Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Chester Tanaka Interview
Narrator: Chester Tanaka
Date: October 8, 1980
Densho ID: denshovh-tchester-01

<Begin Segment 1>

I: This is oral interview number 3 with Chester Tanaka, member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Chester Tanaka served the entire length of the regiment's term in combat. Chet Tanaka was member of Company K, 442nd, and retired from the service as a technical sergeant. This is side number 1, the date is October 8, 1980. Mr. Tanaka, where was your family from and when did your parents -- you're a Nisei, when did your parents emigrate to America?


CT: Eddie, Ed Tanaka, Edward Tanaka. So there were three of us that served in the U.S. Army during World War II. In St. Louis where I grew up, there were four Japanese families. I really didn't get to know any of them very well. There was a consul, the family on the consulate, two other people ran a restaurant, and I think there was an old medicine man, doctor. But we maybe got around seeing each other, my family, the older folks, got together once a year, maybe Christmas or whatever, but the children never, myself, we never got together. Maybe once a year, but we really didn't know each other. I grew up essentially with Germans, Italians, and a sprinkling of French. This is essentially the St. Louis population, of course, there was a mixture of all the races, but strongly German and Italian. And this is where I grew up, in a German neighborhood, really, with the Italian neighborhood just around the corner, over the hill, as they say.

I: Did you have any identification with the Japanese culture? Did your parents talk of Japan or tell you stories? Did you have any identification with Japan?

CT: There was very little discussion about Japan in the family. I think they came from rather severe conditions back home. After the war they did mention something to me something, somewhat. My mother came from a broken home, they had remarried and so forth, and she was sort of a, if not... I'm not quite clear on it, but she evidently wasn't happy because of this second, her second father, or whatever you call it. My dad evidently came, he was the son of a sake foreman, but the whole area, Kyushu, which is a southern island near Fukuoka, I understand, had been depressed during this period economically, and so many Japanese left there, I guess, even as the people from other countries leave depressed areas. So they came to the U.S. looking for a new source of livelihood.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

I: December 7, 1941, what was the reaction in St. Louis? What was your reaction and the city's reaction, do you remember?

CT: I was just stunned when I heard the news. I said, "How could they do this? Don't they understand that they have very little materiel, I mean, it just doesn't make any sense how they could even consider going to war against the U.S. Anyway, I was just stunned. The city, the area, the neighborhood where I grew up, the school and so forth, it was a little strange, but essentially they were supportive. There was not too much they could do. Many of them understood my situation, I mean, not mine, but the family situation, and that the Germans and the Italians had undergone similar, a relative situation that we were placed in in World War I when the war began over there, and the Kaiser was hung in effigy and Germans and Italians were singled out and chased around and so forth, or at least Germans anyway. So there was quite a bit of understanding, quite a bit of understanding from the neighborhood and from the people. It was quiet, there was no rock throwing or vituperation or yelling or anything of that nature.


CT: -- and we were left alone, and we stayed in St. Louis. We were not put into relocation centers because that only applied to Japanese Americans or Japanese American families that were in military zones. We were not in such a zone.

I: What was your reaction when you heard that the Japanese families were being evacuated on the West Coast? Did you have any empathy, did you feel for them?

CT: Yes, we thought that the next move would be to move the families inland, out to the relocation centers. We were stunned, we just didn't understand it. I had just finished, or about to finish law school, and I couldn't comprehend how they could move Japanese citizens, Japanese American citizens. They might do this to Japanese who were not citizens, but not to Japanese Americans who were citizens. This was incomprehensible to me. I was trying to get more information and detail, but in the Midwest, there was not too much information of this type coming through from the West Coast. All the news was, of course, in the newspapers, and they were all the headline type, and of the war problems and so forth, and they were not the underlying legal or other aspects. This was not delved into too much by the papers.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

I: How did you first hear about the 442nd and what motivated you and your brothers to join the army, and where did you join the army?

CT: I had applied for a job in Washington, D.C. with the government. I couldn't get one locally because of the war, and my understanding was that it was, in St. Louis, because of the nature of the war munitions and aircraft factories there, they were a little loathe to take on Americans of Japanese descent. I looked in other areas, but they were also a little wary. So I applied to the government, and they said, "Sure, come on in to Washington, D.C."


I: Were there any, what company were you originally sent to then? Originally K Company, you were assigned to for training purposes? This was in Camp Shelby.

CT: In camp, you go to, you're not assigned to any rifle company, you're in a rookie school in a training group. And they have provisional companies, I don't recall the name of the company, but it was not K Company as such. We were trained... you stay in training for about three months or so, or more, and then you go on maneuvers and other type... so your training goes on for about a year. This was a little bit longer than usual, because I think they were still testing us.

I: This was in Camp Shelby?

CT: This was Shelby, Mississippi, near Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

I: Were you aware, while in Mississippi, of the Jim Crow segregation --


CT: They would use the bathrooms or the buses up front and so forth, but they weren't too happy with the situation, because they understood discrimination. But they just wanted to get their training over and get into action, and so they didn't want to really create an incident, although some of us were really upset with the whole thing. I don't know if it ever came to a confrontation.

I: When did you enter Camp Shelby, Mississippi?

CT: I believe it was in October of 1943.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

I: I wanted to ask you, Chet, about the training in Camp Shelby now. Did you have a sense that the units were trying to prove something even during their training period?

CT: Yes, there was a strong sense that you were on the spot, really, and that training was critical, I mean, you had to do well. And 99 to 100, almost a hundred percent of the group went through this, there were a few exceptions, probably I was the only one, maybe one other. But we didn't goof off totally. I would go up and fire the furnaces up for the service club because I didn't like to do hikes or close order drills, and I would be picked up and put on KP or whatever.

I: I understand that you were one of the people who were sort of, let's say lazy and sort of, wanted to get out of duty a little bit?

CT: Well, I don't know if it's lazy. We rationalized it. There was another fellow, Lloyd Inouye from Salinas, he was with I Company, he and I kind of buddied around during training, and we both decided that training, we needed the training and so forth, but we had been through a lot of this with the Boy Scouts earlier in our lives, and we didn't really need it now. And so through our rationalization somehow we ended up servicing the service club up on the hill and playing pool while the other guys were out marching. Of course, we were caught and put through KP and so forth. Lloyd and I, we really went through the training, picked up a lot of the essentials later on. But we were about the only two goof-offs that I know of, and we really didn't goof off too much.

I: But it turned out later... what happened later?

CT: Lloyd and I were good friends, we went overseas, eventually I became acting first sergeant for Company K, and Lloyd Inouye became acting first sergeant for Company I. I guess this is where goof-off training or service club training trains you to be a first sergeant, question mark? I don't know. Anyway, Lloyd was killed in action in the Folgorita area.

I: I had heard that many records were set by the 442nd for marching and marksmanship in Camp Shelby. Do you know anything of that? You mentioned what happened on the marches as well.

CT: Yes. Often when I was assigned to pull targets I was also on the other end shooting at targets. I became an expert marksman myself, they made you hit a bunch of bullseye instead of Maggie's drawers or you missed the target.

I: How is that, Maggie's drawers, M-A-G-G-I-E-S?

CT: Yes, that means they wave a red flag at you, that means you missed the damn target completely or you're so far off you get a --


I: Were there any funny instances other than what you mentioned from training?

CT: Yes. One time... we lived in barracks, and there were a bunch of guys, I don't know, about thirty people in the barracks, twenty-four, I don't know how many, but a bunch of people, bunch of guys. The barracks next door, obviously they were getting a little bored, so they tore up all of our beds or bunks after we had fixed it up for inspection one morning. So we weren't going to let this go by unnoticed. So the next time, when they were away at mess, two of us, I'm not going to say I was included, but I won't say I was excluded. But the two of us got on top of the bunk -- this is on top of the barracks, and we had salamander stoves, one on each end. These are little potbellied iron stoves with the chimney going up through the roof. So we got up on top, this is in October, November, getting cold down there, even down south. So we got up there with a bunch of blanks, M-1 blanks. We dropped two or three down each pipe and carried a brick with us, and we put a brick on top of the chimney. Then we got off the roof as fast as we could and then headed over to the mess hall. After a few minutes we were eating there, and then we heard this muffled boom, boom. And that was great, because when we get back, all the soot had blown out of the pipes, goes out the front door of the salamander stoves, since it can't get out through the bricks, and it goes all over the bunkhouse, and that whole bunk is covered with soot. Now, you've got to be ready for inspection the next day, spic and span and clean, or you're going to hear from other people or you're on KP or latrine duty or whatever. But we didn't care because were weren't involved, essentially. Well, our beds were never touched after that. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

I: Was there anything else that was funny, any other incidents? Maybe good natured competition? Were the Hawaiian boys separated from the mainland boys?

CT: No, not really, we really got along, the Hawaiian as well as the mainland. We had names, we were known as kotonks. They said if they hit us in the chin and we fell over and hit the ground, our head would go kotonk, the sound of a coconut hitting a rock when it fell off of a tree or something.

I: How do you spell that? K-O-T-O-N-K?

CT: Yes, that's a kotonk. And so all the mainland guys are known as kotonks, and all the island guys were known as kanakas.

I: How do you spell that?

CT: K-A-N-A-K-A?

I: What does that mean, do you know?

CT: I'm not sure to this day what it means, but I just call them a bunch of kanakas. But we really got along very well. I don't know how to explain it, but there was no friction.

I: Was there rivalry between the various training companies?

CT: Yes, there was, and also between battalions. But no bitterness or anything, it was just a friendly rivalry. We were always, our company was better, or our... then you get down to the company, then our platoon was better than the other platoon, or our squad was better than their squad. This was, I guess, generated, part of the army training program. But anyway, we enjoyed it. We really felt that we were better than the other group.

I: In the movie Go For Broke! with Van Johnson, it give you the impression initially that the white officers, called haoles, H-O-E-L-L-Y or something like that, weren't very happy to be assigned with the Japanese American regiment. Is there any evidence of that or any prejudice by the officers?

CT: I really didn't run into any prejudice or any overt things of that nature. I think there was a little distance or aloofness at the beginning and in the States. I think once we got overseas and got into action, it wasn't a question of haole, that's H-A-U-L-I, I think... well, I'm not sure. Well, anyway, I don't think it really made any difference whether you were white or yellow or whatever, it was what you were doing in combat. And then at that point, all the ancestry disappeared. It did not matter, it really did not matter.


I: Is there anything else that you can relate to us that would, to talk about your -- we have very little anecdotal material information on training, most soldiers didn't find it all that funny. The only thing they would remark on is that, it was interesting, sort of the clash between the Hawaiians and the mainland people. Were there any other incidents, maybe in the town, the director of the training camp?

CT: I really didn't run into that. I heard that there was a clash between the Hawaiian groups and the 69th Division. This was right before I got into camp, I just heard about it after I'd been there that there'd been a brawl or something, and that it was forgotten. I mean, you don't forget it complete, but I mean soldiers or GIs, you're under strain or stress, and get bored or whatever, and everybody's going through the same old crap all the time. It's not the same old stuff, but you know, it's not like being a civilian where you're going to do this or that. And the sameness kind of gets to you, so you just, I guess you just release it through a fight or whatever, or you get drunk or whatever, this is one of the things. I don't know. Whether it was a racial thing, I doubt, but it could have been. They might have been calling names and things, but from what I gathered, it was over after the brawl, the pent up tensions were released. And I was down at the camp there for a couple of months, and I never heard about it again. And the relationships, I would mingle and work around the other groups and divisions, Caucasian groups, no problems.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

I: Chet, this is the end of your training, and after training, did you directly go overseas?

CT: Yes. We went over right after training to, we went to Newport News where we debarked. We went on, got on board liberty ships, these were the old liberty ships that were built in a hurry, little bitty boats, that the think the top speed was about twelve knots an hour, ten knots, that's about thirteen miles an hour. It took us twenty-eight days to get across. We were in a huge convoy, there must have been literally a hundred ships in that convoy, and it could only go as fast as the slowest ship, and the slowest ship was, I think, the one I was on. It just seemed that way, of course, it was a liberty ship. We had cruisers, sub chasers, submarines, everything that you can name we saw floating alongside of us, zooming in and out on the way over. It was a, twenty-eight days is a long time on board ship. I was not seasick to the point of throwing any of my meals away, but I was really bilious or nauseous quite a bit of the time. The good friend of mine, Kobe Shoji from I Company --

I: How do you spell that?

CT: K-O-B-E was the first name, Shoji, S-H-O-J-I. He had just graduated, he had his bachelor's, and he was interested in education. I think he went back later and became a principal of the school, something like that. But anyway, he had broken his arm in training, just before we were supposed to leave. And he could have been left behind, but he did not want to be left in the States, so he came over with his broken arm and all. And we became good buddies going over, and for the first two days he wouldn't eat at all, broken arm or no broken arm, he wouldn't eat, he was just violently ill. And I would try to give him soup or something, just to get him some nourishment. Then after about a week he started to eat, he still couldn't move his arm very well. But two of us went over together, I was trying to feed him and not get ill, and he was trying to eat and not get ill, and between the two of us, we were, I guess, representative of the seasickness of the landlubbers going over to Europe. We ended up in Naples twenty-eight days later, all kinds of gambling and so forth went on. One enjoyable experience coming up at night out of the hold where we were sleeping, you sleep in bunks five tiers high, and I was on the fifth bunk. I decided if I'm going to get seasick, I'm going to get seasick on top. I don't want to be in a bottom bunk until I got sick, so I grabbed the top bunk. But any rate, the story I want to get to is very brief and really not a great story, but it's about coming on deck where you can get a little fresh air at night. Because you got all this foul air down in the hold where you've got hundreds of guys, GIs down there being transported over in these five-tier bunks one after the other. Of course, you can't smoke because the smoking lamp isn't on, that's what they called it on board ship, and it was never on, practically never on. So you'd go up on deck and you couldn't smoke, but you'd get fresh air at night. And what was so interesting at night, for landlubbers, you look over the side of the railing in the middle of the ocean, and suddenly you see all these fluorescent forms floating by, like lightning bugs in the bottom of the ocean there, underneath the ship going by. To us it was just amazing. We didn't realize that all that plant life had lights and things in them. The sailors would tell us about these various things, of course, I've forgotten most of it. But the thing I remember is looking over the side of the railing and seeing these phosphorescent life forms, marine forms floating by. And every now and then -- this was during the day, of course -- huge jellyfish and things were being pointed out, and of course the porpoises and things of that nature, whales. I don't know what they were, whales or what, but we'd see some huge things off in the distance, and then they would sand or go down when the ships would come roaring by. We assumed they were large fish and friendly. But this was the trip going over, and mostly we played cards and told tales and just got to know each other pretty well. And there was twenty-eight days of this, and all the time the ship was rocking and rolling and pitching. And we finally hit Naples on the twenty-eighth day. We had a couple of alarms about being attacked, but we really did not run into a single attack by the enemy.

I: Did a lot of the people in the 442 get sick?

CT: Yes. Quite a, I would say at least two-thirds of them were sick. But not everyone left their meal at the side of the rail. [Laughs] You can get sick without doing that. You just, you really don't feel like eating when, say, breakfast or lunch or supper comes along, but we were told by the veterans, the sailors, that you should really eat. You don't have to eat a lot of the gooey stuff or spicy stuff, but just eat bland food and solids, keep it going down, and it's better for you. And so I kept doing that, it was good advice. But essentially a lot of us were mildly seasick going over, and about a third, I guess, were...

I: Any other incidents that you can remember? Did you go over with another regiment or another group on the ship?

CT: I don't recall the groups that we were with, it was rather a blur. All I knew is there was a whole slew of GIs on board ship with us. We may have been in with another company or two, in fact, on our ship. We know that one company, I think a 2nd Battalion group was on another ship. And whether they had, I think they had to dock in Oran, Africa, and that, as we got near there, we heard rumors that they were gonna go to North Africa. The first rumor was that they were gonna fight with the remnants of the 100th Battalion, or the 34th, but then that was quickly quelled when they said, well, hell, those guys are out of there. They're over in Italy now. So another rumor came up that they were gonna be on guard duty or something. We never knew really what happened, we knew they did land finally in Oran, and they stayed there for about a day or so, and then they headed up and rejoined us in Naples. After the war we found out that what they had to do was deliver certain supplies off the ship, had nothing to do with the troops. But rumors flew fast and furious during war.

I: Okay, where did you land and do you remember when you landed?

CT: We landed in Naples. Naples was a beat-up port, it was terrible. The Germans had left it, they had sunk ships all around. Of course, the navy and the army engineers had cleared as much as they could, and so we got in very close and landed. And this had been cleared for some time, couple months.

I: When would that have been?

CT: I guess sometime in... gosh, I'm trying to reconstruct the time, I guess it was in March or April, March of 1943, '44, I guess, '44.

I: And from Naples, where did you go?

CT: We went right outside of Naples, about ten miles, six miles out, to a little town, I've forgotten it, and it was a staging area. In other words, it was a chance to get our land legs back together, to check on our supplies, clean our weapons, get the sea air out of it, make sure everything was in working order, and just to regroup and get our units together, make sure everything was in, that we were all organized and together. And we were in the staging area from, I don't know how long, but it seemed to me like a week or so.

I: So you were the first wave of the 442 essentially to hit Southern Italy before the actual link-up with the 100th Battalion.

CT: That's right. We had come with two battalions minus our first battalion. Our first battalion had been left behind in Camp Shelby.

I: Which two battalions were they?

CT: The second and third battalions came over.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

I: Chet, you were born and raised in St. Louis, and you were in a unique position to... because there were very few Japanese American families in St. Louis, and you didn't have the influence that many of the other urban and rural families might have had, or the community pressure, the understandings. So when you came to Camp Shelby, you were exposed to a lot of Japanese Americans for the first time, and could you describe the Nisei soldiers as, almost as an outsider? Of course, you were Nisei yourself, but you were bringing an American perspective, a very Midwestern look. Could you describe it from that perspective?

CT: Yes, it was a very interesting experience for me. I was born in St. Louis, there were about five Japanese families when I was growing up. The city had about 700,000 people in it. But with only five Japanese families, we got together luckily maybe once a year during Christmas, and even then only two or three families would get together, and I would only see them then. So naturally I grew up with the major culture. Most of my friends were either German extraction or Italian extraction. I went through all, what others go through, in St. Louis I went to grammar school and then high school and college in St. Louis. And my friends that I mentioned were mostly Germans and Italians, of course, there were French and other sprinkling, but that's the majority ethnic groups in St. Louis. When I volunteered and went into the 442nd, that was my first exposure to the Japanese American group as such. I had never seen so many in my life, I said I didn't know there were that many Japanese Americans in the United States. This is to myself. And then I got into the group and I found out that there were two groups of us. There was a group from the mainland, like myself, which had really a subgroup from the mainland, a group from the West Coast who had a little, they were a group among themselves. And then there were a bunch like myself who came from a scattering across the country. Some from Texas, some from Wisconsin, some from Michigan, some from New Jersey. We were like scatterings, and we were all brought together here down in Shelby. Now the other big classification are the Japanese Americans from Hawaii. So you had the mainland Japanese Americans and Hawaiian Japanese Americans. The mainland Americans were broken up into those who were essentially from the West Coast, and those who were gathered up from the rest of the country. So that was the gathering that I ran into, and it was quite interesting when I met them all down in Shelby.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

I: What was this Nisei soldier like? Describe the personality of, first, maybe the mainland Nisei. Of course, we always know them as being quiet and very humble. What other characteristics, and describe that.

CT: Well, I don't know. When you're in a group, I guess you're not humble or anything. You're with your own, but you're a majority because you're with your own ethnic group. It was very interesting in this sense, that... well, let me describe it from the way I approached it and the way I saw it. The Hawaiians were the real different subculture from our subculture they had a, sort of a pidgin English that they spoke, and generally they were a little bit shorter than the mainlanders, I guess it was nutrition, I don't know. This is not true absolutely. I was, for example, along the larger of the Nisei or the Japanese American soldiers in the 442nd. I was 5 feet 6 inches, and I weighed 145 pounds. Now, the average Japanese American, mostly the ones from the islands were about 5'4" or less, and they weighed about 120 pounds. And then they had this pidgin English that they spoke, which was an amalgam of Japanese, English, Portuguese, Hawaiian, and who knows what else was thrown in there? And they could only understand it among themselves, at least I couldn't understand at the beginning. And since I couldn't understand it, and being defensive, I assumed that it was inferior, and that their intelligence also had to be inferior. And this was soon put to... it was dispelled soon because I was asked to send her some letters from the Hawaiian soldiers. And I got to know some of the guys that spoke the pidgin English, and when I sent the letters, the letters were in perfect English, grammatically correct. The predicate, the verb, everything, there was nothing wrong. And so I learned quickly that the language sort of appeared distinction or differentiation, and so I began to try to pick it up.


I: Could you further describe the graciousness of the Nisei?

CT: I'm not quite clear on what you mean by graciousness, but there is a certain behavior that they undergo. They're quite different, I think, in this respect, than I am, or I found out that I had shared some of it. But I'm also considered a maverick because I didn't have enough of it, I guess. And that's, they have something that's called enryo, E-N-R-Y-O. Now, the very fact that I'm talking here and making a speech, that's not very good enryo. In other words, you're not being very subdued or quiet. Now, that doesn't mean that you should shut up and not say anything ever, but generally, I guess it comes from being an island group -- not Hawaiian island, but way back to the Japanese as such. Where if you live on an island, you're in a confined area, and you have to develop a way of accommodating with one another because you're all confined in a small area. This is all conjecture, but this is the way I understood it. And so that you don't go around making waves and you don't go around making a lot of noise. And many of the Japanese, as I understand it, they enryo... I can't even pronounce it properly. Is that you don't go around bragging or making loud noises about yourself. You just don't do this, because it's in bad form or bad taste. And particularly now when you go around, and say you're hitting to the major culture, to the Caucasian community, you find that many of the Japanese Americans are quiet and unassuming. They really, what they're doing, is they're practicing enryo. And they said the real subconscious or quiet concern is that they will be discovered to be worthy in a meritorious sense. In other words, their work or their service will be recognized and rewarded as such, but they don't have to go around saying, "Hey, guys, look at me. I'm really hot stuff, I'm great." They think that's very bad manners. The only way they can say that is by doing what they're supposed to be doing and doing it well. That's the way you say, "Hey, guys, I'm hot stuff." And this is an enryo approach. It may be my own definition, but it's something. It's probably bastardized, but it's the best I can do.

I: One could... when a group of Nisei are together, they're probably one way, and when they are with mixed, with Caucasians, can you describe the difference?

CT: No, it's not true. Even among the Nisei, the enryo or this holding back, it's supposed to prevail. I know because when I got in with the group, I didn't practice this enryo or whatnot because I had come from the major culture and had been conditioned in the major culture. And I'm used to, I don't know, if not a braggart, at least being vociferous and loudmouth, and articulate to the point where people sometimes can't stand me. Because if I don't like it, I say I don't like it, and if I do like it, I don't know, this is, I guess, from the culture you come from. But if you were within the Japanese group, Japanese Americans for that matter, they themselves, among themselves, will be restrained. This is not the thing they practiced one with the Caucasian and one with themselves, it's a general practice. It's nothing different from any other practice.

I: In doing these interviews and working on the book, I've learned a lot. I've learned, for instance, that the average Nisei does not want to be over quoted, does not want to be quoted in the book. They didn't want to say, "I did this much." And so he must be practicing enryo, and therefore it's been very difficult as an interviewer trying to extract information for the book, that one person would be afraid that he would be construed as a braggart and a loudmouth and saying, "How I won the war." So we have that problem, and maybe you could discuss that and the difficulty in that.

CT: Yes, that very thing that you mentioned I think is absolutely true. Because many of the GIs, Japanese American GIs, sometimes, for whatever reason, they just don't want to get up and say what they did. It comes from the enryo thing. But it's a two-way sword, really a sword. And it really worked beautifully the other way.


I: There's been talk that this sense of enryo reflected itself in the decorations. There was an extreme amount of decorations for heroism, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Crosses, but proportionally, very few Medal of Honor winners, or recipients. And perhaps when the orders were written, this sense of not wanting to be singled out for any honor outside the group, the sense of community service reflected itself in the lack of very high decorations that under other circumstances would have normally been awarded. These strong friendships that formed would be the, perhaps, most tightly-knit veterans organizations in the country. Would that account for it, too, the carry-over from the war?

CT: I think you have touched on the point, yes. The Japanese American veterans associations are very strong. I don't know if they're any stronger than the other groups, but they are strong, and they get together. And there is this, I guess among all veterans, and I know definitely among the Nisei, the Japanese American veterans, they have a real comradeship that, I don't know, it's all unspoken. And if you speak, they all know, because they all speak the same language. It's a difficult thing to say, but veterans all seem to speak the same language. You don't have to be Japanese American, but Japanese Americans do get together and they do have strong reunions.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

I: Speaking of reunions, the relationship to the Nisei veterans, the 442nd, and also from the Military Intelligence Service. When you go into Japantown, there's an immediate recognition of you being a veteran, being the visible, tangible heroes of a whole generation of Japanese, not only of the Issei, but the Nisei and the Sansei. Did you have that sense, when you go into the Japanese community, that you were the heroes of that generation, this regiment?

CT: No, no, that I don't know. [Laughs] No, I never had that, that never occurred to me. We do identify with the MIS. I don't know if the MIS identifies with us, they fought an entirely different war than the type that we did. But they fought the same enemy, the fanatic, militaristic enemy. They were Japanese over there, and we had the German militaristic group, and they were both fanatics. But the MIS group and, these were Japanese Americans who fought in the Pacific, and there were some eight thousand more as I understand it, and there were some eighteen thousand over in Europe. So overall, there were quite a number fighting on both fronts. We do have a very close connection, we really have... between the MIS and the 442nd and the 100th, there's a high regard for each other. The Sansei is the third generation. I think they really respect our military deeds, but they don't quite understand -- maybe they do -- but all I can say is that the Nisei group understand each other a little better because they had undergone this trial.

I: Are you the heroes of the community?

CT: We never think of it that way. We thought it was something that we had to do, and we did it, and when we get together, we just love to get together and talk about the good old days and some of the bad old days.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

I: -- lost any men that night. And early that morning, must have been about 5:30, daylight, just the light was coming in, I don't know when the light was moving, but early that morning, I woke my runner up. A runner is a guy that goes out, he's like a messenger, he checks on the different positions. And I said, "Go out and check so and so and so and so, you know everybody." And you tell him to go check the perimeter guard to make sure nothing had been breached or broken. And he came back and said everything's standing. And I was checking with the guard telling them to, the runner, I was explaining some other points of trying to get some supplies to them later in the day, when the shells started to come in. And it hit the slit trench about five yards from where I'd been standing, and this was a slit trench where I'd been sleeping the night before. My commo sergeant was still in the slit trench. He was flat on his back, I guess, fixing his rifle or whatever, but he was about three yards away in a slit trench parallel to mine. I was forced, as I mentioned, out of the slit trench, and a shell hit there and blew the dirt, knocked me down, and blew the dirt all over the commo sergeant and he was buried. But he was not wounded, because I dug him out later and he was white as a sheet, but luckily he was okay.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

I: I'd like to ask Chet, could you describe, after landing in Italy, your impressions of Italy and the Italian countryside?

CT: We landed in Italy in spring of '43, '44. Italy is, Naples area, is very, it was rather sparse. It was not as rich and fruitful as we found later on, as the Po Valley area. But when we got there, we had nothing really to compare except from our memories of the areas back home. But Italy was sparse. The only trees they had were some lemon or some olive trees, and they were kind of, to me, they seemed to be scraggly and scrawny little trees. They had probably other crops, but I was not familiar with it.

I: How about the nights? Did it get very cold at night in the summer?

CT: Yes, the nights were quite cool. We were on the coast. Some of us had not experienced this, but from the mainland interior, but most of the Hawaiian group and the coast Japanese Americans understood this type of weather.

I: How about the winters in Italy?

CT: Winters in Italy are something like they are in the States. They can get pretty cold, but that's a... you need heavy clothes, mackinaws or whatever, wool blankets and so forth, if they were available.

I: Describe a typical bivouac in the Italian countryside. You would be marching all day long, let's say not during fighting conditions, and you would stop, what would be the conditions? What about the supper, the mess, the cleaning up, the routine activity, the guard duty? Describe a routine end of march, end of a marching period.

CT: Well, they varied. There's nothing routine, I guess, it depends upon the day. I guess on a non-fighting day, what you would do is you'd try to be moving up towards the area that you're to start the combat action in. But it would take you several days or maybe even a week to get near the area. Sometimes you moved by truck and sometimes you walked or hiked. Tried to get a kind of open area. Not open so that the enemy can see us, but a hilly area so there were some desolate valleys or chasms and things we can hide in. But preferable to a treed area, because tree bursts are something you can't protect against too well. So we bivouacked in areas like that.

I: Trying to explain is that the Germans designed shells that would hit trees and fragment so that they would just fall down on you? How did that work?

CT: Yes. The German had -- and we had 'em, too -- they were, we called them tree bursts. But what they would do is on contact with anything, when the shells hit, the shells would blow up. And they were designed so that when they hit treetops or twigs or branches, they were very sensitive shells and they would blow. It would blow the head of the shell apart, and the shrapnel would fly all over, and it would spray downward on the troops. This is the way the shells were designed. We had 'em and the Germans had 'em. These were called tree bursts.

I: In talking to other members of the 442nd and the 100th, that was probably one of the most feared weapons the Germans had, they could use. Is that true?

CT: Yes. Particularly when you're moving up, or moving into an engagement, or getting ready to lock with the enemy, they use all type -- we used the same things. We used tree bursts, material shells and so forth, and they had 'em, too. Mostly the Germans, I think, had .75s, but they had others. .88s were not a tree burst type weapon, .88s were more like a, they would blow, but they were more like a rifle fire, because it didn't have a trajectory as such like the Howitzers, they would just go straight line.

I: What is an .88, could you describe to us? Perhaps that is also one of the more feared German weapons, an .88 referring to the .88 millimeter. But it would be a very high-powered cannon, very, very accurate. Could you describe maybe some instances of the accuracy and the terrible casualties it would mete out.

CT: The .88 was a very sophisticated artillery piece. I'm not trying to speak as an authority, and I would rather have the artillerymen or the cannon company speak but a cannon or a Howitzer had no grooves in the barrel, where an artillery had a rifling or grooves in the barrel so that the projectile I guess would spiral. I think this was true of the .88, I don't know, but I think that's what an .88 was. The .88 was, I think, about four and a half to five inch diameter, which we had five inches or something like that. But our shell, our artillery, did not go as fast or as sharp as the .88. The .88s were, they could be SP or self-propelled, or they could be mounted on tanks, or they were sometimes just field pieces. They were versatile instruments. You didn't have to lob 'em in air and track the trajectory and wait for them to land someplace, you can aim 'em like an M-1 rifle and go right at the target, because they were that straight and powerful. They had tremendous power, an excellent weapon. Too bad we didn't have it. We used this technique, and it just passes on. We never shot a prisoner, but this was a technique. You bring 'em in one door, take 'em out the other, and if they didn't seem to be responding, then we would tell him, "Shoot him." But it was psychological warfare.

I: Would there be any other incidences that you can recall about the adversary, the German soldier?

CT: The German soldiers were amazed, I think, at the fact that they were fighting the Japanese Americans. As many other Germans had pointed out, they just looked at it. They were, they just looked at us. They couldn't understand who we were and what we were doing there. But I think near the end of the war, they really began to understand that there was a very good fighting Japanese American regiment, and word got around even to us, we heard it. We didn't hear it from Axis Sally or anything like that, but we heard that the Germans didn't want to come in contact with us. This is what we heard.

I: You told me you heard another rumor that was unsubstantiated that Hitler had given orders to the German army to "give it all they got to wipe this regiment out." It was a great irritation, and also a great irritation to the white supremacist Aryan view that the Germans couldn't be beat, particularly by Orientals. Did you hear that, too? Did you hear that from the members of your Company K, or was that generally throughout the regiment that you'd hear that rumor?

CT: I heard it throughout the regiment. Company K had it, but I heard it throughout the regiment.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

I: -- that pretty much impressed the technology, even their tanks were better. Did you ever come up against any tanks, German tanks?

CT: Yes, we ran into German tank, we ran into Tiger tanks and other, I assume it was a Tiger tank. And we couldn't even penetrate it directly with our weapons. We had some, really we had a little .37 millimeter anti-tan, gun, and those things would just bounce off like water off of a duck. And bazookas even couldn't penetrate, unless you happened to hit a little crevice somewhere, where it could sneak through. Most of the time they took a bazooka and blew the treads off so they became immobile, and then they, if they were sitting there and we could knock the German infantry away, then if we had gasoline or could get up and shoot in through a hole someplace and get some bullets to ricochet inside to stir it up like an eggbeater, that's the way we could clean out the tank. And sometimes they set 'em up to keep the Germans off, but if we're not careful, we stumble into it. Now, they also know the Germans set up booby traps. But in any event, we watch out for the booby traps in several areas. One where the water is, and two, where the toilets are. Because they booby trapped latrines and they booby trapped watering areas, and we had to be very careful. We do it, I mean, our troops do it when we replaced them on a fighting line, they'll booby trap certain areas, and so would the Germans. So we'd look at those areas carefully first.

I: How would they booby trap a latrine?

CT: The latrine could be booby trapped in several ways. If it's sort of a semi-permanent holding area, but you're still out in the woods someplace, they may have something like a semi-enclosed area, and they may have wires, not near the thing, but maybe ten or fifteen yards, twenty-five yards beyond the latrine in a circle so that anybody hits it, the wire, except on the entrance part, will set off a grenade or something.

I: Do you recall the circumstances?

CT: He was killed by rifle fire. The troops were pinned down, I wasn't there in that particular patrol sector, but I understand he was just cut down by rifle fire. He didn't try to stand up and get riddled or anything, he was trying, you know, to do his job, and he was killed. He was a good soldier, but he just felt this... he had been in action before. He had been in action for about ten or fifteen, six months from now, five or six months. This was not his first one, he'd been on many patrols. And he just knew at this particular time, something was going to happen definitely to him, and he said he was not coming back.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1980 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.