F Company, 442nd RCT
The men arrive in Hattiesburg. The local newspaper, Hattiesburg American reads, “Japs Invade Mississippi.”
Ronald is assigned to the mess hall. He is ordered to make gravy from scratch but he doesn’t know how. The gravy is so bad, he is told to throw it out.
He has a reprieve from cooking during his three months of basic training.
Arrival in Hattiesburg
Finally, we reached Hattiesburg, the closest town to Camp Shelby. We got into Hattiesburg in high noon, sun was shining on us, we were in the trucks. We sat and sat until six o’clock until it got dark. When it got dark enough so that the citizens could not see us, going into trucks, into Camp Shelby, they said okay, “Get the truck, roll into Camp Shelby.”
We rolled into Camp Shelby in the dark to allay the fears of the people in Hattiesburg. The next morning when we got up, Hattiesburg American, that’s the newspaper, “Japs Invade Mississippi.”
Assignment: Mess Hall
Anyway, we were trucked into Camp Shelby and I was assigned — and I didn’t know where we were, we were there in dark — so our instruction was, “Go to any hut, get any bunk, just sleep till tomorrow morning, we’ll assemble next morning.” I went in one of huts and hit the deck.
Four-thirty in the morning, somebody shaking me up. He said, “Is that you, Oba?”
I said, “Yes, why you waking me up for?”
“Mess sergeant wants you there.”
I said, “Oh, no, I’m not a cook.”
He said, “The mess sergeant wants you there.”
Charlie Higuchi got me into this mess because he wanted to be a cook and come home safe, see. The next day, I went down and helped the cooks and whatnot. And, it’s so funny, there was a kotonk Mainland Japanese. He was the only cook there and everybody else was helping him. And he said, “Oba, make some gravy for this roast.”
I said, “How do you make gravy, from the roast juice or what?” Because at Red Hill, I know the cook made gravy out of that roast juice, see.
He said, “No, we don’t have juice, make it from scratch.”
I said, “How?”
He said, “Look at the manual.”
He opened the manual, cookbook, he said, “Melt some butter, couple of bars of butter and sprinkle flour and [don’t] let it get black, be sure it doesn’t get burnt.” So I watch and watch and watch and I made enough of that. And then he said, “Put some water, salt and pepper and make gravy.” So like a damn fool, I put cold water in. All the flour and butter floated up. So the cook says, “What’s that?”
I said, “I made gravy, but it’s floating.”
He said, “Throw ’em out.”
I throw out the gravy. That was my first experience as a cook in the army.
The next day, they got other cooks from other outfits to come and these were all Mainland guys. They were being recruited because they were Japanese.
We had basic training for three months. During basic training, I didn’t have to cook.
I went through three months of basic training. That was the whole training. We went through obstacle courses, went twenty-five-mile hikes, forced marches, eight-mile hikes without stopping running and then we had to go underneath the barbed wire when they shot live ammunition over our heads and you had to crawl underneath. And one guy got killed because those wires were on metal poles and then the machine gun hit the metal stake, it went down, so one guy got killed. Live ammunition.
I was young and I used to work at steel, reinforcing steel, so I was nice and strong.
In those days, they said, “Don’t drink water, it’s going to make you worse but take salt pills.” Oh, we took salt pills, we get more dehydrated. People used to fall off in the marching line like flies. The truck would be following, pick up those guys take them to aid station. All these instructions were all false. You’re supposed to drink water, not take that much salt.
Then on the march drill field, the sergeant, Dick Masuda, used to make us take turns count cadence. He said, “Forward march, left, left, flank, up,” I forget, “reverse hut.”
I took kendo so I had a strong voice, so I used to give a good cadence.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of University of Hawaii Archives, 442nd Collection.