at the La Croisette junction. Andy Ono walked a little ways back toward the Lost Battalion site, then entered a low mound that extended a hundred feet or so on the left slope. He said, “I think this is a good place.” I quickly found a nearby tree, cleared the base and stuck some incense sticks. As prearranged, Kenneth Inada, K Co’s Buddhist philosopher held a short service ending with a chant of “Namu Amida Butsu.” I then took out a small sheet of paper on which were the seven names from I Co who had been killed at I Co’s banzai hill – K Co had its banzai hill a little further on, and the 100th Bn , its banzai hill on the other slope of the ridgeline. I called out those seven names. Then I yelled out, “We’re here!! We’ve come back!”
Just then, Ian Ono, who had gone ahead down the slope, reappeared, climbing. He said he had found a tree stump hidden by bushes. He had found a flat stone and placed a small figurine facing downhill. It is a small, 3-inch diameter brass figurine of a praying Buddhist monk. Ian said he had taken a photograoh of it with his digital camera.
Later on, Andy was concerned that he had not really found K Co’s banzai hill. In their haste, the place where the service had been held was, instead, I Co’s banzai hill. But then rationalized that perhaps it had been better that way. The praying monk had been brought to pray for all who had suffered at the terrible battle at La Croisette junction, the worst having been the three banzai hills.
The French part of the tour ended at the American Cemetery at Epinal. The group split up to look for different graves, and I was particularly glad to pray at the grave of I Co’s Captain Joseph L. Byrne. He had been killed during the last days of the rescue effort. His grave marker indicates “92nd Division”, and that error was brought to the attention of the Epinal office.
Old mayor George Henri had driven from Biffontaine specifically for the reason that he wanted the tour group to honor the grave of Sgt. Tomosu Hirahara at the Epinal Cemetery. Franz Steidel in his “Lost Battalions” on page 191, wrote:
“The first Nisei to be killed in the Battle for Bruyeres, twenty-one-year-old SSgt. Tomosu Hirahara, still lies in a carefully tended grave at Epinal. After the war, when the remains of fallen soldiers were shipped back to the United States for reburial, the people of Bruyeres wanted to keep one grave in memory of the Japanese Americans who freed their town. They petitioned the Hirahara family to leave him buried in their military cemetery. After much soul-searching, the family decided to honor their request.”