Wilfred Masaichi Taira

Wilfred Masaichi Taira
Technician 5th Grade
442nd Regimental Combat Team
Medical Detachment (E Company)

Wilfred Masaichi Taira was born on September 11, 1920, in Hakalau, Hilo District, Hawaii island, Territory of Hawaii.  He was the son of Kame and Kamato (Uehara) Taira, who emigrated from Shimajiro District, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in 1907 and 1913, respectively.  They were married in Honolulu in 1914.  There were twelve children in the Taira family:  sons Wilfred Masaichi, Masaru, Walter T., Richard S., and Harry S.; and daughters Hatsue, Mary Ann Masako, Kimie (died young), Chiyoko, Haruno, Jane Miyoko, and Blanche Sueko.

By 1930, the family had moved to Honolulu and lived on Robello Lane.  Father Kame was a baker at a bakery shop.  By 1940, the family was living at 680 North King Street and Kame was the proprietor of Palama Bakery.  He later also owned Palama Hot Dog Shop.  Wilfred Masaichi was employed as a radio apprentice at a retail radio appliance shop.

Wilfred signed his draft registration card on February 14, 1942, Local Board No. 6, at the National Guard Armory at Hotel and Miller Streets.  He lived with his family at 680 North King Street.  He was employed at the Lihiliho Medical Service Unit at 9th and Maunaloa Avenue, and Dr. Robert Y. Katsuki was listed as his employer and point of contact.  He was 5’5” tall and weighed 125 pounds.

On March 25, 1943, Taira enlisted in the U.S. Army.  His occupation was “Semi-skilled mechanic and repairman, motor vehicles.”  He had completed one year of high school.  Taira was sent to the “tent city,” nicknamed Boom Town, at Schofield Barracks.  His brother Masaru enlisted the same day.  Their parents had a photograph taken with them at a studio in Honolulu at the time of their enlistment.

Taira family in 1943 – Father Kame, Masaru, Wilfred, and mother Kamato, with youngest child, Blanche

The 442nd volunteers sailed on April 4 on the S.S. Lurline for Oakland, California, where they were sent on a train trip across the US.  They arrived at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where they were assigned to their units.  Private Taira was assigned as a Medic and served with E Company.

After a year of basic and specialized training and field maneuvers, the 442nd left by train for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on April 22, 1944.  On May 2, they left from nearby Hampton Roads in a convoy of about 100 ships, and arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28.

The Combat Team spent a week at a staging area in nearby Bagnoli before leaving on LSTs for the recently freed Anzio beachhead on June 6, where they marched five miles to a bivouac area.  From Anzio, the 442nd went by truck convoy around Rome to a larger bivouac area at Civitavecchia, where they went through additional training and final preparations for going to the front lines.  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.

In September, the 442nd was sent to fight in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign in northeast France.  They arrived at Marseilles on September 30 and spent a week in bivouac near Septèmes before being transported by rail boxcars and trucks nearly 500 miles north to the Vosges Mountains.

On October 14, 1944, the 442nd began moving into position in the late afternoon preparing for the assault on the German-held hills surrounding the important rail and road junction of Bruyères.  The 442nd had named these Hills A, B, C, and D.  Each hill was heavily defended by the Germans, as each was key to taking and securing the town.  Hill A was located northwest of Bruyères, Hill B to the north, Hill C northeast, and Hill D to the east.  The Combat Team – still in their summer uniforms – faced cold, dense fog, mud, heavy rain, heavily forested hills, and intense enemy gunfire and artillery, while moving through the Vosges.  Hitler had ordered the German frontline to fight at all costs, as this was the last barrier between the Allied forces and Germany.  On October 15, 1944, the 442nd began its attack on Bruyères.  The 100th Battalion moved on Hill A, which was held by the SS Polizei Regiment 19, as Taira’s 2nd Battalion moved in on Hill B.  Third Battalion’s objective was to take Bruyères.

On October 18, the 442nd liberated Bruyères.  The next day, the following action took place:

…while serving with the Medical Detachment, 442d Regimental Combat Team, in action against the enemy near Bruyères, France, on 19 October 1944.  As the second platoon of Company E crossed a high railroad embankment in an attack on the enemy, the men were met by a fierce burst of machine gun and small arms fire which stopped their assault with five casualties.  Technician Fifth Grade Taira, attached as a medical aid man, fearlessly left the cover of the high embankment to give aid to the wounded men.  Working his way through heavy enemy fire aimed directly at him, he quickly treated each of the five injured men and, realizing that three were in need of prompt evacuation, he carried the nearest patient over the embankment to safety.  Returning a second and third time, under the unabated enemy fire, he was able to successfully evacuate the other seriously wounded men.

For his actions on that day, T/5 Wilfred M. Taira was awarded the Silver Star according to Headquarters, Sixth Army Group, General Orders No. 7, on January 29, 1945.

After the fierce fighting in the Vosges, which included the rescue of the “lost battalion” – the 1st Battalion of the 141st (Texas) Infantry, the 442nd was below combat strength due to heavy casualties.  They were therefore sent to southern France to fight in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign.  This was mostly a defensive position to guard against German intrusion at the border with Italy.

On March 20 to 22, 1945, the 442nd returned to Italy for the Po Valley Campaign.  On April 5, the Combat Team set off in the mountainous area of the west coast of Italy with the mission of cracking the western anchor of the Gothic Line.  In what was ordered as a diversionary attack to draw off critical German army units from the Gothic Line center, the 442nd RCT rapidly crushed the German defenses, and continued on the attack, turning the planned diversion into a full-scale breakthrough of the vaunted Gothic Line, liberating the west of Italy all the way to Turin.  Taira fought in this campaign.  Sometime during April, he was wounded by artillery shrapnel in his arm.  He was treated at the field aid station and returned to duty.

After the surrender of the German Army in Italy on May 2, 1945, Taira remained during the occupation – at Nove Ligure, Ghedi Airfield (processing German prisoners), Lecco, and the Livorno area.

On December 17, 1945, he was among 551 returning veterans who arrived aboard the USAT Aconcagua at Honolulu, docking at Pier 26 at 8:00 a.m.  The ship was met by a large throng of family and friends who had come with lei and gifts.  However, they were roped off from the pier and the soldiers were whisked away in Army trucks to Fort Kamehameha for processing prior to discharge in the coming days.

For his military service in World War II, Tec/5 Wilfred M. Taira was awarded the:  Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, 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 with one bronze star, and Combat Medical 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.

Above:  A group of 442nd Veterans with Gen. Mark R. Clark on his visit to Hawaii in January 1948 to activate 30 reserve units; Taira is on the far right

On September 12, 1947, the 442nd Medics Club of the 442nd Veterans Club was formed in Honolulu.  Taira was elected Vice President. 

Tsutoe Taira c. 2010

On August 21, 1948, he married Tsutoe Takara in Honolulu.  At the time, his address was 680 North King Street, and hers was 919 Hikina Lane.  Tsutoe was from Maukaloa Camp, Pepeekeo, Hawaii island.  By 1950, they were living with their first child at 919 Hikina Lane.  Wilfred was employed as a mechanic at an auto mechanic shop.  On September 2, 1953, he was listed in the Honolulu Advertiser as one of 53 new licensed real estate salesmen.  Over the years, the couple raised a family of three sons and three daughters.  He also began work as an airplane mechanic with Aloha Airlines and worked there until his retirement.

Wilfred Masaichi Taira died on December 31, 2011.  He was buried in the family plot with his parents and brother Masaru at the Moiliili Japanese Cemetery, Section B, Site 179e.  His wife, Tsutoe, died on August 23, 2018, and was buried next to her husband.  They were survived by six children, ten grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

His brother Masaru Taira served in the 442nd RCT, L Company.

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

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