The first dedicated tour for Nisei families and friends since the pandemic “officially” launched Nisei Legacy Tours.
“This trip has been in the making for a long time and it better not disappoint!” I thought.
I was sitting in the hotel lobby, waiting for the group to gather. The “regulars” didn’t worry me so much. They are fully aware that times on a piece of paper don’t mean much in Italy. Not when you’re getting together with friends!
It was the first-timers I kept wondering about. “Will it be what they expected? Are they going to be OK with not having a regimented itinerary? Will they feel there are too many/not enough official ceremonies?” All these questions were running through my mind. Yet I should have remembered the number one reason why people come on these tours for Nisei. They come to gain a better understanding of the challenges the Nisei soldiers – especially a direct relative – faced through seeing the places where they fought.
In my defence, the 2-year hiatus in travel had taken the momentum built up with 4 tours in 2019 away. And this was the first tour to officially run under the Nisei Legacy Tours brand. I shouldn’t have worried. My sneaking out to Italy every opportunity over the last 2 years for exploration “on the ground” had paid off. The itinerary had exciting new places lined up, alongside the long-standing favourites.
Connections with local enthusiasts are invaluable
There are of course different ways to visit the battlefields in search of Nisei history. Many people have gone the self-drive route. Armed with a map and the recollection of some names read about in unit records or books, they set off. Others decide on a day excursion in the course of a “general” holiday. By engaging a local chauffeur company, they manage a brief visit to a place of particular interest. Both approaches have their merit. They just don’t compare to making a trip in the company of fellow Nisei relatives to share family stories with. And the involvement of local supporters ensures that it becomes more than just an exercise in “having been to” this town or that one, but actually learning what happened there.
We would be the first tour group to hike up Hill 140. Located just outside Castellina Marittima it was a particular stumbling block for the Allied troops. It slowed the advance from Rome to the Arno River. Back in July 1944, the Germans fiercely defended the hill and surrounding areas. It resulted in a rather astonishing statistic for the 100th/442nd: no less than 5 Medals of Honor would ultimately be awarded within the municipality’s boundaries.
In preparation of our visit, the members of historical society Toscana ’44 went to great lengths. They restored the various fox holes, gunning positions and observation posts on the hill.
Ferrying us part of the way up the hill with complete disregard for the strain on their poor car’s suspension still left plenty of hiking to the top for our group to get a good feel for the terrain. Along the way, fully kitted out “extra’s”, props and explanations painted a vivid picture of what went on nearly 80 years ago.
… and old friends
The welcome at Massa was as warm as it has been for years. The Associazione Linea Gotica Tirrenica and their fleet of vintage vehicles considerably shorten the hike to Monte Folgorito. The potential re-arranging of your kidneys during the bumpy ride is just a small price to pay for the excitement, the views and the energy it leaves you with to tackle the climb to the top of the notorious mountain from the meadow where the vehicles can’t go any further.
For those with a lot of energy, there is the path to the Folgorito-Carchio Ridge, where L Co came up from the opposite side to surprise the German defenders.
Being part of a dedicated tour makes it possible to really get to the right spots. In Tendola, Shiz Nakawatase was shown where his brother Joe Hayashi was mortally wounded during the advance on the town. Pvt Hayashi was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the day and is remembered along with the 20 other recipients at the Memorial Park.
In neighbouring San Terenzo, site of a terrible massacre, a helmet found in a basement provided a valuable clue in the reconstruction of the last moments of Pvt Stanley Hayami.
… and public events
Another highlight of the trip was no doubt the “reunion” of the extended Sato-family at the Florence American Cemetery. During their last visit in 2019, extensive ground works were being carried out, leaving the grave of their father, uncle and grandfather Noboru Miyoko looking less than optimal than normal under the great care of the ABMC.
Seeing the grounds back restored while being special guests at the Memorial Day ceremony really made for a good start to the trip for the family.
Ready to join a tour for Nisei families?
There are countless tour companies out there that will take you to France or Italy. They are no doubt very good at showing you the highlights of those beautiful countries. But when it comes to tracing the advance of the 100th/442nd we firmly believe you – and the memory of those soldiers – deserve better.
A cursory glance at a town as a minimum or a quick photo stop next to the road sign with the town’s name at best is not what we offer. We want to share the “real” stories, places and people. This is why we decided to create a tour company that provides tours for Nisei families, dedicated to their legacy. By providing well-researched itineraries and local experiences, we want to help people discover their own family history in a fun, interesting and profound way.
Interested in joining? Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on new departures.
In a few weeks, our next Italian adventure will take place and in October, a trip to The Vosges will be available.
See you soon!