442nd Antitank Company
Camp Shelby: Guarding German POWs
Whitey's first encounter with German soldiers is at Camp Shelby.
He is part of a group assigned to transport German POWs to peanut farms in Georgia and Alabama.
Whitey's group stands guard while the prisoners harvest peanuts.
We were assigned to take the German prisoners that were captured in North Africa. They were the cream of the German army, I suppose. And to them, the war is over. They were happy. And we were assigned to take these German prisoners over to Georgia and Alabama to harvest the peanuts from the farmers raising peanuts. And that was quite an adventure because we didn’t have to worry too much about being attacked by them. In fact, they were happy that we were able to take them out from the camps and assign them. So nearly about a whole month, we concentrated harvesting peanuts in Alabama and Georgia.
And in the morning, we would take them out from the camps, assigned to the trucks, and we distributed those prisoners in different farmlands. And they would harvest the peanuts for about eight hours a day. I think they got paid twenty cents an hour by the farmers. But the farmers were very happy and they prepared good sandwich lunches for them, and they gave them cigarettes, and they feel so happy. (Chuckles) And after we take them to the individual farmlands, we become the guards, standby guards, to be sure that none of them will escape. And to them, they don’t have time to escape because they have a good deal as in the war is over for them.
And when we bring them back at the end of the day, into the camps, they have their own recreation. The prisons get together, and then they form a chorus, and they sing. And we would stand outside the stockade and just listen to them, and we clap our hands for what they sing, and likewise, they feel happy about it. And somehow, there’s a warm relationship, and I think that helped a lot for the war cause. So after the war is over, they could go back, and then they think of Americans as very nice, hospitable people, I suppose. We treated them decently.
We would talk. And for that matter (chuckles), the funny part is, they would ask us, “Hey, farmer, you standing up guarding us, he say, let me relieve you.”
And of course we just kind of joke, but they were really nice. And we enjoyed it, and we understood, so we get along good. And when the time to go back to camp at the end of the day, they were ready to go. And so we drove back to the camp. That was the nice part about — during our basic training time.
We didn’t carry on a conversation too much [with the farmers in Georgia and Alabama] because we were, you know, supposed to be guarding the German prisoners working out in the peanut field. But they were nice, and they talked to us casually. But a long - not more than ten, fifteen minutes, because they, themselves, were busy with the farms. But they were nice people. In fact, I think the farmers are all nice.
[The prisoners of war were] not that heavily guarded, just — because in the group that’s doing the harvesting, probably there’s about half a dozen of them doing the harvesting, so it’s very simple. And of course, there’s no such thing because they don’t have any weapons, they’re stripped of weapons. And we are the only ones with the rifles. But in the rifle, we don’t have any bullets in the rifle (laughs). They wouldn’t know the difference.
One of us might have misjudged and use it for special other purposes, we don’t know. But we weren’t — we didn’t have any bullets in the rifles. But in case of emergency, we have the bullets on our waistline. Had the cartridge with bullets so we can load up the rifle with the bullets if we want to. But that wasn’t necessary.
We communicate like you and I. They can speak English, not perfect like we are. But from what they - they converse intelligently. They knew the English language easy because I think the Europeans are well-educated people. And these Germans, they’re very intelligent people. So we can communicate easily, we understand each other nice. And we have our fun, we joke with one another. So made our day, every day, we looked forward to go out in the farm and then work, we do the guarding, guarding of the prisoners. And then they working. And it’s not mandatory for the Germans to continuously work. They would get tired of it, stand up and relax, and during that period of time, they would talk to us and we talked to them. But then we keep our distance. Once in a while, we get close to each other, too.
[T]hey find out that we were Japanese Americans and (chuckles) there was a kind of humorous event, too, that takes place. We said, “Chee, how come that you’re German, and we’re Japanese descendents, and we supposed to be allies” (chuckles) “but here we are, you’re Germans, and we’re Americans, even though we’re Japanese Americans.” But that’s a light moment of humor that we enjoyed talking to them. But they understood, because they’re, like I said, the Germans are well educated and they understand that America is made up of all different ethnic groups, and they know that they have German Americans, or any other ethnic group here in America. So they understand our position. So we kind of joke and say, “Hey, we supposed to be allies, and here we guarding you, and you working hard.”
Whitey Yamamoto's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Whitey Yamamoto.