LIHUE — World War II hero Kazuma “Monty” Nishiie was surrounded by loved ones as he said goodbye to his devoted wife, Celia, and his three children Thursday morning.
“He was a hero to his country, to his family and to me,” Celia said.
Monty, 101, died after health complications at Wilcox Medical Center.
A World War II veteran awarded with the Purple Heart, Nishiie was a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion on Kauai; a unit that was comprised of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry.
“He always talked to me and told me that he loved me,” said his stepdaughter Rebecca, as she fought through tears. “He always supported me. At night, we would talk about my dreams and that he was happy for me. The last thing he said … ‘You mean so much to me. And to take care of momma.’ He always said thank you to me for taking care of him. He would always say that I was the best daughter and he would always be thankful to me and my mom.”
At 25 years old, Monty was drafted into the U.S. Army and served as a sergeant with Company D of the 100th Battalion in Monte Cassino, Italy.
He was wounded in battle and earned the Purple Heart in 1943 and also received the Bronze Star for his involvement in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operation during the Anzio campaign.
Five years ago, Monty traveled to Washington, D.C., to be honored, along with other Kauai veterans, with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States. This came after Congress officially recognized the heroic wartime contributions of the 100th Infantry Battalion, along with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
A family friend and church companion of Celia, Tootsie Sanchez, was with the family as they mourned Monty’s death.
“It’s like when did the Civil War end? You know what I mean? This guy is the last of the original infantry. All he wanted was to come back home and die in peace, surrounded by his loving family and devoted wife.”
Monty was honored at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall two weeks ago. His wife Celia said attending the memorial was Monty’s dying wish.
“He really wanted to go the memorial. His last memorial,” Celia said. “I prayed everyday that he would be able to attend. He was a Japanese hero, and wanted to be there.”
After the memorial, Monty’s health took a turn for the worst.
“He was blessed and given communion by Father Edison and Father Bill from the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and Father Anthony of St. Catherine’s Church at Wilcox,” Sanchez said. “He was conscious through all the blessings. Celia was right by his bedside; she never stopped praying. On hands and knees, Celia prayed and never left his side for a second.”
Celia, just hours after Monty’s death, sat down with her family and Sanchez and wanted to tell The Garden Island about Monty’s passing. Celia said that she’s the one who tells the island about him and wanted the public to know firsthand about his final moments.
“I love him very much. … I love him so much,” Celia said as she struggled to find her voice. “I’m very proud of him.”
His low blood pressure wouldn’t allow him to be transported home from the hospital, although he was conscious until his death.
He was at peace, Rebecca said, and was filled with love.
Before he died, Monty told his family he was thankful they were by his side. Sanchez described how she felt that God was in the room with Monty and his family.
“God is love,” Sanchez said. “And the closest thing to heaven is here.”
A previous version of this story stated that Mr. Nishiie was the last surviving member of the 100th Infantry Battalion on Kauai. There are, however, two members still alive: Thomas Arakaki, a patient at The Garden Island Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center; and Ikito Muraoka, a resident at The Regency at Puakea.