PFC Fred Minoru Yamamoto (ASN 37357450) was born on October 19, 1918 in Glenwood, Santa Cruz, California. His father, Seitaro Yamamoto, and his mother, Yumi Tanaka, were both born in Japan and immigrated to California. When Fred was nine his father died and his mother remarried. He was raised by his stepfather, Kihachi Sato, who owned and managed grocery stores. Fred was his mother’s middle child and he had an older brother and a younger sister. He also had two older stepsisters and a younger stepbrother from his mother’s second marriage.
When Fred was a baby his mother moved from southern California to Santa Clara County, California in the Bay Area. Fred was raised in downtown Palo Alto, California in a part of town known then as “Japan Town”. He graduated from Palo Alto High School in June 1936. After graduation he attended San Jose Teachers College for two years but had to leave to help run the family grocery business. On October 16, 1940 Fred had received his draft card at his home in Mountain View, California. In August 1941 Fred moved to Dos Palos in the San Joaquin Valley to work for the Koda Rice Farm by loading and unloading trucks and stacking rice sacks. After the attack on Pearl Harbor he returned to Palo Alto to help his stepfather’s struggling business.
On February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that stated over 127,000 Japanese-American citizens and residents would be interned at one of ten high security centers throughout the country. In the spring of 1942 Fred and his family were incarcerated and sent to the Santa Anita Racetrack in southern California. The racetrack had been quickly converted to an assembly center by adding temporary barracks in the parking lot and converting the horse stable to temporary living quarters. His family would stay there until the permanent concentration camps were completed.
On September 10, 1942 Fred and his family arrived at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Park County in northwest Wyoming. Living conditions at the compound were not significantly better than at Santa Anita, but Fred took an active role and volunteered to write for the two camp newsletters. He wrote stories to encourage people to remain hopeful and of the need to bolster the morale of the younger people. On March 9, 1943 his stepfather, Kihachi, had died at Heart Mountain. About the same time, the U.S. Government had reversed its policy on forbidding Japanese-Americans from serving in the military.
On June 16, 1943 Fred was allowed to depart Heart Mountain and he went to Provo, Utah where he had an employment opportunity. On July 26, 1943 Fred enlisted in the Army at Fort Warren in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the time of his enlistment, he wrote in his diary, “Because faith to me is a positive thing, I’m putting all my blue chips on the U.S.A.”
Fred was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This regiment was formed in 1943 and consisted almost exclusively of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (Nisei). Home for the regiment was Camp Shelby in Mississippi, which is where they did their infantry training. From May 1943 through February 1944 the men trained for combat. The first elements of the 442nd Regiment arrived in Italy in June 1944 and joined up with the 100th Battalion north of Rome. Fred arrived in Italy as a rifleman in the 3rd Battalion in late July 1944 at the end of the Rome-Arno Campaign. By that time, the 442nd Regiment had suffered casualties of 1,272 men including 239 killed in action.
In mid-August 1944 the 442nd was patrolling the Arno River. It was reported that Fred was wounded in Florence, Italy during these patrols. They crossed the river on August 31, 1944. In September the 442nd Regiment was attached to the 36th Infantry Division as part of the Seventh Army. The 442nd Regiment landed in Marsailles in southern France on September 30, 1944. For the next two weeks they traveled about 500 miles north through the Rhone Valley by walking and boxcar, until October 13, 1944.
On October 14, 1944 the 442nd Regiment was moving into position to prepare for the assault on Hills A, B, C, D, and the town of Bruyères in the Vosges Mountains. Hitler had ordered the German frontline to fight at all costs as this was the last barrier between the Allied forces and Germany. The 3rd Battalion (Fred’s Battalion) was assigned to take the town of Bruyères. The next day they broke through the concrete barriers around the town hall of Bruyères and captured 134 German fighters. The town was not secure, however, because the high ground on Hills C and D surrounding the town had not yet been captured. On October 19, 1944 the 3rd Battalion was able to take Hill D, but they were ordered to take a railroad embankment, and Hill D was retaken by the Germans. The next day the town was finally secured after Allied troops had retaken the hill.
After Bruyères, the 442nd Regiment was called to the battle for Biffontaine, France about 20 miles east of the German border. The 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regiment were in the town encircled by German forces. On October 23, 1994 they were outside radio contact and had been fighting continuously for two days engaging in house to house fighting and defending against counterattacks. On October 24, 1944 the 3rd Battalion arrived and helped drive out the remaining German forces and secure the town. The following day the 3rd Battalion was relieved and sent to Belmont, a small town to the north, for some rest. The rest period was short. On the morning of October 26, 1944 the 442nd Regiment was ordered to attempt the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” about two miles east of Biffontaine.
“The Lost Battalion” refers to the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment. The 141st Regiment was nicknamed “the Alamo Regiment” because it was comprised of people from the Texas National Guard. In a push to breakthrough the German line, the 1st Battalion had advanced faster through the Vosges Mountains than the rest of the regiment and found they were over a mile behind enemy lines isolated from the other troops. On October 24, 1944 the 275 men in the battalion had reached high ground, but then found they were completely surrounded by German troops and only had provisions for about a day. Hitler was apprised of the situation and wanted the battalion destroyed. On two separate occasions, troops were sent to rescue the lost battalion, but they were repelled by hailstorms of bullets from German machine guns. On October 26, 1944 the 442nd Regiment was called upon to rescue the lost battalion after others had failed.
At 04:00 on October 27, 1944 the 442nd Regiment moved out to rescue the cut-off battalion. They faced dense fog, rain, snow, poor visibility, and worst of all, exploding trees from heavy artillery fire from Germans that were well dug in. The men of Companies I and K (Fred’s company) from the 3rd Battalion were leading the way. The deeper they drove into the forest they came to a point where they could not move from behind a tree or come out of a foxhole. Then every one of them got up and charged the Germans. That day PFC Yamamoto used his automatic rifle to kill two Germans and wound many more. That evening the I and K companies reached safety.
On October 28, 1944 their supplies were dwindling and the men knew there would be continued heavy fighting. Fred had volunteered to be one of 12 men who were going to break out and retrieve food, water, and ammunition. The men had gone about 200 yards and were attacked by a heavy artillery barrage from 100 German troops. During the attack PFC Fred Yamamoto had killed a machine gunner and two supporting riflemen before he was killed in action. Of the 12 volunteers only four survived.
The 442nd Regiment continued fighting until they broke through the German defenses on October 30, 1944 and rescued the Lost Battalion. It is said that the first soldier of the 442nd to reach them merely walked up to their commander, Lt. Marty Higgins, and nonchalantly pulled out his Lucky Strikes and said, “Cigarette?” The Lost Battalion was down to 211 men by the time they were rescued. Company I went in with 185 men; only eight came out unhurt. Company K engaged the enemy with 186 men; 169 were wounded or killed. The 442nd Regiment had 800 casualties with more than 200 killed.
PFC Fred Minuro Yamamoto was posthumously awarded the silver star for his gallantry on the final two days of his life. His body was initially interred in Epinal, France. On June 21, 1948 his remains were laid to rest at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California. He was survived by his mother, his brother, his sister, and his three stepsiblings. His sister, Mitsuye, had been released from Heart Mountain on October 1, 1943 to join her military husband in Colorado. Fred’s brother, Tom, was released in January 1944 after he, too, joined the military. His mother was not released from Heart Mountain until October 30, 1945, less than two weeks before the facility was permanently shut down.
By the end of the war the 442nd Regiment was the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history. Of the 18,000 men who served, they earned almost 9,500 purple hearts and bronze stars, 21 Medals of Honor, and an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations.
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- 1940 United States Federal Census
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- U.S., Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II
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- U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946
- U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current
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- U.S., Veterans' Gravesites, ca.1775-2019
- Web: Japanese American Veterans Association Personnel
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smart phone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen's name and read his/her story.