Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Duty, Honor, Country X 3.5

A friend reminded me that we are in a fight for our very lives.  The very existence of our Nation is at question.  As the battle draws nearer, engulfing our neighbors home, another friend reminds me of Duty, Honor and Country.  Americans are no strangers to desperate circumstances or hard fought battles, I would like to remind you of one.  Draw your own conclusions and keep it close to heart, for there may come a time when such a memory is needed.

By October 1944 the advancing Allied Forces had reached the Vosges Mountains on the border between France and Germany.  Units experienced in mountain fighting were moved forward to lead the effort.  One of these was the 36th “Texas” Division, the same outfit that had nearly been destroyed at Monte Cassino the previous winter.  Another, specially requested by the Commander was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit formed of Japanese American volunteers from the internment camps in the United States.

A Soldier of the 442nd RCT moves up a hillside during the Volges Campaign

On the 26th of October 275 men of the 141st Infantry Regiment of the Texas Division were cut off, kilometers behind enemy lines.

“When we realized we were cut off, we dug a circle at the top of the ridge. I had two heavy, water-cooled machine guns with us at this time, and about nine or ten men to handle them. I put one gun on the right front with about half of my men, and the other gun to the left. We cut down small trees to cover our holes and then piled as much dirt on top as we could. We were real low on supplies, so we pooled all of our food.” SSgt. Jack Wilson of Newburgh, Indiana.

For the next five days the Japanese Americans of the 442nd RCT fought from tree to tree, ridge to ridge, battling not only the enemy but the weather.  George Oiye, a forward artillery observer, said the rain, snow, heavy clouds, dark fog and the huge carpet of pine trees overhead made it hard “to tell day from night.”

“You couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face … one of the hardest things to describe to a person without military experience or similar combat experience is that feeling … things were so much in a state of confusion.”

At one point the men of the 3rd Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team found themselves pinned down by intense enemy fire.  Small arms, artillery and tank fire slowed their advance to inch by inch.  Partway up a steep ridge and within 1000 yards of the Lost Battalion, the Japanese Americans were losing their desperate rescue attempt.  Survivors don’t know exactly who or how it began, only that they saw one by one, then in small groups, men rise to their feet to charge, screaming, with fixed bayonets directly into the fire that was stopping their progress.  Among the screams were shouts of “banzai”, previously only heard in the Pacific and then only from our enemies.  Pfc. Barney Hajiro killed two snipers and wiped out two machine gun positions in actions that would gain him the Medal of Honor on what came to be known as “Banzai Hill”.

"Go for Broke!" a painting in the collection of the Army Center of Military History, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., depicts the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team assaulting German siege forces in the rescue of "The Lost Battalion," Oct. 27-30, 1944.

On October 30th the men of the 442nd reached the Texans.  The “Lost Battalion” was lost no more. But it had lost 64 of its 275 men.

The 442nd was ordered to continue its advance and remained in the battle until November 12th.  Upon reaching Saint-Die, General Dahlquist ordered the entire 442nd RCT to stand for an awards ceremony.  At his arrival the General was angered that so few men were present for his ceremony.

“I want all your men to stand for this formation.” the General told the 442nd Commander.  Lieutenant Colonel Miller responded, “Sir, this is all there is.”

On October 13, 1944 when attached to the 36th Infantry, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was at 2,943 Officers and men.  In three weeks time 140 men had been killed, 43 were missing and 1800 were in hospitals scattered across the European Theater.  Company I, one of the companies at Banzai Hill began the rescue mission with 185 men, eight walked out unhurt.  Of the 186 men in Company K, 17 remained after Banzai Hill.

Five members of the regiment – Hajiro, Pvt. George Sakato, Pvt. Joe Nishimoto, Tech Sgt. James Okubo and Staff Sgt. Robert Kuroda – would be awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism in the Vosges.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service, in the entire history of the U.S. Military.  The 4000 men who comprised the unit had to be replaced 3.5 times.  In all roughly 14,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts and an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations.  The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team also earned 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses (including 19 Distinguished Service Crosses which were upgraded to Medals of Honor in June 2000), 588 Silver Stars, 22 Legion of Merit awards, 15 Soldier’s Medals, 5200 Bronze Stars, and 9486 Purple Hearts.

nessa
Retired Paratrooper, Biker, Tattoo Artist

9 COMMENTS

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t even imagine an MG that’s so bulky it takes 5 guys to lug it around.

    I think the above described an episode I saw on History Channel recently. The same awe I felt at what those guys did was just rekindled by your retelling.

    I didn’t know about the “Banzai” charge though. Awesome!

  2. Nessa, I had an Army CPT friend in japan in the 70s, played basketball with him everyday. He was cut up all over the place, three Purple Hearts. But he loved the 442nd, and made several friends there (they were DA Civilians) from the unit. Thrice wounded, he still said he could understand how men could fight the way they did. Wouldn’t have the courage, he said. Yessir, great tale.

    • Thanks V, one of the veterans of the 442nd said they felt they were over-used/over-requested but he likened it to a football game, when you need to score you put your best players in. Its one of Murphy’s Laws of Combat: If you take more than your fair share of objectives, you will have more than your fair share of objectives to take.

  3. What a wonderful reminder of what true courage looks like, nessa. And I wonder what went through that General’s mind when he found out the reason for the paucity of soldiers to participate in his ceremony.

    Thank you for reminding us of our heroes. We need that in an age in which heroism is so often defined as saying something really, really snarky on Twitter.

    • The General didn’t fare so well with his men, janis. He met one of the Junior Officers from the 442nd at a reunion years later. The young man saluted the General as a sign of respect for his rank but refused to drop his salute and shake the General’s hand, the General pleaded with him, “It’s all water under the bridge now, isn’t it?” The young man stood at the position of attention and refused to drop his salute till the General walked away. That’s a damning statement from a well disciplined Leader of Men.

  1. I can’t even imagine an MG that’s so bulky it takes 5 guys to lug it around.

    I think the above described an episode I saw on History Channel recently. The same awe I felt at what those guys did was just rekindled by your retelling.

    I didn’t know about the “Banzai” charge though. Awesome!

  2. Nessa, I had an Army CPT friend in japan in the 70s, played basketball with him everyday. He was cut up all over the place, three Purple Hearts. But he loved the 442nd, and made several friends there (they were DA Civilians) from the unit. Thrice wounded, he still said he could understand how men could fight the way they did. Wouldn’t have the courage, he said. Yessir, great tale.

    • Thanks V, one of the veterans of the 442nd said they felt they were over-used/over-requested but he likened it to a football game, when you need to score you put your best players in. Its one of Murphy’s Laws of Combat: If you take more than your fair share of objectives, you will have more than your fair share of objectives to take.

  3. What a wonderful reminder of what true courage looks like, nessa. And I wonder what went through that General’s mind when he found out the reason for the paucity of soldiers to participate in his ceremony.

    Thank you for reminding us of our heroes. We need that in an age in which heroism is so often defined as saying something really, really snarky on Twitter.

    • The General didn’t fare so well with his men, janis. He met one of the Junior Officers from the 442nd at a reunion years later. The young man saluted the General as a sign of respect for his rank but refused to drop his salute and shake the General’s hand, the General pleaded with him, “It’s all water under the bridge now, isn’t it?” The young man stood at the position of attention and refused to drop his salute till the General walked away. That’s a damning statement from a well disciplined Leader of Men.

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