By Rob McIlvaine
Editor’s note: Japanese-American veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team received Bronze Stars Nov. 1 and Congressional Gold Medals Nov. 2 for their contributions during World War II. Three of these veterans tell their story:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Dec. 7, 1941, 5,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) had been drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.
With Executive Order 9066 in hand, though, Military Governor Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt decided to discharge all those Japanese Americans on the west coast and send them home. He was also responsible for forcing more than 115,000 persons of Japanese ancestry into relocation camps.
MITSUO TED HAMASU
On Dec. 10, 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Mitsuo Hamasu received his draft notice.
“I was working as a carpenter’s helper with my Uncle George Tashiro on the Big Island of Hawaii at the time.”
His uncle laughed, saying, “You’re only five feet tall. You’re too short to become a G.I.”
He went to Honokaa Hospital for his physical and passed with flying colors.
“Doctor Okada pronounced me in A-1 shape, and I was in the Army. My identification number was 30100598. My friends and neighbors congratulated me for being among the first to be a Soldier. I congratulated my friends who had also joined.”
The Army shipped them to Schofield Barracks on Oahu for basic training. Upon completion, the recruits were shipped back to Kamuela on the Big Island as part of the 299th Hawaiian Infantry Regiment. Hamasu became a rifleman in Company F of the Hawaii National Guard. They trained on the Big Island and carried out guard duty at the Hilo Airport.
“It was morning on Dec. 7, 1941,” he said. “I was on guard duty at the airport. We received a phone call saying that Pearl Harbor was attacked, bombed by Japanese planes. At first, I did not believe it. Another phone call confirmed the fact.”
“Mainland troops replaced us as guards at the airport three months later. Our Company deployed to a defensive position along the Hilo coast. We erected a gun opposition on South Point in case the enemy tried another attack,” he said.
In April 1942, Company F received new orders. The riflemen of Japanese ancestry were to turn in all arms and ammunition, and assemble in the Company area. The announcement came down that they would be shipped to an unknown destination and without being allowed to tell anyone, not even family.
“Quietly, about a month later, our segregated group of Nisei Soldiers embarked on a ship from Hilo to Honolulu and Schofield Barracks, then again in June from Honolulu to Oakland. We did not know it at the time, but we were headed to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. We were 1,432 men, A,B,C,D,E & F companies of infantrymen, one battalion and two extra companies strong. They named our outfit the “100th Infantry Battalion,” or “One Puka Puka” in Hawaiian,” he said.
At Camp McCoy, they lived in tents until it became cool. As winter approached, they were moved to barracks with heated quarters, running water and hot showers. When the first big snow fell, “we all ran out barefooted, making our first snow balls and throwing them at each other,” he said.
“In February 1943, we were moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. We thought the Army was moving us to be in a warmer climate. Instead, we were being tested in the Louisiana Maneuvers. The maneuvers lasted for months. When we returned to Camp Shelby, we met our younger brothers of the 442nd,” Hamasu said.