100th Infantry Battalion
Stanley is assigned to C Company and joins up with the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) in Italy before the Battle of Anzio.
Seasoned soldiers give him advice on how to stay alive and what to expect on the battlefield.
On Stanley's first day of combat, a mortar shell lands two feet from his head. He escapes injury.
Stanley sees his buddies wounded and killed by German bombs and shells.
Joining up with the 100th
[We joined the 100th before Anzio.]
[The men of the 100th] thought we all volunteered to go to the 100th so we got kind of scolded, "What the hell you guys volunteer for, damn fools." They were combat veterans by that time, they knew what's good and what's wrong. But later on, they kind of realized that we weren't all volunteers.
But there was a little, from what I heard from the old-timers, they were kind of disappointed because if we didn't go over, because of the shortage of men getting killed and wounded, they were ready to come home. Only because we went over there, they had to stay back some more. But I don't know if that's true or not. Which makes sense to me.
They treat us like kid brothers. Nothing but good advice. Yeah, if it wasn't for them, I could be dead today. Statistics.
Being up in the front line, I don't think you have time to think about [being younger or the same age]. Your thought for every day is just listen to them and obey what they say and do what they say. They're the leaders and, after all, they're the ones that knows a lot. They've been through it already. They had many months of combat under their belt, so I figured, if anything, you wake up, you just follow what they say.
Advice from the 100th
We just took it for granted that we're going to be replacements to the 100th. We had no idea what we got to do. But I can truthfully say that because I was sent over, I have my life today. Because if I was left behind and not go, the first day of battle, which is one of the hardest things, you don't know what to do. Whether to hit the ground or keep on attacking or hide or stay down. That's how you get shot and killed.
So being with the 100th on the first battle, being with guys older than me, telling me what to do, what not to do. Even before you go into battle, you hear stories of when the old-timers talking. That's a lesson in itself.
A good example, for instance. They say when you hear artillery shell coming, when you hear the artillery shell whistle, no worry, you won't get hit by that one. It's far away. But when the artillery comes straight to you, it's like a train coming to you. That's when you got to hit the ground as soon as possible because it's only a few seconds from you by the time you hear that. I found that out to be true, many occasions. You hit the ground and then boom, right near you someplace.
First Experience of War
On the first day of my battle, I had a mortar shell land only about two feet from my head. But luckily, I was in a little ditch. Between the grapevine, they have this sort of drainage ditch type of thing, which is about three, four feet wide and about one foot deep. We were lined up all in that ditch. It was Roy Nakamura who was right in front of me. I was right behind him. And that thing landed so close to me, right above my head. We're all covered with dirt.
The first thing the 100th guys told me was, when you get hit, it's not sore but you have that hot sensation. Something burning. Because the shrapnels are hot. So I'm wondering where in my body is hot but I cannot feel anything hot. In the meantime, Roy is calling to find out if I'm okay. He said, "Akita, Akita." I didn't answer him for about two, three minutes, so he thought I was dead.
"I thought you were dead," after we get up. I was wondering what part of my body is burning because when you get hit, you have a burning sensation. Luckily, I wasn't. But that's the way it is, being with old-timers.
Anzio is a place where it was swampland. And we were sort of surrounded, a hill that forms like a horseshoe from one side of the swamp, near the ocean, there's hills all around us to the ocean again. So there were Germans all over the hills looking down our throat, like.
Anzio is noted for a structure called Mussolini Canal. It was such a swampy area that what Mussolini did was build a canal along the foot of that mountain. From one side to the other and to drain the water. And in so doing, that place turned out to be a terrific farmland. Rich soil and everything. So nothing but farmers lived in Anzio. And we occupied one of the buildings which the farmers left. And before doing that, we had foxholes dug on the hill. Small hill.
That's all we did all day, just sit down and talk story before going into the front line.
But the U.S. Army felt that Anzio would be a good place to start the attack towards Rome. So they were bringing in troops and equipment and it was a real big area.
And every night, it was like the Fourth of July. The German planes would be flying over to bomb the supplies and whatnot. And the anti-aircraft gun would be shooting tracer bullets into the sky. So every night, it was like watching Fourth of July fireworks. They'd bomb the area and we were closer out in the field. The kitchen crew was near the fort area, where they kept bombing all the time.
Later on, we moved into a house and the boys moved around the Mussolini Canal and they built a small bridge, footbridge. The canal was, I'd say they had about a foot to two feet of water. Real, nice, clean flowing water. The canal was about, I would say, fifty feet wide. So they had a footbridge to go across. The boys dug their foxhole along the back slope of the slope there. When you go up to visit them once in a while, you could pick fresh watercress growing in the fresh water. And at night, we used to look around for artichoke.
The building next to us, everybody would hear a rooster crowing. But we cannot go out during the day in Anzio. As soon as daylight, you would have to stay in your house, staying indoors. You walk around, the Germans can see you because they're looking down from the hills. As soon as they see movement, they bombard that building. So every night, as soon as dark, the three of us would go looking for the rooster. But we never found that rooster. It survived the war, apparently.
[We mainly ate] C ration. They have what they call "five in ones" and "ten in ones," besides the C ration. And so we had five in one, five guys share one box. Ten in one is ten guys share one box.
In there, they have powdered milk, they have D bar - chocolate bar with vitamins inside, for energy apparently. Had a lot of good stuff in there. Spaghetti type of thing, yeah.
We had a funny incident where this guy, George Eki from Hana, Maui, was frying two steaks, one for him and one for his lieutenant. I was in company headquarters. They come and visit headquarters for information all the time. And here, the two of them come and we told George, "Hey, go fry two steaks for you and the lieutenant." So he put the two steaks on the fire and he's trying to manipulate the steak to fry both sides and all that. He drop one and he yells out, "Hey, Lieutenant, I dropped your steak." Not his he's dropping, just the lieutenant's steak. (Laughs) We all had a good laugh.
But the poor guy ended up dying, right in front of me.
The company was attacking [Castellina]. While attacking, they said, "Come back a little ways." So we're following the trail and it just so happened the trail was like that. We were walking on the flat area and then it goes down again. When the German shell, the shell burst down the valley. I don't know why that guy, when the shell start coming, he laid down with his two feet dangling down the hill like that.
Instead of staying flat like we did, he just laid down the two dangling over the edge. The shrapnel came right up his okole [buttocks]. So by the time we pulled him up and opened up his kneecap, tore his pants, it was full of blood in his pants, yeah. There's nothing we could do.
In fact, the same shelling, there was this guy that got his - we wear combat boots and the boots come up about halfway up the leg. And the shell caught him right above the boots and only the skin was holding his leg. So there was this guy, Kinji Nobori, he was a heavyweight fighter, locally, in his young days.
The other guy that lost his leg was another big guy. But Kinji put him on his back like carrying a baby and he's running through the brush. While running through the brush, this guy's leg would be dangling with only about a piece of meat hanging by his leg. I can hear him yelling to Kinji, "Cut 'em off, Kinji, Cut 'em off!" They disappeared. So I'd sure like to know if that guy's alive today.
He was in the same [replacement] bunch with me. [Though the replacements were] separated to different companies.
[I was] C Company.
Basic training is just like, as they say in Japanese, mamagoto, child's play. Like when you throw hand grenade, basic training, you just simulate. Like as though you got a live one.
Takeichi "Chicken" Miyashiro
[Takeichi] "Chicken" Miyashiro [was very influential to me]. He was the lieutenant. He was one of the amazing kind of guys, where listening to the stories the man said, they attacked - we go up a hill and as soon as you go up a hill, the road goes down the terrain. What he [Chicken Miyashiro] did was, he placed his men strategically. He said, "Okay, you stay here, watching that direction." Then there was a building here. He goes into the building and goes up to the first floor and he shoot.
When the Germans counterattack, he'd shoot the Germans. Then, instead of shooting from the same window, he'd go to the third floor or second floor, shoot from the second floor and kept rotating, going back and forth. That really amazed me. But he had the sense enough not to keep shooting from the same floors, same opening. He'd go up and shoot from the upper opening, come down, shoot from the lower window.
[The advantage is that] the Germans don't know the same person is shooting from different places. I clearly remembered once, they were having a meeting for the next day's attack. He was one of the lieutenants. So I was sitting down on the side in the room and they're talking. The captain said, "Well, what we should do is attack from this direction, we go this way and then do this and you can go here and there," instructing the lieutenants.
I can see Chicken Miyashiro say, "No, I think what we should do is do this and this way and I think it's better if the second platoon do this and all that." They did exactly that and it was a real successful attack. Guys like Chicken, you have a feeling you can follow him anyplace and you won't get hurt. He's so knowledgeable about what to do and what not to do.
Some officers, you have a feeling if you follow them, you won't get hurt, you won't get killed. Because they seem to know exactly what not to do and what to do. Whereas some, they don't know what to do, they're lost. And that's the kind, a lot of times, get killed themselves.
Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Stanley Akita and Library of Congress.