Technician Fifth Grade
442nd Regimental Combat Team
Sadao Sakamoto was born on April 29, 1920, at Kaiaakea Camp on the Hamakua coast of Hawaii island, Territory of Hawaii. He was the son of Magoichi and Toma Sakamoto who arrived from Kumamoto Prefecture on November 26, 1902, on the S.S. Doric. Magoichi was a laborer for Laupahoehoe Sugar Company and they lived at Kaiaakea Camp. By 1940, Magoichi was a foreman for the sugar company. The other Sakamoto children were: boys Shinichi, Susumu, Nobuichi, Masao Jack, Kazuo, and Yoshitaka Ralph; and girls Kiyoko, Akiko (died age 16), Kimiko, Natuko (died age 1), and Haruko (died age 2).
As a 5th grader in Ninole in 1931, Sadao wrote a report on his activities for the School Garden News column in the newspaper. He recounted, Lately a horse came into our garden and ate some of my lettuce and also some carrots. In March 1937, it was reported in the newspaper that Sadao was a founding member, director, and secretary of the Hawaii Ski and Outdoor Club. All of the members had skied at Mauna Kea that winter.
Above: Sakamoto (fifth from the right) and other Mauna Kea skiers
By 1940, Sadao was working for Laupahoehoe Sugar Company as a “cane flumer.” That Christmas, he was among the young people of Ninole who entertained the elders at the annual Christmas Eve dinner held at the Kaiaakea Camp clubhouse. He was also a member of the Ninole First Aid Club before the war.
Sadao signed his draft registration card on July 1, 1941, at the Botelho Building in Honokaa, Local Board No. 2. He was 5’7½” tall and weighed 140 pounds. His point of contact was his father, Magoichi.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 18, 1943. He was among the Big Island volunteers who were sent to Schofield Barracks on Oahu, where they were housed at Boom Town, a “tent city” for new soldiers, for initial processing. On March 28, the men were given a farewell aloha ceremony at Iolani Palace by the community. On April 4, they departed on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco, followed by a train trip across the US to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training.
Before training began, Sadao was assigned to the regimental Medical Company, likely due to his experience with the Ninole First Aid Club. After basic training, he was sent for specialized combat medic training at a U.S. Army Hospital, later returning to Camp Shelby for field maneuvers. After nearly a year of training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby on April 22, 1944, for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. They departed from nearby Hampton Roads on May 2 in a convoy of over 100 ships, and arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28.
The 442nd Medical Company men were each assigned to a specific company as a dedicated medic. Sadao was assigned to Second Battalion, F Company. The 442nd entered combat in the Rome-Arno Campaign on June 26, 1944.
During action in Italy on July 6 near Molino a Ventoabbto, and three days later on July 9 two miles north of Castellina, Private Sakamoto’s deeds earned him a Bronze Star Medal. The citation stated:
Braving the most intense barrage experience by his company during its time in the line, including three savage counter-attacks that were repulsed with heavy losses inflicted, Pvt. Sadao Sakamoto crept and crawled from position to position giving First Aid to at least 11 men. Forced to work out in the open through the 14 hours of the barrage, he inspired the men to hold on through his daring courage and words of encouragement. His devotion to duty, inspiring leadership, and courage are exemplary and reflect the highest credit to the Armed Forces of the United States.
By late September, the 442nd had reached the Arno River, been withdrawn from the battle lines, and sent to France for participation in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. After arriving in Marseilles, the soldiers were sent by train and truck convoy north to the Vosges Mountains in northeast France. There they encountered the fiercest fighting they had experienced to date.
In the battle to liberate the important rail and road junction of Bruyères, Sakamoto was a member of the O’Connor Task Force, a group of over 300 men of the Combat Team. The O’Connor Task Force was credited with destroying the Germans’ main line of resistance by breaking a two-day stalemate and routing at least three enemy battalions. It paved the way for the liberation of the nearby Belmont and Biffontaine roads that led through the Alsace region directly into Germany. The men marched through over a mile and a half of heavily forested, enemy-held terrain to a surprise attack on the enemy’s rear.
After the liberation of Biffontaine and Belmont, the 442nd was assigned to rescue the “Lost Battalion” – the 141st Battalion of Texas – that had advanced beyond the lines and become surrounded by the enemy.
After the heavy fighting, on November 9 the Combat Team was pulled from the front lines and assigned to rest areas. Most of the companies had less than 30 men on the line and those who remained were sick with trench foot and the flu. Second Battalion was assembled just south of Bruyères at the village of Fays. A ceremony was held on November 12 in nearby Lépanges to honor the 442nd soldiers by awarding the medals they had earned in Italy. During this ceremony, Sakamoto received his Bronze Star Medal for his actions the previous July in Italy.
In his book, Silent Warriors, Sgt. Jack Wakamatsu of F Company discussed the importance of combat medics. He said that Sadao Sakamoto was the best medic he had ever encountered.
He next served in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign in the area of Nice, Menton, Sospel, and L’Escarène during the winter of 1944-1945. In late March, the 442nd returned to Italy for participation in the Po Valley Campaign. He was with the Combat Team when the war ended in Italy on May 2, 1945. The men then served during the occupation of Italy until they began to be shipped home in the latter part of the year.
Tec/5 Sadao Sakamoto arrived at Pier 24 in Honolulu on December 5, 1945, with 566 other returning veterans on board the troop ship USAT Evangeline. The men were allowed to visit with waiting family and friends on the pier for an hour after disembarking. They were then taken by bus to Fort Kamehameha for processing, and released to return later for their formal separation from the Army. Sakamoto was discharged on December 30, 1945.
For his military service, Tec/5 Sadao Sakamoto was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Combat Medic Badge, and Distinguished Unit Badge with one oak leaf cluster. He was also 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.
After his discharge, Sakamoto settled in Honolulu and began a career working for the Public Health Service.
Sadao Sakamoto died on March 27, 1991, at the age of 70, in Honolulu. He was survived by brothers Jack and Ralph. He was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Section L, Site 89.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2022, at the request of the Hatakeyama family – Sadao Sakamoto’s former neighbors and friends.