HANAPEPE — “I am an American. Hawaii is our home, the United States our country. We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible and we hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us.”
Those words were on a petition sent to the Hawaiian military governor by 155 citizens of Japanese ancestry shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Vincent Johnson said Sunday during the 100th Infantry Battalion memorial service at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery in Hanapepe. Those men went on to become the 100th Infantry Battalion.
“On the first day of combat on Sept. 29, 1943, Sgt. Joe Takata became the first member of the 100th to be killed,” said Johnson, the commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana. “This is why we hold this ceremony in September. Coming here will always hold a special place in my heart — this was the first event I was asked to speak following assuming command of PMRF.”
Johnson said while preparing remarks, he found the story of the 100th fascinating from a historical point of view.
“Now that I lived here for a while, I realize that their story is not just one of being Nisei — it is more,” Johnson said. “It is just as much as one of being Hawaiian. I think that Hawaii has a way of both giving and taking the best of those that choose to call the islands home. The only member of the 100th that I met was Kazuma ‘Monty’ Nishiie who passed away almost a year ago at the age of 101. Monty was drafted and served as a sergeant with the 100th Battalion at Monte Cassino, Italy.”
Wounded in battle, Nishiie earned the Purple Heart in 1943, and also received the Bronze Star for his involvement during the Anzio Campaign, Johnson said. This is just one example of the 1,703 Purple Hearts and 238 Bronze Stars these soldiers would earn for bravery and valor, earning them the nickname “the Purple Heart Battalion.”
“But I live on Kauai,” Johnson said. “So I see more. Perhaps the bravest thing these men did was to come home — back to Hawaii, back to Kauai. President Bill Clinton said, ‘Rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it so ill-treated.’ They did not return and ask to be paid what was owed for their sacrifice. They went back to school, and back to work. They made Hawaii a special place to raise their families.”
Johnson said while he will always be grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Nishiie, he know his spirit will live on through their sons, daughters and grandchildren.
The Rev. Kohtoku Hirao of the Waimea Shingon Church agreed.
“They have served our country and given their lives so that we may stand here and still live in freedom,” Hirao said in his memorial prayer. “We need to be constantly reminded of our gift of freedom and of those who gave all to make sure future generations continue to know life in a free, democratic society. We honor that service and sacrifice today, and carry it forward for children to honor.”