Today we stepped outside to a cool and crisp Fall morning. We were greeted with a double rainbow over Lake Geradmer outside our hotel, a good omen for us. This morning our bus is taking us to the town of Bruyères where we join others in the small town with the many activities commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the town.
This anniversary is significant to the Nisei soldiers who fought here and the residents of Bruyères. The town of Bruyères is where many Nisei saw their first battles in France. The town on Bruyères sits in a valley surrounded by four dome shaped hills. Those four hills surrounding Bruyères make up four corners surrounding the town. The Germans not only held the town, but the four hills designated A, B, C and D. Without taking the hills the liberation of Bruyères would be impossible. Hill A lay to the NW, B to the SW, C to the NE and D to the SE.
The 100th Battalion was charged with taking Hill A to the NW of town. In vicious battles up steep terrain the Nisei advanced 500 yards in one full day of assaults on the hill. As we viewed the hills from a distance we could see pine trees reaching high into the sky. We could imagine the cold, the fog and these trees giving excellent cover for the German forces. Having higher ground and being dug in with artillery support made the assault in the rain and cold miserable for the 100th.
The 100th also had the support of the 522nd artillery group. For three days the infantry fought off attacks and mounted assaults on the hills. While the 100th attacked Hill A, other units were attacking the other 3 hills. The 442nd was attacking hills C and D
On October 20, 1944 while extracting a wounded solider the stretcher bound solider was shot and killed. This incensed the Nisei soldiers whose sense of honor would never imagine shooting a wounded solider who was literally out of the fight. They charged up the hill enraged and took the hills C & D. It was here that a Nisei soldier shot and killed a German officer and he was able to secure battle plans that allowed F and L company to infiltrate in the cover of darkness and attack the Germans from behind their lines.
On this day Sargent Robert Toshio Kuroda single handedly attacked and took two German machine gun encampments. Leading a charge up the steep hills he came within 10 yards of the first encampment and with continuing fire took the machine gun nest. See a second he advanced forward constantly shooting until he took the second nest. As the rest of his company advanced forward Kuroda was killed by a sniper. For his actions on this day 75 years ago today, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The 100th/442nd was then ordered to move to take the town of Biffontaine. Without rest they left Bruyères.
As we arrived in the town of Bruyères we can clearly see the hills. They are daunting steep and filled with trees. We gathered together at a sign honoring the first killed in Bruyères, Sargent Tomosu Hirahara of the 100th/442nd. Across the street was the local Catholic Church still showing the marks of bullet holes from 75 years ago.
We attended the morning Mass that was attended by many dignitaries including, mayors of local towns, Mayor of Honolulu, Counsel General and Congressmen. It is a beautiful church with stained glass depicting the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Following the Mass we gathered together for a small parade (we took part in the parade) into the center of town. Jane and I handed out candy to the children along the way. The parade ended in the city center where there is a large monument honoring those who died in the war including civilians, French resistance fighters and French soldiers from Bruyères who fought throughout Europe. We heard the National Anthem of France and US with speeches and floral offerings at the site.
We then boarded our bus to Hill 555 the site of the 100th/442nd monuments. I had the honor with others of laying down a floral offering from our group. Mayor Yves Bonjean of Bruyères, Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu and Hawaii 1st District Congressman Ed Case planted a Japanese Maple tree.
I then chanted the Sanbujo and Juseige and shared these thoughts:
“Shariputra if a good man hears Amida Buddha preach and firmly holds the Name wholeheartedly and single mindedly, be it for one day, two days, three days, four days, five days, six or seven days. Amida Buddha, together with all the holy multitudes will appear before that person as the end of life draws near. When death arrives, that person with mind undisturbed, at once gains rebirth in Amida’s Land of utmost happiness”
“As we gather it is our turn to listen, and receive the message from the young men who died here. It is our turn to live each moment in gratitude for this life, for our family and friends. It is our turn to live with compassion and wisdom for all beings.
“Today those young men who gave their lives here bring us together, they posses a power in our lives live never before, they make us remember, they make us contemplate life, they make us cry, they make us mature and they make us all hear the Dharma, the truth of life in a deeper way that we never heard before.
“They teach us all the truth of impermanence and guide us all toward seeing the truth of our lives and our deep connection with each and every one of them.
“They will continue to influence our lives and guide us to grow and mature in ways that we cannot comprehend today. Therefore, we honor them and call them Buddhas and we put our hands together in Gassho and recite the Nembutsu in gratitude to them. At that moment we become one with them. Namoamidabutsu”
Everyone was then invited to come up and Oshoko.
From Hill 555 we traveled back into town. On our way we stopped to see the sign designating the street named after the 442nd. Rue De 442nd Regiment American Infantry Liberators of Bruyères October 1944.
At the town center more speeches before lunch. Near the town center there was a photo display of the liberation of Bruyères along with artifacts. The town clearly honors those Nisei who liberated Bruyères. Around town photos were hung on street corners and we could see that after 75 years the town had not changed that much. Buildings still stand as they did 75 years ago, some showing the marks of war.
Lunch was held at the city sports center. Allison Hue Miss Hawaii 2016 was present and danced and sang for all of us. Lunch was late and by the time we finished and returned to our hotel is was past 5:00 pm, so we returned to our rooms and rested.
All in all a very moving day. Jane and I were so happy to be able to be part of a memorable and moving experience.