Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Military Training at Camp Shelby

Whitey travels by ship to San Francisco and by train to Mississippi to reach Camp Shelby.

At Camp Shelby, he is selected for the Antitank Company and assigned to be a jeep driver.

There is a mix of volunteers from Hawaii and from the mainland. According to Whitey, "The only difference was that, they spoke perfect English, we were local boys; we talked more in pidgin."

Antitank Company

Radiogram from Shiroku
Radiogram from Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto to his foster father Elvis Rhoads.

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I was selected to go to the Antitank Company. And here I was thinking, “Antitank Company, what could that be? Are we going to be, what do you call, be with a tank crew to drive a tanks or be assigned in a tank?” I wasn’t familiar with that. But as were assigned and formed a group of Antitank boys, then we realized what Antitank was. Actually, we were assigned with the 37-mm antitank guns, and we were the mobile company. So, you know, we were very fortunate to think that we don’t need to do any walking. More only riding around the places, yeah. So I was assigned to be a jeep driver, and the other boys were assigned to motor vehicle area. More like — not depot — but company vehicle area, to look after the vehicles, learn all the fundamentals of the trucks, and learn the mechanics of that vehicle so that in case of malfunction of the vehicles, or accidents, we know how to take care ourselves and the vehicles.

I thought, it cannot be any better. I was very happy (laughs). I could think to myself, “I am very fortunate, not walking.” And looking at it, I can go places with the officers. So, in my assignment, I was assigned to the headquarters platoon of the Antitank Company. And we had three of us, which is Lieutenant Milner, he’s the officer of the reconnaissance squad; and Toro Hirose, he’s a mainland boy, was a sergeant; and I was the PFC [private first class] driver. Very efficient driver (chuckles).

Letter to Elvis Rhoads from Camp Shelby Chaplain, 1943.09.01
Letter to Elvis Rhoads from Camp Shelby Chaplain, 1943.09.01

Training

442nd RCT soldiers cross a stream while training at Camp Shelby
442nd RCT soldiers cross a stream while training at Camp Shelby

Since we were in the camps by the end of March, in April, started the basic training and all that, it was getting to be during the summer months. Hot summer months. So it was getting kind of uncomfortable. During the period of the height of the summer, ho, was hot and sweaty. A lot of chiggers, and a lot of perspiration, yeah. But, in my situation, and the other boys, drivers and mechanics, we were more comfortable. We had at least shady areas in the garage or so that we can relax and talk stories, and then talk about vehicles, mechanics of the vehicles, what to do in case of this and that. So we were not loafing or anything, or go to sleep. Probably we might take a short nap, that’s all. But we’re under the control of the pool’s sergeants, motor pool’s sergeants, and the lieutenants, you know, officers. So we were constantly working on the vehicles. Either polishing or other things that need to be taking care of, yeah.

Antitank Company, 442nd RCT soldiers training at Camp Shelby
Antitank Company, 442nd RCT soldiers training at Camp Shelby

Food is wonderful. Just GI food, but it’s good food. Plenty to eat. [Adjustment was] not that much. Except we kind of miss the rice pot yeah? So the mess sergeants made sure that we had enough rice, from what I was told by the mess sergeants. Because in my platoon, in the headquarters platoon, the mess sergeant is doing all the cooking with two helpers. All the boys are taking turns being a KP [kitchen police]. And they’d make sure that when they go down to the quartermaster corps to pick up the food supplies, they try to get as much rice so we make an exchange with the white boys. If they want our potatoes, and we want their rice, and which they don’t need, right? So we make an exchange, from what I was told by the mess sergeant. So it came out okay.

Free Time

The boys, at the end of the day, they go to the PX [post exchange], they would buy drinks. At the PX they have a place where they can consume whatever other soft drinks, and the püpüs that they sell. And they enjoying themselves. Some of the boys play music with the guitars or ukuleles that they brought along. A lot of card playing, gambling going on. But myself, we stayed mostly in the hut house or we socialized with the other boys in the other barracks. So we have a social get-together. But I don’t drink so I’m not up at the PX, drinking.

Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto and Antitank Company, 442nd RCT on furlough
Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto and Antitank Company, 442nd RCT on furlough

I don’t smoke so. . .Well, if I do get - during the year, assignment overseas, I used to give my cigarettes to the other boys that needed. So I don’t smoke at all. So I just give it away. So I don’t touch any hard liquor and all that.

[V]ery few non-smokers. But most of them would get involved in smoking. I suppose, to them, that’s how they keep themselves occupied until, you know. . . . Well, boys love to drink, they’re happy when they have enough liquor and they smoke, likewise, they enjoy, they’re satisfied that way. Well I was satisfied not drinking or not smoking. I’m a good boy. . . Save money, too.

Gosh, I think we started off with about twenty-one dollars a month [for pay]. Yeah. I’m not familiar with what I done with [the money]. I don’t recollect. Probably we saved and — I’m not too sure — or send it back home. I’m not. . . . But usually, we saved to spend the money in case we go on a pass into town. Spend the money to buy camera films or other things, souvenirs, going to restaurants. So that’s about all, it’s pretty well spent. Doesn’t go too far on twenty-one dollars. Of course, we had overseas compensation, though.

Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto and Shigeru Nikaido at Lincoln Park
Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto and Shigeru Nikaido at Lincoln Park

[W]e had regular mail coming to us. So our friends and folks used to send the mail to us and we’d write back.

Just regular correspondence [from my foster parents]. About what they doing, and if they met up with some of their friends, they would mention about that, too. So it’s just like ordinary family members, keep us informed. And I tell them what I’m doing, about my experience, and let them know everything is okay. So they were concerned about me, and they wrote letters all the time.

Letter to Elvis Rhoads from Camp Shelby Chaplain, 1944.02.03
Letter to Elvis Rhoads from Camp Shelby Chaplain, 1944.02.03

Relations Among Nisei

I didn’t have much of a discrimination between the mainland boys and myself. I could get along with anybody. And, to me, [fellow enlisted man Toro Hirose] was just another person, likeable person he was, and we got along real fine.

But the only difference was that, well, they spoke perfect English, (laughs) we were local boys, we talked more in pidgin. But we got used to one another, and they talked pidgin, carry on our way of conversation, and we, likewise, tried to better ourselves by talking better. But we had the advantage. From what I understand throughout the war, is that we communicated with pidgin English when the critical time comes around, so the enemy happen to tap in our line, then they would be confused and they would be at loss as to what we were talking about. But we knew all about it (chuckles). So, I suppose that’s how we accomplished our mission, more so.

Whitey Yamamoto's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Whitey Yamamoto.

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