by Eji Suyama
Left: Three 442nd soldiers
War narratives are, by nature, retrospective and need passage of time, distance from war and from youthful memories. They must wait on memory to reveal itself. No man will see much of the battle he is in, and his view will differ from how others see it. Narratives can be true but may not be truthful...
In 1943 when the 442 Regimental Combat Team was created, the call for volunteers was well undersubscribed by the Japanese Americans on the mainland. However, the number of volunteers was adequate since the 442 RCT would merge with the 100th Battalion, also Japanese Americans, then in Italy. The 100th Battalion, attached to the 34th division landed on Salerno Beach, fought at Cassino, Anzio and the battle for Rome.
The second campaign for the 442 RCT took place in France within the 36th Division. We had been ordered to liberate the (Caucasian) 1st Battalion of the 141 Regiment of the 36th division, later to be known as the “Lost Battalion.” They were trapped behind enemy lines. The battle was conducted in the dense forest of the Vosges region with invisible enemy, concealed fields of fire, armored infantry, and harassment by artillery tree bursts from the enemy and, even occasionally, friendly fire. It was guerrilla warfare.
After the “rescue,” we found we had sustained more casualties than the number of men we had actually saved. We had also become a vanguard force...
The 442 RCT’s 3rd Battalion of the regiment was almost decimated. L Company had eleven survivors, I Company five and K Company was left with fifteen. Most companies consisted of two hundred men so the math is obvious. The casualties for the 100th and 2nd Battalions are unknown to me--and I don’t want to know.
We were sent to the South of France for resuscitation and reorganization. As a segregated Army unit we had to fill the gaps with Japanese American recruits, now resulting in a surfeit of men. I was reminded of a poem by Robert Frost:
Home is the place
Where when you
Have to go there
They have to take you in.
So we took in the recruits, and returned to Italy in the spring of 1945 to attack and seize the western anchor of the enemy’s Gothic line and the highways to Genoa and Po River Valley. The geography and the geology of the battlefield were strategic nightmares and the enemy had resisted a square division (four regiments) for six months.
The frontal assault was assigned to the 100th Battalion, the heart and soul of the Regiment. The 100th Battalion started their assault at sea level and began to climb the ridge. There was no natural cover except for shrubs and slight depressions in the rocks. The 100th Battalion, at the onset, suffered heavy casualties and while displaying uncommon valor, attained the top of the ridge. The 3rd Battalion infiltrated the adjacent valley 6-8 miles behind the enemy's line in total darkness and attacked at dawn, miraculously reaching the top of the ridge without a shot being fired. The enemy, recognizing the pincher maneuver, withdrew. The outcome of the battle was determined in 24 hours.
We had no appropriate equipment for removing the wounded and we had never received mountain warfare training. Evacuation of the wounded was exhausting and often delayed, especially at night. This led to more casualties. We were screwed again.
This battle was the beginning of the end for the enemy and on May 2, 1945 Germany surrendered in Italy and on May 9th, in Europe. Was it a Pyrrhic victory or was it the perfect battle--or both?
excerpted/edited from the original memoir