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Speeches & Testimony


Speeches & Testimony

Case Honors 75th Anniversary of Liberation of French Town and Rescue of Lost Battalion by 442nd Regimental Combat Team




Bruyères, France

October 20, 2019

Mayor Bonjean, Councilors Poirat and Tarantola, Mayor Caldwell, Consul General McDonald, Consul Maman, distinguished guests, citizens of France and of Bruyères, my fellow citizens of the United States and of our treasured Hawai’i home.

Bonjour and Aloha!

And a special greeting to each and all of you from the United States Congress which I am deeply honored to represent here with you today.

Three generations ago millions of our countrymen and women together fought a tragic war to defend the values on which both of our countries were founded and to which generations before them had committed their very lives.

Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.

And seventy-five years ago, this month the frontlines of that war lay where we stand in these hauntingly beautiful mountains and towns.

Every town, every hill, every inch of ground was fought over as our Alliance advanced forward to the Rhine and into Germany over fierce resistance.

These battles were fought by what was becoming a legendary unit of the U.S. Army: the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. By then including the 100th Infantry Battalion, many had already been in hard combat for over a year, fighting their way from Africa up through Sicily and Italy and the Rhône.

In many ways they were just like any other American GI. But they were different, for they were mostly Japanese, mostly Nisei, second generation Americans, their parents born in Japan and immigrants to America in search of a better life.

They were loyal Americans. But after Pearl Harbor their own country had questioned their loyalty. Refused them entry into the military. Seized their property, interned them and their families and friends in camps.

It was one of the worst travesties by Americans against Americans in our history.

Yet despite all that they suffered they wanted nothing more than to fight. To defend our country and our values. To prove their loyalty once and for all.

They got their chance when the 442nd was formed and sent into battle. Its motto, “Go for Broke,” spoke not only to their fierce commitment to victory but to all that they were fighting for.

The fighting here in October 1944 was especially fierce. I would like to read to you from the war memoirs of Private First Class Sadao Hikida.

Hikida was the uncle of my wife, Audrey, who joins us today. May I please introduce Audrey to you.

Hikida’s parents had immigrated from Hiroshima and Okayama in Japan. He had been born and raised in Waikīkī, Hawai‘i. His oldest brother and his family were in an internment camp in California. His next brother, Audrey’s father, was an Episcopal priest in Hilo, Hawai‘i.

Another of Audrey’s uncles, Private First-Class Yoshio Hirata, Audrey’s mother’s brother, had been born and raised in Kona, Hawai‘i. His parents had immigrated from Fukuoka in Japan. He had joined the 100th Infantry Battalion and had been wounded in combat in Italy.

PFC Hikida wrote of the combat here, and I quote:

“Fighting in the misty, dripping wet forest was tough. The Germans were well entrenched and camouflaged. They had an advantage over us because we had to climb up and down the hills to try and flush them out. Many times they spotted us before we contacted them and we were caught in a blaze of machine gun and small arms fire. We had to watch out for snipers, mines, booby traps, machine guns, artillery, tanks, and shell fragments as they burst. The enemy shells would hit the top of the pine trees and explode, sending down hundreds of knife-like steel and wood fragments. That caused a lot of casualties among the men.”

“On October 19th the combat outfit and 100th Battalion moved forward. Our goal was Bruyères. There were four hills above Bruyères that had to be cleared before the town could be secured. It continued to be rough going from the day we contacted the Jerries at Bruyères, Belmont and Biffontaine. We had to continuously fight hard, as we climbed up and down the wooded hills, crossed open terrain and dodged artillery shells.

“Finally we were pulled back for rest at Belmont. Our rest was cut short when orders were received to attempt the rescue of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, a Texas unit. They were trapped and surrounded by the Germans in the forest about two miles east of Biffontaine.

“The attempt to rescue the trapped battalion was really tough. Our progress was slow. Severe fighting took place around the enemy roadblocks. Their firepower along with the tree bursts and mine explosions caused many casualties. We were able to accomplish our mission and rescue the Texas outfit.” End of quote.

Yes, they accomplished their mission here in France, with the invaluable help of your ancestors. Through their bravery and heroism and go-for-broke spirit, and incurring terrible losses, they became the most decorated unit in American history.

But they did much more, for they accomplished their mission back home. No longer could any American doubt their loyalty and treat them as second-class citizens, and nor would they any longer accept that treatment. They stepped forward in all walks of life, leading a political revolution in Hawai’i and succeeding in all other endeavors. Their next generations have built further success on their sacrifice.

Nor were these next generations limited to Japanese Americans, for they inspired whole generations of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It was my parents’ gift to me on my 18th birthday of 442nd veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor winner U.S. Senator’s Daniel Inouye’s life story, Journey to Washington, that first got me thinking about a career in elective office, and it was going to work in Congress for 100th Infantry Battalion veteran U.S. Congressman/Senator Spark Matsunaga that committed me to that career. I know that there are thousands of stories like mine, to include Mayor and Mrs. Caldwell who both worked for Senator Inouye.

History does not move on in a straight line, any more than the encounters it provides us are predictable. Because of an unpredictable encounter of history among peoples from opposite sides of our earth, from wholly different worlds, three quarters of a century ago, here we are. Why?

Because we all share a bittersweet history from that cold and wet fall three quarters of a century ago. Because we remember the 442nd and what they accomplished and appreciate again for them the kindness and assistance of the peoples of these towns and mountains. Because we are all still inspired by all of them. Because we still share the values for which they all fought. Because we are more than just allies; we are truly friends.

And not in generations has it been more important that we nurture and strengthen the bonds of our friendship and alliance. For we truly live in a difficult world, with many who would deny us the values for which so many fought so hard, and with its own unexpected challenges.

But I know that I speak today for my United States Congress and fellow citizens in proudly reaffirming the historic and enduring alliance between the United States and France. Our nations and our peoples will continue to stand together. We will meet the challenges and promises of the future side by side, just as we have so many times in our centuries of shared history. 

Mayor Bonjean, Councilors Poirat and Tarantola, members of the Bruyères-Honolulu Peace and Freedom Trail Association, on behalf of the people of the United States and Hawai’i, mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) for your dedication and service in keeping the memory of the 442nd alive these three generations and for forging our strong bond between the peoples of Bruyères and Honolulu, France and the United States.

Let us now carry their memory and our shared history into the next generations, together.