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Quiet Warriors

George (Ganjiro) Morihiro

442nd Combat Team, Chambois Sector, France (Photo from U.S. National Archives, ID#111-SC-253983

“It was exciting.”

George Morihiro is talking about his experience in the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.

“But don’t get me wrong. I was 17. The German soldiers were laid dead or wounded around us, but still, I never thought we would die. I was excited to serve for the country.”

He talks with a smile in his eyes.

George was born in Fife, Washington. His nickname, Ganjiro, came from his father, who came to the U.S. from Hiroshima in 1898 and worked in a sawmill near Tacoma. His mother came from Hawaii. Just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his oldest sister was sent to Hiroshima, when she was five or six, and never returned to the U.S. His family was sent to Puyallup Assembly Center and then to Minidoka during the war.

After graduating from high school in Fife before the evacuation, George wanted to volunteer in the Army, following his older brother, but he changed his mind.

“My mother cried all night. She said, ‘one in the family is enough!’ So I kind of gave up then,” he recalls.

But he joined the Army a couple of months later in 1943 and was sent to Camp Shelby, where his old friend from Fife, Bob Sato, would serve in 1944. (See “Quiet Warriors—Chapter 2: Bob Sato”)

Two months later, during basic training and before he went overseas, George’s mother died. He was assigned to I Company. There were originally 200 men in I Company, a number that increased to 500 with replacements. In 2003, I-Company veterans published a book about the unit called “And There Were Eight,” but George is not sure if there were eight or six companies.

“I was one of the six BAR men. I thought there were four.”

In either case, as a Browning Automatic Rifle carrier, he was proud and excited to be the first target in the battle.

“War is like real estate: the theory is you want more real estate. You push them back. You are not there to kill people. You are there to get the land and push them back. But we, the 442nd, never went back,” he exclaims.

To take the hill, they went forward at night and slept during the day.

“But the human mind is so weak. We can’t take it anymore. When working too hard, you get a nervous breakdown. You can’t do this every day,” George explains. “Like a runner, after two weeks of constantly fighting in battle, you need a break. For days and days, you keep your shoes on, they get wet and you get trench foot. They become sort of rotten. Your mind is like that, too.”

The 442nd RCT was formed from highly educated Nisei soldiers with the highest IQs. In some other armies, the frontline soldiers couldn’t even read.

“You lose a man. They’d replace the wounded right away because we were well trained and capable of taking his place. The 442nd was strong because they knew what they were fighting for.”

They had the same goal.

George explains, “Why did we do it? Why did we fight so hard? Mainly, love for your country, believing in freedom for your family. We all believed in the same thing, fighting for change.”

He talks about why they were so strong.

“The camaraderie was so strong; everybody was one big family.” And that helped create the most decorated Army unit in the American history because it “was the elite outfit so Germans had to match them and that became the big battle. More casualties and more medals. People don’t understand that. So when we went to Southern France, there were hardly any casualties.”

They shouted, “Go for Broke!,” which was originally Hawaiian slang for gambling, or “Banzai!” The Germans were physically bigger but “we were charged up and the shouting gave ourselves courage. The 442nd never retreated, never left a wounded man behind.”

I ask, “Is that the samurai spirit?”

George smiles and answers, “Nihonjin has it. It’s a cultural thing.”

They also fixed bayonets even though the Germans had guns.

“We were told that German don’t like cold steel. This belief gave us courage. So we had two bayonet charges in the open field but Germans weren’t there. They were already gone. We were lucky,” reminisces George.

George admits he was too young to think that you’d get killed at war. Some others didn’t like to fight or didn’t want to be there.

“They said, ’Shoganai’ (shikataganai or, it can’t be helped). But for me, it was excitement. I was too young or dumb to worry about dying. I had trouble all the time.” During basic training, George was the only one to drop out of a 25- mile hike. The sergeant got mad and said to get on the truck.

“So I rode home. I was supposed to walk back.”

The sergeant got madder.

At a different time, George said to the sergeant, “Why don’t you teach us more,” which was an insult to him.

“Two days later, he assigned me to BAR man. It was a punishment, I think. The regular gun weighed 7-9 pounds but the BAR weighed 21 pounds.”

George also had a camera with him but he was not allowed to take it on the front line because the enemy can get information if you get caught. In his photo album, there are only happy faces; he didn’t record sad moments. The most memorable time was when they stayed in Italy for six months after the war was over.

“For me, it (the 442nd) was exciting. A lot of people don’t believe me, but I wrote in the V-mail (censored) to my sister (censored) that it was exciting and fun.

George also has a letter from his father, received overseas. Instead of his address, 12-10-C, the barrack number was stated.

“He was jumping up and down so many times when I came back. I never saw him like that.”

When asked to offer a message to the younger generation, George answers, “This is your country; you should fight for it when you have to, right or wrong. The most important thing is country, next to your family. The young people have so many choices now and they should really appreciate it. What they are enjoying today is the result of what we did during the war.”

He is proud to have been in the 442nd RCT. It was the most exciting time of his life. And he is happy that he had a chance to serve the country with a specific goal, freedom.

“The first part of the war, I thought I won’t get killed but the second part of the war, I knew you could get killed. I became more careful but it lasted only a short while. I’d get wild again.”

He called himself “bakatare” (dumb).

But George didn’t want to fight in the Korean War because it was “not the same, not fighting for freedom, but for land; the U.S. wanted to get a foothold in that part of the world.”

Also, in Europe, he says, they respected the Geneva Convention: they stopped fighting when there was somebody wounded. You would show a white piece of cloth and a medic would arrive. Everybody stopped until the wounded man was removed; then they resumed fighting. In Asia, there was no Geneva Convention.

“You get killed to save wounded ones or even a medic will be killed.”

He was reluctant because there were no humane rules. He stayed at Ft. Lewis, south of Tacoma, Washington, to help check soldiers in from overseas duty.

Now George enjoys fishing, hunting, and going to Las Vegas; in other words, having fun.

“I like to look young. This is really how I am.”

And as he says this, he puts on a baseball cap. It looks like an ordinary cap but, when he turns around, he reveals a blond ponytail. The yancha boy (mischievous), who was kicked out of Nihongo gakko (Japanese Language School) in third grade for turning the clock one hour ahead, declares that it’s important to laugh in order to live long. Underneath the baseball cap, the wrinkles around his eyes seem like proof of his philosophy, that you make your own choices.

 

* This article was originally published in The North American Post-Northwest Nikkei, June 21, 2003. The North American Post recently edited and republished it on their website on January 24, 2021.

 

© 2021 Mikiko Amagai

100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team Europe World War II

About this series

On February 19, 1942, two months after the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. Almost 12,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps. Among them, two thirds were American-born Nisei. Many of the young men were in two groups: “No-No Boys” and volunteers (or drafted) for the U.S. Army. Now that they are aging, the quiet Nisei veterans are willing to tell their unspoken stories. Having lived through the war themselves, their wishes for peace are immense.

*The 13 articles in this series were originally published in The North American Post-Northwest Nikkei in 2003. The North American Post recently edited and republished them on their website.