1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
With the 370th Engineers as its nucleus, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion is activated in April 1944.
Kenneth is assigned to the battalion's heavy equipment company where he operates a bulldozer.
Civilians sometimes refer to the Hawaii-based 1399th Engineers as "pineapple soldiers".
As Kenneth nears his discharge date, he is not interested in volunteering for the 442nd RCT or MIS.
[Supplemental historical text courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center.]
That's what they called us, the public. They didn't know what we were doing. I tell you, it's funny. That here - well, usually, over the weekend, we get passes from Schofield. Here, we go out in town like that. People see us, "Ho, look at the pineapple soldiers. Here, they're taking it easy while the other 100th / 442nd in Europe getting killed. Chee, guys getting - look, they take it easy." That's why they used to call us the "pineapple soldiers."
We hear so much of that so we didn't think too much of it, just doing our jobs, yeah. Nothing we could do anyway.
Activated April 26, 1944 at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, the "chow hounds" as the 1399th came to be known due to their hearty appetites, were uniquely constructed of four smaller non-combat battalions: 395th Prewar Quarter Master Battalion, 370th Engineer, 1536th Dump Truck Battalion, 1525th Base Equipment Company.
Before the 1399th came into existence, we were the 370th Engineers. About two years later, the 1399th was formed, and that's when the new draftees started to come in.
The 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion was an all-Japanese American non-combat unit stationed in Oahu, Hawaii during World War II. When the ranks of the 442nd/100th/MIS were filled, Japanese Americans eager to answer the call to duty were honored to serve the non-combat 1399th Battalion.
Thomas Takemoto was one such veteran dedicating two years to the 1399th, volunteering again after a medical discharge. Takemoto said, "We were not a little battalion. We were a construction outfit building for the war effort."
You know, since the people that volunteered for the 442nd and the MIS [Military Intelligence Service], we were down from about six hundred to about half of that, about three hundred. So, when the fifth draft started again, we got Japanese Americans only, not the other nationalities now, joined us, and our total jumped to about a thousand.
Comprised of draftees from the April - August 1944 drafts, by November 1944 the 1399th peaked at 993 men. It became the only Nisei outfit to serve together in the Pacific Theater.
At that time, we started to get the rifles, and that is two years after being in the army, now. And from after being issued the rifles, we started to go on the rifle range. Go on night - travel with the full pack on and all that.
During the Philippines campaign General Douglas MacArthur felt it was necessary to use the 1399th for combat on the frontlines. Concerned that the Japanese American soldiers would be mistaken for the Japanese enemy, the War Department revoked his request stating the 1399th was essential for the defense of the Hawaiian archipelago.
One year before I got discharged, that's when the 1399th Engineers grew larger. When I say "grew larger," that's when they started the draft again. And they started to bring in more people. When I say "more people," the funny thing is, all Japanese Americans now. And that's when we had a medical unit, too.
We had Captain [William S.] Ito from the Mainland coming down. He was the officer in charge. And that's when they formed the heavy equipment company, which I was transferred into. Nothing but bulldozers, tractors, cranes, trailers, all kind. We were stationed across [Lalani] Hawaiian Village. That whole block, we used to maintain that. And they formed another company, a dump truck company. Nothing but dump trucks. In fact, the trailers were there, too. So they used to do the hauling of the rocks, whatever, soil, this and that.
So these were the companies that were formed and I was with the heavy equipment company in Waikiki. And when the war ended, they had to take off the barbed wires along the Waikiki hotels. So, I went there, being a bulldozer operator, knock off all the barbed wires and hauled that away.
For fulfilling its duties in the Hawaiian defensive, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion waspresented with the Meritorious Service award in October 1945. "For every man in the front there were men in the back, working as suppliers or medics. It takes all of us to win the war," added Takemoto.
On May 31, 1946, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion was deactivated, with the ending of the war.
I used to play basketball and we used to be good at that. They used to play softball too, and football. Anyway, like going back to basketball, we were good at that because we took the engineer championship of Oahu. And during the wartime, you figure, there's many good athletes, poor athletes, and semi-pro athletes from the Mainland now. You competing against them.
And like you may have heard about the boxing, you know the Chowhounds, the 1399th. They were good at boxing. They took so many individual awards.
In football, I remember we played football in the city barefoot [football] league. And in our case, we didn't have too many experienced players, but we had a good coach from Hilo. He used to coach barefoot football. And you know, playing against Palama, Kalihi Valley, they're top teams in city league.
The funny thing is, we had good support from the missile station in Schofield assigned to the 34th Engineers [Combat Engineer Regiment]. At first, the - in fact, two, three Sundays - the command car with the CO, used to come down, bring the medical truck. But after getting about two, three defeats, you know, being routed, he stopped coming (chuckles).
After winning the championship, we went to Hickam Field to play against the other islands now: Maui, Kauai, Hawaii. And, being small, we had the Caucasian officer. He brought in - since we didn't have anybody over six foot - he brought in about three, four of them and without practicing, we just played at Hickam Field. We lost to Hawaii at that time. But that didn't make sense. Without practicing, you just play? This is a championship game, now. So we don't click.
When you go into the army the first time, you find that out. They always tell you never to volunteer for anything because they will just give you the worst jobs where people don't want to be asked to do it. So they ask for volunteers.
Before the enlistment for the 442nd, the MIS came public, before the public knew about it, we were the first ones to know about it because the different companies - they all grouped them together in an auditorium and they talked about that. That they opening up a group to serve with the 442nd, the MIS.
After that, when we got back to the company, the company commander started to ask us - individually now. I remember the company commander asking me, "Kenneth, why don't you join the 442nd or the MIS?"
I told him, "No. I volunteered for the army, I'm not going to be volunteering anymore already." Because I learned that lesson, as I mentioned, never to volunteer for anything. And especially in my case, I volunteered now. I didn't have to because at that time when I volunteered, there was the last draft. That was the fifth draft. And I happened to be the youngest from Hilo.
I know there were, like the 442nd, a lot of my friends volunteered because the reason was at that time what we were doing is just picking up rubbish around the barracks. You know what you pick up the kitchen rubbish, ho that stinking job. That's dirty and smelly. And besides that, we used to cut grass along the highways, bust rocks on the quarry.
And you see, the ones they volunteered for the 442nd like that, I don't blame them because they didn't want to do that type, continue doing that. You don't know how long. So they just volunteered. Like in our case, well, you might call this stubborn or whatever. Like in my case, hell, I'm not going to volunteer anymore. If they want to send me to the combat area, they just order me. I'm in the army now.
It all depended on each person's point of view. In fact, one of our ranking sergeants, he had to join because they took his picture on a poster. His face came up, so he had no choice but to volunteer. And there was another famous - he was an amateur boxer. Well, like him, he's nothing but gung-ho so anything, he just volunteers. So there were quite a bit. Besides, I remember those that were working at the quarry, they didn't want to be busting rocks, so quite a bit volunteered from that group. So it depended on what the person's situation.
[We ended up with] about three hundred [after the 442nd recruitment]. I remember that because I was in Company C. We had headquarters, Company A, B, C. I was in Company C. And since half of the outfit joined, and Company B was the same, so we joined Company B and C together and made it just Company B.
MIS was something, really. In fact, my brother went to volunteer for the MIS. I remember I was at the Wahiawa Replacement Depot and when I saw my brother, "Jesus Christ, how did they take you?" Because as I said, he went only to the sixth grade. And he hardly knows Japanese. Chee, they must have been hard up. But, it turned out, he had the best, well, you might say fate. Because they go up to Fort Snelling, they take a year's training in Japanese, and after that they go to the different areas. They shipped him to Philippines. And on the way, halfway, the war ended. So they shipped him to Tokyo and they were the first occupation troops there.
You don't know where they going to put you and you always get the lousiest jobs, too. So I found that out, so I never volunteered. Except the funny thing is when I received my discharge orders, to report to Hickam Field for discharge, there was about a month. One of the officers came up to see me, he said, "Kenneth, you know Japanese, join the MIS."
I told him, "Chee, you crazy?" I'm ready for discharge. Why should I sign up for another three years?
Kenneth Hagino's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photograph courtesy of 1399th Engineers Battalion Collection. Historical information courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center.