It was almost Christmas and the sun warmed the Mediterranean and the hillsides along the French Riviera. From high above a small, sheltered bay a soldier from the 442d looked out across the distant range of the Alps, then back to the bright waters of the sea. The Go For Broke Regiment had finally been assigned some "pretty choice" duty.
From Switzerland to the north, the Alps ran down the western border of France, separating its boundaries from neighboring Italy. The 442d had been tasked with patrolling an 18-mile stretch from the coast northward. It was not without hazard, Nisei encountered enemy patrols from time to time. But it was certainly a whole different way to fight a war than what the weary soldiers had experienced in the Vosges. During the entire month of December, 20 members of the 442d were killed in action, which when compared to 140 KIAs in 21 days in the Vosges, was quite preferable.
The 100th Battalion had arrived first, snatching the prime job of patrolling near Nice on the French Riviera. Third Battalion had been assigned further north near Sospel, with Second Battalion going into the high mountains of the Alps. New replacements were arriving almost daily, as well as badly needed resupply.
The lookout chuckled to himself as he thought of the latter. Going into the Rhineland Campaign (the official title for the Vosges Mountains actions), the 442d had not had any winter clothing. A requisition had been sent in for winter wear and other clothing for the Nisei. Finally some of the supplies had caught up to the quickly moving regiment: raincoats and clean underwear. When the men opened the boxes containing raincoats they found labels inside reading "WAC" (Women's Army Corps). Due the small stature of the Nisei as compared to other GIs, the Army Quartermasters had resorted to the women's' wear to find small enough raincoats for the men battling in the Vosges. When it is cold outside, you take what you can get, and the Nisei had bundled against the elements in the WAC raincoats without any sense of embarrassment. The clean underwear would have to wait. None of them would wear the panties that had arrived in boxes marked "shorts".
As the lookout chuckled to himself he noticed a sudden flash of light on the waters of the bay. It was a reflection unlike the normal reflection from the sea. He shifted his position and peered more closely through the binoculars. It looked like a large whale might be floating on the surface. The lookout peered more closely through the binoculars and the "whale" began to take a more distinct shape. It was a small, two-man German submarine. Quickly he radioed his report back to headquarters, which dispatched a squad armed with 50 caliber machine guns and trench mortars.
The submarine seemed to be floundering in the bay, its crew struggling with mechanical difficulties, as the Nisei began a fifteen minute attack on the submersible. In the face of the American attack, the two enemy soldiers guided their vessel to the sandy beach and surrendered. The submarine and its two submariners were handed over to the Navy. Less than a year later the story was related in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Reporter Robert O'Brien indicated "The 442d Regimental Combat Team is probably the only infantry unit in history to capture an enemy submarine."
It wasn't all work for the Go For Broke team, passes were dispersed liberally. Certainly the brave soldiers of the 442d had earned some respite. It was a brief interlude that allowed them to rebuild the Team, heal their bodies, and push horrible memories of the Vosges into the back of their subconscious. Of course, the best sites in Southern France were restricted, but there has never been a war weary GI that would let an "Off Limits" sign keep him from attractions like Monaco.
Amid the juggling act between mountain patrols and parties in the city, the Nisei even found time to become sympathetic to Southern France's innocent victims of World War II. As Christmas approached the men of 2d Battalion decorated a Christmas tree in the town square of one small French city, then invited the residents to join them in a holiday celebration. After a time of singing Christmas carols and sharing their own holiday spirit with the local citizens, the GIs started handing out Christmas gifts to the children. Each man had give a weeks rations to accumulate the candy and gifts they shared so freely with others.
Back in the United States, newspapers and magazines were beginning to relate the tale of the rescue of the Lost Battalion just weeks before. The 442d gained a National attention few military units ever achieved. Decorated veterans, wounded beyond further service were returning home and providing visual evidence of the courage and sacrifices of the Japanese-Americans of the 442d, as well as those serving in the Pacific in other units. One would be led to believe that such high praise for the tremendous sacrifice of the Nisei would have a positive impact. While it did in many areas, prejudice dies hard. In January, 1945 the American Legion Post in Hood River Oregon removed the names of 16 Nisei servicemen, including one who had earned the Bronze Star Medal and another killed in action in the Philippines, from its honor roll of Veterans. And such acts of prejudice and hatred were not limited only to Oregon. Despite the sacrifice, many Americans refused to recognize the courage of our Japanese citizens.
Others however, began to deal with their irrational fears and prejudice. Collier's magazine blasted the act in Oregon calling it "tops in blind hatred". In the spring of 1944 Mary Masuda had returned to her home in Talbert, California from the relocation center in Gila. On May 4th a group of local men made a late night visit to terrorize her, warning that if she did not leave she might be physically injured. Frightened, she quickly departed. Then, in December the Army announced the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to Mary's brother Staff Sergeant Kazuo Masuda who had heroically sacrificed his life in Italy. Mary and her family were encouraged to return home to receive his award in a very public ceremony. The award was presented by General "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell who made his thoughts on such prejudice quickly clear:
"The Nisei bought an awful big hunk of America with their blood. You're damn right those Nisei boys have a place in American heart, now and forever. And I say we soldiers ought to form a pickax club to protect Japanese Americans who fought the war with us. Any time we see a barfly commando picking on these kids or discriminating against them, we ought to bang him over the head with a pickax. I'm willing to be a charter member. We cannot allow a single injustice to be done to the Nisei without defeating the purposes for which we fought."
General Joseph Stillwell
They didn't call the big American General "Vinegar Joe" for no reason. Back in south France Lieutenant Colonel James M. Hanley was more tactful but he still got his point across.
LTC Hanley was commander of the 2d Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team and a veteran of the fierce battles of the Vosges. As he relaxed with his men in southern France he had occasional opportunities to connect to his home via the receipt of his hometown newspaper. One day as he perused a copy of the Mandan Daily Pioneer from his home town of Mandan, North Dakota he was both hurt and stunned by a comment in Editor Charles F. Pierce's column that read, "A squib in a paper makes the statement that there are some good Jap-Americans in this country but it didn't say where they are buried." On March 10th he scribbled off a reply that was printed 21 days later. It read:
Just received the Pioneer of Jan. 20 and noted the paragraph enclosed.
Yes, Charlie, I know where there are some GOOD Japanese Americans--there are some 5000 of them in this unit. They are American soldiers--and I know where some of them are buried. I wish I could show you some of them, Charlie. I remember one Japanese American. He was walking ahead of me in a forest in France. A German shell took the right side of his face off. I recall another boy, an 88 had been trying to get us for some time--finally got him. When they carried him out on a stretcher the bloody meat from the middle of the thighs hung down over the end of the stretcher and dragged in the dirt--the bone parts were gone.
I recall a sergeant--a Japanese American if you will--who had his back blown in two--what was he doing? Why, he was only lying on top of an officer who had been wounded, to protect him from shell fragments during a barrage.
I recall one of my boys who stopped a German counterattack single handed. He fired all his BAR ammunition, picked a German rifle, emptied that--used a German Luger pistol he had taken from a prisoner.**
I wish I could tell you the number of Japanese Americans who have died in this unit alone.
I wish the boys in the "Lost Battalion" could tell you what they think of Japanese Americans.
I wish that all the troops we have fought beside could tell you what they know.
The marvel is, Charlie, that these boys fight at all--they are good soldiers in spite of the type of racial prejudice shown by your paragraph.
I know it makes a good joke--but it is the kind of joke that prejudice thrives upon. It shows a lack of faith in the American ideal. Our system is supposed to make good Americans out of anyone--it certainly has done it in the case of these boys.
You, the Hood River Legion post, Hearst (newspapers) and a few others make one wonder just what we are fighting for. I hope it isn't racial prejudice.
Come over here, Charlie, I'll show you where "some good Japanese Americans" are buried.
J. M. Hanley,
It was the dedication of the Nisei themselves that proved the loyalty and patriotism of our Nation's Japanese-American citizens. Men like General Stillwell and Lieutenant Colonel Hanley did their best to point this fact out. Little by little the United States grew to truly appreciate the sacrifice of some of our Nation's bravest sons. Colonel Hanley would have been proud to note that, though it would take 56 years, one day the last vestiges of that prejudice would disappear and one of the soldiers he had spoken of in his letter would live to see the President hang the Medal of Honor around his neck.
Rudolph Davila (Center) and **George Sakato(Right) at Arlington just prior to being presented the Medal of Honor.
Even as Lieutenant Colonel Hanley was mailing his letter home, the period of rest was coming to an end for the men of the 442d Regimental Combat Team. In Italy General Mark Clark wanted his Japanese-American unit back. They would return to some of the bitterest fighting yet. The Regiment's 522d Field Artillery would be spared the horrors of the last bitter campaign in Italy's Po Valley. Before the rest of the Regiment shipped out to Italy, the artillery unit was sent back up the Rhine Valley to join the 63d Division in their assault on the Siegfried Line.
From March 12 - 21 the unit gave fire support to the 63d. In the last week of March the Artillery Battalion crossed the Rhine River to provide support to the 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, then the famed 101st Airborne. On April 26th the regiment crossed the Danube with the 4th Infantry Division. During the period the unit supported seven different army divisions, fired more than 150,000 rounds on the enemy, and served in the post-war occupation army of Austria. It would be many months before the Nisei Artillerymen would be reunited with their brothers. Before that reunion the rest of the 442d would make a final visit into a nightmare of combat on foreign shores.
For the men of the 522d Field Artillery, the pathway to victory in Europe led to an entirely different kind of nightmare...one perhaps, even worse than combat.