F Company, 442nd RCT
Military Training: Army Cook
After completing basic training, Ronald is promoted to sergeant and becomes the second cook. At the main mess hall, he attends cooks’ and bakers’ school and butcher school.
His work schedule begins at 4:30 in the morning and ends at midnight. He then has two rest days.
Ordered to Cook
And then soon as basic was over, Dick Masuda said, “Ron, I’m going to promote you to sergeant, first squad, first platoon.” Each platoon has three squads, four squads, so he made me sergeant of first squad. Oh, I was happy (claps), “Hey I’m going to be a sergeant.” And I don’t have to go to the kitchen and do KP work and scrub pots and pans.
Then before I knew it, he said, “Captain wants to see you in the office.”
I said, “Oh, what happened? He’s going to make me staff sergeant maybe, yeah?” (Laughs) So I went in and Captain [Thomas] Akins said, “Oba, mess sergeant wants you in the kitchen.”
I said, “Sir, I didn’t come to cook, I came to fight.”
He said, “Oba, you want to be court-martialed?”
I said, “No, sir.” And everything went through my mind. I’m going to get dishonorable discharge, get court-martialed, sent back home, oh, what a shame. I said, “Yes, Sir.” I went to the kitchen.
One other cook went [to the cooks' and bakers' school] first and then I went second. And I told first sergeant, “How come you’re sending me every time?” He said, “Because of your IQ.” I said, “Oh, going to Iolani School really helps, yeah?” (Laughs)
Well, that’s the way the army figured things out. They look at your record and because I was a busboy, they made me a cook and they send me to school. Even when we went to Italy after the war, they sent me to school.
Trained to Cook
And then they sent me to cooks’ and bakers’ school and later on they sent me to a butcher kind [of school] so I can carve. They used to send quarter cuts of the carcass and then I had to debone it. They sent me to butcher school.
[The schools were located] at the main mess hall, the permanent mess hall. Every camp has a permanent mess hall, even before the war, to maintain a minimum troops there. And therefore, they had a great big mess hall and they serve all the so-called active duty soldiers. We were draftees or volunteers but every camp, whether Camp Shelby or Camp Leonard Wood, they always had the main compound where the permanent workers and soldiers were fed.
That’s where they had the cooks’ and bakers’ school. And they had classrooms, we had to learn from the books, and whatnot.
In the class, they gave us a book. The instructor would ask us questions, we would answer and then we would be sent to the kitchen. I spent time peeling potatoes (chuckles). We all helped bake the pot roast and fry pork chops and whatnot. Once you start doing this, it’s all routine already. Fried pork. It’s just like you want to fry pork chop, that’s all, you put ’em in a frying pan and whatnot.
What I wanted to learn was how to bake. But there was a guy, a big haole guy from Natchez. And he was a professional baker so he didn’t need help. Oh, he did everything, he baked everything from buns to cakes to pies and everything. One day I helped him, ho, he was so fast he had everything done in no time. I never learned to bake, except biscuit.
We worked one day, rest two days, because we work from four-thirty to midnight. After dinner, we had to scrub down the floors with lye and all that.
While I was going to school, I met a guy from the 69th Division, Joseph Burger. I was young, only barely made twenty and the other haole guys they took advantage, I was so naive. They said, “Ronald, can you pull duty for me this Saturday?” I said, “Okay.” And then they would take my turn on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday.
Then another guy would say, “Ronald can you pull duty for me on Sunday?” I was doing that, so Joe Burger said, “Ronald, they’re taking advantage, they’re taking all your weekends.” He stopped the boys from doing that.
Generals Lear and Marshall
Anyway, while we were cooking, before we were ready to go overseas, General [Ben] “Yoo-hoo” Lear came on a Sunday, that son-of-a-gun. And he came to the kitchen and Sam Sugawara was the cook there, first cook, and he had a great big thigh bone in a pot without a cover. And we used coal stove, right, so there’s soot all over the place. General Yoo-hoo Lear came with the white immaculate gloves and he put his glove over the counter, came out all black.
And then he went to the hutment. And Sunday, you know, everybody’s just lying around, BVDs, everything just hanging from the ceiling. So, after he left, our Captain Edwards, our first captain, he got transferred out. It was not his fault. This guy came on a Sunday morning and inspected.
But then, by the time we were ready, General [George C.] Marshall came and he inspected the boys at the drill field and he was looking at what they were doing, pull chins up, push-ups. And one guy was going hundred-one, hundred-two, hundred-three, General Marshall said, “Ho, that’s enough, that’s enough, you guys going overseas? Okay.” So, we went overseas after that.
[Charlie Higuchi] became a cook for artillery company. Artillery has A, B, C Batteries. I think he was in Battery A. And almost all the cooks I know came back alive because cooks don’t get killed, you know. But you don’t get promoted because they were all filled by the Mainland guys who were supposed to be the cadre waiting for the Hawaii guys to come. And by the time we go there, every — they call it non-coms, non-commissioned officers position — was taken by the Mainland boys.
So when I went to the kitchen, I was the only Hawaii guy with any kind of title. And so I always tell the Mainland guys, when we had fights with them. That was one of the reasons that the Hawaii boys didn’t get a chance to become sergeants or corporals or anything like that. And Hawaii boys didn’t care but it riled them to have Mainland guys telling them what to do. So that’s the reason why they had so many fights at camp. And we almost got disbanded, you know.
I was in F Company, so called Fox Company. 2nd Battalion, F Company, composed of E, F, G, H.
I was the second cook, never got promoted (chuckles) because the cooks don’t die.
Duties as Second Cook
Well, as a second cook, I usually took command because the first cooks are so lazy. So I would get there in the morning and I would stoke the stove. If you don’t stoke the stove well before you went to bed, there’s no fire, they’re all into ashes. So you have to know how to do it. So when you go in the morning, there were still some coal with fire underneath. Then we would get buckets of coal from outside and pour it in and stuff. And as soon as it gets hot, we either had fried eggs, scrambled eggs, French toast, cereal and toast, so that was breakfast.
And then lunchtime, we didn’t have too much meat. So, what did we eat? Spam, ham, canned goods. They sent rice, twenty-five-pound rice per menu. And my mess sergeant said, “Ron, can you make rice pudding with this?”
I said, “What?”
He said, “Make rice pudding, you know, you put milk and sugar and raisins and make.”
I said, “You want the Hawaii guys kill you or what?”
So he said, “What are we going to do with the rice?”
I said, “Simple, you make one big rice and then you serve for one meal.” And then later on — our mess sergeant wasn’t that “go for broke” — he just laid back. But the other companies, like E Company, the mess sergeants went to the haole outfit, took all potatoes, gave ’em potatoes, “Gimme rice,” they exchanged.
And then finally, the Third Army says, “442nd, you folks want so much rice, you want to change to a Filipino ration?”
So we said, “What is Filipino ration?”
“Oh, we give you a lot of rice, and a little meat, with a lot of vegetables. Not cereals, and eggs, and bacon, and stuffs.”
We said, “No, no we don’t want Filipino ration.” So we stuck to American rations. So all the way through, we had American rations.
There were two kinds of rations. And everybody complained that the nutritionist, the dietician, didn’t know what’s good for the soldiers because she never tasted them herself (laughs). And then, of course, they would never eat mutton. We never got lamb, it’s always mutton. And whenever you cook mutton, it stunk up the whole mess hall, nobody would come in, they all went to Hattiesburg to have dinner over there.
Then weekends, it’s always cold cuts: bologna, liverwurst, ham, cheese and a bread. And anybody could come, make their own sandwich. So the Mainlanders, they liked that, they liked the ham and cheese. They always came in and made. Hawaii boys would, boom, take off to Hattiesburg. They said, “We’d rather eat Southern fried chicken or a steak.” You know, got a plate this big, the steak hangs over the side of your plate. And those days, for I think was dollar or seventy-five cents, you could get a whole steak lunch. Well, you know, this is 1943, see.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba.