Drew County is the location where separate pieces of WWII history collided.
The attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago resulted in the death of at least two Drew County native sons. One of those was Ensign Rodney Shelton Foss, first U.S. Armed Forces combat death of World War II. The other was Oscar Miles. Miles is forever entombed on the USS Arizona.
Foss, who was stationed at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station in Hawaii, was killed by Japanese bombers on their way to Pearl Harbor. Foss was posthumously awarded a Commendation, a Pacific Fleet medal and a Purple Heart. A Navy ship, the USS Foss, was also named in his honor.
Though Foss’ death was the first U.S. Armed Forces combat death of World War II and a Navy ship was named in his honor, he is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Monticello without a hint on his gravestone that he even served in the military.
A remembrance ceremony will be held at noon on December 7 at Foss’ gravesite where an announcement will be made about a park.
The Drew County military community hopes to raise the funds for a headstone to acknowledge Foss’ sacrifice and that his sacrifice was the first for of the U.S. Armed Forces serving in the U.S. military in World War II. There were Americans who lost their lives while serving for the allied forces in WWII, but Foss was the first for U.S. Forces serving the U.S. military in WWII.
To donate to the memorial and headstone for Rodney Shelton Foss submit donations to Citizens Bank of Batesville Arkansas account No. 082907736.
The attack on Pearl Harbor also resulted in a panic that would create the Japanese internment camps. One of those camps was located at Jerome, a tiny community located in eastern Drew County. Joe M. Nishimoto, a fomer inhabitant of the camp at Jerome, was a Medal of Honor awardee.
While some Japanese immigrants were already serving in the U.S Army, others enlisted right out of the relocation camps. They served in the in the Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Nisei is Japanese word for “two” and in this context it means second generation. They were the sons of immigrants.
The 442nd Regiment is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare to date. That unit holds that distinction right now.
The 4,000 men who initially made up the unit in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly two and a half times by the end of the war.
In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, eight Presidential Unit Citations and 21 of its members were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Nishimoto, the son of a Japanese immigrant, enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after his internment at Jerome, he was one of the 21 who were awarded a Medal of Honor.
His Medal of Honor citation reads: Private First Class Joe M. Nishimoto distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 7 November 1944, near La Houssiere, France. After three days of unsuccessful attempts by his company to dislodge the enemy from a strongly defended ridge, Private First Class Nishimoto, as acting squad leader, boldly crawled forward through a heavily mined and booby-trapped area. Spotting a machine gun nest, he hurled a grenade and destroyed the emplacement. Then, circling to the rear of another machine gun position, he fired his submachine gun at point-blank range, killing one gunner and wounding another. Pursuing two enemy riflemen, Private First Class Nishimoto killed one, while the other hastily retreated. Continuing his determined assault, he drove another machine gun crew from its position. The enemy, with their key strong points taken, were forced to withdraw from this sector. Private First Class Nishimoto’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
Another inhabitant at the Japanese Relocation Camp at Jerome who served was Roy Matsumoto. Matsumoto, who died in 2014, is an inductee of the U.S. Army Rangers Hall Of Fame and the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame.
The Drew County military community wants to recognize the sacrifices of all of these Americans with a memorial in the city park where the USS Drew is honored. An announcement about the park will be made during the remembrance ceremony on December 7.
The memorial and headstone for Foss are parts of a larger project. The next parts of the project is to get Foss’ birth place, the site of his maternal grandparents home, named in his honor. The home site in on South Main Street in Monticello where the Drew County Farmer’s Market is now located.
Sherry Knight, a visual art teacher at Monticello Middle School has scheduled a day of events at McCloy Park in Monticello on Armed Forces Day, May 20, 2017, which the mayor has declared Veteran Appreciation Day.
Knight’s students are currently collecting video histories of Drew County veterans. Some of those videos will be part of documentary. The students are creating artwork as a gift to the veterans. Under the artwork will be a QR code which, when scanned, will give the specific veteran’s story. The documentary will be shown at the Armed Forces Day event.
Below: location of Foss’ grave where remembrance ceremony will be held at noon on December 7.