(Story for publication by Hawaii Herald, on March 17, 1995)
Friday, February 24, 1995
A COUNTRY STOLEN: THE STORY OF THE VVV
It was about 3:00 a.m. in the morning. A shout went through the barracks at the shooting range for the men to wake up and assemble outside. The soldiers sleepily fell into line to hear the orders. What emergency had taken place for the men to get up at this un-godly hour? The orders were then read. The men were shocked! Disbelief ran through the minds of the assembled personnel. The orders bluntly stated that all men of Japanese ancestry, the Nisei, were immediately dismissed from the Hawaii Territorial Guard!
Short hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the University of Hawaii ROTC had been called to duty. Later that day, they were mobililized into the Hawaii Territorial Guard (HTG) by orders of the Governor of Hawaii. For six weeks these young University students, now soldiers, guarded Installations throughout Honolulu, Then came the bombshell on that early morning hour dismissing them from service; they were booted out merely for being of Japanese ancestry. This was, of course, part of the hysteria that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In describing the humiliation inflicted upon the Nisei, Nolle Smith, former UH sports star and a commanding officer in the HTG, would say 50 years later at a UH banquet honoring the WV:'We all cried when we heard those orders,
A few days later, some of those discharged from the HTG gathered on the University campus under the shade of a shower tree near University Avenue discussing their plight. Classes were well underway and it was too late for many to return and finish their semester. From across the street in Atherton House, Hung Wai Ching, the YMCA secretary, saw the group. He walked over to talk to these former ex-ROTC cadets and, now, ex-HTG soldiers. In essence, what he told the dejected Nisei was simply that they could continue to feel sorry for themselves or to do something about it.
Hung Wai Ching
This spurred the former students to call a meeting under the guidance of Shigeo Yoshida, educator, at the downtown YMCA for those who had been dismissed from the HTG as well as other interested Nisei. The up-shot of this was a letter to the military commander. This letter was a "manifesto" that represented the feelings of the young Nisei. Part of that letter stated: 'We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans…"
Not only were the Nisei kicked out of the HTG, other Nisei serving in the 298th and 299th Hawaii National Guard regiments were stripped of their weapons. New regulations prevented the Nisei from enlisting as they were now classified: Class C- Enemy Alien. Enemy aliens? Their country had been stolen from them! Their birthright as Americans was denied them!
Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, military governor of Hawaii, was influenced in his humane treatment of the Japanese community by prominent local figures such as Charles R. Hemenway, Leslie Hicks, McKinley High Principal Miles Carey, UH President Gregg Sinclair, and Hung Wai Ching to name just a few. Further, the FBI headed by Robert Shivers and the Army intelligence unit under Colonel
Kendall J. Fielder had found no evidence of disloyalty among the local Nisei. In accepting the plea by the Nisei, the General was guided by existing military orders: no weapons could be issued to the Nisei, nor could they be placed in any position that could be considered militarily sensitive. Thus, the Nisei were only permitted to enlist as laborers, 169 of them, in a para-military unit that February ot 1942.
Hung Wai Ching tells the story of Colonel Albert Kuahi Brickwood Lyman, in charge of military engineering, when asked if he could use the Nisei responded: "Only 169- ? Bring more and I'll use them all." A few months later, Lyman was promoted to Brigadier General, the first local person to attain that rank.
The young Nisei were stationed at Schofield Barracks and called themselves the VARSITY VICTORY VOLUNTEERS. They built barracks, put up barbed wire fencing, smashed rocks at the quarry in Waianae Mountain range and performed other menial tasks for nearly a year. The staunch character of these young Nisei could be seen in such persons as Akira Otani and Walter Iwasa, who had been seniors at the UH. Their fathers had been "arrested" and interned; but their loyalty remained firm and was never in doubt.
It was in January 1943, when Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, after lengthy study, announced plans to accept Nisei volunteers for an all-Nisei special combat team, He stated: "It is the inherent right of every faithful citizen, regardless of ancestry, to bear arms in the national defense … Loyalty to country is a voice that must be heard ..." These words echoed the message contained in the "manifesto" issued by the ex-ROTC students a year earlier,
In February 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the orders creating an all-Nisei army unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The hysteria and near panic generated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor had softened by this time. The Varsity Victory Volunteers, who went under the abbreviated title of "VVV", were allowed to disband. Many enlisted in the 442nd. Others were eagerly sought by the Military Intelligence Service for their linguistic talents,
The following stories concern seven VVV- those who did not march home with the others.
* * * * *
IT WAS JUNE 26, 1944 when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team first went into battle near the small village of Suvereto in the Appenines of central Italy as part of the 34th Division. The battle-hardened 100th Infantry Battalion took the part of the 1st Battalion of the combat team. The 2nd and 3rd battalions encountered stiff enemy opposition that day and the attack was stalled. The 100th Bn, which was in reserve, was ordered to carry on the attack. In a brilliant manuever, they slipped in between the 2nd and 3rd battalions and smashed a surprised enemy and routed them at Belvedere. Enemy losses were heavy and the 100th won its first coveted Presidential Unit Citation for this feat. It was during this action that S/Sgt Grover K. Nagaji (Waipahu), Company B, 100th Infantry, lost his life when his squad destroyed a German tank. The explosion of the tank caused his death according to his buddies.
Nagaji had been a student at the UH enrolled in Teachers College, His classmates and VVV compatriots included persons such as former Intermediate Court of Appeals Judge Harry T. Tanaka, former Circuit Court Judge Masato Doi, and Claude Y. Takekawa. As a VVV member at Schofield Barracks, he was known as a "darn good" carpenter, Later, he trained at Camp Shelby as a volunteer with the 442nd. The 100th Bn which had been fighting in Italy for months saw their casualty list grow alarmingly; this called for replacements, Nagaji was one of the 442nd replacements to the 100th. He became the first VVV to fall in battle.
* * * * *
A WEEK LATER, having crossed the Cecina River, the 2nd Bn again engaged the enemy in a fierce fight on July 4. This battle would gain the sobriquet "Hill 140." The ferocity of the fighting would cause some to call this "Little Cassino" in comparison to the Cassino monastery siege near Anzio. Companies E and G led the initial attack. Under sunny skies, the battle raged for four days before the enemy was pushed back. This Hill 140 area had been prepared for the German troops by the Todt Labor Construction to withstand bombardment which was the reason for the slow advance by the 2nd Bn rifle companies. Losses were heavy on both sides, especially from artillery and mortar fire. On that July 4th, Sgt Howard M. Urabe (Kapaa, Kauai) of Company G was cited for gallantry in action, According to his citation: "... Sgt Urabe crawled 25 yards through sparse undergrowth to reach a position in front of an enemy machine gun. Timing his movements ... Sgt Urabe suddenly stood up and fired a rifle grenade into the nest, killing the machine gunner and destroying the gun. When the other two members of the gun crew started to run, Sgt Urabe killed both of them with his M-1 rifle. When another machine gun fired upon him, Sgt Urabe fired another grenade and knocked out the second gun ..." Urabe was killed by a sniper as he was preparing for another assault. His bravery on Hill 140 earned him a Silver Star, posthumously,
Urabe's comrades say that he planned to make his career in social work or, perhaps, take up teaching,
* * ** *
THE BATTLE FOR HILL 140 near Molino A Venatoabbato continued as both sides hammered each other. The main objective of the 34th Division was the distant seaport of Leghorn (Livorno), the third largest in Italy. However, the Germans controlled the Appenine Mountain range which looked down on the coastal road. To reach Leghorn, the enemy had to be dislodged from his fortified mountain strongholds, The immediate objectives were the villages of Castellina and Rosignano. Company E, 2nd Bn, continued the attack on July 5 resulting in heavy casualties. The rifle platoon led by T/Sgt Terry Ihara (he would receive a battle field commission two months later) was subjected to heavy fire. One of those who fell was Sgt Jenhatsu Chinen (Eva), a casualty most likely from artillery fire.
Chinen enjoyed music and played the guitar for the boys during rest periods. He carried that guitar with him from Hawaii to Camp Shelby and, then, overseas. He was an assistant squad leader like his close buddy, Daniel K. Inouye (who would later receive a battlefield commission and, years later, become a U.S. Senator). His goal at the University was to take up medicine. He and Inouye had dreams of establishing a medical clinic after the war with Inouye as surgeon and he as internist,
* * * * *
BY JULY 8, Hill 140 fell to the 442nd and the Combat Team pressed on heading toward new objectives. Some were small rural villages, some just clusters of farm dwellings. Many of the names- Rotini, Pgio Casale, Pastina, Pgio Collelugolli, Fondone won't be found on travel maps. A deserted farmhouse which stood in the middle of a large field played a significant part in one battle. It was used as an observation post (OP) and later, as a command post (CP) and the veterans of the 2nd Bn remember it vividly. It was painted a light pink and, hence, was referred to as the "Pink OP". It was near this area that Pfc Akio Nishikawa (Paia, Maui), a medic for Company E, 2nd Bn, won a Silver Star medal. Sgt Don K. Masuda recalls that despite the shelling, Nishikawa went to help a wounded comrade. His citation reads in part: "…Nishikawa ran for a distance of a 100 yards through concentrated 88mm artillery and mortar shellings to render first aid. Although advised by others in the platoon to wait until the enemy ceased shelling he paid no heed to their warnings and proceeded to rescue the man with the words 'Gotta go!' ... Nishikawa was mortally wounded by shrapnel during this action. Earlier, on July 4th during the Hill 140 battle, Nishikawa had been cited for heroic achievement in going to the aid of the wounded despite artillery fire. He won a Bronze Star for this feat. His medals were awarded Posthumously.
Nishikawa's act ons truly reflected his calling, for at the University his plans were to pursue a medical career.
* * ** *
THE NEXT DAY, July 12, as the 2nd Bn moved forward, Company F riflemen sought shelter in the two-story farmhouse, or as the records state, the "Pink OP." A shell had already punctured a hole in the wall but the farmhouse still appeared sturdy. Together with the Company F riflemen was a detail from Bn Hqs. The frontline troops of Company F were experiencing enemy fire. Suddenly the forward troops saw an explosion as a shell struck the Pink OP in the rear of them The soldiers, huddled in the farmhouse, were sitting on the floor with their backs against the walls when an 88mm shell came with a sudden "whoosh", smashing into the building. A blast, a flash of light- then silence. Two Company F riflemen, Sgt Kiyoshi Iguchi and Pfc Hiroichi Tomita, were instantly killed. The two were covered with dust, their heads slumped forward. Motionless, they looked like broken statues, A third soldier was wounded, he sustained a gash on his left temple. Cpl Richard "Sus" Yamamoto, a VVV himself, and two others of the Bn Hqs detail who were seated opposite the Company F riflemen, moved to stop the bleeding and bandaged the wounded GI. On the second floor of the Pink OP was sgt George K. Oka, another VVV, from the I&R staff of the 2nd Bn.
Tomita (Wailuku, Maui) was a runner for his platoon; his task was to relay messages between the front and the rear command post. On this trip, he had a whole batch of canteens which he had refilled for his buddies on the frontline, Later, returning from the front, his buddies would sadly note the canteens scattered in front of the farmhouse.
At the University, Tomita, a whiz in mathematics, would probably have taken up engineering. Tomita came from a family of nine children. He had a brother in the 442nd- T/4 Richard T. Tomita, Battery A, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.
* * * * *
BY JULY 18, the seaport of Leghorn (Livorno) had fallen to the U.S. 5th Army. In less than a month of fighting, the enemy had been pushed back 50 miles to the Arno River beyond which lay the heavily fortified Gothic Line. From the captured town of Luciana above Leghorn, one could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance. In early August, the Combat Team was pulled back from the frontlines. Recreation was afforded the men. At the same time, the Combat Team was re-fitted and training resumed. Unkown to the troops1 they were being readied for their next assignment France
It was on August 2, 1944, during one of the training sessions, an accident of horrible proportions occurred. The staff from the 109th Engineering Battalion, 34th Division, assisted by the 232 Engineers of the 442nd, were demonstrating the characteristics of German mines to the 3rd Bri of the 442nd. The demonstration ended and the mines were stored on a truck. Suddenly a tremendous explosion rocked the truck, the carnage was terrible. No one is sure what caused the explosion - it might have been that the detonators were loaded with the mines and that one of the igniting devices of the detonators may not been uncocked. Nearly a ton of explosives went off! The claim is that the Germans explosives were nearly twice as powerful as ours. Official Combat Team records state that ten men died instantly, one died later of injuries from the blast. Two men from Company M, 3rd Bn, were killed. They were S/Sgt Katsuhiro Kanemitsu and Pfc Chikao Nishi. The 232nd Engineers lost Sgt Daniel D. Betsui and Pfc Masao Iha.
Betsui (Hanapepe, Kauai) was pursuing a career in medicine at the University when the bombing of Pearl Harbor interrupted his education. He joined the VVV, and later, the 442nd where he was with the Engineers. His platoon leader, 1st Lt Walter T. Matsumoto, and his buddies remember him for his good nature and the songs he composed for them; a special song for the 232nd Engineers, and before that at Schofield Barracks, even a song for the VVV!
* * * **
IN SEPTEMBER 1944, the Combat Team was sent to France, They were now part of the 7th Army. Ahead of them was the epic struggle for control of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France. The 442nd was attached to the 36th (Texas) Division that had fought its way from the South of France and now faced a well entrenched and determined enemy. The German High Command had ordered their troops to fight to the end, those retreating would be shot! They did not want the Allied Army to cross the Alsace-Lorraine Valley which lay at the foot of the Vosges as the Rhine River would be reached by the Allies and Germany would then be vulnerable to invasion.
After entering the battle on October 15, the 442nd pushed back the Germans and liberated the key towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine in little over a week. The Combat Team suffered heavy losses. Then, in the last week of October on the night of the 26th, the 100th and 3rd battalions were ordered to rescue the men of the 1st Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Division, who had been surrounded by the enemy in Forest Dominiale du Champ. They became the "Lost Battalion" of WWII. The 2nd Bn guarded one flank of the assault. Three days later on October 29, after savage fighting and when the battle came down to hand-to-hand combat, Sgt Robert S. Murata (Honolulu) lost his life. The following day, October 30, the 3rd Bn reached the trapped "Lost Battalion" followed shortly by the 100th Bn. Murata was with Company L, 3rd Bn. His unit was decimated by this time and no one can recall how he lost his life. This rescue of the "Lost Battalion" would bring enduring fame to the Combat Team, but it was at a high cost in casualties.
Murata was especially fond of music and played in his school band. He was a freshman at the University of HawaIi when he enlisted in the VVV. He had a flair for mathematics and most likely would have become an engineer. He had a brother in the 442nd. As fate would have it, 5 days later his brother, Pfc Harry S. Yamasaki, Company 1, 3rd Bri, was also killed in action as the 442nd remained on the line to repulse enemy counter-attacks
* * * * *
AND SO IT WAS, for the seven Varsity Victory Volunteers whose University of Hawaii careers were cut short. They had refused to compromise their patriotic ideals. Their simple statement: "We wish to do our part as loyal Americans ..." was finally played out on the bloody battlefields of Europe.
In retrospect, the VVV were nearly forsaken by their country; but when given the opportunity, they did not fail their country. They gave substance to President Roosevelt's pronouncement:
Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry." That hardy band of 169, a microcosm of the Nisel of that time, proved their loyalty beyond any doubt in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific, Their legacy is one of unwavering patriotism and indomitable spirit.
* Contributed by BilL Thompson based on Army records and interviews. Thompson, a 442nd vet, is a UH grad.
Masato Doi attaches the battle streamer to the ROTC guidon as Akira Otani looks on. Both are former ROTC members of the VVV who responded to duty on December 7, 1941. Standing behind Masato Doi is LTC Robert Takao, head of the UH ROTC program.
WWII ROTC CADETS HONORED AT SPECIAL UH CEREMONY
by Bill Thompson - Special to the Hawaii Herald, January 22, 1999
On Tuesday, December 8, the University of Hawaii Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) held a ceremony to recognize its outstanding cadets and ROTC alumni. This special occasion marked the 57th anniversary of the ROTC cadets who were called to duty in WWII. Soon after the bombs fell on Oahu shattering military bases at Pearl Harbor and other sites on Oahu, these young UH students were mobilized and given rifles to engage the enemy. Later, that day they were sworn into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. For this war-time service on December 7, 1941, the UH ROTC detachment was awarded a battle streamer, the only ROTC unit to receive this honor,
Ted Tsukiyama, a member of the 1941 ROTC representing his comrades in arms, described how they handled their duties during the dark days following the Japanese attack on Oahu. Then, after six weeks of duty and without advance warning, the soldiers .of Japanese ancestry in the Hawaii Territorial Guard were summarily discharged. It was a low point in the lives of these Nisei. Despite this racially-motivated setback, the young UH students still eager to serve their country, petitioned the military governor offerinq to serve in any capacity. The Army accepted their offer and thus was born the Varsity Victory Volunteers, 169 strong. They called themselves the "VVV" and served for a year as laborers at Schofield Barracks. By 1943, racial hysteria had subsIded and once again the Nisel were accepted in the military. The VVV disbanded; most volunteered for the newly organized 442nd Combat Team while others were called for duty with the Military Intelligence Service.
Other speakers included retired Lt. Gen. Allen Ono who delivered the keynote address. An ROTC graduate himself, he pointed to the benefits of the ROTC program. Also on the program was Dean Smith, UH senior vice president, representing the University. The Marine Corps band provided stirring march music for the ceremony.
A highlight of the morning ceremony was the presentation of the battle streamer earned by the cadets of 1941. Two former VVV members, Masato Dol and Akira Otani, attached the battle streamer to the ROTC guidon. It was a proud and nostalgic moment for the score of former VVV members who attended this ceremony.
Following the ceremony, Lt. Col. Robert Takao, Professor of Military Science and head of the ROTC program, invited guests to an open house at the ROTC campus quarters.
December 8, 1998