Takashi Okemura

Takashi Okemura
442nd Regimental Combat Team
2nd Battalion, Headquarters Company

Takashi Okemura was born on November 13, 1922, in Waialua, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.  He was the son of Chojiro and Sada (Fujita) Okemura.  He had nine siblings:  brothers Nakashi, Iwao, Isao, and Noboru; and sisters Utako, Chizuko, Michiko, Fusae, and Tsugako.

Chojiro Okemura arrived in Honolulu on July 19, 1906, from Oshima District, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan.  He settled in Waialua, where in 1910 he was employed as a farm laborer and lived in the Kawailoa Pump Camp.  By 1917, he was living in Kawailoa, working for the Waialua Agriculture Company Ltd., had married Sada Fujita from Yamaguchi Prefecture, and had two children.  By 1920, the family was living in Kawailoa and Chojiro worked for a sugar cane plantation.  By 1930, he was employed on a pineapple plantation near Waialua and the family lived at the Takeyama Pineapple Camp.

By 1940, the family had moved to Laie where Chojiro worked for the Kahuku Plantation Company.  At this time, however, Takashi was living in Honolulu at 353 North Beretania Street with sisters Chizuko and Michiko.  Takashi attended Farrington High School, where he graduated in the Class of 1940.

Right:  Takashi Okemura’s senior class photo

After retiring, Chojiro and Sada moved to 824 7th Avenue in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu.

Takashi signed his draft registration card on June 30, 1942, Local Board No. 5, at Royal School on Punchbowl Street in Honolulu.  At the time, he was living at 78 Kukui Lane and employed by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Department at Hickam Field.  His point of contact was Edwin Hironaga of 1409 J. Cunha Lane.  He was 5’7” tall and weighed 130 pounds.

Takashi enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 25, 1943.  His civilian occupation was given as “Packing, filling, labelling, marking, bottling, and related occupations,” and he had attended one year of college.  He was sent to Boom Town, the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks, along with the other new soldiers.

On March 28, Okemura was at the community aloha farewell given to the new soldiers at Iolani Palace.  On April 4, the men sailed on the S.S. Lurline to San Francisco, where they boarded a train that took them across country from Oakland to Camp Shelby, Hatttiesburg, Mississippi.

Private Okemura was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion in the newly formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT).  He went through basic training beginning in May 1943, followed by specialized training and field maneuvers.  He left with the rest of the Combat Team on April 22, 1944, for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.

Left:  L to R – Bill Thompson, (unidentified), Takashi Okemura, whose 442nd buddies gave him the nickname “Botchan”

The 442nd sailed in a large convoy of troop ships from Hampton Roads, Virginia, on May 2.  Once in the Mediterranean, the ships carrying the bulk of the 2nd Battalion dropped out of the convoy and steamed into Oran, on the coast of North Africa, to discharge cargo.  The other ships arrived in Naples, Italy, on May 28.  It is not known in which of these groups Okemura was traveling.

The battalion spent a week at a staging area in Bagnoli, near Naples, before leaving on LSTs for Anzio on June 6, where they marched five miles to a bivouac area.  From Anzio, the 442nd went to a large bivouac area at Civitavecchia, north of Rome, where they went through additional training and final preparations for going to the front lines.  Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion in Oran was loaded onto different ships and arrived at Naples on June 17, going through the same processing and route as the other units before arriving at Civitavecchia.

The 442nd had been placed under the command of the 34th Infantry Division, and on June 22 they moved to another bivouac near Gravasanno. The following day they marched thirteen miles to the final assembly area with orders to replace a regiment of the 36th Infantry Division on the front lines.  On June 26, 1944, the 442nd RCT moved forward from Gravasanno in the pre-dawn hours for their first combat engagement.  Through July and August they defeated the Nazis in battle after battle, driving the north up thru Italy.

By September, the 442nd had pushed the enemy north to the Arno River and was assigned to the area west of Florence.  By this time, the Supreme Allied Command had decided that the 442nd would be sent to the Seventh Army in France to engage in the battles to liberate France.  They were transported to the port of Piombino on September 10 and left the same day on Liberty ships for Naples, arriving the next day.  While there, they were bivouacked in an area of olive groves and the men were given day-passes to Pompeii and Naples.

On September 27, the 442nd sailed to Marseilles, France, arriving on September 30.  The next day, they were moved by train to a staging area near Septèmes.  After several days, all units were moved by truck – with the exception of 3rd Battalion by train – over a three-day period, north 500 miles along the Rhone Valley.  They arrived at an assembly area in Charmois-devant-Bruyères on October 11 for participation in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign in October and November.  They were attached to the 36th Infantry Division.

While in the Vosges Mountains, the 442nd liberated the strategically located towns of Bruyères and Biffontaine, followed by the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” – the 1st Battalion, 141st (Texas) Infantry Regiment – that had advanced too far and found itself surrounded on three sides by the enemy.  The action came after nearly nonstop combat for the 442nd that began on October 15 with the fighting to liberate nearby Bruyères.

The 442nd was next ordered to Nice on November 17 for the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign in the south of France.  This was also known as the “Champagne Campaign,” and it entailed protecting the east flank of the 6th Army Group and guarding against a possible enemy breakthrough down the southern coast of France.  The Combat Team remained there until mid-March 1945.

Left: 1944 in Sospel –  Yoshito Mizuta, Herb Isonaga, and Takashi Okemura

They were next sent back to Italy for the Po Valley Campaign, the final attacks to liberate Italy from the Nazis.  Their mission was to conduct a decoy attack on the western end of the Germans’ Gothic Line in the final push to drive them out of Italy.  This area contained an elaborate system of fortifications, hewn out of solid rock and reinforced with concrete.  They were built to give all-around protection to the Germans – and they were dug into mountain peaks rising almost sheer from the coastal plain, giving the enemy unlimited observation of the coast.

The 442nd left France on March 20-22, 1945 for Pisa, Italy.  From the staging area there, the regiment left on March 28 to a bivouac area at San Martino, near Lucca.  After several months of not engaging in heavy combat, all units utilized their available hours for training, including practicing small-unit problems with their squads and platoons far into the night.

On April 5, 2nd Battalion was committed to the attack.  It gained the ridge at 2,800-foot Mt. Folgorito and was poised for an attack on Mt. Carchio and Mt. Belvedere to the north.  The attack was successful in driving the Germans off the high ground, and the decoy was turned into a full-on breakthrough of the Gothic Line, causing the Germans to divert important military resources to try and stop the 442nd.  As a result, the German Army in the center of their defense line was weakened and the main Allied attack could also not be stopped. The 442nd had captured the western part of Italy north as far as Turin, the main attack to capture Bologna was successful, and the Germany army in Italy surrendered on May 2, despite orders from Hitler to fight on.  For its part in achieving this victory, the 442nd was later awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for the 10 days of bitter action from April 5 to 14. 

When the war ended in Italy, the 442nd was sent to bivouac at Novi Ligure.  Over the next few months, they were assigned to occupation duties at Ghedi Airfield, then Lecco, and finally the vicinity of Livorno, Pisa, and Tombolo.

After serving in the occupation of Italy for several months, Takashi Okemura was among 424 soldiers, mostly from the 442nd, who returned home to Hawaii on the USAT Mexico on January 15, 1946.  He was soon discharged from the U.S. Army at an Army Separation Center in Honolulu.

For his military service, Corporal Takashi Okemura received the following awards:  Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Distinguished Unit 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.

After the war, he resumed his educational studies.  In 1953, Okemura graduated from the University of Hawaii with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Merchandising. 

Left:  Okemura’s UH senior class photo

The following year he married Jane Hisako Doi of Waianae, Oahu. 

Right: Jane Doi’s wedding photo

At the time, Takashi was living with his family at 824 7th Avenue.  The couple married on October 24 at the Honpa Hongwanji Mission.  The best man was William Thompson and the ushers were Ace Higuchi and Larry Ishida – all three men were his 2nd Headquarters comrades.  (In 1951, Takashi was best man at Ace’s wedding.)  The newlyweds moved to 1601 Pualoke Place.  Jane H. Doi was one of nine children of Toshio and Matsuyo (Ebesu) Doi.  She was a graduate of the Margaret Dietz Commercial School in Honolulu.

Over the years, Takashi worked for Hawaii’s Department of State and Jane worked as a secretary at Hickam Air Force Base.  They raised a family of two sons and lived at 2606 Kekuanoni Street in Pauoa Valley.  He was an active member of the 442nd Veterans Club.

Above:  Bill Thompson, Dan Inouye, Okemura at the 442nd Annual Banquet in 2010

Below:  Okemura and Bill Thompson at 442nd Annual Banquet in 2013

Takashi Okemura died on May 12, 2018.  He was inurned on May 30 in the Columbarium at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Court 13e, Row 100, Niche 106.  His widow, Jane H. Okemura, lives in Honolulu as of this writing.

Takashi’s son Karl Okemura serves as President of the 442nd Veterans Club.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021.

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