Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: James Lovell Interview
Narrator: James Lovell
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location:
Date: March 25, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-ljames-01

<Begin Segment 1>

JL: I first became acquainted with the men of the 100th Battalion and the men of the 442nd also when I first arrived in Hawaii in 1930 to teach school at Washington Intermediate School where I taught mechanical drawing and also coached football, basketball and track. Then, of course, later on I went to Roosevelt, and we had a few of the American Japanese there, but not too many. I stayed there six years and then went on to McKinley where, of course, we had a great number of them. And many of those went on into the service in October of 1940 when the 298th was called into service under the national emergency. At Scofield at that time, the first draft had taken place, and the first unit of draftees at the reception center that were called in in October of 1940. And they later were assigned to the 298th or the 299th Infantry. So I had a good number of me in the 298th who had formerly been students or athletes of mine at one of the schools. It was during that time that I became acquainted with them in such a way that I knew that they were able to take orders, take instruction, they proved to be very loyal in the way they reacted to the orders that I gave them as far as athletics, of course, you have to be well disciplined, and this also carried over into the classroom. And I think that this carried over a great deal more as we got into the service. Of course, those days, there had not been a Pearl Harbor, and people didn't know what the national emergency was really for as far as these men being drafted. I think that they also proved this discipline of theirs in the fact that they went on to their own language school and the fact that they were in serious trouble at home if they had problems in their school day or in their school life, their parents would take care of them at that time.

[Interruption]

JL: My daily observation in the classroom of these students, especially like in mechanical drawing, I find that they would have to reach a certain perfection in lettering and that type of drawing, mimicking dimensions on drawings and that sort of thing. So you know that they could... well you soon learned that they were after perfection in these. And the reason for this was because they wanted to achieve a certain standard and they worked hard at it to get it done. I also noticed it in the woodworking shop where you have machinery. They were, followed the instructions for safety instructions in the proper use of that equipment, and they only did this because I think they were trying to do a good job. On the athletic field where discipline was probably closer to the army than maybe in the classroom, at least they were there on time, they performed their job, and naturally everybody has to. If you're going to make the team, you've got to do your job. But I think that spirit of competition is one that would carry over into their life because they truly had to compete with other nationalities as well as their own in order to achieve a position they were seeking.

LD: Were they good athletes?

JL: They were exceptional athletes for their size. Of course, they developed faster, I would say, than some of the others, say, some of the haole kids. For their size, they were outstanding athletes. They probably wouldn't do as much in basketball as they would in some others because they didn't have the great height that's a common practice today in basketball.

[Interruption]

JL: I think the respect that the respect that these men had for their parents was gained from the fact that many of those parents had a pretty menial existence. They had to work hard for everything they had, there were large families, many of them were plantation people, and they didn't have all the things that we find in many other homes around. And I think the fact that their parents were able to gain that much, and it took quite a firm resolve on their parents' part to get where they were, and I don't see how anybody could anything but respect for 'em. And I think that's how the young men got the respect for their parents.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JL: I think that many of the white officers didn't understand what they were getting into, especially when we started getting them from the Officers Candidate School when we were at amp McCoy. One experience we had was a German boy came in and he was interviewed by Colonel Turner. He said "Gee, I didn't know I was getting into this," meaning that he was coming to an all-Japanese group. And Colonel Turner simply asking, "Isn't your name, aren't you of German extraction?" And he said, "Yes, I am," and he said, "Well, what is the difference?" And the young lieutenant said, "No, I understand now. I'll be very happy to serve." And he served with great honor, this young man did a terrific job, and gained the respect of all the men, truly an outstanding officer. But he couldn't understand what he was getting into at first. And I think that some of the others probably had the same feeling that he had at first, and I don't think they got over all of it entirely. I think most of them got rid of most of it, that is, within ourselves. I think if we had any of the question by officers, it was those outside of our battalion, not from those within. I think our own officers, there was none of that after they had been with us for a while.

LD: What kinds of things did they feel about an all-Japanese unit?

JL: Well, let's go right up to the top. I remember one time down at, near Kailua where we had our headquarters, the 298th, and a general officer and some other officers came down to Colonel Anderson's headquarters, and I happened to be the adjutant at that time. And we were down in sort of a gully and had some pyramidal tents there. And this general officer said to Colonel Anderson, "Where do you fellows sleep?" And there happened to be a few of these Japanese American boys were walking around in that particular area, and Colonel Anderson said, "Well, I sleep right there and Lovell's tent is the next one." And a general officer looked at him and says, "You do?" Meaning, "You trust these men enough to sleep down here with 'em? What could happen to you at night?" or something. The, of course, during General Emmons' time, when it got to a point where they thought about moving all of these boys out, it was suggested that perhaps they all be put in one group and sent to some sort of a camp in the mid-United States, where they'd be away from the border in case of attack or anything like that. And then there was recommended uses for 'em, maybe they'd go to camps and do work around the camps and things like that. And then in Oran, when Colonel Turner and I first went down to the Fifth Army headquarters there, we were asked, or it was intimated that they might be used to guard these trains, freight trains going across the country because the Arabs were stealing the food, clothing, ammunition, all from these trains. And this just didn't set well at all. And fortunately, it was shortly after that meeting there, or it was at that meeting an hour or so later that we got the telegram from the War Department that the 100th Battalion was to be used for combat, and this was a real uplifting thing for us, because this took away all fear that we might be used for guards or something like that. Those are a few examples that showed that people thought they might be used for something else rather than combat. But as soon as we got that wire, it verified some of the earlier reports we had, well, it was pretty safe that we were gonna be used for combat.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LD: And even in combat, some people have said that maybe they were used a little bit too often and in too many risky situations, that they were a little too expendable. What were you thinking?

JL: Well, I remember the, several times we were promised that we were gonna get a rest. As to... there was some question among some people that the 100th Battalion boys were used too often or too long without any rest.

[Interruption]

JL: There's been considerable talk about the men being overused, so to speak. When I returned to combat at Cassino, and was put in the command of the 100th Battalion, Colonel Marshall informed me that the 100th Battalion was not to see any combat until we had replacements. At that time we had not received a single replacement. It was only a few hours later that I got word from Colonel Marshall that we were to move on into Cassino, and that he was sorry, but General Ryder said, "You'll have to use Lovell's fire-eaters to do this job." Well, this kind of makes you wonder, are we expendable? You heard at one time that we don't have to go into combat until we get some replacements, and the next minute you're told that you've got to use your fire-eaters to put out this fire. And I've heard other stories, and I believe that sometimes they could have used some other troops, but they wanted to get the job done. And the 100th and the 442nd had always done their job. And I think they were thrown into some of these places, for example, that the rescuing of the "Lost Battalion," it was a task that took more, a greater toll than the number of men that were actually saved. This just looks like somebody was thrown in there to do a job, and the used the only people they thought could do the job. And this gives you the idea, well, these men are expendable. If we lose them here, why, they're gone. But as long as they're doing the job, we're going to keep using them. And I think that you'll find that there are a lot of people who have this same feeling.

LD: How do you feel?

JL: I feel that there were other troops that had personnel that could have gone in at Cassino when we went in. I'm sure that we had earned a rest, not having a replacement. The other people were getting replacements all the time. I'm sure that we could have been placed in reserve and let somebody else to go in to do the job. I was not at the Lost Battalion, but I'm sure that there were other troops that were as fully equipped if not more than the 442nd was there.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JL: Over all of these years, starting way back, say, in 1930, I've become closely acquainted with a good many of the boys of the 100th, and many of their officers also. I think the relationship I established with 'em was the fact that the early school days, the athletic days. After we came home, the Club 100 was formed. I was the president of Club 100, I was chairman of the building committee that built the clubhouse, I was also chairman of the history committee that wrote Ambassadors in Arms. I spent untold hours on that.

LD: Why?

JL: Well, I wanted to be sure that that story was told right, if you're talking about Ambassadors in Arms, that's a, I think, a fantastic book. It was not written like a high school annual or something like that, it was written to tell a story rather than just all blood and guts and that sort of thing. There's a lot in there besides that. I took that job because, well, I think I knew more of the background than most of the other people.

LD: Why do you want their story to be told? What is the story you want to be told?

JL: Well, the story in Ambassadors in Arms is the story of the Japanese boys in Hawaii before the war, other people, not only them but their parents and all, and how this all came about that the 100th Battalion was ever formed, and, of course, this is what led to the 442nd. Then the book goes on to carry through the war, but not as much on the war actually as the prior years. And then at the end it tells about what these boys have done since they've come back, how they've come back and they've entered into politics, they've gone to law school, they've gone to medical school. Many, many professionals among, they've participated in government affairs, community service, they fit right in to the community and done an outstanding job in, rather than just staying to be... nothing wrong with a plantation worker, but they went to levels above that. And many of them were children of plantations. But the number of professional people, they've left their mark on Hawaii, not just from the war, but from what they've accomplished since the war.

[Interruption]

JL: Since coming back from the war they've lived by our motto for continuing service. They've improved themselves, they've gotten into community services, they have professional training so they're making real contributions in their life, they've gotten into politics, they help us run our government, they've just fit right into the community and have done everything. And I think they're continuing their service that is part of the 100th Battalion.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JL: I was called to Washington to the special projects section. And they had come up with the idea that they could teach all of these dogs to bite only Japanese, and I was to select a platoon of men from the 100th Battalion to take 'em down to Cat Island, where they had assembled all of these giant dogs. And a Swiss captain had convinced President Roosevelt that this could be done, so they wanted to try it. So I went down to inspect the place, and there were three island down there just off of Biloxi, Gulfport, and one was Rat Island, and Ship Island, and Cat Island. And the Ship Island is where Fort Massachusetts, the Civil War prison was built, and that's where the troops were to be quartered, and the dogs were on Cat Island. And I went over and took a tour around...

LD: What was the idea? What did they intend to do?

JL: They intended to teach these dogs by taking perspiration from the men and blood from the men, putting it on the food, and teaching these dogs to bite only Japanese. The idea would be they'd take thousands of these dogs and turn them loose on these islands in the Pacific and the same men. Well, they stayed down there, this was in the dead of winter. We took thirty-five men down there and two officers and left them there, and they trained with these dogs for about three months.

LD: What did you think of that idea?

JL: Well, I thought it was stupid. I didn't think it would work, but they had to have a chance. The way it turned out, two or three of the boys, three of the boys really went in to fight the dogs, and they put on, they looked like tackling dummies from football, they had guarded pads and things. Two of 'em got bit and got some medals for it. But when they get through fighting the dog for an hour they'd pat him on the head and he'd wag his tail and follow him out of the place. So the whole thing was blown up, they made us scout dogs, and they all went to Monterey, California in a scout dog camp. They had a fantastic lot of animals. I was scared to death the first time they went through, they took a mannequin and they put a pound of meat in his throat and took a dog and said, "Heel," and they take the leash out of him and say, "Strike," and that dog would go from a sitting position for a pound of meat. The only consolation I could get had it going right over the head of most of our guys because the thing was too high. But gosh, it was frightening. And the reason they were going to tell him, because I told Colonel Gaither that I've got to go back to Hawaii and live with these boys. I can't be taking them down here to get chewed up by dogs.

[Interruption]

JL: Colonel Nickels called me in the morning to bring the troops over to Cat Island where the dogs were. And I said to him, "Colonel, haven't you forgotten something?" And he said, "Yes, I haven't forgotten it, but I can't do it." He said, "You're going to have to do it." What he meant was tell the boys what their job was going to be. So there was no reason for me to talk back to him, and so when we got over to the dock at Cat Island, and the boys all got off, I assembled them and told them what the project was as I knew it, and told them that there were maybe some danger from them being bitten, or some harm come to them.

LD: Did they say anything?

JL: No, but I asked them to just play the job, do the job the best way we can, the way we do all of our jobs, and that's the way we entered into the project. And as it turned out later on, only two or three of the boys were willing to go in and fight the dogs, and we ended up by taking the boys and put 'em out in the woods and hide 'em in trees and turn the dogs loose to go and find them like scout dogs. And that's the way the project ended, they took the dogs all to California to Monterey, to the dog training center. And our boys left there and joined us back at Hattiesburg.

LD: How did you feel about that?

JL: Well, I thought it was kind of stupid. I didn't think it could happen because this old Swiss captain had said he could make these dogs pass in review and do eyes right. Well, that's a lot different than teaching them to bite only a certain race of people by subjecting them to the smell of the food and perspiration and blood and that. And I just thought it was unfair. As a matter of fact, when we landed at New Orleans to go over there, the whole airport was cleared, and the entire place was circled by MPs. And when the plane landed, I was the first one out of the planes, walked right in the back end of the two and a half ton truck with a curtain on it, and those trucks went right out of there and down to the dock and put the boys on a boat so nobody could see them. And nobody was to go anyplace, nobody stayed right there. They were afraid that word might get out that the Japanese boys were being used for guinea pigs, to be tasted. And so word was that there wasn't to be any conversation with anybody, or anything was absolutely quiet. They even mentioned that they were afraid that this could get back as far as Tokyo Rose, could be spread all over, the U.S. Army is using their own boys for guinea pigs.

LD: You said "unfair." What was unfair about it to you?

JL: To pick one race like this and try to use them for guinea pigs to find out if this thing would work. They were using my human beings. Maybe if they'd been using from another outfit I would have thought different. First place, I didn't think the project would work, and second, I didn't like the idea of selecting our... and later on, I tell you, on the way back, when I stopped in Washington on the way back, in Washington, D.C., they gave me thirty-five pink slips that I'm supposed to take and have each one of these boys fill one out. And I said, "Wait, this thing looks familiar to me. This is not something I need. It was a loyalty questionnaire." And I said, "Look, you can take these thirty-five pieces of paper back and keep them. You're talking to men, soldiers in the United States Army, and it's too late to be questioning their loyalty, they're already in the army." The guy took the thirty-five papers back and never made me take them. But that's another example of some people wondering about loyalty, I think. Here these kids have been in the army, been through all these tests at Camp McCoy and down at Shelby, and here now they're going to have them fill out loyalty papers?

LD: What did they have in mind?

JL: I don't know, I think maybe because of the project. They were concerned about the project, if this got out to be popular, known by everybody, there could be some reaction from it. I'm sure that's the way they felt.

LD: What reaction?

JL: Oh, public. I think a lot of public, and even their own relatives. This was all Club 100, 100th boys. I think they might have felt that... you know, word gets back home, "God, they're using my son for..." and people would think that they're picking on only the Japanese boys I'm sure, because they're not going to get the blood from anybody else, are they? It was a dumb project.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.