Fourth in a Series of Interivew with Veterans of the 552nd FA Battalion
Hawaii Herald, 4/17/1987
By BEN TAMASHIRO
INTRODUCTION In the immediate aftermath of Germany’s defeat in WWII, the entire countryside around Dachau was left literally swarming with thousands of long-incarcerated souls, bewildered by their sudden release from the infamous Nazi concentration camps. As they desperately tried to get a bearing as to how to head for their homes, their Nazi prison guards either deserted or were captured by the onrushing units of the U.S. Army. One of those units was the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Jim Mizuno, a member of the 522nd, described his experience: “I don’t recall exactly where it was. We came upon this one camp, must have been south of Munich. We were on a little hill. Looking down, we could see all the prisoners in there. We looked at the towers and there were no guard, so we said, ‘Let’s take a chance.’ and I went down to the gate. (The) majority were French prisoners, not concentration camp people. They were afraid to come out because even though the guards weren’t around, they didn’t want to take a chance. But they saw our American uniforms and I told them. ‘Come on out.’ And they said, ‘Which way to France?’ I pointed, and they all too off.”
Dachau, the first of Hitler’s concentration camps, lay but a short distance to the northwest of Munich. In the wake of war’s end, the 522nd was assigned to Augsburg, one of Dachau’s 34 subsidiary camps, to maintain order in and around town.
There, Lt. Mizuno found himself in the unaccustomed role of supporting a military government, quite a change from his combat slot as a forward observer with the 522nd. “The farmers were hard up,” Mizuno said. “They had these slave laborers working on their farms – Hungarians, Lithuanians, Poles, Russians. Our military government was rounding them up and processing them, by nationalities, to put them on trains and and send them back home.
“I remember this one farm with about 50 White Russians, displaced persons who had fled Russia and didn’t want to go back. So I called up the military government and was told they could stay. But that very evening the instructions were rescinded. They had to go and all they could take with them was what they could carry on their backs.
“When these guys left home they had brought their horses, carts, and all kinds of clothing with them. I don’t remember who was working with me at that time, but I wasn’t going to let the Germans have all these things, so I told him to haul them into the woods and hide them. But we couldn’t very well hide the horses. So I called up the military government and told them we had these horses, maybe 30 or 40, and what did they want to do with them? ‘Do whatever you want,’ they said. So we kept two for the guys to ride and auctioned off the rest to the farmers. We put the money in our company fund and never had to pay for anything ourselves after that.”
Mizuno cannot recall how much they actually got for the horses, “but we had everything going for us,” he said. Indeed, in the dramatic turn of events, towns and cities once enemy strongholds became destinations for sightseeing GIs, while instruments of war, such as the battalion’s two aircraft, were used to support their social needs.
KING OF THE CAPERS “I was special services officer for the whole battalion for awhile, so I set up these baseball leagues and stuff. And we flew our Piper Cubs to Munich to pick up new movies. We had the farmers cut some crops to make a landing field.
“Out of the whole battery, we used one platoon, maybe, on duty to man our assigned roadblocks and carryon other duties. The rest of the guys were off so we had these tours- to Switzerland, London, Paris … and we had one program where we’d give the guys a truck, supply them with 10-in-1 rations, and they could go anywhere they wanted to.”
Another time the wiley Mizuno converted a soccer field into a baseball diamond … “We were playing in the baseball tournament and we had a real good softball team, and a real good pitcher, Kobashigawa. But he was so little we were afraid that the big haole guys might get to him in the championship game, so we sent out a squad at night to move the pitcher’s mound one foot closer to home plate. They couldn’t hit him. That foot made all the difference. It won us the brigade championship. That night after the game we sent a gang to move it back. They never found out.”
Roadblocks had been set up to apprehend Nazis who might try to escape by merging themselves into the mass of former inmates milling about the countryside. Local Nazi sympathizers were being rounded up by the military government. “All of the officers plus some of the key noncoms were assigned one Nazi each in our sector. They gave me this guy who owned a lumber yard while another officer was assigned to his daughter. And on this certain day at 6 in the morning, we picked them all up and put them in jail. They didn’t expect it, so they were all home.”
The mayor of one of the towns near Augsburg was a Nazi and when he was taken, the farmers designated a man to be acting mayor. “He was afraid of his own shadow,” Mizuno recalls. “The town was in the Baker Battery area so at the times I went there, I’d put on my Class A uniform and I’d tell the boys accompanying me to be all spit-and-polish, salute, stand at attention and all that. This is what impressed the farmers; none of this palsy-walsy stuff or patting the girls on their behinds.
“And everything was rationed. The allowance for eggs was four per week, and although each farm had hundreds, the farmers wouldn’t touch anything beyond that. The products were destined for the cities. They had to show where everything went. So when we needed, say, 25 pounds of butter, I’d give the farmer a piece of paper and sign it, ‘General Eisenhower’ or some such name. We never used our own. It was such a nice setup-we had lots of hot baths, showers, milk, butter and more beer than we could handle,” he said.
CHILDHOOD & FAMILY Mizuno was born in Long Beach in 1916, but his family moved to the East Side of Los Angeles when he was still a tot. From a family of six boys, five of the Mizuno brothers ended up serving their country in WWII: Fred, George and Ernie with the MIS, Bill with the general hospital unit, and Jim with the 442nd. “My older brother, David, had a rheumatic heart so they wouldn’t take him (he died in the mid-’50s). When he heard rumors about the relocation, he took off for Chicago. Not that he was afraid, but he had a streak that made him do things on his own. He was always like that, independent and self-reliant.
“But for a long time (David) couldn’t get a job, as long as he said he was Japanese. He lived in those fleabag hotels,” said Mizuno. However, Mizuno explained that his brother was always a very practical man, and he finally got a job as a tool-and-die man for one of Chicago’s biggest companies “by passing himself off as a Puerto Rican.”
Although Mizuno’s parents did not have a lot of material possessions to speak of, they did experience some loss in the evacuation when vandals broke in and took some of their things that were left in the care of the Nichiren Church on the street where they lived.
“Some of the people were saying that the relocation was safer for them because of the attitudes of the people around them, but I don’t think our folks would have had any trouble. Our neighborhood was 75 to 85 percent Jewish, so my friends were mostly Jewish. In those days, cultural differences didn’t matter; we didn’t even think about it one way or the other. We had only one Chinese kid in the neighborhood, and a Puerto Rican kid. They were all part of our gang. We were just a bunch of American boys then.”
“The mayor said he would take care of all the appliances and furniture for us. He had been the mayor for many, many years and was a very good friend of my father’s. But when the war ended, he was thrown out of town and was living in Inglewood in Southern California. We went to see him and he said he had sold everything … so we had nothing,” Toshi said.
In spite of the painful memories, Toshi and others return to Delano for reunions. This year, as they have done every five years since the end of the war, about 200 former Delano citizens from all over the country will get together on the Sunday before Labor Day. “They’re like the swallows of Capistrano,” said Mizuno, who has accompanied his wife to many of these reunions.
“It’s my hometown,” said Toshi simply.
YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW Due to torn ankle ligaments while playing basketball, Mizuno was granted a three-month deferment to March 1941 before being drafted. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Mizuno was with the 40th Division, California National Guard. They were assigned to guarding installations- March Air Base, the Lockheed and Douglas aircraft plants and the Standard Oil Company’s plants and piers at El Segundo. But in March 1942, coincident with the mass evacuation of Japanese from the West Coast, Mizuno and 138 nisei from the 40th Division found themselves being shipped to El Paso, then to Fort Bliss, Texas.
The yellow flags of bigotry had been raised. “We didn’t feel any (prejudice) in our neighborhood, but I began to feel it in the Army. In Texas, they started censoring our mail until one of the guys on clean-up detail saw our letters thrown about on the floor. Officers were supposed to be doing the censoring, but we found out some of the guys were recruits. We complained and that stopped it.”
In another case, “Since I was a noncom, I used to go down to the parade ground and work with the other noncoms getting the recruits started on close-order drills and the like, until one of them wrote home and his letter appeared in the El Paso Times. He had joined the Army, he wrote, to fight Japs and here was one giving him close-order drills.”
At Fort Bliss, Mizuno was unaware that he was being trained as a First Sergeant in preparation for the 442nd team. “So when the 442nd was organized at Shelby, 14 of us went in as a cadre for Baker Battery. But because our training had been as infantry, we were sent in early to Shelby for training in artillery with the 69th Division. By the time the Hawaii boys came in, we had a working knowledge of artillery.
When the evacuation order came, Mizuno was already in the Army and brother David was in Chicago. His parents and four other brothers at home were interned at the Poston relocation camp in Arizona. “They just pulled up stakes and went,” said Mizuno. Later, rather than returning to California, they settled on Chicago’s South Side. There, they opened a small restaurant, and the boys entered the military services.
TOSHI Discrimination was a harsher part of life for Mizuno’s wife, Toshi (short for Toshiko), in Delano, a small farming district about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, 30 miles past Bakersfield. “We weren’t allowed to go to the White East Side School, only to the West Side School. The Mexicans, Blacks and a few Whites who didn’t want to go with the (other) Whites stayed with us.
“In the theater we were segregated. This was all very common and we never thought anything of it. Later on, the Japanese were the only ones allowed to go to the White school, but nobody went. And although we were allowed to sit in the middle of the theater, we sat where we always sat on one side.
“We accepted it and thought nothing of it. Now, when I think back-how stupid! Why didn’t we fight? We’re just as good as whites. I didn’t know why we did that,” said Toshi.
Still, she was stunned and “in tears” when her family was interned, also at the Poston relocation center in Arizona. To the young girl, forced to accept the indignity of sharing one room in the barracks with her mother, two brothers and a sister, the evacuation and relocation was discrimination beyond anything she experienced in Delano.
“My father had a business–boarding house malt shop and five houses that he rented. I never knew what it was to be poor, to want something. If my mother cooked something I didn’t like, I would say to her, ‘Give me some money, I’m going next door to eat.’
“When the war started-I was 15- they took my father’s rights away and put him jail. He was allowed to take with him just one shoe box of toiletries. And we did not see him ’til a year later. All the other 25 Japanese fathers in town were also jailed .
“In our town, we had a lot of Filipinos working for the Japanese farmers as fruit pickers-grapes, cantaloupes, whatever. And the day the war started they turned on us. We couldn’t even go shopping, they chased us with knives. I hate to say this, but for us it was safer to get away,” Toshi recalled.
ON THE BATTLEFIELD “I was First Sergeant of Baker Battery through most of Italy, then they gave me a field commission near Leghorn after which I was usually a forward observer and worked mostly with George Company, Second Battalion.
“We had a lot of hot fights in Bruyeres. In one, we spotted a number of tanks down by the railroad tracks, but by the time we fired our artillery on them, they went under a pass. We called on the Air Corps and the airplanes got about four or five of them. In the action to save the ‘Lost Battalion,’ there were Germans dug in pretty good on this one hill and it took us two days to take it. We worked up a strategy where G Company held the front while E and F Companies went around and came down a hill, and we had them trapped.
In another incident not long after the rescue of the ‘Lost Battalion’, “Early one morning, I was directed to go with F Company because they had the job of clearing a strongly held ridge. I told the platoon leader that I don’t like the looks of this place, so I fired artillery on the other side of the clearing. Nothing. So we started across and, sure enough, halfway across they poured it on us. They were waiting for us. Shells and splinters were coming down like rain. My whole party got hit. Geez, that was a helluva spot,” Mizuno said.
Although wounded, Mizuno continued to work forward to direct artillery fire upon enemy strongholds until ordered to withdraw and receive medical attention. He was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions. During one of the campaigns leading up to Leghorn, Mizuno took over as battery commander since all others were out of action for about 15 days. The battery didn’t miss a beat in combat. And, for his performance, Mizuno became the first man in the 522nd to be awarded a field promotion.
GOING HOME Yet, in spite of the situation Mizuno had described earlier of life around Augsburg, where things were pretty good for the men after the war, he yearned for home. Recent West Point graduates arriving in Europe after the war gave him glowing reports of the big welcomes that had been staged in New York Harbor for returning veterans. “Boy, when you guys get home, the bands will be playing ‘Sentimental Journey’ and all that,” they said.
Although the outfit eventually did receive its orders to return home several months later, Mizuno and 14 other officers had to wait for replacements until December. Finally boarding a converted Liberty ship, their 17-day Atlantic crossing home was marred by wild mid-winter gales, tossing the ship about like a bucking bronco.
“So we come into New York Harbor and nobody was there. The only people that greeted us were the people on a ferry coming from New Jersey to New York. But there was a Red Cross unit at the dock that gave us coffee and doughnuts,” Mizuno remembered.
Mizuno’s father passed away in the early part of 1933 and he credits his mother for keeping the family together during the Depression years. He had never asked his mother how she felt to have had five sons in the military service before she passed away in 1982 at the age of 92. However, he did remember, “When I left for the service, she said, ‘Do your very best for your country.’ When I returned home-home was then Chicago- she hugged me and shed some tears. We both cried. She said, ‘Welcome home and well done.'”