100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd RCT monument in France refurbished

A MONUMENTAL REDEDICATION ­— The Oct. 15, 2017 rededication ceremony of the original 1947 monument paying tribute to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion’s efforts to liberate the towns of Bruyères, Belmont and Biffontaine in France during World War II. photo courtesy of Carl Williams

Nestled in an undergrowth clearing near Bruyères, France is a monument dedicated to the members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, who were instrumental in helping to liberate the town of Bruyères, as well as Belmont and Biffontaine, during World War II in fall 1944.

Complete with a plaque in English and French presented by the Japanese American Citizens League, the Bruyères townspeople built the stone monument in 1947 in an area known as Hill 555.

Decades later, the monument site is not only refurbished, but a new element was added.

On Oct. 15, 2017, the 73rd anniversary of the beginning of the battle toward the city’s liberation, the new granite monument, sculpted in the shape of the regimental shoulder patch originally designed by Mitch Miyamoto, was unveiled by Bruyères Mayor Yves Bonjean and Bruyères Hill 555 Project volunteer Carl Williams of Sacramento, Calif. The ceremony was attended by several local residents, some of whom said to be children at the time of the city’s liberation, French military veterans and several local government leaders.

Members of the color guard from the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans of Hawai‘i also attended. According to Williams, the young men made the trip from Hawai‘i to attend the unveiling ceremony and stand as honor guards during a visit to the graves of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team soldiers that are buried at the Epinal American Cemetery in France. Bonjean also spoke at the gathering.

Sculptor Daniel Petitgenet in front of the monument to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. photo courtesy of Carl Williams

The unveiling of the refurbished site was a project long in the making, and it began when Williams visited the site in June 2011. Williams decided to visit the site because his wife, June Ogawa Williams, had uncles in the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. One of her uncles, Kiyoshi Ono, fought in Bruyères as a member of the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion.

Upon his visit to the site, however, Williams noticed that it looked relatively unkempt. According to Williams, “the paint on the rails and the flag poles needed to be refreshed, the lanyards used to raise the flags and associated hardware were missing, and the commemorative plaque was so oxidized it could not be read,” among other things.

“In all, it looked like it was suffering from deferred maintenance and I promised myself that upon my return to the U.S., I would raise the money necessary to restore it,” he said.

Following his visit, Williams made several attempts to convince Alain Blangy, the Bruyères mayor at the time, to allow him to organize an effort to raise money to restore the monument, but he was not swayed. The project was put on hold until 2016 when a friend, Twila Tomita, contacted Ogawa Williams regarding news that Bruyères historians Sylvie and Hervé Claudon would speak about the battles at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Williams asked the museum to pass his contact information to the Claudons and from there, they became intermediaries between Williams and new Bruyères mayor, Yves Bonjean.

It was during these negotiations that the idea for including a new element to the site, in addition to the restoration, was suggested. After revising the written plan, Williams asked his nephew, an architect named David Onodera, to draft a design based on the shoulder patch worn by the 100th/442nd RCT. The sculptor, Daniel Petitgenet, carved the statue out of pink granite harvested from the Senones area, which is 30 miles from Bruyères.

Petitgenet followed the design, but added sharp points along the inside edge, symbolizing the “pain, suffering, and death that freedom often requires,” Williams paraphrased. According to the Densho Encyclopedia, the 100th/442nd RCT fought for 10 days to liberate Bruyères and Biffontaine and had barely a days’ worth of rest before being ordered by Gen. John E. Dahlquist to rescue the 275 Texans of the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment that were surrounded by German forces. In what became known as the Rescue of the Lost Battalion, the 100th/442nd RCT, supported by the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the 232nd Engineer Company, and their Cannon Company, endured five more days of battle under harsh weather conditions, suffering more than 800 casualties.

The project was funded entirely by donations with no corporate or political support. Williams and his wife volunteered to be unpaid collectors of these donations. The approved two-part project was estimated to cost 30,000 euros, but they raised more than 31,000 euros (nearly $38,000).

Through the entire process, Williams said Bonjean “is the person who should get the lion’s share of the credit for the project” because of his help and support. Williams said Bonjean and his family provided generous hospitality for the Williams family during their visits and Bonjean’s cooperation during the process was “priceless.”

“I can’t put into words the gratitude we have for the mayor and his family,” Williams said. “In some ways, the mayor and the people of Bruyères are like middle Americans — friendly, down to earth, old fashioned and extremely kind.”

The new 9-foot, 3.5-ton structure now stands in an area across from the original 1947 monument. Williams said there will be a big celebration on October 15, 2019, the 75th anniversary of the city’s liberation.

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