Memories: From Camp Shelby to Italy

Author: Saburo Nishime, D Company
Title: Memories: From Camp Shelby, Miss., to Louisiana Maneuvers and to Combat in Italy
Publisher: Puka Puka Parades
Source: Puka Puka Parades, January 2004, #04/1

The 100th Inf. Bn. members found Camp Shelby, Miss, quite different from Camp McCoy, Wisc.; so were Hattiesburg, Miss., and the South in general. Camp Shelby was just loaded with troops in training. Going into Hattiesburg, the l00th Bn. troopers saw something that they had never experienced before in Hawaii. It was the “Black” and “White” signs posted all over the place – in eating establishments, on buses, trains, etc. The members of the 100th were informed beforehand of the segregation that existed in the South and that the 100th Bn. was not going to change the South. The Buddaheads were warned not to patronize the black area and stay strictly in the white section. Today, this segregation does not exist; but once it really existed and the members of the 100th actually witnessed this condition, known as Jim Crow’s Law. I don’t think anyone in the 100th Bn. made any friends in Hattiesburg.

Capt. Jack Mizuha was the proud first commander of F Company and would, have liked to have gone into combat with F Co. The 100th Bn. Commander, LTC Turner, transferred him to Dog Company. Capt. Mizuha let it be known to Dog Co. members that he was not pleased with LTC Turner’s decision. There was one point Capt. Mizuha constantly emphasized and that was, as Nisei soldiers, we have to go into combat and make the necessary sacrifices; that only then, we will be able to hold up our heads as Americans.

When the 100th Bn. first moved into Camp Shelby, the camp still had “outhouses”. For most of us from Hawaii who once lived in the country, “outhouses” were a part of living. While the battalion was still at Camp Shelby, the installation of water toilets was completed.

At Camp Shelby, the 100th Bn. trained in areas heavily wooded with pine trees. They had Negro and white families living in the area where military training was being conducted. The farmers’ pigs roamed freely throughout these unfenced areas. We asked a farmer, “How do you know your pigs from the others?” and he replied, “My pigs will respond to my call.”

The 100th Bn. could be out in the training area for days, even for a week or more. During these periods, the men would go without a bath and not get a haircut or shave. Most of the guys still could hardly raise a beard but due to my Okinawan ancestry, I could grow a thick black beard. I then weighed around 170 lbs. compared with the 135 lbs. when I was inducted. When Motoyoshi Tanaka saw me with my beard, he said, “You know, you look like that movie character actor named Akim Tamiroff. The name “Akim” caught on and my Army buddies and friends have since called me “Akim”. Hardly anyone knows me by my first given name.

During the early days at Camp Shelby, when we camped out in the training area, it used to get pretty cold at nights, and there were occasions when the water in the top of our canteens would freeze over. There were also break periods when the battalion would go into a “non-tactical situation.” On these occasions, we could build a small fire to keep warm. The green pine branches burned easily, and because the fire gave out plenty of black smoke, some Buddaheads looked like the blacks.

Living a greater part of the time out in the field when the weather was warm, all of us were bothered by chiggers. These were hardly visible bugs whose bites made our skin itch. The scars left from scratching the itch took weeks to disappear. The 100th Bn. Chaplain told us to apply sulfur powder on the skin to keep the chiggers away; but the battalion moved out of Miss, before any of us had a chance to try the sulfur powder.

When the 100th Bn. had a break at Camp Shelby, the men would enjoy visiting, drinking, going to the movies and USO shows and even having late night snacks. One evening, having a late night snack were Yoshio Kobayashi, George Ishii, Watanabe, and maybe a few others. They had a good size ham and were chomping away on it. George cut off a generous slice which he said he was taking to Harry Miyamoto, our platoon NCO, who had a separate room. Early the following morning, Edward Nishihara, the mess NCO, came rushing through the barracks looking for the ham which was missing from his kitchen. Only then did Harry realize where the ham that he partook the night before had come from. Harry condemned George as “That damn * * * bitch.” Nishihara never did find the missing ham. The “kolohes” from the platoon got away with that one.

When the 100th first arrived at Camp Shelby, it was attached to the 85th Div. LTC Turner first went to see the commander of the 85th, who welcomed the 100th Bn.; and a mutual understanding was firmly established. It was close to summer when the 100th accompanied the 85th to the Louisiana Maneuver Grounds. Besides assuming certain tactical situations during this whole maneuvering period, the 100th did plenty of walking, and more walking, and some of them would be more than 20 miles a day, with full field pack. During the break periods, some of the men made crude fishing poles and went down to the shallow streams in the maneuver area and managed to catch some small fish. They cooked and ate the fish right on the side of the streams. Otherwise, this period during the Louisiana Maneuvers was all spent in the area.

When the 100th returned to Camp Shelby, the 442nd Regt. had arrived and was going through its initial training. The 100th Bn. participated in a parade with full personal combat gear. There was a group of reporters who witnessed the parade and who were quite impressed with the “crack” appearance of the troops. And, that would say, the 100th Bn. was fully qualified for combat.

We still had a few days so five men from Dog Company took a trip to New York. The five were myself, Mitsuo Oura, Rokuro Yamase, Yoshiyuki Ogata and Kazuo Nishihara. We took in all the sights and places of interest in New York, staying at the YMCA. On the way back we stopped in Washington, D.C., to take in a few places of interest; then without staying overnight, we boarded the slow train to Hattiesburg and on to Camp Shelby. Of this group of 5 men, Kazuo Nishihara was KIA in Italy.

When we returned to Camp Shelby, the 100th Bn. was ready to go overseas. The 100th left Shelby in August of 1943 for Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. At New York, the 100th Bn. boarded the troop ship JAMES PARKER. The lousy crowded condition in the hold was similar to the condition we had encountered when we sailed from Hawaii, so I spent all my time on the open deck. This uneventful trip took about 13 days. I don’t recall the day-to-day happenings on this trip, except for one. Lt. Tsubota was our 2nd Platoon Officer. I don’t quite remember when Lt. Tsubota was assigned to Dog Company. To be prepared in any case when the ship might be torpedoed or start sinking we had to practice an evacuation dry run. On this one occasion, the alarm sounded and there was a mad scramble to follow the instructions as previously directed. I happened to be in the shower at that particular moment and I decided, hell, I wasn’t going to bother to get into my uniform and try to make it to that training exercise. Lt. Tsubota confronted me later and asked, “Didn’t you hear the alarm go off for the evacuation training?” I lied and replied, “No.” He looked at me, shook his head, and knew damn well I was lying.

The JAMES PARKER sailed past the Rock of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea and docked at Oran in North Africa. At Oran, the 100th Bn. was attached to the 34th Div. replacing a battalion in the 133rd Regt of the 34th. The 100th still retained its identity. While still in Oran, Lt. James K. Hopkins joined the 100th Bn. He was a combat veteran who had participated with the 1st Div. in the attack on Hill 609 in Tunisia. LTC Turner assigned Lt. Hopkins to Dog Company.

While the 100th Bn. was still in Oran, a few of us were detailed to go with the drivers to prepare the vehicles for invasion over water. Thick waterproof grease was applied on the vehicles where water might affect their operation. I remember the exhaust tail pipes were extended straight up 6 ft. or more with flexible metal tubing. The tire pressure was reduced to half its normal capacity. With all the waterproof precaution that was taken, all the drivers shouldn’t have had any problems when the 100th Bn. landed on the Salerno beachhead. From landing crafts the 100th Bn. hit the beach at Salerno. The Allied Forces were in contact with the Germans somewhere inland. Since the 100th had two companies over normal battalion strength, Companies E and F were held in reserve as the 100th moved inland to contact the enemy.

The night before the morning the 100th Bn. was to first meet up with the enemy, the battalion experienced a heavy rainstorm. In the early morning hours, Lt. Tsubota was all wet and shaking like a leaf as he delivered the morning message.

That morning, we came across a gun with the bayonet driven into the ground and with a helmet draped over the gun, showing a neat hole through the helmet. This was Joe Takata’s gun and helmet He was the first 100th Bn. soldier to be KIA. Later in the day, two Artillery Controllers, who were accompanying the 100th were KIA by a tree burst from an artillery shell. One of our officers remarked that it was unusual to be wounded or killed by a tree burst; but members of the 100th soon found out that a tree burst from an artillery shell is the most deadly.

The following day, Lt. Tsubota was leading one machine gun section of the 2nd Platoon when his group came under the shelling of a battery of German 88s. He was badly wounded by the shelling and had to be evacuated. He never again returned to Dog Co. It would be more than 40 years before I was to see him again. At this same shelling, George Ishii was KIA. He was the first in Dog Co. to be KIA.

Benevento: As I remember it, the 100th Bn. entered and passed through the town of Benevento in the night. It was very quiet and it seemed deserted. The only opposition seemed to be coming from an occasional single shelling. A little concentrated shelling was received as the 100th crossed a shallow creek to occupy a small hill past the town. The first real battle test for the 100th Bn. would come later at San Angelo d’Alife.

In Italy, after the first crossing of the Volturno River, we stopped to bivouac for the night. The location chosen for Dog Co. to bivouac was on a crossroad. The area around the crossroad was full of fairly new shell holes made by artillery shelling. Sure enough, the shelling started in the still dark early morning hours. The German gunners were zeroed in on this crossroad and the artillery shells were coming in at a pretty good rate. As soon as Capt. Mizuha gave the orders to evacuate, we started moving out rapidly. One of the shells landed in the rear of me and in front of Popeye Fujimoto. He took the full brunt of the exploding shell and was instantly killed. I was hit in the back of my right leg by shrapnel from the exploding shell. It felt like being hit by a sledge hammer. I could still keep going, so I got out of the shelling area. When daylight came, the German shelling stopped. By then, my left leg had gotten stiff and the ambulance crew had to pick me up and carry me to the ambulance. There was another wounded man in the ambulance by the name of Nakasone. He was wounded in the stomach area and was suffering in pain. I met him later in the hospital. They had operated on him and he seemed okay.

Meanwhile, Iwao Fujimori notified my 2nd Platoon members that he didn’t think I would be coming back because I seemed to have been badly wounded. At the first aid station we came to, the medical sergeant gave me a Purple Heart medal. I carried the medal with me to a general hospital near the town of Casserta, Italy. I remember seeing Major Lovell recuperating at the hospital. My wounds weren’t as serious as I first thought and, within a week, I was ready to be discharged I was sitting on my bed and had changed into the combat uniform I came to the hospital in, when Gen. Mark Clark came through, talking to and consoling the wounded. The General walked past my bed, looked at me and asked “100th Battalion?” I replied “Yes, sir.” That was the only time I ever spoke with Gen. Mark Clark. When I was ready to leave the hospital, I came across Takashi Suzuki, who was in the hospital for a slight wound to his hand. I had known Suzuki from high school days on Kauai. Suzuki returned to his unit and was later KIA.

I returned to Dog Company, 2nd Platoon, and everyone was surprised I had recuperated so fast. The initial report was that I was finished. I showed the Purple Heart medal which I was carrying and everyone thought it was a beautiful medal.

I previously mentioned that Lt James Hopkins joined us in Oran and was assigned to Dog Co. He was not a Nisei but was from Hawaii. Before anyone got to know him well, he was wounded in combat. He returned once to Dog Co. but immediately had a fall and badly injured his back. He never again returned to Dog Co. In 1945, while I was a DAFC worker in the Air Force in Japan, a friend and I went for a visit to Beppu; and while returning from Beppu on the Allied Train, James Hopkins, who now was a NCO, happened to be sitting across from my seat. He offered me a pork chop sandwich, which I accepted; but I never revealed to him who I was.