Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
The 80th Anniversary Committee of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans organization compiled a list of known survivors here and on the mainland who served in the World War II 100th Infantry Battalion. With this publication there are 12 known surviving Nisei warriors – nine in Hawai‘i and three on the mainland. Working with the committee here and the Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles, The Hawai‘i Herald tried to reach the 12. Four of the 100th Infantry Battalion veterans’ families lost everything when they were among the 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans who were forced to leave their homes and imprisoned behind barbed wire fences. A few 100th Infantry Battalion veterans chose not to participate in this interview. Some were never located. These are their stories and their photos (provided by their families).
The formation of the Army’s segregated 100th Infantry Battalion 80 years ago is a story of boys who went to war and after they returned changed the fabric of Hawai‘i. Many are gone and their stories are losing a battle with time, the battle to preserve their legacy. Their story is powerful – filled with the fight against racial prejudice and war hysteria, the loss of civil liberties and the failure of political leadership.
Historian Thomas Murphy, in his 1954 book “Ambassadors in Arms,” said at least 95% of the original members of the “Hawaii Battalion” were sons of immigrants. “Some 35% were dual citizens and about 2% were ‘Kibei,’” — born in America, but educated in Japan. The unit earned the distinction of the “Purple Heart Battalion” with 1,703 Purple Heart medals, eight Medals of Honor, 17 Distinguished Service Crosses and 147 Silver Stars. Four were captured by the Germans and two died in German POW camps. It was the first Japanese American unit to face combat in Europe in World War II.
Of the 3,147 Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) warriors who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion, (nicknamed “One Puka Puka”) and who fought in North Africa, Italy, and France from September 1943 to May 1945, only a very few remain – all of them pushing the century mark. The records of the 100th Infantry Battalion show that of 3,147 soldiers, 15% were from the mainland.
Janice Sakoda, a member of the planning committee, said: “The 80th Anniversary Committee believes it’s important for our community to know about the men of the 100th because these men — many from humble beginnings — performed exceedingly well and sacrificed much, both during and after the war. They were able to accomplish much despite adversity, prejudice, and many other challenges to change their lives politically, socially and economically. We’re hoping that the community, in particular the youth, will learn that despite their personal adversities, prejudice, and other challenges they are faced with, they too can overcome through perseverance, by doing their best, and even through sacrifice.”
“We are all Hawaiian at heart,” historian and journalist Tom Coffman quotes 100th Infantry Battalion soldier Sgt. (later lieutenant) Conrad Tsukayama in his 2022 book “Inclusion.” “The basic ‘ohana (family) spirit came from Native Hawaiian people, an ethnic group filled with genuine aloha, the magic ingredient that brought together the hearts of all the oppressed immigrants’ sons.
“We carried this spirit of aloha wherever we went,” said Tsukayama who was a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion’s D Company and in September 1943 became the 100th Infantry Battalion’s first casualty when he was injured by a mine. He left the hospital without being discharged just so he could be with his comrades.
The Nisei soldiers had been members of the multi-cultural Territorial pre-war Hawaii National Guard’s 298th Infantry Regiment with soldiers from O‘ahu and the Neighbor Islands’ 299th Infantry Regiment, as well as activated reservists. But only the Nisei soldiers were transferred to the newly created Hawaii Provisional Infantry Battalion because the government didn’t know what to do with the Japanese Americans at the start of the war in the Pacific. Before the soldiers disembarked in Oakland on June 12, 1942, for training in Wisconsin, it was redesignated as the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). The 100th was not the only unit in the Army whose members were of the same ethnic stock – the 99th Infantry Battalion was predominantly Norwegian; the 101st Battalion was Austrian, and the 122nd Battalion was Greek, according to 100th Infantry Battalion veteran Jack Nakamura.
Edward Ikuma is believed to be the last surviving member of 1,432 Japanese American men of the Hawaii Provisional Infantry Battalion that snuck out of Honolulu at midnight on the eve of the battle for Midway Atoll in June 1942 aboard the S.S. Maui, a 25-year-old Matson steamer capable of carrying 1,650 passengers. There were few tearful farewells by family members since the soldiers left in secret because of the government’s fear of further attacks by the Japanese after its Dec. 7, 1941, raid on Pearl Harbor. Tsukayama recalled in the 1998 volume of “Japanese Eyes American Heart” there was “one elderly Japanese mother waving good-bye to us” when the train he was on left Schofield Barracks and “handful of Nisei girls waved from the pier as the SS Maui pulled away from the dock.”
Ikuma is 103 years old and has hearing problems. However, he recalls, with the help of his son, retired Cold War jet fighter pilot Navy Capt. Gary Ikuma, that when the provisional battalion shipped out, none of the men could say goodbye to friends and family. “No phone calls were allowed. It was such a secret that nobody even knew where they were going … (but) the soldiers were in good spirits and considered it an adventure.”
Having formed many close bonds in training camps and on the French and Italian battlefields, the Nisei warriors counted on each other for survival.
The war and the 100th Infantry Battalion, Capt. Ikuma believes, was “the most defining experience of [his] life.” He said his dad believes this because he served with the same soldiers through the entirety of World War II. “They served in combat for a very long time and, all the while, it was a matter of life and death. With so many casualties, soldiers never knew when their luck would run out. He formed many close bonds while in the 100th and the soldiers depended on each other for survival in combat.”
Capt. Ikuma continued to speak for his father and said: “As a soldier in the 100th, he felt a deep sense of obligation to his family, fellow soldiers and country; to serve with honor, and not bring shame, despite the dangers and hardships. He and his 100th comrades were determined to prove their loyalty to the country through perseverance and great sacrifice in combat.”
Don Matsuda, 97, lied about his age to join the 100th Infantry Battalion because “he wanted to join the fight against fascism,” according to his daughter, Mari Matsuda. Her father enlisted at age 17 while incarcerated at Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming. Since he was a replacement, “a baby sent to join much older, experienced guys,” she said, the older soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion took him under their wings. “He was a ‘kotonk’ (mainland born Japanese American) thrown in with pidgin talkers, and he came to love them … He loved the men who he believed saved his life, by teaching him to survive in combat.”
The training record of the 100th Infantry Battalion paved the way for the creation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — an Army unit comprised mainly of Nisei men from Hawai‘i and the mainland. In January 1942 the U.S. War Department’s organizational plan for the segregated unit specified that “all officers down to the company commander level were to be ‘white American citizens,’” according to “Unlikely Liberators,” published by the University of Hawai‘i Press in 1985 by Masayo Umezawa Duus. “The only exception was Capt. Pershing Nakada, commander of the 232nd Engineer Company.” Most of the platoon leaders were also Caucasian. In 1943 the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was created along with the reinstatement of the draft of Japanese American men a year later. In June 1944, the 100th Infantry Battalion was attached to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as the regiment’s 1st Battalion and was allowed to keep its designation, 100th, because of its outstanding record in combat. Together the unit achieved the accomplishment of being the most decorated Army unit for its size and duration of service.
Although there are many rosters and lists of the officers and enlisted men who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, there is no accounting of all of them after the regiment was demobilized and deactivated in August 1946. Many simply chose not to have anything to do with the war and simply faded into history.
For others, like Ikuma, they remained bonded and organized Club 100 and the 442nd Veterans Club with the two organizations becoming a meaningful part of their post-war lives. The Nisei veterans, and now their children, here and on the mainland, continue to keep their struggles and achievements alive.
Capt. Ikuma said “the 100th was still a big part of [his] father’s life, with club activities, and seeing and socializing with fellow 100th veterans. They had been through so much together during the war, and they stayed together afterwards.”
Sakoda said each chapter (of Club 100) used to keep in touch with the veterans (war buddies) but over the years, the “telephone tree” faded away. “Each chapter of Club 100 represented a company in the battalion during the war. There is only one chapter for neighbor island veterans because there were not enough of them from the same company to form individual chapters on each island.”
The veteran’s Club 100 was “intended to serve not only as a social and mutual assistance organization for its members and families, but as an association dedicated to promoting the unity and welfare of all the people of Hawai‘i,” Murphy wrote in his book on the 100th Infantry Battalion. To commemorate the battalion’s 10th anniversary and the construction of a new clubhouse near the Ala Wai canal, its members adopted the slogan “For Continuing Service,” Murphy wrote. The clubhouse property had been purchased using funds from a payroll deduction plan the soldiers had started while training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin.
Although Albert Matsumoto, 97, never served in combat, he still maintained close ties to his fellow 100th Infantry Battalion soldiers, according to his daughter Sheila Wakai. He joined the unit in 1945 and served for two years in Italy. Because he was divorced and lived alone in a condominium a block from the Club 100 clubhouse, Matsumoto looked forward to getting together daily with fellow veterans to have breakfast and spend the day. To show his devotion, Wakai said, her father paid for a lifetime membership for her, her sister and three grandchildren so they could help perpetuate the legacy of the 100th Infantry Battalion. “He feels it is important to continue the legacy of the 100th, and to continue utilizing the clubhouse,” Wakai said.
Takeshi Kawakami died at age 97 in Chicago on Jan. 23, 2021, just 17 days after his wife, whom he cared for as she suffered from dementia, passed away. Their daughter, Nancy van Tellingen, said her father was born in Hilo and volunteered on March 18, 1943, with his classmates and was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Company A. She said being Japanese, volunteering after Pearl Harbor was attacked seemed obligatory to them. Van Tellingen said her father called his soldier buddies “brothers.” She added: “During the war and after the war being
Japanese was no point of pride, they suffered prejudice on the battlefield and off. My father and his fellow soldiers were all they had to rely on, and they loved each other and would die helping each other.” When he got word that his platoon sergeant was dying, van Tellingen said, her father left his home in Chicago to sit with him and reminisce.
After the war the Nisei veterans took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights, which paid for tuition and provided a $750 a month stipend to attend the University of Hawai‘i and mainland colleges, becoming bankers, doctors, lawyers, educators and even politicians serving in Congress like 100th Infantry Battalion veteran U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga and 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldier U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. Other politicians included State Sens. Sakae Takahashi and Robert Taira, and state Rep. Howard Miyake, all of whom held elective offices as Democrats.
Mitch Maki, president and chief executive officer for the Los Angeles-based Go For Broke National Education Center, in a 2019 Hawai‘i Herald interview, said these Nisei soldiers came back to Hawai‘i “after the war, and after seeing the sacrifices of their buddies on the battlefield, they weren’t about to settle for second class status any longer.
“They took advantage of the GI Bill, and they became leaders in different domains … business, politics and education.” By helping it to become a state and then transforming it “into the state that it is today that can boast of having U.S. senators and governors and representatives, business leaders and educational leaders.”
Rikio Tsuda, 98, told The Hawai‘i Herald that he “volunteered to fight for our country because of [his] loyalty even though [they] were being treated like second-class citizens.” His brother Suemasa Stanley Tsuda, was already in the 100th Infantry Battalion when Rikio Tsuda volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on March 23, 1943.
Tsuda said he took a long time to decide his future after he was discharged in Honolulu on Jan. 4, 1946. Recalling the discrimination against Japanese Americans before the war started “and opportunities for bettering ourselves were very limited,” Tsuda used the GI bill to attend Honolulu Business College and worked at Hickam Air Force Base’s Military Airlift Command and retired after 35 years as an air traffic controller supervisor.
“I would like my family to be proud of the accomplishments of the Nisei,” said Tsuda.
A few 100th Infantry Battalion veterans like Lt. Col. Young Oak Kim and Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura served in combat again in the Korean War. Kim commanded the 1st Battalion and the 31st Infantry, becoming the first Asian American to command a battalion in combat. He also was awarded his second Silver Star medal. Miyamura, who arrived in Europe to join Company D as World War II ended, never saw combat. He transferred to the Army Reserve, was called to active duty during the Korean War, and received the Medal of Honor while serving with the 7th Infantry Regiment. Two other 100th Infantry Battalion veterans — Edward M. Yoshimasu and Francis Shigeo Takemoto — joined the Hawaii Army National Guard after they were discharged in 1946 and rose to become the first Japanese Americans to wear one star as a brigadier general. Both were wounded in Italy and were awarded Purple Heart medals.
The Army legacy of the 100th Infantry Battalion continues today as the only infantry battalion in the Army Reserve and still carries the blue regimental flag as the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Infantry Regiment at Fort Shafter. The World War II unit was reactivated in August 1947 as an Army Reserve unit. The reserve unit was activated for 19 months during the Vietnam War, but never left Hawai‘i. The 100th Infantry Battalion was called back into active service in 2004 and sent to Iraq. In 2008, the battalion was activated for the third time to provide security for convoys driving from Kuwait to Iraq.
However, Maki points out that the legacy of the 100th Infantry Battalion is more than a story, a history lesson, even a military lesson for World War II “buffs” or those purely interested in the military aspect of the story. “We have to treat this as an American story with lessons from the past that are relevant to today.”
Mari Matsuda, said her father, “because of the combat he saw, he is a strong advocate for peace,” marching against the war in Vietnam and against the war in Iraq. “He is a member of Veterans for Peace,” she said. “He loves soldiers, but he hates war.”
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service as a congressional correspondent and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter, and assistant city editor.
The remaining known surviving Nisei warriors:
Dr. Takashi “Taka” Manago, 98, was born in Captain Cook on Hawai‘i island, the fifth son of Kinzo and Osame Manago, the founders of Kona’s famous Manago Hotel. He attended University of Hawai‘i before he was drafted in 1944 with his two older brothers, joining the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Company A serving as a litter bearer in Italy. After the war ended, he reenlisted to attend military school in Florence. After his discharge, Manago graduated from Creighton College and Fairleigh Dickinson Dental School and established a dental practice in Honolulu. He lives in Wai‘alae Kāhala with his family.
Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, 96, was only 15 and living in Gallup, N.M. when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Miyamura was drafted on Feb. 29, 1944, and was assigned to Company D of the 100th Infantry Battalion. He arrived in Europe as the war ended and never saw combat but remained in the Army Reserve. He was called to active duty during the Korean War and served with the 7th Infantry Regiment. Miyamura was captured by the North Koreans on April 25, 1951 and was a prisoner of war for two years. Before he was captured, Miyamura fought off a night attack killing enemy soldiers with his bayonet and in hand-to-hand combat. His Medal of Honor citation said he personally killed 50 North Korean soldiers. His granddaughter, Marisa Miyamura, is an Air Force Academy graduate.
Masaharu “Bull” Saito declined to be interviewed for this story.
Joe Sugawara, 98, was born in Petaluma, Calif. and was sent to the incarceration camp at Amache in Colorado. His family was relocated to Cincinnati where he was drafted on April 26, 1944, and was a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Company C. Sugawara earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati after the war and worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 20 years. He retired in Hilo where his wife, a registered nurse, is from, fulfilling a promise he made when they were married in 1951.
Don S. Miyada, 97, was born in Oceanside, Calif. He and his brother were released from Poston incarceration camp in Arizona in January 1944 to work in a defense plant in Detroit. Miyada was drafted three months later and was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Company A. He participated in the campaign to breach Italy’s Gothic Line. After his discharge in 1946, Miyada earned his doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State University and was associate adjunct professor at the University of California, Irvine until his retirement in 1991. Miyada said he is “proud to be a part of a unit” that has such a distinguished record. He lives in Westminster, Calif.
Jack Seitoku Nakamura, 99, was born on Feb. 2, 1923, in Ewa Plantation and had earned the rank of Eagle Scout when the war began. He was 20-years-old when he volunteered to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team over his mother’s (Kame’s) objections because his oldest brother, Sonsei, was already in uniform. He was in the the second group of replacements from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was reassigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Company B where his older brother was already serving. Nakamura participated in four campaigns and was awarded two Purple Hearts. After Nakamura was discharged in 1945 he worked at Barbers Point Naval Air Station as an auditor. He lives in Pohai Nani’s Cottage care home in Kāne‘ohe.
Kazuto Shimizu, 97, was born in Pāhoa on Hawai‘i island and was inducted into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on March 27, 1943, in Hilo and assigned to F Company. Shimizu was in the “first replacement” group of 200 soldiers who joined the 100th in Benevento, assigned to Company C in Italy. He was discharged on Christmas Eve in 1945. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i with a degree in civil engineering he worked as a naval architect at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
Tokuji “Toke” Yoshihashi, 99, was born in Pasadena, Calif. He is a graduate of Pasadena Junior College. His family was sent to an incarceration camp in Gila River in Arizona after the Dec. 7 attack. He and his brother, Ichiro, were drafted into the Army in May 1944. Yoshihashi joined the 100th Infantry Battalion’s Company A in Epinal, France. After the war he worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He lives in San Gabriel, Calif.