Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Bill Thompson Interview
Narrator: Bill Thompson
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: June 30, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-tbill-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So I'm gonna get started here. And, I guess the first question I wanted to ask you was, how did you first hear about the efforts to clear Shiro Kashino's name?

BT: Okay. I was at the 442 clubhouse. I go there off and on. And it just happened that Sadaichi Kubota was there that day. And we got to sitting down and talking story. I think we had coffee and doughnuts. And then he mentioned what he was doing about this case. And I said, "Oh, you gonna need records. Since I'm familiar with the 442 archival records, oh, let me help you." And he said, "Oh, that's good. We need that sort of help or information." Then he went back to Hilo and he wrote me a letter saying, give me the background of this. And besides giving me the background, he wrote why he was helping Kashino. And his letter was a beautiful letter. Reading the letter, I got carried -- well, I don't say carried away, but it took my mind back to the battlefields. What Sadaichi mentioned about Kash reminded me of the guys that I had gone to battle with, about unselfishness, helping another guy carry the load. When I got through reading that, I thought, "Gee, if I can help him I'm gonna help him whatever way I can." And that started the ball rolling.

TI: Now how did you know Sadaichi Kubota? How did the two of you know each other?

BT: Okay. I was born in Hilo. I went to the 442 from Hilo. After I came back from the army, I was at the university. After I graduated, I went back to Hilo and worked for the Water Department. We have a veterans' club of Hawaii on the Big Island in Hilo. And Sadaichi was an active member, and I got to know him. He was working for the plantation off and on, different functions. So I knew him quite well. And, I guess he knew me quite well enough to ask for help.

TI: Okay. Good.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: You said that you had the history of the 442 and collecting all these documents. What -- why were you doing that? What made you so interested in the 442?

BT: My friend Richard Yamamoto, Sus Yamamoto, is in Washington, D.C., retrieving the records for the 442 archive, for the Sons and Daughters' archives. Every now and then he would send me something that was interesting, on his own. And then he would direct me to some of the records that he was sending over for me to take a look at. And if it was interesting enough, I would make a copy now and then. And I finally amassed a sort of a small library about the 442, based on the archival materials. Yeah, but without Sus, I, we wouldn't have these materials.

TI: And what were some of the things you did with your archival materials? Did you use that for certain little projects or things that you wrote, or -- what did you use this archive for?

BT: Oh, let's see. Well, one of the example I can cite is for this Varsity Victory Volunteer project. These were the ROTC students that got a bum deal. Eventually they opened the door for the 442. And the university, at the urging of the legislature, decided to honor them on the campus. And the VVV asked me to take the lead in that, so I started gathering information about the VVV, more so about those seven that died during the war. And for this, I had to go to the archive materials -- when they died, how they died.

TI: Uh huh. So you were viewed as someone who had a lot information, who could sort of help with all these projects or...?

BT: Yeah. If I can help on anything pertaining to the 442, I'm more than eager to help.

TI: In the case -- going back to the Kashino case, what documents from Washington, D.C., or Sus Yamamoto, were the most valuable in helping the case?

BT: Okay. As far as Kashino's case go now, a special court-martial, after a certain period of time, the record of trial or the trial record (whatever they call it) is destroyed. The only thing that remains is the decision of the court-martial. This is attached to the soldier's record. So, all Kashino retrieved was the special court-martial orders. This was the charges against him and the decision. Now what I did -- go to the record to fill in between those things.

TI: So you got the actual case materials? I mean the...?

BT: Okay. I went to the record and I found out the date they were picked up. The... there was account -- description of who was picked up, where they were picked up. I also had to rely on the record to find out where the unit was stationed at different times.

TI: So these were, this was all information that you could fill in to help present a package to the military for another review?

BT: That's right.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's talk about -- before we even talk about that, you were working with the Kashinos, and yet you had not met Shiro face-to-face? This was all over the phone?

BT: No. I'd read about him, but I've never met him.

TI: And, so your communication was primarily over the phone and letters?

BT: Well, Sadaichi told Kash that he was getting my help, and Kash wrote me, oh, I'd say a two-page letter explaining some of the circumstances. And from then on we started writing, but quite a bit over the telephone.

TI: Can you recall some of the things that Kash said to you over the phone? Not so much about the facts, but was he pretty appreciative of your efforts to help him?

BT: Well, I had to fight -- what they always would say over the phone -- okino doku. "Let's stop it -- okino doku." I said, "No. I'm here to help you. Don't worry." They were afraid of the cost of the -- like the stamps that we were using, the mailing expenses, printing. And I said, "No, let's forget about the cost. Let's just do it." In fact, he sent me a check one time. I returned it to him. Well, my point in that was that I'm not there to get paid. And if I am to be reimbursed, that means that I have to worry about using their money wisely. Now that may deter me from doing something that may go to a dead end. And I'm gonna feel bad that, gee, I shouldn't have done this. So I said, "No, no money involved now."

TI: But Kash kept on saying, "Just stop. Let it, don't do any more." But...

BT: Yeah. If we're working too hard -- "Gee, okino doku on you folks."

TI: But still, you got a sense, though, he did want you to keep doing this?

BT: Oh, definitely.

TI: Right, but he...

BT: Well, I'm glad Louise was next to him when we were talking, so...

TI: Okay. What about Louise? Did you talk much with her over the phone, too, or was it mostly with Kash?

BT: Oh, I'd say, oh, well, until Kash got sick, most of the time with Kash. Then after Kash started feeling bad, then with Louise.

TI: And we should establish that you got involved about two years ago? This was back in 1996?

BT: I think this was early 1996.

TI: Okay. So a little more than two-and-a-half years ago is when you first got involved.

BT: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: One of the things that you helped on was putting together this package. You filled in a lot of the details that was sent to the military to review the case. Can you describe some of the parts of this package? What was included in this package?

BT: Well, in preparing, in helping Louise and Kash prepare the report, they would have to feed me information. And based on that, I would do a little research and, then, I would feed it back to them. So, it's just like -- I would say -- something that they prepared with my assistance. They had to initiate it. They had to provide the background information. For example, one of the things that I corrected first, Kash mentioned that he got into this br -- scuffle at Sospel. Our unit had been at Sospel for, I think, well over a month, maybe month-and-a-half. And he said -- so I told him, "There was no bar at Sospel. We were at Sospel long time. If there was a bar, it was big secret. But there was no bar. You got it wrong." And then he kinda backed down, and said, "Yeah." Then I went back to the records again. And, "See on a certain date, you folks were in this area." And it just happened to be in southern France where I Company was guarding a large area near Menton, Beausoleil, down by the coast. Then Sadaichi and Kash started putting their heads together and they referred me to different people. And then we finally didn't nail it down, except that it was near Menton in southern France. Yeah. That I had to be very careful the information that I was going to give Kash would be accurate. We didn't want his application to... we didn't want him to be embarrassed that there was something erroneous in his application.

TI: So that was one of your key roles was almost to check all the facts that were, what was in this proposal, when they, names, dates, locations?

BT: Well, it was Sadaichi and I put our heads together and we would exchange letters, little phone calls off and on. In fact, we used to correspond so regularly, I used to tell Sadaichi, "The post office is making a profit on us. They made $1 million the other year." So Sadaichi and I said, "Maybe we helped. "

TI: Who were some of the other people who were involved putting together the package? It was Sadaichi, you, the Kashinos. Was there anyone else?

BT: Well, their names escape me, because I was given a lot of I Company names, especially in the Los Angeles area. They would refer me to someone else, who in turn would feed, refer me to someone else. Now Kash could have done this, but being in Seattle it would be difficult for him. Because Sadaichi and I were together, it would be easier for me to handle that part. And then my problem in contacting people was that I'd say, "This Kashino case, and I'm trying to get information." And they'd say, "Yes, what kind of information?" And I'd say, "Well, you know he was court-martialed. We're trying to find out something." Then they say, "Oh, by the way, who am I talking to?" And I would say, "Bill Thompson." Then there would be a big silence. Then I would have to explain, "I was with the 442. I'm not an outsider. I'm part-Japanese." And then we would continue the discussion. I'd say that was one of the, not an obstacle, but one of the things that I had to laugh about. Yeah, I thought of changing my name to "Thompsonokawa". [Laughs]

TI: That's funny. Was that a common thing during the war, too? That when they saw your name, Bill Thompson, the guys in the 442, if they didn't know you, would sort of stop and...?

BT: Oh, yeah. They'd say, "We got a haole over here. Oh, who's this officer?" Or something like that.

TI: And when people did that, how would you respond?

BT: Oh, I'd laugh.

TI: Because your mannerisms, I would think that once they started talking with you, they would...?

BT: Well, if, they would ask me, "Are you Japanese or haole?" And, I would say, "Who's winning?" [Laughs]

TI: That was -- they would laugh, and they'd be, okay?

BT: Yeah. I don't know. Some people, especially some on the mainland, were very hurt about being lumped with the Japanese, being considered Japanese even though they were raised more in an American home rather than in Japanese home.

TI: Were there times when the guys in the 442, because your last name was Thompson, that they could have you do certain things that they couldn't do? I'm not sure. I'm thinking that they might have you go ask for something because your name was Bill Thompson, and that it might go through rather than having a Japanese name?

BT: No, I don't recall anything like that.

TI: Okay. I was just curious.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Let's go back to that package that you prepared with Kubota and the Kashinos. When it was all ready to go and you sent it off to the military, what did you get -- what were you guys thinking? Did you guys think that this was going to be a good package to get changes?

BT: Yes. When Kashino had first made his application, one of the response he got back was that, to strengthen his case he needed information about how that scuffle started. They asked for Chaplain Yamada's input, or the soldier who started the scuffle. Well, the chaplain had passed away several years before, so I told Sadaichi we had to contact the soldier who started the scuffle. And at first he was real adamant. He was mad about the whole thing. He didn't want anything to do with it.

TI: So the soldier who actually first hit the soldier -- did you talk with this soldier?

BT: Yes. I called him over the phone. And I told him what I was doing and about Kash's involvement, and he was very, oh, antagonistic. He said he wanted to bury the matter. As far as he's concerned, it's a dead issue. Well, I felt disappointed, little angry at his attitude, but I felt that over the years, because everyone seemed to think that he had started it, that the blame belongs with him. And looking at what had happened -- he was at the bar and I think that he was feeling no pain. And what happened was really a matter of circumstances. Instinctive, the way he brushed off the MP. And I don't think he realized fully what happened at the bar. No. So we had to -- his attitude that he wants to forget it. That he got a bum deal. I sort of agree with him, sympathize with him.

TI: But how did you convince him to come forward?

BT: No, it was Sadaichi and another I Company fellow that Sadaichi knows that went to see him, because over the phone, he brushed Sadaichi off, also. But Sadaichi and this other fellow, I think his name was Matsumoto, went over to see him personally. And then he finally relented and he gave a short statement. But he did admit that he had been the one to start the scuffle.

TI: Good. So you had this short statement from him.

BT: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: And what else do you think you felt really good about in the package that you sent to D.C.?

BT: Okay. We had answered the question that had been posed to Kashino, getting a statement from the soldier who started the scuffle. Then the other thing is that I had asked Sus Yamamoto for help in Washington, D.C. And he had gone to the Judge Advocate General office and they had sent back information that military regulations, court-martial regulations, are available at the University of Hawaii. So I visited the library and looked over the manual of court-martials. And throughout the regulations, it comes out loud and clear that whoever is charged should be tried as soon as possible. In fact, for a general court-martial, which is the -- I guess you'd say the strictest penalty, facing a general court-martial... I think they had that the soldier should be charged, I think, in (what is it?) eight days or two weeks? And this was only a special court-martial, which is a lesser degree than the general. And here they were one month in southern France and no charges, no trial. The other thing is that throughout the manual, they always talk about a defense counsel. And I kept hopping on Kash, "Double-check with Fred Matsumura, double-check with Sadaichi. Was there a defense counsel -- did any officer approach you folks as being a defense counsel?" And they all said, "No." In fact, in Fred Matsumura's initial affidavit, he asked the question, "Why was there no one to serve as his defense counsel?" So here again, now the delay in trial and no defense counsel, I think, was a very serious breach of military regulations.

TI: And I think a third one was the change of venue, too. It happened in France.

BT: Well, yeah, because of the delay. Yeah. The change in venue from France to Italy. That means that the MP officer could not appear at the trial. But when we found out that the MP officer didn't want to -- wanted charges dropped, again that changed the whole picture that, "Why was the trial held in the first place?"

TI: And how did it come about, how did we know, or how did you know, that the MP officer wanted the charges dropped?

BT: Okay, this happened early in the Kashino appeal. In fact, Kashino based his appeal on a statement from Sadaichi Kubota that Chaplain Yamada was on the phone line with their battalion commander talking to the MP officer, and the chaplain told Sadaichi that the MP officer wanted charges dropped. And this is what Sadaichi recalled back in, I think, 1983 or '85, when the I Company had their reunion, and he -- and Kashino was being teased about the court-martial, that Sadaichi mentioned this to Kash, "Why don't you appeal your court-martial, because it was wrong?" And I guess that's where the thing started.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Okay, so this package was sent. What was the response? What happened after it was sent off? What was the response back from the government?

BT: Okay. That package in 1996, I think it was on June or so I think, when it was put together. The Army Board for Corrections of Military Records told Kashino that he would get his staff sergeant stripe back, his fines would be rescinded. And, let's see, well, and they said that his court-martial conviction still stands. They cannot erase that. It would have to be the Judge Advocate General. But Kashino was happy that he got his sergeant stripe back and his fines were rescinded. So, in other words, it seems as though the court-martial was in error.

TI: But it was -- so at this point, so he got his rank back and the fine rescinded, but the court-martial was not overturned?

BT: Yes.

TI: How did people feel about that? Were people pretty pleased? Was that pretty much what people expected? Or were they expecting more?

BT: Well, I think Kashino was very happy on that, and Louise, too, that he got his sergeant stripes back. And his, well, the fines was small amount. But the main thing was that he got his sergeant stripes back, that his demotion wasn't done properly.

TI: So was there -- did some people want to just stop right then? Or did the people want to say, "Let's keep going and go for the overturn of the court-martial?"

BT: Well, I think Louise and Kashino, discussing that over the phone, mentioned that, well, his goal was to get his sergeant stripe back, but maybe we should stop now. But when we first started this, we didn't know anything about the Judge Advocate General role in the court-martial conviction. You know, we thought that the Army Board of Corrections for Military Records would handle everything. But when we found out there was this other thing, that the court-martial still stands, then we said, "Well, we've come this far. Why not go all the way?"

TI: And, this is sort of a tangent, but can you explain the Judge Advocate General and his role in that? So is it one person or is it a panel? How does that work?

BT: I'm not sure. On TV you see what, the, "JAG"? Handsome guys running around, but no. The people that we dealt with were colonels and major generals. And I think looking at the correspondence that Patsy Mink and the others, or Senator Dan Inouye had written, there were different major generals involved. So they have, well, I guess they got many cases to handle, so they probably have different judges that sit in.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So you essentially sent the same package to the Judge Advocate General?

BT: No, we had to make it stronger. When we got the package back, well, the decision from the military court of -- Military Board for Corrections of Military Records, they said, "Considering everything, you got your stripes back, your fines rescinded." But they didn't say why they did that. That they believed what we wrote, I guess. So we felt that, gee, we'd have to strengthen this when we go to the Judge Advocate General's office. And when we all looked at it, there was one thing that was missing. We always said that the MP officer wanted the charges dropped. We said, "Gee, if we get this, then we have the last, the last puzzle or the last piece in our puzzle would be complete." And that's what we spent probably six months or so, trying to locate this MP officer.

TI: And this was the story -- we're going to talk to Clarence Taba later, but...

BT: Yeah.

TI: ...he was the one who located, I believe his name is Suro, and got him to write a letter. And so that was then part of the package that was sent?

BT: Yeah. It was a matter of chance, I guess, circumstances. About a week or two weeks before this bankers' convention in Honolulu, Sadaichi had made arrangement for me to appear at the I Company, Item Company, monthly meeting. So I dropped in on the meeting, and I gave them a report of what we had done so far, that Kash got his stripes back. And I said we're trying to appeal his court-martial conviction. And I kept impressing, "We got this special court-martial orders, and now Kashino finally find out, found out, who the MP officer was." And I kept saying, "This guy, George Suro Jr. We have to find this George Suro Jr." Well, Clarence was at the meeting and I guess the name stuck with him. And couple weeks later at the national bankers' convention, he bumped into this Puerto Rican banker, and he mentioned that he was looking for George Suro. And the banker just happened to say, "He's my good friend," and that was it. Yeah, our search was over.

TI: And by this time, Kash was quite ill, too. And I know he was not doing well about this time.

BT: Okay. We first... the bankers' convention was, I think, in October of '96. And November, Clarence Taba made a trip, a business trip, to Puerto Rico. And then he made arrangements to visit with George Suro Jr. And Kash was, I guess, still in good health. But it was about that time that we started corresponding with the, with George Suro, Colonel George Suro Jr., that Kash took a turn for the worse. Yeah, we didn't know about that. In May, Louise wrote a letter to me saying that Kash had been ill, in and out of the hospital. And what I did, it was a time when, I guess, she was so busy, preoccupied, that she couldn't contact us. So I have a friend in Seattle, good friend of the Kashinos, Yoshito Mizuta, I don't know whether you know him, and I asked him to check how Kash is doing in the hospital. Well, he called me back and said, "You know, Bill, Kash is in bad shape." The family had kept this under wraps. "But, because you're my friend and you had asked me to follow up," they did allow Mizuta to visit with Kash. And then he told me that Kash was in bad shape.

TI: How did that make you feel, or what were you thinking, when you heard that Kash was not doing well at this point?

BT: I was hoping that he would make it. Well, he had been ill before, so we were hoping that he would pull through again.

TI: Right, but I know in talking to the Kashino family, they knew that Suro had been found and that he was writing this letter. So that was, I know, good news that they were telling Kash, even though, when he was in the hospital.

BT: Yeah. What happened was that we got a letter back from Suro, I think this was in May. Suro said, "Yes," he recalls the incident. "Yes," he wanted charges dropped. "Yes," he shook hands with the boys, saying, "No hard feelings." And I passed that letter on to Kash, and he and Louise read that and Kash said, "Gee, Bill, I think we got it." And I said, "Heck, yes." Yeah. So even though he passed away, I think having that letter from Suro verifying what he had said in his application, that they had shook hands, and what the chaplain said that the charges should be dropped, the colonel, or the MP officer wanted the charges dropped, everything fell into place. And, here we had the most important, or most convincing, proof that was needed.

TI: So you had that last piece. And now you sent this off to the judge -- Judge Advocate General.

BT: Yes.

TI: What happened then? What was the next thing that happened?

BT: Okay. Louise called me, very sad, that Bill, we got turned down. Why don't we just drop it already? Kash is not here.

TI: What were the reasons they turned it down?

BT: Just a short letter saying, "You haven't presented any evidence to bring the, to justify reviewing the case."

TI: And how did you feel at that point, when you heard that they turned it down?

BT: Well, when they turned us down, and if they gave a good reason, yeah, I would say, "Okay, let's throw in the towel." But no reason. Just saying, you didn't provide a reason. So I told Louise, "It's not right. They should tell us why, specifically. So let's appeal that." Well, in the meantime, I had talked to the staff in Senator Inouye's office, and she had called one of the colonel in the Judge Advocate General office. And she had asked whether it would be proper to appeal the decision. And the colonel said, "Go ahead." And Patsy Mink also, when she heard about this says, "Don't give up." So we had friends in high places that were back on this. And I think that after all Kash went through we couldn't stop, for his sake, for Louise's sake, and the daughters -- no, let's go through and finish.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So what did you do? How did you pursue it further?

BT: Well, I told Louise that she had to prepare a letter asking for the Judge Advocate General to reconsider his decision. And we helped her prepare her letter. Yeah. So I guess she expressed her feeling in that letter that sort of, maybe woke up the -- woke the compassionate feeling in the major general who was reviewing the case. Yeah, and then well, I think what we had to do was stress that the evidence that we were presented was not available until recently. And I guess that was convincing. So that opened the case, and then I guess the Judge Advocate General reached the logical conclusion that the court-martial shouldn't have been.

TI: And what were your feelings when you heard that they overturned the court-martial?

BT: Well, Louise was kind of choked over the phone when she read the letter to me. And, wow, I felt, well, what do you say? All high, emotional, something that you look forward to long time, and finally you've got it. And I think it took me about two days to realize the importance of the judge's decision. I had to think about it, what we did, why we got it this way. But it's just (like) going to the Supreme Court and having a case won. This was the highest military court. So it was something that, well, we should be grateful for, thankful for. But it was a victory that Kash had really worked hard for and deserved.

TI: It's just too bad that he didn't live to see it happen.

BT: Well, in a way, when he died just before, right after the judge's decision. When we asked for the appeal, I guess they must have taken that into consideration that here a guy has spent the last couple years of his life fighting a court-martial of dubious circumstances that violated key points in the army court-martial manual.

TI: So to his last dying day he was still fighting. He was still a fighter.

BT: That's why I call it his last battle, yeah.

TI: That's good.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: The overturn of the court-martial has meant a lot to the Kashino family. We've talked to them quite a bit. And the last two years you've worked really hard helping them. In two days, Louise Kashino, her children, and her grandchildren are all coming to Honolulu. And one of the things that they really wanted to do was to meet you. When you meet them in two days, what are you planning to say to them?

BT: I met them at the airport when they came in on their way to Maui. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, okay. Well, then let me ask, what did you say to them?

BT: Well, they were all these gals standing up, and I was wondering, are they all sisters? [Laughs] The daughters are grown up. Even their granddaughters is grown up. No, it was, well, I'd say casual. But deep inside, I guess we felt that, well, like I told them, when I see them, I'm going to say, "Hajime mashite."

TI: I'm sorry, what's hajime mashite mean?

BT: What's that?

TI: Hajime mashite means what? You're talking to a Sansei.

BT: Oh, "First time I'm seeing you." Hajime mashite.

TI: Oh, okay. That's good. Do you remember anything that she said to you, or any of the daughters said to you that meant a lot to you at this meeting?

BT: No. They were busy unpacking all the salmon they brought, as omiyage for the I Company boys, yeah. No, but no, after, let's see, about six months now since the decision. No, I guess everybody's feelings have gone back to normal, that we're not as keyed up as we were. I'm thankful for that. Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: -- start off, Bill, by just asking where and when were you born?

BT: Oh, I was born in Hilo, town on the island of Hawaii, back in 1924.

TI: And what was Hilo like back in the 1920s?

BT: Oh, Heaven on Earth. Heaven on Earth. On a sunny day, it's, there's no more beautiful place than Hilo.

TI: And, so when you think back, can you remember, sort of some childhood memories that really stand out that, when you say it was such a beautiful place, can you recall or describe something that gives it...?

BT: Beautiful place. Beautiful people. Got nothing but wonderful memories of Hilo.

TI: Tell me just briefly about your parents, and who they were and where they came from.

BT: My grandparents came from Hiroshima. My mother was born on Maui. My father was born in Scotland.

TI: Okay. And do you know how they got together, the two of them? Or where they met?

BT: I wasn't there. [Laughs]

TI: I know you weren't there. But did they ever tell you a story of how they met, the two of them?

BT: No. I think my father was working for the railroad, and I guess my mother was working at one of the railroad executive's home, I guess.

TI: Okay. And they met and they got together. Going back and just growing up. Can you tell me the type of schools you went to growing up, and what that was like?

BT: When you say type of schools...?

TI: Public versus private, or...

BT: Oh, public schools, public schools.

TI: I come from the mainland, so I don't know much about the public schools, but can you describe to me what the schools were like? Like how large were the classes, things like that? Just tell me about those things.

BT: Well, the classes would be about thirty to forty.

TI: And what about the, your classmates? Were they a wide mixture of different races, like Japanese, Korean, Filipino, different ones, or how would that...?

BT: Well, it was a mixture.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay, I'm gonna quickly get up to the war years. And generally, a question that we ask people, since it was such an important date, was on December 7th, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Can you recall what you were doing that day and how you heard about the attack?

BT: I was working at a service station, and saw all the cars going back and forth, rushing along the highway. And then the announcement came that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. And then the owner said to close down the station. So I went home.

TI: Can you remember what you were thinking when this was going on?

BT: I kind of forgot.

TI: Okay. Eventually they allowed, or they decided, to form the 442, or to allow Americans of Japanese ancestry to volunteer for the military. And you were one of the ones who decided to volunteer. I guess the question is, why did you decide to volunteer?

BT: I felt that I just had to go. You know, just that your country needed you. You have to go for your country, yeah.

TI: And was that pretty much true amongst the people that you knew, your friends and other people?

BT: Yeah, my friends were signing up, too. I heard about that, so I figured yeah, I'm going with them.

TI: And what kind of reactions -- I guess my first question is, what positive reactions? Did people think that was a good idea? And what were they saying when they heard that you were volunteering?

BT: Actually, generally they were proud of what we were doing. There was some that said, "Well, you shouldn't." But generally speaking, I would say they were proud of what we were doing. Well, we were too young to know what we were doing anyway.

TI: Do you remember the ones who said that you shouldn't volunteer? What were they saying? What did they say? Can you recall?

BT: No. Not that you shouldn't volunteer for your country, but that, oh, I think that used to -- you know, well, I guess I never had that said to me personally. But some others said, "Well, you should stay home, take care of your parents," or things like that.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Now I'm going to jump really forward now all the way to Camp Shelby. And I guess the first question is, what was Camp Shelby when you first got there? Do you remember what it was like?

BT: Well, we used to sing a song where -- used to say it was the bottom of the United States. [Laughs] No, it was a rugged area. The weather was either too hot or too chilly.

TI: So it was, it wasn't like Hawaii?

BT: Oh, no, no.

TI: Then I guess one thing, the Hawaiian boys got to Camp Shelby, and already there were mainland Japanese there. I guess, what was it like when you first met the mainland Japanese?

BT: Boy, they all talk like Ronald Colman.

TI: Now, who is Ronald Colman?

BT: He's a movie actor that starred in Lost Horizons and A Tale of Two Cities. Beautiful English.

TI: And, so what did that make you feel, when you came across these Japanese Americans who had beautiful English?

BT: Oh, I wish I could talk like that.

TI: What was it like getting along with the mainlanders, for the Hawaiian boys?

BT: Oh, I don't know. Ah, we had mainland and Hawaii boys together. Little differences at first, but eventually they all ironed out.

TI: One of the things that we talked about earlier was the VVV, the Varsity Victory Volunteers...

BT: Yes.

TI: ...who were primarily former ROTC students, how it was good to have them around, because they had quite a bit of sometimes military understanding or background at Camp Shelby. Can you talk a little bit about that?

BT: Yes. The Varsity Victory Volunteers were primarily ROTC students that were called to duty on December 7. And, later on, they were dismissed for the fact that they were Japanese. Then, they volunteered their services and served as a labor battalion, about 169 of them. Then, they did a good job. In fact, they achieved a good record that kinda paved the way for the formation of the 442, that it was impressed on the higher authorities that these young Niseis want to serve their country. And I think the VVV proved that in the early days of the war. And when we went overseas they were scattered throughout the 442. And with their knowledge on military matters, they could stand up to some of the NCOs that would try to show off that we were young recruits, and try to buffalo us. But no, these university students would shape up those NCOs. They, "You're wrong. This is what we do." And I keep thinking particularly of Sus Yamamoto and Herbert Isonaga, who were in our company. And they did help, I wouldn't say show up the sergeants, but put the sergeants in their place, that they weren't dealing with some back-country boys.

TI: So that was probably good, because the mainland NCOs would quickly learn that there were people who really understood what was going on, and so that probably gave them more respect for the Hawaiians.

BT: I kind of think so, plus, that the officers in examining the records of those Varsity Victory Volunteers has to be impressed. And I think eventually it proved out where many of them became NCOs themself, and some even got battlefield commissions.

TI: Another thing when I think of the, some of the differences between the mainland and the Hawaiian boys, was you talked about earlier that the mainlanders talked a different English. You say that it was a beautiful English. Were there ever misunderstandings just from the language between the mainlanders and the Hawaiians?

BT: We take it for granted that our colorful pidgin English is accepted English, and, yeah, there were times when the mainland people couldn't understand some of the words we would say, that tempers would flare a little bit at times.

TI: Can you give an example of a word or a phrase that a mainlander would have a hard time understanding?

BT: Okay. We used the word pau quite frequently. Pau means "it's over." Or hemo. Hemo means "to take off." Hapai means "to carry", and those are accepted words in our ordinary conversation. So some of these words would fall on deaf ears as far as the mainlanders were concerned.

TI: And the Hawaiians wouldn't understand that they didn't understand the pidgin English, that they would think, "Well, I just said something, and they don't understand it?"

BT: That's right.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Going back to the VVV, you're quite knowledgeable about their history. Why don't you talk a little bit about why you're so knowledgeable and some of things that you've done to, in particular I'm thinking of the University of Hawaii sculpture there. Why don't you talk a little bit about that project?

BT: Okay. Back in 1990 I think, there was, I think the Fifteenth Annual National AJA Convention over in Kona. And we had a good group that turned out from our chapter. And I got to talking to some of the VVV boys that served with us. We had five of them in our Headquarters, Second Battalion. And I said, "What you folks did was remarkable", that "there should be some special honor given to you folks." And the VVV boys says, "Oh, forget it. Who cares? Hey, we're not going to pat ourselves on the back," which is a trait of local Nisei. You don't pat yourself on the back.

So I kept thinking about that. And because I've done lot of work at the legislature, having been in government, I wrote a letter to the legislators asking them that some honor should be given to the Varsity Victory Volunteers by the University of Hawaii. And it started the ball rolling. And the university themselves, this is over about fifty years ago, said, "Gee, we didn't know about this." And they enthusiastically endorsed the idea. And eventually a project evolved. There was a state law that says every construction that takes place, I think one or one-and-a-half percent is earmarked for artwork. So there was a new student services center building that came up, and I think $150,000 was earmarked for artwork. And the university decided that that money would be used to honor the Varsity Victory Volunteers.

TI: And this was primarily, or a lot of it, through your work of just making people in the legislature aware of what was going on?

BT: Well, like I said, I started the thing rolling, but everybody agreed. There was nobody that disagreed with that thing. It was only a matter of how the, how to honor the VVV. What sort of artwork or things like that? How should, it was just a matter of how should it be done? Not that whether or not it should be done. Everybody agreed that it should be done.

TI: Okay. And then, so in terms of the information on the plaque and information about the VVV, were you also helping in putting that together?

BT: Yes. On the plaque, it was an interesting thing. I waited for the VVV boys to come up with ideas what they would like on their plaque. And again, like I said, nobody want to pat themselves on the back. So I did put up something, wrote something down, and passed it on to the boys. Then they took it and then chopped it up and edit and then we came out with a plaque. Very short, concise, but it tells the story of the VVV in brief words, yeah.

TI: And when the VVV boys, when they saw the sculpture, the plaque, and everything together, how did they feel about that? Were they pretty pleased and proud?

BT: The VVV boys were very pleased. But I think more so that they have left something for the future generations to see. Yeah, I kept thinking that in putting the inscription up, that the names of the VVV boys should be inscribed on the base of the artwork. And some of them said, "Why?" I said, "You know, some day I want somebody to say, that was my grandfather, or that was my mother's uncle over there." I think this would give a sense of pride to the young generation as they pass through the campus. And in visiting the mainland campus, I see a lot of statues. And I kept thinking, "How come at the University of Hawaii we don't have something honoring somebody, and nothing around with the VVV?" So now we've got something that's a beautiful piece of artwork that honors, what I say, a gallant band of students.

TI: But, going back to those names, I understand that they didn't have the names, or did they have names on the base of all the VVV?

BT: Yes. On, you have a simple VVV on the front, on one side you have the story of the VVV, and on the other side you have the 169 names.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: You told me earlier, before the camera, that you didn't attend the opening ceremony, because part of this thing goes back to what you said about the local Nisei not wanting to pat themselves on the back. You helped out with that, and you helped out with the Kashino case, and just an observation that in a similar way, you probably don't like to pat yourself on the back. But it sounds like you were a key player in both those projects, and were probably not acknowledged in the newspapers or at that ceremony. But one question is, how, why do you think it is that you don't like to get patted on the back?

BT: There's several ways of looking at it. One is that once you start getting your name out, publicity, that anything you do after that, they're gonna say, "See, he's looking for added glory." And that kind of takes the steam out of what you're doing. So I prefer to stay in the background and just see that what I'm doing is completed successfully.

TI: Okay. So on future projects, people know that when Bill Thompson gets involved, it's really to get involved to make something happen, not to get publicity for Bill Thompson?

BT: Oh, definitely, yeah.

TI: So people know that and they respect you for that.

BT: Yeah, keep my credibility, let's say.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Bill, a question I wanted to ask 442 vets was that the 442 established an incredible record of honors and citations. And a question I wanted to ask the people who were there was, what was it that made the 442 a special unit?

BT: Doing my research for the VVV, I came across this story about one of the seven who died in the war. His name was Akio Nishikawa. Now in the 442, we have the motto that, "Go for Broke," you know, "Charge." But looking at this story on Akio Nishikawa, he got a, he received a Bronze Star for going to the aid of someone who had been hurt. Now his, the sergeant that was there told him, "Don't go with the shelling yet. Wait until it stops and then go." He says, "No." He went anyway. And he survived. And the guy is still alive today that he saved. A week later, same thing happened. Somebody got hurt, and again they told him, "Don't go, because wait until the firing stops." And he went again, and he got shot. Now in the citation that they developed for him for his Silver Star citation, his words came out, why did he go? His words came out, "Gotta go." And this, I think, is the spirit of the 442. You gotta go. You have to carry ammo up the hill, you gotta go. The boys are waiting. Somebody's hurt, you gotta go. And I think that's the spirit of the 442. You gotta do it. You have an obligation. Gotta go.

TI: Where did that spirit come from? What made them different to have this "gotta-go" spirit that was different from other army units?

BT: That I don't, probably it's the way we were brought up. I guess you look at Samurai pictures, when you have an assignment to do, you have to go, whether you gonna get killed or not. No, I think it was something that your honor is at stake, that if you pause, you're gonna lose something. No, I think Akio Nishikawa said it all when he said, "Gotta go," even though the enemy was still firing. It was somebody, his job was to tend to the wounded, so he gotta go. And I think same thing why we joined the army. We gotta go.

TI: In the same way, this spirit of the 442, it seems to keep going on. Here we are what, fifty-five years later and you're having another convention. And 442 vets from throughout the country are coming to Honolulu to get together. Can you talk a little bit about that special spirit, even fifty-five years later?

BT: It's why we get together. In Hawaii, everybody belongs to, well, they remember their high school class the most. They don't remember your university days. Some do, but your high school graduating class you stick together, you have your reunions. Now you can belong to other things in the community. Eventually you drop out. But the 442 and like your high school reunions are the two that keep remaining. And I think, speaking for our chapter, I think we don't belong to any social club outside of our regular chapter meeting, the 442. And I think we all belong to our high school year class, whatever it was.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: I guess one last question I wanted to ask was, just in general, you have done a lot of work in researching the 442. And I just wanted to ask you a general question for people who wanted to learn more about the 442, your thoughts about the books and whether or not the story of the 442 has been told sufficiently in the books out there right now.

BT: What was that now?

TI: Alright. So the question is, what do you think about the books about the 442?

BT: Okay. Some of the books are real outstanding. Some are good for the fact that they do bring up details or events that the other books haven't covered. But I think like in assessing the book, the first book by John Tsukano, I think, that I would consider the bible for the 442 history. And then the other books by Thelma Chang, Chester Tanaka, that are also interesting.

TI: Okay. Good. Is there anything else that you'd like to say? We're, I'm through with my questions. And if there's anything else that you would like to say to finish off this interview?

BT: To the what?

TI: Anything to finish the interview with. Any thoughts, or...?

BT: No. Well, gee. Well, there's so much to say, you don't know what to say. Yeah. No, well, having been in the 442, that in itself is a lifetime experience itself. One-shot deal. There'll never be another thing like that. And I think it's something that all the veterans really treasure.

TI: We didn't really talk about your role in the 442 in Europe, and we talked about that during the pre-interview. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you did in the 442 in Europe? What your role was?

BT: Oh, we were with the Headquarters Company, Second Battalion. I was with the Anti-tank Platoon, and we had all kinds of assignments. Guard a certain area, serve as litter-bearers, carry supplies to the front-line troops. Lot of odds and end things.

TI: Was there anything, any memory from the war, either positive or negative, that really stands out when you think about the war that you can share with us?

BT: No. There's a lot of things that you can't forget. But, I don't know what you mean by...

TI: Well, let me ask you this one. What was your most, your fondest memory of Europe?

BT: Fondest memory? Well, that we survived the war. No, but the... I can say, stirring memory would be at our -- when we hold service for those that died during the action. And I can always remember Chaplain Yamada (meant to say, Chaplain Higuchi) reading the words, "In my Father's house, there are many mansions." Everybody's calm, very quiet. No, those are the things that I have to think about, the boys who never came home, never raised a family, never enjoyed the Veterans' Bill of Rights. No, I cannot forget those boys.

TI: Okay. Thank you very much.

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