Thomas Takashi Nakahara was born on February 16, 1923, in Pa‘auilo on the Big Island. His parents, Minezo and Kiyo (Kawamoto) Nakahara, arrived from Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, in 1894 and 1907, respectively. Minezo founded the first Japanese language school in Hawai’i – at Hakalau, where he also helped establish the Jodo Mission. There were four sons and four daughters in the family.
Nakahara registered for the draft on June 30, 1942. He worked at Kohala’s Union Mill and his father’s grocery store in Pa‘auilo. Upon enlisting in the Army on March 18, 1943, his mother gave him a traditional Japanese senninbari (a thousand-stitch belt for good luck). His father told him not to bring shame on their family, community or country – “If you’re going to die, die like a man.”
Nakahara was among the new soldiers who, on March 28, were given a farewell at Iolani Palace before departing on April 4 on the S.S. Lurline. At Camp Shelby, he was issued his dog tags labeled “P” for “Protestant,” although he had declared he was Buddhist. After assignment to G Company, he was reassigned – despite his protests – to the 442nd Medical Company and sent for training at the Surgical and Medical Technician School, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
His father, Minezo, was imprisoned in a POW camp in Hilo in 1943-1944, while a brother was imprisoned at Sand Island for two years. Nakahara complained about the unfairness of this to the 442nd chaplain, who was unable to help.
Nakahara left with the 442nd from Virginia and arrived at Naples on May 28, 1944. The 442nd entered combat on June 26 in the Rome-Arno Campaign. Nakahara later wrote: “I thought I was going to get killed that first day … The aid station was completely in chaos.” He told the company commander that he wanted to be a rifleman, but he was needed as the company’s aid man. Soon after the battle to take Hill 140, Nakahara suffered a minor leg wound. His platoon was soon asked to go on a combat patrol to Pisa. He volunteered to go with them. After the successful mission, the men were recommended for a Bronze Star, but they instead received a Divisional Meritorious Citation.
The 442nd left for France on Sept. 27, 1944, to participate in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. In October-November, the 442nd liberated the important transportation junction of Bruyères, followed by Belmont and Biffontaine and the famous “Rescue of the Lost Battalion.” Nakahara later wrote:
“[In Bruyères, we] were fighting in a forest with trees 60’ to 70’ high…Shrapnel rained down into the foxholes…there were no fall colors, only mud and snow. As we dug our foxholes, water oozed into the hole and we had to cut branches as matting to keep dry and warm…many of us felt the pain of trench foot. We never washed our faces, shaved or brushed our teeth.
The seriously wounded were carried on jeeps with two litters on each side and taken to the Division Field Hospital. I was wounded without knowing. I put my hand in my pants and when I pulled it out there was blood. Somebody wrote me up for a Silver Star … I felt deeply that it was these boys who were doing the fighting that deserved a much higher medal than I.”
Nakahara’s Silver Star citation stated: “Two men were seriously wounded and lay exposed to the enemy. Although Nakahara was wounded, he refused to go to the aid station and started to aid the two casualties in full view of the foe, who fired at him regardless of his Red Cross brassard.”
Following the Vosges, the 442nd was in the Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign in Southern France. They returned to Italy in March 1945, for the Po Valley Campaign. Nakahara later wrote: “We climbed this steep cliff in the night … We kept our noses to the ground and the boys had the whole ridge in control after 12 to 14 hours…[At one point, we] walked into a trap…We got caught in a triple crossfire and fifteen guys in my platoon died, with nine wounded.”
After the Germans surrendered in Italy on May 2, 1945, Nakahara wrote: “I felt sad thinking of all my comrades who died and wished they were with us to see the final outcome of victory and the glory.”
After arriving home to Hawai’i, Nakahara was discharged on Nov. 20, 1945. Despite wanting to become a doctor, he followed his father’s request to manage the family stores. He later went into the insurance business and became a real estate appraiser and realtor. He served as American Legion commander for Hawai’i, Tökyö, Okinawa and Guam.
Nakahara died on Nov. 14, 2004, in Pa‘auilo. He was survived by his wife, his daughter, and his son, who is a lifetime member of the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021 and may not be used without their prior permission. For the full bio, visit the 442nd Unit Roster at 442sd.org.