Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Walter Tanaka Interview
Narrator: Walter Tanaka
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: El Macero, California
Date: October 20, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-twalter-01-0001

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gky: Okay, the date is October 20th, the year 2000. We're in El Macero, California, and talking with Walter Tanaka, W-A-L-T-E-R Tanaka, T-A-N-A-K-A.

WT: That's right.

gky: Okay, well, you were already in the service when the war broke out.

WT: That's right.

gky: What happened to you when Pearl Harbor happened?

WT: Okay. Well, first of all, I received a draft notice like all able-bodied individuals that were of draft age. And I received the draft notice, and it was on June the 2nd, 1941, that I was called up for service. And I went to -- there were three of us Nisei from our hometown of San Louis Obispo and area, and so the three of us were given a reception, going away reception.


WT: Yes, so first of all, I received a draft notice like other able-bodied American men, and the draft notice for me to report on June the 2nd, 1941. And at that time in San Louis Obispo, which is my hometown, and the smaller towns in that vicinity, but there were three of us Nisei, Japanese Americans, that were called to report for draft duty. And then the local Japanese-American community, which includes the Issei, or first generation, and the Niseis, but the entire community came out and they gave me a party, they gave the three of us a party, at which I had to say a few words, and thank you. And after the reception, they all came to the railway station to send us off. And when they sent us off, when they sent the three of us off, they yelled, "Banzai," you know, typical Japanese fashion. Banzai that we were going to serve in the military. Of course, at that time, we thought that one year of service and our duties were over and then we'd come back home. So we left San Louis Obispo and the train took us up to San Francisco for a physical exam, and then later down to the army reception center at the Presidio of Monterey. And then we were assigned to basic training at Camp Roberts, California. This was about 40 miles from my hometown of San Louis Obispo. So at, in basic training, just like all the other troops that went there, we went for basic training and Camp Roberts was a, the main camp was a training camp for infantry heavy weapons.

And so I was there with the company under the 88th Training Battalion, heavy weapons training battalion and received basic training. And in this company that we were in, there was about four or five Nisei soldiers. And we received in the summer of 1941 -- this is, at Camp Roberts, you know -- the temperature went up to 115 or 120 degrees. And we went out in the field on road marches, and the lieutenant would come out and it was so hot that they would give us, he would give us salt pills to take. And so he would go down the rows and give us salt tablets to take, you know, so that we don't have a heat stroke. And then we went out and the, went on the march. And on occasion, we bivouacked, and we had close order drill on the playgrounds, and they did the usual things like soldiers did in basic training.

And at that time, we were just like anybody else, Americans going into the service and doing their duty and thinking that we would be coming out of the service when our year was over. And we had friends among the Caucasians. There was one Chinese and then the Nisei, and the rest were Caucasian, and we got along very well; there were no problems. And then after basic training at Camp Roberts, then we, our company, was sent to Fort Ord. And this is when we were assigned to regular line units, combat infantry. Well, at Fort Ord they had the 7th Division, infantry division, and this infantry division could be easily recognized by the fact that they had the shoulder patch with the black hourglass and the red background, and the very distinct markings. And so we were with the 7th Division under 17th Infantry Regiment, and I was in Company H. The fourth company in each battalion, in other words, like A, B, C, D. Well, D Company was heavy weapons, and then E, F, G, H. H Company was in heavy weapons. I was in H Company of 17th Infantry Regiment. So mind you, we've had all this training with heavy weapons at Camp Roberts, which included the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Springfield rifle because we still didn't have the new Garand rifles; we fired and stripped and trained with the 60 mm mortars, and 81 mm mortars, and so we got all this training to ready us for the combat infantry, which was at Fort Ord.

So I was at Fort Ord and then, suddenly, on a weekend -- this was on a weekend that I... I had cousins in Carmel Valley, and so on the weekend my relatives came from Carmel Valley, came after me and had me stay overnight at the Carmel Valley where they farmed. Well, the following morning, while I was still there in Carmel Valley, on the radio it was announced that Pearl Harbor was attacked. And, you know, a lot of us, we wondered where Pearl Harbor is. We'd never heard of Pearl Harbor or didn't know anything about it. But Pearl Harbor was attacked and there was a lot of ships that were on fire, and you know, war had started. And President Roosevelt announced that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, and that now we were at war, the United States was at war with Japan. And the radio announced that "all troops report back to duty to Fort Ord." And in those days, of course, we didn't have television, but we got the announcement by radio.

So my relatives took me back to camp and, that night or that afternoon, there was just an uproar with all kinds of preparations being made. And I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but when night came on, jeeps and trucks were pulled out and we went up into the hills of Fort Ord. And what happened was that night, all night long, we loaded ammunition, at least my company men, anyway, that we loaded ammunition into the machine gun belts. And to show you how unprepared we were with something like a war starting and fear that the West Coast might be attacked, that night, they were in fear of troops being in the barracks, sleeping in the barracks, and so we went up in the hills and in the, under the clumps of scrub oak trees, we got out and in the darkness with tents covering our activities. But we had to load up ammunition into the canvas belts in which machine gun bullets would be inserted. And the canvas belts were so brand new, never been used before, that we had a mechanical appliance with which you turned a crank and the bullets would be pushed into the brand new canvas belts and they just wouldn't go in properly. And so we finally had to push these bullets into the canvas belts, into the new belts, with our hands. And so during the night, anyway, I started to get blisters on my hands and you know, bleeding fingers. And we had to do that all night in order to be prepared with the machine guns where we have the ammunition in the belts.

So then the following morning, we went back to the barracks. And they ordered us to put all our clothing and equipment from footlockers and so forth, put them in two barracks bags. One was to be stuff that we immediately would take with us, including our equipment, and the other barracks bag was the non-essentials, personal things that we would store in the upstairs of the barracks. Then we got on trucks and the convoy went to the entire battalion. I don't know where the other battalion, or units went to, but our second battalion, we, in convoy went up to Santa Rosa, California, and, well, up to the time that we went up to Santa Rosa, California, there was no feeling of the fact that we were different. You know, we were American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, but nobody questioned whether we should be there or not. But we went up to Santa Rosa and the battalion were, the entire battalion as a headquarters was quartered in the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, and in an exposition building.

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