Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Toshikazu "Tosh" Okamoto Interview II
Narrator: Toshikazu "Tosh" Okamoto
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 11, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-otoshikazu-02-0012

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TI: And so you go to Naples, and explain to me, this is your first time really out of the country.

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: What was, sort of, I guess, postwar Europe? What did Naples look like when you got there?

TO: Well, first thing, as we were pulling into Naples harbor, it surprised me to see all these half-sunken ships in the harbor and all the buildings around there bombed and destroyed. And this replacement depot that we were put into or whatever you might want to call it, it was some kind of a, some place that Mussolini had built. It was a real, real nice place, and the army had taken it over for a replacement depot. And by then, we were, I guess the, whoever was in charge felt very comfortable with the Niseis, so they told us, "Well, you guys can go out until you get your shipping orders." So we went into Naples town, and the first thing that struck us, all the people that -- of course, the buildings were all destroyed, and people outside begging. And the thing that really caught most of our eyes was, attention, was these fathers and brothers selling their sisters. Says, you know, "You want somebody to sleep with tonight?" And that was not too unusual, that was going on all through Europe while we were, all through Italy while we were there in these towns. That really grabbed you because I thought to myself, "Gee, would I be doing that if I were in their shoes, with my sisters?" But then it really makes you realize how terrible the whole situation was.

TI: And did you get a sense that people were starving or wanting of food?

TO: Oh, yes, yes.

TI: Was it pretty desperate for these people?

TO: Yeah, because on the chow lines, I think you probably heard this from many guys, GIs from throughout the world, but at the end of the mess line, when you're ready to dump your, whatever leftovers, there'd be somebody there with cans, asking you to dump it in the cans. So that, right away, that told you -- and people begging on the streets, too. And so, yeah, and then you could see some of them were, they're not dressed very nicely, they look like they're pretty raggedy. And I'm sure that wherever they were, their apartments or whatever must have been destroyed because it must have not had any place to stay because some of them, you could tell they were sleeping out in parks, that type of thing.

TI: And what was the reaction of the Italians, or the people in Naples towards Japanese American soldiers?

TO: I don't recall there was any, any reaction, we were just GIs to them, that hopefully they can get something from... that was, that was pretty much it, in Naples, anyway. Because we weren't there very long, long enough to... and one of the nice things, I think the captain or whoever's in charge of that replacement depot, they, he must have felt real good about us Nisei because he said, "You guys want to go up to Rome, you can go ahead and go up to Rome." So we got passes to go up to Rome for about three days. That was just wonderful. I think the 442 guys that were there all through the war, they never got to Rome. But here were us replacements, we got to Rome, look around. And it's interesting, we went into this famous Sistine Chapel. I didn't know what it was at the time. Had no idea, I looked around, okay, no big deal. And here, I think it was about ten years ago when me and my wife went to Italy, and I said, "Yeah, this place looks awful familiar." [Laughs] I had been there right after the war. At that time, the Sistine Chapel, the Japanese broadcasting company, I think NHK was paying for the restoration of the painting, you know, Michelangelo's painting. So you could see where it was half cleaned, and the way it was when I saw it. Because when I saw it, it was pretty dark, I guess, from all that smoke and everything over the years that, you didn't see, but it was just brilliant and beautiful, the part they... so, but it was kind of interesting, I had been there and I didn't realize it, I was in the famous Sistine Chapel.

TI: Well, as a GI, you probably went there, there were probably no lines, you probably just walked into this building...

TO: Oh, yeah, absolutely, yeah. Well, yeah, it was a lot different than when I went the second time, of course.

TI: And how would you compare Naples to Rome in terms of the destruction...

TO: Oh, Rome was, what we saw of it was, you know, especially around the Vatican, there was nothing destroyed. It was really beautiful, beautiful area. Of course, the Church took care of the, cared for the buildings very nicely and so it was, that part of Rome, what we saw, which, primarily we looked at was, it looked just great. You didn't know there was a war that ever happened.

TI: And what about the reaction of Romans towards American GIs?

TO: They weren't real happy with us. Of course, GIs being GIs anywhere in the world. Other than what we can give them, I guess, and what the American army could do for them was one thing, the big picture. But individual, I think the average Italian, other than being, selling you something or getting something from you, that was about it. I don't recall them, any, at least I wasn't close enough to any families that we appreciated what the 442nd had done at that time. Later on, it was a little... when we got settled more and got to know some Italians individually, then they really liked us, they thought we were great people. But at that time, there wasn't any particular, we didn't feel anything different.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.