100th Infantry Battalion
Stanley is assigned to K Company, 442nd RCT.
At Camp Shelby in Mississippi, there is camaraderie among the soldiers from Hawaii based on their common upbringing.
Stanley and his friends are treated well by townspeople when they visit nearby Hattiesburg, but he finds that the Southerners know very little about the nisei soldiers and Hawaii.
They called that "latrine rumor," in those days. That's where you get all the stories, when it's in the restroom. One of the latrine rumors was that they going to ship us to Europe because they don't want to ship us to South Pacific because we look so much like the enemy.
I don't think they were too concerned about where we were going. Most of the guys, they knew we were in the war and we're going to go someplace, Pacific or Europe. But at one stage, we were in the latter part of training, we knew we were going to go to Europe.
We knew we were going to be training someplace on the Mainland. But during the training, that's when the rumors start flying around we're going to do this and they're going to ship us here or there.
[The five of us from Hilo] we all got separated. In fact, one went to H Company, I went to K Company, one went to Artillery. I don't know which company this guy went to, the other two guys but we're all separated between the 442nd.
Being of the same ethnic background, whether you from Kauai or I'm from the Big Island, when you go to Schofield or Camp Shelby, what do you do? Sleep - get twelve guys in the squad in the same building. You don't know where they came from. But yet, when you really think about it, you've done the same exact thing. Take off your slipper to go in the house, take a hot bath every night, eat rice. You name it and we've done it. The same twelve guys from different parts of Hawaii. So somehow, I feel, that's how we got really tight, close together.
Camaraderie. I think that made a hell of a lot of difference among the 442nd and the army. A guy is one or two years older than you and he could have been your older brother. If he's younger, he could be your neighbor's boy or something like that. But it was like a one big family, the whole 442nd was like one big family. And when they go out - in camp, when the fights would arise, who you going to help? If you're going to do any helping, you're going to help another Japanese guy, whether you know him or not. Whether you know him or not is besides the point.
Love to Fight
Because to me, I say that most of the 442nd members love to fight. That's all they were looking for all the time. If they're not fighting with the haole soldiers, they were fighting among themselves. All the time.
Maybe that's why they're good soldiers.
Camp Shelby was an area where we trained and on weekends you have a pass to go out to Hattiesburg. A little town in Mississippi. And going down to Hattiesburg, those days - after coming back, I realized that 1943, 44, 45, was the height of the Ku Klux Klan era in Mississippi.
Till today, I kept wondering how come they didn't do anything to us. Being "Japs," you know. But yet, too, when you go down to town, the black people walking down the street would be afraid of the whites and us guys. Which I think is altogether different today. Everybody is equal today. But surprisingly, the South, the attitude of the people, the civilians, was altogether different. But otherwise, on weekends, we go to Hattiesburg or to the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] and swim in the pool, that type of thing. We would go out to have dinner, that's about all.
[We always wore our uniform], that's all you got anyway. You don't actually have any clothes with you. No aloha shirt with us. We were treated pretty good though, as a whole. I don't think they knew who we were.
While we were guarding prisoners, I was Akita, so I was the first to go in line for guard duty. I had to guard the main entrance to the ballpark where they had the prison camp. And I'm standing there at parade rest and this old haole man comes around.
He's about two feet from me, he's looking at me from head to toe, like that. Back and forth. Then he finally said, "Who are you? What are you?"
I said, "Oh, I'm a . . ."
"No, no," he said, "Are you Chinese?"
I said, "No."
"No." Then I told him, "I'm a Japanese."
Then he looked me straight in the face and said, "You don't look like a Jap." Their impression of a Japanese was a person with horn-rimmed glasses and buckteeth. That's like, how do they know I look like a Chinese? Did they see a Chinese? Did they see a Filipino guy? And definitely they never saw a Japanese. But that's the way it was.
I didn't feel that that was a derogatory remark because that's what we are to them. Even in the papers, it said "Japs." Of course the papers refer to Japanese, the enemy Japanese, but not us American Japanese. But when you go to a place like that and you're called a "Jap," somehow you kind of take it for granted that that's what you are to them. And what are you going to do? Fight just because of that? For what? You're going to lose anyway.
Some of us [thought of referring to ourselves as Hawaiian], I understand. They told them we were Hawaiians and of course, they didn't know where Hawaii was.
We never grew up with discrimination. Except that after the [outbreak of] war, they start calling us "Jap." I don't know about the rest of the guys - but to me, there was no such thing as discrimination right through. Even if we were in the deep South, all we knew is that we have segregated restroom. Blacks only and whites only. We were wondering what we should do and we were told we should go to the white bathroom, see. But aside from that, I didn't sort of make it a point to observe that kind of stuff. I think we had more fun not thinking about those things, how people are being discriminated. Let the politicians think about those things.
[In town], we always paired up or three, four guys and we go to a restaurant, we're all in groups. Hardly anybody goes out alone. It's not because they're afraid or anything but somehow, you feel more comfortable with a couple of friends around. Like anything else. And you can talk the same language.
Again, I go ahead to the time where we were harvesting peanuts. We were in the front yard of that farmer's house. That town we were in, Troy, Alabama, they have the State Teachers College there. And only 4-Fs and girls was student body there.
So here comes this girl coming home with a bunch of books, carrying the books. This sergeant picks a book up, looks at the book. "Oh, so you're taking algebra?" She looks at the sergeant, says, "Where did you learn to speak English?" I don't know if "ignorant" is a good word for that but they never learned that, anything outside of their state. So the sergeant teasingly said, "Oh, on the way, when they told us we were coming to America, we read the book, and tried to learn English. That's how we learned how to speak English." "Oh, is that right?" You know, that's about how the conversation went.
But by the time we were eighteen, nineteen, we knew about the fifty states - forty-eight states and Alaska. But a lot of them, take like in Mississippi, they never heard of a place called Hawaii. They don't know who we were. They thought we were from Mars or someplace.
Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Stanley Akita.