Editor’s note: The following two pieces were shared with the Herald by two subscribers from Hilo. We decided to save them and include them in this Big Island edition as “Your Story” contributions. Thank you to subscribers Walter Tachibana and Patsy Adachi for sharing them.
ONCE I HAD AN UNCLE
Walter S. Tachibana
In Honor of Mitsuo “Benty” Tachibana
Co. K, 3rd Bn, 442nd RCT
Once I had an uncle, but now he is no more;
A father of four and a husband to one.
Born in a Hakalau sugar plantation camp;
He was the youngest of three to my Aunty and Dad.
Raised in the camps, Pepe‘ekeo and ‘Amauulu Camp 1.
He grew up and played basketball with his Camp 1 pals.
Then came the 1943 call to serve the nation
And to save his people who were under suspicion.
The Second World War was a worldwide conflict
Against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Japanese Americans got locked up in “camps;”
That denied them their right as U.S. citizens.
But the AJAs responded magnificently, you see;
Ten thousand stepped forward when only 4,000 was needed.
The folks in ‘Amauulu sent off five of their sons,
To form the fighting infantry of the “442nd.”
On 27 March of 1943, assembled in historic Hilo Armory,
They were sworn in before hundreds of their moms and dads.
Then on sacred ‘Iolani Palace’s spacious grounds
The whole regiment formed, then marched to the troop ship.
Once on the Mainland, hidden in troop trains,
They went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to toughen for war.
In segregated towns of the Deepest South,
White lines had separated the Negroes from white areas.
When Nisei boys went to both areas for female dates,
They suddenly were ordered to stay only on the white side.
Entering frontline combat in Southern Italy
They could have been first to march into Rome.
But they were held back on purpose; you see,
Someone else got the nice publicity.
In October of 1944 came the order to fight
In the hilly lands of Southern France.
To the storied lands of the intriguing Cathars,
The peaceful people who really were Buddhists.
In Languedoc and sunny Provence once lived
A blooming, unique culture and civilization.
Roman soldiers, Palestine Jews and Germanic Visigoths
All came for peace, life and freedom.
But then in 1209 C.E. came Crusaders from Northern French lands;
For Christian Pope Innocent III couldn’t stand their “heretic” beliefs.
At Beziers, at Carcassonne, and at Toulouse, Cathars in the hundreds
Were defeated, tortured and massacred over 40 years.
From dear Languedoc, you see, came troubadours,
Who sang the praises of their secret sweethearts and also of Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist, but not the Christ.
Then, too, from Languedoc came the Knights of the First Crusade
And of the ideas of chivalry, courtly love, the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar.
Through such “Buddhist” lands did the Buddhist 442nd pass through
To rescue the “Lost Battalion,” (1st Battalion, 141st Regiment, Texas 36th Infantry Division)
In Eastern France’s Vosges Mountains, with the 100th Battalion on the right,
The 3rd Battalion in the middle, and the 2nd Battalion on the left.
The exhausted 442nd made their greatest
And pierced the enemy’s lines on 29 October 1944.
Two hundred eleven Texas boys were rescued there
But, oh, what a price was paid by the 442nd.
Over four hundred Nisei were killed or wounded
Every AJA lost someone he knew.
When later to give “thanks” to the 442nd, General Dahlquist was furious
Because only 26 came to his formal ceremony.
He scolded the 442nd colonel for such a poor showing;
In a sad voice, the colonel replied, “That’s all of K Company left, Sir.”
No AJA soldier was smiling, no one was grinning;
They were just too sad for the cost of their winning.
Then, back to northern Italy and the Po River Valley campaign,
The 442nd fought once again in a Cathar homeland.
When other U.S. units could not capture a hilltop position,
The 442nd was told to take it, but that it would be a week or month.
The 442nd took ropes and climbed the steepest cliff-side.
Men who lost their grip on the rope fell down in silence.
The others knew when it happened,
When they felt a rush of air brush by in the dark.
The hilltop that others had said would take weeks,
The 442nd did it in just 34 minutes.
These were the outstanding Yankee Samurai.
They who came from Hawai‘i’s plantation camps and the U.S. “concentration camps.”
Benty, being the youngest in his mortar squad,
He was always protected by his buddies.
Of the five volunteers who left ‘Amauulu
Only Takeo “Smokes” Sato failed to return home alive.
And he had lived just three houses uphill from Benty’s home.
Oh, I once had an uncle, a brave one was he;
His roots came from a land afar across the sea.
Fukushima had brave sons, who were teenagers, too;
The White Tiger Corps was loyal and true.
They faithfully served their Aizu cause and lord,
Just as Benty did for the red, white and blue.
He was in the Greatest Generation, you see,
They all sacrificed so much for you and me.
In the Spirit World of his Zen Buddhist calling
All know him now as Dai An Mando Koji.
On his long, solitary journey over the water
To the Spirit World, he will soon see his mom, dad, brothers and sister.
May he have a grand, happy family reunion there
Until next year, when they all return to us here.
Oh, I once had an uncle, and now he is gone
It was truly an honor to have had him in life.
Walter S. Tachibana is a retired high school history teacher and past president of the Hawai‘i-Shima Fukushima Kenjin Doshi Kai and Hilo Taishoji Soto Zen Temple. He is a former ‘Amauulu Camp 1 resident.