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Combat Chaplain

Combat Chaplain: The Personal Story of the WWII Chaplain of the Japanese American 100th Battalion

Monica E. Yost
Michael Markrich
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    Combat Chaplain
    Book Description:

    In October 1943, twenty-seven-year-old combat infantry chaplain Israel Yost arrived in Italy with the 100th Battalion, a little-known National Guard unit of mostly Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i. Yost was apprehensive when he learned of his assignment to this unusual unit composed of soldiers with whom he felt he had little in common and who were mostly Buddhists. But this would soon change. For the next nineteen months at the front—from Salerno to Monte Cassino to Anzio to Bruyeres—Yost assisted medics, retrieved bodies from the battlefield, buried enemy soldiers, struggled to bolster morale as the number of casualties rose higher and higher, and wrote countless letters of condolence, all in addition to fulfilling his ministerial duties, which included preaching in the foxholes. Although his sermons won few converts, Yost’s tireless energy and concern for others earned him admiration from his fellow soldiers, who often turned to him as a trusted friend and spiritual advisor. Forty years after the war had ended, with the help of his field diaries and the letters he had written almost daily to his wife, Yost wrote of his wartime experiences in the hopes that they might one day be published as a record of the remarkable character and accomplishments of the 100th. Combat Chaplain presents this heartfelt memoir intact. with the addition of photographs and subsequent letters and speeches by Yost and other veterans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6193-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Monica E. Yost

    For me this book is a tribute not only to my father, but also to the men of the 100thBattalion. Reading my father’s memoir and other materials about the 100ththat he saved was an emotional experience for me not only because of the picture I saw of him, but also because of what I learned about the men with whom he served. I was touched deeply by their bravery, their stamina, their strong bonds of camaraderie, and their kindness to an outsider from Pennsylvania. Every time I read certain pages as I worked on editing the manuscript, I...

    (pp. ix-xii)
    Michael Markrich
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)

    When I was a young man, a few months after my twenty-seventh birthday (I am now sixty-eight), association with a remarkable group of men was suddenly thrust upon me: I was assigned to the 100thInfantry Battalion (Separate) as chaplain.

    The men were Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs), and all save a few of the original unit were from the then Territory of Hawaii. Their officers, both haole (Caucasian) and Nisei (AJA), were also from Hawaii. Committed to combat with the Fifth Army in southern Italy in September of 1943, the 100thsoon distinguished itself. It earned the title of...

  7. ONE The Assignment
    (pp. 1-18)

    “Chaplain israel Yost,” said the colonel, adding an unmistakable emphasis to the name “Israel.” Why was he laughing as he returned my salute? Embarrassed, I stood at attention as the other officers seated around the room joined their guffaws to that of their superior officer, Lt. Col. Farrant L. Turner¹

    “Chaplain, you’re not Jewish, are you?” he asked.

    “No, sir, I am Lutheran.”

    “We were wondering,” he continued in a more serious manner, “why the army was sending us a rabbi when we have only Buddhists and Christians.” Both he and I had been in the service long enough to...

  8. TWO The Making of the 100th
    (pp. 19-30)

    On december 7, 1941, 158,000 persons of Japanese ancestry lived in the Hawaiian Islands¹ and 127,000 in the continental United States. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor horrified not just a majority of these people but almost every one of them, whether they had emigrated from Japan or had been born American citizens. Few, if any, could foresee how profoundly their lives would be changed as a consequence of this single day in history. The AJAs,² both of Hawaii and the Mainland, became suspect of disloyalty by many other Americans, some in high positions in the government.

    However, the treatment...

  9. THREE From Parson to Chaplain
    (pp. 31-46)

    When war was declared after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I felt no inclination to become personally involved. No one in my family had any connection with the military, and it had no appeal for me. A graduate of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, I had been called to the pastorate of a rural, two-congregation parish near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in September 1940, and in September of 1941, I married and settled down to what I hoped would be a life in one spot.

    In September of 1942, our first child, Monica, was born.¹ I intended to keep busy as...

  10. FOUR Back to Serious Business
    (pp. 47-65)

    When the story of the chaplain of the 100thwas interrupted by the two flashbacks to Pearl Harbor, the day was October 23, 1943, and the hour was noon. My diary records the rest of the day’s events thus.

    Ate K ration and came to front: walked last half of the way; went to Battalion Aid. In p.m. talked with shell-shocked boy. Helped carry out wounded men. Shells landed close; snipers fired two shots close; machine gun stray bullets close. Talked with men as they were put in ambulance. Received twenty letters, Peg’s two copies of birth certificate of Chris....

  11. FIVE How Long in These Hills?
    (pp. 66-92)

    The rain continued on Monday, November 15, and rain makes mud. For the day my principal activity was a lack of activity, rest. In the afternoon I began instructing the four new Christians, outlining for them the content of the books of the Bible. I posted a box of gifts home to Peggy; V-Mail and surface mail cost members of the armed forces nothing, but we paid for sending packages and airmail letters. I overheard an officer asking one of the drivers if he would like to become the chaplain’s assistant. “It’s too risky,” replied the soldier. “You are wrong,”...

  12. SIX A Reprieve before Cassino
    (pp. 93-112)

    What a relief to be away from the front and not even in reserve but actually assigned to an area for a period of rest, the first such experience since the 100thcame ashore at Salerno! The men who had survived were entitled to these days of relaxation beyond the reach of enemy shells and bombs. There was a bit of a program to harden the men physically and some instruction of a military nature, but most of the time was for resting and catching up with life.

    The men were housed in pyramidal tents, several squads under each canvas,...

  13. SEVEN Failure at Cassino
    (pp. 113-135)

    Like most ordinary GIs, I knew nothing of the overall plans of the 34thDivision, the II Corps, and the Fifth Army, and very little of the objectives of neighboring battalions. Once an engagement began I was concerned only with what went on in the 100th. When the forward aid moved, I went with it unless I was busy elsewhere and not free to leave the immediate task. I understood little of the scope of the Battle of Cassino until years later, when I looked up the facts in history books. I was aware at the time that this was...

  14. EIGHT Anzio and Rome
    (pp. 136-157)

    On january 22, 1944, two nights before the 100thbegan the attack against Cassino, American and British troops had landed without enemy opposition at Anzio some thirty miles south of Rome, and a beachhead extending seven miles inland and fifteen miles along the coast had been established. The purpose was to drive a wedge behind the German position and cut off the enemy in the Cassino area. The Wehrmacht, however, had rushed in troops to halt any further Allied advance, and both sides had dug into defensive locations.

    To this battlefield the 34thDivision was transported in LSTs (landing ship...

  15. NINE North to Pisa
    (pp. 158-179)

    The 442ndRegimental Combat Team was composed of those Nisei from the Mainland and Hawaii who were inducted early in 1943 when the 100thBattalion was in the South training for overseas combat. Officially activated February 1, 1943, with Col. Charles W. Pence in command, the new unit’s cadre assembled at Camp Shelby on February 15 to put into livable shape the rundown training area assigned to the Nisei. April 13, the Hawaiian contingent of 2,686 arrived; small Mainland groups arrived from time to time, some even after basic training began on May 10. The AJAs were assigned to the...

  16. TEN La Belle France
    (pp. 180-204)

    The three-day voyage to southern France on choppy seas was uneventful. To help the men pass the time books were distributed from my lending library, including extra copies our executive officer had obtained from an air corps unit. An hour after our transport dropped anchor in the harbor of Marseille at noon on September 29, the battalion boarded landing craft. At 5:30 p.m., we all piled into “40 et 8s” (French boxcars for forty men and eight horses) for a four-mile, eighthour ride to Septemes, followed by a mile hike to a bivouac where we tented for nine days, fighting...

  17. ELEVEN On the Border
    (pp. 205-225)

    For eleven days in late November of 1944, the 100thguarded the snow-covered Franco-Italian border between St. Etienne de Tinée and St. Martin de Vésubie, patrolling on foot by day but returning by nightfall to warm billets and sharing village life with the friendly civilians.

    I just went out into the snow to see if the Jell-o were solid—it is almost ready to eat. Please send some more of it in the next package—it’s very easy to make in the canteen cup and goes well in this winter weather.

    I am anxious to meet some of the children...

  18. TWELVE Italian Finale
    (pp. 226-250)

    The 100thleft Marseille, France, aboard three LSTs on Friday, March 23, but the troops did not know until Sunday morning that the Combat Team was headed for Italy. After two Palm Sunday services on the LST (with a sermon about Jesus emptying himself of the powers of God and coming as a man to earth to lift us up toward God), we landed at Leghorn at noon, without any identifying insignia on our uniforms, for, as in the Battle of Bruyères, the Nisei were to be used as a secret weapon to be thrust against the German defenses in...

  19. THIRTEEN Three More Months
    (pp. 251-261)

    On june 14, 1945, the 442nd, relieved of all POW duties, folded up its tents and in American and confiscated German vehicles moved to Lecco, sixty miles away. While the regiment settled in, I took a jeep ride up to a hill overlooking the city and lake; the view was delightful. After the evening meal I strolled through the streets, handing out gifts to the children I met. One little three-year-old was shy of me, until I gave her a doll and some candy. Apparently my walrus moustache scared some of the kids. In the morning I discovered that this...

  20. Epilogue
    (pp. 262-280)

    Echoes of the military reached me in my parish from time to time. From the Office of the American Provost Marshal, Headquarters Florence Command in Italy came a copy of a letter dated September 15, 1945, praising Japanese American soldiers for their exemplary behavior in the previous months.¹

    Then a personal letter from an officer in Italy, dated November 23, 1945, spoke of the problems cropping up among the men still serving overseas.

    [T]he moral state is not so good. . . . We are way down in strength, approximately 2000 at the most and so you can see what...

    (pp. 281-292)
    Monica E. Yost

    When israel a. s. yost enlisted as a chaplain, I was the infant daughter in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, he said good-bye to for over two years. I have no memory of the war years or of my father’s return after the war. However, as I was growing up, I heard stories about the men of the 100thBattalion and sensed my father’s deep respect and fondness for them. The stories he told were not about strategies of combat, but about cherished memories of the character of the men, especially their kindness to him, their bravery, and their sacrifice for each other...

  22. APPENDIX: Memorial Address—100th Infantry Battalion
    (pp. 293-298)
    (pp. 299-300)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 301-311)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)