Legacy of Nisei Veterans honored in small town in France

Veterans Voices

One small town in France makes sure the legacies of heroic Nisei soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team are not forgotten.

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For the Nisei the campaign started in Marseilles, and then moved north to Aix en Provence and Avignon and finally to the region known as the Grand Est, very close to the German border.”

After 8 days of furious battle, the Germans surrendered. It was a victorious march through the liberated town. They march again yearly.

“It’s really incredibly moving,” said Rep. Ed Case. “I’m choking up being here and thinking about the history and, talking about fighting in that hill over there…irreplaceable.”

At nearly every corner Bruyeres honors the Nisei.

“George Washington Suyama was an ordinary soldier like thousands of others who came and fought and died and I didn’t want him to be forgotten,” said Carl Williams.

“His whole identity was formed around being here, fighting with his brothers, and so to be here where it happened it’s everything,” said Leslie Sakato, a Nisei relative. “Now that I’m actually on site, you can tell I’m choked up.”

“There’s family history and that means a lot,” said Lindsey Sagami, a Nisei descendent. “There are 3 of us, 2 nephews and a niece so I’m hoping he feels our presence.”

12-year-old Michel Pierat watched as Yohei and his unit marched out of the woods, past his father’s farm. Soon after an explosion sent a shard of shrapnel into Yohei’s throat. He was the first to die in Laval Sur Vologne. He was 22. After the war, the townspeople scraped up enough Francs for a wooden monument, later replaced by stone. Michel’s father vowed that the Pierat family would watch over it. Michel, now 87, has tended to the stone for 70 years, keeping it clear of dust and weeds, tasks his son Pierre Frederic will soon take over.

The gifts are letters, pictures and snacks, but what is really being exchanged here is gratitude, for a promise to a fallen soldier, and for a life given for a family’s freedom.

“It’s an inspiration to every person that takes an oath to defend the country,” said Edwin Hawkins, Jr., Ret. Colonel USAF. “People before did heroic things and you are carrying on their legacy.”

“I only got about 13 years with my grandfather,” said Kenneth Leong, Nisei descendent. “It brings to light who was part of my family.”

“My father, one of his dying wishes was that I come here to visit,” said Theresa Maman. “So this wasn’t just an opportunity to visit my grandfather but also to make good on a wish my father had.”

“His granddaughter married a Frenchman,  the people he had saved so the blood he shed was not in vain,” said Guillaume Maman, Honorary French Consul Hawaii.

They have come in search of that final piece of the puzzle of an unspoken past. Perhaps here at Epinal they will find some measure of peace and a deeper understanding of the legacy that is now theirs to uphold.    

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