Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
With the passing of Edward Yoshio Ikuma, the lone survivor of the “original 100th Infantry Battalion,” last month, the distinguished Army unit passes into history, but its legendary World War II combat record, story and legacy will live forever.
Ikuma, 103, was drafted into the Army on March 25, 1941 – nine months before Japan attacked the Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. He was initially assigned to A Company, 3rd Combat Engineers, 24th Infantry Division at Käne‘ohe Bay and Schofield Barracks, but at the outbreak of the Pacific war was reassigned in June 1942 to the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). Before his death on Aug. 21 at Maunalani Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Ikuma was believed to be the last surviving member of the 1,432 Japanese Americans who were transferred to the newly created Army unit because the U.S. government didn’t know what to do with the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) soldiers who were on active duty or were members of the territory’s Army National Guard when the bombs fell.
He was born in Waikïkï in 1919. His parents were Yorio Ikuma and Yoshiko Tamara, who were both from Hiroshima. Ikuma lost his mother when he was 14. His grandfather, Kinai Ikuma, was a Shinto priest who was one of 1,800 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals in Hawai‘i who were incarcerated after the Pearl Harbor attack under Executive Order 9066. He was sent to an internment camp in New Mexico.
His son, retired Navy pilot Capt. Gary Ikuma, told The Hawai‘i Herald that “one of the defining experiences of his (Ed Ikuma’s) life was serving in the 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II. He was in the 100th Battalion from the beginning to the end – one of the so-called originals. He served in Headquarters Company. He fought in every battle of the 100th in Italy and France, including one of the epic battles of the war – Monte Cassino.”
Ikuma died on the 79th anniversary of the 100th Battalion’s departure from New York on the troop ship S.S. James Parker to Oran, French Algeria, in North Africa. It was the first Japanese American World War II unit to see combat, starting with Salerno, Italy in 1943. In 1944, the 100th Battalion was attached to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed mainly of Nisei who had volunteered from mainland concentration camps and the islands, and became the regiment’s first battalion.
Gary Ikuma said his father, who was wounded twice, didn’t think he would survive the war.
Through the rigors of training in mainland Army camps and on the battlefields of Italy and France, Ed Ikuma developed bonds with his fellow 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat soldiers who depended on each other for survival.
Gary Ikuma said his father’s life during the war and the 100th Battalion meant a lot to him because they served together in combat for a long time during a time of life and death. “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 to bring shame, despite the hardships and dangers.”
Sgt. Ikuma served for five years as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the message center in the communications center of Headquarters Company. His decorations include the Combat Infantry Badge, two Bronze Star and two Purple Heart medals. In 2014, Ikuma also was awarded the French Legion of Honor for participating in the liberation of France.
A day after he was discharged in October 1945 he worked as an electrician at Fort Shafter. He later became an electrical engineering technician with the Army Corps of Engineers Far East Division in Japan retiring in 1971.
In January 1946 he married Hazel Maeda of Maunaloa, Moloka‘i. The couple had four children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Hazel died in 2009.
Gary Ikuma said even after the war the 100th Battalion was an integral part of the lives of his father and other veterans through the formation of Club 100. The club began while the soldiers were in training with monthly contributions. “They (veterans of the 100th Battalion) had been through so much together, and they stayed together afterwards.”
His son also described him as an “avid golfer.” Most golfers go through life without ever getting a hole in one. “He had four.”
Of the 3,147 soldiers who served in the 100th Battalion from September 1943 to May 1945, there are only a dozen known remaining survivors here and on the mainland.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, congressional reporter for the Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C. and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.