Mainland Training

In the book “Japanese Eyes . . . American Heart: Personal Reflections of Hawaii’s World War II Nisei Soldiers,” Raymond Nosaka, selected for the project, recalled having his right arm wrapped in protective gear.

“The dogs were trained to leap and attack the soldier’s throat. I was taught to quickly place my wrapped arm over my throat and then wrestle with the dog until the trainer commanded him to ‘stop’ or ‘kill.’”

For four months, the men divided their time between fishing, relaxing and acting as “dog bait” until the project was deemed a failure. The B Company men rejoined the 100th, which, by then, had been transferred at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for advanced training.

Before leaving Camp McCoy, however, the 100th soldiers threw a farewell luau (Hawaiian term for party) for the friends they had made in Sparta and Lacrosse, treating them to Island food and music.

Besides the 25 Cat Island soldiers, 67 other 100th Battalion soldiers missed the Camp McCoy celebration. In December 1942, the 67 — who had been deemed somewhat proficient in the Japanese language — had been recruited for the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). They were to be trained as interpreters, translators and intelligence gatherers and interrogators, undergoing intensive training in Japanese military terminology. They would not return to the 100th. Instead, they would become “America’s secret weapon” in Asia and the Pacific theater, serving among other places, on small, remote Pacific islands, oftentimes in teams of two or three. A few would be assigned to the Pentagon and other military units on the Mainland.

Camp Shelby

The  soldiers departed for Camp Shelby on January 6, 1943. Although the men were happy to be leaving cold Wisconsin for the warmer weather in the South, they would soon learn that there was nothing warm about the community’s attitude towards the Nisei or people of color.

Colonel Turner immediately sought to ban the use of the word “Jap” by any officer at Camp Shelby.  The 100th soldiers made sure that other enlisted men at Camp Shelby “got the message” about the use of ethnic slurs.  Already resentful of the constant presence of soldiers in their town, the surrounding community was inhospitable, if not outwardly antagonistic, toward the Nisei.

It was there, in Mississippi, that the men encountered racial segregation for the first time in their lives. Laws requiring separate lines for blacks and whites, separate seating on buses and in theaters, and water fountains and restrooms for black civilians and soldiers were strictly enforced. That presented a dilemma for the 100th soldiers. Were they considered white or “colored?” After several incidences in which some soldiers defied the local rules, the men were told to avoid any problems by following the local customs which viewed them as white.

General Leslie McNair, chief of Army Ground Forces and director of war games in Memphis, Tennessee, took an interest in the 100th and issued orders for extensive training in rifle squads, tactics and leadership. At Camp Shelby, the 100th was attached to the 85th Division, under the direction of Major General Wade Haislip. Although notoriously tough and difficult to please, General Haislip commended the 100th soldiers on their performance in field exercises which included advanced maneuvers and field formations.

Camp Claiborne

In April 1943, the 100th Battalion was sent on maneuvers at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, where they put their previous 10 months of training to work. They learned as much about tactics as they did about venomous snakes, dealing with chiggers and ticks, rivers and unforgiving terrain as they worked to complete their maneuvers. Their training was observed by General McNair, who determined then that the 100th would be deploying overseas in as little as two or three months. When the maneuvers ended on June 16, the 100th returned to Camp Shelby.

Arrival of the 442nd RCT

Meanwhile, a new unit of Japanese American soldiers had settled in at Camp Shelby — the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, activated on February 1, 1943 by President Franklin Roosevelt and made up of volunteers from Hawaii and the continental U.S.

The 100th’s impressive training record and the dedication and loyalty demonstrated by the Varsity Victory Volunteers had led the Army to open recruitment to more Americans of Japanese ancestry. When the Army issued its call for volunteers of Japanese ancestry, its initial goal was 1,500 men from Hawaii and 3,000 from the continental United States. The exact opposite occurred, however. Almost 10,000 volunteers stepped forward from Hawaii, with 1,200 volunteering from internment camps on the Mainland. Eventually about 2,900 were inducted in Hawaii and 800 on the Mainland.

Ready for Combat

While the War Department was trying to decide what to do with the unit, the 100th Infantry Battalion had undergone 14 months of training in four different training periods and in four different locales. From Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, Camp Shelby in Mississippi and the maneuvers at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana, the 100th had exceeded all expectations, passing all of its tests with flying colors.

In the book “Remembrances,” published on the 50th anniversary of the 100th’s formation, Sakae Takahashi, one of the original Nisei officers, recalled that after the war games at Camp Claiborne, “the men of the 100th …were ruggedly conditioned and had become skillful in the use of weapons. Their moral was high, and they were well disciplined. Camaraderie was strong, and their relationships among themselves and with officers…were well established. In sum, the 100th was ready for combat.”

Before leaving Camp Shelby, the unit received its battalion colors which featured a traditional Hawaiian warrior’s helmet to symbolize strength, and an ape leaf to symbolize protection. With that came the motto that the soldiers had requested: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

Officials in Washington had resisted any mention of Pearl Harbor in the motto of the ethnically Japanese soldiers, suggesting instead, “Be of Good Cheer.” This suggested motto, along with Army command’s request that the men be given special dog tags identifying them as Nisei soldiers, was opposed by Colonel Turner, who constantly fought for the dignity and pride of his men.

The 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) departed for Camp Kilmer in New Jersey and were then transported by train, again with shades drawn, to New York City. On August 21, 1943, the men boarded the SS James Parker. The Statue of Liberty would be their last view of America as they began their 12-day voyage to Oran, Algeria, in North Africa.

One month later, the 100th Infantry Battalion would land on the shores of Salerno, Italy.