Memories: A Jeep Driver In France

Memories: A Jeep Driver In France By Saburo Nishime, D Company

Together with a motorized convoy of the 100th Inf. Bn., we drove south from Leghorn. Katsumi Nakayama accompanied me as my assistant driver. At Naples, the 100th Bn. got on a troop ship bound for Marseilles, France. When I first got on the ship, I came across Lt. Henry Chie Oyasato, whom I had known previously on Kauai. Lt. Oyasato was a classmate of my brother Ralph at Kauai High School, Class of ’39. He was Lt. Ohara in the “Go for Broke” movie, the story of the 442nd.

It didn’t take me long to learn about driving in France. There were no Stop and Go traffic lights on the streets of Marseilles or presumably any other areas of France. So the most sensible way to drive in France was to be always a defensive driver. In my first experience driving in Marseilles, I had Lt. Yamamoto riding with me. We were driving into town in heavy military traffic. This French driver, driving a 2-1/2 ton military truck, decided to pass and came directly at my jeep. I could see that he had no intention of slowing down. Fortunately, there was enough room on my right and I barely had enough time to pull off the road and let that bastard pass.

Our convoy of vehicles drove up the Rhone River Valley. The waters of the Rhone were flowing smoothly and very clearly. The 442nd finally got to the Vosges Mountains somewhere near Bruyeres, France. Our motor section put up at a farmhouse in which the residents were still living.

After the 442nd had cleared the hills of the enemy around Bruyeres, the 100th moved into the town of Bruyeres to get out of the cold weather. My motor Sgt. Ken Mitsunaga dispatched me to Bruyeres to contact our 2nd Platoon, which had moved into one of the houses occupied by a woman who wasn’t too pleased by the presence of the platoon and was giving Lt. Pluite a bad time. Anyway, nothing was going to stop the 2nd Platoon from getting out of the cold wet weather for the night.

While I was still with the 2nd Platoon, Yoshiichi Okazaki, another of our motor sergeants, asked me to take him to the 1st Platoon. They were in another area of Bruyeres. Okazaki informed me that in order to get to the 1st Platoon, we would have to get through a crossroad that was still under German artillery shelling. We passed through the crossroad and, by its surroundings, could see that it was being subjected to artillery shelling. There I met Makoto Takiguchi, who was the platoon sergeant I knew him from Kauai High School days. He asked me, “How come you’re a jeep driver now?”

The night was pitch black now and, in the darkness, I had to feel my way back to my motor section. As I slowly back-tracked, I came across some of our military troops who wanted to know if they were on the right track to Bruyeres. I assured them they were. I also had to work my way around several huge tanks that were pulling into Bruyeres. I finally made it back to my motor section at the farmhouse. The next morning, Ken Mitsunaga was asking around if I had made it back. I presume Ken was afraid I fell asleep and didn’t make it back.

On another occasion I was on a ration detail, to get rations up to our front line troops. I remember I packed on my back a 5-gal. container of water. The ration detail waited until dark before “get-in” started and first climbed up a fairly steep hill. Then in the pitch-darkness caused by the heavily wooded trees, we all had to follow closely to stay in touch with the person ahead. Our detail first came across another bunch of guys from the 442nd 2nd or 3rd Bn. who were looking for their ration detail. When nearing the 100th area, our ration detail encountered a few tanks, and the noise of the tanks drew German artillery shelling. The officer in charge of our ration detail got all excited over the German artillery shelling. He probably never experienced being on the receiving end of an artillery shelling. Our ration detail successfully contacted the 100th Bn. where we all discharged our rations. It was almost morning when our group finally made it back and, presumably, the officer in charge of the detail was appropriately commended.

One day we saw a French farmer picking large mushrooms. This area was heavily wooded and the wet weather caused the mushrooms to sprout up under the trees. The farmer told us that the mushrooms were edible so we gathered them and mixed them with rations and enjoyed a mushroom “wha-cha-ma-call-it.”

Although drivers are not ordinarily engaged in direct contact with the enemy, whatever happens in combat is quickly passed on to the drivers. There was the occasion when one of the drivers came around with the information that Gingers Minami was killed in action. Later on, I met Hiroshi Minami, who was from my hometown on Kauai. Hiroshi was in the group with Gingers at Hqs. According to Hiroshi, Gingers was interrogating some German prisoners when a German artillery shell landed in their midst, killing Gingers and the prisoners. Also killed at this time was James Kubokawa. James was in the automotive class at the Honolulu Vocational School when I was in the electrical class. Gingers was a year behind me at Kauai High School.

Shigeto Fuyumura, known to us as Hyme, was one of our second platoon members. He was accidentally buried in his slit trench when the wet soil collapsed down on him. When he was found buried, the other platoon members were notified and they hastily dug him out and started artificial respiration. After trying for about an hour, Hyme failed to respond. With the present day CPR, Hyme might have had a better chance but CPR was unknown at that time. Fuyumura was the only one in the second platoon of Dog Co. who was killed in action in France.

A good friend from my hometown, James Koichi Uejo, was KIA in a battle in the Vosges. The German shell hit and destroyed the first platoon heavy machine gun and James was mortally wounded. He was the only one in the 1st platoon who was in every battle since the 100th first went into action and up to this point, he had not been wounded. There was even speculation that he, with his long continuous time in action, had a good chance to qualify for leave stateside. Checking through Uejo’s record, I found out that he was awarded the Silver Star.

Sgt. Harumi Mende, of the 1st Platoon, relates what occurred in combat in the Vosges. The German artillery was shelling the road and he kept yelling to his platoon to get off the road. This newly arrived member in the 1st Platoon just laid down on the road and froze in place with his head face down hugging the ground. When the German shells started falling nearer, Mende had to duck. When he looked up, he saw the new member had taken a direct hit – the shell had exploded right on his head! He left behind a snapshot taken with a woman – his girlfriend or wife?

The 1st Platoon of Dog Co. captured a group of Germans led by a major, who had accidentally strayed into the 1st Platoon’s area. Sgt. Mende submitted the names of the six men who assisted in the capture for award – they received the Silver Star.

During the attempt to rescue the Lost Battalion, Motoyoshi Tanaka saw the members of the 3rd Bn. of the 442nd make their suicide charge. Tanaka said that Lt. Pluite also witnessed it. Later on when the 100th passed by the area where the suicide charge had occurred, one of the members commented that he had not seen so many of our own kind, Buddaheads and Kotonks, KIA in such large numbers. Most of them were not even 20 years old. I have not found out just how many were KIA in this suicide charge.

The story of the rescue of the Lost Battalion has been told over and over again by various writers and historians, and they can tell it better than a mere jeep driver, so I leave it to them. But I can positively say this: The l00th Bn. was very much directly involved in the rescue, and I was with the l00th at that time.

It was snowing heavily when the 100th Bn. pulled out of the Vosges and headed south. The Battalion stopped at Bains Le Bains to get a good bath and shower and a fresh change of clothing. The following morning, the 100th continued on south and stopped at Nice. A Frenchman came around and wanted to exchange a pistol for rations. I had a boxful of cheese, which was packed in cans like the way tuna is packed today. The Frenchman accepted the cheese for the pistol and I later sold the pistol to one of our platoon members.

From Nice, the 100th Bn. continued on to a ski resort area in the Maritime Alps in southern France. The 100th was there just to relax and rest. Of course, the ski resort area was devoid of tourists at that time.

After a few days, the 100th Bn. moved on to Menton on the France-Italy border. Dog Co. occupied a small hotel-like building near the center of Menton. Although the Germans were nearby on the Italian side of the border, the Germans never shelled the town area, although they occasionally shelled the road leading into Menton and other coastal areas nearby.

Our troops manned outposts along the Maritime Alps and they came to Menton on rotation to bathe, relax and for pleasure. Since Menton was almost vacant of civilians, the nearest town where some pleasure could be had was the town of Brussoleu. To get there, the vehicles had to pass through the Principality of Monaco, which was a neutral state. We were authorized to go through Monaco but not to stop for any reason. The left side of the street was Brussoleu and the other side was Monaco, which was off-limits to us. There were no guards or fences so any minor violation of the agreement went without notice. Transportation by military truck was available every night and this “operation” was known as the “Battle of Brussoleu.” In other units of the 442nd, this period in southern France was referred to as “Champagne Campaign.”

The Dog Co. headquarters had a day room with a piano but nobody knew how to play it; although it didn’t prevent any Tom, Dick and Harry to bang away on the piano; and this included First Sgt. Takao Miyao. A piano player came over at lunch time and played some popular French and American songs on the piano. We asked him to play some popular American songs he knew, like Stardust, Deep Purple, etc. The pianist was compensated for his services with a meal from the Dog Co. Mess.

Dog Co. Hq. also had a female black dog mascot named Poka and she was a mainstay in the day room. Masao Iraha was its owner. During Poka’s stay there, she gave birth to a litter. I don’t recall what became of Poka and her pups when the unit left France for Italy.

One day, I was told to pick up the mail orderly and take him to Nice to pick up the mail for the 100th Bn. The mail clerk brought along a French woman worker who wanted a ride into Nice because bus service was very limited. It just happened that on this day, the Germans were shelling pretty heavily near our Rest Center. As we approached the area being shelled, the jeep engine conked out exactly in the area where the shelling was the heaviest. I couldn’t get the engine restarted and the mail orderly quickly went over to the Rest Center to get a mechanic. I didn’t want to stay in the jeep so I went to a small building nearby and stayed on the opposite side from where the shells were coming. The French woman followed me to where I was. Just about that time, the French bus let off a bunch of passengers several hundred yards away from us. As the passengers came close to the area where the shelling was heaviest, the shelling stopped altogether.

Tameji Matsushige, our chief mechanic, responded and found that the basin where the gasoline was pumped to before feeding the carburetor was full of water, so instead of gasoline, water was getting into the carburetor. Matsushige told me firmly that it was the driver’s responsibility to check and drain any accumulated water. My excuse was that I did not finish the driver’s training course and had not been properly instructed. While at Camp McCoy, I attended a few driver training seminars. Lt. Tsubota was the Motor Officer. Once, when he was my passenger on a weapons carrier, I kept double clutching in shifting gears. He advised me that I didn’t have to do that. Of course, Stu doesn’t remember I was in the class.

Some of the streets of Menton were lined with persimmon trees; and while the 100th was there, the fruits were ripe. The local residents had the fruit drying and selling them along the side of the road. You know what the French call persimmon – KAKI. They must have gotten the plant or seed from Japan.

While at Menton, the jeep drivers took the officers to whatever duties or functions they were attending, pleasure or otherwise. On one occasion, I accompanied Lt. Francis Takemoto to a perfume factory in Grasse. We had an escorted tour and the whole process of making and bottling of perfumes was explained. At the conclusion of the tour, Lt. Takemoto bought a few bottles of choice perfume. I, as

usual, was broke so I did not purchase any. Being away almost 40 years, I didn’t think Lt. (or now General) Takemoto had any idea that I was the jeep driver who accompanied him on the tour.

There was this other occasion when I was dispatched to pick up Lt. Pluite at the Officers’ Rest Center in Cannes. When I got there, Lt. Pluite told me that he had a date for that night and asked me if I could wait for him until later that night I agreed. Lt. Pluite asked me if I had any money and, of course, I didn’t; so he gave me 1,000 francs to keep myself busy while I waited. Later that night, when it was time to go home, Lt. Pluite was in a real happy mood, so he took over the wheel and did the driving all the way back to Menton.

The “Champagne Campaign” eventually came to an end when Gen. Mark Clark requested the 442nd to return to Italy.