Hichiro Matsumoto
232nd Combat Engineer Company

Military Training

Many AJA and a few Caucasians are in the area occupied by the 442nd RCT at Camp Shelby. Hichiro comments, "Just like you stay in Japan."

Generous and frequent patrons of restaurants in Hattiesburg, nisei soldiers are treated well at local eateries.

Hichiro and others find GI-underwear too big, leggings too high, shirtsleeves too long, shoes too narrow for luau feet [very wide feet], and bayoneted rifles taller than nisei.

Camp Shelby

[W]hen we went to Camp Shelby, the first company I went to was Company C. But the thing is, after a few days — you know, they reorganize or whatever — I went to Company F.

[Housing] was adequate. We had barracks. Twelve to a barracks, each squad had a barracks. And they had a coal heater, you burn coal. Both ends of the hutment.

So wintertime, we used to shove coal in there until the last guy that goes to bed, it was sort of his duty to fill ’em up for the heater to last. But when comes to one, two o’clock, it’s all burned out. It was cold, wintertime.

It seldom rained [at Camp Shelby]. So it was like wintertime, it was cold. It didn’t snow though, was cold. But otherwise, it was all right. Dry. Camp Shelby, we never see grass. It was all sand and dirt seems like. All compact. The only thing we saw on the ground was pine needle.

Relations

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I did get along with [the mainland Japanese]. Of course, not everybody same like you back home, would be the same thing. Yeah, but as a whole, took us a little time to get to know them. Their ways are different too, eh. And the way how they talk, different too, eh. And when I come to think of it, I think they had a harder time understanding us, than we get to understand them.

Hichiro Matsumoto, basic training at Camp Shelby

[W]hen we go out, pass like that, to Hattiesburg. From Shelby, go out, back, come home. Lot of these Hawaii boys, when they come back to camp, they used to buy something. You know, give the hutment boys. But the Mainland guys was a little different. . .the Hawaii guys was more free-spending. So, they [the Mainland boys] were good guys, too. Yeah.

But the one thing was, we had our whole regiment. We were in one area. That’s why within our area, we hardly saw any haoles. They had their own area, too. And our area was the 442nd area. It was regimental so it was a kind of big area. So the only people we saw was Japanese guys, so just like you stay in Japan.

The only haoles was the officers. Although we had quite a few Japanese [American] officers. But the big majority was haole guys.

Hattiesburg

I’m pretty sure you heard of the old saying — you know, the top seats, they used to call it “nigger heaven.” Chee. Anyway, before I went to the service, before I went away, all the time I lived here, I just thought, “Oh, just they call it ‘nigger heaven,’ that’s all.”

"Colored admission" to movie house

But when I went to Shelby, we went to a movie, then it hit me that that’s where only the black people, “nigger heaven.” And they had their own entrance to go up. Whereas us guys, we’re considered white, yeah. So we went through the main entrance. When we go to restaurants or anyplace, had separate [facilities for] white and the black people.

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[I]t took a little time. Like say, for instance, these Japanese boys, after dinner at the camp, a lot of the boys will go to Hattiesburg to have a “decent” meal. (Chuckles) And the people that ran that restaurants, ho, they were really happy to see the Japanese boys. After a while, now.

Because when they went to the restaurant, they eat the best food, and they tip, too. Whereas a lot of these haole guys, when they went to the restaurant, they go only for coffee or something. I guess they were satisfied with the army food. So that made a lot of difference. So, like if you were to go in a restaurant, the first thing, they used to come to the Japanese boys, serve them because that’s where the money was.

Uniform

And we used to go to clothing store because they issued us only three pairs of underwear now. Three pairs of underwear. And then, usually other size yeah, usually big. (Laughter)

So we went to Hattiesburg and we used to — oh, I’m pretty sure almost everybody went to the clothing store to buy underwear. In the early days, was hard to find that small size. But after a while, any time you go, they had for you. Yeah. So I think they really appreciated the guys. They spent way more than the haole guys.

[Our uniform was] the only thing we get to wear. Day and night, day and night, you get your army uniform.

[Big clothes] was worse because underwear, you can hide ’em, eh. The shirt sleeves were so long. And in the early days, they used to give us canvas leggings. So Japanese boys — like mine, I was on the not-too-small side — the small guys, the leggings come so long, used to come up to here.

So what they did was, they used to bend [fold] it over. And then the rifle, too. With the M1 rifle, you attach the bayonet. The short guys, when they attach the bayonet, their head over here, the bayonet this high. Where you find an army like that, the rifle and bayonet more tall than the soldier?

Oh, local guys, plenty guys, they get the whatever size [for their shoes], triple, you know, triple-E or what, that was common. You know, wide. (Laughs) Luau feet.

Training

[Training] I think for almost everybody, was something new, that kind of training. Get up in the morning, march out to that field with the training area. And then we used to take calisthenics, things like that. Come back for lunch, go back out after lunch. And about five o’clock I think, came back to camp.

Training is, more the early days, we used to go to the rifle range and all that. But after I don’t know how many weeks of basic training we had, we used to go out in the forest problems, field problems. That we enjoyed more because you don’t have to shave or things like that.

[Field problems] was just more for the officers, seems like. Like us guys, we used to just take orders. And they tell you, go there, go there, this and that. The kurushii [difficult] part was you’re hiking. Day and night you hike. Which helped, though.

I was in good shape [when I volunteered], I was a young man, yet. Mm-hmm [yes]. And then, the thing is, like our bunch of boys, almost all single guys so we used to go up to the park. We used to play football and baseball and things like that. So we were in fairly good shape.

Free Time

We’d go to the PX [post exchange] to drink beer. (Chuckles) Because, I mean, almost all the time was you training over there. Mm-hmm [yes]. Like Saturday, we’d knock off a little early. And Sunday you were free all day. But Monday through Friday, morning to night, was training, training.

[Playing cards] was popular. But not too much because your pay was [low]. We had fifty dollars a month or something. And then from there, we had to pay our [life] insurance, pay our laundry. So whatever you got was about — you were lucky if you get twenty dollars a month.

[Life insurance was an] option. But almost everybody took that.

I think some [soldiers sent money home]. I think was the other way around. More guys asked the home people to send them money.

Well, you wrote letters, yeah. That’s about it. And them days, 1943, 1944, so you can imagine took quite some time for the mail to go back and forth, yeah.

I used to [write letters to my mother from Camp Shelby about]. . .the training, and this and that. What life was like being in the army, being away without her home cooking and all that.

[My mother] didn’t write. I used to write to my — in those days, my sister-in-law was home, see.

Hichiro Matsumoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Hichiro Matsumoto and Library of Congress.

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