France can be deceptively cold and really rather miserable in the late fall. This can be particularly true of the French mountains and the Vosges Mountains are no exception. They’re not particularly high mountains by comparison to Colorado, but they’re high enough to feel the altitude if you’re used to living at sea level.
A strategic fact about the Vosges Mountains is that towns like Bruyères and Biffontaine are about 75 miles from Strasbourg, and Strasbourg is a stone’s throw from Germany. And that’s where the 1st of the 141st (First Texas), a unit of the 36th Infantry Division (T-patchers), was heading in late October 1944 when they ran into the 244th Infantry Division of the German Army and other German units.
The Texans had fought their way through North Africa, Sicily and the Italian invasion, but got surrounded in the Vosges. They were cut off from resupply or reinforcements to the extent that they had to be supplied by air drops because no one could get to them. Vastly outnumbered, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was ordered to rescue the Texas outfit.
In the Battle of Bruyères, the 442nd continued to distinguish themselves in brutal sacrifice for their brothers in arms. As Daniel Inouye told the story, the 442nd lost more men than they ultimately rescued. But let the citation of Barney Hajiro of the 442nd speak for him and his brothers:
For The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Barney F. Hajiro, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Company I, 3d Battalion, 442d Regimental Combat Team, attached to the 36th Infantry Division, in action against the enemy on 19, 22, and 29 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France.
Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on 19 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers. On 22 October 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On 29 October 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as “Suicide Hill” by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire. He then advanced ahead of his comrades about ten yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers.
As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.
The 442nd was the most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army with 8 Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medal of Honor recipients and 18,143 other medals. Barney Hajiro also received the French Legion of Honor, the British Military Medal and the Bronze Star. And all of the 442nd were made honorary Texans by Governor John Connally.
You can’t be in National Airport in Washington DC for very long (especially on a Friday) without noticing a few enlisted men and women, often Marines, hanging around a gate. If you have the time, you’ll soon see an “Honor Flight” disembarking from that gate and what is often a long line of veterans filing out to sustained and enthusiastic applause from the transiting passengers and staff. The enlisted service members are there to meet the flight and assist the vets in wheel chairs. These flights are often comprised of World War II vets who are visiting DC to view their new World War II Memorial. As some of you know all too well, there are fewer of them every year.
We always think of the 442nd a couple of special times each year as do many others who sent their boys off to Camp Bowie and then to World War II as T-Patchers. It’s easy to say that we owe a debt to the 442nd that can never be repaid, but I don’t think the vets look at it that way. It’s more of a bond that should be preserved by kindness, respect and devotion. Preserving their memory is a recognition of that bond.