Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview I
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 28, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-01-0025

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PB: But anyway, in a couple days we were down in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and that's where I started my military career. And I was what they call a cadre, in other words the beginning of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. That also was quite an experience there. I went down, and I was Service Company. They had started to ship in Hawaii boys as a unit. The 100th Infantry was up in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. They came down. They started to bring in Hawaii people, but then later on, little by little, people that were drafted in the different camps. So we had a very, mixture. But I remember at the beginning, the -- it wasn't a resentment, but all the Hawaii guys would tell them all those kotonks. [Laughs] And they were Buddhaheads. But they said, "These kotonks." And I said, "What's a kotonk?" He says, "kotonk, kotonk." They says, "Those are the mainland boys," see? [Laughs] So I got to know the Hawaiians very well. I'd never been to Hawaii, so I got to know the Hawaii boys at that particular time. It was quite an experience.

AI: Well, in what ways did they seem different, the Hawaii fellows?

PB: Well, as I say, the Hawaii people had never been threatened with camp or anything. Many of them, of course I found out like the part of the 100th Infantry Battalion were defenders of the United States when Pearl Harbor happened, so their attitude and everything was completely different. They didn't experience somebody saying, "Hey, you gotta go to camp. Your family's gotta go." Things of this nature. And that's why I remember that when I was with the unit, a lot of the Hawaii boys just go out to Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi, and some went to New Orleans. And they'd come back and they'd tell me, he says, "You know, the American people, they're very cold. We go to USO, and the girls don't treat us, say we're different. We look different. We're just not accepted. They think we're Japanese, not Americans." And so they always used to complain about it.

So what I did is I went to the colonel, and I says, "Colonel, you know these Hawaii boys especially, but all of our troops are not, you might say in the best of shape morally. I think their morale could be improved." And I said, "There's a, several camps here in Arkansas, Jerome and Rohwer." I says, "Is there any way that I can contact them and maybe work out some kind of a program to bring the girls over?" So I contacted and finally got an answer from director of Jerome, and he says, "Yeah, we can get, if you'll pay for the bus, we'll get volunteer girls." So I said, "Yeah, we've got the big hall here at Camp Shelby, and I'll put the dance on." So I emceed and had a dance on Saturday night with Nisei girls from Jerome. And oh, especially the Hawaii guys, they really enjoyed that. It was something that, not seeing girls, for one thing, and having enjoyment. So Saturday night was a big night for 'em. And then what I would do is bring them in Saturday, they would dance, and then Sunday I would scatter different girls out to the different mess halls. They would have breakfast, put 'em on the bus, and send them back to Jerome. There were two aspects of it that came out real good as a result of this. The first thing is the association of Hawaii boys with mainland girls, they learned a lot about that. Plus the fact that gave them something to do that's not normal. One disappointing fact for me I can say is that whenever I put the dance on, I'm emceeing the dance, and all these girls would come up and say, "You know, you don't dance, you're so busy, so we're going to save you the last dance." Well, here I got thirty, forty girls wanted a last dance with me. How can I dance the last dance? I never did. [Laughs] So that was a disappointment.

The other aspect which I say is good is that in this process, the people that were there, for instance, I had two people that became very influential later -- Dan Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, who were in my unit. They were part of the 442nd. I says, "You know, you got to know the girls. You ought to go to camp and see what the camp is like." So we got a bus, and they went to camp to take a look. And they came back impressed and also completely awed by the fact that we who were put into camps would even volunteer for the military to help the United States, a country that would put all of our family into such dire circumstances as those camps. So they then appreciated we who were called kotonks a lot more, because they realized that we had really done something to volunteer for the U.S. military, whereas they had little bit different circumstance. Their folks were not put into camp. They were free to do what they want to. So that was one thing that was good about serving and getting these people to see the camp.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.