EXCLUSIVE: Bloody battle led to sister-city tie

Ed Ikuma
Ed Ikuma
Willard Holck
Willard Holck
Claudie Deschaseaux
Claudie Deschaseaux

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Evidence of the World War II battle of Bruyeres survives in footage from a Japanese film, in black and white photographs, and in the memories of survivors of the famed 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

"It was a bloody battle," Ed Ikuma said.

Ikuma is 92. At 19 he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In October, 1944, he was one of hundreds of Japanese Americans from Hawaii charged with liberating the tiny town in northeastern France from German occupation.

"They shelled us with mortar fire, surrounded us with mortar bursts," he said.

The mission was a two-fold uphill fight-- rescue the townspeople and save a battalion of Texas soldiers.

"The Germans surrounded them. They couldn't escape. They couldn't move anyplace," Ikuma said.

The battle took days. Dozens died before Bruyeres and the Texas troops were liberated.  At first the people of Bruyeres were bewildered.

"They wondered, just like the enemy did when we captured them, where we were from," Ikuma said. "When we told them we were Japanese, they were so surprised."

That moment was monumental for 442nd Sgt. Wilbert "Sandy" Holck. Years after the battle he returned to Bruyeres where a handshake with resident Gerard Deschaseaux forged a sister-city tie between Bruyeres and Honolulu.  It officially began in 1961.

"I think he wanted to perpetuate that legacy of what the 100th and 442nd veterans did. All their accomplishments," said Holck's son Willard.

This month marks 50 years the towns 7,400 miles apart have been sister cities. Thursday, Mayor Peter Carlisle recognizes the relationship in a ceremony at City Hall.

In Bruyeres, street signs and other signs honor the Hawaii soldiers who saved the town.  Memorials to the 442nd and 100th recognize their sacrifice.

"I think from everybody in town it's the gratitude toward all those young men who died," said Gerard Deschaseaux' daughter Claudie.

In Honolulu, the names of the men who died in the battle are listed on memorials at the clubhouses of the 100th and 442nd, the most decorated unit in the history of the United States Army.

"I can't imagine the suffering and the pain that they went through. It's beyond belief what they did," Willard Holck said.

Master Sgt. Holck died in 1999. But his family followed in his footsteps, going to Bruyeres to keep the connection alive.

Many survivors of the battle have gone back there too, including Ikuma.  He values the photo album of his trip to Bruyeres as highly as the medals hanging on his living room wall.

"After many years, when we went back the second time as tourists, they really opened up their hearts," he said. "I'm very thankful for that."

The people of Bruyeres are thankful, too, that Hawaii's bravest sons came and conquered and set them free.

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