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Unlikely Liberators

Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd

Masayo Umezawa Duus
Translated by Peter Duus
Copyright Date: 1987
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  • Book Info
    Unlikely Liberators
    Book Description:

    Unlikely Liberators is the action-filled story of the men of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Not trusted to fight in the Pacific, these sons of Japanese immigrants were sent instead to the European theater. In the eyes of their own government and the Europeans they liberated, they were an unlikely group of fighting men. They nevertheless engaged the enemy with astonishing heroism, winning battle after battle at Anzio, Salerno, Cassino, and in the Vosges Mountains. At the end of the war, the 100th and the 442nd emerged as America’s most decorated units. They provided ample evidence of their patriotism to a country that had questioned their loyalty. Masayo Duus begins her story with the formation of the Japanese American units, which were an outgrowth of America’s ambivalent attitude toward the entire Japanese American community at the outbreak of the war. She recounts their experiences in training and during the early battles in Italy, including the conflicts between Japanese American and Caucasian troops. The final part of the story focuses on the battle in the Vosges forest, where the 442nd fought fiercely to rescue the "lost battalion" of Texans hopelessly cut off by the enemy. Based on extensive research in War Department archives and nearly three hundred interviews with veterans of the 100th and 442nd, Unlikely Liberators first appeared in serialized form in Japan, where it won the Bungeishunjusha Reader’s Prize. It is an absorbing and personalized account of young men suddenly separated from their families and friends, often confused and sometimes suspicious about what the army wanted from them. It portrays them as individuals confronting the multiple crises of war and social rejection and it shows that their greatest achievement was not their victory over a foreign enemy, but over prejudice at home. This book is a tribute to those men, who by their heroism reestablished for all Japanese Americans their personal dignity as full citizens in the country of their birth.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6541-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-7)

    The Vosges Mountains show a gentle face to the casual traveler. Here and there the forested hills open into flat farmland or pasture dotted with small farm villages, most little more than clusters of several dozen houses huddled around a church. A few have grown into small towns. One of them is Bruyères, population four thousand.

    None of my French acquaintances had ever heard of Bruyères. What brought me there in the fall of 1979 was a brief newspaper item I had read two years earlier. “NISEI GI LIBERATORS TO MEET FRENCH VILLAGERS” ran the headline.

    I knew that a...

  5. [Map]
    (pp. 8-10)
  6. I The Destination of the Maui
    (pp. 11-23)

    In early June 1942 the troopshipMauizigzagged its way eastward out of Honolulu, changing course by fifteen degrees every twenty minutes to evade Japanese submarine attacks. On board were army and navy families being evacuated to the mainland. When news reached the ship that the American fleet had won at Midway, cheers went up from wives and children happy that the husbands and fathers they had left behind were safe.

    A few of the passengers may have had worries about the group of American soldiers from Hawaii traveling below deck. Their faces were just like those of the fanatical...

  7. II One-Puka-Puka
    (pp. 24-49)

    Camp McCoy sits in the southwest corner of Wisconsin not far from the Minnesota border. Originally a training camp for the Wisconsin National Guard, it sprawled over fourteen thousand acres of fields and forests, gullies and low hills. When war broke out in 1941, it was taken over by the Second Division but there had been no usable buildings on the base. At the time the 100th Battalion arrived construction crews were still hurrying to put up new wooden barracks. The troops had to live in field tents for three months until the work was finally completed in September. There...

  8. III Go for Broke
    (pp. 50-86)

    Like many veterans Richard Kumashiro, a Honolulu-born artillery veteran with a dental practice near Disneyland, tried to push aside memories of events that had happened forty years before, but eventually he had to confront his past.

    “Sometimes I would feel that I was responsible in getting many of the boys enlisted and eventually being killed on the battlefront;” he wrote recently. “But then again, with or without my picture the combat team would have been formed:”¹

    Kumashiro had been drafted before Pearl Harbor. When war broke out he was one of a few Japanese Americans assigned to a quartermaster unit....

  9. IV Guinea Pigs from Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 87-113)

    The transport carrying the 100th Battalion arrived at the port of Oran on the coast of North Africa on September 2, 1943. In the Pacific theater American forces began their island-hopping campaign with landings on the Solomon Islands and the northern coast of New Guinea. In Europe it was the eve of the Allied invasion of Italy, and tension was high.

    On September 3 the British Eighth Army, which had already occupied Sicily, moved across the narrow Straits of Messina to land on the southern tip of the Italian boot. Five days later the Italian army surrendered unconditionally to the...

  10. V Fanatic Soldiers
    (pp. 114-137)

    “Some of the senorina are beautiful, but only their dress is bad compared with the girls back home. . . . Men wear shoes but women do not wear any, just going barefoot, even when they go out too:” So reported Private Masaru Kadomoto in November 1943.¹

    It was only after they bivouacked in a rest area near Alife that the 100th Battalion began to come into contact with the Italian country people whose lives had been seared by war. The rest period lasted ten days. Every night there were movies. Visits by movie stars like Humphrey Bogart also helped...

  11. VI The Home Front
    (pp. 138-154)

    At Christmastime 1943, some 182 men from the 442nd Regiment visited the relocation center at Camp Jerome. The camp USO always kept forty or fifty blankets ready for visiting soldiers, but not all of them were there just for the Christmas holiday.

    Even though they were volunteers, the 442nd troops began to have morale problems as they trained day after day in the wet Mississippi winter. Masao Yamada, the chaplain, thought the best medicine for poor morale was to get the soldiers together with young women their own age. He often led excursions to Camp Jerome.

    The Camp Jerome USO...

  12. VII “Little Brown Soldiers” in the Dark Forest
    (pp. 155-177)

    Bobby Chain, then fourteen years old, but later to become mayor of Hattiesburg, delivered newspapers inside Camp Shelby. The day the 442nd Regiment left the camp he sat watching on his bike. It was unusual enough to see Japanese American faces, but there was something else different about them. Bobby had watched other units leaving for overseas, and usually the GIs who always kidded with Bobby at camp seemed gloomy as they rode off in their crowded trucks. But he vividly remembered how differently the Japanese American troops reacted. “They were overjoyed at the thought;” he recalled. “It was as...

  13. VIII The Battle at Biffontaine
    (pp. 178-198)

    The army public relations office often used a photograph to illustrate the achievements of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It shows a file of about ten German soldiers marching up a slope with their hands over their heads. In the background is a range of gently curving hills. Two Japanese American soldiers, one in front and one behind, escort the German POWs. The soldier in front has rolled up the sleeves of his khaki combat tunic, and unlike the soldier in the rear he does not have his rifle at the ready. He carries it casually in his right hand....

  14. IX The Rescue of the Lost Battalion
    (pp. 199-219)

    For several days wounded soldiers were carried to the house of Romary Henry’s parents near the edge of Biffontaine forest. About six hundred yards away the humble two-room Voirin cottage was so closely packed with wounded from the 442nd Regiment that it was hard to walk among them. Josephine Voirin had a surprising kind of strength. Her husband had returned as a hero from World War I with several medals, a small pension, and piece of shrapnel in his head. Ever since, he had been nearly a complete invalid seized by splitting headaches several times a day. During the fighting...

  15. X War’s End
    (pp. 220-236)

    After leaving the Vosges forest the 442nd Regiment spent four months in southern France, near the Côte d’Azur, a winter watering hole for the rich and famous known for its brilliant sunlight. The Japanese American soldiers dubbed their time in southern France the “champagne campaign.” To be sure it was a war front, but the main task of the 442nd was to guard the border between France and Italy. There was really no need for the regiment to move. The men spent their days quietly. It was a period of recuperation for the unit, which had lost so many men...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 237-240)

    As I pursued the story of the Japanese American soldiers who fought during World War II my travels carried me across the continental United States to Japan and Europe too. Many stops on that journey were graveyards, from northern France to Arlington, Virginia, to Punchbowl in Hawaii.

    One was Pearl Harbor, even today the most important United States naval base in the Pacific. A small launch carries sightseers from the Halawa Gate on the east side of the base to theU.S.S. ArizonaMemorial, which floats like a huge white gravestone above the waves. The bodies of 1,100 men who...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 241-246)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-254)
  19. Index
    (pp. 255-259)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)