On June 30, 1942, James Naomitsu Sakamoto signed his draft registration card at Honolulu’s National Guard Armory. He had graduated from McKinley High School the previous year and was a student at Honolulu Business College with a side job at Lewers & Cooke.
He was born on March 7, 1923, in Honolulu, one of seven children of Busuke and Kiyono (Orikasa) Sakamoto. His parents had arrived in 1907 and 1916, respectively, from Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. By 1940, Busuke was the proprietor of an express delivery company.
In high school, Sakamoto’s teacher was unable to pronounce his name Naomitsu. Consequently, he proclaimed that Sakamoto would be known as “Jimmy.” The name stuck, and years later, Jimmy legally adopted James as his first name.
When the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was activated on February 1, 1943, Sakamoto enlisted in the U.S. Army nearly two months later on March 30. He was sent to the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks with the other new soldiers. They left Honolulu on April 4 on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco. This was followed by a cross-county train trip to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Jimmy was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, where he was in the Communication Platoon’s Radio Section.
After nearly a year, the 442nd RCT left by train from Camp Shelby on April 22, 1944, for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. On May 2, they sailed from nearby Hampton Roads in a large convoy of troop ships enroute to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. The 442nd RCT then arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28. However, once in the Mediterranean, the ship that carried most of Jimmy’s 2nd Battalion left the convoy and headed for port in Oran, Algeria. After offloading cargo, they rejoined the regiment in Italy on June 17.
The 442nd RCT with the 100th Infantry Battalion entered combat in the Rome-Arno Campaign eleven days later on June 26, 1944, near Suvereto. Jimmy’s Communication Platoon was always in danger from enemy fire as their duty was ensuring that frontline actions were coordinated with the battalion Command Post, which meant the perilous task of laying radio wire in the heat of battle.
After three months, the 442nd RCT was pulled from Italy and sent on Sept. 27 for Marseilles, France, to join in the Rhineland-Vosges Campaign. They were transported north to join the battle in the Vosges Mountains. From October through November, the 442nd RCT liberated the important road junction of Bruyères, followed by Biffontaine, and the famous “Rescue of the Lost Battalion.” Corporal Sakamoto was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for action on Oct. 17, 1944, during the five days of battle to take Bruyères. The citation read that he maintained “constant communication between advancing rifle companies and the rear command post of his battalion, although frequently subjected to enemy fire.”
After spending the winter in southern France during the mostly defensive Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaign, in late March 1945, the 442nd RCT returned to Italy for the Po Valley Campaign. During the rapidly moving battles to crack the western end of the enemy’s famous and seemingly impregnable Gothic Line, Technician 5th Grade Sakamoto earned a second Bronze Star Medal for his actions near Mount Belvedere and Castelpoggio. The citation stated that Sakamoto resupplied wire communications each time they were broken by enemy fire. Many times under hostile artillery and mortar barrages, he voluntarily stationed himself in exposed positions to maintain communications. For three successive days, in the vicinity of Mount Belvedere he operated his radio without relief. In addition, near Castelpoggio in mid-April, although armed with only his pistol, he personally captured an enemy artillery liaison officer who was hiding in a cemetery. This second Bronze Star was presented to Tec/5 Sakamoto in September 1945, during the occupation that followed the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945.
After serving in Italy for several months of occupation duty, Tec/5 James N. Sakamoto arrived home to Honolulu on Dec. 19, 1945, one of 567 war veterans aboard the Army troop ship USAT Evangeline. He was discharged on Jan. 5, 1946. Soon after, he left for New York to study radio and electronics at the RCA Institute. After returning home, he finally began his career at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in radio and electronics.
Sakamoto married Mitsue Kaneko on June 25, 1949. Over the years they raised a family of four children. In 1957, they moved to Pearl City, where he was active in the community, especially as a Little League Coach for his sons’ teams. In 1969, Sakamoto retired from the Naval Shipyard as a quarterman.
James Naomitsu Sakamoto died on August 5, 2011. He was inurned at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. His wife was later inurned with him. They are survived by four children and eight grandchildren.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and may not be used without their prior written permission.