October 19th–Site Visits

Today was a full day of visits to sites.  It was an emotional and poignant day.  And as promised, tears fell as we remembered the men of the100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.  We traveled from our hotel to Biffontaine about a half an hour drive from our hotel.  As we traveled up the hill. We followed the Vologne River and the town of Les Evelines.  Passing through small town one after the other, we could see the landscape change along with the weather.

We crossed over the River Neune’ on Rue de la Marie into the hamlet of Les Poulieres.  We are now seeing the many hills where the 100th/442nd fought and died. At 9:15 we arrived in Biffontaine.  Near the village church we had a few minutes to visit. Jane handed out See’s suckers to the many children present.  They were all smiles and some gave to her origami blue birds with “merci” written on it & their names.  Very sweet.  Also present were members of the 100th from Hawaii and young men dressed as WWII American soldiers complete with weapons and jeeps.

After a few minutes we boarded the bus and an long entourage of cars, vans and our bus to the site of the “Lost Battalion”.  There was a memorial ceremony with speeches by the local dignitaries and floral presentations by representatives of the villages. Our group was represented by Carl Williams.  Children of the nearby villages presented 1,000 cranes with Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu.

Following the ceremony many of us walked up the nearby hills where there still exists the foxholes dug out by the 100th/44nd and some by the “Lost Battalion”.  I came across Elizabeth Brownly-Blonder granddaughter of Lt. Erwin Blonder.  She was crouched in a foxhole.  We both commented how hard it must have been for all the men here on this hill and how hard it is to imagine what they went through.

We boarded the bus and made a quick stop to see the monument dedicated to Medal of Honor winner Barney Hajiro who fought in these woods 75 years ago.  As we moved on toward Biffontaine a steady rain fell, almost as if the tears shed by those soldiers 75 years ago bid us farewell.

Back at Biffontaine a ceremony was held to dedicate a plaque to George Washington Suyama the only MIA of the Biffontaine Campaigns.  We did a memorial service at this site.  Sanbujo, Juseige followed by Nembutsu:

“I can imagine many young men like George Suyama attended Sunday School at the Buddhist temple in their youth.  They learned of the fragile nature of life, and as young men here in Biffontaine they lived that truth.  I can imagine they saw the start of Autumn and watched the leaves flutter to the ground, reminding them of this truth of life.  Then they witness their comrades falling to the ground.  No greater truth than the fragility of life.  They embraced each moment and each other and saw each moment of life as precious.

“They also learned as youth the truth the interdependent nature of all things.  They learned that we are all connected, that we are all one, and that all our thoughts words and actions have lasting and profound effects.  They knew this and fought for us here today.

“You and I are able to see that truth here in the lives of the people in these small towns and in their families.  The family of Erwin Blonde a survivor of the ‘Lost Battalion’ is a stark example of this truth.  They remind us that their lives would not be here if not for the sacrifices of the 100th/442nd.

“The lives of these brave men of the 100th/442nd truly touch our lives today.  Their sacrifice of 75 years ago make this world more peaceful and our lives more fulfilled. May we gathered here today continue to honor them by fulfilling their hopes and dreams for a peaceful world and a love for one another.  Namoamidabuts.”

After returning from the hotel, we rested up a bit and then met for dinner with mayor of Biffontaine.  The Sakato family from Denver was introduced.  Father Joe Sakato was a Medal of Honor recipient.  His daughter Leslie is on our tour.

George Taro Sakato

Mayor Deni Enreí spoke to us in French and then Tom Graves spoke to us on the history of the 442nd.  Before dinner I gave the following words:

“Today, we gathered together on hallowed ground where the feats of the young men of the 100th/442 became true and real to us.  We were reminded of our past and the deep connection to the present.  Our job now is to carry on their story, their lives live on in us.  As we partake of this meal placed before us, in a spirit of gratitude to all the conditions, past and present that have allowed us to gather together and nourish our minds and bodies through the Wisdom and Compassion of the Buddha Dharma.  May we through the Buddha Dharma enhance our realization of the interdependency of all existences and accept our role, as those soldiers did 75 years ago, with a sense of integrity, respect, courage, compassion, honesty, loyalty and gratitude.  Dans la plus grande nous recevons ce repar.  With gratitude I accept this food.  Namoamidabutsu, Itadakimasu.”

After dinner, the family of Lt. Erwin Blonder spoke to us.  The wife of Lt. Blonder sent her regrets that she couldn’t be with us, but her health wouldn’t allow her to travel. Their daughter Leslie spoke for the family.  Lt. Blonder was part of the 141st Texas battalion sent up to the hills of Biffontaine and became know as the ‘Alamo Battalion.’ On October 24, 1944 they found themselves surrounded by the Germans and then became known as the ‘Lost Battalion.’  Lt. Blonder manned the only radio and was the only line of communication to the Allies.  Hitler heard of their predicament and ordered the German to assault and capture or kill them all.  Hunkered down in foxholes, Lt. Blonder reported on October 16th that they were out of water and food and low on ammunition.  36 men were sent out to try to find a way out and only 5 returned.  A day later 53 volunteered to find a way out and 5 returned.  On October 28, 1944 General Dalquist ordered the 442nd in.  On October 30th Lt. Blonder last communique was “the 442nd has arrived, we are saved, tell them we love them.”

Lt. Erwin Blonder

Lt. Blonder returned to the US raised a family and a successful business man, never forgetting his life after the war was possible because of the heroics of the 442nd. Through those days of fighting the 200 man battalion came down the hill with the Texas Battalion and 8 men and many more killed and wounded.

The children and grandchildren repeatedly said their lives are a direct result of the sacrifices, bravery and dedication of the 442nd battalion.

Rev. Shinseki