Peek Into the Past: My Friend, Spud

Author: William Shinji Tsuchida
Title: Peek Into The Past: My Friend, Sadao “SPUD” Munemori
Source: Puka Puka Parades, October 2007, 9/2007

This is a story of my friend Sadao “Spud” Munemori, before he was assigned to Company A, 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Like me, he was a kotonk. Spud was from L.A., I was from Berkeley. Like many from the West Coast, we were determined to erase the stigma of being a “Jap”, enemy aliens, as we were categorized by the Hearst newspapers. We volunteered for service early in the war.

In spite of our patriotism, we ran into difficulties proving our loyalty. We suffered suspicious stares and racial insults from our haole NCOs The all-purpose pejorative for Asians was “chink”. Of course the term “Jap” became a part of the American lexicon in a few more months.

In 1942, the Army on the mainland was at a loss as to what to do with us 18 and 19 year old Asians with no college degrees. So most of us were shipped to army bases located in the Midwest, away from the west or east coast (that would be a “no, no”). We were assigned all the menial jobs, where we had to endure – permanent KP, peeling mountains of potatoes daily, cleaning bed pans at the base hospital. Not my idea of patriotic duty.’

Then suddenly, with much secrecy, we were shipped to a cold, forlorn place called Savage, Minnesota. The signs on the barns read – “Home of Dan Patch”, a famous race horse. (How ironic I thought – back in California my parents were living in the horse stalls of Tanforan Race Track, and me in the horse stalls of Savage!).

We were all Asians – the pale faced kotonks and the sun tanned boys from Hawaii. Unconsciously, we grouped separately – the mainland toys and the Hawaii boys. The mainland boys were quiet and sad looking, the Hawaii boys loud and boisterous. This led to frequent fights, both on- base and in town. We west coast mainland boys grew up considering the white girl as untouchables (like the blacks in the south). The Hawaii boys had no fear and shamelessly picked up white bar girls!

Spud was different; laughing, happy, cheerful. He called me “college boy” because I had completed the first four months of my freshman year at Berkeley. With the other Nisei boys, we swept out the stables, set up bunks, assembled big 55-gallon stoves, and prepared the stables into classrooms.

We queried the young haole officer, “What is this place going to be used for?” He looked surprised and answered, “You boys are going to teach Japanese to the rest of the Army.” He looked at our puzzled faces and asked, “What’s wrong?” “Sir, most of us can’t speak or write Japanese!” He then pointed to the Hawaii boys and said, “But I heard you speaking Japanese!” It turned out what he heard were the Hawaii boys speaking pidgin (Japanese/English/Hawaiian) and he assumed that was Japanese!

A few weeks later, the regular cadre of linguistic experts arrived, including the despised “kibeis”, who went on to be the mainstay of the program. So, for non-Japanese speaking Nisei like me and Spud, our job was done. I went on to a college engineering program. Spud went on to join the 100th, where he distinguished himself by earning the Medal of Honor posthumously.