JAPANESE AMERICAN VETERANS ASSOCIATION
1666 K Street,NW, Suite 500, Washington,D.C. 20006, c/o Gerald Yamada, Esq.
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Vol. II
August 5, 2006 No. 14
CONTACTS: Sandra Chikako Tanamachi (979-285-0816; firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Shima (301-987-6746; email@example.com)
FOR PHOTO: Please contact Terry Shima.
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MARTY HIGGINS, AGE 90, IN CONTINUED GOOD HEALTH. REFLECTIONS OF A FRIEND.
By Sandra Tanamachi, Japanese American Veterans Association
[Ed: Marty Higgins, Commander of the Lost Battalion, has never forgotten his rescuers. There is a genuine bond of friendship between the rescued and the 100th Bn and 442nd RCT veterans and all Japanese Americans. As he turned 90 this year, we asked one of his close friends to write this article.]
The date April 15, 2005, was an
exciting day for those of us who were on the Planning Committee of the Houston
JACL chapter, as our heroes were arriving in Houston. We were hosting “A
Tribute to our World War II Veterans” on the next day, April 16, 2005. Each of
the veterans who were arriving was Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans,
except one. This one veteran was Marty Higgins, Commanding Officer of the “Lost
Battalion.” The “Lost Battalion,” formally known as the 1st Battalion, 141st
Regiment, 36th (Texas) Division, and the 442nd Regimental
Combat Team share a historical event that occurred in the Vosges Mountains in
France in October 25-30, 1944, when the Nisei rescued Marty and his trapped
native of Jersey City, New Jersey, joined the cavalry in New York before WW II.
He was called to active service, received his commission, and was sent to North
Africa with the 10th Cavalry. When he learned there would be no
combat duties, he switched to the infantry in June, 1944. He became a platoon
leader in the 36th (Texas) Division, which was engaged in the
invasion of southern France. On September 22, he was selected to command
Company A, 1st Battalion, 141st Regiment.
When the 1st
Battalion soldiers were completely encircled by the Germans on October 25, 1944,
Lieutenant Higgins, the most senior trapped officer, was voted by his peers to
command the 275 trapped soldiers. The enemy attacks and artillery bombardment,
day and night, were fierce. With the support of his fellow officers, he did a
superior job of planning and executing probes, attack and counter attack plans
all the while maintaining high troop morale. He was a natural born leader with
a sharp mind and quick wit. I have been told that the soldiers would do
anything for Marty, as they knew that he would also do anything for them.
The rescue of the Lost Battalion
on October 30, 1944 was the most costly battle for the Nisei in terms of
casualties. According to official US Army records, this rescue operation is
regarded as one of the 10 most ferocious battles in US Army history. The 442nd,
according to its commander, Colonel Virgil Miller, had lost approximately three
times more men than the 211 that were eventually saved. Because of intense
German attacks, there was little time to celebrate the rescue together. The
Nisei were ordered to pursue the Germans and the Lost Battalion men were given a
hot meal and put on the lines again. Marty and his men recognized that if they
were not saved they would have been annihilated.
So on April 15, 2005, it was with the utmost admiration and respect that I was able to meet Marty Higgins and his lovely daughter, Missy Abrunzo. Marty had been awarded the Silver Star and had been promoted to Captain. His citation is written, “For gallantry in action from 23 to 31 October 1944 in France. When the lst Battalion was completely surrounded by hostile troops and isolated from other friendly units, Lieutenant Higgins assumed command of the organization, and despite heavy artillery and mortar fire, skillfully directed his men in establishing a perimeter for defense. Although the troops were without food and water, and were subjected to a series of strong German attacks, Lieutenant. Higgins worked tirelessly and courageously to maintain the morale of his men, and bravely exposing himself to hostile fire, directed elements of the battalion in repelling the attacks and with heavy losses to the enemy.”
Marty was everything that I
expected him to be and more! His charisma and charm are apparent immediately,
followed by his sharp mind and quick wit. It was enjoyable to see him reunited
with some of his buddies, Ted Rodriquez and Bill Robinson, both of the 36th
Division; and Dr. Sus Ito, 522nd Artillery of the 442nd RCT of
Wellesley, Massachusetts. He was also able to meet Lawson Sakai, 442nd, Company
E of Gilroy, California; Grant Hirabayashi of the famous Merrills’ Marauders and
a US Army Ranger Hall of Fame inductee as well as Joe Ichiuji, 522nd
Artillery/442nd RCT, both from Maryland; George Nakamura, Militry
Intelligence Service; Willie Tanamachi, 442nd RCT, Tommie Okabayashi,
442nd Cannon Company; and Marion Ferguson, 36th, Division,
all of Texas.
We had an outstanding celebration
in Houston, followed by a visit to the Houston Holocaust Museum, and to the
lovely home of Consul General of Japan and Mrs. Yoshiko Kamo. We were able to
meet former Governor of Texas John Connally’s widow, Nellie Connally. Governor
Connally named the members of the 442nd RCT as “Honorary Texans” on
October 21, 1963. Marty had a hand in this citation being given to our Nisei
veterans. In 1952, he also took part in helping Mike Masaoka to pass
legislation so that our Issei could become naturalized American citizens.
Marty continues to pay tribute to Japanese
Americans, and we, in turn, pay our respects to Marty. In March 2000, Marty was
the Keynote Speaker at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu for the 57th
Memorial Service. He also was the Keynote Speaker at the JAVA dinner in May
2004 when the World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. On April
16, 2005, he was one of the principle speakers in Houston at our “Tribute to
WWII Veterans.” In June 2005, he was the Keynote Speaker at the Go For Broke 6th
Anniversary celebration in Los Angeles. In September 2005, he was an honored
guest at Lawson Sakai’s 442nd Veterans Reunion in Las Vegas.
I was introduced to Marty Higgins by JAVA members
in 2004 when Tom Kuwahara and our CCJR (Committee to Change Jap Road) were
campaigning to change the name of “Jap” Road in Jefferson County, Texas. Marty
immediately wrote a letter urging the Commissioners to change the name of the
road. It is from this time on, that we began developing a close relationship.
It was an absolute joy to attend
Marty’s 90th birthday party at his home in beautiful Anna Maria,
Florida on January 29, 2006, which was hosted by his daughter, Missy, and son,
Michael. I was able to meet his friends, including, his buddy’s, Eddie Guy’s,
son, John and his wife, neighbors, grandson Hunter, and of course, Spirit, his
I recently returned from my
second visit to the Vosges Mountains in France. While at the 36th
Division Memorial in Biffontaine, two of Marty’s friends, Pieter Oosterman from
Holland and Gilles Guignard from Switzerland took me to see the actual area
where Marty and his men were trapped. The numerous foxholes are still there.
Marty tells me that he wonders how he could have carried his web belt which
weighed 45 pounds, “Just waking up is one thing, fighting…beyond my
comprehension.” Marty and his wife, Marge, visited the area in 1989 and were
taken to the battle site by the mayor of Biffontaine. A feeling of extreme
gratefulness came over me, as I thought about what happened at the end of
October 1944. This is where so many brave Americans fought, so that we could
enjoy the many freedoms that we have today. “Domo arigato gozaimashita,”
is what I whispered to the spirits of my heroes all around me.
At the present time, Marty is under his physicians’
care, as he spent five days in the hospital this past May with congestive heart
failure; he is on oxygen at times. Marty’s combat and cavalry experience are
described in detail in Robert Asahina’s Just Americans, How Japanese
Americans won the War at Home and Abroad and Franz Steidl’s Lost
Battalions: Going for Broke in the Vosges, Autumn 1944.
Having the honor to meet Marty Higgins has been one of the highlights of my life. Being able to become his friend and newly “adopted daughter”…I call him “my Otosan”, father in Japanese, has been a blessing for which I am immensely grateful and for which I will always treasure. As Marty continues to say, “God works in mysterious ways.” 30