Clarence and Thelma Suzuki of Fresno, Calif., had wanted to visit “Camp McCoy” for decades to see the place the legendary 100th Infantry Battalion once trained.
Their visit became a reality on Oct. 28, 2016.
Both Clarence and Thelma grew up in Hawaii and were married there 71 years ago in 1949. Clarence, who was 91 during the visit, is a former Army sergeant who served for 30 months with the Military Intelligence Service in Japan and on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian during World War II.
He said they both heard about “Camp McCoy” from friends and family who had trained at the post in 1942-43 with the 100th Infantry Battalion — a Hawaii National Guard unit whose members were of Americans of Japanese ancestry, or Nissei.
The 100th fought in six campaigns in Italy and France during World War II and earned three Presidential Unit Citations. The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team is recognized as one of the most-decorated units for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military.
In 2011, veterans of the 100th, 442nd, and MIS earned the Congressional Gold Medal for their service during the war. The medal, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is considered the highest civilian award in the United States. “That was a real honor,” Clarence said.
“We know it was a short time that the 100th was here [at Fort McCo]), but in Hawaii it’s a big thing,” Thelma said. “It seemed like everyone knew about McCoy. I would hear about it from my brother’s friends.”
Clarence added, “Because we always heard about Camp McCoy…[we] always wanted to visit but never had the chance.”
The couple toured each of the Commemorative Area’s five World War II-era buildings. The buildings are representative of the types found in the cantonment area when it was constructed in 1942 and include an administrative facility, dining facility, and barracks. The 100th Infantry Battalion was the first unit to train at the “new camp” after its inauguration on Aug. 30, 1942.
An Army Jeep on display in the administrative building sparked a memory for the couple.
“That’s just like the Jeep that Clarence used to teach me how to drive in Hawaii,” Thelma said. “It was a scary, mountainous road where we would practice.”
“She had a lot of fun learning to drive on those roads, and she did have a lot of trouble parking that Jeep,” Clarence said jokingly. “We had so much fun.”
The Suzukis also viewed photos—some with people they knew from the 100th—while touring the Fort McCoy History Center. Clarence said he enjoyed everything he saw.
“I was very impressed,” he said. “It was a real historic review for me. A lot of things I didn’t know [about Fort McCoy] I saw for the first time, and I’m really impressed with this historic site.”
Fort McCoy Public Affairs Specialist Theresa Fitzgerald, herself an Army veteran, said the visit was memorable. “It is always an honor to meet veterans from World War II,” Fitzgerald said. “The Commemorative Area brings out their personal stories, and you learn so much from them as they reminisce about the ‘good old days.’ Hearing their stories also helps me in my job by allowing me to share their stories with other tour groups that come through here.”
Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”