Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, April 1978, vol. 32 no. 2
Interview with Goro Sumida and his accounts of the war
A taped interview with Goro Sumida. I have always had the thought that somebody in the 100th should start a project to gather together the stories of the combat experiences of the men of the 100th – to do this before we forget or become too frail or senile, before we all go kaput. Some first-hand stories of what or how we fought, what made us fight the way we did, who we were doing it for and why, our hopes and fears and delights – whatever can be garnered from the guts of the buddaheads.
About a year ago, I asked Goro Sumida, Able Chapter, if he would be willing to try a taped interview with me, more as an experiment, than anything else. He willingly consented so we had two interviews about a month apart. What follows is a condensation, and slightly edited transcript, of the first interview.
Goro was born in Honolulu in 1920. He is a graduate of Nuuanu Chugakuen. He was drafted in 1941. When the 100th was first organized, he was assigned to Co. E; later, in Italy, he was reassigned to Co. A. He is married, has two sons aged 28 and 24, and a daughter 20. He currently lives in Aiea.
The interviews were held in the Board Room of the clubhouse. GS stands for Goro and BT for me. The astericks [sic] represent names which understandably are kept out of this piece.
In the introduction, I noted that most of the original members of the 100th were incapacitated somewhere along the war by wounds, being captured, getting trench feet, or being felled by illness. And many were killed in combat. But Goro is one of a handful of original members who somehow managed to escape all these misfortunes of war. He fought the entire war without even a Purple Heart to show for his efforts!
BT: What would you attribute this to?
GS: Well, I think it’s luck . . . skill . . . training. Like we used to read . . those frontier books, pioneer books on scouting. So I took a job as a scout. Volunteered for scout.
BT: So being a scout, you were always a point man?
GS: Yes. You usually lead off or have to go. And they (the Germans) don’t shoot the scouts.
BT: What do you mean by that?
GS: They suck in the scouts. And then they try to hit the main body.
BT: Well, how did you go about in preventing your squad, or platoon, from being sucked in, as you say?
GS: Well, we go about one hundred or two hundred yards ahead of them (the platoon) Then we look over the terrain. Anytime the officer thinks they may have concealment, you have to check the point.
BT: How many of you were usually on this scouting?
GS: Every squad had two scouts so in a platoon you get six scouts.
BT: So you usually went out in pairs?
GS: Minimum. You leap frog, one in front, and then he holds one position.
You get the second scout to pass you. And he goes ahead a little bit more. That’s how we leap frog the place.
BT: Okay. Let’s recap what you’re saying . . . it’s mostly luck, plus this training of watching out. So that’s how you managed to keep yourself from not being wounded or getting hit!
GS: Yeah. Maybe, if you’re in the right place at the right time! That’s luck, you see. You wanna get hit but you don’t get hit. You know, cold . . . soaking wet . . . all in the mud . . . and you wish you get hit. Maybe, one slight wound on the leg, you might land in the hospital!
BT: How come you didn’t get trench feet?
GS: I had trench feet! Severe. But, I don’t know, we’re hard headed, so we just don’t give up.
BT: You mean you had trench feet but you still kept on going?
GS: Yeah, still on the line. Later on, I got evacuated. But when you see all of them get wounded, like that, you cannot, you know . . . leave them flat like that and go down, because you can still fire a gun.
BT: Okay. Now, let’s talk about some specific incidents.
GS: One day on the road to Rome, this fellow ****** and I, we dig the same hole so two persons can lie in the foxhole. Then after we finish the hole, we had some replacements come up. So they wanted to dig near our place. This replacement was so young, he was only seventeen. He said, “Eh, Goro, how about helping me dig one hole?” They dig on top of the bank where the old timers would never dig. But just to reassure him, I help him dig a hole. So when we were digging, I heard the mortar shell coming. You know, the German shell, the flat sound, they go “Pwrong! Pwrong!” So I told him, “Eh, grab your pack and put’em on your head!” Then the shell land pretty close. I look at my friend. His pack flew away. He’s covered with dirt. He don’t move, so I thought he got hit. So I grab his toe. “Hey, you alright ****** ?” And he turns around. “Oh! I thought your neck went gone!” He saw my back pack gone. So I start calling my squad, one by one. Everyone answer. “How’s ****** ?” So I call his name; he didn’t answer. I jump out of the hole. I look in the hole. He’s covered, you know . . . the foxhole is. Only his shoes sticking out. So I thought maybe he only got knock out. I grab his belt, start pulling his body out, see . . you know, the cartridge belt. Then the stomach came out. Then the chin came out. Then the head came out. When the head came out, the top of his head is all gone, see.
GS: Direct hit, see. If the shell landed outside, me and the kid ****** would die. But it land smack in the hole so only he die. And that night, you know, his best friend, he was supposed to go guard. Every four hours we change. But his friend he cannot sleep. So I had to go eight hours on, take his good friend’s position,
BT: You mean this friend was grieving for this guy who was killed?
GS: Yeah. All night he was in a daze because he cannot believe his friend dead.
BT: “Shoe” mine?
GS: You know, this kind square box. They get half pound of TNT, and then a pin, I think. Soon as you step on’em . . . it’s made of wooden container so the mine detector cannot pick’em up. Lot of our boys lost their heels … no more leg.
BT: How did you get around the problem?
GS: We follow one person’s footprint.
BT: (On the use of toilet paper to mark a path at night.) Then you must have considered toilet paper almost as precious as your ammunition?
GS: Right. Because then you can use’em quite a bit, for dual purpose. You use’em for wipe. We used to eat, we used to have a lot of wine, I mean grapes. So quite a bit of the boys used to get diarrhea.
BT: What kind of food would you normally carry in your pack?
GS: We used to carry mostly the light can. The heavy can . . . corned beef and pork hash, when it’s not cooked, you don’t have fire, the thing too much oil, you don’t feel like eating the food. So they rather carry the cocoa and the light can where they have the cookies and chocolate and coffee.
BT: And water?
GS: Lot of time when we fighting in high altitude, we have to melt the ice to get water. And in fact one night we never get water. We hit the river in the night, see, and everybody fill in the canteen. Next morning we look, dead man in the river, you know. Dead German. But nobody got sick!
BT: What river?
BT: What kind of foods did you folks get off the land?
GS: We used to get a lot of chickens. We used to get peaches growing right
in the yard. And we find the Italians had a lot of onions in their attic. Then if you stay close to the ocean side, you get lot of squid. You buy’em from the Italians. And they get fish.
BT: And this one guy you say normally out scrounging for food . . .
GS: He look for rice. First thing he look for, rice.
BT: So he’s a scout for a different kind of purpose?
GS: Right, he’s always looking for food. Because lot of time you cannot depend on the supply because you don’t know when you gonna get’em, especially when you way up in the mountain.
BT: What about . . .
BT: Okay. Let’s talk about wine.
GS: They got vin rose, that’s red wine. And they got one they call Bianca, white. And sweet wine. And where we used to find the good wine . . this priest, from Cassino . . . they must know how to make good wine.
BT: Talking about Cassino, was there any particular thing that happened there that you might want to tell us about?
GS: During the day, we used to watch the American planes go over to Cassino. One by one they dive down and drop their bombs. The brave one they go all the way down. But some of them they green horn so they just dive, drop their bombs, and take off. Then one day, we even saw one observation plane . . . you know, both sides firing the artillery . . . and the plane blew up! Then you only see one parachute coming down. Direct hit. But he was lucky because he wasn’t dead.
BT: Were there other . . .
GS: Oh, yeah. One day we were in an orchard grove. Then we went across the river (Rapido). That evening, we had this anti-tank crew come up with the gun to cover the junction of the road. And it just so happened that while they were laying the wire, these Germans, they shot two of our boys. I think ****** and *****. It was dark, lots of mines in that area. So our squad had to try to get that two wounded persons. It was about ten o’clock. So we crawled, on both banks of the road. The road was mined so the Jeep got hit and the guy ****** died. So I came as close as about four yards of that person. Then I heard the sergeant calling, “Hey! Pull back! Gonna be daybreak!” And we’d be caught on the road. So we start pulling back. So when it came lighted, all our boys are behind the banks. And here come two Germans, down the road. They wanted to search our two boys . . the two persons died already. The sergeant told us, “Hold the fire! Bring’em in more, then everybody open up!” But this guy ****** he got all excited, he fire, you know. He miss that person! The two Germans start running back. And the one jump in the hole at the junction. So the lieutenant said to fix bayonet. So everybody put on the bayonet. We went charge two persons! My sergeant just run in their [sic] and bayonet him right through the back, see. And then, after he bayonet the person, he tried to take it out. You cannot take it out, you know. He had to pull the trigger. With the blast he took’em out.
GS: I think we were fortunate because we received long training in McCoy.
BT: Yeah, six months back there and another six months in Louisiana, Mississippi, all those places.
GS: And most of them used to play sports like football. So they know
how to shift their position. Like when I was in Arno River, when I string my squad, I keep one man in the back. In case we get pinned down from one machine, this guy can move around and give support. Just like in football. And they were more matured. We’re not young kids. We all over twenty-one already.
BT: So the good training, and most of the boys in Hawaii participating in some kind of sports, and the fact that they were a bit more mature . . .
GS: Right. And then, most of them went to Japanese school. And they got, you know this . . . what they call shushin . . . that’s your morals. They got so many virtues in shushin . . . your character, how to build up your character.
BT: Okay, Goro. Let’s stop right here before we run out of tape.
Goro was born in Palama and practically grew up in Palama Settlement where he learned his sporting game – swimming, boxing, etc. – and how to take care of himself. His father, Chiyogora, was born in Japan in 1888, his mother was Hawaiian born. He is one of seven boys; his only sister, the eldest of the children, died when she was two.
The family operated Sumida Express, an enterprise started in the early ’20s during the days when the Japanese ships crowded Honolulu Harbor and trade in Japanese goods was booming. The business was terminated shortly after the end of WW II.
Six of the boys served in WW II. Although the seventh, the eldest, had also volunteered for service, the military would not take him – six was more than the country could ask of any family. Goro proudly remembers the little white sheet of cloth which hung behind the screen on the front door of their home. On it were stitched six stars. And he also remembers his mother’s jet black hair which, by the time he had come home from war, had turned completely white.