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Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Nisei vet count
hard to muster

There hasn't been a valid census
of survivors of the 100th Battalion
and 442nd Regimental
Combat Team

442nd wants to honor car victims

By Gregg Kakesako


Keeping track of the survivors of Hawaii's most-decorated World War II fighting unit has been difficult.

That's because there has never been an accurate census of the Nisei veterans of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which were made up of Japanese-Americans who volunteered to prove their loyalty.

The 442nd recently celebrated its 57th anniversary, only to see the occasion marred by the accidental death of two of its members following a reunion banquet. (See story on Page A-6.)

Although the 100th and the 442nd are separate groups, neither organization has ever undertaken the tedious task of determining just how many members are alive and still living in Hawaii.

In his book, "Americans: The Story of the 442nd Combat Team," published in 1946, author Orville C. Shirley listed 8,256 soldiers from Hawaii and the mainland as belonging to the two groups. The 100th Battalion, although formed first in 1942, became one of three battalions of the 442nd.

At best, officials of the 442nd Veterans Club and Club 100 only have their membership rosters to fall back on when questioned about survivors.

More than 650 veterans belong to the 442nd Veterans Club today, while Club 100 lists 553 active members. The average age of the 442nd club is 77, and slightly higher for Club 100. "Some of the guys are not active," said S. Donald Shimazu, president of the 442nd Veterans Club, who was a member of the 442nd RCT's 522nd Engineers. Club 100 includes the first Japanese-Americans who went into combat in Europe on Aug. 11, 1943. At the time the unit was activated in 1943, it included about 1,432 Nisei soldiers from Hawaii.

The 100th Battalion initially was composed of Japanese-Americans drafted in Hawaii before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

On June 5, 1942, the 100th was activated and sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin for training and went into battle first in Salerno, Italy, on Sept. 26, 1943.

When the call went out for volunteers in 1943, more than 6,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii volunteered and nearly 3,000 were accepted.

Another 1,500 volunteered from behind the barbed-wire fences of mainland internment camps. Designated as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the special Army unit participated in major battles at Sasseta, Belvedere, the rescue of the Lost Battalion from Texas, Po Valley-Gothic Line and the invasion of southern France.

On June 15, 1944, the 100th became the first battalion of the 442nd RCT.

The two units became the most decorated for their size, earning one Medal of Honor, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars with 28 oak leaf clusters designating a second award, 4,000 Bronze Stars with 1,200 oak leaf clusters, and 12 French Croix de Guerres.

Their losses included 649 killed in action and 67 missing in action. The unit earned 9,486 Purple Hearts.


442nd wants to honor car victims

In life, they were comrades in arms, bonded by combat, and fellow World War II veterans want to honor that memory -- not the way they died.

Eiro Yamada, 77, was laid to rest yesterday at Hawaiian Memorial Park.

Next Monday, his lifelong friend, Thomas Sakamoto, also 77, will be buried at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe. His funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at Hosoi Mortuary.

The two men, members of the same battalion of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, died within hours of each other after being hit by a car driven by Masao Yamasaki, another 442nd veteran, in a hotel parking garage. All three had just attended the 57th anniversary of the formation of the Japanese-American Army unit.

The 442nd Veterans Club hopes to hold a service April 15 to begin "the healing process," said Ed Ichiyama, one of the reunion organizers.

The Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, where the banquet reunion was held March 25, has offered the use of its ballroom and the Army also wants to participate, he said.

"We hope to bring everyone together," including Yamasaki and his family, Ichiyama said.

"The guy is understandably grief-stricken," he said. "But there has been an outpouring of support for him and everyone involved from the public. We want to show that the 442nd is still unified and that we continue to band together and take care of each other."

Yamada and Sakamoto both graduated from Farrington High School in 1941. When the call went out for volunteers in 1943 to form the 442nd RCT, the two enlisted together.

Gregg Kakesako, Star-Bulletin

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