Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Lost Battalion Rescue

The Antitank Company rejoins the 442nd RCT in Bruyeres. The 442nd is ordered to rescue the "Lost Battalion." Whitey, assigned to Headquarters Platoon, witnesses the leadership of Major General John Dahlquist; it results in a rescue overshadowed by losses.

The dead and wounded outnumber the living: 211 men are rescued, 216 nisei soldiers are killed and more than 856 are wounded.

Antitank Rejoins 442nd

Meantime, the Antitank was down, we were attached to the 517th Paratroopers. So once that was accomplished, they released us, then we joined up with the 442nd up in Bruyeres. But by the time when we joined them, Bruyeres were already liberated and they were involved in the Lost Battalion, a rescue mission. Of course, Biffontaine was already liberated, and that Texas battalion was lost. The Germans had surrounded them.

50 mm antitank gun next to weapons carrier
50 mm antitank gun next to weapons carrier

Rescue of the Lost Battalion

So after, from what we were told, the 442nd was pulled back after the battle, and we were supposed to have one recuperation before we were assigned back to the front. But after two days, they assigned the 442nd to go on that mission to rescue the Lost Battalion. After General [John] Dahlquist put two of their battalions simultaneously, but they couldn’t reach the Lost Battalion. So they assign us. And of course we were, of course, low on casualties, too. We didn’t have the full power of the whole full regiment, but we were told to rescue them, regardless what it is, at all costs. So that’s what our mission was.

So we joined up with the 442nd when they started to go on that mission to rescue the Lost Battalion. So we were assigned — and that company was a full company — so we had all the manpower for one company, while the other rifle company, going through the campaign of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, they had about two hundred casualties. The manpower was down, so Antitank had all the manpower so we were assigned to take part in that Lost Battalion campaign.

Staff Sgt. Francis Yano stands next to 50 mm antitank gun
Staff Sgt. Francis Yano stands next to 50 mm antitank gun

[M]ost of our boys were part of the Rifle Company. Because the Rifle Company, their manpower is way down, because they lost about two hundred people, yeah? So we have to kind of fill in because the Antitank Company can’t do too much because that was all forest — pine trees, and forest like that. And we cannot set up the gun effectively, but they needed the manpower, so we joined up, and they assigned us as a Rifle Company. But in my position, I wasn’t assigned to the Rifle Company because being a jeep driver. But the other boys that was assigned to the 57-[mm] guns, or the mine platoons, they were all assigned to that Rifle Company. So they became Rifle Company. Or litter bearers. Bring out the injured people, yeah.

[T]he only time I ever went up to the front is when I would deliver hot meals or mail. But that was mostly all in the forest. And, in my case, being in the Headquarters Platoon, I was more in the rear portion of it. Fortunately I was in that Headquarters Platoon. So I hate to say it, but I was very fortunate that way, assigned to the Rear Headquarters Platoon.

Horse stable building used as living quarters by 442nd RCT Antitank Company
Horse stable building used as living quarters by 442nd RCT Antitank Company

Like I was mentioning to you, that general of the 36th Division, Texas division, would be up on the front line observing to see how we are doing on the rescue mission of the Texas battalion. He would be up on the front line standing behind the pine trees, because this is all pine forest, and observing his accomplishment with the 442nd. And, it’s cold, and the boys, some of them of are in the foxhole, and, of course, trying to advance as much as they can. And he would, from what I understand, from what I was told, is that he would point to the boys in the foxhole, “Hey, get up and make a move on it.” And actually, I suppose, the boys would follow the orders and just crawl up and advance little by little to rescue the Lost Battalion. And, from what I was told, is that because there’s a lot of shells being thrown at the 442nd in the forest, and some of the shell fragments would get close to the general or the general’s aide that’s behind him, and they get kind of cold feet, too, and they would retreat themselves and get away from that area.

<Video Icon
My interpretation as of what I think today, if you’re a general or a leader, you’re supposed to be in front of the group of the boys and direct the boys to, “Hey, come on follow me and move on.” But looks like it’s not, and all the boys are taking, you know, all their casualties. And my opinion is that if I was an outspoken guy, if I had a phone and communication with the supreme commander of European theater, General Eisenhower, I would have called him up and said, “Hey, what’s wrong with this? Here, we have taken a lot of casualties, and the leader is supposed to be leading the front, but no, he’s retreating and trying to get away from it.”

Gosh, I don’t know what kind of leaders we have, that’s my opinion. Because here, the boys are taking their own initiative to advance, and try to get the enemy and knock ’em down so we can progress to rescue the Texas boys, and here we ended up with almost two or three times as many casualties as compared to the two hundred twenty-one Texas boys that we rescued. So that’s a heavy casualty. And I think that - probably the general thought that we were expendable, but we’re not that expendable because we cannot have any other white boys to replace the lost ones that we have. . .Yeah, our leader should be up front and lead the men or put up an example.

Red Cross women, morale boosters, furnish men with doughnuts and coffee
Red Cross women, morale boosters, furnish men with doughnuts and coffee

So soon after that, we were sent down to southern France, licking our wounds and everything, and then get the replacements from Camp Shelby to build up the manpower because you cannot use any other men from the white outfit to build our regiment. Got to be all strictly Japanese American.

Chaplain Israel Yost conducting memorial service for “fallen buddies”
Chaplain Israel Yost conducting memorial service for “fallen buddies”

Whitey Yamamoto's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Whitey Yamamoto.

All rights to the reproduction or use of content in the Hawaii Nisei web site are retained by the individual holding institutions or individuals.

Please view the Hawaii Nisei Rights Management page for more information.