Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Reflections and Observations

Reflections

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The way we were brought up, our folks, from the Orients, they came to Hawaii, tried to make a living for themselves, and we were  brought up properly. Not to bring shame or disgrace to our family, or to the neighbors, or even for the community. So, if you do go to the front, I know you have a mission where you cannot back out. It’s a tight mission that you’re going, so I think that’s the reason why we were so much in demand by General Mark Clark from the 5th Army. He always thought about us, and he wanted us to come back to his outfit back in Italy because we can accomplish the mission. And some of them made a comment saying that the 100th and the 442nd never stepped back, always go forward and accomplish the mission, regardless of how hard it was.

Shiroku “Whitey” Yamamoto, Antitank Company, 442nd RCT

So, we had no choice. . .shall I put it that way? Well, on our upbringing, that when you start something, accomplish it, no matter how difficult it is. You know, go to school, learn as much as you can, don’t play around, and then that is something nobody can take away with you if you have a good education. So that was part of our upbringing, do as you were told, don’t talk back to my parents (chuckles), and then do the job, and do it — use your own common sense — and then accomplish the job.

"Rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it had so ill treated." (President Bill Clinton)

[Warren Nishimoto: When you said earlier that you were on the back line and then you said that, “Oh I’m ashamed to say that I was in the back line,” but what made you say that?]

Well, you see, I’m fortunate, looking at the standpoint where the frontline boys are always facing the enemy, and they get shot at, and they’re out in the cold, always digging a foxhole to protect themselves. And here, I’m in the rear end, in other words, I’m connected with the Antitank Headquarters Platoon, and with the CO [commanding officer] in that group, with the mess sergeants, mail carriers, and a comfortable location where we don’t need to be facing the enemy or anything like that. But we can hear the artillery shells coming over. But still, we were much safer than the frontline boys. And because the frontline boys — they’re probably about five yards or ten yards away from the enemy, which you don’t see at times, and you get shot at if you’re not on the alert. So they were always in a precautionary situation.

Antitank Company, 442nd RCT in VE-Day parade at Ghedi Airfield

[Warren Nishimoto: The reason why I asked, I don’t think you should feel ashamed that you were in the back as opposed to the other boys in the front.]

Yes, but it is, when I say I was fortunate to be on the rear, I feel kind of a little bit — faced to a person that I know that was on the front line all the time. So, I don’t want to brag myself that I was in the 442nd or any outfit, and they are the ones that I take my hat off. The ones that were directly facing the enemies. So they are the ones that they really fought. They suffered the most. Yeah.

Observations

I always mention to some other people and say I think our generation are very fortunate to see what has taken place in American history, for that matter. . .In the early days, before the Revolutionary War, how our forefathers worked hard for their freedom to better ourselves as a whole to run our country. And also sacrificing to retain that freedom is so precious to me, and I guess to all of us, that I think we should, if we have to go to war to protect our country, I think it’s our duty to uphold, no matter how. . . . Like in our case, the Japanese Americans were interned at the relocation camps. That’s one unfortunate thing, but still there’s a lot of good things that came about. Even the people on the mainland, Japanese Americans, they sacrificed, they lost a lot of things for — very heavy. But I think we all suffered. But there’s a lot of good things that come about, and I think it’s more precious. We feel that we have to preserve what we have and protect as much as we can so that future generations, like our forefathers. . .

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto at L'Escarene railroad station

I feel as if what we have talked with the interviewers like yourself, you’re the second generation or so, and I could see, and from what I had the input from other people, young and old, that history is so important. And realizing that, I said, “Well, why don’t I express myself about my feeling of being a veteran and, oh, a personal life.” Because the younger generation would like to know. For that matter, Hawaii Herald came out with an article, just yesterday we received that Hawaii Herald, and there was a small article about Mitsuo Akiyama from Hilo. He was a company clerk in our Antitank Company, and the granddaughter wrote an article about her grandfather, Mitsuo Akiyama, and I can see she wished that she could have asked a little bit more about what he went through, and she would like to know about the past generation.

So, I feel, I think I’m doing the right thing by contributing whatever you people want to know, to help for the future generation about what we went through. That’s why I’m beginning to open up and come out freely. And if there’s anything I can contribute, I’d be glad to do that. Because not too many of us going to be alive before too long. And once all of us are gone, it’s too late. So I think I should wholeheartedly contribute as much as I can to explain about our experience. I feel that way now.

Christmas gathering of Antitank Company, 442nd RCT at L'Escarene

But I wish some other boys would be glad to contribute some more of their experience, too. And I hope you have all the luck. And I think if the boys see what I have done, and take part in it, this will be a good thing for the future generations, yeah. And you people are working so hard, I congratulate you people for taking your time out and doing all this work, and doing the research, compile all these things for the good of the other younger generations.

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

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