Do you remember the following men? Stanley Iichiki, Robert T. Kishi, Seichi Nakamoto, Dick Z. Masuda, and Akira Otsubo, of Stockton; Kay K. Masaoka of Lodi; George Nakamura of Acampo; Ko Tanaka of Lodi; and Minoru Yoshida of Linden.1 They left San Joaquin County as young men and never returned. Their graves can be found in Italy, France, and Golden Gate Cemetery, in San Bruno, California.2
Think about them when you drive on Highway 99 from Salida to Manteca. That stretch of the highway is dedicated to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese-American army unit of World War II, and the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the United States. The 442nd earned 21 Medals of Honor, 9,486 Purple Hearts, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 distinguished Service Medal, 560 Silver Stars with 28 Oak Leaf Clusters, which represented a second award, and 4,000 Bronze Stars and awards from Italy and France. The unit also earned 7 Presidential Unit Citations.3
The men listed above grew up in San Joaquin County and were interned in Rohwer or Jerome War Relocation Camps in Arkansas, then enlisted in the United States Army while their families remained incarcerated. The Japanese-American men went to war to defend the United States and to prove they were loyal Americans. These men gave their lives along the battle route of the 442nd through Italy and France. They died in the Anzio to Rome campaign, the Po Valley Campaign, the Battle of Bruyeres, in the Voges Mountains Campaign, and in the rescue of the Texas Lost Battalion.4
A unit from the 442nd liberated Dachau,a German extermination camp.5
On April 5, 1945, the 442nd broke the Gothic Line. The Germans were dug in at Mount Folgorito, the mountain that anchored the Gothic Line, where they had held the Allies at bay for six months. In the dark of night, the 442nd climbed the back of Mount Folgorito. They surprised the Germans and took the mountain in thirty-two minutes. The allied forces stalemated by German batteries for six months were surprised to see the American flag at the top of the mountain on the morning of April 5.6
Some of the surviving 442nd members returned to San Joaquin County and still live here today, in Stockton, Lodi, and Manteca. Tad Kinoshita, Larry Shimada, Mauch Yamashita, Lloyd Fujitani, Tets Matsumoto are 442nd veterans who live in Lodi.7 They deserve our thanks, both for their heroism during the war and for their continued contributions to the community, as businessmen, farmers, leaders of youth, and as family men.
You can read online the memorable and elegant tribute to the 442nd by the curator of the army, Eric Saul, at the Medal of Honor Ceremony that honored Okubo and Nakamura.
1. “Rohwer Relocation Center, Arkansas.”
3. National Japanese American Historical Society, “Research on 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.”
4. “Rohwer Relocation Center, Arkansas.”
5. Chester Tanaka, Go For Broke: A Pictorial History of the 100/442nd Regimental Combat Team (Richmond, Calif.: Go For Broke), p. 117.
6. “Eric Saul, 442nd Speech.”
7. Telephone interviews with Mauch Yamashita and Lloyd Fujitani by Arlene Tamura on Aug. 30, 2011.
Trained as a historian and educator, Suga Moriwaki edited the fall 2008-spring 2009 issue of the San Joaquin Historian, which is titled “Lodi’s Japantown.”