1st of 3 parts detailing Francis Shinohara’s experiences at the beginning of World War II
Author: Francis Shinohara, B Company
Source: Puka Puka Parades, February 2000
My incredible World War II Journey started with an OR&L train leaving the then depot at Iwilei. From the train window I waved goodbye to my mother who had arrived breathlessly to see me off. The train ride to Schofield Barracks and induction into the army occurred on November 15, 1941. Two songs popular then were “Hey Daddy, I Want a Diamond Ring” and “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor while we were home on a weekend pass. Fred came over to my home to inform me that we were to return to our post immediately. We reported back to Boomtown in Schofield Barracks and were directed to dig in facing the mountains. A short time later, we were told to face the opposite direction. As evening approached, we were bivouacked in a building near the entrance to the camp. An older corporal, probably a veteran of World War I was paranoid of poison gas. A couple of times during the evening he yelled “GAS,” causing us to scramble for our gas masks in the darkness. “Where’s my mask, where’s my mask?’ shouted someone as we rushed outside to disperse in the field.
We ended the December 7 attack night guarding the fire station. Orange flashes lit up the distant sky. The flare of the anti-aircraft fire was the forerunner of the terrible battles to follow.
Many of the draftees were transferred to the 298th Regiment. This National Guard outfit was defending the Windward Oahu beaches. Fred Kanemura and the first group joined G Company at its command post in the cluster of pine trees alongside Kalanianaole Highway. G Company captured a Japanese one-man submarine in the ocean fronting Waimanalo Beach.
The rest of us joined E Company with over a dozen machine-gun emplacements from the Kahaluu fishpond through Kualoa Point to Lai o kaio, just before Kaaawa. After a night’s sleep at Waiahole School, I was assigned to one of two bunkers at the end of Johnson Road, just pass Waikane Store. A bunker on the beach was next to a small pond adjoining a luxurious beach home. In front of this bunker and in the ocean was a large swimming pool enclosed with wooden walkways. We were tense and alert while on guard duty. Two hours on duty and four hours off duty were the regimen adhered to by Corporal Urbatch, Santos and myself on our 24-hour vigil. As the days passed, the threat of an invasion became nil and we relaxed. In retrospect we had the beaches and ocean exclusively to ourselves.
Our closest neighbor was the Fukumitsu family. They welcomed us when we went to their friendly home for a hot bath. Occasionally, we walked up Johnson Road to a family across Kamehameha Highway and another family beside the highway for an evening bath. A thousand yards or so from the former poi factory and up Waiahole Valley Road lived the Mizunos. This gracious family unselfishly prepared baths for those at the command post on the grounds of the Japanese School. A ray of sunshine was a small white dog that mysteriously appeared to keep us company. The chow truck brought meals to us for an ideal existence.
E Company was a Caucasian Company with some soldiers of Hawaiian descent. The majority that joined the company was of Japanese ancestry. The natural welcome and complete entrustment to those of enemy origin on guard duty with loaded Ml rifles were the embodiment of many years lived harmoniously by the different races. The situation in Hawaii contrasted to the treatment of the Japanese-Americans on the mainland. The wartime necessity of defending these pristine Windward Oahu beaches with machine-gun emplacements may never happen again. Those of us who lived on the beaches will remember this rare duty.
It happened one early evening beside a bunker by the sea. The waves lapped against the shore. A soldier of Hawaiian descent strumming his ukulele sang “Ku’uipo I Ka He’e Pue One, I’m sending my thoughts back home to you…” The ghostly silhouette of the mountain and the beat of a nearby water pump were the background to this soulful melody.
We heard a catchy ditty while heading home on leave. “Why does a gander meander in search of a goose? It’s Elmer’s Tune.”
Five months of guard duty on the Windward Oahu beaches ended in the spring of 1942. The 298th Infantry Regiment was relieved and recalled to Schofield Barracks. A regrettable incident occurred on our arrival at the Post. The firearms and rifles of the Japanese- Americans were confiscated. We marched to an assembly a few days later to the accompaniment of the band playing my favorite “Emperor’s March.’ After an apology for taking our rifles away, the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion was announced. A short time late, the members dubbed the 100th the “One Puka (hole) Puka.”
Our “Aloha Oe” to Hawaii was very lonely as we secretly sailed on the old ship, “Maui.” A surprised dockworker was the only person to see us leave. While watching a pretty, postcard picture Waikiki and Diamond Head fade away, a few felt that this moment was their “aloha” to the Islands.
Days of rough sailing with many getting seasick were rewarded with a glimpse of picturesque San Francisco. Sailing under the awesome Golden Gate bridge, we docked at a pier in Oakland. With the moving song “Remember Pearl Harbor” ringing in our ears we boarded a Southern Pacific train. The train climbed the Sierra Nevada mountains into desert-like country and then a myriad of rivers and green fields. An educational and enjoyable train ride followed. After a brief stop at North Platte, Nebraska, we were sent on our way with friendly waves from those at the station. A bit of apprehension when we saw a section of the camp enclosed with barbed wire brought us to Camp McCoy. Wisconsin.
Our arrival was in early summer and we experienced fall and winter with our first snow at the camp. Captain Johnson, our company commander, created a small skating rink. Ice skating was a novelty for us from tropical Hawaii. Our 7-months of training in Wisconsin was memorable for the trees, vegetation, wild animals and natural environment which were foreign to us but somewhat pleasurable. At the camp, especially on Saturday evenings after a few beers, “Across the Sea” was frequently heard.
Across the sea an Island calling me,
Calling to the wanderer to return.
Bidding me come back to dear Hawaii,
To those sunny isles across the sea.
This song was sung with emotion that a listener could sense the homesickness and the longing for the islands.
Most of our passes were spent in Sparta and La Crosse, a bigger city, but further away from camp. The people in these communities including the media were very friendly despite knowing we were of enemy descent. The host who invited us to his home introduced us to the game of cribbage. A Congregational Church in La Crosse invited us to their social. Heiji Fukuda, our supply sergeant and I were charmed by Frances, who was nice to us. The congregation sponsored a picnic supper at a wooded park. Sakae Tanigawa’s friendship with a family in La Crosse spanned fifty-some years.
Sam Tomai, our company clerk, mentioned that we were eligible for furlough. This information triggered trips further away from camp. Jimmy and I visited Warren, a classmate, who was at a dental school in Kansas City. We crossed the border to the capital of Kansas at Topeka, where we enjoyed a fresh-water swim at a large public pool. We were delighted to see our familiar island flower, hibiscus, blooming in a park near the zoo. Larry Amazaki and Marshall Higa, my barefoot football teammates went to New York. Others visited Milwaukee and Chicago where streetcar rides, major-league baseball games, theaters and other entertainment were all free to servicemen.
“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me,” “White Cliffs of Dover,” “You Went Away and My Heart Went with You,” “Mary, It was Mary,” were some of the songs we heard on passes. “One Dozen Roses” was heard amidst the singing and dancing on the riverboat as it steamed up the Mississippi River from La Crosse to Winona, Minnesota. “Let Me Call you Sweetheart, I’m in Love with You” was heard on the bus returning to camp.
Fourth Platoon Sergeant Mickey Nakahara’s favorite song was “Yours till the end of December.” Sgt. Takashi “Kit” Kitaoka was learning the words to “‘The Waltz You Saved for Me.” Keichi Tanaka sang “You Are My Sunshine.” Torao Ichimura sang “Manuela Boy.” He then jokingly suggested at war’s end, just as Manuela Boy did, we go to Aala Park to moi moi (sleep). Dick Hirano from Headquarters sang, ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” beside a lake on an outing in the Wisconsin woods. Later, Ma-chan Yamada sang “Sleepy Lagoon” while trying to get rid of the pesky chiggers during maneuvers in Louisiana.