100th Infantry Battalion
Guarding German Prisoners
K Company is sent to Troy, Alabama for two to three months.
Their assignment is to guard prisoners from Rommel's Afrika Korps. The German POWs harvest peanuts at local farms.
The prisoners are well disciplined and hardworking. Stanley comes to regard them as gentlemen soldiers.
While training in Shelby, I guess we were kind of too far advanced in training. So a few companies from the 442nd were sent to Alabama to guard prisoners while they harvest peanuts. K Company went to a town called Troy, Alabama.
We had one company in Dolton and Andalusia and so forth, around southern Alabama. What the army did was go to the community ballpark, barbed-wired the park, build a tent in there for the prisoners and had guard posts around with machine guns and all that.
Every day, we'd take a truck - we had about five hundred POWs [prisoners of war] and they were [Gen. Erwin] Rommel's Afrika Korps, which they captured in Africa. They were really the elite soldiers of Germany, originally. We took truckloads of them to respective farmers.
The farmer would tell you that's the field there, so we just go in and the prisoners harvest the peanuts. And they had a clever way of drying the peanuts. They have a post with an "X" on the bottom. And they just keep piling up the peanuts so they look like there's a tall post with peanuts all around. So when you harvest, two, three days after you harvest, in the hot southern sun, the peanuts are drying up. So you stick your hand in the bucket, pull up a bunch of peanuts and we used to eat that raw. Those were the Spanish peanuts, the small ones, which was real sweet. We used to enjoy that.
But the German prisoners, we got to be so friendly with them, surprisingly. When we have lunch, we'd sleep under the shaded tree. And we'd put the gun against the tree and we'd sleep. The German prisoners all around us, now. And we go to sleep because we stay out late at night in town. So we get sleepy and as soon as the German prisoners hear the jeep coming from far away, they wake us up. "Officer, officer." So we jump up and grab the gun and make it so we will be guarding them. But that's how friendly we were with them. We got to be that good.
Then, while we were working, one of them want to go relieve himself, so he walks away, down towards the bush waving his toilet paper. So all we do is tell him, "Go ahead." And fifteen, twenty minutes later, he'd be walking back and join the gang, harvest peanuts. No attempt to run away. They had all the chance they wanted to but why should they? They got it made in the prison camp. They don't have to fight, they got all the food they want, all the leisure they can get.
So we got to be real friendly with them. And when they returned the prisoners back to the main prison camp in Montgomery, when they jump off the truck, they shake hand, just to say aloha, or something like that. And all the haole guards with the machine guns couldn't believe what they saw. We're saying goodbye to the prisoners, shaking hands, you know. But that's how close we were.
And they were such good cooks. The prison camp always smelled good when they cooked the food. In fact, they were so neat, our inspection section comes around, checking up on the sanitation. They took our cooks into the prison camp, compound, to show them how the prisoners are keeping their kitchen so neat and clean. They had to show our cooks.
Somehow, you learn to communicate just for the important words of the day. You don't try to communicate, talk about the world's situation but you get to know enough to tell them to go to eat or do things, simple things.
The interesting part about these German soldiers were they're so well disciplined. We'd harvest one field and we're ready to go to the next field now, the leader just lines them up, gives them orders in German to put the rake in the shoulder like a gun and they sing and march down to the next field. And they love to sing. Every Sunday, they'd bring the five hundred prisoners in the ballpark grandstand and they'd sing for us. With one leader. All in precise singing. Real organized. I was really amazed at that.
Chee, I would say [guard duty lasted] about two to three months. But I don't know what started all that but amazing how we got along. Just like that. We were just like friends. But to begin with, when they knew we were Japanese - we have our name written on our helmet -and they can pronounce our word perfectly. Say Ya-na-ga-wa, Ya-ma-shi-ta, like that. Exactly the way we pronounce. Like haoles say "Yeamashita," you know. Like my name to the officers was "Aketa," not "Akita." But the Germans would say "Akita." So their syllables, pronouncing syllables, are very similar to the Japanese.
I don't think we ever had that kind of feeling [that we would shoot them]. Talk about shooting, there was an incident which I heard from another company. They were having lunch and they saw some crows on the tree. But I don't know what made them shoot at the crow with the regular M1 rifle. Of course, they missed it with such a small target and so the German guys laugh at them, at the guy who missed the shot. So the 442nd guy was so embarrassed, he said, "Okay, you shoot then." He let the German shoot the bird - to fire the rifle. That's what I heard. But I don't know how true that is. But that's how close they were, in a sense. The trust.
What actually happened to me was, Saturday's inspection, we're out in the field and I cleaned all my gun, real clean. With the truck, we come back to the prison camp. When the Germans go down, I give my rifle to one of the guys, the Germans, and he's holding the gun for me. I jumped off the truck and take the gun away from him.
But I got to say, the German soldiers were gentlemen soldiers. Really. Especially when I got to be prisoner. What they do, I was really amazed.
Down in Alabama while we were guarding prisoners, this haole guy and us got to be good friends. So he said, "Oh, I want you and your friend to come to dinner my house one so-and-so night." This friend of mine and I, typical Japanese style, we wanted to take something with us. You never go empty-handed. It was unconsciously taught to us when we were kids. You never go empty-handed to somebody's house. So we didn't know what to do. So he and I sneak into the kitchen supply, stole about a dozen oranges and we took oranges to the family.
Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Library of Congress.