Saturday, May 27, 2006

Honoring "Mike" from the 'purple heart battalion' on Memorial Day:

Another example of American soldiers serving their country despite the added hardships of prejudice and racism is the story of the Nisei soldiers of the 447 RCT and the 100th Battalion. My girlfriend's grandfather ---we'll call him "Mike" because the family is still paranoid about the whole thing --- served in Italy during WWII from 1944 until 1946.

In 1942 at the age of 17 he, along with his mother, father and five siblings, were taken from their home in Fullerton California by the military and put into a concentration camp in Hila River, Arizona.

At the time, he was attending Fullerton High School and was on the football team. Neither he nor his still surviving sister will talk about the experience, but from what I've been able to find through government records online and from talking to him is this:

At some point in 1943 he and his brother Yo Yo were offered work outside the camp picking vegetables in Colorado. After some period of time he wound up in Kansas City working as a welder.

In January of 1944 he was drafted and inducted at Fort Leavenworth. (His brother was also drafted around the same time and served in the Navy.) Shortly afterwards he was sent to boot camp at Fort Shelby, Mississippi, where he said some of his fellow draftees did guard duty at a German POW camp.

He related the story to me of the SS prisoners there telling their captures that it was just a matter of time before Hitler sent their new "super bombers" over the Atlantic to flatten New York. (He still chuckles about that.)

After completing basic training in April he was shipped to Camp Patrick Henry Va. and spent his leave in Washington DC where, apparently. all he can remember is doing a lot of bar hopping and strip clubbing.

In the summer of '44 he and his unit were shipped out to Italy where he served with Company D of the 447 RCT (later merged into the 100th battalion.) He hasn't gone too much into what he did there but I know he saw some tough combat. I made the mistake of asking him once what he did, thinking that maybe he was in logistics or something, at which point he said, "No, man, I was in combat."

His Unit consisted of three men teams that operated mortars which each man carried a piece of, that they then assembled and fired. He said the SS units he fought against were the worst to fight -- which I can imagine.

I asked him if he had any problems with the white soldiers, assuming that looking Japanese might have got him into some trouble. He said, no, they never had any trouble because they were always sent in as the shock troops and that if they weren't able to get the job done the white guys would have to go in after them. 'No, they treated us real well," he said with a big smile on his face.

After the war was over, he signed on to the motor pool, because he said he wanted to see the sights; "I got to see all of Italy, and it was free." (That's always a recurring refrain from him, the importance of things being free.) Later on, the next year, he met his future wife, my girl-friend’s Nona, a cute little Italian girl who suffered through the Nazi occupation and one time was hidden by Nuns. He loved her so much he learned how to speak Italian fluently so her parents would let him marry her. They married in 1949 and he brought her back to the US in 1950.

They had two daughters, and Mike and his Italian wife are still alive and kicking today. Recently, he went out to California to see his daughter who lives out there and before he left I was able to give him a map of the 100th Battalion 'Go for broke' monument so he find his name on it.

He was pretty proud to have his name on the monument, from what I hear. And he should be very proud. He is a man who was ripped from his life and his home and put into a camp and he still went and fought for a country that did such a terrible thing to him and his family. Regardless of what they might have been thinking in Washington, the Nisei were red blooded Americans just like rest of America and they did their duty and fought with distinction for this country.

In fact, the 447th and the 100th are still the most highly decorated military units in the history of the United States Army. They took tons of casualties and brought home more unit citations and medals of honor than anybody else.

On this Memorial Day weekend I want to honor all the Nisei that fought so bravely and suffered such injustice, but especially, Mike for bringing me his beautiful grand-daughter.


Post a Comment

<< Home

hit counter script Top Blog Lists Favourite Blogs Top List
My Zimbio
Top Stories