100th Infantry Battalion
Seventy-five years ago this month, (September) the 100th Infantry Battalion, a segregated unit from Hawaii, entered combat in Italy. It was the first bloody step on a journey of heroism and vindication by Americans of Japanese ancestry in World War II.
The 100th Battalion was originally drawn from the 2,000 AJAs or “nisei” – children of Japanese immigrants– who were drafted or enlisted in the Army in Hawaii before Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on Oahu. Most of the nisei served with the 298th and 299th Infantry regiments, former Hawaii National Guard outfits that had been federalized in October 1940. They answered the call to arms on December 7 alongside their fellow Americans and spent the next six months guarding Hawaii against a feared invasion by Japan. Hawaii’s large Japanese American population was the subject of widespread rumors that they had aided the December 7 attack, but numerous investigations found those rumors to be groundless.
Nonetheless, in May 1942, those AJA infantrymen were removed from their units, reorganized as the Hawaiian Provisional Battalion, and on June 4 quietly shipped to the continent. There were 1,432 members in the overstrength battalion. They were nisei, except for a few haole officers and a handful of Native Hawaiians who claimed to be part-Japanese so they could go off to war with their AJA pals.
Upon arrival at Oakland, the battalion was renamed 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). The men called it the “One Puka Puka.” The unit was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, then to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 100th Battalion received its official colors in July 1943. The soldiers from Hawaii chose as their motto “Remember Pearl Harbor,” ignoring the Army’s recommendation, “Be of Good Cheer.”
The unit went overseas in August, sailing in a convoy from New York to Oran, Algeria. There, the 100th was attached to the 34th Division, and they soon departed for the invasion of Italy.
The 100th entered combat on September 29, 1943, leading a regimental thrust north of the Allies’ Salerno beachhead. After a night of torrential rains, the 100th slogged through the hills toward Chiusano until it ran into heavy fire from a German strong point of three machine guns supported by armored vehicles.
Sergeant Joseph Shigeo Takata led his squad to try to outflank the enemy. “First time, so I’ll lead,” he said.
Takata grew up on Waialua sugar plantation. At age 14, he was named to the rural Oahu all-star football team as quarterback, one of five all-stars from what was then Andrew Cox Junior High School (later Waialua High and Intermediate). Takata was also a forward on the plantation basketball team. But he really excelled in baseball. Takata attended McKinley High School, leading the Tigers to the Interscholastic League of Honolulu baseball championship in his senior year. He went to work for Castle and Cooke as a stevedore, but continued playing baseball, for Waialua and Azuma in the AJA leagues and for Asahi (later called the Athletics) in the Hawaii League, the highest level of baseball played in prewar Hawaii.
Takata was drafted into the Army on November 15, 1941, three weeks before Pearl Harbor. At Camp McCoy, he was one of the stars, usually batting cleanup, for the 100th Battalion’s Aloha baseball team, which broke down barriers as it vanquished teams from other units and the community.
At age 24, Joe Takata was struck down by enemy fire in Italy, the first of more than 350 members of the 100th Battalion to die in action. Takata was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. The citation said he “personally led his support squad through intense artillery, mortar and machine gun fire in an effort to outflank the enemy position. With complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sgt. Takata took a position in front of his squad and led them in the flanking movement. He exposed himself in an effort to locate the enemy machine gunners and was mortally wounded by an enemy artillery shell. Although he lived only a few minutes after being struck, Sgt. Takata called for his platoon sergeant in order to give him the situation. Sgt. Takata’s devotion to duty and extraordinary gallantry in the face of intense enemy fire is commendable and a distinct credit to the armed forces of the United States.”
Takata was married only a week before he shipped out of Honolulu in June 1942. After his death, rather than buy the customary tea and coffee for his mourners, his widow, Florence, and his parents donated $100 each to the Red Cross, Army relief fund, Navy relief fund and the Honolulu Community Chest.
In 1955, at a service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, his wartime battalion commander, Farrant Turner, recalled Takata as “a master solider…a great athlete, a great leader.” Turner, who was now the secretary of the Territory of Hawaii, said, “he would have gone on to great things if he had not died. His personal war lasted five minutes….” Turner stopped and shook his head, overcome by emotion.
The Army renamed the baseball field at Fort Shafter in Honolulu Takata Field in 2003. And the 100th Battalion Veterans hold a memorial service the last Sunday of September at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Since 2006, the service has been combined with those of the other World War II AJA units: Military Intelligence Service, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. This year’s Joint Memorial Service will be held Sept. 30 at 9:30 a.m.
The 100th’s exemplary service helped convince the War Department and President Roosevelt to establish a larger AJA unit in 1943. This became the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which joined the 100th in the summer of 1944. By then, the One Puka Puka had proved itself in battle at such great cost that it had been nicknamed “The Purple Heart Battalion.” After the war, veterans of the 100th, 442nd and, in the Pacific, the Military Intelligence Service came home and changed Hawaii.
Today, the 100th Bn/442nd Infantry, is the only combat arms unit in the Army Reserve.
Image Caption: Joe Takata, in the uniform of the 100th Infantry Battalion’s baseball team, which made a lot of friends and won a lot of games before the outfit shipped out to war. (Photo courtesy of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center)