Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lawson I. Sakai Interview
Narrator: Lawson I. Sakai
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 13, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-472-10

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PW: Tell me what happened.

LS: A lot of things.

PW: Well, my question first is, were you wounded before that, or you were okay up to this point?

LS: Well, we started out on the 25th of October, and we're making a lot of progress, but it's raining heavily and really hard to move. So I'm looking forward to October 27th, I'll be twenty-one, I'll be a legal person. [Laughs] Well, the morning of the 27th, I got shot by a German, just no more than ten feet away, just shot. I saw the flash, I thought, "I'm dead." But nothing happened, I had my BAR right here, I just went, tut-tut-tut, and I went up. I guess I was just mad, I went up and I hit him. The helmet went off, and there was the face of a young boy, could be fourteen or fifteen years old. And I thought, "How the hell could he miss?" Shooting dead... somehow he missed me, and my thought was, he had to be more scared than I was at that point. You know, you're always scared, where's that bullet, where's that shell coming from? Is the bullet coming from here or there? And you're always on the alert. Well, we have to continue on. We made more progress, and the next morning, our plan was to attack at daybreak. Well, somehow, I guess the Germans sensed that this is going to end it. The 28th of October, in early morning, just at daybreak, the Germans started shelling, the artillery hitting the trees and just, I think fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes, continuous, bang, bang, bang. Guys were getting hit, wounded and killed, just left and, nothing they can do, there's no place to hide, just hoping that the shells stopped coming. That's when I got hit. And this red-hot piece of metal came into my back, but instead of coming straight through my body, it came in that way and slid around. And that hurt so much, I couldn't breathe. I just rolled up and I thought I was dead. And I don't know when, but one of our medics came over to me and tried to roll me over and I just said, "Just let me die right here." And he pumped me full of morphine, which the medics all carried, and I don't remember anything. When I woke up, I was on a train, American hospital train, going to the city of Dijon where they had American hospitals set up for surgery. So the 28th of October I was out of action. But guys were getting wounded or killed just left and right, that was the toughest battle. General Dahlquist was criticized for sending the 442. He had a whole division, he sent the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 141st, but he had two other regiments. He could have somehow sent other regiments, but instead he sent the 442nd, which had just been beat up already. And I don't know how we did it.

PW: What do you think his reasoning was to choose the 442nd to go for the "Lost Battalion"?

LS: Well, he probably knew that we would do it, and say that he had sent the 2nd, and they couldn't break through, he sent the 3rd, they couldn't break through. He could have called the other regiments, but he called the 442 instead. He was criticized roundly for that.

PW: So now I know you're in a hospital in Dijon, is that correct? And had surgery to remove shrapnel and bullets. That went okay? Everything was out?

LS: Well, pretty much. It did a little damage, but no vital organs. So I survived about two months. Probably wasn't a hundred percent, but I was able to get up and go back to the 442nd. The 442nd after the rescue eventually were sent to southern France to recuperate, that's when we got the first reserves that came from the United States, so we got all the new kids coming in to fill up.


PW: And I think you were talking about this right now, so I'll ask it formally. What were the relations like between the 442nd and the 100th when you first met, or when you were working together, describe what the relations were like between you and the other soldiers you were fighting with.

LS: You know, the men of the 100th were probably five, six, seven years older. We were the younger kids. So there was an age gap difference, it was like older brothers talking to their younger brothers, "Get out of here, kid." And they had been in battle longer, so their experiences were a lot different than ours. But eventually, as we joined together, you couldn't tell one from the other. And another thing, after Anzio, Cassino, the 100th had lost so many men. The 442nd is training at Camp Shelby, they took that 1st Battalion and sent about two-thirds or more of the men to Italy as replacements to help the 100th. And so we actually had only two battalions left at Camp Shelby, even though some of the 1st Battalion are integrated with the 2nd and 3rd. So even though the 100th was a hundred percent from Hawaii originally, now, with the replacements, most of those boys, or at least half or more, were mainland boys. So now you have a lot of mainland boys in the 100th. So that changed the complexion of the whole group, too. It's kind of like the 442nd song, have you heard of that? You haven't heard it? It's pretty famous, "442nd..." and the Hawaiian boys, they made up the music, they made up the song, the lyrics and all. The key part is, "And we're going back to Honolulu-lulu." We're not going back to Honolulu, so nobody from the mainland sang that song. We probably learned the words because we hear it all the time. But it wasn't our song.

PW: So when we just left off, you had been recuperating for several months in the hospital, and then they sent you right back in.

LS: Well, the 442nd was in southern France from about the middle of November to early April. So we're looking at five months, maybe. So I think I got back to what they called Sospel around January, and I got back with my own company. In July, I'm going back for the seventy-fifth anniversary. Brian Yamamoto from (Alaska), he took over for me. I did my last group tour in 2009, I took nine groups. He started around 2010 or '12, somewhere around there, I think he's done three tour groups. But this is going to be the last, the seventy-fifth anniversary. Two years ago, he announced it at our reunion, and all of a sudden, people started signing up. He wanted to keep it to thirty-five, forty, but forty, fifty, and he kept adding more. Finally it got up a hundred and thirty-five, just an impossible number of people. Mainly you're going to have to have three buses, and most of the hotels are small, so you're going to put people here, there, here and coordinate all that. It's going to be a big problem. Well, I'm glad I'm not the tour leader. He has hired tour guides to take care of us, so I hope they know what they're up for. So consequently, a lot of people that can't go with us in July are now going in October. I think there's at least three, maybe more, groups going, smaller groups, ten, fifteen, maybe, from Hawaii and northern California. I think Carl Williams from Sacramento, he was instrumental in raising about fifty thousand dollars to help the city of Bruyeres refurbish that huge monument that they had built in the forest to remember the 442nd. And he was there last year, and so he, again, can't go with us, so he's going to take maybe fifteen people in October. October is the anniversary date, and we first started going on October. But the weather is awful. We were right below the Alps, a lot of rain, snow, and it's miserable. So we switched from October to July to coincide with Bastille Day, which is July 14th. The whole country is on holiday, so we can have a big party and everybody will be there.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.