NISEIS INVITED TO FRENCH 60 TH ANNIVERSARY OF LIBERATION.
SCHOOL CHILDREN ENTHUSIASM ENSURES FUTURE CELEBRATIONS

     Bruyeres, France.  Each year for the past 60 years, on a weekend in October, the citizens of Bruyeres and nearby Biffontaine and Belmont in the Vosges mountains of eastern France, honor the separated Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) including the 100 th Battalion for liberating them from Nazi forces during WW II.  This year, however, was special. On October 24, 2004, the 60th anniversary, Lawson Sakai, a 442nd veteran, escorted a large delegation of 442nd veterans, families and friends to participate in the liberation festivities.  As with the 50 th anniversary in 1994, also led by Mr. Sakai, school children waving French and American flags, township officials, and the populace poured out their welcome over two days with incredible hospitality, ceremonies and banquets at various locations. Significantly, the organizers represented the post WW II generation.

    The towns of Bruyeres, Belmont, Biffontaine, and Fremifontaine were liberated in October 1944 by the 442nd RCT, comprised of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and Mainland United States, many from the 10 internment camps where 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated.

    As in past years, all of the 53 persons in the delegation had similar objectives in going: to pay tribute to relatives and friends who were engaged for three weeks in the most bitter, non-stop fighting in which the 442nd RCT sustained more than 800 casualties.  The seven 442nd veterans on this trip were Ted Fujimoto, Santa Ana, CA, Co. E; Roy Fujiwara, Seattle, WA, Co. L; Jimmie Kanaya, Gig Harbor, WA, 3rd Battalion Medical Specialist; Ted Oye, Seattle, WA, 3rd Battalion Headquarters; Lawson Sakai, Gilroy, CA, Co. E; Mike Tsuji, Los Angeles, CA, Co. H; and Willie Tanamachi, Houston, TX, who was in 442 nd training at the time.  Some stood on the same spot they stood in October 1944 each with his own story to tell.  Mike Tsuji pointed to the house where he spent one night.

    The festivities started on the first day, October 23, when 200 people of Fremifontaine, including resistance fighters with unit flags, honored the Japanese Americans with a band and speeches.  The band played the American and French national anthems and Mayor Etienne Pourcher talked of how they were liberated by the Japanese Americans.  Following that, about 300 residents of the town of Belmont invited the Japanese Americans for lunch and more celebratory speeches and entertainment.

    According to Greg Kimura of Palo Alto, California, “what happened next was overwhelming. A group of men dressed in WW II army fatigues and boots stepped up to the stage and sang God Bless America.  Never had I witnessed this depth of honor and respect accorded to any group of people … here were these people singing God Bless America and honoring not just these Americans, these veterans, their friends and families, but America and all Americans. I've never been a particularly patriotic person, but at that moment I was truly proud to be an American”.

    From Belmont the visitors were taken to Biffontaine forests and toured the location, with all the grim evidence such as foxholes and shrapnel imbedded in trees, where 442nd Regimental Combat Team rescued the trapped 1st Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th (Texas) Division (referred to by the press at the time as the “Lost Battalion”) in what the U.S. Army historical records recognized as one of the 10 most fiercely fought battles in its entire history.

    Jimmie Kanaya of Gig Harbor, Washington, who first saw the battle ground as a medic tending to the wounded during the battle, said “as I might not be around 10 years from now, I felt that it would be appropriate for me to pay my respects to those people of France, including the courageous French resistance movement whose contributions made a significant difference.  The children in each community played a big part at the monuments as well as at the city squares by assisting in the laying of the wreaths.  I thought this gesture on the part of the French people was one of the finest tributes they could pay those veterans who participated in their liberation, and to continue this tradition for years to come.”

    The highlights of the second day, October 24, began with mass at Bruyere's main church, where a memorial service was held in the Bruyeres town square.  From there the Japanese Americans were taken to Helladraye forest riding in WWII jeeps and command cars, where a major battle for the liberation of Bruyeres occurred.  The German Army was ordered to hold this position at all costs as this was the main rail line supporting the German troops on the western front.  After two weeks of heavy fighting the enemy was defeated.

    On returning to Bruyeres, where a monument in honor the 442nd RCT was erected, over 400 town people took part in the celebration.  Monuments have been similarly erected for the 45 th and 36 th Infantry Divisions.  There were many school children waving French and American flags, French and American dignitaries, military and youth bands and a church choir which sang the Star Spangled Banner.  All took part.  Remembering a request made previously by the French, Sakai placed a WW II American soldier's helmet donated by the American Military Museum of Los Angeles on the top of the monument much to the pleasure of Bruyeres people.  The front of the helmet bears the 442nd insignia painted on by retired Air Force Colonel Brian Shiroyama.  The visitors were pleased to see that Bruyeres has named one of their streets, ”Rue de 442nd Regimental Combat Team.”

    The group then went to the Bruyeres City Hall for a reception and program by Bruyeres Mayor Alain Blangy, also attended by Mayor of Biffontaine Denis Henry, President of the Association for Peace and Freedom Martial Hilaire, U.S. Consul General Christopher Davis, and Superintendent of Epinal American Cemetery Tom Cavaness.  Blangy spoke of the liberation of Bruyeres on October 18, 1944 by a “group of American soldiers that looked more Japanese than American.”  Children are taught in school they must remember and honor their liberators.  Mayor Henry spoke of the great battles that raged through the hills of Biffontaine culminating in the rescue of the Lost Battalion.

    Following the lunch the Group went to the Epinal American Cemetery in Dinoze-Quequement for a memorial service at the five gravesites of the 442nd soldiers interred there. At the gravesite of Tomosu Hirahara, his nephew Ed Hirahara, a Sansei from Federal Way, Washington, was deeply moved by the experience. He said, " At the U.S. Military Cemetery in Epinal, France honors those soldiers missing in action as well as those for whom their families chose to leave their remains where they died.  It is a sad but very impressive sight to see the many rows and rows of white marble crosses, each marking the place where a soldier is buried.  The small ceremony that was held to honor Tomosu Hirahara spontaneously developed into a larger and emotionally beautiful ceremony for the group as many came up one by one to light incense and to reflect in a moment of silence.  I cannot speak for others but for me, it was a moment to honor all those who fought and died in this place.”

    Sandra Tanamachi, a Texas school teacher whose uncle was killed in the battle to rescue the Texas “Lost Battalion,” expressed the sentiments of many of the visitors when she said: “I decided to make this trip, as I wanted to be in one of the exact locations where my heroes, the Nisei veterans, fought and sacrificed, so that we, the future generations of Japanese Americans, could live in a more accepting, understanding America in the aftermath of WWII. Once we reached the Vosges Mountain area of France and visited the liberated towns of Fremifontaine, Biffontaine and Bruyeres, the French people welcomed us with open-arms, and you could feel the sincere warmth and love that they held for our veterans.  When our bus approached their towns, we were greeted like ‘super stars' as there was always a large group of citizens waiting to greet us, all waving American and French flags.  The dignitaries of the towns were in attendance and gave speeches of welcome and thanks to the veterans.  Each time this happened, I thought of my uncle, Saburo Tanamachi, and all of our Japanese American soldiers who sacrificed so much for each of us.  It was especially wonderful to see the groups of children, as they will pass these stories on to the next generations.  Visiting the Vosges was my way of saying, ‘Domo arigato gozaimasu' to my heroes.”

    Mrs. Margaret Miyasaki, wife of the late Dr. Robert M. Miyasaki, a 442nd medic, and her two daughters, Nola and Gaye, went on this tour.  After her return home to Honolulu, Mrs. Miyasaki said “The tour to Bruyeres was a wonderful experience!  I learned so much about the war that my husband served to save lives.  It was heartwarming to be welcomed by the people and children of Bruyeres, and to see how much they still appreciate the veterans after all of these years.  It was really a memorable trip for me.”  Nola and Gaye shared the same view in a joint statement: “Visiting the battlefields of Bruyeres, Epinal and Biffontaine offered us a wonderful glimpse of history that the 442nd was responsible for.  We have a much greater understanding of the magnitude of courage, humility, pride and "go for broke" spirit exhibited by the Japanese American soldiers in spite of the prejudice they constantly faced.  We feel a great sense of pride in our Dad and for all of the Japanese Americans who fought in WWII.”

    Other Japanese Americans living in Europe visited Bruyeres to join the Sakai party.  One was Shinkichi Tajiri, sculptor of the cast iron “Knot of Friendship”, located only 100 yards from the 442nd monument in Bruyeres.  Tajiri is an internationally recognized sculptor who resides in Baarlo, Netherlands, a native Californian, Poston Internment camp internee, 442nd (Co. M) veteran and brother of the late Larry Tajiri, Editor of Pacific Citizen .  Tajiri presented the Knot to Bruyeres in 1994 during its 50th Liberation celebration.  He conceived of the idea of the Knot in the 1960's and designed it with the view that each person could interpret its significance.  To Tajiri, it symbolizes the bond of friendship between Bruyeres and 442nd. Tajiri brought his family to Bruyeres for this 60th celebration and to meet his long time friend, Isami Tsuji, squad leader of Co. H, 442nd RCT , who was wounded two days after the liberation of Bruyeres in the Biffontaine operation.

    Another visitor was Everett Wakai from the U.S. Embasy in Paris, who visited with his father, Ted Wakai, Military Intelligence Service veteran and resident of Oxnard, California.

    Mr. Sakai observed that the lush vegetation and serene atmosphere of the Vosges today belie the fierce battle for freedom that occurred 60 years ago with artillery rounds toppling huge trees, machine gun fire ripping through the air and vegetation incessantly, the clash of bayonets in hand to hand combat, the sounds of the wounded and dying on both sides. Sakai, who was wounded himself, remembers an elderly French woman taking a mortally wounded Nisei into her home, putting him on her bed, where he peacefully passed away. Sakai's group reciprocated the generosity of the French with gifts and speeches.  This outpouring of hospitality by the Bruyeres, Biffontaine and Belmont townfolks is accorded to every Japanese American who comes during the year alone or in any numbers.  An emotional experience for all, one of the younger members of the group moved by the days' events, attempted to register for Sakai's 70 th anniversary tour in 2014 as the time for departure drew near.

JAPANESE AMERICAN VETERANS ASSOCIATION
1666 K Street,NW, Suite 500, Washington,D.C. 20006, c/o Gerald Yamada, Esq.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 29, 2004

CONTACTS: Terry Shima (301-987-6746; ttshima@worldnet.att.net )
                         Thomas Mukai (703-751-1550; tvictor@attglobal.net )
                         Lawson Sakai (408-842-3718; Lsainc@garlic.com)

FOR PHOTO: Open JAVA website ( www.javadc.org ), left column, scroll down and press “downloads”. Click on picture to enlarge. Photo credit: Sandra Tanamachi, JAVA.