Today we boarded our bus at 9:00 am and traveled to Epinal. Epinal is located about 1.5 hour drive from Strasbourg (141 Km) in the NE. On this day in history, the small town of Les Baraques was taken and the 100th/442nd was ordered to Biffontaine where they would save the Lost battalion.
From our vantage point as we arrive in Bruyères we can see hill B and come to realize how very daunting a task it must have been to climb the steep terrain in the cold, rain and while be bombarded with artillery fire and small arms fire.
But today are stop is in Epinal. It was here that the Allied troops began their offensive into Germany. In late September 1944 the forces of the 7th Army left Epinal and marched across the Moselle River on their way to Germany. At the same time the French First Army approached the Black Forests of Germany from the South. This was the beginning of a brutal and difficult campaign to take Germany. It would be 8 months later on May 8, 1945 that the US and its Allies would declare victory in Europe.
As we drive into the town we were greeted with a double rainbow.
In the town of Epinal there is the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial. As we arrive the cemetery is located on the outskirts of town on a hill. There is a beautiful manicured entry way that leads into the 5 acre site. At the cemetery there is a visitors building and the memorial structure that leads to the cemetery itself. On either side of the memorial are the Walls of the Missing 424 names of soldiers killed in action whose bodies were never found. Some of the names have next to them a rosette signifying that their remains have been found and buried. Also here are 69 soldiers whose identity is unknown. There are grave markers scattered around the cemetery with the words, “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A COMRADE IN ARMS KNOWN BUT TO GOD.” There are 14 sets of brothers buried here. The cemetery was dedicated on July 29, 1956.
As we arrived we conducted a memorial service at the top of steps overlooking the cemetery. Sanbujo, Juseige. Below is my talk:
“The gravestones here of young American soldiers among them members of the 100th/44nd represent a truth of life, of suffering and tears, like the flowers in full bloom subject to wither, like the full moon in the sky that wanes at dawn, they represent the fragile nature of human existence. The freedom that they fought so gallantly for is also subject to that truth, therefore it is important that we remain vigilant in the fight for freedom, so that they did not die in vain.
“Throughout this week we have been experiencing moments of rain, a small inconvenience for us when we think of the struggles of these young men. When rain falls, our air becomes clear. There is a freshness in the air, and all the colors of the earth and sky seem to stand out even brighter. All of our senses come alive. And in Buddhism we believe that through our 6 senses we perceive and determine our entire existence. And that is why we symbolically burn incense at all our services, to awaken our senses. To become fully aware of what we have received from these brave men.
“When our senses come alive, we are better able to know and experience all that exists around us. When the air is clear, when the colors of the earth and sky vibrate with their own individual colors, when our sense of sight, smell, taste touch, thought and hearing come alive, all that we have taken for granted or never noticed before comes alive.
“And so on this day when we remember the young men who gave their lives here, the rain that gives us our crops and the rain that gives us our very lives, it also helps fill the emptiness that we feel in our hearts. At that moment, the memories feelings and emotions that we shared with those who lie here become even more deeply rooted in our hearts and minds.
“There will be moments of sadness in life, but there will also be moments of joy, however both are evidence of the life of these beloved young men at this very moment. Proof that their lives continue to influence ours.
“Just as the rain only removes the dust and reveals what has always been there and gives life, it is within our life also that the true heart and mind of these soldiers shall always take effect upon our lives and reveal the truth of life to us.
“To know and experience this fact of our lives, this is the world of Namoamidabutsu. It is to truly experience those causes for this existence and those conditions that sustain this existence until we die. These young men paid the highest price for our freedom, let us not for a moment take for granted that precious gift of freedom.
In gratitude, Namoamidabutsu “
Following the service we visited the 13 gravesites of the 100/442nd Regiment members.
- Sgt. George Suyama of Montana – MIA
- PFC Bob T. Kameoka of Arkansas
- Capt. Joseph L. Byrne of New York
- PFC Yoshio Tengwan of Hawaii
- PFC Edward Ogawa of Idaho
- TSgt Mitsulu E. Miyoko of California
- SSgt Tomosu Hirahara of Hawaii
- PFC Terusaki Fujioka of Wyoming
- PFC Minoru M. Yoshida of California
- PFC Hachiro Mukai of California
- TSgt Uetaro Sanmonji of California
- 1Lt. Ben Rogers Jr. of Arkansas
- Pvt Hideo Yasui of Washington
Flowers and leis were laid at each site by representatives from our group, and the mayor of Honolulu and Bruyères.
From there we visited a remote area of town to the NW where on a lonely farm road stands a unique and remarkable monument. A young soldier from Sumner, Washington volunteered with his 6 brothers into the army. Yohei Sagami and his oldest brother Joe ended up side by side in the 442nd fighting in Bruyères.
Yohei was part of E Company who was ordered to take Bruyères. As they came down the hill toward Bruyeres a mortar shell struck nearby mortally wounding Yohei. He died on October 15, 1944. His older brother was knocked down by the blast, ran to his brother and held him in his arms until he died.
Yohei’s mother never recovered from her son’s death, wearing his dog tags for the rest of her life. She rubbed the tags constantly until smooth.
On our trip with us are members of Yohei Sagami’s family. Nephew Lindsey told us the story of how his cousin came to see the sight where her father had died. She found that the villagers had marked the spot with a wooden marker. She thanked them and said she would be back again some day. Well, she returned years later, carrying with her the last letter Yohei had sent home. She had it laminated and asked if she could put the letter into the new wooden marker. To her surprise the villagers decided to put up a marble marker and insert the letter in the marker.
We were able to meet the Pierrat family who has for the past 75 years taken care of the site with flowers. Mr. Peirrat age 86 clearly remembers the soldiers coming through to liberate their small town. It was very touching and moving experience. I was able to do Omairi for the family at the site.