100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team 2nd and 3rd Battalions
(June – September 9, 1944)
Livorno / Hill 140
Following the liberation of Rome at the start of June, the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion met up with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which had just arrived in Italy. On June 11, 1944, they were attached to the 442nd. But the unit kept its “100th Battalion” designation. Its identity as a fierce and loyal Army unit had been indelibly forged by combat.
As June turned into July, near Livorno, at the “knee” of the boot of Italy, the newly merged 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team fought for three grueling weeks.1
The Nisei soldiers had to cross rolling hills and harvested wheat fields. The Germans could easily see the approaching Americans from their hilltop observation posts.2 The 100th and 2nd Battalions led the attack. Their objective: Hill 140. The Germans fired their mortars and powerful 88’s with devastating accuracy, wounding all the officers in G Company, except for one.3
For three days the Nisei fought from their vulnerable position. As the casualties mounted, the men renamed Hill 140 “Little Cassino.” The rocky terrain made it hard to dig slit trenches for protection from enemy shelling. Six men in L Company were wiped out from a single shell.4 Other Nisei were hit by enemy machine-gun and sniper fire.
Yet every man in the 442nd knew that he was not alone. The medics braved enemy fire to patch up the wounded. The Anti-Tank Company carried the wounded.5 The 232nd engineers swept for mines and built bypasses to keep the vital supply lines open.6 The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion fired quickly and accurately to protect the infantry and prevent enemy penetration.7 After two more days of heavy artillery shelling, the 442nd finally captured Hill 140.
At the front line, hundreds of infantrymen fought enemy fire and protected each other. On July 4, 1944, Private First Class Frank H. Ono’s squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. Ono advanced alone, shooting his rifle and then throwing grenades. He deliberately stopped to give first aid to two wounded soldiers. Then, from an exposed position, he made himself the target of enemy fire until his platoon could withdraw safely.8
Nearby, Private First Class William Nakamura’s squad was also pinned down. Nakamura crawled within 20 yards of an enemy machine gun. He lobbed four hand grenades and silenced it. He remained behind, alone, to cover his retreating platoon, and when the men were pinned down again by machine gun fire, he fired on the machine gunners, enabling the men to withdraw to safety. He himself was killed by sniper fire.9
Nakamura died on Hill 140 on Independence Day. His sacrifice was made even more tragic given that Nakamura had volunteered to serve while behind the barbed wire of the Minidoka incarceration camp in Idaho.
Both Ono and Nakamura earned Distinguished Service Crosses for their heroism. In all, more than 11 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to the 442nd for action in the three-week battle. Half a century later, five of these were upgraded to Medals of Honor. They were awarded to Ono, Nakamura, Technical Sergeant Ted T. Tanouye, Staff Sergeant Kazuo Otani (a volunteer from Gila River camp) and Private First Class Kaoru Moto (a member of the original 100th Battalion).10
Just a few weeks later, another private in the 100th made history. A lone Nisei private adamantly refused to let a colonel and his long truck convoy enter Livorno without orders. The private and the 100th were assigned to guard the highway into Livorno and prevent looting. They were told to not let anyone through without orders. When word shot back to headquarters, Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, commanding general of the Fifth Army, gathered his staff and a group of newsmen. He put his arm around the five-foot-tall Nisei private and said, “I selected the 100th because I knew my orders would be carried out. I can depend on the 100th to successfully carry out any mission. . . This private is an example of that trust.”11
Meanwhile, from July 18 to 20, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions took the strategic city of Pisa.
July 25 through August 15 was a time of ceremony and rest for the three battalions of the 442nd. The 100th was presented with a Presidential Unit Citation for its action in Belvedere. Some of the men in the 2nd Battalion formed an honor guard for His Majesty King George VI of England during his visit to Cecina.12
Livorno / Hill 140
During the last two weeks of August, the Nisei patrolled the Arno River. The 100th was near Pisa, while the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were near Florence. On September 1, the Allies crossed the Arno. The 2nd and 3rd ran into concentrated opposition and suffered numerous casualties. But the 100th was virtually unopposed. Some speculated that the Germans had already withdrawn to fortify the Gothic Line strung along the Apennine Mountains.
From Rome to Arno, the 100th/442nd had lost 1,272 men (17 missing, 44 non-combat injuries, 972 wounded, and 239 killed), more than a quarter of its total strength.13 This is the price it paid for 40 miles of Italian countryside and for forcing the Germans into retreat.
Many of the Allied generals in Italy believed the time was right to drive the weakened retreating Germans through the Apennines and back to the Alps. But instead, Generals Eisenhower and Marshall, who needed troops for the invasion of Southern France, ordered seven divisions, including the 442nd, to pull back from the Gothic Line.
The Nisei would be back.
- 1Chester Tanaka, Go For Broke: A Pictorial History of the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442d Regimental Combat Team (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 58.
- 2Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 151.
- 3Dorothy Matsuo, Boyhood to War: History and Anecdotes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Honolulu, HI: Mutual Pub. Co., 1992), p. 98.
- 4Ibid, p. 99.
- 5Jimmy Sakimoto, Company History Antitank Company 442nd Regimental Combat Team (1945), p. 8.
- 6George Goto, History of the 232nd Engineer Combat Company. 232nd Engineer Combat Company, US Army, p. 4.
- 7Matsuo, p. 103.
- 8“Private First Class Frank H. Ono,” US Army Center of Military History, 2011, accessed on January 15, 2015
- 9“Private First Class William K. Nakamura,” US Army Center of Military History, 2011, accessed on January 15, 2015
- 10Crost, pp. 153-155.
- 11Mark W. Clark qtd. in Tanaka, p. 63.
- 12James M. Hanley, A Matter of Honor: A Memoire (Springfield, MA: Vantage Press, 1995), p. 57.
- 13Tanaka, p. 24.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
Mitsugi Tagawa [interview 661]
Starts on Tape Two, between 34 and 36 minute marks
But then, you know, we went to Hill 140 which is pretty bad. That’s where I got hurt.
Now, if you could describe this Hill 140, what was it a night action or . . .?
No, it’s day. We were supporting 3rd Platoon and, actually, we hadn’t done much firing, we disengaged, we’re gonna go cross this gully to the other side. And we had taken a couple of shots at some Jerries. I take an .03, taken two clean shots, and I really don’t [know] whether I hit anyone or not. And then, our squad leader got hurt.
So, all of a sudden I got promoted from 2nd to gunner and my gunner got promoted to squad leader and, you know, we moved across and we were on the other side and we started to dig in in support that we—I think it was a first squad, anyway, one—there’s quite bit of fire, you know, fire, fire and we started catching artillery and mortar barrage. And when I hit the ground, I found a little shallow dip, and the mortar round went off to my right, very close, and it really—what I remember, I felt it go off and I couldn’t hear anything, you know.
And I had a headache, and this medic came by and says, “You’re hurt,” and I imagine I had some shrapnel on the side, but since I was in this little depression, they all went over the top of me and the mortar, I could see the fins, it hit pretty close. There was—some people said, “Two people, two got killed from that barrage outburst.” Then the next, what I remember is being in the field hospital, and the nurse asked me who I was, and I told her and she said, well, that I’ve been out of it for the last seven or ten days. And I don’t remember, except I had a headache, you know, then I stayed around there until I got over the headache and they sent me back to, you know, back to the unit.
Yukio Okutsu [interview 256]
Starts on Tape Four, between 10 and 12 minute marks
And what was the next battle after that?
Was the Arno River. We—just up to the Arno River, and then, after the Arno River, yeah, it was Arno River. But we pull from—as soon as we hit Pisa, we pulled back and we rested for a few days, then we went back in line. But they moved us up further, up close to Florence, you know, the city of Florence, and we stayed right below, right outside of Florence and we were guarding this one side of the river and the allies, you know, Americans, were on the one side and the Jerries, Germans, were across the river.