Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Susumu Ito Interview
Narrator: Susumu Ito
Interviewer: Stephen Fugita
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: July 3, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-isusumu-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SF: Okay. Sus, I'd like to start a little bit with your background in terms of what your childhood was like and where you grew up and so forth. I understand that your dad was a, as you call him, a dirt poor sharecropper.

SI: Yes.

SF: How did all that start?

SI: Well, my father came over here in early 1900s because his younger brother had come over, and he had dreams of... he had a rather adventurous family. He had a military... many brothers, a ship captain who sailed around the world, various places -- and like a younger brother -- who came to the U.S. So he thought he would follow his brother, come here for a few years, and it wasn't very successful. He had restaurants; he didn't know how to cook very much. He worked on the railroad; he wasn't very physically strong like they had to be. And finally he went back to Japan and got married to my mother in Hiroshima, brought her back, and they did housework for people in Salt Lake and various parts of America. Finally they ended up in central California where many Issei immigrants were sharecropping, farming. And that's about when I came along in 1919, when I was born in town of Stockton, but work was out on the farm. My father sharecropped for asparagus, celery, mostly celery as I recall. One year was sugar beets in the Delta Islands. And my earliest recollection was that before I was really going to school, we lived in the country with other Nisei, Issei immigrants, sharecropping farms and living in unpainted shacks with no running water, no indoor plumbing or toilets, very carefree life. I did a lot of hunting and fishing and as I was telling you earlier, occasionally trapping with friends and neighbors, animals, and leading a very carefree rural life. One of the things I remember vividly is that everything that was purchased for the farm, we'd buy in large lots. Rice came in hundred pound sacks, so did flour, so did sugar. And one thing I vividly remember is they used to buy raisins and these would be in fifty, or perhaps hundred pound sacks, and that's about all the kind of things we had to eat. So when I'd go out fishing or so I'd carry, stuff my pockets full of raisins and munch on those for hours on end. To this day I'm not really keen on raisins. [Laughs]

SF: I can see why.

SI: You can imagine, if you have this huge pile to gorge yourself with.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SI: So this was what my childhood was like. We were barefoot all summer. Then when we went to school, we went to one room schoolhouses where we had from first to eighth grade in one school, one teacher. First grade, second grade, third grade, maybe fourth grade were no students, fifth, so forth. The schools had maybe twenty or less than twenty-five students. We learned very little because about the only thing we did together was do pledge of allegiance to the flag first thing in the morning. We all got up and did this and then we'd have English, mathematics, spelling, and so forth, none of which I learned very much. We were so unsuccessful that we moved. I went to four or five different grammar schools in the eight years, and I went to a couple of one-room schoolhouses. And then we moved to a small town of Isleton in third grade so my first grade one school, second grade another. And then third grade the schools were in Sacramento County segregated so that the Asians -- of which there were virtually all Japanese -- and the Caucasians in adjacent school separated with barbed wire. But the students had been there in this little town, and they were in individual classes, so they were so far ahead of me that I really didn't know what was going on in class. But I struggled through. And at the end of the year the teacher thought I should take the year over again because I really had not gotten everything I should have out of the class. But my mother was very aggressive and very persistent and she... as I look back I try to pattern my life more after her because she is always optimistic, she's always energetic, and she's always willing to do anything for anybody at any time. And she came to school, speaking very poor English, not being able to write it at all, but talking to the teacher, and she bribed the teacher with silk stockings and chocolates saying that, "My son should not be left back in this class again. He should continue on." They let me through and I managed to keep in class every year so I got out at my normal age. I think I was, before I turned seventeen, out of high school.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SI: Then when we moved to town, my parents were so unsuccessful that they started a, they were cooking for a large sharecrop farm, three meals a day -- six o'clock, twelve o'clock and six o'clock in the evening. They'd make dinner during the harvest and planting seasons for forty to fifty people, just the two of them. They did all the dish washing with one cold water faucet, cooked in big woks with wood fire, and did this seven days a week for, at that time I think the salary was very good, but they, I think, got fifty dollars or sixty dollars a month to do this.

SF: These people who were being served, are they Nihonjins, or Japanese, or were they mixed?

SI: They were some Japanese migrant workers, but mostly they were Filipinos. They were Filipinos and a mixture of Japanese. There were no other ethnic groups, just Filipinos and Japanese. These people would go around from farm to farm or they'd go to certain farms in the summer and in the fall, and do the various jobs that were necessary. It was a very -- even to me -- it was very interesting childhood. I like to think that whatever I do, I do it because I find something interesting about it, and I've carried this throughout my life with everything I've done. But as I look back, I think it was, I tried to make the most of the situation that we had, and I tried to make it worth my while.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SI: As a matter of fact, just a month and a half ago I drove back to this very same... one of the places -- the place where I almost flunked -- and the one room schoolhouse, the island, just to see what it was like. Unfortunately, there were no farmhouses at all left. The whole island, Twitchel Island near Rio Vista, is one farm. I met the watchman there and he was a little younger than I am, but he remembered the place. He remembered all the schoolhouses, the pump house, the canals, and so forth. And we had a very interesting nostalgic talk about the island, because he enjoyed it too, since this is rare that he gets to meet someone who was living there so long ago. This would have been almost seventy years ago, almost seventy years, yes, because I was seventy-eight... seventy-two years ago. Okay. I'm probably spending too much time on this.

SF: No, No. I just wanted to ask you, so your recollection of the kind of quality of life in those days was that it was, from your point of view, pretty pleasant.

SI: Oh, yes. I think my whole outlook on life is, make the best of what you have available and what's around you. Many people come and ask me when I'm in Boston, they get an offer for a job to go to Seattle or Los Angeles or Georgia or someplace, and they ask me, "Sus, do you think I ought to take this job?" I said, "Well, you know, in my estimation and in my opinion, I think it's up to you. You decide on whatever place that seems the most, that you seem to like the best, and what you would enjoy doing, and once you make up your mind to go to this certain place or undertake this job, make the most of that situation and be happy with it." And if you try to retract and say, "Well, I would have been much better off if I had done this or if I had done this." Well, it's a no gain situation. So my outlook is, wherever you decide to go, if there are other people there or even if there are very few, there must be something pleasant or something, some positive aspect of this situation, and look for the positive side, not the negative or not, "I'd rather do this or that." And if you do this, I think one can be, my pat answer is, one can be unhappy no matter where you are, and the contrary is true. So I try to make the most of any situation like walking to the hotel this morning or lying on the beach to go for a swim. Make the most of what you have available to you and the rest will take care of itself more or less.

SF: So this optimistic attitude, you've had that ever since you were a child from your mom?

SI: Yes, yes. I remember going fishing with a bent safety pin and worms that I dug and catching striped bass right off the levy in front of the house and bringing a small striped bass home so we'd have sashimi for dinner. This was a great triumph for me. [Laughs] On the other hand, my parents were trustworthy enough so they gave me a .22 rifle when I was about five years old, and some days she'd tell me -- we'd have chickens running around in the yard. And she'd tell me, "Why don't you go get a chicken for dinner tonight? So I'd go and stalk a chicken and shoot it in the head. I get to clean it and so forth and we'd have chicken for dinner. I thought this was great. So I think, as I look back, this refers to making the most of whatever you have available to you, and not wish that you were in a different situation with whatever. And I must say, for me it's worked out to my satisfaction. And I really don't care if people think I'm out of my mind or nuts for doing what I enjoy doing, but my reward is satisfying myself not somebody else. So I'll continue 'til I fall off the roof again or whatever. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SF: You had talked to me earlier about your education and so by the time you got to high school, what was Stockton High School like?

SI: Stockton High School was a very large school of over 5,000 students. As I look back now, there were a large number of Itos in the family. There were a large number of Wongs and Chinese. I think the Japanese community in Stockton was fairly large because it drew from all of the surrounding farm areas. It was, to me, a very pleasant atmosphere. The teachers were, some were very good. In fact, my continued love for biology started with a high school teacher, Mr. Snook, who was an expert on snails. He'd written a couple of books classifying snails, and he was a high school teacher. He taught with such sincerity and such knowledge of the whole field and the love for it, that it just inspired me that anyone would spend time with young sophomores -- I guess, I was, I must have been fourteen or so -- and instill this knowledge of basic biology. And I think one of my most inspiring teachers was this public school teacher who really impressed me with his knowledge and transferred it to students. So, other than that we had good math teachers. I remember taking algebra and almost flunking the first year, and I had the same teacher and took geometry and I did superbly. The teacher's name was Mr. Walker and he kept me after class one day and he says, "How come you had such a tough time in algebra and you don't in geometry?" Well, I really don't know, but this was my transition from the country grade schools to the eighth grade, which I had struggled through and so forth. On the other hand, because I was of Japanese origin and the Japanese students had such a good reputation for academic excellence, I signed up for German when I was a freshman, and they put me in with juniors and seniors in this beginning German class. And I was completely lost, completely lost, because I had no idea what a single German word was like. And I had a very sympathetic teacher, she was French, DeRouche was her name, and I was the only freshman in the class. She sort of guided me through and helped me. I never got very good in German, but I took it for a number of years. I can converse in German almost like I can in Japanese.

SF: This was going to really help you later on in the war.

SI: So being thrown way above your head into a class and you swim. If you sink, you do, but you try to keep your head above water. And I think experience has shown in many cases where students are thrown into a situation, and they struggle like mad to begin with, but they eventually can make it. I will never be a linguist and I don't want to be, but we had to pass -- in our graduate school we had to pass French and German equivalent. I could read much better than I could speak unless I drank a lot of beer, then I could, my German gets to be pretty good my German friends tell me.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SF: So in that high school, what was the racial situation like, being a Japanese?

SI: The what situation?

SF: The racial situation in those days.

SI: Racial. I think we were totally accepted, but separate. I don't think they discriminated against us, nor did they take us in and invite us to their homes or weekend parties or have their mixed dates with Caucasian or other ethnic groups for that matter. The Chinese and a few Koreans, there were very few Filipinos again. But I think we were... well, maybe more than tolerated. We weren't feared or discriminated against, as I recall. Perhaps others had a different view, but we never became friends with classmates to buddy around with them or go out on the weekend. We had our own Boy Scout troop. We had a Caucasian scoutmaster, but other than that we had no contact with other ethnic groups. We all kept amongst ourselves and in the community, since there were quite a few... I think there was perhaps more, as much segregation between the Christian Japanese Nisei group and the Buddhist group. They tended to keep in separate groups and the separation between racial groups was somewhat equivalent between the Caucasians or perhaps a bit more, but they never tended to have intergroup gatherings very much.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SF: So going back to when you were in elementary school and you were in a segregated elementary school, did that strike you as being bad or strange or anything or is it just kind of the normal...?

SI: I accepted that as being rather normal. Not having been in such a school, although most of the students in the one room schoolhouses I went to were Japanese. There were Portuguese and a few Germans and others, but going to an all, virtually all Japanese public school, I suppose it wasn't really that different because all the teachers were Caucasian. And I know there was the segregation with the Caucasian students in the next school and the segregated school. I don't think there was... no apparent physical animosity between the groups. It was pretty much accepted. I think it reflects the way we accepted our segregation in the military. I think we had a slightly different view when the 442nd was organized, that although they didn't come out and publicize or try to tell us that we had to make a name for ourselves for the sake of the Japanese -- I think that was quite apparent without being played up as our role during the war. And I suppose I don't really recall this... much being said or done to rationalize having this segregated unit, because we realized soon after that the blacks were segregated. And I understand there is a Filipino group that's segregated, there is a Puerto Rican group that we fought alongside with in Europe that were completely segregated, and the fact that we were, was no different than the others. And in many respects I think we were proud of the fact that we were a segregated all-Japanese American unit.

SF: When you say proud, do you think there was an element of what might be called, kind of racial pride in the sense that...

SI: Yes, I think there was. I think that my mother -- my father really didn't communicate too much with me. He expressed his views, but not very forcefully. On the other hand, my mother was a very social person and a very warm person and one who could really gain confidence of almost anybody she met. She would always tell me that, "Gee, it's fine for you to be in the military." The Japanese are very proud of their military. It's one of the high points. And I remember my mother telling me from childhood days, "To be in the military and to die for your country," this was Japan, of course, "was a great honor." That this is something that boys, that men, should really encumber, take on themselves, and if you die for your country, you couldn't ask much more of your life. On the other hand, she used to write me. She wrote at least oh, one or two letters a week in katakana, which is about all I could read. I could read hiragana and a few kanji, and I'd write back to her faithfully. She would tell me that, "That's fine that you're in the army, but please don't get yourself into any dangerous or compromising situation. Don't go out into... well, abunai tokoro, it's a dangerous place. If necessary run away and go to jail." [Laughs]

SF: That's interesting.

SI: Well, which was sound, motherly advice. I'm the only son and not that they had anything to give me, but I was the standard bearer for the family. So it was with some thought and reluctance... because of my background -- I don't know if you want to go ahead with this or not -- but in auto repairs or auto mechanic, I was a motor sergeant where they let me fix trucks or take charge of trucks and make sure everybody maintained them well and cleaned them up for inspection and so forth. But this was, it gets very boring. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SF: Well, let me go back a second just so we can put this in the context. So you graduated high school and then you got drafted, I guess, in 1940.

SI: Well, I got drafted in 1940, but before that I went to an auto mechanic school and the reason for this was that there were very few opportunities for young Nisei to get into business or some profession unless you're a physician or a lawyer or dentist or... so she realized that I was quite adept mechanically so they thought I should go to an auto mechanic school, and they scrimped and saved very hard. By this time we'd moved to town. My parents ran a furoya, a bath house, a Japanese furo with the men and woman community bath and a few western style tubs. They sent me to school in San Francisco to learn the basics of auto mechanics, which I very, I was very happy to go. I enjoyed the one year of college that I had, and I would have liked to continue, but I relented and I thought well, it's best for me. I was eighteen, I guess then, maybe eighteen going on nineteen. And I finished a year of auto mechanic school. We learned all aspects of various parts of repairing cars, which I find it to great advantage for me because I repair everything now, including snow blowers, lawnmowers, outboard motors, or whatever mechanical; and I enjoy doing it. But after I finished school I worked on the brake shop in Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco and they wanted to hire me there, but it was a union shop. Well, I was working there for nothing, that was fine, I was just a extra hand. But when I wanted to join the union, they said, "You're Japanese." I never met the union officials face-to-face, but the little shop had put me in. They said, "I'm sorry, but you can't work here anymore because the Union won't accept you." So I really didn't feel very bad about it, I don't think. This was the time of the World's Fair in San Francisco. I think it was 1939 and I remember going to the Treasure Island and so forth. So I went back home. I had a car by then and then I worked for a little Japanese service station in Sacramento. Then that was kind of a hassle and it wasn't very pleasant so I worked for a Ford dealer in Lodi, which was nonunion.

SF: How come the little shop, the Japanese shop, wasn't pleasant?

SI: What was I doing?

SF: No. Why wasn't the little Japanese garage a pleasant situation for you?

SI: Well. I live in a little boarding, not a boarding, a Japanese yadoya, a little room across the street, and I took all the meals with the family running the garage. It was a little family affair and it was right near the bridge by the Sacramento River. And I must confess the work got a little boring after a while. You do the same kind of engine rebuild or... I wasn't as good as an experienced mechanic.

SF: But you were trained for a whole year.

SI: Yes, I knew the basics and I could do it. But after repairing cars for a while, after you do several of the similar procedures, it gets a little boring. [Laughs]

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SI: So I quit and then I went to Lodi and there I was sort of a helper, and I wasn't doing the work that the real mechanics did, but I learned to do a little bodywork and painting and so forth. And then I suppose I felt relieved and fortunate that I was drafted. My number came up very early, soon after the initial draft, maybe the second or the third lot came along. And I accepted this as another stage in my life and so did many of my classmates in high school and others who were drafted at this time. And as I recall the Japanese community was very proud to have young Niseis in the U.S. military. They had, I remember, the Buddhist church had a big party for us, big dinner. This was before we even went to get our physical. There was five or six of us and people would bring us envelopes with money, going away present, and I figured it was thirty or forty dollars, but it was a lot of money then. And then when they sent us off to take the train for a physical in Sacramento, we went to the railroad station in Stockton. I think it was six o'clock in the morning or so and half the Japanese community shows up, several hundred. And there were many more Caucasian draftees, but only a handful, maybe the parents or wife or girlfriend would come along. But the place was completely inundated with Japanese well-wishers. It got so embarrassing that I understand a few drafts later they discouraged this because to the Caucasian draftees, people sending them off, it seemed strange that the whole community would... then when we got sent off this way to go to Sacramento...

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SF: When all the community turned out to wish you and your other draftees well, political events by 1940 were pretty tense, right, with Japan.

SI: Right.

SF: Was there any sort of sense that there was this kind of conflict or whatever, that somehow you were going to go and fight for the United States Army and somehow America was now getting into a rather...

SI: You mean amongst the Japanese community?

SF: Yeah, among the Japanese.

SI: I suppose there was. I can't help but think that there might have been, but to us this wasn't, it wasn't expressed to us or apparent. The feeling I got that they were really proud that we were going to serve in the military. And I suppose in Japan that this was what they did when a young male went into the military, the whole community celebrated, gave him a royal send off, and this was just a carry over of this tradition. With regard to their feeling, having mixed thoughts about this, to me at least it was not apparent, and I really didn't feel this way at all. My great fear of going to Sacramento was that gosh, if I flunk my physical, what the hell am I going to do? How can I show my face back in Stockton because I have flat feet, but I walk, and my eyes, I wear glasses. When I was in the eighth grade -- I'm not very outgoing and I'm usually rather shy so I used to always sit in the back row of the class -- and I couldn't see the damn blackboard and the teacher would write. I didn't know what was wrong so one of the other strikes against me was that I didn't know what was going on in class until I finally went and got glasses, then I was found, like my mother was, to be quite nearsighted and so I wore glasses. I had about 200 or 250 over 20 or something, and I take off my glasses I couldn't see very well. So I thought my gosh, if they're going to flunk me for my glasses or my flat feet or whatever else I might have, I'd have to go back and face all my family and friends again. [Laughs] Well, they tested my eyes without my glasses and they kept shaking their head. I could barely read the A or AB or the first two rows. They said, "Put on your glasses." Then when I put them on, this way and this way, I could read so they passed me and I said oh, thank God. [Laughs] Then they put us on the train to Fort Ord in Santa Cruz where they gave us shots and uniform and all of this, and they said, well finally I was a private. I said wow, private, that must be some rank 'cause at that time I knew very little about the military. I didn't know what a corporal or sergeant or a lieutenant was, and it was a complete new world for me. And we'd line up to eat breakfast and get on KP or whatever, and as I look back I think that I accepted all of these new things that turned up as something interesting, something I should make the most of and accept. So I did it and I guess I continued it.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: So you got drafted and you were sent to Ord and then?

SI: And then they picked a few of us out. There were quite a few other Japanese from other centers there, and I really don't understand how the military picks out people. I guess they work on their records, their history, background, or whatever. They sent us to Camp Hahn, which was a big muddy field with tents and there weren't many people there. A fellow, Frank Otsuka, was a little older than I was. We were drafted together, so the two of us got sent to Camp Hahn, and we stayed in the same bunk with two Mormons and the first sergeant so I was amongst the first to go there.

SF: So you repaired trucks there, is that right, at Camp Hahn?

SI: Did I what?

SF: Repair trucks at Camp Hahn?

SI: Yes. We repaired trucks and I thought they were testing me because the first thing I went the first sergeant said, "We have a pickup here that doesn't run. Would you take a look at it?" I said my gosh, this must be an exam to see if I was qualified to be in this outfit. So I got there and somehow I got it running so I said, "I guess I passed the test." It wasn't a test at all, it was just that they had a damn truck that wouldn't run, and they had a new draftee come that was supposed to be a mechanic so they said to go fix it, and as I recall I got it going. After that it was, pretty much everything was quite positive.

SF: And then you were there until Pearl Harbor.

SI: Yes, I was there.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SF: How did life change after Pearl Harbor?

SI: Initially we were drafted for one year and we got twenty-one dollars a month, which was okay. They did our laundry, they did, we got all our food. I brought my car there from Stockton and so we had quite a bit of freedom. And then before the year ended they said well, they're going to extend it for two years and the war clouds in Europe and so forth were coming up, Germans were active in Europe. So a little over a year later, Pearl Harbor came and I had a pass for that day. I had a girlfriend in Riverside and I wanted to go see her so the radio came on, and they said Pearl Harbor was blasted and so forth, but orders had not come through that passes were canceled. So my friends kept urging me saying, you have a pass, go ahead, go ahead. So I drove out, went into Riverside -- I still have some friends from that area -- and we went out all day and listened to the car radio and see what was happening and I thought well, I guess this is it. So I made believe -- and they urged all military to return to their base, but I stayed out most of the day into the night [Laughs] making believe I hadn't heard, which wasn't true at all.

But when I got back they were waiting for me and they said, "You speak Japanese?" I said, "I speak a little." "Well, we're rounding up a bunch of suspected Japanese Issei who are leaders of local community and Japanese association society and so forth." And I guess the FBI or the military or whoever was concerned wanted to interview them. Well, my friend was much better in Japanese than I was so they took him right away, or we were still together, but they took him to interrogate the locals that they'd rounded up. And I said well, I don't want to disagree or refuse, but I feel very reluctant to be interpreter for these people 'cause I really don't know that much Japanese, so in spite of their trying to twist my arm and make me do this, I refused. I kept on doing whatever truck repairs or duties in the unit and I was accepted by everyone. Some were very good friends. We'd even go out together and so forth, and this continued on until January, February. I drove back once to Stockton and I left my car there and either I came back with some Caucasian friends or so and stayed in camp until they suddenly shipped me out. I thought they took my rifle away before then, but my friend in San Diego, the reunion in May, the fellow who took me, he later became a captain. He says, "Remember Ito, when you went to the railroad station they took your rifle away?" I didn't remember the incident, but they put me on the train and shipped me off to Fort Ord in Oklahoma.

SF: Fort Sill, wasn't it?

SI: I'm sorry?

SF: Fort Sill?

SI: I'm sorry. Fort Sill in Oklahoma, in Lawton, Oklahoma. And there were some 200 other Nisei from various parts of the country. As were in San Antonio, El Paso, various places. They put them into noncombat units where I spent from '42, early '42 into '43, when the 442nd was organized and I became cadre.

SF: How did you feel about being put into this service component and then your weapon taken away and all of that and Japanese all put together?

SI: Yes. I accepted this as what... well, I guess it's difficult to comprehend how, in the light of current thoughts, activities, and behavior, how we would accept my mother, father, two sisters being put into the race track in Stockton and shipped off to Arkansas. But I suppose that I really don't know why I or we accepted this type of treatment, not do much about it. But we did and I guess we rationalize and said well, I suppose this is for the good of the whole war effort or the times as they were. And I remember feeling quite different about this, but on the other hand, I think that the very sheltered life that we had -- that's the first time I had been out of California when we got sent to Oklahoma.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SI: I remember having our sergeant tell us that, "I know that you folks are Japanese," but -- and at that time they had buses where the blacks sat on the back, the movies where they were segregated, the toilets that had colored and white -- he kept telling us, "You're considered white." You don't go sit in the back of the bus, you don't go to the colored rest rooms, you don't go into segregated black part of the movie, but you're accepted as a white.

SF: When you were first were into that kind of situation, were you thinking that well, maybe the Japanese really belong in the colored section?

SI: Yes, of course. Of course. Although we were segregated in different ways in California, we had not seen this type of segregation that you see in the south. And I suppose another strange thing in Oklahoma was that when you go to town, you run into many of the local Native American Indians. They'd come running up to you and say, "Hey, what tribe you from?" And you can look at many Native Americans and you swear they were Japanese, Chinese, or something. And say, "Oh, yeah. We're a California tribe." They say, "Oh, yeah that's great." [Laughs] So we were accepted by the Native American, and for the most part I don't think there was much -- I think our presence in Oklahoma to the local Caucasian community was rather unique, and they accepted us as American GIs. And I think the relationship in general with the general public was quite amiable and quite open and accepted.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SI: Except for the work that we were doing, which was terribly boring to be doing station complement work, and I'm fixing these rickety old trucks and stuff, which was terribly, terribly boring. So when a few of us as cadre got shipped off, we didn't know where we were going. We were given no advance information on the unit being formed so we went completely blind. When you move, you just have travel orders and a group, and we have some sergeant or somebody in charge. It might be some scuttlebutt to where you're going, but not what this mission was. So you get on the train and you end up in Hattiesburg and trucks take you to the area and here you are, you're in the, part of the 442nd.

SF: So you were assigned to cadre.

SI: That's right. I was part of the cadre and because of my background they made me a motor sergeant and other people became first sergeant or mess sergeant and so forth. So we were sort of the nucleus group and we were all, of course, mainland - kotonk GIs. And then the hordes, big group of the rather boisterous, active Hawaiians, many of whom were eighteen or nineteen year olds -- several years younger than us -- and the volunteers or draftees from the mainland joined, and pretty soon, within a month or two, completely filled up the capacity, and we went into our basic training. And I was in the motor pool completely bored, because... trying to keep vehicles running fine is good, but to keep them shiny and clean and waiting for Saturday inspection to see that there is no mud under the fenders... [Laughs]

It was, to me, totally unlike what war was supposed to be like so the first chance I got -- there was a hapa sergeant in Charlie Battery. He was from New York City, John Nishimura. He's since passed away, but he was the Chief of Detail or Instrument Sergeant for the battery. And what an instrument sergeant did was, did the work of helping laying in the guns, orienting the guns, and most important to fire, direct artillery fire. And this was a bit more demanding than ordinary... you had, for instance, learn to add and subtract three digit figures while standing out and directing artillery fire, shoot left, right, amongst other things. And this fellow thought it was a bit too much so he refused. I mean, he gave up the position. So I heard about this and so I says gosh, I think I'm going to volunteer -- not volunteer, but ask for this position. So I went to talk to the captain, Captain Ratcliffe from West Virginia, and I says, "I hear your chief of detail is giving up the position, and I'd like to give it a go." And he had whiskers like this, and he says well... we had a long talk and I realize that my mother had hold me not to get into any dangerous situation, and I knew what this job entailed, but I thought it would be much less boring than sitting in the back repairing trucks. Well, to make a long story short, he accepted me and I took the job.

We had some intensive, intensive training where -- we could not go to officer's training school because, the reason I don't know, not that I wanted to go anyway. But they had a sort of a miniature concentrated one month course of selected individuals. There must have been about twenty of us who ate separately, who marched to the huts, who had classes from -- we ate, I think, we had breakfast at six, and at seven we had classes, intensive classes, and a lot of figuring work to do at night. And run by one captain, Billy Taylor, who really wrung us through the wringer learning all aspects of, or many, many aspects as possible of what an officer does in an artillery unit. And this was invaluable training because it was like a miniature officer's candidate school course. And it was good fun because it was very, very challenging both physically and mentally, and I must say I enjoyed this. And so I was fully accepted as a chief of detail.

SF: These are all NCOs going through this course together?

SI: All are NCO. We were staff sergeants, buck sergeants, and there were some first sergeants and master sergeant. The three of us from the three batteries who had the same job, we all got field commissions so, the training... one of them is here now, the others died. But, so this was sort of a preliminary to what we were going to do, and it was invaluable training I must say because it's entirely different from being in combat, but you had to know the basics of what to do.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SF: To go back a bit, you were mentioning about the Caucasian -- I mean, I'm sorry, the mainland guys, of course, are the cadre and then all these large number of Hawaiian coming in. I understand that you got into some altercations with the Buddhaheads.

SI: Oh, yes. I personally never had any person-to-person confrontation. In fact, I think going back even a bit further, one of the endearing or prominent lessons my mother gave me was that whatever you do in life, do it so that your actions will not only not offend your colleagues, but do it so that they will, in return, be sympathetic with you. And I do this unconsciously and I have friends all over the world in virtually every country almost, and wherever I go -- and I make new ones all the time. But with this very simple, basic outlook and interpersonal relationship. And keeping this in mind, this rowdy Hawaiian group -- but I could see good in them -- they meant well. I'd go along and chug-a-lug beer. I remember one night I drank twelve bottles of beer at the bar at ten cents a bottle or something and came staggering home, back and forth to the bathroom. We weren't supposed to, but ,and have a good time with the Hawaiian guys. And to this day I have very, very good friends here. And at the same time some of the colleagues that I have were so strict with their obeyance of orders and regulations, that to be so GI as you call it, that some are afraid to come to Hawaii because of the animosity that existed, that they developed between and kept up.

SF: So this lasted even through when you were in combat and so forth?

SI: Absolutely, absolutely. Going ahead a little bit but, as an example, a number of the Hawaiians, some of whom I embraced last night and we see whenever we can, they would come up to me and say, "Lieutenant Ito, next time you go up will you take me with you?" And you wonder, they're safe back in the battery area, relatively safe, they don't have to do this, but they beg you to take them on a mission where it's much, much more dangerous. And well, it's hard to say that one feels good about this, but one feels rewarded in that you've built confidence in the people that you associate with, that their rationale for doing this is that well, we're bored back here, we don't see any action, we don't know how the infantry fights, we don't know what is going on up there, and we'd like to see it. And I guess in the back of my mind, this is why I volunteered for this job anyway. So I could understand their wanting to experience what combat in the front lines was like, but to do this voluntarily when they didn't have to do it, is... well, one can't help but feel proud of them and comforted in the confidence that they've given you. So I think it boils down to: what you give of yourself in life, in one way or another, you're paid back in return. And I see this all the time with my colleagues and students that I have, and if you sincerely give them help, confidence, and encouragement -- you're paid back many more times in return. And I think the superficial conflict between the island fellows and mainland fellows were based on the fact that they thought well, we talk different than you guys and you don't understand us and our outlook is different, and you guys talk like the haoles here. And we, I guess, in many cases in the plantation days or in the early days, they really, the haoles, took advantage of the immigrant Japanese, and their animosity toward them is understandable. And since we talk like them, they transferred this animosity to us. But I found that it wasn't very difficult to overcome this and become... treat them like anybody else and become respected for who you are amongst them.


SF: So the, sort of, friction between the Hawaiians and the mainland folk sometimes like you said... what? He was a captain this hakujin, this white?

SI: A lieutenant.

SF: Oh, lieutenant. So the fact that he was so GI or military rule bound, that impacted negatively both the Buddhaheads and the kotonks equally in the unit, or did something about the Hawaiians, because of their Hawaiian culture, rub against them more severely?

SI: I think it rubbed against the Hawaiians more severely because they were quite a bit more happy-go-lucky and tried, if possible, bend every order that came out. [Laughs] And, well, not that the mainland fellows weren't that way, many were, and many had problem, not very seriously, but going AWOL or overstaying passes or not doing duties appropriately or not obeying direct orders and so forth. But I think the preponderance of those on the other side of the fence were the island boys, the Buddhaheads from the islands, but I sympathize with them in many ways, and I think it became very apparent to them that I did. And I think it's partly understanding their point and their feelings and letting them, whenever possible, to express them to their satisfaction. And I think if you do this that you'll not only gain their respect, loyalty, and confidence and when the chips are down, they'll really pitch in and help because they're pretty good fighters on the street, but they're very good in the field, too so...

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SI: I don't think I've run into anyone in our outfit who was, became completely fear-stricken at the thought of getting hurt or becoming a casualty in the war.

SF: Now, that's really unusual. Why do you think that happened?

SI: I really don't know because you hear of GIs in the outfit, fellows completely breaking apart, and refusing to charge or advance.

SF: Or even fire their weapon, right?

SI: That's right, but I've never experienced this. I think quite the contrary was true, that they wanted to get in on the fight. I don't know whether that's part of the Japanese spirit and heritage of not... for instance, I shouldn't have been where I was. I mean, I need not have been in the position I was. I asked for it and on the other hand, and my chances of getting hurt -- I didn't even get a purple heart, not that I wanted one. Last night at the play they said I was with I Company -- had the highest casualties in the Lost Battalion push. I remember twenty-seven as being the number left. But when I was in Senator Inouye's office, he said, "I Company, oh, yeah, that's the outfit that had nine left." And last night at the play they said I Company had eight left, so the numbers get... [Laughs] But, and I guess it would be incorrect to say that I wasn't afraid at times. There were times when the situation got quite perilous, and I thought well, maybe my time has come, that the next shot or next machine gun or next what, I would get hurt. And I think I had in the back of my mind well, if my time comes, my time comes, and like the Japanese say, "Shikata ga nai." I'm in this position and if it happens, it happens. But to say that I wasn't afraid is not correct. I was, but in spite of that, I was willing to accept my fate whatever it happened to be. So in that respect I wasn't afraid and if I came through this, fine, I came through and I'm in one piece. I accept this as much as if I'd gotten injured or I wouldn't know if I got killed, I suppose.

SF: So when you kind of came back from the battle sometimes and you were in the rear area kind of resting up, you never sort of had the jitters or thought back, Christ, I could have had my arm blown off or something like that and have to go back crippled and all that?

SI: No, I never felt that. I was willing to go back out again. I really didn't give it much thought. That was my job, which I had asked for. I did it to the best of my ability, and as you might read -- I took great pains in writing that Lost Battalion Four Days -- but at the time I really thought that this was what war was like. I didn't think it was an extraordinary effort and a special effort that we made to rescue the Lost Battalion. I just happened to be part of the team that did it and that it was more or less what was done in wars. So it seemed, well, perhaps not routine, but it was what GIs did in the war.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

SF: So that particular battle of the Lost Battalion, in the kind of continuous sort of sequence of battles and sort of confusion and moving and all of that, it just seemed like a tough thing, but not extraordinary or anything like that.

SI: Right, right. It obviously was tough because we lost so many men, we had no officers left, a sergeant was in charge of the company, and I was virtually... I suppose in retrospect somewhat ashamed to say that I was virtually, I was not very helpful, not at all helpful in this effort. They sent us along because the attack company with the forward observer can bring in any artillery within range behind you toward the enemy, but the forest, the Vosges Forest, were thick dense pine forest that even in mid-day is mostly cloudy, drizzly rain then, was like twilight or early dawn. It was quite dark and you could not see more than 50, 100 yards. If you saw 200 yard, that was great. And we knew there were enemies nearby. At one point a classmate of mine, Dick Hayashi, who died just last year, was in I Company and the captain, Captain Byrnes, who was killed on this push, sent him off to reconnoiter a ravine to advance. He had a map out. He called me over, he looked and said, "Well, this is where we go. The Lost Battalion is there. Why don't you reconnoiter this ravine to see if the pathway is clear." He says, "You take a patrol up and check this out." So he said, "Yes, sir." He took his patrol, he went up, and came back oh, thirty minutes, forty-five minutes later and says, "Well, it seems to be clear. We met no Jerrys on the way, and I think we can go up to such and such point without any resistance."

So captain, we were all sitting on our butts waiting, so he got the company up and then he alert other companies to your flanks. And we started up this ravine and no sooner than we got a couple hundred yards further and -- I don't know how familiar you are with infantry advance, but the CP and two attack platoons and the reserve sends out scouts up ahead, couple of them, who rotate every few hundred feet or yards depending on the terrain with fresh scouts. And we got not more than a couple hundred yards or maybe even less, when a damn machine gun to the left starts firing. Wounds -- I don't know whether he was killed or not -- one of the scouts. He called out for medics, then they came rushing by with their armband and so forth and stretchers, and they're fired upon because they can't see us. At the same time we could hear the Germans who saying, "Hands up," in English, shouting at us and machine guns, and the shells are landing near us. The limbs are falling down on us and we're flat on our bellies. And all I had was a .45, so what are you going to do if they charge? They weren't going to charge us 'cause we had the whole company. But I envision later that if they had sufficient forces then -- they had caught us in an ambush where they let the scouts through and back and drew the whole company in. And this is only my thought, I have seen no official recording of this, and I don't know if you know the book Lost Battalions -- plural -- of the Second World War. It might be a book that you might be interested in. It's written by a chap in Santa Cruz. His name is -- I loaned the book so I can't -- Schroeder or something, an Austrian who interviewed both American and Japanese. You maybe have heard about it and he has two close versions of the third battalion attacked, the Lost Battalion, and at the same time when the German battalion was surrounded by Americans, and so there was a comparison at about the same time.

But you can see how the 141st Division, 1st Battalion got surrounded because you get sucked into a place like this and you're overrun and surrounded, and you can't fight your way back. So it would seem to me -- not being an infantry more a tactician, realize or know -- but if it could be a similar situation when if they had sufficient forces they could have surrounded us, and we would have been another surrounded battalion, too. But we lay there for what seemed like hours. I'm sure it wasn't that long, but orders came to retreat up the other bank or you leap frog back. The most forward ones run past you and cover you while you do this and go back up the hill. And we went and spent the nights up on the hill, and had... I think we only had cold K rations there up on the hill. But this, to me, in this push was the closest contact. They couldn't have been more than 150 yards or so because you could hear this chap clearly yelling at us to give up, but again I thought this was not unusual to sacrifice one for the other.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

SF: Do you think it's mostly the combat per se as opposed to all the stuff that you do in training where you're trying to build unit cohesion and all of that. I mean, it's really the fact that you're out there getting your ass shot off, and you can trust the other guy.

SI: I think so, yes. I think so. I think that it's the special kind of relationship that you build up in a situation like combat where... you don't get this type of interpersonal relationship in academic, business, or social contacts. So as one thinks about it, it really is a quite unique and special relationship that you have. Even after these fifty-some odd years and not seeing each other very often, but often enough to keep in contact and the experiences and things that we hash over, over and over again when we get together, are I suppose in many ways therapeutic. And, of course, I think we each and all benefit from these in our own way, in different ways. And there are few people, few, who absolutely refuse to have anything to do with the war. It was an unpleasant experience, it was a horrible experience, it was something I wish never had happened, and refuse even to acknowledge that they are veterans or went through whatever they did.

SF: What percentage of the 442 guys fall into that category? Were they...

SI: I think it's very small, very small. I couldn't say, but I would say less than ten percent. My gut feeling is... well, it might be a few more because there are some people whom you contact, but absolutely refuse to have anything to do with...

SF: Could you tell or could you predict from how they related to people in the unit that they would fall into this category after the war or, it's not, you couldn't do that?

SI: Yeah, I think you can. I think there's a basic underlying personality, behavior, whether it's... probably the way they were brought up or their experiences and contact as they were growing up and, under their situation, I suppose if you really delve into it, you can understand just why they behave this way. But I think for the most part, most of my colleagues -- especially, those are the only ones I get to see -- really... I don't think they relish having been in the military during the war, perhaps a few do.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

SI: I think I remember reading, soon after the war, Robert Roark an article about nostalgia for war in which he said, "There's a certain degree of liberty that one can take in the war. There's a certain amount of destruction and even killing that is not only tolerated, but is the object of your efforts." And I think in many of us this feeling, not of animosity, but this feeling of having to let go with a certain amount or degree of -- again, I think violence is not the correct word, but behavior that is not accepted in normal, ordinary society, that one gets out of his system by letting yourself go. For instance, I was shooting -- after the rescue of the Lost Battalion, I was on a little clearing in the woods near St. Die. We were maybe 1,000, 1,500 feet high looking down into a valley with roads. It was German occupied. And we had some primitive aerial photos of this area, and there was a crossroad I could see, and we had telephone contact with our guns. And you look at one crossroad, the map shows just a plain crossroad. The photo showed that the crossroad had trees and bushes. I say that's strange. So I put my glasses, very strong, we had 20 power. Field glasses are only 7 or 8 power and you look, and I was looking at this area and pretty soon there are two Germans with machine guns in this camouflaged machine gun nest at the crossroad aiming down the road so that if anybody tried to advance, they could shoot at them.

So I telephone back to fire direction. I said, "Well there's a machine gun nest with a couple of Germans there. What do you want to do?" So they says, "Well let's see if we can knock them out." And so we took only one gun. I forgot from what battery it was, and we were shooting what's called high angle. High angle is above 45 degrees for closer targets and at 45 for maximum range. The normal angle of fire is 45 is maximum, and below that is for shorter range. You put less powder in and the shell would go closer. Well, we're shooting high angles because it was mountainous area and a lot of trees so high angle fire is not accurate. The atmospheric conditions, the wind, the weather and so forth, deflects each round differently so that you ask for the same round twice in the same spot and it might vary considerably. So while watching these guys I asked for fire, and you get a long and you get a short... what you try to do in artillery is you bracket the target. If you get a long shot that you think is 300 yards too far and your target is 300 yards. Well, you say it's 600 over so you make it the next. 600 back and if it's 200 yards this way, you say 400. So you go 600 long and 400 right. So the next shot should come down way on this side and to the left. And if you're sitting at the target, you see a shell come there and then you see another shell come on the other side of you, you dig like hell or start running. [Laughs] That's bracketing the target. And I must say that this is a rule I keep with doing all my science and other work. In other words, if you do an experiment and you think a certain dose -- these are not human subjects -- so if you think a dose is too high or too low, you double it in the other direction. So you bracket your target and you're much more apt to get into the correct range. Even anesthesia, right, one animal, you double it. If it's too much, you half it or go even lower. So it plays out in life in general to bracket your target to the get the most...

Well, this German... you feel, you don't know the guy, but with good binoculars you could see him clearly, and they come out and walk around once in a while. And with no feeling of reservation, your aim is God damn it, I want to get a shell right in this machine gun nest and blown him to smithereens. Well, I shot and shot and shot, got a close shot, but never did really -- but I did hurt the guy because he came out with his wounded partner, arm around the shoulder, and they slowly walked down the road to the rear. And I don't remember shooting at them after this, but I guess in a way I felt glad that I really didn't hit him or kill him, but at least I accomplished the mission of them abandoning the machine gun. So then years later you think, how could I think that? How could I want... it's not face-to-face and you're somewhat removed because you're not firing a cannon or the artillery, but in your mind you want, I suppose, ultimately to kill the guys, right? And don't feel bad about it. This is my mission. This is what I'm supposed to do. So this is magnified in scale many ways and that's the whole war, right, but this one small incident. And I had a couple of fellows with me, the radio man and the carrier and the telephone wire man and so forth, and none of them felt bad about this. They said, "Well, let's get those guys."

SF: Is it like you're a professional soldier and so this is your job.

SI: That's right.

SF: And if you don't accomplish the mission, then you failed in what you were supposed to be doing.

SI: Right.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

SF: Do you occasionally sort of, did you ever... I mean, probably in basic training they try to jack you up to hate the enemy because they're doing all these horrible things in Europe and all of that, but on the other hand, sometimes when you take stuff off a dead enemy you probably see that he's got a photo of a wife and kids.

SI: Right. In Camp Shelby they would show us movies; they have posters of Hate the Japs; and the Huns; and Germans, the swastikas; but this is like, it doesn't mean much to you. Yeah, you're supposed to hate enemy, but what the hell. They're probably just like us. And it was like this when we went over and the first day one of my classmate, Zenichi Masuda, they were just marching up north of Rome, northwest of Rome, going into battle for the first time. And the way they did it then was they get on the road, and maybe on both sides of road, and then the infantry would march, and the Germans were someplace in the area. They let this whole group go through and when they had enough of them in sight, they just completely blasted away at them, and my classmate was killed on the first day. I was told this and suddenly you feel well, God damn it, this is for real, and you get a completely different feeling about what the hell we're here for. Nothing that anybody could tell me, and then you hear of more and more casualties. I had several of my classmates that were killed, and after enough of these and after enough of seeing many of our dead and many more Germans -- they were picked up last so they'd be dead along the road and completely bloated and black and don't have time for them, to carry them away or bury them. And rather soon after this, you figure: this is war and your mission is to kill the enemy or get wounded or killed, and you have a completely... I had a completely different outlook on how we're going to accomplish the mission and how we felt, perhaps even more important, how we felt about killing the enemy and knowing that some of your very close friends or good friends were killed. And to me, this is what brought home what, on a very personal and individual level and the very little niche that I had in the war, that I was here to try to be a part of a machine that destroyed the enemy. And you didn't feel bad about it because this is my job. And again as I said a minute ago, it's hard for me to feel that I could have thought this way.

On the other hand, maybe I'm hardened to this. I often ask myself, could I do this today if I were asked to commit myself? I think I could. In spite of the fact that I had experienced some rather precarious moments and come out unscathed and not to be, to feel that I'm especially brave or anything, but that I would accept my fate if it be so, were I exposed to a situation. As I often said, I think I would just as well expose myself rather than to have some young promising other fellow, other military or whatever personnel, to do the same because at my age I feel that I've done not only everything I ever wanted to do or expected to do, but and then some. So I've nothing to lose and again it goes right back, I think, to enjoying what you're doing and getting the most out of whatever situation that you have. And I can't translate this to anybody, well, my kids in particular. Sometimes I wish I could, but I think it's a very concept, a very... it's a concept that's very difficult to express and to implement, maybe impossible.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

SF: Well, you were talking about when you were in combat, this idea of: got a job to do and you going to get the job done and take the risks necessary. If you saw another 522 guy in trouble, you'd probably have, at that time anyways, just gone out and done whatever you could to help this guy.

SI: I think so.

SF: Without regard as to whether you --

SI: I think so. Yes, I think so. And I think most of the fellows I was with would do this, if not all.

SF: Well, what if you were with white guys that you didn't care so much about, and you hadn't built up this sort of common bond. Do you think you would have done that anyway because you were a soldier?

SI: I don't think I would have made a distinction even if I didn't agree with them or he was...

SF: A jerk, maybe.

SI: Yes, yes. I don't think that it would have made any difference. No, I really don't. I don't like -- well, it's not that I don't like to think, but I don't think I hold any ingrained animosity to someone who disagrees with me. I think that's his perfect right, or that has not impressed or converted me to his personal views or outlook on evaluating any situation or people. I'm not very religious, but I think I have a reverence for life, human life, and I think one of the feelings is, I think reflects on my basic feeling, is that in spite of this fact that there's a lot of evidence and justice for capital punishment, I really can't stomach taking another life of an individual no matter what his actions were to cause this. It just for some reason... I could never watch an execution, in other words. It would be completely... I don't think anyone could force me to watch an execution. It would be totally against my feelings and respect for human life.

SF: What gives war the legitimacy then because it's a state, it's a state -- one state against the other. Why is it that war has this, gives us legitimacy to take human life then?

SI: War between one state than other or one country against another, one ethnic group against another. Well, my simple rationalization for this is is that as long as we have humans on this earth and societies, that regardless of how idealistic we are, that we're going to want to end wars, that we someday we'll live in a utopia of peace, prosperity and brotherhood, no matter how much we would like to see and how nice it would be -- that this will never come to be. That as long as you have two groups of more than a few people, or even if one group gets large enough, you'll have some groups of people who are going to object to the others and have conflict and on a larger scale it would be different communities, difficult background, different religions.

SF: Different departments.

SI: Different departments. [Laughs] So perhaps you young fellows will live to see the day, but I certainly don't expect to see the day when we all live in harmless unity and uniformity. So I explain individual relationships to state relationships or to empire relationships between each other in the same basic way that, like kotonks and the Buddhaheads had it as a group or the families have it within themselves. It's bound to happen. And I don't know, I'm not here to try to change this nor can I, and I think this is a real good opportunity because you're giving me questions that I've obviously thought of, but not have tried to express or package together in the way of who the hell am I, how do I feel, or why do I behave like I do. And I think it's a great benefit to me and I feel that it's really a good experience for me.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

SF: I want to go back to one point here, you were describing just a tad bit earlier about this thing about in war there's a certain kind of shift in attitude where, for example, you're able to get things out of your system in a sense because this is war and you can somehow, say, you can do things that you normally couldn't do as it were.

SI: Absolutely.

SF: So did the guys, after being shot up in say a heavy battle, did they -- well, I should put it this way. Did they sort of lose their sense of, kind of, normal thinking in the sense that, I mean, when you're in heavy combat, it's like you're kind of in a different zone and you're kind of working automatically. And if you say, for example, saw some atrocity, you would sort of react purely by gut. I'm reminded of the story about where some 442 guys saw apparently some of their buddies who had been defecated on, and someone said they didn't take prisoners for two weeks or something like that. Is that kind of a normal sort of human reaction in those situations?

SI: I suppose it is.

SF: Did you see a lot of that?

SI: Did I see a lot of what?

SF: See a lot of that kind of stuff where some atrocity would cause people to have retribution.

SI: No, I have not seen this. I think I have seen rather cold, impersonal, acceptance of apparently cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians, not necessarily by our GIs, but by oh, renegades. They might have been East European or even Russian troops that came through into Germany. But under the conditions, I think that even though I didn't experience them, you can feel that if you put yourself in the shoes of those who committed these crimes or atrocities, that they had full reason to do so because of the way they were treated, and that they're just trying to equalize the deck. I think as far as -- I really don't know of any atrocities that our troops committed. There obviously must have been some, but I wasn't personally involved or experienced or exposed to any of those. I think for the most, most part that although we did a fair amount of combat, or a large amount depending on how you look at it, that it was pretty much on the up-and-up, that it was according to rules whether they were rules of war or rules of personal behavior, or personal interaction between people. I think that, as in all cases, some of the orders that come down are not... seem rationally improper at the time. But then again I guess you can understand what the commanders in such a situation needed or wanted to do; and, of course, they were in charge and they had the, not only the right and the authority, but the -- if it were not for their decisions, right or wrong, hopefully right, that we wouldn't have an effective fighting force.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

SF: So when for example, the 442 was under General Dahlquist --

SI: Of where?

SF: When the 442 was under General Dahlquist.

SI: Yes.

SF: Were there any instances where he gave some sort of order that was, just like you said, apparently irrational or didn't make sense under the conditions, and did people subvert the order or ignore it?

SI: Well, I think -- I had no contact with General Dahlquist although it's recorded in -- if you look at that Fire for Effect you see some of my colleagues. Uke Minaga was my radio operator and George Oiye who wrote a portion was -- he took my job when I got my commission. He had a F.O. party nearby, one of the other companies, claimed that I was near them when General Dahlquist gave the order to charge this area. But I've either completely blanked out or refused to acknowledge that this happened, and I have no positive recollection of this. I do have some of the other minutiae, but of this one incident, which several witnesses said I was near them, I have -- you should read this book of Lost Battalions of the World War because the author has published letters that Dahlquist wrote his wife. And in one of them he talks about sending his Jap troops to rescue this lost battalion. And my good friend, Italian friend, in our department -- he's a professor and I have space in his lab now -- he says, "What you guys really need is to get Spielberg to write, to produce a movie on your outfit, on the parents being in internment camps, and the sacrifices that you gave," and our -- I can't say alleged, but our involvement or being near when Dachau was liberated. So he says there's a chance for an epic movie to be made, not like "Go For Broke" with Van Johnson or some of the others, but a real jazzed up version of this. As a matter of fact, last summer about this time, a professional writer came to me and said, "I've got some possible scripts that I want to write for HBO or Ted Turner or somebody, and I sent about a dozen of them in and one was the Rescue of the Lost Battalion. And they came and the only one they wanted was the story on the Lost Battalion," and since I was involved with it, although not as an attached individual, so I had several conversations with him, and he wrote up a three page proposal. If some of these things you'd like, I can send them to you. He sent this in and a few weeks later it came back, and he said, "Well, Ted Turner thought we had too many war movies and he's not interested, but he says he's keeping it on the file." And I've loaned him a lot of books and material, but his proposal for the script, even before this Lost Battalions came out, was that here was prejudiced general who... as members of the Lost Battalion themselves -- we invited one fellow to our reunion six years ago in San Francisco. We paid his way from North Carolina and his name was Bud Glover. He said -- and he got up and addressed our group. This was only Charlie Battery. We had about 130 people, many from Hawaii, all over the states that's including wives and relatives. And he says, "God damn it, they call us the Lost Battalion, but we weren't lost. We knew exactly where we were. It's just that we couldn't fight our way out and our other battalions couldn't get to us. And you guys were there so our general sent you guys against us to rescue us and you did." And to this day they're very, very grateful to us, and as I said we're honorary Texans, they're looking forward to us joining them, and they treat us like brothers. I think if it were the other way around, if we were the lost battalion and they rescued us, we'd be kind of ashamed to admit it because why the hell couldn't we fight our way out or have our other battalions rescue us. I think in the Japanese sense, this would have been not an honorable solution to being surrounded. I certainly wouldn't think so, but they embrace us with...

SF: So that's a really good example of the Japanese cultural thing.

SI: That's right. That's the complete difference. I would be kind of ashamed to say first of all, we were careless enough to get surrounded; and then we didn't have the fire power, guts, or whatever, to fight our way back; and then our own outfit could not rescue us; but they had to send you guys for us. And maybe that's what Dahlquist sensed. Otherwise all would have been prisoners or killed. So as you more and more look into this, it was a very complex, involved, with the background, our background involved, and our willingness and spirit to fight, and our dedication to this. So it is, when you think about it, a rather unusual and unique situation when you put together all the bits and pieces. So maybe someday there will be something like that.

SF: Yeah, should be.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

SF: You mentioned Dachau. Of course, the 522 was very famous for its part in the Dachau situation at the end of the war. Maybe you could kind of review those things.

SI: I can tell you a little bit about, although I can only say that I was near there. If you look in that book and look at the march orders of our unit date by date, the battalion records show in one date... someplace in April a few days before the Lost Battalion, it says Lieutenant S. Ito was attached as forward observer to such and such infantry regiment. I have no recollection of this. The movement before then was so hectic, so disorganized, and so rapid that we were just -- no one seemed to know what the hell was going on. We were -- I remember riding on tanks one day about twenty-five miles, riding on trucks another day, and one day walking about twenty-five miles with the infantry, and it was not our infantry. We were separated from the 442nd, it was just the 522nd, we were just giving additional fire power. And being an observer, I would be attached to different units, but I don't have clear recollection of this. And at the time of passing west of the Dachau, we were some oh, ten, fifteen kilometers to the west, our route of march. So it gets very confusing here because we saw a lot of prisoners released, we saw a lot of dead Dachau prisoners with the stripes, dead along the road.

SF: This was earlier as you were going into the area?

SI: The gates were open and they were heading south into Bavaria. It snowed a day or two after, they made lumps in the snow. We took on one fellow who was... became Larry Lubetsky, and he's mentioned in that book also. He was a young Jewish -- I think he was Latvian or Lithuanian. He spoke German well, he spoke English, he became our interpreter. And his recollection of being rescued by -- but he was already out of the camp. Now, there are some... and there was very little firing going on. There was very little fire from the Germans. We captured a lot of them along the way. They would just come up out of the woods. They had no will to fight. Some of them were young kids that looked like they were fifteen, sixteen years old, and this was... although, you see, records say -- and I think one of the best compilation of evidence is what Ted Sukiyama wrote in that portion of Fire For Effect of the chronology, the evidence, of various people gave of our involvement with Dachau. Some claim they saw the gates, some claim they shot open the lock, some claim they went into camp when the prisoners were there. The guards left and left the inmates there. I didn't experience any of this, but there were many small subcamps. We spent a week at the National Archives in the Library of Congress five years ago, I think, with Saul...

SF: Eric Saul.

SI: What?

SF: Eric Saul.

SI: Eric Saul, Rudy Tokiwa, Clarence Matsumoto, and George Oiye and I looking through to see just where we were and whether there were any further evidence that we were attached to an outfit that was directly involved. We didn't find any, but -- so I get asked by Jewish groups to speak to them because they find it a gold mine to try to make a parallel between us, internment camp, the Germans, and concentration camps. And it's good PR and fund raising and so forth. And I think this first came to light when Eric Saul got a hold of George Oiye when we were having our reunion in San Francisco.

SF: What year was that?

SI: I think it's five years, six years ago. We had -- we thought well, we'll have a Charlie Battery reunion, and I said I'm in Boston, but I'll help whatever I can, and we put out a book. Oiye put out a book. He was not working because he got in trouble with social security and he couldn't work. He owed them a lot of money because for some reason or other -- about putting in social security and getting social security funds or so after he was sixty-five and he was still working -- so they put a lien on him for tens of thousands of dollars. So he didn't start work until he was seventy so he had a year of relatively free time, and he did, single handedly, a beautiful Charlie Battery book, and I just helped sporadically. I'd come out. Eric Saul got wind of this, that I had a lot of pictures. So I don't know if you've seen any of these, but some of them are in the Holocaust museum in D.C. They took the whole exhibit to Israel -- I didn't go because my mother died just before that -- and it was made a big deal in San Francisco with the Jewish group so we had sushi and bagel party, and we had the whole media including CNN and the networks here. People in Japan said they saw me on this program because it was CNN, the world news. But this really brought to light... and then there were people who came up and they were on the Dachau side, people who swore that the Nisei soldiers rescued them from some camp or other, and it's a whole handful of these people that support this, but there's no official recognition of our unit being involved directly in the rescue, in the liberation of Dachau.

SF: So the official Army records at Center for Military History or whatever has no entry.

SI: No direct, there's no hard evidence that we were even attached to the group because they were -- each had various segments. We looked at all of these maps. I have copies of them. People in these other outfits also have looked into this because they tend to get upset when the media catches hold of us, saying we were involved in the rescue when -- I think one of the characteristics of Caucasian outfits is that they're zealously protect their credit for, especially for liberating Dachau, or they don't want it diluted by anything else, which is understandable, and they go to all means to conserve this image that they were the ones who liberated. And I think Lyn Crost also doesn't feel that we were directly involved and for right reason. She went soon after. So I can't give any positive information except that...


SI: I feel quite confident that we were not directly involved in the rescue, in the liberation of Dachau, the main Dachau prison camps. Some of our group, they were a very adventuresome group. If they had a weapons carrier or jeep, they would run off in all directions because it's not much danger of being shot at or hurt at this time. And they went on various foraging, or to put it politely, foraging or looting, which was again, in war, fair game, right? So I can't add positive information to this.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

SF: What did you feel, though, when you saw these guys in striped uniforms and kind of emaciated...

SI: Yes. I think it's something that we were totally unprepared for. We were not told that there were these concentration camps where they gassed people and cremated them. I went to see the crematoriums later and you kick around in the ashes, and there are still bone and so forth coming up. The gas chambers were a small room where they crowded people and gassed them before they cremated them, but I think it was really shocking to see these walking skeletons come by, and even worse to see them trying to salvage food that we would throw in a mess area, garbage pits, and stuff. And it was, I guess, it was very hard to believe. And, again, I think on the other hand we accepted that this is the way the Germans did it and the result is we saw these emaciated, skin and bone, people who obviously were very, who were maltreated, but some who survived. I think it was a feeling of... it was very different from war and combat itself of how you fight with your adversary on relatively equal basis. They can shoot at you, they kill you just as much as you can kill them. But to round up enormous groups...

At the time I really couldn't equate this with our relocation centers, where my parents and sisters and all my friend and relatives were, with their concentration camps, which were physically not very different. There were barbed wire, there were barracks. In fact, the barracks were much better than ours with... there is still some restored to their original... so one didn't, I didn't... although I had visited Rohwer several times because Rohwer was -- I still had a car -- driving distance to Camp Shelby although there was obviously a comparable portion, but in no way were the treatment of individuals in any way similar, except for their rights as human beings, and Americans are being interned this way. So I guess as much as I accepted my parents and sisters being in a relocation center, or concentration camp if you like, here with the German concentration camps, which were much, much larger and the situation much, much different. So we didn't think about it much then. We thought it obviously wasn't right, but at the same time, the whole war effort and the destruction of cities and historic places and most of the bridges were gone and cathedrals were gutted, and is no way comparable to where, in the U.S. nothing was bombed or shelled, so it's very, very different. And the war was, as we saw it in Europe, was -- the war that they had, or we had there with them, and the resulting consequences... and the concentration camps were, as far as the war itself, was important in that it imprisoned millions of people -- I don't know whether it was millions or not -- enormous numbers and they killed a lot of the inmates. But in spite of that and in spite of how much a major portion of World War II this was, it still, in the whole sense of the war, not that big a part of the war, at least as far as we were concerned. So I think the social, political, and ethnic consequences of this are, again, rather large; but as far as the war itself was concerned, at least to me, it was a significant, but not a large part of it. So it was certainly a surprise for us to see this, and I think the type of horror that we saw was quite unlike that which we saw in war itself, where equals killing or -- we like to think we were better. But in many respects the German soldier was a much better soldier than we were. Maybe not -- I'm not saying our outfit, but in the American Army in general. Because I think in spite of fact that we hated them, they killed us and we killed them, I think in the long run you have to respect them for their professionalism and their ability to do what they did.

SF: So in terms of pure fighting professionalism.

SI: Absolutely. Professionalism and expertise and their dedication to what they were supposed to do. I think in many respects, I think we overwhelmed them with our endless supplies, huge numbers, and the general effort that we did; but for what they had -- I think if you really look at what they did with what they had, as far as professional fighting machine, putting aside the political ideology of the system, they really did a bang-up job. And I think from that respect, you have to respect their ability. And I think in many ways it's like the Japanese military fought for Japan and the Germans. I think they share a lot of the spirit of nationalism, the spirit of sacrifice, and the real dedication of the two societies to confront, right or wrong, the aims of their leaders. So I think there's a close parallel in this.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

SF: To get back to Dachau for one second, wasn't there a Captain Jack Andrews or Anderson. I'm trying to think of it. Now, this guy apparently --

SI: Who was it?

SF: Captain Jack Anderson, Andrews.

SI: Andrews. Jack Andrews, yes.

SF: Now he talked to you and George, right, and he apparently went off on his own to the main camp early on. Is that right?

SI: Right, right. He, for some reason -- he died about four years ago or so. He came to the... I think, yes, he did come to the San Francisco reunion and shortly after that he died. He's very reluctant to talk about this and from what I can gather -- I know him very well. We visited them in Texas and became very good friends. I still communicate with his son, Bill Andrews. He's in San Antonio, no -- Austin, Texas, and I still communicate with his wife. He apparently saw or experienced some contact with the Dachau prisoners, but the best, from what I can gather, he's very reluctant to talk about it because he was at a place where he was not supposed to be. And he was a real Texan. He could shoot his .45 as accurately as I could shoot a 30 caliber carbine. He was incredible. In Texas they grow up with guns. But he... I really can't add more to this story other than that he has mentioned, not to me, but maybe to George or someone, some of his experiences in seeing, or what camp he went to or what... but it's too bad. He won't -- he didn't, he did not elaborate on his direct contact or experience with Dachau. And I think Billy Taylor, whom I believe is still alive, also had some contact with Dachau and the prisoners, but I don't know how much he's related of his experiences or exactly what they were. But I think the best, total compilation of evidence that exists is Ted Sukiyama's portion of the Fire for Effect book. Ted sent me several versions of it while he was writing it, and I tried help him wherever I could. And I talked, I got other people to write their experiences. I even sent out a questionnaire. I sent out, no agenda that I had, but I wanted to get as much evidence as I could for our involvement with Dachau and Dachau prisoners. I get very little response, I must say.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

SF: I wanted to ask you this question about the kind of long term effects. Do you think that the 442, the 522, the 100th, that Japanese America could ever see something like that again? What I'm thinking of is, what if you put a bunch of Sanseis together and say that we still had a segregated Army? In your sort of speculation, do you think that it's possible that they would perform similarly to the 442 or that no way in hell would that ever happen again because of the kind of unique character and historical circumstances of the 442.

SI: I think, in general, I think the Sansei could perform like the Nisei did, but I don't think that the situation is any way comparable in that, not that this could happen, but if it were to happen -- well, the Sansei are so diluted, so intermarried, so Americanized. My youngest son, who is now 35, was born in Wellesley and grew up there. He went to local schools. He would, when he was three or four, would point at the TV and says oh, Japanese. He didn't realize he was Japanese, full-blooded Japanese, and none of our kids accept themselves -- well, they realize they're Japanese. At least some of them like sashimi and tsukemono and rice, but they speak virtually no Japanese. They, except amongst themselves, have no Japanese friends or colleagues, and my grandchildren are even further displaced from being associated with Japanese. I have two grandsons that are half Japanese and the other half is Jewish Swedish. And the other two grandchildren are, I think, Irish English and half Japanese. And I don't see how this generation -- well, I can't envision a situation arising where an equivalent unit might be formed from this ethnic group.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

SI: But as you were... as a Nisei, I was, I have been totally accepted as an equal amongst my peers in the field that I'm in. And my former chairman, who became an academic dean, lives in Montana, very good friend. We went to trips to Alaska together, I visited him three times since he moved to Montana, and I call him every few weeks, and I send him material. I followed him to Africa. He was there five years and he said, "Why don't you take my job? I'll come job and run your lab," so we exchanged offices. He says, "Sus, I know you're Japanese, but I really forget that you're any different from any of us." And he's only two years older, but he sort of considers me his son. And being accepted in the field without any apparent, obvious, or evidence that I'm different from any other Caucasian, Italian, any other ethnic group, I really feel that in one generation from sharecropper, poorly educated, parents to --

SF: Harvard professor.

SI: Yeah. They made very few of us professors because it's a very unique situation where the university has to have endowment for your salary for life before they can appoint a professorship for tenure, and associate professor is not tenured there. And you have eleven years to get tenure or out, and I've been there thirty some odd years. So about seven or eight years after, my friend in Montana, he put me through without my even knowing about this. He came on there and he says, "Sus, well, I got you through." I said, "What do you mean?" "I got you tenure at Harvard." "Really?" He just did it all on his own. He done all the ground work and the procedure is unlike any other university where it goes through -- I've been on several committees for some of these. And, anyway, so I feel that in one generation I've made a significant transition, and again, I think, I owe it -- I like to owe it to my mother and her basic outlook on life and doing what you can. Oh, my dad used to say, one other thing, is that he was a poor sharecropper farmer and not a very good one, as I said; but he said, "It doesn't matter what you do." He says you could become a professional ditch digger or a mechanic or -- he didn't have high hopes for me in any way -- but he says, "Do it the best you can, and if you become the best ditch digger around or in the country or whatever boundaries you want to set, that in itself is reward enough." So if I look back on what I did, this is essentially, whatever I do, become a mechanic or become a soldier or become -- now I'm doing carpentry and painting. I try to do the best I can and if I'm satisfied and happy with what I have done and do, well, I don't care what the hell anybody else thinks, I'm happy with myself that I've done this. I'd like to see my garage some day. [Laughs] But I think that is my general outlook and I have a good friend from Japan, who died two years ago, from Japanese nobility, Katsuma, Dan. I met him in the research lab in Woods Hole (Marine Biological Lab), we became lifelong friends. I visit him in Japan, he comes to stay with me in the U.S, and he says, you know Sus -- he became president of Tokyo Metropolitan University. He was from the University of Tokyo and he's almost revered in Japan as an eminent scholar. He says, "You know, Sus, whatever you do in life, try to be happy with what you're doing." And he says, "You know, if this world gains one more person who's satisfied with what he's done, what he's doing, and is happy with this, it's a real credit to the population of the world." And I think that if you keep this in mind, that whatever small niche that you might have in life on our relatively short stay in the world, you end up with many colleagues, friends, relatives and so forth; some of whom don't agree with you, fine, that's great; some of them who do and support you, but in the end I think it's satisfaction with yourself -- that at least you've done the best you could. And if you're happy with this, you're a credit to this world. And I like to think of it, life in general, in this way.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.