Under naval escort, the SS Maui and three other ships in its convoy crossed the Pacific Ocean. The men spent their time playing the ukelele and endless games of cards and dice. After a week at sea, the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, docking in Oakland, California, on June 12, 1942. There, the unit was given a new name — the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).
The unusual “separate” designation indicated the 100th was an orphan unit, not attached to a larger regiment. It was oversized, having two more rifle companies than most battalions. It also had a medical section, a service company and a transportation platoon. Major James Lovell, the 100th’s executive officer, would even have to draw up a new organizational chart for the battalion.
In spite of its orphan status, the men adopted their unit name with pride, nicknaming the battalion the “One Puka Puka.” Puka in Hawaiian, means “hole” and was a visual interpretation of the zeros in “100.”
On June 15, three trains, each carrying a group of 100th Battalion soldiers, departed Oakland. The three trains took different routes to the unit’s final destination in Wisconsin. When they passed through towns, the window shades were drawn to conceal the passengers’ faces from the residents.
On their fifth day out of Oakland, apprehension gripped the AJA soldiers when they stopped an encampment of barbed wire and guard towers. Some of the men feared they would be interned there. Much to their relief, the trains continued on past the camp a short time later.
What the men did not know was that the camp was situated in a corner of this large training facility and that just a few months earlier, it had housed a few Mainland Nisei, along with Japanese, German and Italian aliens.
A short time later, all three trains finally came together again, drawing to a halt in front of a tent city, where the men disembarked. They had arrived at what would be their home for the next six months — Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.
The soldiers spent their first few months living in the tents while undergoing basic training. Some of the men griped about having to repeat basic training — after all, they had already completed this training while with the Hawaii National Guard. Most of the men took the training seriously, using it as an opportunity to hone their skills.
The rest of their stay at Camp McCoy was full of new adventures and experiences. Most of the men were seeing snow for the first time in their lives. They also used their furloughs to visit big cities they had only heard or read about: Chicago; New Orleans; New York City; Washington, D.C.
For the most part, the citizens of nearby Sparta and Lacrosse — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants who had experienced discrimination themselves when they first arrived in America — took to the easy-going men from Hawaii. They invited them to home-cooked dinners, church socials and dances and played a variety of sports with them. Lifelong friendships would develop during the 100th’s time at Camp McCoy.
In unit meetings, Colonel Turner sometimes scolded the men about overindulging in Wisconsin beer or attempting to bribes camp guards with sandwiches and drinks when they returned late from leave. He reminded them that it was important to uphold the good reputation of the battalion.
The 1,400 plus 100th Battalion soldiers were not alone at McCoy: They shared the 14,000-acre training facility with trainees of a military police battalion, a quartermaster detachment and some construction workers. Some scuffles occurred, but the men of the 100th, in fine physical shape, and some excelling in martial arts, held their own against the larger soldiers.
Even with many new experiences to occupy their time, the 100th soldiers were already looking to the future. A proposal that a savings account be opened for a club where the men could get together after the war gained strong support. From that point on, two dollars in dues was deducted from each member’s monthly pay and deposited into the account. After the war, these funds would serve as seed money to purchase the property for the clubhouse they would name Club 100.
With training came testing. Besides physical capacity, aptitude, language skills and intelligence quotient (IQ) were measured. Many of the 100th men scored high on both. The 100th’s average score on the Army’s intelligence tests was 103, just under the minimum requirement of 110 necessary to qualify for officer candidate school. Given the general aptitude of the 100th — and in preparation for field conditions — two men were trained for each officer position. Military brass making routine inspections of the unit gave the 100th soldiers high marks for their enthusiasm, capabilities and impressive scores.
This was impressive, considering that only 12 percent of the men had attended college, mainly the University of Hawaii — and that only about five percent had graduated. The majority of men only had a high school education – some had left school after the eighth grade to work and help support their families. What also may have contributed to their high performance was the men’s maturity. The average age of the 100th Battalion soldier was 24 when they were drafted.
In November 1942, while their fellow members continued training at Camp McCoy, 25 enlisted men from 3rd Platoon, B Company, along with one cook from Headquarters and three officers, were selected for a secret project that took them to Cat Island, a small island off the coast of Mississippi. A suggestion had been made to the U.S. War Department that dogs be trained to attack Japanese soldiers based on their scent. This would be especially useful in combat in the Pacific theater, the suggestion noted. The B Company soldiers would be used to test this theory.