442nd RCT to Celebrate 75th Anniversary of Unit’s Formation
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
When I was a little girl growing up in newly developed Käne‘ohe, I used to play “army” with the boys in the neighborhood. We would play in our neighbors’ backyards and down the dead-end street (now called a cul-de-sac) that led to the stream where a scary hermit lived, or so we believed. I was the only girl on the street at the time, so the boys always had me play the role of the nurse. I didn’t like that. I wanted to be a soldier. The only time I didn’t mind being the female was when I had my imaginary family and played mamangoto all by myself in a house made of cardboard boxes and those old wooden carpenter’s “horses” in our backyard. I could play there for hours and hours with my dolls and plastic dishes . . . until I heard the boys playing “army” next door. That’s when I would run and get my younger brother’s wooden Davy Crockett rifle and take off to play war.
Fast-forward several years to the days when black-and-white television became our obsession. After school, many children waited for 4 o’clock when “The Lone Ranger” came on. I, however, was hooked on World War II television shows. I couldn’t miss a single episode of “12 O’Clock High,” “Combat” and “The Gallant Men.” Later, shows like “Convoy” introduced me to the handsome and unforgettable John Gavin, and “The Rat Patrol” and “Garrison’s Gorillas,” all of which convinced me that America had won the war with only haole (Caucasian) men — and handsome ones at that! Now I wonder what my father thought of those TV shows as he watched them with me without commenting, only laughing from time to time.
All these decades later, I’m still hooked on war stories, but now, I’m mainly interested in documentaries and wartime historical dramas made as movies.
As a youngster, I never realized that we had a hero in our own home, even if we went to 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, B Battery (my dad’s unit) Christmas parties, picnics and softball games. Even when Dad’s service buddies from all walks of life came over for pupu and beer in our garage, I never thought of them as World War II “heroes.” They were just my “uncles” with whom I had grown up — uncles who always called out for me to bring them more beer and peanuts. They were always joking around and laughing and it was obvious that whether one was a court judge, a politician, a plumber or an electrician, they were buddies for life and everyone was “same, same.”
Many of the Sansei children of my dad’s buddies say the same thing I do: Our dads never talked about their service to our country. To me, they were the most modest, unassuming, lighthearted, genuine group of men — the likes of which we will probably never see again.
If there is anything I regret in my life, it is that I never asked my dad about his service during the war, nor thanked him for it. However, I am happy that I had a chance to thank him for being a good father and acknowledged his struggles when he chose to adopt me and my older sister and brother when he married my mom and gave us his name. His buddies were there to help him when he gained an instant family upon marrying at the age of 29. But that’s a story for another time . . .
It has been 12 years now since my dad passed away. He was 86 years old when he passed. Since then, I have come to better appreciate the legacy of the 442nd/100th Infantry Battalion/Military Intelligence Service and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion and their contributions to each of our families, the local community and to America. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their heroism, which made it possible for all Japanese Americans to hold their heads up high after the war, despite lingering prejudice in America. Their homegrown values, taught to them by their Issei parents, and their “Go for Broke” spirit, gave us the gift of a solid foundation upon which we could build our own lives.
I realize that not all descendants had as good a life with their dads as I did. I have friends who say they never really knew their dad — that he was often emotionally detached, sometimes mentally and physically abusive from drinking too much and absent much of the time from home. Now that I understand what our Nisei soldiers went through before, during and after the war, I think those who suffered in silence and withdrew from acceptable behavior did not seek help. They struggled on their own from what we today know of as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Some drank to ease the horrors of war and did not want to be called heroes. Those men never came to a 442 event, much less looked forward to reunions. Their buddies understood, though, and accepted them as they were. Today, though, we welcome their descendants to join us.
Most of our Nisei soldiers have gone to be with others of their generation at their eternal resting place. But there are more than a few still amongst us who attend our informal luncheons and small gatherings, play a mean game of BINGO and enjoy shooting the breeze with their buddies. Some still travel to their favorite “ninth island.”
I feel fortunate that our 522 B Battery ‘ohana, led by president Phyllis Hironaka, daughter of the late Sam Hironaka, who was once president of the 442nd Veterans Club, brings us together quarterly to socialize and talk story and learn more about our fathers’ exploits during the war.
On one occasion, I learned from my dad’s longtime buddy, Rocky Tanna, about the time near the end of the war, when he and Dad rode together in a jeep to one of Hitler’s homes in Germany. They actually went in and searched the home. (The two books about Adolf Hitler that we found among my dad’s possessions likely came from that search. They are written in German with amazing detachable black and white photos that are in great condition.)
The 522nd FAB was the only 442nd unit to enter Germany, while the other Nisei soldiers went on furlough to Italy after fighting one of the fiercest battles in the Vosges Mountains of northeastern France. The 522 was well known to the generals leading the troops in Europe. Reportedly, the high-ranking officers all wanted them because of their reputation as a crack unit with amazing accuracy. I never knew that my dad was in Germany, nor that he had entered Hitler’s home and that he had helped free concentration camp prisoners as they left Dachau’s sub-camps. Yes, I wish I had spent more time talking story with my dad about his own wartime experiences, rather than looking to television shows like “Combat” for my heroes.
This year, the 442nd RCT is commemorating its 75th anniversary with a grand banquet on Sunday, March 18, themed, “Celebrating with Gratitude and Pride.” We are inviting the entire Japanese American community and others in Hawai‘i to celebrate with us and to bring along the younger generation to meet these great American heroes.
Please join us at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel for the festivities, which begin at 10 a.m. Descendants will present a special monologue on stage titled “Okage Sama De, Grandpa.” The U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division Paradise Brass will provide the prelude music and the luncheon entertainment will feature the descendants. There will be exhibits in the foyer and logo items and books about the Nisei veterans available for purchase. The public is invited.
For this special 75th anniversary, we are inviting one descendant of a deceased 442nd veteran to walk in the formal procession holding an 8×10 framed photograph of their special 442nd veteran. She or he will be accompanying a veteran and the company guidon bearer from his unit as they enter the ballroom. If you would like to participate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-9374.
All Nisei veterans, their wives and widows will be our guests for this milestone anniversary event. For all others, the cost of the lunch is $75. For further information, please contact the 442nd Veterans Club at (808) 949-7997, or visit www.442sd.org.
Let’s “Go for Broke” one more time for this special group of American heroes!
Gwen Fujie is the daughter of the late Toshio (“Bulldog”) Nishizawa and the late Beatrice Higa Nishizawa. She formed her professional speaking business, Gwen Fujie Keynotes & Seminars in 2001 and volunteers with the 442 RCT Legacy Center, Sons & Daughters of the 442 RCT, Nisei Veterans Legacy and the Hawaii United Okinawa Association.