History Remembered: Army Private Torao Migita

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Mark Matsunaga

Seventy-five years ago, the family of Army Private Torao Migita received his Purple Heart medal. It was 19 months after the 27-year-old was killed in the December 7, 1941, attack on Oahu by Japanese naval aircraft.

Migita was among 2,341 American service members to fall in the attack. And he was the first of 506 Americans of Japanese ancestry from Hawaii who died in service to America in World War II. Those AJAs – or nisei – were more than 62 percent of the Hawaii residents who died in military service during the war.

Migita was born in Kalihiwai, Kauai, and went to school in nearby Kilauea. He moved to Honolulu at the age of 14. He was a housepainter when he was drafted in June 1941. After basic training at Schofield Barracks he was assigned to the 298th Infantry Regiment, a former Hawaii National Guard unit that had been federalized in late 1940.

His family lived on Weaver Lane, near the site of today’s Hawaii State Capitol. “He was home on leave the night before the attack,’ Migita’s brother Kiyoshi Kaneko said in 1943. “The next morning when the radio flashed the order for service men to report immediately to their post, Torao rushed out to the Army and Navy YMCA for transportation back to Schofield Barracks where his company was stationed.

“That was the last I saw of him -- alive, because that afternoon when I saw the casualty list in the newspaper, I saw his name among the dead. Early next morning we made the rounds of the mortuaries in the city and finally found his body. He was one of several dead persons who had not yet been identified,” Kaneko said.

A week later, their mother received a letter from Lt. Gen. Walter Short, commander of the Hawaiian Department, “It is with deepest regret that I have just learned that your son was killed in action last Sunday, December 7, 1941, during the bombing of Wheeler field. Private Torao Migita was a loyal and faithful soldier and one of the first to give his life in the war…”

The family received no official word about how he died. In mid-July 1943, the family received his Purple Heart and a letter of condolence from Secretary of War Henry Stimson, expressing “the country’s gratitude for his courage and devotion.”

Migita was one of about 2,000 AJAs serving in the Army in Hawaii when the war began. They served faithfully, despite suspicions about their loyalty amid the post-attack hysteria. In mid-1942, 1,400 of them were sent to the continent and designated as the 100th Infantry Battalion. Their fine record helped convince the War Department to establish a larger segregated unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The 100th entered combat in September 1943 near Salerno, Italy, attached to the 34th “Red Bull” Division. The Hawaii AJAs earned the respect of fellow GIs and, in brutal fighting at the Rapido River and Monte Cassino, the sobriquet, the “Purple Heart Battalion.” The 442nd arrived in June 1944. With the 100th as its first battalion, the 442nd served with distinction in Italy and France and became the most decorated regiment in U.S. history.

Migita’s brother Noboru Kaneko served in the 100th and was wounded near Cassino. So was a future U.S. senator, Spark Matsunaga. Another future senator, Daniel Inouye, served with the 442nd RCT, which earned seven Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor and more than 4,000 Purple Hearts. Today, the 100th/442nd is the only infantry unit in the Army Reserve.