• The mayor of Massa, Dr. Roberto Pucci, presents Noel Okamoto with a medal as a token of appreciation for the liberation of Massa by Japanese American Soldiers assigned to the 442nd 442nd Regimental Combat Team. April 10, 2009 the town of Massa celebrated the 64th anniversary of the liberation of their town.

    Mayor thanks Mr. Okamoto

    The mayor of Massa, Dr. Roberto Pucci, presents Noel Okamoto with a medal as a token of appreciation for the liberation of Massa by Japanese American Soldiers assigned to the 442nd 442nd Regimental Combat Team. April 10, 2009 the town of Massa...

  • A family member of a partisan killed during World War II kisses Noel Okamoto in gratitude for his service. A parade of partisans, police and politicians make their way through Massa during the 64th anniversary of the liberation of their town.

    Thank you

    A family member of a partisan killed during World War II kisses Noel Okamoto in gratitude for his service. A parade of partisans, police and politicians make their way through Massa during the 64th anniversary of the liberation of their town.

  • Camp Darby Soldiers and Airmen learn about the resistance movement by Italian partisans during World War II while on a military heritage ride to Massa. The trip is part of a new Camp Darby initiative aimed at increasing young soldiers military heritage awareness.

    Learning about the Partisans

    Camp Darby Soldiers and Airmen learn about the resistance movement by Italian partisans during World War II while on a military heritage ride to Massa. The trip is part of a new Camp Darby initiative aimed at increasing young soldiers military heritage...

  • An Italian partisan shows Noel Okamoto and Camp Darby service members the actual bayonet he used when fighting against the Germans during World War II.

    Sharing pieces of history

    An Italian partisan shows Noel Okamoto and Camp Darby service members the actual bayonet he used when fighting against the Germans during World War II.

  • (Left to right) Davide del Guidi and Steven Zglinicki point out known German encampments to Noel Okamoto while they tried to pinpoint the exact location where he was WIA during World War II. The hills of Mount Belvedere and Mount Folgorito were the main sites of many battles April 5-7, 1945.

    Do you recall these hills'

    (Left to right) Davide del Guidi and Steven Zglinicki point out known German encampments to Noel Okamoto while they tried to pinpoint the exact location where he was WIA during World War II. The hills of Mount Belvedere and Mount Folgorito were the...

  • Noel Okamoto looks at the statue of a fellow Japanese-American Soldier who also fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The memorial to Sadao Munemori is in Pietrasanta, Italy. Munemori was killed in battle on April 5, 1945, hours before Mr. Okamoto was WIA.

    Fellow Soldier's monument in Pietrasanta

    Noel Okamoto looks at the statue of a fellow Japanese-American Soldier who also fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The memorial to Sadao Munemori is in Pietrasanta, Italy. Munemori was killed in battle on April 5, 1945, hours before Mr...

  • Pfc. Noel Okamoto takes a break from repairing bridges and waterworks outside of Pisa during World War II. He recently made a journey back to Italy to try to find the site where he was wounded in action.

    Italy 1945

    Pfc. Noel Okamoto takes a break from repairing bridges and waterworks outside of Pisa during World War II. He recently made a journey back to Italy to try to find the site where he was wounded in action.

  • (Right) Pfc. Noel Okamoto, 442nd Regimental Combat Team 232nd Combat Engineer Company, poses with a jeep that he recalls "borrowing" from his company commander in 1945.

    The jeep incident

    (Right) Pfc. Noel Okamoto, 442nd Regimental Combat Team 232nd Combat Engineer Company, poses with a jeep that he recalls "borrowing" from his company commander in 1945.

  • Pfc. Noel Okamoto visits the Leaning Tower of Pisa with friends from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team after World War II was finished. He returned to the site 64 years later and shared his experiences with young troops from Camp Darby.

    Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa

    Pfc. Noel Okamoto visits the Leaning Tower of Pisa with friends from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team after World War II was finished. He returned to the site 64 years later and shared his experiences with young troops from Camp Darby.

MASSA, Italy- A bus full of young Soldiers and Airmen from Camp Darby, Italy, listened intently as former Pfc. Noel Yuzuro Okamoto recalled the time when he was wounded in action in the hills by Massa, Italy.

Obviously, the tales he told didn't happen yesterday; it occurred when he was a young Soldier fighting in World War II. The trip back to Massa was a chance for Okamoto to locate where he was wounded in action, and for the young troops to learn first hand from a veteran about their military heritage.

Okamoto, a Japanese-American born in 1922 in Hawaii, joined the Army in March 1943. He was eventually assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 232nd Combat Engineer Company. He entered Italy from Naples and fought up through Anzio. When he arrived in Livorno, he took a boat to Marseille to "hold the line" and then came back to Livorno where he would end up driving bulldozers and jeeps to Massa.

"Orders came down through Capt. Nakada Pershing, the 232nd Combat Engineer company commander, to Tech. Sgt. (Tec/4) Edmund Ezuka (who was later injured) to lead a small group up to this certain spot in the hills above Massa and wait there for further orders," recalled Okamoto.

A group of eight or so left Massa under the cover of darkness April 5, travelling along a primitive road along the south side the Frigidio River, which runs into nearby hills.

"It was also completely dark; we traveled under orders to keep absolutely silent," said Okamoto. "It was a very slow pace and there were no other platoons around us; we were sent on ahead and ordered to wait in the specified area until daybreak."

He added it was just as light was beginning to show that they were hit with artillery fire.

"We could see a German patrol up on the mountain; the first shell was far off and the second even further off on our other far side," said Okamoto. "We wondered who the Germans were shelling until the third one came straight towards us. I dove under our truck, but was wounded.

"A rescue jeep was sent up from Massa to gather us all. It didn't seem to take long so where we were couldn't have been to0 far from the town.Aca,!A?

He then spent several days in a hospital outside of Lucca before requesting a return to his unit, which was quickly moving up towards Alexandria. He never knew exactly where in Italy he was wounded, and the town of Massa had sprung up over the years, changing the scenery. Still, he decided 64 years later to attempt to find the patch of ground where he was hit, as he, his daughter and granddaughter flew from the United States to Italy almost to the date of when he has WIA.

In an amazing coincidence, Massa was having its 64th liberation celebration and invited the Okamotos to participate when they appeared. The mayor of Massa, Dr. Roberto Pucci, presented Okamoto with a medal, with many elderly survivors of WW II approaching the veteran to thank him for his part in the liberation.

After speaking to a woman who told him how her family hid in the hills when their home was bombed Aca,!" and that her brother was a partisan who assisted Japanese-American Soldiers Aca,!"Okamoto remarked that "it felt good to see people who were able to come back to where they born and continue on with life."

After the ceremony, parade and wreath laying, two volunteers from Massa took Okamoto up into the hills to look for where he was wounded. For the accompanying Camp Darby servicemembers, it really brought the trip alive.

"I was aware of some of the battles in this area, but to come face-to-face and see the terrain he had to fight in, makes me appreciate and have a better understanding of our military heritage," said Sgt. Gerard Tate, 511th Military Police Platoon.

Airman 1st Class Daryl Perales, 31st Munitions Squadron, had a grandfather who fought in WW II and was glad history came alive for him.

"My grandfather never talked about the war, so I was excited to hear the stories first hand from Mr. Okamoto," said Perales. "Coming along on this trip definitely gives me a better sense of history and makes me appreciate being stationed here in Italy."

Okamoto never found the exact location where he was wounded, but he said it was "a very wonderful experience and a return journey he never thought possible."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16