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; stanamachi@aol.com

                                  Terry Shima (301-987-6746; ttshima@worldnet.att.net)


FOR PHOTO:    Please contact Terry Shima.

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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 battalion.

Higgins, a 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.” 

L-R:  Missy Higgins Abrunzo, Marty Higgins, Sandra Tanamachi.  Photo:  Sandra Tanamachi

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 dog. 

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