442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, L Company
Takaaki Yakazaki was born on June 29, 1915, in Seattle, Washington. He was the eldest child of Kazuo and Tatsu (Suzuki) Okazaki, who emigrated from Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in 1907 and 1914, respectively. They married in Tacoma on April 6, 1914. There were seven children in the Okazaki family: sons Takaaki and Frank Kazumi; and daughters Kiyoko, Emiko Amy, Sumiye Dorothy, Miyoko, and Mary Hideko.
When he was born, Takaaki’s parents lived at the Hotel Togo, 309 Maynard Avenue, where his mother was the manager. His father was employed by the Alaska Junk Company. By 1920, they lived at 669 Dearborn Street. Takaaki attended Central School. In 1930, they had bought their house at 819 Weller Street, which they operated as the Togo Hotel, a boarding house, with Tatsu as the manager. Kazuo was the owner of a furniture store. Takaaki graduated from Franklin High school, where he was a noted baseball player and also a judo expert.
In 1936, Okazaki went to Japan where he visited his mother’s brother, Suejiro Suzuki, in Otomomachi, Okayama. He arrived back home on December 31 at Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Hikawa Maru, and transferred to the Princess Charlotte to Seattle.
In the late 1930s, Takaaki graduated from the University of Washington, where he was a member of the fraternity for Japanese American students and the Foreign Trade Honorary.
The family was still at the Weller Street address in 1940. Takaaki and the two oldest daughters were clerks at their Togo Furniture Store at 825 Jackson Street.
On October 16, 1940, Takaaki signed his draft registration card, Local Board No. 10, in Seattle. His father was his point of contact and they lived at 819 Weller Street. Takaaki worked at 825 Jackson Street, his father’s furniture store. He was 5’9” tall and weighed 155 pounds.
Okazaki enlisted on June 5, 1941, in Tacoma. He was listed as having completed four years of college. He was sent to Camp Robinson, California, for basic training, then stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was home on leave helping to get the store ready for Christmas. From Fort Lewis, he was transferred to Camp Hale, Colorado.
In the spring of 1942, the family was evacuated to the Puyallup WCCA Assembly Center located on the Washington State Fairgrounds on the outskirts of Tacoma. On June 18, 1942, they were incarcerated at Minidoka WRA Internment Camp in Hunt, Idaho, about 20 miles from Twin Falls. Parents Kazuo and Tatsu and their children (four of their daughters and son Frank) were released to Salt Lake City, Utah, on different dates in March, August, September, and October 1943.
In 1943, Takaaki was transferred from Camp Hale, Colorado, to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where he was assigned to 3rd Battalion, L Company. After nearly a year of basic, unit, specialized, and combat training and field maneuvers, the 442nd left by train for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944. On May 4, they sailed in a convoy of about 100 ships enroute to the Theater of War. Okazaki and L Company were aboard the S.S. George W. Campbell. They arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28.
Sergeant Okazaki in 1943 at Camp Shelby
From the time they arrived in Italy until June 5, the Combat Team was in bivouac at Bagnoli, near Naples. They were taken by LSTs to the recently freed Anzio beachhead and trucked around Rome, arriving at a large bivouac near Civitavecchia, about 50 miles north of Rome, on June 11.
The 442nd entered combat in the Rome-Arno Campaign on June 26, 1944, near Suvereto, about 107 miles north of Civitavecchia. Thus began the series of fierce battles to push the enemy north along the west coast of Italy, with the mission of liberating Pisa. S/Sgt. Okazaki was present with L Company for this fighting. He was wounded at some point during July – his family received word of this where they were living at 273 S.W. Temple Street in Salt Lake City.
The 442nd was relieved on September 6 from the lines north of the Arno River for assignment elsewhere. On September 10, they left Piombino for Naples – L Co. was aboard the USAT Ambrose E. Burnside. On September 27, the 442nd left by ship for Marseilles, with L Company on the USAT Dickman.
They arrived at Marseilles on September 29 after a 2-day voyage, and bivouacked at nearby Septèmes prior to traveling over 500 miles north by truck or rail boxcars (3rd Battalion was in the rail boxcars) for fighting in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.
Okazaki was in combat for the next month during the bitter fighting to liberate the important road and rail junction of Bruyères, neighboring Biffontaine and Belmont, and the “Rescue of the Lost Battalion,” the 1st Battalion, 141st (Texas) Infantry that had advanced beyond the lines and was surrounded on three sides by the enemy. The weather was cold, wet, snowy, and miserable, as the men fought in the heavily wooded forests still in their summer uniforms. They were subjected to living in foxholes, and incoming artillery raining down on them in “tree bursts.”
After these battles, the 442nd continued pursuing the enemy on down the mountain ridge, with the goal of pushing them out of France.
November began with 3rd Battalion digging in on the high wooded ground overlooking the village of La Houssière. There was exceptionally heavy resistance from the Germans, as they were desperate to keep the Americans from the German border, which was only about 60 miles east.
By this point, the fighting strength of the 442nd was severely depleted after heavy combat since October 15. Many of the companies had been whittled down to less than 30 men on the line. Some had trench foot and could hardly walk. Others were coming down with the flu after constant exposure to rain and cold.
On November 7, 3rd Battalion made a final effort to drive the enemy off the hill, beginning at 9:30 a.m. With constant pounding by mortars, the Germans suffered heavy casualties. By dark, the Battalion’s companies were in formation from the bottom to the top of the hill, with L Company at the top as the hinge of the “gate” that would swing around the enemy. As the attack progressed, German artillery and mortar fire became heavier and heavier. Some 2,000 rounds of heavy shells poured onto the 2nd and 3rd Battalions in a steady stream.
On this day, November 7, 1944, S/Sgt. Takaaki Okazaki was killed. He was buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Epinal, 25 miles west. His family received word where they were living at 27 West 1st Street in Salt Lake City.
For his military service during World War II, Staff Sergeant Takaaki Okazaki was awarded the: Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal with oak leaf cluster, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge with one oak leaf cluster, 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.
On May 25, 1947, a 16-foot stone shaft was dedicated to 18 Utah war dead, including S/Sgt. Okazaki, in Salt Lake City. The memorial service was under the direction of the Servicemen’s Family League and Gold Star Parents. Speakers were Glen E. Thompson, commander of the Atomic Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and B.Y. Kaneko, president of the Servicemen’s Family League. A bronze plaque on the shaft bore the names of the soldiers.
After the war, the US began to close many of the wartime cemeteries overseas. Families were given the choice of having their loved one reburied in one of the few remaining cemeteries or sent home. The Okazaki family chose to have their son come home to Seattle, where they had also returned.
As a result, S/Sgt. Takaaki Okazaki arrived on the USAT Carroll Victory, on October 5, 1948, at the Brooklyn Army Base, Pier 3, in New York Harbor. He was among the 7,047 war dead aboard the ship. A memorial service held at 11:00 a.m. at the wharf at 58th Street and First Avenue was attended by 1,200 family and friends.
On November 20, 1948, at 3:00 p.m., Takaaki Okazaki was buried in the Veterans Section of the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in Seattle. The memorial service was sponsored by the Gold Star Parents and Nisei Veterans Committee.
After World War II, the residence at the University of Washington that had been the home of Japanese American students from 1922 to 1962 was renamed the SYNKOA House. The name was chosen as an acronym representing the surnames of former UW students of the fraternity who had died in World War II. The O in the acronym stands for Takaaki Okazaki.
Okazaki’s parents became naturalized US citizens in 1953 and 1954, respectively, in Seattle.
Sgt. Okazaki’s name is on the Minidoka WRA Camp Honor Roll in Hunt, Idaho.
Click here to read about the Okazaki home and furniture business: NOBODY LIVES HERE (beta) (arcgis.com)
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat in 2023