MICKEY MAKIO AKIYAMA
A Brief Life History
THE “LONELY” DEPARTURE:
Idaho-born MICKEY MAKIO AKIYAMA (“Mickey”) was the first 442nd Regimental Combat Team (“RCT”) Recruit, out of Manzanar War Relocation Center (“Manzanar”). Sadly, he departed through the barbed-wire gates, leaving his young, Nisei-American Wife (“Mary”), their new Baby and his extended Family … sad, because he did not know, what he would face on the battlefields of Europe … and, sad, because he could no longer cradle his Baby Daughter (“Mariko Ann”/“Mari-Ann”), nor know the daily affection of his Wife and extended Family.
Mickey’s extended Family (“Family”) consisted of his Wife’s Parents and her six younger Siblings. He knew, his Wife and Family would care well for his Baby Daughter, whom they all loved and coddled constantly, as their “New Hope”.
There, also, to see him off, were Mickey’s Co-Workers (gracious Ladies, with whom he had worked, since last summer, at the Manzanar garment-factory) … there, to make sure, that his send-off was safe, from those few, hostile Manzanar “zealots”, who felt he should not go.
These Co-Workers, generously, had taken-up a collection, from their meager factory-earnings, to give Mickey “Senbetsu” … to Mickey’s heartfelt-amazement.
And, to Mickey’s further amazement, his Neighbors in Manzanar’s “Block 5” (where Mickey and Family lived), also, took up a collection for “Senbetsu”, from their humble funds, which they gave Mickey, upon his departure. Some of his “Block 5” Neighbors were at the gate, along with Mickey’s Family, to see him off.
Especially astonishing and precious to Mickey, was the gift of an elaborate, hand-stitched Waistband (“Senninbari”), consisting of 1,000 stitches … each stitch, contributed individually, by 1,000 extraordinary Women of Manzanar (10 percent of Manzanar’s estimated 10,000 population) … meant to provide Mickey with “protection” in battle … a noble Japanese-tradition. (This Waistband, Mickey continued to wear, during his upcoming days in battle, as a true “blessing”.)
These unselfish acts of kindness and caring, by Mickey’s Co-Workers and Neighbors, all sealed his faith in God, as Creator of these remarkable, compassionate “Guardian Angels” … People with unending grace and dignity, in the face of unthinkable injustice. He did everything he could, to suppress his tears of gratitude (which men were “not allowed” to exhibit).
How could he repay these extraordinary Co-Workers and Neighbors, so wonderfully-representative of Japanese-Americans? How could he protect his Wife and Family, who were nobly trying to “recreate” life, in the “heartless” confines of Manzanar? How could he make sure, his Baby Daughter would have a “future” in America? How could he show his loyalty, to a country that had “betrayed” him, his Family and fellow Japanese-Americans, by abruptly and unjustly-incarcerating them, behind barbed-wire, with armed guards … forced into accommodations, hardly-fit for habitation … depriving them, unceremoniously, of their freedoms, property and civil rights?
By embarking upon his sojourn to Europe, his resolve was undaunted … He would “rise above” America’s betrayal, by defending America, unconditionally, on the battlefields of Europe, against America’s enemies. He would convince America of his unconditional loyalty … giving his life, if need be. For the sake of these People, whom he loved, so dearly (his Wife, Baby, Family, Co-Workers and Neighbors), he would “Go for Broke!” … just like his fellow 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers (predominantly, Second-Generation Japanese-Americans, known as “Nisei”) … America-born, one and all!
That day, so long ago, yet still so agonizingly “fresh” in his memory, was on or about August 10, 1943 … when Mickey embarked upon a most-lonely journey … more dangerous, than he could ever imagine … a serendipitous “Hero’s Journey”, so well-mythologized, by philosopher Joseph Campbell.
ARRIVAL AND PREPARATION:
Mickey Akiyama arrived at Fort Douglas, in Salt Lake City, that summer day in August 1943, amid Army confusion. As the first recruit out of Manzanar, Mickey kept seeking out his assignment, but remained “in limbo”, for a few days, until the Army finally figured-out he was “there”.
Relieved that the Army finally acknowledged his existence, he left for his assignment to Fort Shelby, in sunny Mississippi, in mid-August 1943. There, Mickey underwent Basic Training, and assimilation into his Company and Battalion assignments, for the next several months.
As a “Stateside” Japanese-American, Mickey found it “interesting”, to say the least, to interact with the lively Japanese-American recruits, from Hawaii. Typically, the Stateside Japanese-Americans were more reserved. The Hawaiian Japanese-Americans spoke “Pigeon English” … their own slang, which sounded strange to Mickey and the other Stateside Japanese-Americans.
Initially, the Hawaiian Japanese-Americans seemed “different” on “the surface” … and, they thought the same of the Stateside Japanese-Americans. But, once into battle, they all realized, that there were no differences, in their courage and loyalty … and, no differences in their resolve to “Go For Broke!” It was a “perfect fit” on the battlefields of Europe.
By mid-April 1944, Mickey was ready to depart, with his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers, for their European assignment.
Mickey was now a member of I Company, 3rd Battalion of the 442nd RCT.
They shipped-out from Virginia, on or about May 2, 1944, “zig-zagging” across ocean-waters, for a month … arriving in Oran, Algiers, in North Africa, where they were on-hold, for 3 or 4 days.
Then, by Navy-boat military-transport, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers, arrived in Naples, Italy, on June 5 or 6, 1944 … 400 to 500 brave Soldiers, with personal trepidations … trepidations, which they all subdued, for “another day”.
On or about June 7, 1944, they arrived in Anzio, Italy, a small port, whose significance was to grow enormously, in the annals of war-history. Here, would be Mickey’s “first baptism of fire”, when German bombers raided their location, that night.
Around then, on or about June 9, 1944, the deservedly-famous Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion (“100th”), “broke through” strong German lines, preparing the way for “fresh” 442nd RCT troops, like Mickey. The 100th had already been badly “bloodied”, on those “hostile” European battlefields, but had valiantly-upheld the endurance, loyalty and bravery, which established the honorable “legacy” of these Japanese-American Soldiers.
It was around this time, when the 100th was incorporated into the 442nd RCT … a seamless, compatible union of like-minded Japanese-American Soldiers, sharing a single-objective … loyalty and honor, even at the cost of death.
(Officially-called the “1st Battalion”, these most-respected Japanese-American Soldiers, continued to be identified as “the 100th”, as an honorary tribute to their ceaseless bravery and remarkable heroism.)
The 442nd RCT met up with the 100th, at Civitavecchia, Italy, where “regrouping” was intense. The searing experiences of the 100th, with aggressive and deadly German Soldiers, provided essential advice of what was to come. By aggressively-protecting the Americans’ battle-positions, it had “cost” the 100th over 900 Japanese-American Soldiers’ lives, out of an initial group of about 1,200 (supplemented along the way, by “fresh” 442nd RCT Troops).
Though solemn and humbled by this information, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers were not intimidated. Rather, they accepted their missions, with unending camaraderie … to back-up each other, with their lives … unified in their objective to show their loyalty … and, unified in their resolve to “Go For Broke!”
Around this time (June 16 or 17, 1944), Mickey and other 442nd RCT Soldiers were given rare “passes”, for a couple days “off”, in and around Rome. En route, Mickey befriended another Nisei-American Soldier, William Yasutake (“William”), who was a 442nd RCT Medic.
(Medics were deservedly-respected as heroic, selfless Soldiers … armed only with medical equipment and supplies … whose mission was to provide medical-care, to fellow Soldiers, wounded in combat … all the while, endangering their own lives, and suffering the same battlefield hardships, as their Combat-Brethren.)
Together, Mickey and William were selected, along with 4 others from the 442nd RCT, to be an Honor Guard, for Pope Pius IX (“Pope”), at St. Peter’s Cathedral, to assure the Pope’s safety, in and around the Vatican.
These six 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers joined other American Soldiers, totaling about 30 in the Honor Guard, who stood, respectfully, at attention, as the Pope passed by. Dressed in his stunning ceremonial robes and mitre, holding his Holy Scepter (with Cross), and surrounded by his devoted Attendants, the Pope gave special dispensation to this Honor Guard of Americans, blessing them all, with the sign of the Cross. They felt privileged, on this mildly-warm, sunny day.
In the presence of Pope Pius IX, William bowed, onto his knees. To William’s great surprise, the Pope stopped and conversed privately, with William, who kissed the Pope’s ring, with reverence.
Later, William told Mickey, that the Pope had praised the American Soldiers, for liberating Rome and bringing peace to the world.
(For Mickey, though not a Catholic, this experience brought a feeling of peace … generated by an impressively-gracious Pope, whose very “being” exuded a special “aura”. In later years, this would inspire Mickey to seek answers, to his own spirituality.)
After the Pope’s procession that day, the Pope’s hospitality provided the Honor Guard with “first-class” tours of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, and surrounding Vatican grounds. Of course, Mickey and William gratefully-accepted this invitation. Mickey was, especially, in awe of Michelangelo’s magnificent, marble “Pieta”, showing Mary holding her grown, crucified Jesus.
A couple days later, Mickey was back in Civitavecchia, where he felt anxiety, over leaving the “peace” he felt, in Rome. But, he was resolved, to accomplish his mission … every moment, thinking about his Wife and Baby Daughter, back home.
From Civitavecchia, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers advanced into Belvedere and Sasseta, Italy, on or about June 25, 1944 … into the full throes of battle, by about June 26.
For more than a week, they pushed back the “enemy” … German soldiers, equally determined, in battle.
By about July 6, 1944, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers saw even more serious battle, at “Hill 140”.
Just before their “Hill 140” advance, Mickey was designated “Squad Leader”, by Sergeant Kashino. As such, Mickey led a group of five other Soldiers in Squad 1. Part of three Battalions advancing on Hill 140, they were engaged in an aggressive battle-plan, to “take” the Hill, from the Germans.
Attached to the 34th Division, orders came from the 5th Army Headquarters, led by General Mark Clark, who was coordinating battle-plans, across territories in Italy, some 100 miles-wide.
Around July 13, 1944, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers, advanced into Pastina, Italy … then, Luciana, on or about July 16 or 17 … and, Colle Salvetti, around July 18 … “zig-zagging”, back and forth, into the hills, further North … then, Northeast, toward and into Firenze (a/k/a Florence), Italy, a “neutral” town, respected by both sides.
Next, they advanced West of Firenze, just due East of Pisa, along the Arno River. The 100th had just “taken” Pisa, which was not an “open” town.
Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers continued to hold their positions, along the Arno River, trying to avoid land-mines, which jeopardized every step. The courageous 442nd RCT Engineers marked the mines and built bridges, endangering their own lives, to pave a safe way, for their fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers.
Mickey and his Squad were among the 442nd RCT Soldiers, who crossed the Arno River, trudging up to the Serchio River, North of the Arno, where they stopped, on or about July 25, 1944, for much-needed rest … then, back to the outskirts of Castiglioncello, for clothes, shoes, gun-cleaning, etc. … “spit & polish”, as it is known.
Along the way, Mickey came to be known as “P.M.”, initials for “Perpetual Motion” … a nickname given to him, because he was always busy, “running around”, seeing to the needs of his Men, assuring their welfare in battle, fostering camaraderie and the steady flow of communication … and, fostering the “buddy” system, especially in combat.
On or about September 18, 1944, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers received orders, to advance on Naples. The next day, or so, they were joined, by “fresh” Japanese-American replacements … mostly, “Mainland Boys” from “the States”.
So, Naples, it was … controlled by the United States, from which they were transported, by ships, to Marseilles, France, on or about September 29, 1944.
WAR IS HELL:
Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers, landed in Marseilles, Southern France, on or about September 30, 1944. It was raining, muddy and miserable. It took at least a couple days, to unload the Men and equipment, off ship.
Mickey’s Squad was down to five Men, including himself. His Squad now had recent “replacements”, for Men he had just “lost”.
Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers advanced inland, 10 to 15 miles, to “consolidate”, along the Rhone River … the 100th, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 442nd RCT … to strategize and arrange transportation (by railroad and trucks), for their campaign Northward. Mickey was among those, who rode by railroad. By now, it was about October 10 and 11, 1944.
Into Bruyeres, these 442nd RCT Soldiers advanced, in about mid-October 1944, capturing the surrounding hills. They “flushed out” the German enemy. Mickey and Sergeant Kashino captured German Soldiers in Bruyeres. Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers actively-participated in liberating Bruyeres, from the Germans.
Next, they attacked “Hill 505”, overlooking Bruyeres, on or about October 20, 1944, capturing the occupying Germans … thus, eliminating their presence there.
It was here, that Mickey sustained his first battle-injury, on or about October 20, 1944, when he was wounded by shrapnel and phosphorus, from a German mortal-shell, which burst near him, scorching his neck and back. The burns blistered all over him. After brief treatment, by Medics (10 to 15 minutes thereof), Mickey went right back into battle, since he knew, they needed every man! He ignored the acute-pains, he felt, from these burns.
Then, on or about October 26, 1944, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers received orders, from General Dahlquist (leader of the 36th Division, to which the 442nd RCT was attached, in France) … to “save, at all costs”, a “Texas Division” of some 200 White-American Soldiers, who had been mercilessly-trapped by the Germans. This group of Soldiers came to be known as the “Lost Battalion”, which got surrounded, because it had been overextended.
Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers aggressively-embarked on their mission, to save the White “Texas Division” Soldiers, “at all costs”. The night was icy-cold … the 442nd RCT Soldiers had not been provided with winter-clothes or winter-boots. Much-needed food and supplies had not yet arrived, as expected, but the 442nd RCT remained undaunted.
It was October 27, 1944, and I Company (part of the 442nd RCT), in which Mickey served as Squad Leader, had continued to repel German-enemy tank-counterattacks, consisting of heavy-artillery and mortar-shells. The 442nd RCT’s K Company was on the right. On the left, were the 141st Regiment and 36th Division.
By October 28, 1944, the 442nd RCT Soldiers managed to drive back the German enemy and hold their position.
On October 29, 1944, Sergeant Kashino was seriously-wounded and, thus, out-of-action. He insisted that Mickey take over. The platoon, which should have numbered 40, now was down to only a half-dozen Men, including Mickey. On the right, the 442nd RCT’s K Company, also, had lost many Men, with only two squads left (consisting of only 4 or 5 Men, each).
Mickey assumed the duties of “Sergeant”, although he was never officially-promoted to such position.
Mickey set his Men in position, while he climbed atop a tank … that was the only way, to ascertain the Germans’ position, quickly. He could not worry, about being an easy German “target”. After he was able to spot the Germans, a German sniper’s bullet, just missed hitting Mickey, dead-on.
Later, however, around mid-afternoon that day, October 29, 1944, Mickey was seriously-wounded … nearly-mortally. A German Sniper’s bullet tore into his helmet and sliced across his skull, near his right forehead … gouging into his skull-bone, and fracturing the skull-bone in many places.
He was knocked unconscious, for about 20 minutes … his helmet, knocked-off, near him. Then, after he regained consciousness, he bandaged his own head, which had been bleeding profusely, using his own First-Aid kit … in clear view of the enemy. But, somehow, it was not his “time to go”. He reached for his helmet, because of what he had inside it.
Inside his helmet, Mickey had been carrying a baby-picture of Mari-Ann, which he cherished … his one tie to home and Family, in this surreal battle-setting.
(Around this same time, back in Manzanar, little Mari-Ann, usually a “good” Baby, awoke suddenly, in the middle of the night, crying hysterically. She was neither sick nor injured. Mary and Family could do nothing, to soothe Mari-Ann. After hearing of Mickey’s serious head-injuries, they concluded, that Mickey’s suffering was somehow “conveyed” to his precious Baby Girl, thousands of miles away.)
Shortly after he was wounded that day, October 29, 1944, though suffering greatly from his head-wounds, Mickey captured four German Soldiers, who had surrendered to him. This group of four included the German Sniper, who had just shot Mickey in the head. After frisking them, Mickey took them into custody, extending humane treatment, for which, they were grateful and relieved. Mickey believes, that their surrender was a turning point, for this mercy-mission, to rescue the “Lost Battalion”.
That evening, October 29, 1944, Mickey finally received vital medical-care in Field-Hospital, for his near-mortal head-wounds. He remained hospitalized, for a month.
In addition to such head-wounds, Mickey had already been suffering from “trench foot”, caused by overexposure, to the freezing-weather, snow and ice. He and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers had not yet received their winter-clothes or winter-boots. Thus, this condition afflicted many other 442nd RCT Soldiers, as well, on those icy battlefields.
(In the process of being treated for his head-wounds, the beautiful “Senninbari” Waistband, consisting of 1,000 stitches … given to Mickey, upon his departure from Manzanar, in August 1943 … was removed by Field-Hospital medical-staff … and lost. However, the Waistband served its purpose … Mickey was still alive! And, Mickey’s admiration, still remains strong, six decades later … for those 1,000 brave-and-caring Manzanar Women, who created the Waistband … admiration for them, as the compassionate “bulwarks of our civilization”, with the “power” to overcome adversity and violence.)
The next day, October 30, 1944, Tak Senzaki, a Sergeant in I Company, and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers, reached the “Lost Battalion”, around 12 noon, saving the remaining White “Texas Division” Soldiers … meeting no more German resistance.
Earlier that day, I Company’s Commanding Officer, Captain Joseph L. Byrne, was killed by a land-mine, nearby. Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers were most-saddened to hear of this.
Shortly after this campaign, General Dahlquist called forth the 442nd RCT Soldiers, to commend them for accomplishing their mission. He was saluted by the small group of 442nd RCT Soldiers (remaining from the campaign), who stood before him. The General asked as to the whereabouts of the “other” 442nd RCT Soldiers … He was told, there were none. Their mission to save the “Lost Battalion” had taken a tremendous toll … more 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers killed, than the number of White-American Soldiers saved. Others, like Mickey and Sergeant Kashino, lay seriously-wounded, in hospital. The General was shocked. The 442nd RCT Soldiers, Mickey included, all saw this as their patriotic duty, without question.
While recuperating in hospital, Mickey was told, that a few beds down from him, lay one of the German Soldiers, he had just captured, last October 29 … the German Sniper, responsible for Mickey’s near-fatal head-wounds. This German Sniper, recognizing Mickey as his captor, vigorously insisted-upon being moved elsewhere … apparently, afraid of Mickey, in spite of Mickey’s kind assurances, that no harm would befall him (the German).
After about a month, in Field-Hospital, Mickey was moved to a recuperation-ward, at the “Maginot Line” (four-stories underground). It was around Thanksgiving 1944. Though told that there was Thanksgiving food for the Soldiers, Mickey “missed out”, since only a couple slices of bread remained, by the time he reached the dinner-table. “Oh well …”
BACK INTO BATTLE + MORE HELL:
After Christmas 1944, Mickey was shipped to Southern France, to the “French Maritime Alps”, where he rejoined the 442nd RCT and 100th, for the “Champagne Campaign”.
At Sospel Point, they remained for 1-1/2 to 2 months. Mickey, whose head-injuries still plagued him, concentrated hard, to ignore the constant migraine-type headaches and constant “ringing” inside his head. But, the pains were excruciating, nevertheless.
On or about March 21, 1945, they reached Pietrasanta (Italy), where General Mark Clark gave the 442nd RCT orders, to “move” on the feared “Gothic Line”, fortified to the maximum, by the Germans, to repel the Allies. Over the past 5 months, the Gothic Line had been impregnable, when other American troops had attempted to penetrate it. But, the 442nd RCT Strategists did not let this intimidate them.
Thus, Mickey and his fellow I Company (3rd Battalion, 442nd RCT) Soldiers embarked upon a “top secret” mission, consisting of a steep-climb of more than 8 hours, up-mountain, overnight … up the “saddle” connecting Mount Folgorito and Mount Carchio, a strong-point of the Gothic Line, located in the Apennines Mountain Range.
They could make no noise. They could not stop, for rest. They each had to carry ammunition, water, grenades, supplies, as well as their standard battle-gear. Mickey, in addition to his own gear, had to carry a 35 to 40-pound mortar-shell, strapped to his back, along with other supplies, for all those agonizing hours. Courageous Italian “Partigiani” (young local Men, loyal to America) had provided invaluable assistance, in advance, with markers, up the mountain.
In like fashion, other Companies in the 3rd, 100th and 2nd Battalions of the 442nd RCT, also, were scaling other strong-points in the Gothic Line, in concert with I Company … all part of a brilliantly-executed “grand plan”, for the 442nd RCT to penetrate the Gothic Line.
This represented TRUE team-effort, by these heroic 442nd RCT Soldiers. Silently, relentlessly, they all made their way, up-mountain. Finally, at the top, they were ready to “charge” the Germans.
Mickey was relieved, when his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers removed the mortar-shell from his back, for use against the Germans. Then, Squad Leader Mickey and his Men “stormed” downhill, along with other I Company Soldiers … surprising the Germans, who were about to eat breakfast. Their capture took only minutes!
Other Companies in the 3rd, 100th and 2nd Battalions achieved the same results, on their respective mountains.
Thus, the 442nd RCT made “quick work” of the German strongholds. The Gothic Line was miraculously “broken”!
General Clark had great confidence in the 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers … He knew, they could accomplish this strategically-crucial mission. And, that they did!
But, it wasn’t over yet! The 442nd RCT Soldiers had to continue fighting the remaining German backup-units, which had been intentionally-scattered across these mountains, as part of the Germans’ plan, to reinforce their positions, to the fullest.
(Around this time, during this campaign, 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldier “Sadao Munemori” was killed-in-action. Later, he was given the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his great heroism in battle. Sadao had been recruited into the 442nd RCT, out of Manzanar, just a few months after Mickey. Recently, in Spring 2000, the Italians dedicated a monument, at Pietrasanta, to Sadao Munemori … honoring him and all the Allied Soldiers, who fought to “free” Italy, from the Germans.)
Then, Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers advanced further, to Montignoso, North of the Gothic Line, on or about April 8, 1945 … followed by Colle Piano Ridgeline … on or about April 9, 1945, to Massa … then, Carrara, famous for its marble-quarries, where big “shells” bombarded Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers. They captured more mountainous areas, heading North, East, West, North, East, West … zig-zagging, as was their strategy.
On April 19, 1945, while engaged in battle in these mountains, Mickey suffered excruciating pains, in his abdomen. Doubled-over, Mickey was rushed to Field-Hospital, by jeep, which fortunately, was available to transport him. Within 15 minutes of arrival, doctors performed immediate life-saving surgery on Mickey, to remove his appendix. Mickey had suffered acute-appendicitis. Had he ignored it, as was his wont, he would have died, on the battlefields. Again, it was not his “time to go”.
On May 2, 1945, the Germans surrendered to the Americans in Italy. The War was over in Italy! Still in hospital, recuperating, Mickey was relieved at this news. The 442nd RCT had been the “catalyst”, which caused the Germans to surrender in Italy, 5 days “early” … 5 days sooner, than General Eisenhower’s pre-determined goal, set to coincide with the end of the War in Northern Europe!
Around then, in early May 1945, after a couple weeks in hospital, Mickey was transported to Ghedi Airport, formerly a German military stronghold in Italy. There, Mickey was happy to re-join his fellow 442nd RCT Soldiers, who were guarding the captured German Soldiers. The 442nd RCT’s job, at this point, was to keep order, among these German Soldiers, and “order them to clean up”.
The 442nd RCT Soldiers lived in pup-tents and co-existed peacefully, with the Germans. The German Soldiers, somehow, had Italian Lira, with which they bought cigarettes, from the Japanese-American Soldiers. The 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers, Mickey is proud to say, treated the Germans humanely.
A HUMBLE HOMECOMING:
By mid-July 1945, Mickey was eligible to go home “early”, now that peace had “arrived”. But, because mails were difficult to receive from home, Mickey did not know the whereabouts of his Wife, Baby Daughter and Family. He was not sure, what their situation was in Manzanar.
Sadly, during his long battle-sojourns in Europe, he had had little contact with his Wife and Family, at the home front. Letters didn’t reach him often, or, if they did, it was much later, since the 442nd RCT was “on-the-move”, constantly. Also, mails into and out-of Manzanar were unpredictable and difficult to come by, at best.
Mickey was shipped back to Naples, on or about July 20, 1945 … called the “Repo Depo” (i.e., “Replacement Depot”). Confusion abounded! Mickey resisted the “temptations” around him, since all he could think about was returning to his Wife and Baby Daughter, whose welfare was his constant concern.
Mickey, finally, returned to the United States, via military cargo-planes, by way of North Africa, Dakkar, then Miami. There, the Red Cross, graciously, helped Mickey find his Family, which had just relocated to Chicago.
Mickey was transported to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, 30 or 40 miles North of Chicago. On August 2, 1945, Mickey was officially honorably-discharged from the Army, to return to civilian life … and, his Wife and Baby Daughter, whom he sorely-missed!
After taking a bus and taxi, Mickey arrived at the new Family home, in Chicago, which his Wife and Baby Daughter shared with their Family. It was a “good” reunion, although Mariko Ann did not recognize her “Daddy”.
Once home, the following years were not easy for Mickey, nor for any other Japanese-Americans. Jobs were hard to come by, due to continued discrimination. Though Mickey and his fellow 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers had fought bravely, to secure America’s freedoms, many Americans were not aware of this … or, if they were, their prejudices were too-overwhelming.
Mickey, along with the extended Family, worked long, hard hours and days, to re-build their lives, which had been “destroyed” by internment in Manzanar.
Mickey was awarded the following medals, for his bravery in War: Two “Purple Hearts” … “Bronze Star Medal” … “First Oak-Leaf Cluster to the Purple Heart - GO 11, Hq 442nd Regimental Combat Team dtd 6 Feb 45” … “American Defense Service Medal” … “Good Conduct Medal” … “World War II Victory Medal” … “European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one (1) Silver Service Star (in lieu of five (5) Bronze Service Stars for the Ardennes-Alsace, North Apennines, Po Valley, Rhineland and Rome-Arno Campaigns”) … “Combat Infantryman Badge” … and “Distinguished Unit Emblem with Oak-Leaf Cluster”.
After the War, Mickey and his Wife had a Second Daughter, Carol Lynn, born in Chicago.
Sadly, however, in the years that followed the War, Mickey and Mary’s marriage did not survive war-related hardships that had, separately, “hurt” them. While Mickey had been fighting to survive, on the “heartless” battlefields of Europe, Mary had been trying to survive the “cruelties” of Manzanar-internment, with little Mari-Ann. (Luckily, Mary was surrounded by a devoted, extended Family of Parents and Siblings, in Manzanar. But, that’s another story.)
In the decades following, Mickey worked several jobs … in each instance, having to “prove” himself anew, because of “blind” discrimination from his civilian bosses and co-workers. But, in each instance, he was able to “prove” himself, through hard work and perseverance … much like his fellow 442nd RCT Japanese-American Soldiers.
As with other Japanese-Americans, re-building their lives, recreation was scarce, if at all, due to time and economics. Working was everything, to provide for young Families … and, to assimilate into an America, that was often “unfriendly” … and, unappreciative.
LIFE IS GOOD:
Mickey has spent decades, studying religions and spirituality, and has found “peace of mind”. Meditation has helped him tolerate the constant/agonizing after-effects of his battlefield head-injuries (caused by that near-fatal Sniper’s bullet), which have plagued him, in the 6 decades, since the War (e.g., daily migraine-headaches, tinnitis like “Niagara Falls”, nausea, dizziness, lack of equilibrium, extensive hearing-loss, etc.). He takes great care, to avoid bumping his right-forehead, where his 4-inch scar remains, from that Sniper’s bullet -- he still suffers intense pain, even with slight bumps to his head.
Also, Mickey suffers from the advancement of his other World War II battlefield-injuries, including “Cold Weather” injuries, which he sustained, while having to exist in those sub-zero/icy battlefield-trenches, for 4 months (during France’s coldest Winter in history), without the benefit of winter-gear. As a result, Mickey’s circulation is seriously-limited in his lower-extremities, impeding his ability to walk.
In August 2003, Mickey’s body “collapsed”, resulting from the accumulation of his war-related injuries (above), plus various other physical-maladies, including congestive heart-failure, failing kidneys, and high blood-pressure complications. Later, he was plagued with excruciatingly-painful shingles in his left-foot. As a result, Mickey was housed at VA Martinez’ rehabilitation-unit (Northern California), for nearly two years.
Fortunately, his condition improved and stabilized. Thus, in May 2005, Mickey moved to an apartment in Walnut Creek (Northern California), housed in an assisted-living facility (Atria Montego Heights). Previously, Mickey lived in Oakland, California.
In spite of his physical-incapacities, Mickey’s resilient and joyful spirit has remained undaunted. At Atria Montego Heights, he is known as “ALOHA”, since that is how, he enthusiastically-greets his fellow Residents. He enjoys frequent visits by many Bay-Area Friends, as well as, out-of-town Relatives.
Mickey’s two Daughters are both Attorneys … Mari-Ann Akiyama Worley (residing in Port Ludlow, Washington, with her Husband, Keate Worley), and Carol Lynn Akiyama (residing in Woodland Hills, California). Additionally, Mickey has two grown Grandchildren (Mari-Ann’s Children) and one Great GrandDaughter.
Mickey retains “close ties” to his Twin-Brother, Masuo Akiyama, and Masuo’s Wife (“Miyo”), who reside in Spokane, Washington. Over many decades, Mickey has been the proud and doting Uncle of Mas & Miyo’s two Children, Paul and Laura (both of whom, are married, with Children).
Before and during World War II, Masuo lived in Spokane, Washington, with Mickey and Masuo’s Mother. Their Father had died, several years before. Masuo was unable to enter the Service, during the War, due to a serious respiratory-infection, diagnosed as advanced-tuberculosis, for which cures and treatments were doubtful, at the time.
Mickey’s life took a different path than Masuo’s, when, as a young man, before the War, Mickey moved to Gardena, California. There, he worked for an Uncle and took accounting courses at Woodbury College. He joined the United States Army and was assigned to work as a Clerk, at Fort Lewis, in the State of Washington.
He married Mary Uyeda in July 1941, just months before “Pearl Harbor”. Following “Pearl Harbor”, he was placed into the Reserves, in February 1942, since the Army was uncertain, what to do with him. Mickey and Mary, along with her Family, were forced into Manzanar, in or about late March 1942 … hardly, auspicious beginnings for the “Newlyweds”. But, their “Greatest Blessing”, Baby “Mariko Ann”, was born in Manzanar, a year later … followed, within months, by Mickey’s sad departure, for the battlefields of Europe.
THE 442nd RCT LEGACY:
Mickey is proud to be part of the 442nd RCT, I Company. He felt privileged, to serve among so many remarkable Japanese-American Soldiers. His memories of 442nd RCT battles, as well as the collective-honor and bravery of the 442nd RCT Soldiers, remain most-vivid and precious to this humble Man!