Homage to the 442nd RCT
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Writer’s note: I was inspired to write “Ballad of Belvedere” because I was teaching the ballad form to my graduate students at Oregon and had not read one I liked myself. I thought of the tradition of dialect in English and Scottish ballads, Appalachian songs, African American blues and ballads, Mexican corridos, and thought I might try one in Pidgin. I remembered my 2012 visit to the fortress of Belvedere in Tuscany, the landscape surrounding it, and reading up on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s battle there in 1944 against the German stronghold. My uncle Manabu Hongo had been a soldier in the 100th Infantry Battalion who was wounded at Monte Cassino crossing the Rapido River on the way back from a night patrol that scouted German gun emplacements in the abbey ahead of the allies bombing it. He had told me of the fighting from Africa through Sicily and “up the boot” and his deep regret that he was in a hospital recovering as the 100th/442nd fought their way from Suvereto to Pisa that summer of 1944.
We stay pin down by Wehrmacht cannon.
From above we say attack dem.
Was one silent march to Kingdom Come —
Had to bushwhack behin’ da mountain.
We was one regiment of men
From camp, from sugar fields.
We went go slow and took whole night.
All silence, eh? War come more real.
Went charge da ramparts at daybreak,
Us guys from Company B.
We open fire, shed German blood.
Nazis go fall like leaves.
None alert to sound da alarm.
Dose still alive scatter far.
We take down da swastika flag.
On da castle we went put ours.
Over da mountain, in twilight,
Da moon go rise — took watch.
One mortar make dakine flight
Across da sky like one blood splotch.
In one field below da fortress,
We assemble dose still yet get life.
We pass out rations, cigarettes.
Dere faces stay surprised.
Bumbye, it start hard for rain.
More worse, us guys hold watch.
We scared more go’n’ come back attack,
And puka us fresh bloodstains.
Our wounded, our dying, our friends
Call Namida! from wet bunks.
Da sun, da moon go rise again.
Us living give ‘em t’anks.
Not many lef’ for remember
We fought for prove ourselves.
For funeral we stan’ in honor.
Ass how we care each oddah.
T’ousands maké — we aged few
Jus’ now stay near da groun’.
On grass we j’like dew.
Us guys for sing out loud.
Garrett Hongo, a Yonsei, was born in Volcano, Hawai‘i, and grew up on the North Shore of O‘ahu and in Los Angeles. His most recent book is “The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo” (Pantheon, 2022). Others are “The Mirror Diary: Selected Essays” (University of Michigan Press, 2017) and “Coral Road: Poems” (Knopf, 2011). Currently, he’s at work on “The Ocean of Clouds” (poems). He teaches at the University of Oregon, where he is Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences.