Monday, September 26, 2005

Brig. Gen. Vern Miyagi, commander of the Hawaii National Guard, spoke amidst a colorful display of wreaths during 60th memorial services yesterday honoring the World War II 100th Infantry Battalion at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl.

100th Battalion
veterans praised

Survivors, friends and
family members attend
a memorial service for
the World War II unit

Suzan Kaninau wiped away tears that streamed down her face as she and Mel Inouye carried a wreath to honor her father and other members of the 100th Infantry Battalion who fought in Italy and France during World War II.

Before the event began, a woman told her, "Just do your dad proud," said Kaninau, whose father, James Satoshi Kawashima, a staff sergeant in the battalion's B Company, died in April. "And that's all I was trying to do, you know," she said.

Kaninau and more than 350 people attended the 60th annual memorial service held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl yesterday to honor the fallen men of the decorated 100th Infantry Battalion, the first Japanese-American unit in the U.S. Army, which came to be known as the "Purple Heart Battalion."

Services were also held on the neighbor islands and in Los Angeles yesterday. Speakers recognized surviving members and those who died many years after WWII, like Kawashima.

Like many other men who served in the battalion, Kawashima rarely discussed his war days with his family, his daughter said.

"He wouldn't talk about it," Kaninau said, recalling how his father would scream from nightmares of war that haunted him.

"These guys were the real workhorses. They saw the worst of it," she said.

Kaninau said she is very proud of her father, a veteran who raised five children at their Manoa home with wife Shizue, who died seven years ago. Kawashima was 86 when he died this year.

Suzan Kaninau wept after laying a memorial wreath. Her father, the late James Satoshi Kawashima, was a staff sergeant with the 100th Infantry B Company who died in April. More than 350 people attended the service, and others were held on the neighbor islands and in Los Angeles.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Brig. Gen. Vern Miyagi, commander of the Hawaii Army National Guard, were among the guests.

"We will never forget what you did. We will not let you down," Miyagi said during the service.

Speakers also recognized the brotherhood shared by members of the 100th.

"This day has been set aside to honor the sacrifices made by our fallen comrades long ago who fought on the battlefields of Italy and France to prove our allegiance to our country, America," said Dr. Denis Tera- oka, president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans.

"On this memorial day, we should recall the feeling of togetherness, the bond of camaraderie that existed within our ranks that helped us survive the difficult ordeals," Teraoka said.

"No matter how high the mountains in Italy or how deep the forest in France, we went into battle with the feeling that we were never alone. It was the trust and faith in knowing our buddy next to us was ready to lend a helping hand if we got into trouble, and our determination to help our buddy when he got into trouble," Teraoka said.

Director Gene Castagnetti of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific said, "No other audience has had more experience in the loss of freedom, the loss of civil rights, religious persecution, the loss of liberty, prejudice, discrimination and injustice than the members of the 100th battalion."

"And by the same token, no other organization has ever had the close-up and real combat experience that you shared some 60 years ago," Castagnetti said.

Smoke billowed from each gunshot fired as members of the A Battery, 211th Field Artillery of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) administered a 21-gun salute, followed by a helicopter flyover.

Stanley Akita, past president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans, said, "Fighting with these guys, we ended up like brothers."

"In fact, a lot of times, I feel closer to them than my own brother," said Akita, 82.

"In the front lines, we helped each other," he said, choking back tears. "It's really like a family to me, a big family."

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com