‘D’ Days – Sargento of the Palamettos

Author: Yasuo Takata, B Company
Club 100 30th Anniversary Reunion, June 1972

Yasuo Takata writes about his experiences at Cat Island training dogs to attack the Japanese. (Click here to go to Raymond Nosaka’s photo gallery.  Click on the photo to see the names of the men.)

On November 3, 1942, Major Lovell, Lt Marzano and Lt Ernest Tanaka with 24 members of the 3rd Platoon, Company B plus Herbert Ishii of Hq. Co. left for destination unknown. We were secretly loaded into a transport plane. After we were airborne for several hours, we knew we were heading south following the Mississippi River. The pilot was really nice, for each one of us had a chance to sit in the pilot’s seat and manipulate the wheel.Finally we landed somewhere down at the end of the “Big River”. Nobody was allowed out. Big Army trucks, completely covered, backed up right to the door of the plane and we jumped off into the trucks with our barracks bags. We saw no one except the driver.

As we drove off, no one could be seen, the airport seemed abandoned. We ended up on a pier where a boat was awaiting us. Nary a person did we see except the boat captain and his two helpers. As we left the pier we could see the people coming out of the warehouses unto the pier. We were asking each other “Why all the secrecy?” Nobody knew. Even Major Lovell would not tell us when we questioned him. He smiled and told us that we would enjoy the place we were going to and that it will remind us of home. Too, we were wondering why we had to answer the numerous pages of questions about our lives.

After a beautiful overnight journey on the boat we finally arrived at Ship Island, about 20 miles off Gulfport, a small flat island about 2 miles wide and 10 miles long with a nice sandy beach and fish galore! At first glimpse we thought we were going to settle in old Ft Massachussetts. [sic] No, we pitched in and cleaned out a barrack-type building next to the Fort. This was to be our home for the next 3 months. Here we were told our mission. We were to help train “Dogs!” Now you know what “D” Days stand for. For most of us the next three months were spent with dogs — Bouviers, Shepherds, Labradors, Bay Retrievers, Russian Wolfhounds, Pointers, Collies, Bloodhounds, Boxers, Beautiful Irish Setters, Airdales and Great Danes. These were to be trained to become scout dogs, messenger dogs, trailers, sentry dogs and then attack dogs.

After several days of goofing off, exploring the island and Ft Massachussetts [sic], fishing, boating and swimming, the same boat came back early one morning to take us to Cat Island where the dogs were kept. This island was different from ours which was bare compared to the dense foliage we found here. It was a sort of a jungle. The main growth being Palamettos from which I gained the name of “Sargento of the Palamettos”.

There, we met the chief trainer, who was a rather old man of Swiss descent and who spoke with a distinct foreign accent. There, most of us started out by training scout dogs. Four went to the mainland to train sentry type attack dogs. In the beginning, training scout dogs was fun. All we had to do was to hide ourselves in the jungle with a jar of horse meat. Each dog trainer then sent his dog out to find us. When the dog spotted us, the trainer would fire a shot and we would drop dead with a piece of meat held in our hand, in front of our necks. The dog would eat the meat and lick our faces. I don’t know whether the dogs smelled the meat or our “Jap blood?” Since the dogs became too friendly, we began to use whips, slingshots and rocks to chase the dogs away, so that they would not come too close. Some of the dogs were beautiful such as the red Irish Setters and the Collies. This training continued as long as the boat came to get us. When the weather was a little rough, the boat wouldn’t show up. So “the Brass” decided to get their own boat. How they picked the captain from the Cat Island dog trainers was to pick the dirtiest guy in the bunch. Man did he stink and his clothes looked like they’ve never been washed. As far as seamanship, he must have rowed a boat around a small lake! But we had the best able-bodied seaman, for our Billy Takaesu became the one and only AB seaman in the 100th Infantry Bn. The first trip we took on our (Ship Island) boat wasn’t too bad. Our dog trainer captain put the boat on the reef several times but we were able to get off. For a while though we were wondering if we had to swim into Cat Island. We finally got there.

On our second trip, it was fine going to Cat Island because we had a Coast Guard pilot with us. But on the way back to Ship Island, the engine conked out on us and we were stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of drifting in, we were drifting out and it was getting dark. Since we had no radio, Billy our AB seaman climbed the mast to burn his red flares. We must have started a submarine alert! Pretty soon, we had one Coast Guard picket boat standing alongside. We asked for a tow. No dice, they claimed that they were on an “Alert” therefore, radio silence, and all they could do was standby. Meanwhile, everybody was getting seasick. Then the 2nd picket boat appeared, then another, and another and another! We were surrounded by picket boats, but nobody would give us a tow. Talk about Army snafu, I think the Coast Guard was worse. About an hour later, the “All Clear” signal was given and we were towed to Ship Island, by that time most of the gang were feeding the Sharks? Never seen one over there though. That was the end of our special dog trainer’s boat, the Q-38. The old boat the J-79 with the civilian captain came irregularly with supplies. During the days it didn’t come, the Coast Guard picket boats took us to Cat Island.

One day, when our supply boat came, we had a 60-70 mile gale blowing, and the civilian captain refused to dock at our pier. He made motions for us to meet him on the other side of the island. So we carried one of our boats to the other side. In the strong icy wind, the boat with the Colonel on board waited about 50-60 yards off-shore. “Attu” (James Komatsu) rowed one of the boys to the boat successfully, but when he tried to row back, he could not make headway against the wind. Everytime he raised his oars to take a new dip, the winds blew him back. We waited on shore with the wind blowing the sand into us, it felt like little needles stinging us. Attu kept struggling, but he was being blown farther away from the boat and the shore. First, we waved to the boat’s captain to go get him but he made no move. Finally, Slim, (Taneyoshi Nakano) who couldn’t stand watching “Attu” drift away, stripped his clothes and dove into the icy water and swam about 100 yards to “Attu”, climbed in and helped him row back to shore. Since Slim had no clothes except his BVD’s he was shivering so badly and turning blue, we rushed him to a hot shower. For this “Slim” received the “Soldier’s Medal for heroism.”

Time was running short, so finally most of us were transferred to Cat Island to pollute the island where the dogs were, with the smell of “Jap” blood. Later results showed that this did not make any difference. There, we still trained with the scout dogs for several days by going to the training area with a barge driven by an out-board motor. Since the boys were grumbling about wading into the water, one day, “the Sargento of the Palamettos” (Yasuo Takata) made a driving run for the shore on full power and broke the shear pin of the propeller. That was the end of scout dog training for most of us. Only Pat Fukushima, Hata (Masao Hatanaka) and Koyei “Sore Back” Matsumoto were kept. We then started training with attack dogs and bloodhounds as trailers. Some of us — Tadao Tegare, Hodai, Badit, Yokota, Slim and Bob “Long Distance” Takashige had been previously sent to Gulfport to train attack dogs under Sgt Pierce. On Cat Island we were farmed out to the different types of dogs. Attack dogs: The Shepherds — Attu and Old Man. Tokuji Tanaka who was the official attack suit armorer later joined them. The Labradors and Cheasapeak [sic] Bay Retrievers — “Doc” and Thorope. The Russian Wolfhounds — Lefty M. and Muscles. The Bouviers — Lefty T. and Sargento. The Airedales — Fred and Okum. Heavy was the numba one attack suit patcher. The trailers: the Bloodhounds — Katsup, (Katsumi Maeda) and Ray “Irish Tenor” Nosaka. This left three of us on Ship Island. The caretakers were, Candy, (Lt Tanaka), chief censor; Herb (the chief cook) and “Mac” (Yazawa) assistant to the assistant cook, fancy title for our KP! For the Shepherds, Labradors and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, we were live targets. While for the Russian Wolfhounds dummies dressed in Japanese uniforms were used. To train attack dogs to hate us, we began by beating one dog at a time chained to a tree, with a knotted burlap bag. Can you imagine the dog growling, snarling and springing at you everytime you hit him with a burlap bag! It didn’t take too long before the dogs were growling, snarling and pulling on their chains when they saw us coming. Going thru this process we had no protection except our fatigue clothes. The next process, the dogs learned to bite the knotted burlap bags. This time we used a helmet with a neck guard, face mask, and hockey gloves. We held the knotted burlap in front of our neck, then at the trainers’ command of “Kill, kill,” the dog would rush at us for the knotted burlap at our neck. The dog would bite it and try to rip it away. There was one dog among the Bouviers who was very bright but tame (Dingo). I would hold the bag above my head and he would jump for it. But we had to watch for the wild ones, they were sneaky. Instead of going for you they came for your legs. You had to punch them or kick them away. It was like sparring, only you had a dog on the other side.

They then trained the “arm” dogs next. This time we also wore the top half of a heavily padded attack suit. The burly bag was looped from our right wrist and the dogs were trained to attack the right arm. When both dogs were ready, they learned to attack together. Since we were being attacked by 2 dogs, we wore a full attack suit. Although we did not receive any bites, we felt the bite through the suit. It was like a plier pinch. With the Bouviers, the trainer had a long chain, to which he chained his pack of 9 dogs, and we had to go down the line before training, with burlap bags, whacking the dogs. As you came to the first dog, you had the whole pack straining at their chains to get at you. This was the worst part of the training. You get scared because you have only your fatigues on and 9 dogs roaring to jump on you to tear you apart! Sometimes, we wondered, “What if the long chain should break?” Thank God it never did happen. The dogs were just beginning to get the feel of it when the training was stopped. An Army inspection team came when we had had only one day of training with the dogs to attack in packs, with the assistance of a scout dog to spot us. The Wolfhounds were trained to slash at the neck, however, since they were big dogs, dummies were used. Lefty and Muscles set up the dummies with a piece of meat tied to the neck about 70 yards away. At the command: “Kill” the dogs raced for the dummies and slashed the meat away from the necks of the dummies. Ray and Katsup started training Bloodhounds by dragging a piece of meat all over the island. They knew every nook and corner of the island. The Bloodhounds were intelligent because by the end of our training they were able to trail Ray and Katsup without the meat, anywhere they went. Sometimes they tried to fool the dogs by going through water but the dogs were able to pick up their scent when they came back on land.

Although we were not used with them, other dogs were trained to become messenger dogs, and suicide dogs. The Boxers were used mainly as Suicide dogs. Dummy explosives were tied to the neck of the dogs and they were trained to enter a dugout or a foxhole. The explosives were then detonated by radio.

We had better than bankers hours during those dog training days. For those who did not want to eat breakfast, they could get up at 9:00 a.m. Then go out and train with the dogs for 1-1/2 hours and come back for lunch. In the afternoon, we trained with the dogs at 1:00 p.m. for about one and a half hours and quit for the day. The gang was getting fat, what with all the eating they did and the beer they drank. (When we came back to Shelby we were in no condition for infantry training). The Cat Island was supposedly stocked with beer for 3 months, but the supply ran out in 3 weeks! After we had been there! Our Lt “Rocko” G. Marzano was the supply officer. He got us enough for the rest of the training period. Another thing was the coal for the hot water boiler. Guess the Army didn’t figure that we Buddaheads took a bath every night so the coal supply ran out also. The CO who was a southerner, informed us that since we used up the coal, we had to furnish a wood detail. We scrounged the island for dry wood and logs. We learned to turn over a log before we picked it up because sometimes you found a beautiful Coral Snake under it! They were about a foot to 2 feet in length with beautiful colors. We Hawaiians have a natural aversion to snakes so no one got bitten. We were told that the Coral Snake has a deadly poison. We also carried buckets when we went to our training grounds, to pick up pine knobs for our pot-belly stoves to heat up our tents at night.

During our training with attack dogs we had some rivalry between the dog fighters. Doc or Rock (Harry Hirasuna) and Torope John Kihara pulled a fast one on the Sargento one day and lured him to try the Retrievers. Since the Retrievers were smaller than the Bouviers, he thought it was easy and tried them. Since Doc and Torope had fixed it up with their trainer, they used two dogs, “Foo” and “Moo”. The dogs were not as powerful as the Bouviers, but they kept biting until they found a thin spot in the attack suit. When they did, the dogs clamped down. The result is a painful bruised spot. Lefty T. (Tanigawa) and Sargento should have pulled the same thing on Doc and Torope. They could have used Joe a huge bearlike dog, who was the pack leader. This dog was sneaky and would go for the crotch. We had to kick and punch like hell to get him away from there. Can you imagine how painful it would have been if the dog got a good bite there, and clamped down?!

Alas, the training was coming to an end. According to the Scout Dog “baits”, their dogs could search them out anywhere, even in the trees. The Bloodhounds had the Japanese scent down pat and could trail Ray and Katsup anywhere. The attack dogs were just beginning to understand their mission to kill when the head trainer, the old Swiss was asked to leave the Islands after the “Beeg Shots” from Washington inspected our program. They chose to continue the program under Sgt Pierce for another month with 10 of our boys. Sgt Pierce was a sentry dog trainer of many years and brought his own trained dogs with him. We felt sorry for the Old Swiss because he had some good trainers while others had experience only with a pet dog at home. The dogs also were untrained and had to be taught from scratch. Although he had the best dog “baits”, it did not help much. At the end of the extended dog training period, the 10 boys returned to the outfit at Camp Shelby where 2 of them “Badit and Tadao” received the Legion of Merit for courageously fighting dogs under Sgt Pierce. The high command finally concluded that the Buddaheads from Hawaii did not secrete a peculiar odor of their natural ancestors. They forgot to feed us “chazuke, koko and takuwan!”

Addendum to Puka Puka Parade Article:

Following are the names of the men who were on Cat Island. References are Yasuo Takata’s account of his experience and Graham Salisbury’s book, “The Eyes of the Emperor.”

Lt. Ernest Tanaka (B Company)
Lt. Rocco Marzano (Headquarters)
Herbert Ishii (Headquarters) – cook

24 enlisted men from B Company, Third Platoon
Robert Goshima
Masao Hatanaka (KIA)
Harry Hirasuna
Tadao Hodai
Masami Iwashita
Fred Kanemura
John Kihara
Tokuichi Koizumi
James Komatsu (KIA)
Katsumi Maeda
Koyei Matsumoto
Toshio Mizuzawa
Taneyoshi Nakano
Ray Nosaka
Seiei Okuma
Tokuji Ono
William Takaezu
Robert Takashige
Yasuo Takata
Takeshi Tanaka
Seiji Tanigawa
Patrick Tokushima (KIA)
Mack Yazawa
Yukio Yokota