Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Howard H. Furumoto Interview
Narrator: Howard H. Furumoto
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: Hawaii
Date: December 5, 1985
Densho ID: denshovh-fhoward-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

HF: On December 7th, I was in my room studying as usual for an examination. All of a sudden there was an announcement on the radio which my roommate next door happened to have on. And it was a stark announcement by Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the declaration of war against Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th. Obviously I could not believe my ears at first, but gradually the truth of the situation sunk in. And that bit of history in my past changed the whole complexion of my educational process. At that point in time, then the education became secondary, and I immediately sought ways and means to become involved in the war myself.

LD: Could you start again? I would like you to tell me that, when the war came... by this time in the film, people have seen footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, so you won't have to tell us. That'll be taken care of. I just want to know, personally to me, talk to me personally about this, that you were at Kansas, and what you were studying. Just tell us, you were from Hawaii, tell us that. You were from Hawaii, and when war came, you were studying...

HF: Veterinary medicine.

LD: Veterinary medicine at Kansas, and your reaction. Tell me personally.

HF: My reaction to the war?

LD: Your reaction, yeah, to the war, and what you wanted to do. But I want you to talk to me like a conversation, even though we never see me, but we will see it, the viewer will feel that you're talking to them. So let's start again. Tell us why and where you were in Kansas, and what you were studying, and then from there.

HF: Okay. When war was declared between Japan and the United States, I happened to be in Manhattan, Kansas, studying veterinary medicine at Kansas State University. I had just become accepted into the professional curriculum of veterinary medicine. Obviously with the declaration of war, education became a secondary matter to me, and service to the country became a primary concern. With that in mind, then, I applied for the ASTP program for professionals.

LD: I hear the voice of a very mature man who's raised kids in 1985. And what I want you to give me is the feeling of that twenty year old boy, nineteen year old boy.

HF: I see.

LD: I want to hear that boy. Could you do that voice? If you could give us that feeling of that, just why you're studying, and what your thoughts and feeling was. Can you do that? "When the war came..."

HF: When the war came, I was a student at Penn State University in Manhattan, Kansas. And as I recall, those days, I was deeply into studies because that was really the reason why I went to Kansas State, was to become a veterinarian. So with the declaration of war, then all my hopes and aspirations for becoming a veterinarian became secondary, and I looked into the possibility of proving my loyalty to the United States as a young soldier.

LD: You felt your loyalty was at issue immediately? You felt that right away?

HF: That's correct.

LD: "I felt..."

HF: How shall I say this? This was a conflict between two countries, the one country of my birth, and on the other hand, the country of my ancestors. However, my loyalty rested with the United States, and always has been.

LD: When you heard about this, you immediately sensed that you personally, someone like you, that issue was right there immediately.

HF: I realized that point immediately.

LD: You realized what immediately?

HF: That the position of the Nisei was in jeopardy.

LD: Could you just start that as a complete sentence? "I realized right away..."

HF: I realized right away that the position and the loyalty of the Niseis in the United States was in jeopardy.

LD: Out there in Kansas, what was it like for you to go to school in Kansas? So you were from Hawaii, right?

HF: That's right. Of course, there were certain incidents to confirm my observations, my feeling about the war situation at the time. People who used to be friendly in provincial Manhattan, Kansas, all of a sudden turned cold. Children on the streets began to shout epitaphs at me, and even to the extent of throwing rocks at me. So the condition became no longer tolerable.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

HF: I was twenty at the time, and I really wanted to serve the country in some form. For that reason, I applied to the college for the army ASTP program for professional veterinary students, which would allow students to stay in college without being drafted. And upon completion of the course, then serve in the army. But this opportunity was denied me because of my ancestral background.

LD: How did you know that? You went and put an application in, and describe it. You did what? What did you do?

HF: Yes. I submitted an application which was denied, that is, which was cancelled, stating, of course, that I did not qualify. They did not state the reason, particularly, but I knew deep down in my heart that the only reason why I was denied admittance to the ASTP program was because of my ancestry. However, I did not take that as a final answer. And having excelled in the basic ROTC program at Kansas State University, performing perhaps in the top, or obtaining perhaps the top grades in basic training, I thought that my opportunities to advance to the ROTC program in the Officer's Training Program would be a lot better.

LD: You had ROTC at the school, and you got really good grades.

HF: Yes. Well, you know, when I was denied admittance to the ASTP program, then I thought up an alternative. And having excelled in the basic ROTC program, and one of the top students, I applied for the advanced ROTC program, and I made an application to the commandant of the ROTC unit at Kansas State University. And one day he summoned me to his office and approached me saying, "Young man, what are you doing? How dare you apply for an advanced ROTC when you are a Jap? You have no right to do so." And actually, he took up the application and tore it in front of my very eyes, I can still recall that very vividly. I was very, very much disappointed at that time, and obviously it was time for me to think of something else. At that juncture then, I was desperate to try to do anything to serve the country, so I thought of the idea of directly writing to the War Department Intelligence Service. And to my surprise, I did get a very prompt answer that I had been accepted and that I was to report for... I was to report to Fort Leavenworth for entering the army.

LD: When you applied to the intelligence, you applied to the War Department, is that what you did?

HF: Yes.

LD: When you applied to them, what did you say in your letter? Tell me what you said in your letter and then what they said to you.

HF: Okay. In writing to the War Department, I stated my qualifications as a linguist of the Japanese language, and that this should be an excellent qualification to get me into Military Intelligence Service. And I believe that the War Department realized the value of one such as me with that type of a background, so they had given me an immediate okay to enter the army.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LD: How had you learned your Japanese? What is your background, how did you learn Japanese?

HF: Well, I was born and raised in a Japanese family, that is, our parents came directly to Hawaii from Hiroshima. And being the child of that type of background, I was expected, and in fact I was required, to attend a language school run by a Buddhist church on the Big Island. So I completed twelve years of language school training on the island of Hawaii.

LD: As a kid, how did you feel about going to Japanese language school every day after school for twelve years?

HF: Well, you know, back in those days, the children of the Isseis really were obedient and did whatever the parents required them to do. And so we took this as a natural responsibility and we did not complain about it.

LD: How did you feel about it? How did you feel as a kid?

HF: As a kid, I thought that I might have at times utilized the time in a better fashion for me since playing basketball. But thought that was not the case, and I did go ahead and finish the required course.

LD: Your folks were working pretty hard?

HF: Yes. They were, of course, a farmers class and merchant class, and my mother happens to be from the merchants class in Japan. And, of course, when they came to the Hawaiian islands as contract laborers on the sugar plantation, they were very poor. And I had, although we were not wanting for anything in particular, I can still remember that every day was a struggle.

LD: Every day was a struggle.

HF: In terms of earning enough to keep the family fed and clothed, and, of course, to send the kids to school.

LD: What do you remember?

HF: As a kid, of course, all of us within the family had to contribute to the family income. My father happened to be, at the time, a sugar planter when I was growing up as a child. And even as young as I was, five, six years old, I can still vividly recall that our responsibility to the family was to help in whatever capacity we could. And so I used to work in the sugar cane field along with the rest of the family all though the years in public school through high school.

LD: What do you remember about working in the sugar cane field? I've never been in a sugar cane field, I can only imagine. Can you describe that to me?

HF: Work on the sugar plantation and in the sugar cane fields was not mechanized.

LD: How old were you when you were working in the sugar cane fields?

HF: I started working in the sugar cane field, as I recall, when I was about six years old.


HF: All we could do was maybe weed by hand, perhaps, and be the water boy. But as I grew older, then, of course, we became physically more competent. And my chores on that sugar field ranged anywhere from hoe hana, I don't know whether you understand that term, but hoe hana to holehole, and there's a famous song about holehole bushi, and to fertilizing, to plowing behind the mule, and to harvesting cane, and hauling cane to the flumes or the conveyors which carried the sugar cane to the mill.

LD: What does hana hana and...

HF: Hoe hana means to work with a hoe for weeding purpose, and holehole, again, back in those days, the planters believed that stripping the dead leaves off the sugar cane promoted the growth. They don't do that these days because they just burn off the sugar cane, not the dead leaves now.

LD: But you remember that as that's the kind of life you led, a hard life.

HF: That's right, a hard life.

LD: So you say you were obedient.

HF: And that is really, in reflecting on my past, perhaps that is the reason why even to this day, I'm not afraid of hard work, physical work, or sheer endurance for that matter, productivity.

LD: Do you think that that is...

HF: No doubt that had an influence on my later life.

LD: And when you were serving in Merrill's?

HF: That too, yes.

LD: How do you see that background as affecting you when you were in the Merrill's?

HF: Well, when we were with the Merrill's Marauders, we had something to prove. And the background of being a Nisei in a kind of environment of hardship, I think, stood us in good stead when the chips were down in the mountains of Burma.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

LD: What kinds of things do you feel you learned from your father and mother, either by example or things they actually said to you? When you think of your parents and what they said to you about how you should lead your life, what was important? How would they expect of your behavior, both that and maybe in your language school, what kinds of things come back to you when you think of that?

HF: Well, I feel that the greatest contribution that my parents made to my life was the desire on their part to educate their children. And I happened to be the oldest of three immediate members of my family, and I kind of had to set the pace for my kid sisters. And it was an uphill battle all the way through after high school.

LD: Like what? I mean, tell us about that a little bit. How did you get to Kansas, and, I mean, it was pretty unusual at that time for...

HF: Yes.

LD: island boy to go on the mainland to Kansas, who had heard of Kansas?

HF: My interest in veterinary medicine started in high school during my senior year. It so happened that my senior advisor, a Mrs. J.D. Brown, came from Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University where there was an excellent veterinary school. And my advisor thought about my background on the farm, and thought that veterinary medicine would be an excellent professional field to enter. And I took her recommendation after... that is, recommendation into consideration, but I was to complete my pre-veterinary training at the University of Hawaii on a Hompa Hongwanji scholarship from the Hilo Hongwanji. But because that particular year I happened to be the public speaker and president of the Future Farmers of America, Territory of Hawaii, at the time, I had to go to Kansas City through the American Royal to represent the Hawaiian Islands. And in the interim, I received a letter of denial from the dean of admissions stating that because I was "gallivanting around the countryside," in quotes, I was denied the opportunity to enroll at that particular point in time, and that I must stay out of school for one year. With that type of response from the University of Hawaii, I felt that there was no advantage in going to the University, and I promptly applied for admission to Kansas State University, and this is how I came to enroll at that institution.

LD: You mean University of Hawaii was... I don't understand. University of Hawaii was accusing you of what?

HF: Dean of admissions at that time.

LD: The dean of admissions at the University of Hawaii was saying what?

HF: That I did not have to go gallivanting around the countryside representing the Future Farmers of America, Hawaii Future Farmers of America.

LD: What was really going on? What do you read there, what was happening.

HF: I'm not sure how you would interpret that, except that I think the dean was trying to throw his weight around.

LD: What did you think at that time that was happening to you? That was pretty extraordinary.

HF: That was, but I felt that since my ultimate objective was to enroll at Kansas State University anyway, that it really didn't matter.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LD: Your daughter later had a little run-in with her college, too. What happened with your daughter?

HF: My daughter, Alice, was an activist. And growing up as a teenager, she was attending Stanford University at the time, as you know, well, Stanford is a private institution. She felt very, very strongly about the statement made by Professor Sharpley, the Nobel Laureate of transistor fame about eugenics and the superiority of the white race. My daughter and her friends, including blacks and Chicanos, a force of approximately twenty-five, according to Stanford, "invaded the sanctity of the professor's classroom," and challenged the good old professor to a public debate on the topic of eugenics and the superiority of the white race. Well, the judicial committee of Stanford University at the time took Professor Sharpley's complaint into consideration and summarily fired, or dismissed Alice from Stanford University just one week away from graduation. In fact, I recall receiving an invitation to attend the commencement exercise. A week later, of course, we got word that Alice as dismissed. And so she remained on the suspension list for three years, after which time she was reinstated and she completed her degree in pre-medicine.


LD: You were talking about how your daughter got thrown out of Stanford. When you heard that, how did you hear that? You got a letter, got a call?

HF: Yes, got a letter, and obviously a call from my daughter, Alice.

LD: Tell me about it. You got a call, what did she say to you, what did you say to her, and what was your reaction?

HF: Alice, upon learning that she was dismissed from Stanford, immediately got one the phone and informed us of that fact.

LD: How did she tell you? I want to know what she actually said to you. Was she upset, was she apologetic, was she a little scared of what you would feel? How did she talk to you about it? What did she say? "Dad, I messed up"? What did she say.

HF: Alice took it rather calmly as I recall. Obviously she was upset that she was dismissed and she could not finish her pre-med curriculum. But then she knew that she had the support of her parents about her views, and subsequently, of course, we went to bat on her behalf and challenged her dismissal through court proceedings.

LD: What did you and your wife say to your daughter? She knew you would back her?

HF: Yes, because she knew how we thought.

LD: She knew you thought what?

HF: We thought about --

LD: "Alice knew..."

HF: Alice knew that her parents felt very strongly about the equality of all races, and that the professor involved in this case really had no basis to claim that the white race was superior to all other races.

LD: So then you and your wife went to the mainland?

HF: Yes. And to back up our conviction that she acted properly in this case, we did go to the mainland, to San Francisco, tried to retain the services of one law firm, and we did not get very good vibes out of this particular law firm, so we went to another. And the rapport established with this other firm -- I can't recall the name of the firm right now -- was great, and we retained this particular lawyer to represent our daughter in court. Consequently, of course, the hearing came up and Alice did lose the case based on the fact that Stanford was a private institution.

LD: At a public institution it might have been different?

HF: And I felt that if Stanford were a public institution such as the University of California Berkeley, her chances of winning the case would have been much greater.

LD: Looking back on what it cost, that she was out money for three years, she couldn't go back to school for three years and everything, how do you feel about it? How do you feel about it and how do you think she feels about what she did?

HF: When the incident occurred, obviously it was a telling blow, it was a disappointment to all of us. But as I look back through all these years, I feel that it was a tremendous learning experience for Alice. Don't get me wrong, Alice still remains an activist to this very day, but that is championing the cause of the underprivileged, of the underdog, and of the Asian, black and Chicano causes. But I believe that she learned that a frontal attack on these very sensitive issues sometimes did not get the desired end result. And I think she has become a lot smarter, a lot wiser, through the intervening years.

LD: You backed her?

HF: Yes, all the way.

LD: That was an expensive school, too.

HF: Well, we could hardly afford the expense at that time, legal expenses, but we still felt that the cause was worth it.

LD: She then went into, she continued into medicine, she went into medicine? What did she do?

HF: Well, because she believed in the cause of the underprivileged classes of races in America, to the extent of personal involvement, she did get married to a black person, a very intelligent, kind black person. And after that, of course, the family began to grow, and she had to support the family while Mike was attending college. And she has done this through all the years. Presently she's at Harvard managing a cancer research lab for one of the prominent professors, who has charge of about twenty-five graduate students. But when Alice visited the family last year, last summer for a family reunion, she indicated an interest in medicine again. And subsequently she has been taking refresher courses at Harvard University in preparation for reentry into medical school, and this is what she's doing at the present time, it's very encouraging.

LD: She's a spunky person, isn't she?

HF: Yes, very much so.

LD: You're proud of her.

HF: Definitely very proud of her accomplishments, and particularly of her stance, or stand, where human issues, human right are concerned.

LD: Because of the way you raised her.

HF: Yes. My wife perhaps more than I, because of her religious background and of her tolerance of other races. Perhaps tolerance is the wrong term to use, understanding of other races. And perhaps it's the reason why she married me in the first place.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LD: When you got married, there was a little problem on her family's part and your family part. You were at Savage.

HF: Yes. Going back to our marriage, at first, when we used to date each other, her mother -- because we were at the time in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I was at Camp Savage -- her mother did not take kindly to the association and tried to discourage her daughter in particular from seeing me. But, of course, that was to no avail. On the other hand, my parents were approximately two thousand miles across the ocean, did not have direct contact with me. Nevertheless, in their letters, indicated their disappointment.

LD: What did they say to you?

HF: Especially when they found out that we were serious about getting married, and when we did get married, they expressed disappointment that we were getting into an international, interracial marriage situation.

LD: What did your parents say? What were they afraid of?

HF: That there would be -- of course, you know, intermarriages back in those days, especially between white and Asian, were a rare occasion. We did not see very many of those, and in my particular community, that is, in the rural community, it was an unheard of thing, and I was the first across the racial lines to do this. And obviously because of their strong nationality traits, my parents were very disappointed that they did go this route. However, all of that did change after the arrival of our first son. And when he appeared on the scene, both parents, both Vi's mother, incidentally, Vi's father had died early in her teens, and obviously he was not around. But he happened to be a Methodist minister, and had been around, I suspect the complexion of the relationship might have been a little different, having had that religious background. I don't know, I'm just speculating. But going back to the relationship, then after Dale, our oldest son arrived, then Vi's mother changed her attitude towards me and I became accepted as a son-in-law, and of course, my professional career had begun to soar at that point in time, and that made somewhat of a difference, too. And my parents obviously were very happy to welcome the newborn into the family, and welcome their daughter-in-law also in turn.

LD: You were the first child in both families.

HF: Yes. I believe it all stems to the perpetuation of the species, the bloodline, so to speak. This is such an ingrained thought, feeling among Caucasians as well as among the Orientals. I believe this played a very heavy part, big part, in their acceptance.

LD: When the baby came.

HF: Yes.

LD: And there were other babies.

HF: And there were other babies. And as a follow up of this story --

LD: Why did you invite, what did you say to... when you decided you and Vi were going to go through this, what did you say, how did you explain yourself to your mother, to your parents? What did you say?

HF: Well, to override the objection on the part of Vi's mother, I said, "Well, it is true that we have to mount certain obstacles because of this racial difference, but we believe that our love for each other would overcome all of these obstacles." And we believe that very heartily, sincerely. And, of course, over the years, that has proven to be the case.

LD: How many kids do you have?

HF: Seven children. Vi came from a family of just one child, and while growing up, she sorely missed having brothers and sisters. So when we got married she said, "We're gonna have a big family."

LD: And you have seven kids.

HF: Right.

LD: Tell me about your kids.

HF: Well, they're kind of scattered throughout the United States. The oldest happens to be living just behind our house, and they two lovely girls ages six and four right now. And he works for the AGS, federal government. The second one happens to be a teacher musician, Wesley, he's on Maui, and he's in charge of the preschool children for the Maui Pineapple and Land Company. And when he has his weekends off and some spare time in the evening, he does do gigs at various places, including some of the nightclubs around Maui. Our third we talked about, Alice, she's still at Harvard. The husband is getting his degree, PhD from Harvard University in urban planning this may, and I believe he has several tenders right now to teach in one of the institutions, Michigan, Princeton or Yale. The fourth you have been exposed to, that's David, the person of varied interests, including bagpipe and kabuki, and he lives at home. The fourth is Nancy, who happens to be living by herself right now on this island, and she's a second year student at the medical school, John N. Burns Medical School, University of Hawaii Manoa. And she happens to like this particular profession, and happens to be, so far, the only one following in my footsteps in an similarity, similar role. She was a registered nurse in the cardiac care unit of Wakini Hospital, but after working in this area for about three years, she felt that that was kind of a dead end for her. In the beginning, her mother and I tried to convince her that if she were going to the medical field, that she should go into medicine instead of nursing because in the end, probably it'll be far more fulfilling to her, but of course, she had to try her wings first as a nurse, and she did find out that she had certain frustrations being a nurse, and therefore she changed her field.

LD: David was going into kabuki, he's got a lot of musical interests, David has a lot of musical interests. In fact, your whole family has a lot of musical interest. You used to play the ukulele, is this true, that you used to carry a ukulele everywhere with you?

HF: Yes, that's very true. I had bought an ukulele during my high school years, and had played it to some extent while in high school, but didn't take up ukulele seriously until I was in college after the war, when a group of Hawaii students, including a hula dancer, came to Kansas State University, and we formed a group of Hawaii students to play to neighboring communities and in Manhattan, Kansas.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

LD: How did you first hear about the Merrill's? I don't even remember what you said about that. How did you hear about it?

HF: I heard about the Merrill's Marauders, of course, it was known by some other name, in fact, we didn't even know about Merrill's Marauders at the time. It was represented to us as an unknown --

LD: You are in Savage, right? You're about to graduate.

HF: Yes.

LD: Okay, tell me that. You're about to graduate, and who coached you or what did you hear? What did they actually say to you, what do you remember thinking at the time?

HF: I was about to graduate in the first graduating class at Camp Savage. And one day, out of a clear blue sky, I was approached by our team leader, later to be team leader, Edward Mitsukado, who took me to the commanding officer. And they proposed to me a campaign of some magnitude, which was to be a secret mission, and that there would be fourteen of the graduating class to be recruited for this purpose. And I was to be given one of the slots as an opportunity. I could refuse if I wanted to, or I could volunteer for the mission.

LD: What did they tell you about it?

HF: That, all they would depict at that time was to expect, perhaps, a fifty percent casualty, and this would take us behind enemy lines.

LD: Why did you want to do it?

HF: When a Nisei or anyone at that particular time, I suppose, it doesn't have to necessarily be a Nisei, is put on a position of accepting a challenge, especially in wartime, and especially from a Nisei background, it's very, very difficult to say, "No, I don't want to go."

LD: Did you want to go?

HF: Yes. In my heart I felt that I did want to go. And it wasn't long after that that we were put on a train to Camp Stoneman, and then onto the Lurline and across the waters to a training camp in India.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

LD: What do you remember about the trip on the ship with the other guys and getting to know the new troops that came on? What do you remember about that?

HF: Our time was pretty well occupied with presentations of jungle warfare, lectures by the officers and the noncommissioned officers. But the thing that really stands out in my mind is that in the beginning, we were considered somewhat oddities, not completely accepted by our fellow soldiers. And this is how we maintained our position until we got until we got into actual bivouac and training grounds, then we got to know them, of course, very, very intimately, then we were gradually accepted.

LD: What did you guys do in bivouac?

HF: We went on long marches, constructed pontoons across bridges, practiced air drops, but mainly it was a question of conditioning for jungle warfare.


LD: How did feel about the other guys? What was the feeling that you had for the other fellows in your Nisei unit?

HF: From the outset of our assignment and of our voluntary service for the Merrill's Marauders, the fourteen interpreters that accepted the assignment felt very, very close, a close kinship with one another. We know from the very beginning that we were volunteering for an extraordinary campaign. And we stuck to each other very, very closely until the end of the campaign. But the Nisei interpreters were distributed among the regimental combat team in small groups, and of that group, of course, I got to know Edward Mitsukado, our team leader, very well. He was an older person and a very diplomatic and, as I recall, a very kind person. But beyond him, Edward Mitsukado, I got to know my subteam leader Tom Tsubota, who happens to be living here in Honolulu right at the present time. And then, particularly, the Kibei with whom I was teamed up because of his strong Japanese background, and, of course, of my strong English background. We happened to endure each other throughout the war until the completion of Myitkyina. So what I'm trying to say is that each one of us would have gone to the rescue of another person in the group, even if he had to lose his life to do this.

Now, I recall one other incident that concerns B Battalion and the interpreters who were assigned to that particular unit. B Battalion happened to be isolated, cut off from the rest of the unit in one of the bloodiest battles of north Burma. Bob Honda, who is now deceased, and who happened to be the team leader of that group, went around after, that is, after surviving numerous banzai charges by the Japanese, went around to each one of the interpreters in his group and said to them, "Well, if it appears that we will be captured, I'm saving a bullet for each one of you. Rather than to have you captured and be tortured, I'm going to put an end to you guys."

LD: Did you ever discuss that before that moment? Had any of you thought about it or ever talked about it?

HF: We have, well, especially after the campaign and so on, and the story came up, and this is how I got wind of the happenings on that particular hill.

LD: Because you all know you were taking terrible risks.

HF: Yes, that's correct. We looked after each other.

LD: You felt that you would be more badly treated than any other American, say a white, Caucasian soldier, if you were captured?

HF: In the hands of the Japanese, we felt this to be very true. That we would be ferreted out as enemies of the imperial army and would be subjected to numerous tortures.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

HF: Well, we had started our trek on the Ledo Road to reopen the old Burma Road so that we would create a back door entrance into China. And just at that point in time, as we were anticipating our first confrontation with the enemy, we got word from headquarters that Calvin, my foxhole buddy and I, were to report to the Office of War Information in the rear echelon. And to our great disappointment, we had to obey orders, and we did go back to the Office of War Information where we performed our duties for a period of about a month, producing so-called "white propaganda" for the Office of War Information. But then, by that time, the Nisei soldiers had proven themselves on front line combat, and they were in urgent need of our services again, so we were flown into the combat zone, Calvin and I were flown in by one of these small aircrafts. That's right, I can't recall the designation right now, but anyway, they flew us in one by one as a matter of fact, because the plane could not handle two passengers, just the pilot and the interpreter, and we went down in sequence.

Then we were introduced to our former troops again, and just about that time they were about to push on into Myitkyina, the final objective of the Merrill's Marauders North Burma campaign. But before we could reach our final objective, there were a number of obstacles that we had to overcome, among which were enemies behind the line, and of course the tremendous mountain terrain that we had to pass, not to mention the numerous diseases, including dysentery, there was amoebic dysentery, malaria, and then disease unknown to the American troops known as scrub typhus. We were, our battalion in particular, C Battalion, was to pay a very heavy price to scrub typhus, more than we had sustained in actual combat. Because at that time, there was no antibiotic to counteract the effects of scrub typhus.


HF: Right now, the blood bank of Honolulu will not accept my blood. And the reason for this is that I had sustained repeated attacks of malaria, and even to this day, with that type of history, the blood bank refuses to use my blood.

LD: What are all the other kinds of diseases you guys had out there?

HF: Personally, I sustained, of course, attacks of amoebic dysentery because the drinking water was polluted with these organisms. And when one is thirsty, even in spite of the use of halogen, we did not allow sufficient time for the chemical to react with the water, so the organisms were not killed and we came down with amoebic dysentery.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

HF: Yes. The L-5 is the designation for this little light airplane that took us from Ledo into the fighting grounds. And after we were discharged from the airplane, because we were immediately thrown in with the fighting troops. By that time, because we had lost our general condition, and we had confronted the, all of a sudden the awesome Kumon Range, which practically ran straight up. And it was a sheer, I think, determination on the part of Calvin and myself to endure this climb. It was during the wet season, and as I recall, these leeches were rampant. And as soon as we took ten on an hourly break, then these leeches would seek us out, because they could sense the presence of temperature, and a warm bodied individual. And we were the most prime candidates for this. And at first, of course, we were very leery about these leeches in that they were described to us as carrying infections if we plucked them off, and we were supposed to either apply salt on these leeches or to burn them off with cigarettes. But you know, when you're tired, you don't take time to do this, and we ended up just plucking them off ourselves.

LD: They were big.

HF: These are huge leeches. When extended, they measured about three to four inches.

LD: You were climbing that range. Tell us how high that range, how high was that range? Describe that climb.

HF: Well, from sea level, of course, as we looked up, it seemed very, very high, but actually, I suppose it was no more than about a thousand feet elevation. But it did go almost straight up. And as the troops and the mules which served as our carrier for supplies and ammunition, struggled up the hill, many of them lost footing and rolled down the hillside. Some of them, of course, broke their legs, and for this reason they were no good anymore, and they were shot on the spot. And by then, of course, the troops were really hungry for some fresh food. We were subsisting on K rations and on C rations. And the sight of fresh meat was a welcome thing, and so these mules that were shot ended up being food for the troops, parts of them.

LD: When I asked you what you really learned from that experience, you learned something about, what about animals? Human beings as compared to animals.

HF: As we pushed towards our final objective, which was the airfield in Myitkyina, northern Burma, one observation really sticks in my mind even to this very day. Here we were, devastated by disease, by casualties, by malnutrition, worst of all, I think, over a prolonged period of jungle warfare. And we would see animals, pack animals, dying left and right through sheer physical exhaustion and malnutrition. Yet the human counterparts would persist and charge on and on towards the final objective.

LD: You're talking about you guys, you're talking about the troops.

HF: By then we were one and the same, interpreters as well as the troops. We were front line troops as well as the others.

LD: So these mules were dropping.

HF: Yes, these mules and horses were dropping by the roadside. And then in turn, then because our supplies and ammunition were vital to our continued campaign, the humans then had to serve as the pack animal, and we ended up doing so.

LD: An animal would drop, describe it, a mule would drop. What would you do?

HF: Well, the mule would be carrying, say, vital supplies and ammunition, and since we needed these materials, we would unpack the dead animal then, and then carry whatever we put on an individual basis, obviously not as heavy a load as what the mule carried, but distributed among troops, and we managed to save most of the ammunition and supplies.


LD: So here you're looking at these animals, and I'd like to describe more the way you felt at the time. I just want you go get back into that time a little more. I realize this is... make that leap back to that time. Look at that footage. When you look at that footage, what does it remind you of? What does it bring back to you? What kinds of things do you remember? Like you said, there was push, a mule pushing from behind.

HF: Well, here we were fighting in the jungles of Burma, and we were supported by these pack animals for our supplies and ammunition. But then animals can do only so much. Human beings, as I look back now to that particular campaign, can do what the mind tells. So where animals fail, human beings carried on.

LD: What did you see in the footage? How did you feel when you look at that footage? Does it come back to you?

HF: Well, the realization right now is, "Did I really go through that hardship?" This is the feeling that I get when reviewing the footage.

LD: But I really... you can't believe you did it.

HF: That's right.

LD: How did you do it, do you think?

HF: Maybe sheer determination and pride to stick it out, and that probably more than anything else determined our action.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

LD: What is your most vivid memory from that experience? If you had to pick one thing you think you'll always remember, what do you think it is? The most terrible thing and the best thing.

HF: The most terrible thing -- and, of course, it spilled over after the war -- was the devastating effect of malaria in particular, because I was a victim of thirteen recurrences of malaria, and ended up in the hospital practically every time the incidence, that is, the recurrence, occurred. So from that standpoint, I think the disease was the worst experience that I had. In terms of what I remember most fondly of the whole campaign, I believe that is the camaraderie, the companionship, respect for our fellow soldiers and particularly of the fellow Niseis that we had developed during the campaign.

LD: That grew over time.

HF: Yes.

LD: You helped rescue that group that was trapped?

HF: We happened to miss that, Calvin and I happened to miss that particular campaign because we were still in the rear echelon at that point in time working with the Office of War Information.

LD: You feel proud of what the Nisei were able to do there?

HF: Yes. Even to this day, I feel, on a private basis -- I'd never brag about these things -- but on a private basis that we are very proud of what each one of the Niseis assigned to Merrill's Marauders had accomplished in winning the war, that is, in winning the campaign in Burma. In particular, the value to which we were, well, we were exposed. That is, we operated behind enemy lines, we served as the eyes and the ears of the troops, and in this way I believe that we were very, very effective in saving the many lives, American lives.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

LD: What was the most effective thing you personally were able to do? What particular thing do you feel, you remember? Was there a particular thing that you were in position to do?

HF: One particularly dangerous mission that I still remember, and I don't know how I got involved in this, but one day I was asked to lead a scouting patrol, you know, because interpreters were at a premium at that time. Why the platoon leader asked me to lead a patrol on a scouting mission was beyond me. But here I was, and I was not about to say, "No, I can't go, because I'm more valuable back here." I did lead the patrol on a scouting mission. And one realizes that in Burma, there's no way around the beaten path. In other words, we are bound by the jungle to stay on the path, otherwise we'd be flayed in the jungle by the overgrowth of trees and bamboo in particular. The bamboo especially was thick. So then we could be booby trapped on the path or ambushed as we approached. Fortunately for me and for the scouting troop, this did not happen. And our assignment was to enter a Kachin village that was occupied by the Japanese. And we had reports that the Japanese were active in this area. Then with fixed bayonets we entered the village expecting the worst, but much to my relief, the Japanese had already retreated. So that was about the scariest experience I've had.

LD: You were serving with the Kachins...

HF: Kachins were, yes, serving with us under the very able leadership of Father Stewart, a Catholic priest of the Columbian order.

LD: You had a lot of different kind of men in this unit.

HF: That's correct. We had, as support troops, the Chinese combat command, particularly the 88th and the 89th regiment of the Chinese combat command. And we had the Kachins as our jungle guides because they were familiar with every foot of the terrain. And we had the good services of this very, very valuable person by the name of Father Stewart. And we also, in a remote way, had support from the British, the Chindits under Wingate.

LD: How were you and other fellows being protected? Was there any special protection that you were given, precautions that were made to prevent you guys from being mistaken for the enemy or captured?

HF: Yes. Of course, you know, the Japanese to a person is notoriously poor in their pronunciation of certain syllables. The Ls and the Rs and the THs. This then, their weakness in pronunciation of the English language served as the basis of our password. So we would conk out such terms as "lots of luck," which the Japanese can't say "lots of luck," you see. Or "lady luck" or "lollapalooza." And obviously if a Japanese would, say, come up to our listening post or lookout post and try to use some kind of a password, this then would become very obvious. So this was a protection for us. But, you know, among the Nisei interpreters, about half of them were Kibeis, that is to say that these Niseis had received their high school or college education in Japan, and in most cases spent a lot of time in Japan. So their English pronunciation wasn't that hot, and they were in the same boat as the Japanese. So we had to use all these precautions this way.

LD: Any other precautions?

HF: We had a, kind of a buddy system, because the needed buddy was, of course, the foxhole buddy who worked in tandem as interpreters, one strong in English and the other strong in Japanese, so that was our built-in protection.

LD: Do you think there was any big difference, or what difference was there between the Kibei and the non-Kibei Nisei in how they handled themselves or how they handled the enemy besides the language?

HF: Well, you know, in our particular situation, all of us were volunteers. And one makes a commitment such as that in the face of tremendous odds against casualties, one is really committed. So there was no question as to their performance and as to their loyalty. So we were as one.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

LD: Did you guys do anything for fun? What did you do when you had some time off?

HF: Well, after the campaign in North Burma, of course, a lot of 'em spent lot of time shopping in New Delhi. That's where our recuperation center was after the campaign. And we took the spirit of the time as a time for enjoyment, enjoying each other's company, and, well, trying to see what our next assignment was more than anything else. But in that interim, as I recall, a lot of 'em bought some semi-precious stones to adorn themselves, others whiled away their time gambling. Poker was their favorite game, and they would play poker by the hours. I got burned early in my college career, that gambling was not for me, so I didn't gamble. Instead, of course, my interest was playing the ukulele, and this is what I did.

LD: You took the ukulele with you?

HF: Yes, throughout the campaign. It's a funny thing. Well, I couldn't take it through the campaign itself, I had it deposited in the rear echelon. But I retrieved it as soon as I came out of the campaign.

LD: Retrieved your...

HF: Belongings, including the ukulele.

LD: You would play the ukulele where?

HF: And then I would play the ukulele in the, well, recuperation hospital. As I recall, music was sorely lacking in the bashas as we called them, makeshift shelters that we were housed in for the evacuation hospital. And like it or not, they had to listen to my ukulele and my singing. [Laughs]

LD: This is when you were recuperating.

HF: Yes, that's right.

LD: You were in the hospital for how long?

HF: Over a period of time. I was in and out and in and out. Malaria is a funny thing when it hits. That is, first of all, you come down with it, and then the bad form -- there are different forms of malaria, by the way. But I happened to contract the worst form of malaria. And this form happens to hit the malaria victim on a recurrent basis. So there will be cycles of fever and chill and aches, and this happened to me about thirteen times. I didn't go to the hospital every time it occurred, but I would say about half the time I ended up in the hospital.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.