The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)
(September 9, 1943 – January 21, 1944)
The War Department described the battalion’s first week of combat as follows: “While acting as advance guard…the battalion advanced fifteen miles in twenty-four hours, operating day and night in the face of strong enemy resistance and over difficult terrain…although suffering casualties, their advance continued on…all weapons were used with complete assurance.”2 The 100th accomplished its first major mission, capturing Benevento, an important rail center and road intersection.
As the Allies continued to push the enemy north, they crossed the twisting Volturno River in three different places. At the crossings, the Germans held the high ground, shooting down on the wet GIs who struggled through the swift currents and clambered up the slippery banks. But once on dry land, the soldiers were finally able to return fire.
At the second Volturno River crossing, the 100th waited so that it could protect the rear of the 133rd Regiment, eventually making its way across on October 19, just after midnight. Some of the shorter men found the chilly water to be over their heads.3 They then moved up the flats south of Alife, facing minefields and fortified machine gun nests. The next evening, they were met with heavy artillery fire and “screaming meemies,” the dreaded German rocket launchers.4
Over the next few days, the 133rd reorganized and the Germans bolstered their defenses. After Alife was seized, the 100th advanced to the crest of Castle Hill and was ordered to take up defensive positions there while another battalion came around to attack the rear. The action was a success, but it cost the 100th 21 deaths and 67 wounded.5
In the early hours of November 1, the Nisei soldiers fought the heavily entrenched enemy on the ground. From the air the German Luftwaffe (air force) strafed the Nisei, wounding 12 men.6 On November 3, the 100th crossed the Volturno River for the third and final time.
The next day was the first “banzai charge.” A sergeant mistakenly heard that one of the most respected officers in the battalion was either wounded or captured. The sergeant ordered his platoon to fix bayonets and charge. The men yelled “Banzai!” and swarmed the area in a move that would later be used again to rescue a lost battalion.
The “banzai charge” occurred because of the men’s concern for each other. Many of the soldiers of the 100th had known each other since they were children.7 Their dedication to one another was such that they never left a man behind, even in death. Never.
In its first month and a half of combat, the 100th witnessed many examples of bravery and heroism. Private First Class Thomas Isamu Yamanaga silenced an enemy machine gun and freed his pinned-down platoon. He killed the entire German crew, but was himself mortally wounded.8
Sergeant Shigeo “Joe” Takata, advancing on an enemy machine gun, was hit by shrapnel, but fought off death long enough to tell others of the location of the gun.9 Takata’s was the first combat death for the 100th.10
Both Yamanaga and Takata earned Distinguished Service Crosses for their heroic acts. Technician Fifth Grade Walter Satoshi Kadota administered first aid to 12 wounded men under heavy fire and evaluated a large number of casualties.11 He was awarded a Silver Star for his valor.
By the time they were relieved on November 11, 1943, the men of the 100th had earned numerous Silver Stars. But the casualties were high. Eighteen officers and 239 enlisted men were wounded. Three officers and 75 enlisted men died. One man remained missing.12
The 100th Battalion learned to respect the enemy. The Germans were well-trained and well-equipped. But perhaps more significant, the 100th had earned a reputation as superb soldiers, eliminating many doubts about their loyalty as Americans.
From November to mid-January 1944, the 100th captured hills and villages. The fighting was so bitter that at one battle, C Company, which started with 187 men, had only 50 left.13
In addition to fighting the German army, the men also fought the harsh weather. The soldiers hiked through two feet of snow and up 6,000-foot peaks, all without the proper winter gear. Cold rain poured down on them, soaking their uniforms. Lacking snow boots, many suffered from trench foot. These unforgiving, frigid conditions followed them as they made their way to Cassino.
- 1Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994, p. 70.
- 2General Mark W. Clark and Martin Blumenson, Calculated Risk (New York: HarperCollins, 1950), p. 220.
- 3Thomas D. Murphy, “Echoes of Silence: Battle Campaigns,” from Ambassador in Arms: The Story of Hawaii’s 100th Battalion, ajawarvets.org, p. 7, accessed on January 15, 2015
- 4Crost, p. 81.
- 5Murphy, p. 8.
- 6C. Douglas Sterner, Go for Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II Who Conquered Germany, Japan, and American Bigotry (Clearfield, UT: American Legacy Historical Press, 2008), p. 35.
- 7Crost, p. 155.
- 8“Thomas Isamu Yamanaga,” Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 10, 2015
- 9“Shigeo Joseph Takata,” Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 10, 2015
- 10Crost, p. 79.
- 11“Walter Satoshi Kadota,” Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 10, 2015
- 12Murphy, p. 17, accessed on January 10, 2015
- 13Sterner, p. 36.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
Mitsuo Hamasu [interview 628]
Starts on Tape Two, between 24 and 26 minute marks
We landed in Salerno and the war was going on, but fortunately, no bombardment at the bay that we landed in Salerno. [26:00] Company F and E Company was separated from the battalion and F Company was assigned to guard the forward airstrip and E Company was assigned to guard the fuel supply of the whatdayacall, the army in Italy. The E and F Company was separated and the rest of the battalion moved ahead toward the front.
Mitsuo Hamasu [interview 628]
Starts on Tape Three, between 2 and 4 minute marks
When we were committed, the battalion was out in the field for quite a while and we were in the back of the battalion as a reserve. We were in a sort of an olive grove where we dug in and they said that we had to attack [???] after going over the Volturno River. So before that attack, they said they’re going to fire artillery until we’re ready to go.
So, they fired the artillery until the company [4:00] was ready to go and as we moved forward, everybody put on a white marker on their pack so that the guy in the back of you can see the front guy moving up ahead, and we passed through the Volturno River, which was about knee deep, and went on the other side and found that the place was mined with telemines and all the mines, and I could see the wires strung from the tree to the mine, and if you tripped that wire, the mine will bounce up and down and explode about six feet high and kill you or maim you and all that.
So we had forward elements go to the mine fields and mark the area that is cleared by putting toilet paper for a marker, but it took quite a while before we could get up to the hill that we were supposed to be going. And once we passed through that, we went to the top of the hill and we found that the Germans was there.
When we went to the top of the hill, the German— I guess, he sort of thought,[6:00] who the people were around and put on his flashlight and then the guys sort of told him to turn off the flashlight. And after that, they had a scuffle and somebody started shooting at the guys. The German was killed, got shot in the back and one of my men was shot, too. He was an assistant squad leader of mine.