Thomas Tamotsu Kuge

Thomas Tamotsu Kuge
Private First Class
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, K Company

Thomas Tamotsu Kuge was born on March 24, 1923, in Bridal Veil, Oregon.  He was the son of Gisaburo and Takaye (Murase) Kuge, who emigrated from Tento, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, in 1904 and 1910, respectively.  There were eight children in the Kuge family:  sons Yutaka, Toshiaki, Thomas Tamotsu, Henry, Chosei, Seigi, and Vernon Kingo; and daughter Kiyoko.

By 1906, Gisaburo had returned to Japan and married Takaye Murase.  She remained in Japan and Gisaburo (also known as George) returned to the US, where in 1910 he was employed as a janitor at the Hot Lake Sanitorium in northeast Oregon.  Takaye emigrated to the US that year.  In 1918, they lived in Kerry, Columbia County, Oregon, where Gisaburo worked for the Hammond Lumber Company.  In 1919, Gisaburo and Tokaye had moved about 30 miles west to Astoria, where he was a lumber worker.  In March 1920, they were back in Japan, returning to Oregon on June 8, 1921, on the S.S. Manila.

In 1930, the family lived “along the river, across the track” in the lumber mill town of Vernonia, about 40 miles northwest of Portland.  Gisaburo was the cook and manager of the boarding house where they lived with eight Japanese lumber mill workers.  In February 1930, their son Henry, age 3, drowned in the creek that ran behind their home.

By 1935, the family had moved to Portland, where they lived at 331 N.W. Davis Street.  Gisaburo was a cook in a café and Takaye managed a grocery store.  In 1941, Gisaburo was working for the Soy Bean Products Company.

The family was evacuated to the Portland WCCA Assembly Center in the spring of 1942.  While there, Tom, as he was called, signed his draft registration card on June 30, Local Board No. 5, Mead Building, Multnomah County, Portland.  At the time, he was 5’5” tall and weighed 130 pounds.  A later notation gave his address as 100 Forest Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan, c/o University Hospital.

On September 4, the family was incarcerated at Tule Lake WRA Relocation Center, just south of the California border with Oregon.  Their home was listed as Gresham (a suburb of Portland), Oregon.  Shortly afterwards, on September 25, they were transferred to Minidoka WRA Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho, about 20 miles from Twin Falls.

Tom was released on April 25, 1943, to go to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend college.  A year later, he was drafted and inducted in the U.S. Army on March 17, 1944, in Detroit.  His residence was listed as Washtenaw County (where Ann Arbor is located), Michigan.

His brother Yutaka was released on April 27, 1944, to Fort Douglas, Utah, for military duty.

During basic training, Private Kuge earned the Sharpshooter Marksmanship Badge.  He was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, at that time in combat in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign in France.

Pfc. Kuge was among the 382 replacements received by the 442nd in the Vosges on November 18, 1944.  They had just been relieved from the front lines after 25 days of heavy fighting.  Kuge was assigned to K Company.  He met up with his older brother, Toshiaki, who was a 442nd Medic and had been in the Rome-Arno and Vosges Campaigns.  The unit was sent in trucks to Nice.

At the time, the 442nd was under-strength due to high casualties – and were sent to southern France to rebuild to full combat strength while fighting in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign, which was mostly a defensive position guarding the French-Italian border from attack by the German Army in Italy.

On arrival in the south, Kuge and the 3rd Battalion relieved the 19th Armored Infantry Battalion in the small border town of Sospel on November 23.  From there, the men headed for the higher mountains, where there were border forts on the peaks.  Often, they climbed to their positions on the 4,000-foot peaks with pack mules and equipment.  Combat and reconnaissance patrols roamed back and forth between the lines, sometimes making enemy contact and sometimes not.  There were a lot of mines in the area and no knowledge of where they were.  Often, the Germans fired artillery at the 442nd as a reminder of their presence.  Another challenge was minefields that had been placed by prior Allied units without recording their locations.  As a result, many 442nd men were wounded by our own mines

On December 21, 3rd Battalion was in the area of Sospel and was relieved by 2nd Battalion.  They moved to the village of L’Escarène as regimental reserve.  The 3rd Battalion companies got together and hosted a Christmas party for the children of the village.  During the rest of the 442nd’s time in southern France, the pattern of alternating duty in the Sospel area continued.  The men were often given one-day passes to enjoy leisure time in Nice.  For this reason, the Rhineland-Maritime Alps was nicknamed the “Champagne Campaign.”

On February 15, 1945, according to a Sixth Army news release, Kuge was among the 188 servicemen who had been called to duty from internment camps and who received their Combat Infantryman Badge while in France.

The 442nd was in southern France from November 23, 1944, until March 15, 1945, when they were relieved and moved in relays to a staging area at Marseilles.  On March 20-22, the 442nd (without its 522nd Field Artillery Battalion who were sent to Germany) left France to fight in the Po Valley Campaign for the final push to defeat the Nazis in Italy.  They arrived at the Peninsular Base Section in Pisa on March 25 and were assigned to Fifth Army.

The objective of the 442nd was to execute a surprise diversionary attack on the western anchor of the German Gothic Line.  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 initial staging area in Pisa and moved to a bivouac at San Martino, just north of the walled city of Lucca.  While there, all units used their time for training.  Firing ranges were set up and the men spent hours adjusting their newly issued weapons to the highest accuracy.  New replacements, such as Pfc. Kuge, who had no combat experience, practiced small-unit problems with their squads and platoons day and night.

Starting on April 3, the 442nd conducted a surprise attack on the Germans at Mount Folgorito.  From that point on, the Combat Team continued pushing the enemy north, with fierce fighting but continued success.  By April 10, the Combat Team crossed the Frigido River and occupied the high ground before the city of Carrara.  Finding the city under control of the partisans, K Company bypassed it and pushed north into the mountains again, taking Gragnana and Sorgnano without opposition.  More fighting continued, and 3rd Battalion by April 16 had passed Mount Pizzacuto and seized Mount Tomaggiora.  The enemy had retreated to Fosdinovo and Mount Nebbione, which they were strongly defending as this was the last dominant terrain before the important road center at Aulla.  If Aulla fell, German forces on the coast would be cut off from retreat up the Po Valley.

As 3rd Battalion probed Mount Nebbione from all possible angles, 2nd Battalion tried a wide encirclement from the south.  All of these were beaten back.  By this time, the 442nd had been climbing up and down 3,000-foot peaks for two weeks with little rest, and the regiment was somewhat scattered by its various attempts to flank the enemy forces.  On April 20, the 442nd battalions regrouped in the vicinity of Marciaso and prepared to attack north.  The mission was to cut off two major highways and strike at Aulla.  The 3rd Battalion remained to continue the attack on Mount Nebbione, the last German defense just south of Aulla.

K Company struck at the ridge between Posterla and Tendola to the north.  On April 22, K Company hit Tendola with all three platoons, two from the north and one from the south.  The firefight lasted all day and into the night.  The next day, Mount Nebbione fell.

Pfc. Thomos Tamotsu Kuge was killed at Tendola on April 22, 1945.  The field hospital report states that he was hit in the abdominal area.  He was buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Castelfiorentino.

After these battles, the 442nd moved farther north, finally taking Aulla on April 25, penetrating as far north as Torino.  The 442nd relentlessly pursued their diversionary attack, 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.

For his World War II service, Pfc. Thomas T. Kuge was awarded:  the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, 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.

While Toshiaki Kuge was in Italy during the occupation, he visited his brother’s grave at Castelfiorentino Cemetery several times.  After his Memorial Day visit in May 1945, he wrote to his family:

I put the lone carnation there especially for Tom, from all of us.

Above:  His brother Toshiaki on a visit to Tom’s grave, 1945

Upon learning of their son’s death, his family held a memorial service for him at Minidoka where they were incarcerated.

On February 7, 1948, a notice was printed in the Northwest Times in Seattle, Washington, that according to the Red Cross, the Army Quartermaster General’s office was seeking the whereabouts of the families of seven Nisei soldiers killed overseas.  The families had messages to be delivered by the Army.  All inquiries were to be directed to the Home Service Inquiry Supervisor’s office at the Red Cross in San Francisco, California.

In 1948, when the US began closing many of the overseas military cemeteries, families were given the choice of having their loved one reburied in one of the remaining cemeteries or returned home.  The Kuge family chose to have their son returned to the US.

Private Thomas T. Kuge was buried at Arlington National Cemetery at 2:00 p.m. on March 28, 1949, Section 314, Grave 3950.  His family traveled from Chicago to attend.  Funeral arrangements were made by the Washington Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Arlington Committee.

On October 30, 1949, the JACL hosted the first Nisei Memorial Day service held at Arlington Cemetery.  Pfc. Kuge was among the fifteen Nisei war dead to be honored at the ceremony.

Always my hero, Uncle Tommie was an All-American boy in 1941. Strong, courageous and loyal, he joined the 442nd towards liberty for all, Carole Kuge Kawamura said. This Memorial Day I’m grateful for my uncles Tak, Toshi and Thomas Kuge with the 442nd and their younger brothers Chosei, Seigi, and Kingo Kuge.

On December 18, 1956, Tom’s widowed mother, Takaye Kuge, became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

His brother Second Lieutenant Toshiaki Kuge served in the Medical Detachment, 442nd RCT.

Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2023.

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