Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Champagne Campaign

After the decimation in the Vosges Mountains, the 442nd is sent to southern France.

Through his interest in photography, Whitey develops a close friendship with a French family, the Millos.

In Menton, nisei soldiers on guard duty capture a German one-man submarine.

[Historical information courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center.]

Railroad station building used by Antitank Company, 442nd RCT
Railroad station building used by Antitank Company, 442nd RCT

The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team left the cold dark forests of death in eastern France and headed south to the sunny French Riviera. Less than half its strength, the 442nd had lost so many men that it couldn’t be used as a regiment-sized force. Nearly 2,000 wounded nisei were lying in hospitals all around England, Italy and France.

The nisei needed replacements, and they needed rest. Eventually 265 men recuperated from their wounds and returned to the 442nd. Another 1,214 replacements, mostly draftees from the mainland, arrived and received training.

Cooks and KP (442nd RCT) at railroad station
Cooks and KP (442nd RCT) at railroad station

Southern France

Well, for our company boys, the Antitank boys, we felt really happy that we were going-back-home like feeling, when we went back down to southern France. Because we were attached to the 517th Paratroopers, and we knew the boys in 517th and familiarized with like Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, and Menton, so we felt relieved to be happy that we’re going back down again, whereas we don’t have to be on the front line anymore just waiting for the replacements to come in to build up the strength. And we had a lot of occasions where we can visit the towns and all that from the past. So more of a recuperation like, for the outfit.

The regiment spent the next four months in the Maritime Alps and the French Riviera. After the Vosges, this assignment seemed easy - guard a roughly 12-mile stretch of the French-Italian border and keep the enemy from breaking through to the southern coast of France.

The Millo Family

Well, for our company boys, the Antitank boys, we felt really happy that we were going-back-home like feeling, when we went back down to southern France. Because we were attached to the 517th Paratroopers, and we knew the boys in 517th and familiarized with like Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, and Menton, so we felt relieved to be happy that we’re going back down again, whereas we don’t have to be on the front line anymore just waiting for the replacements to come in to build up the strength. And we had a lot of occasions where we can visit the towns and all that from the past. So more of a recuperation like, for the outfit.

Many French villagers invited the friendly, generous and courteous Nisei into their homes for dinner. They formed lasting friendships - some even turned into marriages. I Company held a Christmas party. They decorated a Christmas tree, sang carols accompanied by their guitars and ukuleles and gave candy to the children.

Christmas gathering of Antitank Company, 442nd RCT at railroad station
Christmas gathering of Antitank Company, 442nd RCT at railroad station

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The civilians were---the French people are very nice. In fact, I got to know this one family, the Millo family in Nice, and they had a photography shop over there. And the family members, they’re last name is Millo, and Charlotte. Charlotte was the owner of the photography shop. Of course carried, I had a photography camera, and picked up the films from them, or had the films developed by that family. And we became fairly good, close friends. And the father and mother is elderly people, and the mother, she was handicapped, she had problems with her foot. And then they invited me to have dinners in the house about two or three times. But every time I go down, in Nice, I make sure that my — every vehicle carries a five-gallon container of gasoline. All right. So I had that thing filled up before I leave because the officers and other people go down to the city for the get-together, or their regimental headquarters are down there.

Millo Family and their photography shop
Millo Family and their photography shop

Okay. So while I’m waiting for the officers to get through with their meeting — it takes about an hour, hour half, or probably longer — I would drive over to their house. Their house is behind — this is in the city — so I would go over there and then give them the five-gallon can of gasoline, tell them, “Hey, do you have any empty containers? Fill ’em up.” Because hard to get petroleum or gas for their cooking utensils. And then we’d stop and talk, converse with the family members. And then I would go. Or if I had some rations that I think that they can use, like cigarettes, or chocolate, or some other things, I would get a bag, pile it inside my bag, and give all to them so they’d be happy. So, I have pictures of that family, too. Very nice. So we got to be close friends.

Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto with Millos and Takashi Hattori in jeep
Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto with Millos and Takashi Hattori in jeep

Capture of German Submarine

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This happened over in Menton. Menton has a little yacht harbor and, of course, a little portion — sand banks, too. And one day, the 4th Platoon was assigned down in Menton guarding that harbor, and I think the 1st Squad was the group of men assigned where that harbor light is, at the entrance of that small harbor. So, they call up the Platoon Headquarters, 4th Platoon, Lieutenant Rogers’s platoon, said, “Hey, there’s a submarine coming in the harbor.” Just curiosity, all they saw was this plastic dome just above the water surface, and they could see an outline of the small submarine.

One day, a Japanese-American soldier was on guard duty in the hills overlooking the harbor at Menton. He spotted what looked like a big fish stuck near a sandbar. He called down, and some other Nisei investigated. Everyone was hoping for some sashimi (raw fish). Instead, the “big fish” turned out to be a one-man German submarine.

In my interpretation, I think that was a long torpedo suicide submarine, I think. And from what we gathered, is that there was a light American cruiser assigned offshore, about two or three miles offshore, and every day they would shell the German position on the Italian side. So they must have gotten the idea, “We’ll get that light cruiser, American light cruiser,” and they go out and try and destroy that cruiser. I think something must have happened to his navigation instruments. (MK chuckles.) So instead of going over to get the cruiser, no, he came back.

The driver had mistaken Menton for a harbor five miles away in Italy. The driver motioned for the Japanese American soldier to push him off the sandbar. The Nisei pointed his Tommy gun and motioned for the German to surrender.

Probably his mission was before the sunrise, and then he won’t be caught coming toward the cruiser. So he returned, but he returned to our harbor at Menton instead of his base in the Italian side. And so I went down to deliver the mail with the mail clerk, they told us what’s going on. So we drove up to a certain point and then we stopped and looked at what it was, and, of course, part of the submarine was stuck on the sand dune, and they got the boy out, was a young German fella. But to get the dome dislodged, they had to look for some sort of a tool to get the screws around the dome. Then once that was accomplished, they got the German sailor out from that submarine and then they took him in as prisoner. But we saw that submarine over there, and we hopefully be careful so that Germans cannot see us from the hills. So that was kind of exciting. We were about the only (chuckles) army that ever captured a navy submarine.

Eventually the 232nd Combat Engineer Company pulled the sub ashore and sent it to the Navy. It was the only time in military history that the Navy received a captured submarine from the Army.

Enemy one-man submarine captured off Riviera
Enemy one-man submarine captured off Riviera

Yes, and so the 442nd captures one submarine (chuckles). But that wasn’t publicized too much, but it came out on the Stars and Stripes army newspaper.

Whitey Yamamoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Historical information courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center. Photographs courtesy of Whitey Yamamoto.

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