THE GENERAL’S MESSENGER
Written by June Morimatsu
Daughter of 442nd RCT veteran, Ralph Tomei of M Company
We graduated from Farrington High School in 1971, during the era of the war in Vietnam. For some of the boys in our graduating class the future held the very real prospect of being drafted into the military.
When my friend, Milton Kaneshiro, was faced with the dilemma of a low lottery number and waiting for the inevitable draft notice, or, enlisting and choosing where he would be stationed, Milton chose to enlist and was guaranteed eighteen months at the Army base in Stuttgart, Germany. As the center for the European high command, Stuttgart Army Base had more than twenty generals.
Now, this 20 year old Kalihi boy was by no means a model soldier. By Milton’s own admission, he was a “rebel” in uniform and for that reason he wasn’t well-liked by his superiors. One of the sticking points was Milton’s refusal to take down a sign he posted at the entrance to the barracks he shared with three other soldiers. The sign read: “Please Remove Footwear Before Entering”
The roommate sharing half of the barracks with Milton complied with the sign, but Milton’s other two roommates and his superiors simply ignored it and labeled him a “troublemaker”. Although Milton’s superiors kept chiding him to take his sign down, he held his ground, saying that they were going to do whatever they wanted to do, regardless of the sign; he was only asking that they respect his Japanese culture; and, if they wanted it taken down, they would have to take it down themselves. For some reason no one bothered to take the sign down, and so it remained posted.
The barracks at Stuttgart were routinely inspected by generals with an entourage of note-taking subordinates in tow, so it wasn’t a surprise when a Four-Star General came to inspect Milton’s barracks.
Milton and his roommates stood stiffly at attention as the General stood in the doorway, reading: “Please Remove Footwear Before Entering”. As the General bent over, about to remove his shoes, he saw Milton and spoke directly to him, “Where you from, Soldier?” Because Milton was unable to respond while standing at attention, the General ordered Milton to stand at ease.
“Hawaii, Sir,” Milton replied.
“I know Hawaii, but where in Hawaii?” the General asked.
“So, what generation are you, Soldier? What’s the Japanese term?” the General asked.
“I’m Sansei, third generation, Sir” Milton answered.
While the General conversed casually with Milton, his three roommates remained standing stiffly at attention and Milton’s Captain and the General’s entourage listened intently to their conversation.
“Ever hear of the 442nd?” the General continued.
“We saw a film about the 442 in school; they were the Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War II,” Milton responded.
“They were the bravest fighting unit I have ever seen” the General said as he extended his right hand to Milton.
Politely shaking the General’s hand, Milton said, “I don’t deserve this kind of recognition, Sir; I didn’t do anything in the war.”
“Son, you don’t understand,” the General said. “The 442nd is The Best fighting unit the United States Army has ever seen, I know because I was a young lieutenant in World War II, and then I fought in Korea and Viet Nam. You’re Sansei; you come from ‘good stock’.”
As he was leaving, the General pointed to Milton and told his Captain, “Make sure you take care of this man, he comes from good stock.”
After the General left with his entourage, Milton’s roommates were anxious to know what the General was talking about; why did he shake his hand; and what was this about the Hawaii connection? As he told the story of the 442, Milton saw that people were eager to learn more; and, with sad realization, he chastised himself for being a Sansei that had not been truly grateful for the sacrifices made by the 442 for his own generation.
In 1974, while he was still stationed in Germany, Milton was drawn to attend the 442’s 30th Anniversary of the liberation of Bruyeres, France. As a young Sansei soldier, Milton witnessed the dedication of a monument to the 442 where a flower lei was draped while a solo trumpet played “Taps”. The pain and sadness was thick in the air. It was the first time that he had seen Nisei men cry. Tears flowed freely from every man that he saw; he cried, too. They cried for the men who never made it Home.
On January 22, 2006, Milton stood before an audience of aging 442 M Chapter veterans, one of them, Barney Hajiro, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, their wives and guests. He told them his heartwarming story about meeting the General and they laughed at his candor and honesty and nodded in humble acceptance of the General’s praise.
When Milton spoke of the pain and sadness he witnessed in Bruyeres, the room went completely silent and it took a moment before he could compose himself and find the right words to express his personal gratitude to the 442 veterans for their bravery and sacrifice for our generation and future generations to come.
Over thirty years ago, a General shook the hand of a Sansei soldier, and conveyed his utmost respect and appreciation for the Nisei of the 442. The General must have known that some day, somehow, his message would reach the very men he praised – maybe the General knew this because he entrusted his powerful message to someone who came from “good stock.”