|By C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mitsuo “Ted” Hamasu received the Congressional Gold
Medal Nov. 2 for his service in the Army during World War II as part of
the all-Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion.
Hamasu, born in Hawaii in 1919 to Japanese parents, is a Nisei — the
second generation, born in a new country to parents who were Japanese by
birth. He trained at Fort McCoy — then Camp McCoy — during World War II.
Hamasu was excited to join the Army — even by force in 1940, as a result
of the first draft in Hawaii — because it got him off the rural
sugarcane plantation he worked as a young man.
Staff Sgt. Mitsuo Hamasu posed
during World War II as a member of the Japanese-American 100th
Infantry Battalion. He and other members of the unit received a
Congressional Gold Medal Nov. 2 for their valor during World War
II. Hamasu trained at then-Camp McCoy before being sent
overseas. (Courtesy photo)
“I was happy, to get out of the country,” he said of his rural home
on the north side of Hawaii’s largest island. “That’s a country
place. It’s sugar cane. We were working for a plantation, a sugar
plantation — cane farming.”
Hamasu had actually been lucky to help his uncle as a carpenter’s
assistant — the same uncle, he said, who had told him he’d never get
into the Army, even if he wanted to.
“I was five foot two,” Hamasu said. “And I thought that was too
short. I worked for my uncle, and he used to tell me you can’t get
in. They won’t take you. You are too short.”
But in 1940, the Army came anyway and Hamasu was drafted into the
Hawaii National Guard, 299th Hawaii Infantry Regiment.
His parents and friends were happy for him, Hamasu said.
“They were happy to see one of their children get into the
military,” he said. “It was the first draft, and we never had this
thing before. Friends were happy because I got in.”
Just one year after he was drafted, on Dec. 7, 1941 — the Japanese
bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Immediately after his enlistment, Hamasu had been in a mixed unit —
white Americans mingled with Japanese. But after Pearl Harbor,
military life changed for Hamasu.
“They called us in, the 299th Regiment — I was in F Company,” he
said. “They called the company together and said all the Japanese
Soldiers turn in your weapons and ammunition. That’s when they
segregated us and sent us to a place called Schofield Barracks. We
were curious to what was happening, because they don’t tell you.
They just said to turn in your weapons — then they pick all the
Japanese Soldiers and send them to a place, isolated, as far as
Schofield Barracks is concerned. And they said we’re going to make a
unit out of it.”
Others might have felt slighted, angry or ashamed. Hamasu said he
wanted to do what he was told — what his country asked of him.
“I felt that since I was in the military — whatever the military
tells you to do, you have to do it,” he said. “So, we took it as it
Did he have to work harder to prove himself? Yes.
“They didn’t say you have to, but it happened that way. You have to
— you know, you have to do more than your share to be accepted by
the other Soldiers.”
In early June 1942, Hamasu’s unit left Hawaii for the United States
— though they didn’t know where they were going at the time. Shortly
after their arrival at Camp McCoy, they were christened the 100th
Infantry Battalion — an all-Japanese-American unit that would fight
the Germans in Italy.
By September 1943, the 100th had finished training in the United
States and sailed for Africa. By the end of the month, they were in
They fought for nine months from Salerno to Rome — a distance of
about 140 miles. Their heaviest fighting came in late January 1944,
at Monte Cassino. The 100th landed in Italy with about 1,300
Soldiers. They started at Monte Cassino with around 800. They
finished that battle with about 500.
It was at Monte Cassino where the Nisei Soldiers earned the nickname
the “Purple Heart Battalion.”
The 100th received reinforcements after Monte Cassino, from the
442nd Regimental Combat Team — another all-Nisei unit — and pressed
on to Rome. The 100th fought for a total of 18 months in both Italy
The 100th Infantry Battalion earned three Presidential Unit
Citations, 1,703 Purple Hearts, 8 Medals of Honor, 16 Distinguished
Service Crosses, 147 Silver Stars, 2,173 Bronze Stars and 30
“Serving overseas in Italy — it’s mountainous,” Hamasu said —
reluctant to recount any details about his combat actions in the
country. “It was a terrible thing, as far as the war is concerned. I
think they should stop all wars — I feel that way.”
He did say he thought the actions of his unit merited recognition
though — and was appreciative of the recognition he and his fellow
Soldiers are receiving from the U.S. Congress.
“It’s very nice of Americans to do this,” he said.
On Nov. 2, Hamasu and fellow Soldiers from the 100th, as well as
Soldiers from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military
Intelligence Service were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Hamasu left the Army after World War II, only to re-enlist again in
time to serve in the Korean War.
He served in the U.S. Army until his retirement in 1963 as a staff
sergeant. Following his military retirement he served as a
Department of the Navy civilian until his civilian retirement in
1986. He resides in Hawaii with his Family.