An Army document from World War II reports, “Bruyères will long be remembered, for it was the most viciously fought-for town we had encountered in our long march against the Germans.”
Leo Kikuchi had enlisted in the 100th/442nd battalion, consisting of Japanese Americans from the mainland and Hawaii. Today, it’s the most highly decorated unit in U.S. history. Joining was a controversial act among many of the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the relocation camps.
Leo’s father, an apple grower near Sebastopol, never forgave him.
In March 1943, Susy and Leo traveled from the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas to a high-security camp in Louisiana to see Susy’s father, Los Osos rancher Tameji Eto, whom Susy hadn’t seen since his arrest on Dec. 7, 1941. FBI documents available under the Freedom of Information Act show that the only reason for his arrest was that he was regarded as a leader of the Japanese American community.
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Tameji gave his full blessing to Leo for wanting to defend the U.S.
The couple returned to the Jerome camp. A second son, Gerald, was born on Dec. 28, 1943. Many young men born in this camp were named ‘Jerry’ after Jerome.
Susy, who will be celebrating her 100th birthday this month, says “When Leo was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, he wrote to me every day, encouraging me, and saying it won’t be long when his job will be done, and that we will have a better life real soon. He visited us whenever he could, always with presents from the PX for the children and me, and when he came, we continued to take our happy walks together.
“The children and I were his whole life — he was a good and kind husband and father. He was shipped to Europe in May of 1944.
“While in France, Leo wrote that because the “Go For Broke” 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion, (it) liberated Bruyères, a small village of 4,000. The French people were very kind, inviting them into their homes for soup and bread. As he held one baby in his arms, Leo thought about Gerald, our second son, and said how he longed to hold him.”
Following the incredibly difficult siege of Bruyères and the rugged Vosges Mountains, units of the 442nd were transferred to Italy where General Mark W. Clark wanted them to break the stalemate on German Field Marshal Kesselring’s Gothic Line.
A short time later, Leo was killed in action.
Susy Eto Kikuchi was in Minidoka, Idaho, when she received the telegram from the War Department. Her father, Tameji Eto, had been released from internment in Louisiana. Reunited, the grieving family worked on an Idaho potato farm.
“After the war was over, life wasn’t easy. I couldn’t return to Sebastopol because Leo’s father blamed me for Leo’s death.
‟We returned to my parent’s farm in early 1946. The house I was born in was in shambles. Everything had been taken. Even the front door was open. The chilling Los Osos wind was howling through the house. We couldn’t get the door to close.
‟I moved my suitcase up against the door. I slept up against the suitcase for protection. We were really scared. There had been so many ugly rumors. We didn’t know how the neighboring farmers would react to our return.”
Susy needed some angels in her life, and they soon appeared in the farmhouse driveway.
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series honoring Susie Eto Kikuchi Bauman, who will be 100 years old this month.