From Pearl Harbor to the Po
The “Dogs” of WarBy Ben H. Tamashiro
Special to The Hawaii Herald
August 16, 1985
"Gee! When you were in the Army, you were good looking." said Kenneth Mitsunaga to Eddie Nishihara, as they reminisced together about those days in the 100th. "Your blue eyes. And your hair was all curly. But when I first ran into you some years after the war, you could have knocked me over. You were bald-headed!'
Nishihara, of Japanese-Portuguese descent from Maui, the former chief cook of Company D, and Mitsunaga from Honolulu, a Jeep driver in the same company, were part of a large group of former members of D Company who, with their wives, met in reunion last month at the Club 100 clubhouse on Kamoku Street.
D (or Dog) is the so-called Heavy Weapons Company in an infantry battalion. It is equipped with powerful, water-cooled machine guns that weigh 46 pounds, not including the cans of water and ammunition. The 81mm mortars, consisting of barrel, mount and baseplate, weighed in at 132 pounds. The nine-pound rifles carried by the men of rifle companies A, B and C hardly compared to these weights. The weight disparities alone explain why the "dog" appellation fits the men of D so well.
When the 100th was organized in 1942, a great number of the young men assigned to D came from the outer islands. This not only added a distinctive dimension to the makeup of the company, but also gave the men an opportunity to visit the other islands. The next reunion is to be held in Maui and then to Hawaii and Kauai eventually returning to Oahu, The dogs of war are doing all right for themselves in the postwar years.
So it was at the big Saturday night party at the clubhouse. There were tears of joy in the eyes of the two men, glistening not so much from the delight of seeing each other again as from the effects of the drinks they had had: Kenneth a beer man, Eddie a sipper of wines. There they stood under the bright lights, bald head to bald head.
There was a time - the 100th was in training in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin - when Kenneth used to worry a lot that he'd become completely bald well before reaching an acceptable age for such eventualities, So he had an idea.
At the end of a training day, when most of the boys had already hit the sacks, he'd sneak back into the barracks latrine, patting drops of a particular hair lotion on the few locks of remaining hair, in the hopes that it would induce growth. Failing that, the special applications would at least keep his hair in place. Since he couldn't find that particular lotion in Wisconsin towns, he used to have it sent to him from home.
It was more like a gathering of family members than a reunion of veterans: the place, a clubhouse not a hotel; no sit-down dinners, just a long table loaded down with clusters of food, some catered and some home made; no speeches. But one could sense something about to happen when the guy walked up to the bar and announced, "I want the best beer in the house." The two bartenders said not a word, cracked nary a smile. They had heard it before. Dipping his hand into the ice-cold water, the first pulled out a can of Budweiser. "No, that's not it," said the guy. The second quickly reached into his side of the double-sink and pulled out a Miller Lite. "No. That's-not-it," said the guy, as the deliberate intonation of exasperation stopped all movements around the bar, all eyes and ears now intent on the unfolding tableau. The first then reached in and pulled out a Schlitz. "No! That's not it!" Gee, he seemed to be saying, don't you guys understand my lingo? Wiping off the beads of water with a towel, the other gently laid a can of Primo on the counter. "That's the one!" cried the guy in glee. "When I say I want the best, I mean the best!" Everyone was laughing and crying from happiness, even the bartenders.
April 1945 - 18 months earlier, the Allied Fifth Army had landed at Salerno Beach, the 100th following in its wake. Having driven the enemy all the way up the boot of Italy, the Allies were now fighting in and around the northern towns (La Spezia, for instance) and mountain passes leading up to Genoa, the last major city that stood in their way before they could enter the Po Valley from the west.
The mountainsides of La Spezia reminded Larry "Kodak" Kodama of the wooded countryside of Bruyeres, France, where six months earlier, the 100th and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had rescued the "Lost Battalion of the Texas 36th Division. Kodama was with company headquarters or D and as a scout, he recalled the day he was on a reconnaissance through the town of Bruyeres, cautiously peering around corners and searching through houses for pockets of the enemy out to harass the advancing Allied soldiers.
He entered a house and came across a closed door. Checking the posts and lintel to make sure that door was not mined, he then kicked it open, finding himself face to face with a man dressed in civilian clothes. Hands in air, the man cried out. "Komerad!" But Kodama was taking no chances. He had its pistol pointed right in the man's face and was about to squeeze the trigger when the man called out, "One-Puka-Puka!"
"I could scarcely believe my ear." said Kodama. "Who in this part of the country would know 'One-Puka-Puka?''' His pistol still aimed at the man's forehead, Kodama asked, "Who are you, anyway?" The man replied, "My name is Jean Drahon and I'm with the French Underground attached to the 36th Division."
At that, the Hilo boy lowered his pistol. It turned out that Drahon was very familiar with the doings of the 100th and the 442nd. The two thereafter worked together as scouts on a common mission.
But now, near La Spezia, Kodama was faced with a different kind of problem. The advance of the 100th in his sector was being held up by fire from three enemy machine guns, positioned on a line, "In fact," said Kodama, "they had opened a breach in our front. We were called upon to plug up that break. The only way to do that was to knock them out. I decided to go after the gun on the right, my right. I asked my three companions for a couple of grenades each," Making a flanking move without being detected. He crawled to a point within 30 feet of his target. He was about parallel to the line of the enemy guns.
"I took three grenades and put them in my right hand. Making sure that all three were firmly in my grasp, I then pulled the pins, quickly, one after the other. I started counting: One-two-three. At the count of 'three,' I heaved the grenades, shotput style, at my target. At about 'five,' there was one helluva explosion."
What happened then? "The other two machine gun crews just took off. They just abandoned their guns."
Kodama had heaved the grenades exactly in the manner that the training manuals called for, not throwing them like a baseball. But three at a time? Whoever heard of that?
"Well, if you do it right, it's not too difficult. Besides, most of us from Hawaii were pretty good athletes. In swimming, for instance, we used to swim upstream, against the current of the Waiakea Stream flowing into Hilo Bay. Toughens up the shoulders, too, you know."
Which brings us to Kodama's home town for a sequel to his Bruyeres encounter. In the postwar period, the Honolulu-Bruyeres sister-city relationship was cause enough to bring a number of the French citizens to Hawaii. In their stopovers in Hilo, the 100th and the 442nd boys used to turn out en masse to greet their visitors from across the seas. On one of those occasions, as the locals were helping the visitors sort out their baggage at the airport, a voice from over the din called out, "Kodak!"
Like that chance encounter 33 years earlier, when the Frenchman called out, "One-Puka-Puka!", Kodak could scarcely believe his ears, He was unaware that Drahon was in that group of visitors. The Frenchman, however, had recognized him. The two had a grand reunion right there in the midst of all the airport comings and goings, with everyone joining in the celebration.
Sunup and the "Jerry Jo" was already three miles off Black Mountain rising off the port side of the entrance to Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor. This was the favorite spot for Masao Yotsuda and his friends to fish for ahi.
On this particular day, suddenly, z-z-z-zing! The line began spinning off the reel as he had never seen it spin before. The fish wasn't an ahi because it did not sound. It had all the earmarks of a marlin. Yotsuda had never hooked onto a marlin of any size before. Unfortunately, about 100 yards out from the boat, the big fish gave another leap and broke away from the hook. "But I'll never forget that feeling, hearing the line sing like that. I've never heard anything like that in my life."
Never? And then, as if to belie that thought, he asked me, "By the way, whatever happened to the bullet you picked up, the one you carried in your pocket for a long time after the war." He hadn't forgotten. And I had long ago lost that bullet.
On that day in November, I had to get to the top of the high hill in order to pick out enemy targets for the 81mm mortars. We were shorthanded all around and I had asked Yotsuda to come along with me, in case I needed some help. The rifle company boys were already at the top of the ridge line. Before us was a deep and wide gully. The enemy was on the other ridge line, both sides firing at each other.
Then someone on the other side began waving a Red Cross flag. All firing stopped. We could see litter bearers working themselves up along the ridge.
The 100th had been fighting that way for a long time, chasing the enemy off one mountaintop, only to be confronted by him on the next. It was heavy plodding, climbing and lugging equipment and ammunition up one mountainside after another. There seemed to be no end to that. And losses had been mounting. And that Red Cross flag. . .as it waved, seemed to stir up a consciousness in everyone up and down the line. . . the weariness of it all. Suddenly, the boys started firing. The Red Cross flag immediately disappeared from sight. At the distance of over a hundred years, my carbine was useless but I, too, started firing.
Somehow, Yotsuda and I could sense it coming. We ducked. The bullet cracked into the hard rock beside my head, caromed upward into the air, then plopped down in front of me. I slowly reached out to retrieve it, looked at its mashed tip, then stuck it in my pants pocket. That was 42 years ago. But in the clubhouse with all the guys around and the sound of stories being retold, it seemed like only yesterday. And the sound of Yotsuda's line as the marlin took off. That was only yesterday, too.
These tales are just a few of the many stories shared by the veterans, stories which document a moment or time in the life of a GI. And these celebrations will probably continue until the last survivor tells his tale, one last time.
Ben Tamashiro's article was reprinted courtesy of the Estate of Ben Tamashiro and The Hawaii Herald. Copyright retained by the Estate of Ben Tamashiro and The Hawaii Herald.