442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, K Company
Senji Sugawara was born on April 5, 1912, in Kekaha, Kauai, Territory of Hawaii. He was the son of Sentaro and Masu (Matsumura) Sugawara. His siblings were: brothers Takeo (known as Jumbo) and Dick Yoshito; sisters Florence Fujiko, Mitsue, and Chiyono. Sentaro and Masu emigrated from Japan in 1906 and 1907, respectively. Sentaro arrived on the S.S. Siberia on February 7, 1907, from the village of Asami, Ehime Prefecture. Masu arrived on June 21, 1907, on the Korea Maru from the village of Nakakurase, Hiroshima Prefecture. They were rice farmers on Kauai.
Senji graduated from Kauai High School. In early December 1929, he was among the 23 Kauai YMCA delegates to the “older boys conference” at Kaneohe, Oahu. He was a representative of the Dormitory Hi-Y Club. In June 1935, he was selected for the all-star baseball team of the Waimea Commercial League. In 1937, he was employed as a collector for Waimea Garage and Electric Company. His sister Mitsuyo was in Honolulu and gave a dinner dance in Senji’s honor at the Lau Yee Chai Restaurant in Waikiki on June 28. He had been vacationing in Maui and Honolulu and was enroute back to Waimea. He spent six days the end of December as a member of the Waimea Athletic Association 125-pound barefoot football team playing a series of games at Kahuku, Oahu. At the farewell dinner at the Orient Chop Sui House in Kahuku, Senji led the musical entertainment by the Banana Wagon Glee Club. In the late 1930s, he was a star player at the Waimea Tennis Club, including badminton.
In 1940, he and brother Yoshito were living with Takeo and his wife and son at 236 Fort Street in Waimea. Senji was employed as a collector at Waimea Garage Ltd. Senji was in charge of the softball team composed of the employees at the garage. They were the champions of the Waimea Pau Hana Softball League.
He registered for the draft on October 26, 1940, at Local Board No. 1, Hanapepe Armory, in Hanapepe, Kauai. He listed his brother, Takeo, as his point of contact. They lived in Waimea. Senji was 5’4” tall and weighed 135 pounds. He was employed by the Waimea Electric Company, Ltd.
On July 18, 1942, he married Dorothy Ritsuko Yagi, a Registered Nurse who was born in Lahaina, Maui.
Sugawara enlisted in the U.S. Army at Wailuku, Maui, on March 24, 1943. Before entering the service, he was a carpenter for the Army.
He joined the other new recruits in the “tent city” called Boom Town at Schofield Barracks. 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, Senji was assigned to 3rd Battalion, K Company.
On November 20, 1943, it was announced that Senji was among 121 soldiers of the 442nd at Camp Shelby to receive a temporary promotion. He was promoted to Corporal.
Following over a year of training, Senji left Camp Shelby with the 442nd on April 22, 1944, for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. They shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations from nearby Hampton Roads in a large convoy of troop ships on May 2, and arrived at Naples, Italy, on 28 May to join in the Rome-Arno Campaign. Senji served in the following campaigns of the 442nd: Rome-Arno in Italy; Rhineland-Vosges and Rhineland-Maritime Alps in Italy.
On September 27, 1944, the 442nd was pulled out of the battle lines in Italy and sent by ship to Marseilles, France, then traveled north 500 miles to the battle front in northeastern France to join the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. Their first objective was to liberate the important road junction of Bruyères in the Vosges Mountains. The intense battles to liberate Bruyères and neighboring Biffontaine lasted from October 16-24. The combat team was then put into reserve in Belmont for a brief rest. After two days, on the afternoon of October 26, they were ordered to the front lines again to aid in the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” – the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry Regiment. This battalion had gotten ahead of the lines and was surrounded on three sides by the enemy. Attempts by the 141st and other units to free it had been unsuccessful, so the 442nd was called in. On October 29, 1944, the 100th and 3rd Battalions attacked at dawn. Fierce fighting in the steep, forested hillside of the Vosges was slow-going; the Germans had dug in and controlled the high ground. Artillery fire was heavy and casualties on both sides were very high, but the 442nd won the battle and rescued the “Lost Battalion.” Senji was in these victorious battles of the Vosges.
In an effort to rebuild their strength and absorb the large number of replacements needed to be combat-ready again, the 442nd was sent to southern France as part of the Rhineland-Maritimes Alps Campaign. This became known among the soldiers as the “Champagne Campaign.”
The mission in the Maritime Alps was to protect the east flank of the 6th Army Group and protect against enemy breakthrough down the southern coast of France. The 3rd Battalion was assigned to the mountainous area north of Sospel and Peira Cava. Combat and reconnaissance patrols roamed back and forth between the lines, sometimes making enemy contact and sometimes not. The Germans routinely shelled the Regiment’s location.
S/Sgt Sugawara was the Mess Sergeant. While serving breakfast to the troops on November 30, 1944, an artillery shell hit the Mess and he was killed.
For his military service, Staff Sergeant Senji Sugawara was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Distinguished Unit Badge. Senji was 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.
Staff Sergeant Senji Sugawara was interred in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Draguignan, France. In 1948, the Army began the process of closing the smaller military cemeteries in France and offering the family the choice of reburial at the large U.S. Military Cemetery in Epinal or returning home. S/Sgt Sugawara’s family chose to have his remains returned. His wife, Dorothy, was listed as his next of kin and her address was 1143 Fort Street. They had no children.
Sugawara arrived home to Hawaii on December 24, 1948, on the USAT Sinnett to Dock M-3 at Pearl Harbor with 121 other of Hawaii’s war dead. Over 700 family and friends were waiting on the pier where the 265th Army Band played Aloha Oe as the ship docked at 8:30 a.m. They were eulogized in a shipside service by the Secretary of Hawaii, Oren E. Long, who said, “We are proud to have had such sons. These men stood the test of action and added a new chapter of American heroism to our history.” The caskets were taken to the Army mausoleum at Schofield Barracks awaiting burial arrangements.
On July 28, 1949, Senji was reinterred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl), Section D, Site 375 in Honolulu. His wife, Dorothy L. Sugawara, died on December 30, 1985, and is buried with her husband.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021.