Bruyeres Then and Now
Bruyeres, October 1944. Photo: US Army Signal Corps.
Following his visit to Bruyeres in July 2019 while on the 100th/442nd 75th Anniversary France Battlefields Tour, Jeff Morita sent two photos of a Bruyeres street "then and now." The top black and white photo was taken after the liberation of Bruyeres in October 1944, across the street from the steps of the Bruyeres Church. The bottom photo shows how Bruyeres looks today.
Bruyeres, July 2019. Photo: Jeff Morita.
Jacket found in France tracked back to World War II Vet in Hawaii
Albert Nakama, 442nd RCT.
Chris Ketchley displaying the back of the jacket with Albert Nakama's name on it. The jacket had been worn by 90 year-old farmer in Bruyeres, France. Photo: Craig T. Kojima. Reprinted from Honolulu Star-Advertiser, August 31, 2019
“All I know is I got shot here,” he said, pointing to his head. “But I never fall down.”
But the former infantryman doesn’t remember the long green Army trench coat — the one with “A Nakama” handwritten on the back — that was bought from an old farmer in more recent years near Bruyeres, France, a town that the 442nd and 100th Infantry Battalion liberated.
And therein lies an ongoing mystery that saw the canvas Army coat get transported from France to Seattle and arrive in Hawaii last week in the hope that Nakama could add a bit of detail to the famous history of the 442nd in France.
For Nakama, who lives at Pohai Nani in Kaneohe, the memories are fleeting now and come in bits and pieces.
But others have pieced together Nakama’s remarkable story — one of many tales of nisei soldier bravery and determination that are still very much celebrated in France.
Chris Sketchley, museum curator with the Nisei Veterans Committee Memorial Hall in Seattle, who brought the trench coat to Hawaii for Nakama to examine, said that in Bruyeres “they have the 442nd unit patch painted along the streets and walls” as part of a tour route.
A lot of businesses use “442” in their phone numbers, and schoolchildren still learn Hawaii grade school songs.
“They have plaques all over the walls of lots of the buildings talking about the 442 clearing the town” of Germans, Sketchley said.
So when a French farmer in his 90s was spotted wearing an old GI coat with “A Nakama” on the back, it spurred immediate interest. The jacket was purchased for $15 and ended up with the Seattle nisei vets hall.
Sketchley said he’s pretty sure the coat belonged to the Hawaii resident during the war. In fact, the Albert Nakama who lives here is the only Nakama whom Sketchley’s group could find in 442nd rosters.
“After all the research we’ve done trying to find somebody with that last name, he’s the only one,” he said. “The odds that it’s somebody else’s — I mean, we had a bunch of researchers who are really good at finding people come up with dead ends everywhere. The fact that he’s the only guy with that name, the odds of it being somebody else is really slim.”
His goal in bringing out the trench coat is “to have a story to go behind the jacket” when it’s displayed in Seattle.
The number that follows Nakama’s name on the coat — 105990 — is just another mystery.
“We don’t know what that number means,” Sketchley said.
But there is a theory of how the jacket may have ended up on a French farm.
“When the 442nd was in France, they fought in one of the worst winters in recorded history there. It was just miserable rainy, snowy, miserable, wet, muddy weather,” Sketchley said.
The nisei soldiers didn’t have winter gear because they had come from milder Italy, he said.
“They didn’t get their winter equipment until about the end of their fighting in the French forest,” he said. “So a lot of the guys were crafty, and they started trading for things to get better jackets, better equipment, and were always swapping things.”
A hole in the forehead area of the hood— designed to fit over a helmet — matches Nakama’s description of the ricocheting bullet that hit him.
In the spring of 1945 in Italy, to take on the Germans’ mountaintop observation posts, the 100th and 442nd made the hard climb at night.
“We had to use both hands and knees to get up,” said Nakama, who graduated from Benjamin Parker High School in 1941 and joined the 442nd in 1943.
In an account of the battle, Masaharu “Oki” Okumura wrote that he and Nakama were getting battered by artillery fire when Nakama said, “‘Let’s go!’ and we scampered up that hill as fast as we could go.”
“I saw bullets following Nakama’s heels all the way up, and I’m sure some were aimed at me,” Okumura said.
Nakama’s daughter, Iris Chang, is among those trying to piece together her father’s service history. After the war he went to work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, she said.
Sketchley said Nakama served in four campaigns in France and Italy, earning two Bronze Stars: one for fighting near Pisa, Italy, and another in France — a few more pieces of the puzzle about a Nisei Vet who never talked much about his service.
“He saved his tech sergeant,” Sketchley said of the medal earned in France. “He and two buddies went out into fire. There was a lot of machine guns and things flying at them, and they went under heavy fire to save one of their men.”
Nakama wearing his jacket and Sketchley. Photo: Craig T. Kojima.
75th Anniversary of the Rescue of the Trapped Texas Battalion
JAVA Research Team (JRT)
Vosges Forests, France. Seventy-five years ago, on October 30, 1944, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team saved 211 Texans, what was left of the trapped 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division in the Vosges Forests, located in northeastern France, near the France-Germany border. The captured German commander of the attacking German forces revealed under interrogation, Hitler had ordered to kill them all, take no prisoners. This five-day rescue operation, fighting in rain and snow, was costly for the 442nd. Company I, with a normal strength of 180 men, had 8 men standing at the end of the rescue operation, Company K had 16 men standing. I & K were hit the hardest.
Following the rescue operation, MG John E. Dahlquist, 36th Division Commander, requested the 442nd RCT to a formation on the parade ground so he could thank them for the rescue operation. When he saw the small number of men in formation, he told COL Virgil R. Miller, the 442nd Commander, “I ordered all the men stand at formation, where are they, get them.” Miller replied: “Sir, this is all that is left.”
This 442nd operation contributed to the smashing of the German fortress in the Vosges that protected the German Rhineland, located nearby. Following the rescue, the 442nd was ordered to pursue the retreating German forces toward the French-German border. The 442nd was pulled back on November 17, 1944 and was deployed to the Maritime Alps region, the border between France and Italy, where they guarded the area, received and trained replacements in preparation for their next operation: to pierce the German Gothic line in the Italian Tuscany region that withstood Allied attacks during the previous five months.
By this point, the combat performance record of the 442nd was well known in the European theater and commanders requested the 442nd be assigned to their units. I am persuaded this is the reason why the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion was assigned to LTG Alexander Patch’s 7th Army for the invasion of German homeland, where they would liberate a Jewish extermination sub camp in Dachau.[There were a number of large extermination camps and many sub camps. The 522nd liberated one sub camp]
What is the significance of the 442nd rescue of the Lost Battalion:
It saved 211 Texas soldiers who were doomed to be killed.
442nd contributed to the smashing of the German fortress in the Vosges, which was necessary to get to the German homeland. [In other words, one had to go through the Vosges to get to Germany.]
Historians could no longer claim that since the days of the Holy Roman Empire no force was able to defeat the force that controlled the Vosges.
It saved the career of Major General John E. Dahlquist, who eventually was promoted to full general.
The 442nd deployment to the Vosges area began on October 14, 1944 and ended on November 17, 1944 or 34 days. The major awards received by the 442nd during this period were:
5 of the 7 Distinguished Unit Citations;
5 of the 21 Medals Honor
9 of the 29 Distinguished Service Cross (second highest award for valor)
These awards attest to and illustrate the intensity of the Vosges operation.
On October 21, 1963 Governor John A. Connally, issued a proclamation which conferred honorary citizenship of Texas to all members of the 442nd RCT for saving the trapped Texas battalion.
A technical point #1. The 36th Infantry Division is a Texas reserve unit and its original personnel were largely Texans. It fought in Italy starting at Caserta, below Naples, and fought up the boot of Italy. It was hit hard and lost lots of men who were replaced by soldiers from all over the US. The commander of the trapped Battalion was from New Jersey.
Technical point #2. The word “lost” in Lost Battalion was used by journalists. Some members of the Lost Battalion and their family members resent the use of the word “Lost”. They claim they were not lost; they knew exactly where they were and so did their 141st regimental headquarters. I rarely use the word “Lost”, preferring to say “trapped”, which members of the trapped battalion prefer.
[EdNote: We asked JRT for any thoughts about the month of October, 75 years ago, in the history of Nisei combat rengagements in the Eurpoean Theatre. We thought we would share his comments with you.]
Questions or Suggestions: Please contact Neet Ford, JAVA e-Advocate Editor, at email@example.com.
Japanese American Veterans Association: (202) 494-1978, Address: P.O. Box 341198, Bethesda, MD 20827 I https://java.wildapricot.org
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