Susumu "Sus" Ito
522nd Field Artillery Battalion
442nd Regimental Combat Team
1919 - 2015
Early Life and Military Service
Susumu was from a sharecropping family that moved often within California. He attended a segregated elementary school with other Asian American children in Sacramento County.
As the only son, he was close to his mother. She told him to always do the right thing and stay humble.
After graduating from high school, Susumu went to trade school to learn to be a mechanic. Because he was of Japanese descent, he was not accepted in the machinists’ union and could only work at garages operated by Japanese Americans.
When he was 21, he was drafted into the United States Army.
Before Susumu left for combat in 1943, he visited his family in Rohwer.
His mother and her friends sewed him a senninbari, a thousand-stitch belt, to keep him safe. They included the image of a tiger because tigers always find their way home.
His sister gave him a Bible, and he took a camera to record his experiences for his mother.
So I carried that, my camera with some film, and a Bible along with everything else I had. Sometimes I’d like to think it’s the senninbari that kept me intact and well. |2nd Lieutenant Susumu Ito
He was assigned to be a forward observer with the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 522nd provided artillery fire to advance and provide cover for the infantry soldiers.
As a forward observer responsible for identifying the enemy’s location, he was on front line with the infantry, one of the most dangerous positions.
Rescue of the Lost Battalion
In October 1944, the 442nd was ordered to rescue the soldiers of the 1st battalion, 141st Infantry, 36th Division, from Texas. The 141st had been cut off and were completely surrounded by the enemy.
Deep in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, near Germany, Susumu could barely see in the thick forest.
A machine gun to the left started to fire, wounding a scout. Listening carefully, Susumu guided his unit’s artillery fire toward the enemy’s riflemen and machine gunner. The 442nd was finally able to break through and rescue 211 Texans.
These guys came out with long beards, dirty and grimy, obviously happy as hell to be out of the hole. |2nd Lieutenant Susumu Ito
The 522nd also provided fire power to other infantry units. In 1944, the unit went into a sub-camp of Dachau, Germany, and broke up an SS death march. They were shocked by what they saw. Dachau was a Nazi death camp that imprisoned Jews and dissidents.
At least 28,000 were killed in Dachau and its sub-camps.
The stench was so terrible. After, I don't know, one to two minutes, the stench of feces, urine, the acrid smoke of burning flesh, I mean, indescribable, unbelievable. |Ed Ichiyama|member of the 522nd FAB
Susumu became friends with a Jewish teenager from Lithuania who had survived Dachau. The teen became the interpreter for the 522nd. Ironically, while Susumu’s family was still imprisoned in Arkansas, the 522nd aided prisoners liberated in Germany.
You, as one of the U.S. Army have your part in delivering us from our suffering in the God damned Germany. Thank You! |Larry Lubetski
His willingness to accompany the assault platoons and expose himself fearlessly to all types of enemy fire in order to accomplish the effective delivery of artillery fire won the admiration and respect of the infantry troops and inspired those working under him.|Bronze Star citation|February 16, 1945
At age 26, Susumu went to college financed by the GI Bill, one of the benefits of military service. Though he had problems learning English as a child, he gained not only his undergraduate degree, but also a doctorate.
At a time when it was a milestone for a Nisei to be a high school teacher, Susumu became a professor of cell biology and anatomy at Harvard Medical School.
To learn more about Susumu "Sus" Ito, visit Resources.
Unless otherwise noted, images on this page are credited to the Japanese American National Museum (Gift of Susumu Ito 94.306 and Gift of Eric Saul 96.314). The video interview was made possible by the Go for Broke National Education Center.