Matchbox with Shrapnel on Display at the National Museum of the U.S. Army
Executive Director, National
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
They called him “Chicken,” a childhood nickname, for most of his life. But Takeichi Miyashiro’s character on the battlefield proved that his nickname could not be farther from the truth based on his acts of bravery and leadership during World War II.
Awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Distinguished Unit Badge, Medaglia al Valore Militare (Italy), Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Purple Heart (this last honor thrice) for extraordinary heroism and wounds suffered in combat, Miyashiro received a field commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the 100th Infantry Battalion and came home with a matchbox “souvenir” filled with fragments of a .30-06 Springfield cartridge removed from his wound from fighting near Biffontaine, France.
This diminutive matchbox would signify the end of his military career yet serve as a proud reminder of his legacy for generations to come. It is one of many personal items curated by the National Veterans Network (nationalveteransnetwork.com), working with the National Museum of the U.S. Army (thenmusa.org) in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, to reach out, research and create the historical content of the Nisei Soldier collection. The museum will tell the comprehensive story of America’s oldest military service, the United States Army, including the significant role of Japanese American soldiers during World War II.
Miyashiro’s story is about the values of respect, perseverance and selfless service that took him from Kohala on Hawai‘i island to a decorated career in the Army. And he emulated these values until his passing at age 89 in 2003.
Born in 1914 as the second of seven children, Miyashiro lost his father at the young age of 12. His mother, a homemaker, was left to struggle as a widow, tending the family garden, raising chickens and collecting table scraps from neighbors to feed their pigs. She made sure that — while the children lived a hard life growing up — they never went hungry. Miyashiro attended Hilo High School, playing every sport imaginable: football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and track.
Excelling at athletics, he was drafted into the Army in December 1940, thinking he would be out in a year. Upon induction into the Army, he was sent to Moloka‘i where he joined the 299th Infantry and where he was stationed on Dec. 7, 1941. During his service on Moloka‘i, Miyashiro was promoted to the rank of sergeant and he met his lifelong friend (future U.S. Sen.) Spark Matsunaga. Not long after the Pearl Harbor attack, men from Moloka’i’s 299th Infantry were sent to O‘ahu to join the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion. In June 1942, Miyashiro was among the Hawai‘i soldiers who sailed to the mainland to form the 100th Infantry Battalion.
Dispatched to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, Miyashiro trained in frigid weather, marching for hours in the ice and snow, conditioning his warm-weather body for harsh conditions. Priding himself on never being sick, he showed up for duty without missing a day and gave lectures on how to take apart and reassemble the M1 rifle. From there, he was sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, then on to New Jersey and North Africa. It was during this long sea passage that he committed to memory the Lord’s Prayer, which he later found himself praying on the front lines for comfort.
Miyashiro fought in many battles. As one example, while an officer assigned to Charlie Company, 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, he distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on July 8, 1944, near Castellina, Italy. In a dawn attack, Miyashiro led his platoon through a minefield, surprised the Germans and evacuated a strategic hilltop farmhouse filled with snipers and a machine gun.
As they watched the Germans coming up the hill to regain control of the farmhouse, Miyashiro had his men go to the basement as he and another soldier laid in wait on the second floor. It was not until the Germans were 10 yards in front of the house before the pair started shooting, causing the Germans to back off and then resume the attack utilizing bombs with mortars. The pair again waited for the Germans to approach the house and then fired again at short range – the first time Miyashiro had ever killed an enemy up close. The battle grew intense as the Germans tried unsuccessfully four times to get the house back. But they never did. For his leadership and bravery in fending off the enemy and securing the house, Miyashiro was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for stopping the counterattack.
Finally, in what would be his final mission of combat duty, Miyashiro and his platoon advanced into Biffontaine, France, facing German resistance and heavy fire from Germans hiding in buildings. As he gave orders to his men on where to go, hide and shoot, he was hit by a German sniper; the bullet hit a magazine full of bullets on his bandolier which exploded, blowing a hole in his hip and cutting his hand. This injury would eventually earn him his third Purple Heart and end his service on the battlefield.
But first, the Americans fought off the Germans and rounded up their soldiers as prisoners of war. These POWs carried him and several others on a litter (stretcher) as they started their trip back to the aid station. Miyashiro had always ordered his men to treat the German prisoners with respect. On the way, they encountered a German patrol, and the tables turned.
Now the captors became the captured. Yet the Germans carried Miyashiro to a German medical checkpoint where they provided aid and tended to his wound. First, a German doctor put gauze in the hole of his upper leg. Then he was sent to a recuperation area in a small school where a German nurse tended to him. She noticed the wound was oozing pus and that he was feverish.
He was placed back on a wagon, then onto a train. At the other end, an X-ray machine and doctor were waiting in a church to get a closer look at the infection. The doctor turned out to be a captured British ophthalmologist who reviewed the X-ray and operated twice to remove pieces of the M1 clip, bullets and shell casings. He saved all the extracted pieces and placed them in the matchbox that now resides at the National Museum of the U.S. Army. And it was this matchbox that would be taken out over the years for Miyashiro to tell his war story about how an ophthalmologist had saved his life.
From this intense experience, he learned that it would take a German nurse, a British ophthalmologist and a matchbox filled with shrapnel to sum up both the tragedy and humanity of war. Miyashiro would say: “What goes around, comes around” when referring to why he felt he was spared. By respecting the POWs and treating them well, he made sure his men did not search and confiscate personal items from the men as war trophies. So it was no surprise that when he became their prisoner, the Germans showed mutual respect and left him with his wallet, GI watch and even candy in his pocket which he generously shared with families of soldiers in the German hospital where he had recovered.
After the war, he was humble and contrite; “War is gruesome, and I am lucky to be alive,” said Miyashiro.
In 1945, he left the Army as a 2nd lieutenant, married and lived a quiet life in Mänoa valley, raising three daughters: Nellis Kunieda, Allyn Horikoshi and Sonya Kuboyama. He also celebrated 50 years of marriage to his bride, Lorraine.
Miyashiro worked for Standard Oil Company for more than 30 years as a plant foreman. He never called in sick, as he knew what hard work was about from growing up with tremendous respect for his mother and understanding responsibility.
Serious about his Army training, he never missed a day of marching, becoming an outstanding soldier and leader. That translated into his effectiveness on the battlefield and the rapport he built with his men.
His daughter Sonya says, “Dad didn’t talk much about the war. He was a man of few words. But he was always kind, showed extraordinary respect and had a work ethic second to none.
“In his spare time, he would gather with other veterans at the 100th Infantry Clubhouse on Kamoku Street to talk story and catch up with old friends. He was so proud of the 100th Battalion.
“And now his WWII matchbox remains to proudly tell the story of his life and legacy during the war.”
The National Museum of the U.S. Army in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, was scheduled for a grand opening this past June. There is no set date for the postponed opening. Please visit the museum’s website, thenmusa.org, for updates.
Christine Sato-Yamazaki is the executive director of the National Veterans Network, a national consortium of Japanese American veteran and civic organizations and leaders in the United States. NVN is dedicated to preserve, educate and advocate about how Japanese American World War II nisei soldiers’ loyalty, courage and patriotism embody American values and can help to shape future decisions about justice and equality in a democracy. Since its inception, Christine has directed the organization’s strategy and presided over numerous nationwide projects resulting in grants, sponsorships and outreach to millions of people.