Ronald Oba
F Company, 442nd RCT

Life at Camp Shelby

Ronald rarely leaves the barracks but on one occasion he experiences local hospitality at a rural home. There he is treated to Southern fried chicken.

On furlough, he travels to Ohio with his friend, Joseph Burger, who invites him to the family home. They try to attend a dance held by the Knights of Columbus. Still in his army uniform, Ronald is rejected at the door for being a “Jap.”

Hattiesburg

The people at Hattiesburg? Oh, there were farms all over. And that’s where Earl Finch used to have a farm. He got to like the 442nd boys for some reason and he used to invite them for watermelon feast and a beef cookout and whatnot. But somehow, it was only to certain groups that he got to be friends with. So when they talk about Earl Finch always invited, we never got invited, we never went. A lot of boys say, “I never went.”

AJAs eating watermelons in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

[I had] very little [contact with the civilians of Hattiesburg]. The only time I went there was I go to the USO [United Service Organization] and — we had a USO in camp, too — but mostly to alter new clothing that they issued. Because every so often, you can change your fatigues and khaki and whatnot. And the ladies at the USO were very happy. We tip them heavily. . . . They used to love the Hawaii boys. You go restaurant, the waitress would serve the Hawaii boys first before they serve anybody.

It’s just that Hawaii boys were so generous, happy-go-lucky, when they were served nicely, they tip. And no matter where we went, the people, service personnel, always liked the Hawaii boys. Yeah.

Southern Hospitality

Then one day, they were complaining at the bar. They were saying, “Where is this Southern hospitality that we hear so much about? There’s no Southern hospitality around here.”

The lady said, “Oh, there is. I’ll show you some Southern hospitality. This weekend you come to my home, I’ll fry some Southern fried chicken for you folks.” We got the address, and we got to commandeer the jeep and four of us went. Went way out in the boondocks, in the forest. You know Louisiana, Mississippi, was nothing but bayous, see. And we went into the forest. And there were pigs, you think they were wild pigs but they’re not, they were owned by farmers. They would yell that pig call and they would come and they had chicken. Went on and on and there was hardly any road.

We finally came to a shack, a building and then she served Southern fried chicken because they had chicken running around. But no utensils. And I guess she must have had dishes, it’s so long ago, but I know they didn’t have utensils. So we thanked her and we came back and told her thanks. She was tending the bar, serving beer and whiskey.

Then Joe Burger said, “Let’s go back again and take all the dishes and cups and forks and spoons and knives.” And we had the mattress cover, we filled it up half full, everything went in there and put it on the jeep and we took ’em to her home. And we gave her all the utensils. Yeah.

Furlough in Ohio

After the school was over — [Joe Burger] was with 69th Division on the other side, and we, 442nd, were this side — he called and said, “Ron, can you get a furlough? Try and get a two-weeks furlough, we’ll go to Columbus, Ohio.”

Ronald Oba with Joseph Burger and his son, Ohio

So I went. And we caught a train. We went to Columbus, Ohio. And, well, in 1943, everything, they had outhouse and in the kitchen you’ve got to pump water and all that kind of stuff. And it’s true, they take a bath once a month. They put a pail of water on the kitchen stove. Of course, they had to burn firewood and all that. They would - he had two sisters, they’ll carry the pail of water upstairs where they can take a bath. [Joe] “Bud” Burger says, “Ron, you and I are not going to do that, we go to the YMCA.” We used to go to the YMCA and take a shower over there.

Then one day he said, “The Knights of Columbus is having a dance and a get-together, so let’s go.” So we went over there, Goldberg, his friend, him, me —Goldberg and his wife. We went upstairs and tried to get in. So [Joe] “Bud” [Burger] and Goldberg went in and the doorman stops me, see, he said, “You cannot come in.”

Joe says, “Why?”
“He’s a Jap.” You know, wow.

Bud Burger was almost going to hit him, we had to stop him. He said, “Forget it, let’s get out.” That was Knights of Columbus and they won’t let me in.

[I had my uniform on.] That’s all I had, I didn’t have civilian clothes at all. So that was one of the incidents.

Money

The two weeks [before] we were in Camp Shelby — like Aiea, every night we had a party, either at the Higuchi house, my house, Watanabe house, Tanaka house, they took turns and everybody would go to that house. All the friends who came would always give us money. And we had parties every night for the two weeks until we left. That was the plantation style, you know.

[The Hawaii boys definitely had more money to spend than the Mainland guys]. And I hate to say this, but at one point, we thought that the Mainland guys were real stingy, you know, tightwad. When we go to the PX, the Hawaii boys would go to treat guys, they buy a case and they put the case on the floor and we would squat and drink, see. Right on the PX floor. The Mainland guys would come, they buy a beer, they walk straight out.

We said, “These guys, they don’t know how to share.” But you’ve got to remember that many of them came from farmlands. And the farms were about half a mile apart, quarter mile apart and they didn’t really know each other that well. Although they know who’s the farmer over there. And they always had to be very defensive in whatever they did. So when they came to Camp Shelby, they were, not defensive but they were very independent. They stuck to themselves. So when they came to PX, buy a beer, they’d just walk out. And we used to say, “These guys, they don’t know how to share, they don’t know how to socialize.” That was one of the reasons we never got along with them. Of course, after so many reunions, we’re real good buddies, now.

We didn’t know at that time. Only after the war ended, they used to tell us that the twenty-one dollars you got, everybody bought E-Bonds, Liberty Bonds. The rest of the money, they sent to their parents in the relocation camps because the parents didn’t have money. And then the parents would write to some import / export company for Japanese foods through the mail.

Rohwer Incarceration Camp

Rohwer Incarceration Camp in Arkansas

When we went to Arkansas last September and I was invited to speak as a panelist, we went to Rohwer and Jerome, those two camps in Arkansas. And the Winthrop Rockefeller Center Foundation donated three million dollars to the University of Arkansas to educate the people about the internment of Japanese Americans. There was four days of conferences, speeches and whatnot.

I went to listen to some of them and the people from Rohwer came up and said, “You know, when you Japanese first came to settle at this relocation camp, 10,000 each, Rohwer and Jerome, we objected. We resented that you’re coming to invade our territory.” But then, word went around and said, anybody with a hammer and saw, come build barracks. So they all went and immediately they got good pay. They said, "Hey, this is terrific, all you need is a hammer and saw, and you get good pay building barracks for 10,000 people," you know, mess hall and common restrooms and all that.

Then the speaker went on and said, “Yeah, we got to know the Japanese and then, after a while, they started to come to town and buy flour and things like that so they can make their own cakes and pancakes and whatnot. So our economy boomed.” Said, “Oh, the economy really improved. Every weekend, they would come and buy stuff from all our stores, and we had small, little stores.” So then they got to like the Japanese Americans. And some of the boys got to know the haole girls there and they got married to some people in Arkansas. And one guy still lives there.

Relations with Mainland Nisei

[While I was at Camp Shelby, I did not visit Rohwer or Jerome.] I was a real innocent, naive person and I just stuck to my barracks and didn’t go around. I didn’t eat food because we were in the kitchen. I didn’t have to go look for Southern fried chicken or steak at Hattiesburg.

Yuri Kochiyama, her name was [Nakahara] at that time, used to bring a bunch of girls to the USO. That I went to see. Oh, they’re coming from the relocation camp. And there were too many boys, you couldn’t even get near the girls to dance. So they came, and they were invited back to the camps for dinner and whatnot.

Gambling and Fighting

No entertainment, nothing to do. Many of them learned how to shoot craps for the first time. They didn’t know how to shoot craps. They put their money down, they’d lose it all.

Gambling, Camp Shelby, Mississippi

But the so-called professionals, there were some guys older than us, twenty-five years old and they were at university, maybe they were shooting craps at the dorm. They took all our money.

Then we had to turn off our lights at ten o’clock, see. The latrine light was always on, twenty-four hours a day, they would be in the latrine shooting craps all night.

Nobody stopped them because in the army, there’s no entertainment. You just train, you got tired and you had to fend for yourself.

And then, when Yuri didn’t bring the girls from Jerome, the boys went to USO and then the Hattiesburg people sent some girls over to dance with. So when the local boys would dance with the redheads and blondes, the 86th and 85th Division soldiers got jealous.

Every time you go to the USO, there were always fights because the haole guys didn’t take kindly to the Japanese dancing with the blondes, yeah.

But the 442nd boys always won because they gang up, they were very clannish. Every time one guy is fighting, ten guys would go help. The haoles, they don’t do that. You’re on your own. Because they come from Texas, Florida, New York and they didn’t come from ghettos. But, you know, Hawaii boys is almost like living in a ghetto, coming from one community, whether it’s from Aiea, Ewa, Pearl City, Waipahu, we’re all very clannish. So anybody getting into a fight, they just jump in.

Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba, Stanley Akita, and National Archives.

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