vets in memorial
at national museum
The dedication at Fort BenningBy Gregg K. Kakesako
will include nine isle members
of the 'Purple Heart Battalion'
Edward Ikuma, one of the original members of the 100th Battalion, hopes a new monument honoring the famed World War II unit will "leave a lasting impression on future soldiers."
The 80-year-old Palolo resident will be one of 24 Japanese-American veterans -- nine from Hawaii -- who will travel to Fort Benning, Ga., for the dedication Monday of the $35,000 granite memorial.
"I feel that the monument is something we should be proud of," said Ikuma. "I am one of the original 100th Battalion guys. There aren't too many of us left now."
The 100th was one of the most decorated Army units of the war and became known as the "Purple Heart Battalion."
Ikuma was drafted in May 1941 and was with the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Until the 100th Battalion was formed, he built pillboxes and other defensive positions between Haleiwa and Kaena Point.
He served in all of the 100th's seven campaigns, ending the war with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. His son -- retired Navy Capt. Gary Ikuma, who flew S-3 Viking antisubmarine Navy aircraft -- will deliver the dedication's keynote address.
In 21 months of combat, the 100th Battalion earned three presidential unit citations, a Medal of Honor, 24 Distinguished Service Crosses, 147 Silver Stars, 2,173 Bronze Stars and 1,703 Purple Hearts.
Nearly every member of the 100th -- the first Japanese-American unit in the U.S. Army -- was awarded at least one Purple Heart, signifying a wound inflicted during combat. It was because of the battalion's exploits that the call went out for more Japanese-American volunteers, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was born.
Their creation arose during a dark period for Japanese Americans.
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, many nisei soldiers on active duty had their rifles taken away from them. On the mainland, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their West Coast homes and sent to 10 detention camps in remote desert areas of the United States.
But from these camps, many of the nisei volunteered to fight -- fight both the enemy in Europe and the enemy of racial prejudice. The 100th Battalion was born on June 12, 1942, at Schofield Barracks, and 1,300 soldiers were shipped to Oakland, Calif., trucked to Camp McCoy, Wis., for training, and later sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
The Army said they were a "quartermaster's nightmare" to outfit since their average height was 5 feet 4 inches and they weighed 125 pounds, muddy combat boots included.
The battalion landed at the beaches of Salerno, Italy, on Sept. 22, 1943, and fought crack German troops at Volturno, Cassino and Anzio.
It gained the reputation of a fierce combat unit, with more than 1,000 of its soldiers wounded in battle.
The new Fort Benning monument will be erected on an old parade ground called Sacrifice Field, which sits across from the post's National Infantry Museum.
Frank Hanner, director of the National Infantry Museum, said "the monuments are also a good way to communicate to young soldiers that they are not doing anything that hasn't been done before and that there were soldiers like them before."
The occasion also will mark the opening of a museum exhibit that will display artifacts such as old Army uniforms worn by the nisei soldiers and German equipment they captured, said Drusilla Tanaka, executive secretary of Club 100, an association of veterans of the battalion.
The idea to build the monument at Fort Benning was conceived by the late Col. William S. Pye, who served as a lieutenant and platoon leader with the 100th. He also was instrumental in establishing the exhibit at the museum.
Tanaka said the monument consists of three black granite stones. One of the stones will list all of the battles the 100th fought in, while another will carry the awards won by the unit.
However, Elsie Jackson, Fort Benning's public affairs spokeswoman, said the awards stone will have some blank spaces because the Pentagon is now reviewing whether some of the 24 Distinguished Service Crosses should be upgraded to Medals of Honor.
Hanner, the museum director, said, "When we find out the final status, the new numbers will be etched into the monument."