Takeyasu Thomas Onaga
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, I Company
Takeyasu Thomas Onaga was born on March 11, 1921, at Spreckelsville, Maui, Territory of Hawaii. He was one of five sons and one daughter of Takesuke and Kame (Nagamine) Onaga. His siblings were: Takesei Daniel; Takei; Takehisa Sam; Harue Katherine; and Zenko Joe. His parents emigrated from Okinawa Prefecture in 1905 and 1913, respectively. Takesuke and Kame began as plantation laborers, and by 1940 Takesuke was a gardener for a private family and operating his own farm.
Takeyasu was educated at Kaupakalua School and Maui High School, where he played football. He registered for the draft on February 15, 1942, at Local Board No. 3 in the Paia Mill, in the town of Paia. He listed his brother, Daniel Takesei Onaga of Makawao, Maui, as point of contact. Although he registered in Maui, his card was signed by the Local Registrar for Pearl Harbor; he was living at Red Hill Camp, was employed by contractors for Pacific Naval Air Bases, and worked at the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage on Oahu. He also had worked as a fireman at the Honolulu Fire Department.
Takeyasu Thomas Onaga enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 23, 1943, at Wailuku, Maui. He was sent to the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks with the other recruits. 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, Takeyasu was assigned to 3rd Battalion, I Company.
After months of training, the 442nd left Camp Shelby for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944. They shipped out to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in a large convoy of troop ships on May 2, and arrived in Naples, Italy, on May 28.
Takeyasu fought in the Rome-Arno Campaign in Italy. The 442nd entered combat near Suvereto on June 26, 1944. He went with the 442nd as they were sent to Marseilles, France, on September 27, to join in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign.
Third Battalion was moved from the staging area in Septemes, just outside Marseilles, on October 10, by rail up the Rhone Valley north to the Vosges. The train was an assortment of “40 and 8” boxcars. They arrived in the assembly area at Charmois-devant-Bruyères at midnight on October 13. At 2:00 p.m. the next day the Combat Team began moving into position to attack the important road center of Bruyères the following morning. After several days of intense fighting, the enemy had been cleared from the town and its surrounding hills, and on October 23, the 442nd was ordered to take the next town, Biffontaine. Finally on October 24, they were taken off the front lines and put in reserve in nearby Belmont for a rest after eight days of heavy fighting, little to no sleep, harsh weather conditions, and many casualties.
In the afternoon of October 26, the short rest was abruptly ended when the 442nd was ordered to go into the lines the next morning and fight through to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry. After moving too fast and over-reaching its support, they had become surrounded on three sides by the enemy and were unable to extricate themselves. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 141st Infantry Regiment had tried to rescue them along with other units, but were thrown back each time they attacked.
After two days of heavy fighting, on October 29 the 442nd was attempting a break though. Fierce fighting in the steep, forested hillsides of the Vosges was slow-going; the Germans were dug in and controlled the high ground. The 100th Battalion and I Company had reached the point where they were only 700 yards from linking up with the 141st. The 552nd Field Artillery, along with all the companies’ mortars, laid down a barrage on the German positions; the break though was successful. It was during this fight that Private First Class Takeyasu Thomas Onaga was among the five men killed and forty wounded from I Company. The hospital admission card states that he was hit in the neck by fragments of an artillery shell and died in the line of duty. He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously and the citation reads:
AWARD, POSTHUMOUS, OF THE SILVER STAR
(Sec I, GO No 13, Hq 6th Army Group, 3 March 1945)
TAKEYASU T. ONAGA
Private First Class, Inf, Company I, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for gallantry in action on 29 October 1944 in France. While searching for a vantage point from which to fire his bazooka, an enemy shell burst in his vicinity, toppling a tree upon his comrade and fracturing his arm. Private Onaga stood up in the face of the enemy fire, lifted the tree and enabled the injured man to crawl free. Moving forward he sighted an enemy machine gun 10 to15 yards from him, and after crawling to a flank position threw a hand grenade which killed the gunner. As he prepared to throw another grenade he was wounded in the neck by a sniper. Instead of calling for help he ran for a distance of 50 yards to a medical aid man and while receiving treatment died of his wound. Next of kin: Mrs. Kame Onaga (Mother), Makawao, Maui, Territory of Hawaii.
His good buddy, Pfc. Barney Hajiro, later remembered that as they prepared to move out that day to rescue the “lost battalion,” Onaga loaded his BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) for him and gloomily said, “If you ma-ke (Hawaiian for die), I goin’ take your P-38.” Barney had responded, “Why you talk li’ dat? If you ma-ke, I goin’ take your Luger.” They each had as part of their war booty these highly prized German weapons. In the battle that followed, Takeyasu bravely charged ahead, but he came to a violent end, neck swept and shattered by machine gun bullets.
Staff Sergeant Hiroshi Aruga remembered the scene that day: “All hell broke loose with machine guns, grenades, and what have you blasting away…..We charged up the hill, killing Germans in their foxholes everywhere. Someone yelled for a bazooka. Tommy Onaga came rushing up with his bazooka only to get hit in the neck by machine gun fire. As he lay dying, I tried my best to comfort him.”
Pfc. Onaga was buried in the U.S. Cemetery at Epinal, France.
On March 12, 1945, his brother Dan T. Onaga of Makawao received Pfc. Onaga’s posthumous Purple Heart Medal from Major Ezra J. Crane, representing Lt. Colonel Murray B. Crandall, Commander of Maui District. The presentation ceremony was held at the courthouse in Lahaina.
For his military service, Private First Class Takeyasu Thomas Onaga was awarded the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Distinguished Unit Badge. Takeyasu 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.
In 1948, the remains of Americans buried overseas began slowly to return to the U.S. if the family so wished. As a result, on April 21, 1949, Takeyasu arrived home. The USAT Sergeant Jack J. Pendleton brought back 134 men, arriving at Honolulu Harbor’s Kapalama Basin. There were hundreds of family and friends present to attend the dockside service. The Secretary of Hawaii, Oren E. Long, officiated, the 264th Army Band played, and military Chaplains participated. One of the Chaplains was Hiro Higuchi, who had served in the 442nd with the men who were returning home that day. The caskets were stored in the Army mausoleum at Schofield Barracks pending final burial arrangements.
Private First Class Tommy Onaga was interred on August 5, 1949, at 1:30 p.m. in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, Honolulu, Section D, Site 368. His grave marker was ordered on January 19, 1950, from West Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
His brother Takei Onaga served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during World War II.
Original Biography prepared by Americans of Japanese Ancestry World War II Memorial Alliance, and provided courtesy of Japanese American Living Legacy (http://www.jalivinglegacy.org/).
Researched and rewritten by the 442nd S&D 6/18/2021.