232nd Combat Engineer Company
Military Service: Italy
Battle-tested infantrymen share words of caution: "Don't try to do more than what you're supposed to do." They remind Hichiro to be alert.
Combat in Italy is not in the flats, but in the mountains; hiking through rough terrain is an everyday aspect of war.
C rations, K rations, and B rations sustain the troops. Head cabbages, stolen from a field, and seldom-served chicken are appreciated.
Learning from the 100th
[Advice from the 100th guys] was a big, big help.
[T]he first thing is, they tell you, “Don’t try to do more than what you’re supposed to.” You know, don’t try to be a hero. And always been on alert; and always keep your gun in shape, ready to operate, ready to use it.
This is a good example. We were Casa Del Poggio, it’s way on the Italian side. We’re on a defensive position — usually when we bed down in a foxhole, you get everything ready. Your rifle at the side, loaded, everything, your shoes on.
And had this guy next to me, he took off his shoes. I told him, “Hey, what you going to do?” He said, “Oh, I’m going to sleep.”
And then he had a bazooka. The early days the bazooka was one piece. But after, they came the kind you fold ’em for easy carry. And then his gun, still folded yet, see, nightfall, when he’s going bed. I told him, “Hey, you not going to fix your gun?”
He said, “Why?” “When the enemy comes, you think in the dark you can fix it up, put the gun together, and put your shoes on?”
Had that kind of guys, you know. Really. I mean, things like that you know you train, but common sense is going to tell you to be ready. I still remember the gun, still like that [unassembled]. (Chuckles) No more shoes. But he came back, though.
No [there weren’t any guys I got really close to but didn’t make it home], not exactly that. I know what you’re driving at. Because the sergeant tell all the guys, C Squad guys that, “Don’t get too close because you don’t know what’s going to happen” and things like that. But I didn’t experience it. All of us, we got along fairly well. Of course, you lose some, that’s part of war.
Reaction of the 100th to the Replacements
But this thing that bothers me and the other replacement guys was, some of the guys, they resented us because their thinking was, their unit get smaller, they’re going to be shipped home. That never happened. Always get the reserves coming up. So, anyway, on that part, only a small, few guys used to tell us, “You guys came, so we cannot go home.” That’s not so.
[100th becoming part of the 442nd] didn’t affect us in any way, I think. But it was nice to have them together with us. They were the 1st Battalion, so we had three battalions of local boys. Well, when I say “local,” I mean the AJA boys, local and the Mainland boys.
Italy (Suvereto, Belvedere, Sassetta)
[The conditions were] really, really tough. Because every movement you made, from here to there, was — with the 100th, I’m talking about — you’re walking, you’re hiking. Day, night, day, night. Of course, in-between you’re resting. Get your rest area but it’s not easy.
Because that war in Italy was mostly in the mountains. We very seldom had combat in the flats.
Well, the first thing when I volunteered, that was in my mind already because I’m volunteering for combat, yeah. So more or less, you kind of train for that. Maybe it helped me a little. But as a whole, we all did, all us boys did pretty well on that. Because of haji [shame], yeah.
I mean, you don’t want to turn back, huh. Because all of us, I think it was just about the same. Of course, had extremes on both sides, yeah. But otherwise, I think was like that.
As a whole, the Italian people, the people that we met, was on the poor side, let’s say. And they were nice people.
[A]s a whole, the U.S. soldiers are on a kind and thoughtful side. Because the boys were always giving them — the kids especially — things. Candies, chewing gum, or something like that. So we had no experience with the wealthy people because usually, we were out in the mountains, in the countryside.
We always had food. The C ration or K ration or the B ration. But we never did starve. That was something. But complain, yeah. (Laughter) I mean, naturally, even some of us at home, we’re complaining.
Even overseas, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they used to serve turkey. That was a real treat. They took care of the men here. While we were in Sospel, that’s southern France. This was on Thanksgiving, we were stationed at a schoolhouse. We were on the second floor and then this ground floor had another — our boys, but another company.
So their food came in and from upstairs, we’d look down. Thanksgiving dinner, they had turkey. And us guys, upstairs, our mess truck never come yet, so we’re looking down at that. They’re eating, chee, that’s how we find out that’s how the Italian people feel when we eat and they come. I think we didn’t get to eat turkey that day because either the mess sergeant or the captain wen goof off saying that it was too dangerous to get the truck to come to our area. Well, they had their reasons. For the safety of the boys, or I don’t know.
That C ration now was in a sort of a Cracker Jack box, that size. And they had cracker, they had the cheese and something like devilled ham or whatever. And that’s the K ration. C ration was they come in pork-and-beans can or something like that. And B ration was a little bit better because that you usually have when you break, in a break area, for several days you stay one area where the mess can cook something. Whatever they can get together. So, you survived.
Hardly [had local Hawaii type food] because how can you get — you hardly can get anything unless you go to the farm area and then get tamana, head cabbage, things like that. What we did was, no choice, but we go steal some, eh. (Chuckles)
That’s big deal when you get chicken. Just over the fire. Yeah. And nobody grumbled, that’s something really mezurashii [uncommon], eh?
Hichiro Matsumoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Library of Congress and U.S. Army Signal Corps.