Four World War II Nisei Veterans Awarded French Legion of Honor Medal
Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
It’s been nearly three-quarters of a century since the Nisei soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were engaged in one of the most vicious battles of World War II to liberate France. Despite the passage of those many decades, Guillaume Maman, honorary consul of France in Hawai‘i, assured them that “France will never forget you. We are forever grateful for your courage, your sacrifice and your valor.”
Since 2004, when 442nd veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Barney Hajiro was bestowed the rank of chevalier, or knight, 91 members of the 442nd RCT and the 100th Battalion have received the Legion of Honor medal and rank. It is France’s highest civilian award, honoring military and civilian excellence.
On Sept. 21, three more 442nd RCT and 100th Battalion veterans were presented the medal in a ceremony at the State Capitol. Maman presented the medals to Harold Zenyei Afuso, H Company, 2nd Battalion; and Futao “Gunner” Terashima, I Company, 3rd Battalion. Also recognized was the late Tetsuo Tateishi, A Company, 100th Battalion, who died last year before the French government could approve his medal.
Earlier in the month, Maman pinned the medal on another 442nd veteran, Masa-
yoshi Nakamura, at his home in Kaimukï.
To qualify for the Legion of Honor medal, American veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes or Northern France. France does not approve applications posthumously, so the application must be filed while the veteran is still living. The screening process can take as long as a year because the French government meets only twice a year to review applications.
Jeff Morita, who has been assisting the Nisei soldiers and their families with the application process, said there are 16 outstanding requests from Hawai‘i — 14 from veterans residing in the Islands and two on the Mainland.
At the Sept. 21 ceremony in the House chambers, Maman called the Nisei soldiers “extraordinary men.” He noted that the 442nd was “a fighting unit composed almost entirely of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry who fought in World War II, despite the fact that many of their families were subject to internment.”
Maman added that the 100th Battalion was in combat for 20 months, from September 1943 until Germany surrendered in May 1945. “After five months, the 100th had suffered so many casualties that it was called ‘the Purple Heart Battalion.’ Even after merging with the 442nd, in Italy, it was so famous that it was granted the rare privilege of keeping its original name.”
Maman said the people of France have not forgotten the Nisei soldiers. “Their children, like me, have not forgotten. Their grandchildren, like my son, have not forgotten. France will never forget,” Maman said.
“Thanks to you, personally, people of my generation and future generations are allowed to grow up in a free country, as we know that in the darkest hours of our history, you were there by our side,” Maman told the men.
All four soldiers participated in the liberation of the northeastern French towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine-Belmont in October 1944 and the rescue of the Texas 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, in the Vosges Mountains. After the war, Bruyeres and Honolulu became sister-cities.
Like many of their Nisei comrades, the veterans said little about the war, let alone their own deeds.
Nakamura, 96; Afuso, 92; and Terashima, 95, said they were honored by the recognition.
Nakamura’s son-in-law, Brian Nakagawa, described his father-in-law as a “very humble guy” who was very appreciative of the recognition.
As Maman pinned the medal onto his black sweater, Terashima, in a soft voice, thanked the French consul.
Pvt. 1st Class Harold Afuso was born in Pu‘ukoli‘i, Maui, in 1924 — the fifth of 10 children. He was forced to leave Lahainaluna High School in the ninth grade to help earn money for his family after his older brother died. He enlisted in Army in March 1943. After being wounded in Italy, Afuso returned to his unit, only to be wounded again by artillery shrapnel from a tree burst following the rescue of the Texas “Lost Battalion.”
Afuso’s daughter, Carol Chang, said there are only two members of her father’s H Company still alive today. Chang said her father never returned to the French battlefields in the Vosges Mountains.
After the war, Afuso worked as a federal security guard and eventually became a federal firefighter at Hickam Air Force Base, retiring in September 1973 after 30 years of service.
Pvt. 1st Class Futao Terashima was born in Waialua, O‘ahu — one of five children — and graduated from Waialua High School in 1939. He enlisted in the Army in 1943 after working at Waialua Agricultural Co. and the federal government. Terashima was wounded by artillery shrapnel during the rescue of the “Lost Battalion.” After being treated, he rejoined his unit and was wounded again, twice, in Italy. After the war, Terashima worked for the Army at Fort Shafter until he retired.
Of the four veterans presented awards, only Pvt. 1st Class Tetsuo Tateishi’s was awarded posthumously. Tateishi died last year. He was an original member of the 100th Battalion, assigned to E Company, and later transferred to A Company. He received two Purple Hearts while fighting in Italy. After the war he worked as a construction clerk.
Tateishi’s son, Dale, represented his father at the ceremony. He said his father rarely talked about his experiences during the war. “He was a typical Nisei who never talked about the war, but I know he would be very proud.” Dale said his father applied for the medal in July 2016, but died three months later.