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Fred Kondo was one of the good guys in life

by ROGER GREGORY Contributing Writer
| January 12, 2022 1:00 AM

Only the old-timers here may recognize the name, but they will appreciate the story. Young ones here should also read this and also appreciate the story.

Fred Kondo was born and raised in Priest River. He was Japanese. His parents ran a laundry in Priest River where he worked growing up.He took German in Priest River High School and kept taking German when he went to college. He became fluent in speaking and reading German. (How many of us have that accomplishment? Here was a Japanese fellow who could speak Japanese, English and German! Wow!)

After graduating from the University of Idaho in January 1943, the Army called for volunteers to form a segregated all Japanese combat team. The members were from Hawaii and the mainland. Fred volunteered to enlist.

He was assigned to the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Battery B. He was trained on the 105 mm howitzer and then landed at Brindisi, Italy in the southern "boot" of Italy. Then they pushed north with the 442nd up the Italian Coast displacing German troops as they went for three months. Then back to Naples and sailed to Marseille, France, arriving in September 1944.

After this, they went up north to the Vosges Mountains until November 1944. They had ferocious battles to rescue the "Lost Battalion," who were the men of the 141st, Infantry Regiment who were pinned down. It took four days to reach the 275 Texans. The battle was costly; of the 187 riflemen in Company K only 17 were left standing at the end of the battle, the rest either killed or wounded. Fred's unit, the 442nd, had 161 killed. The U.S. Army has designated this as one of the most important battles in the history of the U.S. Army.

(Incidentally, I have been to the Vosges Mountains in Alsace, France, two times. They make a wonderful cheese there - muenster. You only get it there, no place else.)

To continue, at the end of the war the Japanese American troops were the most decorated unit in the history of the Army. Survivors proved beyond doubt that these Japanese American soldiers were loyal Americans, despite discrimination back home.

From France they were deployed to Germany chasing the retreating German Army in the spring of 1945. They displaced German troops for 496 miles, crossing the Danube and moving toward Munich.

The unit's scouts were the first troops to locate the Dachau Concentration (extermination) Camp. They shot off locks on the prison gates and found prisoners who looked like skeletons. There were piles of dead, stacked up like cordwood. The troops, Fred included, were shocked at the atrocities they encountered. The American Army at the time refused to tell the American public that this concentration camp was liberated by Japanese troops. The men were sworn to secrecy and it was not until Fred's kid's Uncle Mark 80th birthday party that the family knew of Fred's role in freeing Dachau.

Another side note, I have been to Dachau a couple of times. The ovens are still there that were used to cremate the bodies, as are reconstructed prisoner housing. After the war ended on May 6, 1945, Fred's unit, now the 552nd, remained in Germany. At this point, Fred's ability to fluently speak, read and write Germany, was used to translate German documents and translate conversations.

After the war, on the G.I bill, he attended the University of Michigan law school and then returned to Priest River to serve the community until his death in 1971. Fred was only 51 years old when he died after complications from heart surgery. His wife, Michi Kondo, age died this year at 91 years old. She survived him by 48 years.

I met Fred and he did some work for me when I started in business downtown. His office was in the little building across from AJ's downtown. He was a fine person and one of the "good guys" in life. His wife, Michi, who used to be the Bonner County nurse.

Cheers and respect to the Kondo family.

Roger Gregory is a Vietnam veteran and business owner in Priest River.

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