HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s the first time Albert Nakama will see his Army jacket since the fall of 1944, when he was a 21-year-old soldier with the 442, L company.
“It was found near Bruyeres on a farm and my friend that lives out there said the soldiers came through his property and they left a bunch of equipment in one of his barns,” said Chris Sketchley, Curator of Nisei Veterans Museum in Seattle.
Bruyeres is nestled among hills and steep mountains of Northeaster France, bordering Germany, where the woods, Albert says, offered protection from an enemy so close and who ultimately killed 20 of the 30 soldiers in his troop.
At 96 years old, Albert didn’t have to search far for memories.
“We were advancing in the open field and we realized we made a big mistake, we getting exposed, they shot at us because nothing to protect us then we pull back and rested for a while then we advance into Bruyeres,” said veteran Albert Nakama.
On his one night in Brueyers, Albert shed his jacket, which six years ago was spotted by a man named Herve. He and his wife are from Brueyers, He collects WW2 items still found in his town and gives tours for Nisei veterans and their families.
“He was driving down the road and he saw this farmer out in the field wearing this jacket and he pulled over because he recognized it was a WWII jacket so he pulled over and said hey where did you get that jacket? and he says oh they left it in my farmhouse after the Americans came thru my farm area here but I only wear it when it rains or snows,” said Sketchley.
Herve bought the jacket from the farmer for 15-dollars.
“Got it home and opened it and realized there was a Japanese name on it which he knew it belonged to a 442 veteran,” said Sketchley.
“A. Nakama” on the back and the inside. Herve researched but couldn’t find the owner.
Two years ago he gave it to Seattle’s Nisei Veterans Museum, where Chris Sketchley is the curator, a veteran there searched and finally found Albert’s family member in Hawaii, leading Chris here to Kaneohe.
“It is the 75th anniversary of him being in France so it is all kind of a miracle if you think about the odds,” said Sketchley.
We asked what Albert thought about getting his jacket back.
“I don’t think anything, ’cause I don’t think it’s gonna fit me anyway, but it’s a good jacket though,” said Nakama.
Albert doesn’t remember losing the jacket and was skeptical it was his, but Chris says they couldn’t find any other “Nakama” in the 442 and the “A” sealed the deal.
Then Albert shared another memory of being shot at.
When Albert’s daughter and Chris heard that? Another clue revealed.
“The jacket, the hood, there’s a hole in it,” said Albert’s daughter, Iris Chang.
To this day, Albert and the entire 442 have the eternal gratitude of a town in France.
“The 442 emblems painted on the sidewalks and the walls and they have plaques that talk about the 442 battle there allot of the companies use 442 in their phone numbers,” said Sketchley.