Satoru Onodera

Satoru Onodera
100th Battalion (Separate)
C Company

Satoru Onodera was born on July 8, 1921, in Seattle, Washington.  He was the son of Paul Toyosuke and Tamaki (Kanno) Onodera.  He had seven siblings:  brothers Iwao, Ko, Kaun, Satori, and George Yutaka; and sisters Fumiko and Yusuku.  His parents emigrated in 1905 and 1910, respectively.

By 1930, the family lived at 903 Rainier Avenue.  His father was a typesetter for the Great Northern Daily.

Satoru graduated from Seattle’s Garfield High School in February 1939.  While there, he was a member of the Honor Society and the Honor Service Roll, and he played intramural sports.

By 1940, they lived at 2017 Yesler Way and his parents owned a dye works business.  Satoru worked as a helper in a plant nursery.

Onodera’s senior class photos – 1939

On February 15, 1942, he signed his draft registration card at Local Board No. 9, 205 Harrison Street, Seattle.  He listed his brother Ko Onodera as his point of contact and they lived with their family at 2017 Yesler Way.  He was 5’5” tall and weighed 140 pounds.  At the time, he was unemployed.

His eldest brother, James Iwao Onodera, died on March 30, 1942, at the age of 27 while a patient at the Firland Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Richmond Highlands, north Seattle.  He had been employed by a cannery as a fisherman.

In the spring, the family was evacuated to the Puyallup WCCA Assembly Center located at the Puyallup Fair Grounds.  On August 22, 1942, they were incarcerated in the Minidoka WRA Internment Camp located in Hunt, Idaho.  Satoru and brothers Kaun and Ko were released on May 12, 1943, to go to Fort Douglas, Utah.  The rest of the family was released on August 8, 1945, to return to Seattle.

Satoru enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 13, 1943, in Salt Lake City, Utah,  His home address was listed as King County, Washington, his occupation as “Gardener/groundskeeper, parks/cemeteries,” and he was 5’6” tall and weighed 120 pounds.

Private Onodera was sent to the 442nd RCT at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where he was assigned to I Company.  Basic training was conducted from May 10 to August 23.  Then began unit, specialized, and combat training.  Field training was from December 13 to 24; and “D” series maneuvers began on January 28, 1944 at DeSoto National Forest thirty miles south of Camp Shelby.

In early 1944, when volunteers were requested for the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate), already in combat in Italy and under-strength due to high casualties, Private Onodera was among those 442nd men who volunteered.  The exact date of his arrival in Italy is not known.  There were three waves of 442nd replacements to the 100th.  The first two waves arrived in Italy and were with the 100th in time to fight in its breakout from the Anzio beachhead on May 23.  The third wave arrived at Anzio the following day.

After the breakout from Anzio, the 100th fought in the drive to Rome.  They were ordered to stop just a few miles short and were sent in a truck convoy through the liberated city on June 5 to Civitavecchia, about 60 miles north.

At the large bivouac area at Civitavecchia, they met up with the newly arrived 442nd.  Preparations to enter combat together were underway.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) entered combat together on June 26, 1944, near Suvereto, in the Rome-Arno Campaign.  The towns of Suvereto and Belvedere were liberated that day, and on June 27 nearby Sassetta was cleared of the enemy.  The 442nd and 100th continued the push north.  On July 2, they crossed the Cecina River, where the enemy was awaiting them on the north side.  Resistance was stiffening, indicating that the Germans would make a stand on the high ground.  On July 3, enemy artillery fire became increasingly heavy.  The main line of resistance was at Hill 140, where a key observation post was located.  The 100th was relieved on July 4 by the 3rd Battalion, which occurred in broad daylight, and brought on a storm of fire from the Germans, causing heavy casualties in both battalions.

Captured German soldiers were reporting that they had been ordered to hold the line until defenses at Pisa had been completed.  The terrain was mountainous and hard to attack – and the Germans were dug in.  The towns of Rosignano Marittimo on the west and Castellina about seven miles east were German strong points from which they had excellent observation and directed heavy artillery fire.  All along the sector the fighting was severe and resistance the strongest since the 442nd entered the line on June 26.

On July 6, the 100th was assigned the mission of seizing the high ground northwest of Castellina and forcing the Germans out of the town, as 2nd Battalion attempted to cut the road from Castellina west to Rosignano Marittimo.  The 100th attacked before dawn with Onodera’s C Company taking the high ground while B Company assaulted the town.  The objective was accomplished with heavy casualties.

Private Onodera was killed this day, July 7, 1944, just outside Castellina.  His place of burial was the U.S. Military Cemetery at Follonica, about 40 miles south.

For his World War II service, Private Satoru Onodera was awarded the following:  Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, and Combat Infantryman Badge.  He was posthumously 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 the war, the US decided to close many of the overseas military cemeteries and the next-of-kin were given the option of having their loved one reburied in one of the few cemeteries that would remain, or being returned home.  The Onodera family chose to have their son brought home.

Pvt. Onodera’s remains were shipped home in a flag-draped casket in 1949.  His funeral was held on March 25, 1949, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Mission in Seattle.  The following day, a memorial service honored the twelve fallen Seattle soldiers at 1:00 p.m. at the Seattle Buddhist Temple.  The speaker was Lt. Col. George H. Revelle, former staff officer for General Mark Clark, commander of the Fifth Army.  There was an overflow crowd in attendance in the large auditorium.  Each soldier had eight pallbearers.  Onodera’s were:  George Takizawa (I Co.), George Iwakiri, John Yoshida (I Co.), Kimimoto Uchida (I Co.), Shigeru Iwamoto, Pat Hagiwara (2nd Hq.), George Gojio, and Masashi Torao.  The eulogy was given by George Gojio and the Reverend G. Shoji offered a prayer and Scripture reading.

Satoru Onodera was buried at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in the Soldiers Section.  He was later remembered by his I Company buddy from Camp Shelby days, Private Takashi Aragaki:

He was a gentleman – one of those rare men who stick in your mind.

Epilogue.  During a lull in the fighting in the Rome-Arno Campaign, Private Onodera wrote the following poem.  His poem was later given to his family who had it published in the Renton Daily Reader, Renton, Louisiana, on August 8, 1944.  It was later published in the Army’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.  Takashi Aragaki saw there, clipped and preserved it in his scrapbook, and later had it published in his Hilo hometown newspaper, Hawaii Herald, on September 4, 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

A Voice in the Night
I heard a whispered voice last night,
Which floated through the battle’s might.
It sought to ask of God above
The way of men below:
‘Weren’t they meant to trust and love
Instead of thinking each as foe?’
To enjoy as Thou the gentle rains,
That wash Thy cheeks so clean:
Sweep o’er field of waving grains,
And make the grasslands green.
Stars that light the traveler’s way,
Winds that cool the fevered brow –
The sun that brightens each new day,
The smell of heather – the song of plow.
Do I speak of these in vain?
Must they live in greatest of sins?
Must they fight and curse the rain:
Knowing the while that no one wins?
Then ‘midst the angry cannon’s roar,
The voice for living spoke no more.
–  Private Satoru Onodera

His brother Kaun Onodera served in the 442nd RCT, M Company.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with assistance by the family in 2023.

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