On 28 December 2018, Tosh Tokunaga gathered with friends and family at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as the Nisei Veterans Committee honored Tosh with a brick mounted at the SeaTac USO.
Tosh is a Nisei Veteran who served in the 17th and 82nd Airborne Divisions during WWII. He made a combat jump with the 1-507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division.
Shane Sato’s book, The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage, details Tosh’s story. [The following is an excerpt from the book, reprinted with permission of the author.]
Born 12 January 1925, in Selleck, WA
Served in B Company, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Tosh Tokunaga was sent to Minidoka War Relocation Center along with many of the other Japanese residents living in Seattle. He went to high school in camp and graduated in the class of ’43. Soon after, Tosh was drafted at the age of 18. Tosh remembers when he was leaving camp to join the 442, he saw a lady alone in the distance, leaning against a post and the barbed-wire fence and looking very solemn. As he passed by on the bus, he realized that was his mother, and that image would be ingrained in his memory for the rest of his life.
During Basic Training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Tosh saw a bulletin that the Army would start to accept Nisei to become paratroopers. He decided to sign up along with a few others. He received his airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and he became one of the few Nisei to become a paratrooper in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Because they were considered to be more of an elite outfit, Tosh wanted to join the Paratroopers to prove that “we were just as good as them, as a soldier and as a citizen.”
On March 23, 1944, the men of the 507th prepared to parachute into Germany. Codenamed “Operation Varsity” and involving more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft (including gliders), it was to be one of the largest airborne operations in history. Tosh was part of a two-man Bazooka team—he packed the folding bazooka and his comrade packed the rockets preparing for the jump. Things were calm as the C-47 transport planes crossed the Rhine River into Germany, but then suddenly got serious as explosions from anti-aircraft fire were deafening in the thick air. Their plane started to rock with the flak bursting all around. Tosh saw a plane next to theirs was hit and in flames. The men “felt helpless” as the planes proceeded to the drop zone as they anxiously waited to “get out of there.” The 507th was to lead the assault and was the first unit to land. Tosh’s group was lucky and landed safely in an open field.
The paratroopers and glider-borne troops fought their way through the German defenses. Their mission was to establish a beachhead on the other side of the Rhine so they could build pontoon bridges over the river. Tosh and his unit captured several towns, including Dusseldorf and Duisburg. In the basement of a German headquarters he found a German swastika flag, weapons, and what they considered their best find: a large stash of French wine and cognac. Tosh says they had a “field day” and by morning they were sprawled out all over the streets. The troops suffered many casualties, but they were able to secure their objectives making “Operation Varsity” a successful large-scale airborne operation.