By Robert Horsting
The Sunday before Memorial Day Iwas listening to the comments of NPR commentator (Cowboy Poet) Baxter Black. He recounted an afternoon sitting with his son and dad (asleep in his chair), having just watched a documentary about the USSEnterprise, in which men stayed with wounded comrades rather than swim to safety. The film reminded him of his dad, “Grandpa” Tommy, who served in the navy. Whenever asked about his service “Grandpa” Tommy would jokingly reply, “Isaved the world.” With Memorial Day approaching, Mr. Black said he would say, “Thanks Grandpa Tommy, for saving the world,” as soon as he awoke from his nap.
That account brought to my mind one of those men of World War II. Putting thoughts of personal safety aside as he dove into the heated fuel-filled water of Pearl Harbor to retrieve bodies and remnants of sailor’s floating in the midst of the wreckage of the battleship, Arizona. The attempts had the ring of futility to my ears as he expressed that those he pulled to docks were beyond needing help, but it was a job that needed to be done. This action evoked the image of a statuesque sailor of Hollywood movies (circa 1940s) or the strong swimmer’s physique of Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swim champion/Tarzan), so you might be surprised to read that Larry “Shorty” Takeshi Kazumura stood a towering 4’-9”.
As the Japanese attack unfurled with the sound of machine fire and the explosions of torpedoes hitting the moored ships, Mr. Kazumura (a member of a civilian work-crew) was busy loading lumber onto a ship, bound for another island. This cargo stayed at Pearl Harbor, quickly fashioned into coffins for the overwhelming body count, which was buried in long trenches by the harbor. Mr. Kazumura was the only man of Japanese heritage left on the base (to his knowledge and for unknown reasons), the others having been escorted off with their arms raised in the air as he watched them march away. Working a 36-hour shift, his prolonged exposure to the fuel and other chemicals in the water resulted in a six month long illness.
I had the honor of meeting Mr. Kazumura in 2007, when he agreed to participate in an interview with the Go For Broke National Education Center’s, Hanashi Oral History Program. Originally born and raised in Hawaii, he later settled in Seattle, Wash. where he joined the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC). The NVC arranged our introduction and participated in the interview.
Shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and angered by the death of his two friends, Mr. Kazumura felt compelled to volunteer his service at the first opportunity. The 100th Battalion (a segregated Japanese American unit) was formed mainly from members of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard and Hawaii based Nisei (second generation) soldiers already in the service when war was declared. The US Military decided to expand the recruitment of these hard training soldiers to include servicemen and volunteers from the mainland, and then returned to Hawaii to fill the additional 1,500 men needed to form the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Mr. Kazumura seized the opportunity to join the ranks. He was initially turned away with the phrase, “Son, you’re too short.” Overwhelmed by the crush of 10,000 volunteers to fill the 1,500 spots, the initial onsite physicals were dispensed with. He made it past the first station when standing erect, he declared to an officer that his height was 5’ or 5’-2”, he didn’t quite remember. The skeptical officer sent him to the next station and the stature of his determination got him into the unit…that and a later discovered clerical error that lists his height at 5’-8”.
“Shorty” spoke of how the issued uniform—designed with the average non-Asian in mind—hung off his body, the sleeves reaching the floor. It evoked the image of a boy wearing his father’s uniform on-for-size. As many of his fellow soldiers, he would have to have the uniform altered. Boots proved to be another challenge, as he was issued a pair of size 8 boots to fit his 2-1/2 EEEfeet. His account conveyed both the difficulty of training, as the length of the newspaper-filled boots gave him little traction on a field march, and the comical appearance of oversized clown shoes. Our crew found many opportunities for laughter, because he spoke in a light easy manner, with the ability to see a situation as others might and having the gift of being able to laugh at himself.
Despite his height, “Shorty” had a very strong physique, which was strengthened by a year-plus of training at Camp Shelby, Miss., before the 442nd received orders to ship out and deploy to Europe in May 1944. He also possessed a keen sense of direction, which he proudly proclaimed, won him the first Private First Class rank within his unit, during their first week of training. This ability assured the men of his group that they would find their way back to camp during night-maneuvers training.
“Shorty” was assigned scout and runner (messenger) duties and served as a bodyguard for 1st Lt. (and later, Capt.) Joseph Lawrence Byrne. Shorty’s height provided a stark visual contrast to that of Byrne’s 6’-3” frame. The two soldiers got along very well due to the mutual respect for each other’s abilities, which resulted in their teaming up to survey the landscape whenever ICompany would relocate to a new area. Shorty expressed concern that Lt. Byrne’ height would make him an easy target for the Germans to zero-in-on. He quickly came to the conclusion that your height really doesn’t matter; recounting an incident where he received nicks and bruises from shrapnel, kicked-up rocks and debris, while Byrne standing next to him was unscathed.
We heard a story that illustrates the fact that the enemy is not always in uniform and easy to recognize, when he spoke of being given a drink by a kid at a hospital in Rome. Despite warnings never to accept a drink from an opened bottle, he was so thirsty that he immediately drank it, only to find it contained fuel. This resulted in the life-long sensation of heartburn whenever he drank liquids.
On July 6, 1944, Shorty was sent to deliver a message to Battalion Head Quarters. Coming through the grape vines, he was struck by debris when a nearby farmhouse was hit. While it did not cause in any open wounds, he sustained a concussion, which left him stunned and numb. The concussion caused him to forget the message he was to deliver. The next day they moved out, though Shorty he later heard that according to the forgotten message, they were not supposed to.
On July 7, at Hill 140, Lt. Mike Kreskosky was hit in the forearm by shrapnel, leaving only an inch of skin to prevent it from falling to the ground. Acting quickly, Shorty pulled him to safety and applied a tourniquet, saving the Lt’s life. Moments after applying the tourniquet he too was struck in the head resulting in a fractured jaw and causing him to spend over a month recuperating in the hospital. Lt. Byrne, having witnessed this action, wrote the recommendation that resulted in Shorty’s Bronze Star.
Shorty credits Capt. Byrne for saving his life. After his return to the unit following his recuperation, the Capt. had him transferred to the Supply Depot. He remained at this duty through the end of the war. Soon afterwards the 442nd was redeployed to the Vosges Mountains of eastern France. Remembering the difficulty Shorty had marching in the pine-forested terrain around Camp Shelby, Capt. Byrne sent him to Naples, Italy to buy proper fitting boots. He came away with twelve pairs of size 3EEEs. The famed journalist, Lyn Crost later contacted Shorty in an attempt to get a pair of these boots, but he had worn-out all of them on the lava of Hawaii. He sent her a tracing of his foot, which was used make a duplicate pair, now on display at the Smithsonian Museum.
After the fierce battles to liberate the towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine the 442nd was pulled off the frontline to regroup after sustaining heavy casualties. This rest would be cut short (about 36 hours) as they were summoned to what would historically become their most famous battle, to rescue members of the 141st Regiment’s 1st Battalion, who had been cut-off by the Germans, in the Battle of the Lost Battalion. Capt. Byrne was killed by a “Bouncing Betty” (an antipersonnel mine), the day before the Lost Battalion battle. Noting the closeness of these two soldiers, Maj. O’Connor called Shorty from HQ to tell him about the loss of his officer and friend. Years later, at his wife’s suggestion, Shorty would honor the memory of Capt. Lawrence Byrne by adopting the name Larry as his own.
Upon his return to the United States in 1946, Larry went to visit his friend, Terumi “Terry” Kato at Walter Reed Hospital. Terry attempted to set him up with a woman from the USO, but since she was already dating someone, she suggested he correspond with her sister June. Though they wrote extensively, they actually never met until he sent her a one-way ticket to Hawaii. After their marriage they lived in Hawaii until June convinced him to move to Seattle, where she had been raised. Initially he voiced the concern that he didn’t want to give up the warmth of Hawaii for the winters in Washington, but she put his fear to rest by assuring him that it does not snow in Seattle. They arrived on April 1, 1949 to find 4” of snow on the ground… April fools!
After a 32 year career at Boeing, raising a family of five children, and spending a lifetime with his wife June (until her passing in 1981), Larry retired to a life of enjoying his friendships with fellow veterans at the Nisei Veterans Committee Hall, gardening and fishing, a hobby he was so good at he received complaints from friends that couldn’t eat them fast enough to match his ability to provide a fresh catch.
Larry passed away on March 24 at the age of 88. Though I only met him on this one day, over the course of a 3-hour interview, he made an impression on me that will last my lifetime. His love of life and the joy of sharing were immediately apparent. His is a wonderful example of dealing with adversity and emerging with a positive attitude, a lesson Iwill hold close.
I’m grateful to Mr. Larry “Shorty” Takeshi Kazumura for taking the time to share his story. Iwant to express my condolences to his family and friends, those whose lives he touched and for whom his passing left a void that Ihope will be filled by the memory of a life lived to the fullest.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Betty (Kazumura) Carr and Paul Murakami for their assistance in verifying the timeline of Larry’s life. I also wish to thank the Go For Broke National Education Center (Torrance, Calif.) and Densho (Seattle, Wash.) for access to their archive interviews.
During the course of writing this article, I was informed of the passing of Munetatsu “Moon” Saito, of Company K. I met him during his interview prior to the 60th, 442nd Reunion and over the years we’ve enjoyed sharing some meals, maybe a wine or two and many telephone conversations together. I will miss you my friend. Farewell.
Robert Horsting is the producer, director and writer of the documentary, “Citizen Tanouye.” The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.