By George Yoshinaga
HOUSTON, Texas—As mentioned in my previous column I’m here in Houston to attend a dinner titled, “Homecoming for Heroes.”
The 65th anniversary of the event is special in that the organizers are paying tribute to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who rescued the Texas-based 141st Infantry Battalion nicknamed, the “Lost Battalion” during World War II.
Over 30 World War II veterans who served in the 442nd and the 141st Battalion flew in to Houston to participate in the special evening.
While the story of the “Lost Battalion” has been told a number of times, I will review it because of this special anniversary.
The 141st was completely surrounded by the Germans. Two other rescue teams tried to get through enemy lines to reach the “Lost Battalion” but to no avail.
The Nisei RCT had distinguished itself as tough, capable and determined. The all Japanese American Battalion wanted to prove to its country that they were Americans first and foremost. When they began the mission to rescue the Lost Battalion, few thought success was possible. The 442nd suffered hundreds of casualties during the battle, while they defeated the Germans and rescued the remaining 211 members of the 141st.
At the Tribute dinner, Speaker Jim Wright and Gov. Connally (whose family was on hand to accept the tribute to him). Both played a role in recognizing the contributions of the Nisei soldiers of the 442nd, who became known as the “Purple Heart Battalion” as they were the most decorated Battalion in receiving both the Purple Heart and Medal of Honor for the size and length of service.
A Crane Monument will be erected in Houston to pay tribute to the 442nd and recount the story of this historic battle. It will ensure that the “Rescue of the “Lost Battalion” will be remembered for generations to come.
Nisei veterans from the famed 442nd and 100th in attendance were:
Sgt. Michael Doi, A Company, 100th Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pfc. George Fujimoto, Service Co., 442nd RCT
Cpl. Edward Ichiyama, C Co, 522 Field Artillery Battalion
Pfc. Henry Ikemoto, Anti-Tank Co., 442nd RCT
Sgt. Kenneth K. Inada, K Co., 3rd Battalion, 442nd RCT
2nd Lt. Susumu Ito, 552nd Field Artillery Battalion
S/Sgt. Jimmie Kanaya, Medical Detail, 3rd Battalion 442nd RCT
Pvt. David Katagiri, F Co., 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Sgt. Wataru Kohashi, F Co, 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pfc. Ocean Y. Miyake, F Co., 2nd Battalion, 442nd
Cpl. Mark E. Nakazawa, D Co, 100th Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pfc. Frank Nishimura, B Co., 100th Battalion, 442nd RCT
Tech 5 Ronald M. Oba F Co., 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pfc. James M. Ogawa, C Co., 100th Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pfc. Lawson I. Sakai, E Co, 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pvt. George Sakato, E Co., 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pfc. Don Seki, L Co., 3rd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Cpl. Fumio Steve Shimizu, F Co., 2nd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Pvt. Mitsuo Tachibana, K Co, 3rd Battalion, 442nd RCT
Sgt. Willie R. Tanamachi, 171 Battalion, 442nd RCT
1st Lt. Masami Sam Yoshinari, Cannon Co., 442nd RCT
Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, George Sakato, was given special recognition.
Sakato distinguished himself by extraordinary heroisms in action on Oct. 29, 1944 on Hill 617 in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France. After his platoon had virtually destroyed two enemy defense lines, during which he personally killed five enemy soldiers and captured four, his unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire.
Disregarding the enemy fire, Private Sakato made an one-man rush that encouraged his platoon to charge and destroy the enemy stronghold. While his platoon was reorganizing, he proved to be the inspiration of his squad in halting a counterattack on the left flank during which his squad leader was killed. Taking charge of the squad, he continued his relentless attack, using an enemy rifle and P-38 pistol to stop an organized enemy attack.
During the entire action, he killed 12 and wounded two, personally captured four and assisted his platoon in taking 34 prisoners.
By continually ignoring enemy fire and by his gallant courage and fighting spirit (“Go For Broke”), he turned impending defeat into victory and helped his platoon complete its mission.
Private Sakato’s extraordinary heroism and devotion of duty was in keeping with the highest tradition of military service and reflects great credit not only on himself but his all-Nisei unit and the United States Army.
One of the co-chairs for the special tribute was former Congressman Norm Mineta.
Among others participating were the Houston Chapter of the JACL.
The sponsor was the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Admiral Michael Mullen, U.S. Navy and Chief of the Joint Chief of Staff.
The reason my wife and I were able to attend was through the effort of Helen Kawagoe, city clerk for the City of Carson and I have to thank her for making this trip possible.
It was kind of a tough trip because we had to get up at 2:45 a.m. since our flight left LAX at 6 a.m. and these days, passenger have to arrive about two hours before flight time.
On top of that, it wasn’t a direct flight. Nope, we had to fly to Denver where we had a wait of one hour. Heck, a direct flight to Houston from LAX is less expired time than that.
I’m not sure but a lot of people I know who have flown to different cities tell me they often have to fly through Denver and change planes in the Colorado city.
Flying to Denver to get to Houston is flying like from LAX to Phoenix to get to Las Vegas and you know how crazy that sounds.
Oh well, I’m not complaining. Any trip out of town is nice, especially when there aren’t any slot machines waiting to gobble up my money.
During the era when I used to travel a lot, I often visited Houston but haven’t been here for a dozen years.
The last time I came here, I was driving and I got a speeding ticket from a Texas Highway patrolman.
Those of us who live in California are quite used to going 70 miles per hour without worrying about getting a ticket. But that mentality apparently doesn’t count in Texas.
I’ll be heading back to Los Angeles on Monday and hopefully, I can get this column faxed to the Rafu office in time for the Tuesday edition.
In the meanwhile, we will be spending a couple of days with Helen, which is always a pleasure for me and Susie, my wife, not the race horse Suzie Cutie.
Since we are here attending an event honoring the Nisei GIs of World War II, I thought I would toss in an e-mail I received just before I departed on this trip.
It was sent to me by Jane Matsumoto in which she wrote:
“Dear George—this is my third time writing to you on the topic of my deceased father-in-law John Hideo Matsumoto, tail gunner during World War II. In your recent column, dated Oct. 17, you suggested that a monument be erected to recognize Ben Kuroki. In a subsequent column, Oct. 20, another reader wrote to correct you that others, like Herbert Ginoza and John Matsumoto were likewise gunners who fought for the United States in separate campaigns, in different squadrons.
“After you published my last comments to you in 2008 about my father-in-law’s service, our family was contacted by members of the Japanese American Veteran’s Association who were very interested in collecting all of the stories related to the tail gunners who served during World War II. They came up with four: Jon Matsumoto, Herbert Ginoza, Ben Kuroki and Kenji Ogata, whom they had not verified at the time of my contact with them.
“I plan to contact this organization now and forward our request to supply you with more details. I also hope that the Rafu Shimpo will take a bigger role in helping to get a balanced, accurate account of tail gunners who served our country during WWII. The story of Ben Kuroki is compelling, nonetheless, it is a disservice to continue to raise only partial awareness through just one particular solider when others like Ginoza, Matsumoto and possibly, Kenji Ogata, also served in a similar capacity. In the case of John, he actually flew 50 missions while his parents remained interned in Amache—a different story than Ben, who was from Nebraska and was spared this experience. One story is no better than the other—it is only that those of us who continue to read about Ben Kuroki know that there are others that continue to be ignored. The fact that some of Ben Kuroki’s mission were over Japan, the country of his ancestors, makes him no bigger a ‘hero.’
“The irony is that both John and my mother-in-law (also now deceased) were avid readers of Horse’s Mouth. They told me that they subscribed to Rafu to read your column (and, of course, the obits). I wonder if they would have responded to multiple reference in your column about Ben had they been alive. In their memory, I want to make sure that I continue to set this record straight.”
I thank Jane for the preceding letter. It gives me a new slant on the issue of recognizing past heroes.
Let’s see here. My gosh, I still have a lot of space to fill.
And Texas isn’t really a place to inspire my thought process. Maybe I can relive some other memories of Texas that I might have stored in my brains. (Yes, I do have a brain, I think.).
One thing I can remember about Texas is when I brought a Japanese boxer for a match in San Antonio which is about 200 miles West of here. And what it was to visit the Alamo, a famous fixture in U.S. history, “Remember the Alamo.”
Heck, even the Japanese boxer and his manager heard of the Alamo and its place in American history.
Perhaps not as strongly as “Remember Pearl Harbor,” but still interesting is that they knew about the Alamo.
Unfortunately, the Japanese boxer lost his match. He probably returned to Japan with his own motto: “Remember the left hook.”
Both the boxer and his manager told me how exciting it was to be able to perform in the State of Texas, where in those days, many Japanese didn’t have on their travel plans.
About the same era, I also brought a couple of Japanese fighters for bouts in El Paso. Well, actually, across the border in Juarez, Mexico.
Since we had to spend about five days there, we decided to stay in El Paso instead of Juarez. I mean, not being able to communicate in English, it was a lot easier hanging out on the U.S. side of the border.
We commuted between the two cities by taxi.
One amusing incident, I recall was on one trip, the individual at the border talked to me in Spanish. When I told him I didn’t speak Spanish, he gave me a curious look and said, “I want to see your I.D.”
So, I handed him my driver’s license and when he saw my name he chuckled, “Oh, you’re not a Mexican.” It’s the first time I have been mistaken for a Mexican.
At any rate, he said he never met a “Japanese” before, which I thought was kind of curious.
Well, I guess that’s the way the old taco crumbles. That’s my favorite saying, except in Los Angeles, I would say, “That’s the way the old senbei crumbles.”
Getting back to this short jaunt.
One good thing is I didn’t have to pack a lot of baggage. Nothing to check in. Just a carry-on garment bag.
These days, most airlines charge a fee for check-in bags.
Heck, I even thought about not bringing the garment bag and wearing the same clothes for three days. My wife’s reaction? Ugh!
At this time of year, it might be called “rainy season” in the Lone Star State. So, I did carry a raincoat. That probably looked a little odd at LAX.
However, one thing about traveling. One has to be prepared for the weather at the destination. Not at the departure point.
Heck, how often do we need a raincoat in Los Angeles?
We were going to pack some sushi for our flight but decided against it, hoping they would serve some tasty in-flight meals.
You all know the result of eating too much.
Wow! How did I ever get started on a subject like this?
Before departing L.A., I read about the demise of the Hokubei Mainichi newspaper in San Francisco.
That’s two of the Bay City’s publication to close shop this year.
Kind of a sad thought.
Of course, I’m sure the demise of newspapers, not only in the Japanese American community but throughout the country, will make people ask, “What’s next?”
I guess with the demographics of the Japanese American community changing so rapidly, it might just be the sign of times.
After being associated with the JA media for so many years, I feel that there are a lot of changes today, as compared to, say, 65 years ago, when I first started pounding on the keyboard.
Also before departing L.A. for this trip, I was kind of disappointed that Terry Hara didn’t make the “final three” list from which the new LAPD Chief will be selected.
There was a lot of discussion on “race” as far as the candidates were concerned.
Terry was listed as the lone “Asian” candidate for the post. That, in itself, was an additional disappointment to me. I had hoped that he would be identified as a “Japanese American.”
However, in describing the initial list of candidate, those being considered were listed as “female,” “Latino,” “African American” and “Caucasian.”
Since I was gone during the Halloween “trick or treat” night this past Friday, I hope I don’t get home and find a lot of “tricks” on my house since there was nobody home to pass the candy to the passing “trick or treaters.”
I have an automatic porch light which goes on when people approach my house, but I turned it off so the kids won’t think someone is in the house and is just ignoring their “trick or treat” challenge and perhaps put some graffiti on my window.
Oh well, worrying about it won’t do any good.
Until next time, Aloha from good old Houston. Oops, I forgot Aloha should only be used from Honolulu.
Just read today’s laugher and forget my goof.
Perhaps, as I often say, I’m a little shorter today, but being on the road and trying to fill a page in the Rafu is not an easy task.
Heck, it’s not an easy task when I’m sitting in the comfort of my house.
At any rate, since today’s column has a military flavor, my laughter, however, short, has a military touch. Here it is:
A Marine Drill Sergeant noticed a new recruit and barked at him, “Get our ass over here! What’s your name?”
“Paul,” the new recruit relied.
“Look, I don’t know what kind of bleeding-heart pansy crap they’re teaching in boot camp these days, but I don’t call anyone by his first name.” the Sergeant scowled. “It breeds familiarity and that leads to breakdown in authority. I refer to my recruits by their last names only—Smith, Jones, Baker. I am to be referred to only as Sergeant. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir, Sergeant.”
Now, that we’ve gotten that straight, what’s your last name?”
The recruit sighed, “Darling, my name is Paul Darling.”
“Okay, Paul, here’s what I want you to do…”
Hope you all got the punch in the punch line.
So, Adios from Texas.
George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.