100th Infantry Battalion
On October 23, 1944, while escorting a group of wounded 100th and German POW soldiers, Stanley is captured in Biffontaine, France.
Japanese have a saying, "Kimochi ga shirasu" [Feelings will let a person know]. In other words, there's some kind of feeling - premonition that something's going to happen to you.
So after the attack, after we had the prisoners in the basement, next day, the lieutenant said, "Okay, Akita, you're one of them, you're going to bring the prisoners back, you'll be one of the guards." When he told me that, something said, "Something's going to happen to you."
So I went to the lieutenant, I tell him, "Lieutenant" - just so happened that lieutenant was Lieutenant [Kanemi] Kanazawa. And a typical local boy, I told him, "Eh, Lieutenant, I want to stay in the front with the boys, I don't want to go back."
He said, "No, Akita, you go back and stay with the kitchen crew and don't come up, stay with the kitchen crew until you catch up with us." In other words, he was trying to give me a break. I didn't have to stay with the frontline guys, I could stay back miles behind with the kitchen crew. That was sort of a compliment. But when he said that, "Ah, maybe he's right." So I was resigned to the fact that I was going back with the gang. But I had a strong feeling that something was going to happen to me.
[We got captured just before the rescue of the Lost Battalion] so I may have ended up in the Lost Battalion.
Captured in Biffontaine
You see, we have what they call "walking wounded" in the front line. If you're wounded bad, you're on the litter, people carrying you around. But if walking wounded, you might be shot in the arm, so you can just walk. This lieutenant was a walking wounded.
Coming back from the enemy territory with a prisoner, we had twenty-seven German prisoners coming back towards headquarters. [We] got lost. So many trails the French people had in the forest that [we] accidentally took the wrong one and the lieutenant insisted that this is the way. And we got captured [on October 23, 1944].
It was about 9:00 a.m. that it happened. We were going up a knoll and almost at the top, the sergeant leading the detail had an English speaking German prisoner with him and he had already reached the top. What they saw could have made anybody "pee" in his pants considering that out of the 52 men behind you, 11 were medics, 10 wounded, 26 prisoners and only 6 men with arms. There before his eyes within talking distance was a company of Germans (150+) just sitting, lying down, "chewing the fat", etc.
We went smack into a bunch of Germans. The German officers saw them and he deployed his men around to surround us. By the time I looked up - the lead person was a sergeant and he had an English-speaking German with him, prisoner, ahead. And so when we went over the nose, he saw the German lying down, just relaxing. He told them, ask them if they want to give up and go to America.
So the German yelled to them, "Hello!" And talked German to them. Half the guys threw their gun down. They were ready to give up. But when the lead lieutenant heard that, he deployed his key personnel around us. So by the time I looked up, there was this German guy behind me already. When I looked down below, I saw this German guy running around from tree to tree, looking at us, trying to surround us.
When I looked up, I saw this German guy taking my sergeant's gun away. Just that moment.
Prisoner of War
Your morale start tickling your toes, it was so low. Luckily, the prisoners we captured, we took them to a basement of a French home and we guarded them all night. We got straw from the loft to bring down so they can lie down and we fed them.
We captured the German ration patrol with soup and all that. And we don't eat that German type of food, we never did, so we gave it all to the prisoners and we shared cigarettes with them. So they were pretty satisfied or they weren't too hostile in a way.
So when we got captured, they mentioned to the lieutenant what we did and the lieutenant himself was nice to us in a way. So things worked both ways.
[Takeichi] "Chicken" Miyashiro was a prisoner, too. He was shot, his ammo belt was shot. They have eight cartridges in the M1, yeah, all burst inside him. He had all kinds of shrapnel in him. And then, he was on the litter. Now the Germans - now we're the prisoners, so we got to carry the litter.
So the moment we got captured, I was trying to wet Chicken's lips with water. And that's when I saw, down the slope, a German going from tree to tree, hiding from us. So I remember telling Chicken, "Hey Chicken, looks like we're surrounded." And Chicken, as wounded as he was, he was one of the guys that is such a good fighter - I wouldn't say he hated Germans - but he was a good soldier. So he didn't want anything to do with Germans at that time. So he tried to force himself to look down. Then when I looked at the top of the hill, I saw a German taking the rifle off of our sergeant.
Talking to Chicken after the war. he tells me, "Oh, we went back into Germany, the doctors were so busy, one dentist took the shrapnel out of me." From the stomach cavity. Dentist. So he put it in one matchbox and he gave it to me. "I still have that shrapnel at home." I told him, "Hey, Chicken, maybe the matchbox is a collector's item today." You know how the hobbyists [collect things]. The shrapnel might not be worth anything, but the matchbox might be worth big bucks.
Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Supplemental text excerpted from Stanley Akita's unpublished manuscript "Stalag VII A" courtesy of Stanley Akita. Photographs courtesy of National Archives.