Sueo Kanehira

Sueo Kanehira
442nd Regimental Combat Team
2nd Battalion, H Company

Sueo Kanehira was born on July 10, 1923, in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, to Yasutaro and Miyo (Kanzaki) Kanehira.  There were ten children in the family:  sons Shinyei, Tamotsu, Yoshio Kenneth, Shigeo Richard, Sueo, Clifford Kazuyoshi, and James Nobuaki – in addition to three who did not survive to adulthood – Kiichi (died 1910), Haruko (died 1916), and Fumiko (died 1930).

Yasutaro, also known as Hotaro, and Miyo had arrived in 1908 from Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan.  By 1920 they were living on Asylum Road and Hotaro was a farmer.

In 1930, the family was living at 1520 Palama Street.  Father Hotaro and oldest brother Shinyei were employed as chauffeurs at a taxi cab company.  By 1940, the family’s address was 1520-A7 Iao Lane, around the corner from Palama Street.  Father Hotaro was the owner of his own taxi cab company.  In 1938, Toast, as he was known, graduated from Kalakaua Intermediate School, and in June 1941, he graduated from Farrington High School.  He was given the nickname “Toast” as his skin was very dark, like burnt toast.  During his last school year, he was on the “Pal Ramblers” track team for the Hi-Y Club, where he ran the 880-yard run in the annual track meet.

Sueo signed his draft registration card on June 30, 1942, Local Board No. 7 at Farrington High School in Room 143.  His residence was 1520 Palama Street, and he was employed at Pacific Naval Air Base in Aiea.  His point of contact was Harry H. Okada, 944G North Vineyard Street.  He was 5’2” tall and weighed 117 pounds.

Sueo enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 25, 1943.  He had attended one year of college.  He was sent to the “tent city” called Boom Town at Schofield Barracks.  After the community aloha farewell ceremony at Iolani Palace on March 28, he departed with the other new soldiers on the S.S. Lurline on April 4.

Upon arrival at Oakland, California, Sueo and the Combat Team went by train to Camp Shelby, Mississippi.  He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, H Company, which was a “heavy weapons” company.  Basic, specialized, and combat training and field maneuvers lasted nearly a year.  He left with the 442nd on April 22 for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.  On May 2, they sailed in a convoy of over 100 ships to the Theater of War, arriving at Naples, Italy, on May 28.  After several days in bivouac at nearly Bagnoli, the 442nd left by LST for Anzio, and then trucked around the newly liberated city of Rome to Civitavecchia.  There they were staged at a large bivouac for final combat training, and entered combat at Suvereto on June 26.

The Combat Team engaged in numerous battles as they pushed their way north toward the Arno River:  Belvedere on June 26, Sassetta on June 27, Castagnetto on June 28, crossing the Cecina River to the fierce fighting at Hill 140 on July 7-12, and Colle Salvetti on July 18-19.  They were then sent away from the front lines on July 21 for a brief rest at Vada on the coast.  On August 20-23, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were back on the front line, engaging the Nazi forces south of the Arno River.  At this point, the high echelons of military commands were competing for the now-famous 442nd.  Seventh Army in France won.  Subsequently the 442nd was sent to Naples on September 10.  There they loaded on attack transport ships, and landed near Marseilles on September 29.

The Combat Team was committed to the battles of October and November in the Rhineland- Vosges Campaign in northeast France.  This included the liberation of the important road junction of Bruyères on October 15 to 22 and nearby Belmont on the 25th.  After less than two days’ rest, they were ordered to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry, who had advanced beyond their support and were surrounded on three sides by the Germans.  This battle, which took place near Biffontaine between October 27-30, became known as the Rescue of the Lost Battalion.  During this battle, Kanehira was wounded by shrapnel.  He was sent to the 154th General Hospital in England, where it was reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on January 31, 1945, identifying Toast Kanehira as “first gunner in a heavy machine gun squad.”  At the same time as his own wounding, Kanehira was cited as “treating and evacuating wounded comrades under intense German fire,” for which he was later awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

After the rescue of the Lost Battalion, there were several more days of fighting.  The 442nd had suffered very high casualties – in both killed and wounded – and it was below combat strength.  They were sent to southern France for the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign where they received many replacements.  The mission in southern France was mostly a defensive position to guard against Germans coming across the border from Italy.  The men were quartered in Nice and rotated duty in the mountains.  For this reason, its nickname was the “Champagne Campaign.”  This was from November 18, 1944, to late March 1945.  Sometime during these months Sueo returned from a U.S. Army hospital to his unit.

After months in southern France, on March 20 to 22, 1945, the 442nd arrived in Italy from France to fight in the Po Valley Campaign, and Kanehira was with them.  The influx of replacements had put the 442nd back at combat strength.  The objective was to launch a surprise diversionary attack on the western anchor of the German Gothic Line that ran across the Italian peninsula.  This elaborate system of fortifications had been attacked in the fall of 1944, but no one had yet been able to pry the Germans loose from the western end.  The Gothic Line in this area was hewn out of solid rock, reinforced with concrete, and constructed to give all-around protection and observation.  The Germans were dug into mountain peaks rising almost sheer from the coastal plain, bare of vegetation save for scanty scrub growth.

The Combat Team left their staging area and moved to a bivouac at San Martino, near the walled city of Lucca.  The move was made in absolute secrecy, under cover of darkness.  In the new bivouac area, all units utilized their time for training.  Makeshift ranges were set up, and the men spent hours adjusting their weapons to the greatest possible accuracy.  The new replacements, who had little or no combat experience, practiced small-unit problems with their squads and platoons far into the night.

Starting on April 3, the 442nd conducted a surprise attack on the Germans at Mount Folgorito.  By April 6 the 2nd Battalion had gained the ridge of Mount Folgorito and was poised for an attack on Mount Carchio and Mount Belvedere to the north, the peak that looked down on the city of Massa.  By noon, F Company had reduced Mount Carchio while the rest of the 2nd Battalion began working on the wide, rolling top of Mount Belvedere, which was defended by the veteran troops of the crack Machine Gun Battalion Kesselring.  The enemy battered the 442nd attackers with a steady stream of mortar fire, to no avail, and were defeated.

After these battles, the 442nd moved farther north, finally taking Aulla on April 25, penetrating as far north as Torino.  The 442nd’s diversionary attack was relentlessly pursued by the Combat Team, resulting in a complete breakthrough of the Gothic Line in the west.  Despite orders from Hitler to fight on, the German forces in Italy surrendered on May 2, 1945, a week before the rest of the German forces in Europe surrendered.

Following this, Kanehira was with the 442nd as they moved to bivouac at Novi Ligure; then on May 17 to Ghedi Airport to guard and process German prisoners, on June 14 to Lecco, and, finally, on July 24 to Livorno for further guard duty.  Soldiers were sent back to the US according to a point system, with points being accumulated according to length of time in the war zone, woundings, and a few other factors.  Sueo arrived in Honolulu on the troopship USAT Evangeline on December 19, 1945.  He was discharged on January 3, 1946, at a separation center on Oahu.

For his military service, Corporal Sueo Kanehira 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, Distinguished Unit Badge, and Combat Infantryman Badge.  He 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.

Sueo after arrival home, 1946

In early March 1946, he served as best man at the wedding of his good buddy Edward Minoru Hashimoto, also of H Company.  The wedding was held at the Harrison Memorial Methodist Church in Honolulu.

Sueo reenlisted in the Army on January 20, 1949, and served until his final discharge on December 31, 1952.  Afterwards, he was an active member of the 442nd Veterans Club, and he played in their 442nd Bowling League in 1956.

Above:  Kanehira family after both sons returned from the war.  Front row L to R:  Janet, Paul (wife and son of Tamotsu), Yasutaro Hotaro Kanehira, Miyo Kanehira, Yae Kanzaki (Miyo’s mother), Sadae, and Chester (wife and son of Yoshio).  Back row L to R:  Tamotsu, James, Rosalie (wife of Richard), Shinyei, Shigeo Richard, Hanako (wife of Shinyei), Clifford, Sueo, and Yoshio.

Toast Kanehira worked as a civilian employee in military communications at Fort Shafter.  He lived in Kaneohe and never married.  He died at the Veterans Administration (VA) Center for Aging, known as the Spark Matsunaga VA Home, in Honolulu on April 24, 2008, at the age of 84.  He was survived by his brothers Tamotsu, Clifford Kazuyoshi, and James Nobuaki.  He was buried at the Moiliili Japanese Cemetery, Section B, Site 545-f.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2024.

His brother Richard Shigeo Kanehira served in the 442nd RCT, Company E.

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