I have just finished working through an interview with Hideo “Lefty” Kuniyoshi, a Nisei soldier from Hawaii. During World War II, Mr. Kuniyoshi served as a squad leader in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and he saw much action in Italy and France. Sadly, in reading a little bit about Mr. Kuniyoshi, I discovered that he suffered from Alzheimer’s, which would explain his foggy memory in parts of his interview. One area in which Mr. Kuniyoshi’s memory is still intact is his service with the 442nd in Europe. Mr. Kuniyoshi saw action during the Champagne Campaign and the battle to break the Gothic Line, as well as helping to liberate the city of Bruyeres, France. One famous mission Mr. Kuniyoshi took part in was the rescuing of the so-called “Lost Battalion”. Always humble, Mr. Kuniyoshi does not like to be branded a hero for his contribution to the mission, instead maintaining that he was simply performing his duty for his fellow brothers-in-arms. The case of the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion” is an interesting story and I have come across it in several of the Nisei veterans’ interviews. I would like to give a little background history for the mission and how it relates to the Nisei military experience.
The “Lost Battalion” was a group of soldiers from the 141st Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion of the 36th (Texas) Division, which originally made up the Texas National Guard. Fighting through France in October of 1944, the soon-to-be “Lost Battalion” was ordered to engage a group of German soldiers, by the much maligned Major General John E. Dahlquist. The battle was a disaster: German soldiers were able to cut-off the battalion, leaving 275 soldiers trapped without supplies in the Vosges Mountains. Two rescue attempts failed and conditions on the ground quickly deteriorated. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was called upon to undertake a final rescue mission after their success in the French towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine. During the five days of battle, the 442nd was able to break through and defeat the Germans, rescuing the remaining 200 men of the “Lost Battalion”. In the process however, the 442nd suffered hundreds of casualties. The “Lost Battalion” mission contributed to the 442nd becoming the most decorated unit, for its size and length of service, in U.S. history.
Missions, like that of the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion”, highlight the importance of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II. The Nisei soldiers’ service shows the selflessness and loyalty that many, like Mr. Kuniyoshi, operated under for a country which treated them poorly. This mission also highlighted the suspect leadership of Major General Dahlquist, who was criticized for his over-utilization of Nisei soldiers, many of whom had little rest after liberating Bruyeres and Biffontaine when called upon for the mission. I have come across several Nisei veterans in these interviews who do not hold the major general in high regards. Mr. Kuniyoshi, for one, when asked about what he thought of Major General Dahlquist responded with the curt reply, “not much”. Some argue that Dahlquist’s actions may highlight the inherent discrimination and racism in the military during World War II, and sadly racism against Japanese Americans permeated the whole country at the time. This is what makes the service of the 442nd/100th and missions, like the Rescue of the “Lost Battalion”, so important, for it signifies the Nisei veterans’ legacy. The Nisei fought to prove their loyalty to their country, as well as to gain honor and respect from the American people. The courage and resolve that Mr. Kuniyoshi and thousands of others have showcased is something to be admired and has rightfully cemented the Nisei soldiers’ actions during World War II as an important piece of American history.