F Company, 442nd RCT
First Experience of War
At Civitavecchia, the 100th becomes a part of the 442nd, but retains its designation as the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).
In late June 1944, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions are ordered to take Belvedere. This first foray is riddled with miscommunication and missteps. F Company, in reserve for E and G Companies, unexpectedly finds itself in a forward position and encounters a German Panzer tank.
Killed in action are three men of F Company.
From Naples, we went to Civitavecchia, a little port just above Rome. In the meantime — I cannot tell you too much about the 100th because I wasn’t there — but 100th helped in the war for Mount Cassino. They were so decimated, so many guys got killed. They never took Mount Cassino, later on, other people took it.
So then they were relieved and then they helped take Rome. They were supposed to go into Rome but there were orders: stop and wait. The American tanks came and they went into Rome first. They didn’t want — see how it is? — they didn’t want 100th to be the first to enter Rome.
Then from Rome, they came to Civitavecchia and formed the 1st Battalion of the 442nd. So we have 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalion. The original 1st Battalion in Camp Shelby was left back there to act as cadre to train more replacements.
So the 1st Battalion was left at Camp Shelby, 100th Battalion became our 1st Battalion. But because of their record and legacy, they always call 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.
[The 100th Battalion] were called the Purple Heart Battalion because they had so many casualties.
June 25, we were ordered to go to the line of battle. And, I think the military, they make so many mistakes. Our boys had never shot at a human being with live ammunition. [The] 100th, who’s battle-hardened, they were in the reserve. So 2nd and 3rd Battalion was put in front to attack the Germans. And 2nd Battalion, E and G Company, were the point. F Company was reserve. See, every unit who attacked the enemy, always have somebody in reserve. In this case, 2nd and 3rd Battalion, 100th in reserve. F Company was the reserve of the 2nd Battalion, E and G was in front.
Colonel [James] Hanley, instead of taking off at five [A.M.], changed his mind and said we’re going to start attacking at six. But F Company never got the word. We were in a depression and the radio, they couldn’t contact us. Captain Akins, at five, told the boys to go ahead, we’re reserve, we’re supposed to be behind E and G. We go, march, march, the sun comes up. We said, “Where’s E and G? They must be way in front, we better hurry up.”
So, on route time, we started, we came over the hill and here we come face to face with a Panzer tank pointing at us.
The German had what they call an 88-mm gun on the tanks and mobile unit. When that 88-mm gun shoots, we hear the explosion, boom and then boom. The bullets go so fast, the shell goes so fast, it hits first and then we hear the firing of the gun.
The Germans were so well equipped in everything. They had the burp guns; our Thompsons go beep, beep, beep, beep; theirs go burp, burp, burp, burp; and then the artillery shells go boom, boom. They had snipers with telescopic [sights].
Ho, the first day, one guy got shot right through his head. And the Germans always aim for your head, one shot. Anybody who gets hit around the body, get 80 percent chance of surviving. So the Germans always shoot you at your head.
[As a cook, I was] in the back but with the troops. The 442nd, when the infantry goes forward, we follow. In the haole outfit, when the infantry goes, the supply sergeant, the cooks, mail clerk, all stays in the rear echelon. They just stay in the back and rest, they don’t follow their troops. The quartermaster supplies the food. But the 442nd different. The cooks and everybody goes with the troops.
You know how many times I served hot food right in the front lines? In front of the enemy. Well, we’ll come to that.
Anyway, as soon as Hank Oyasato says, “Captain, I think I heard krauts on the radio.” And then the captain said, “Nah, that cannot be krauts, we’re not even near the front lines.” Pretty soon, we come over the hill, and Hank says, “I think there’s Germans over there.” Then Captain Akins again says, “Nah, they’re paisanos.” Paisanos is, you know, Italian farmers and whatnot.
Before you know it, they start shooting. All the boys jump off the road, jumped into the culvert. In order that we don’t get annihilated, F Company, Kiyoshi Muranaga, Tommy Tamagawa and Wataru Kohashi took their 30-mm mortar up on the road, they set it up. They fired one, went over the German tank. Okay, adjust. Fired two, it went to the left. And then they fired three.
Wataru said, “It must be a dud or did you pull the pin?” Kiyoshi said, “I don’t know, let me look.” He gets up and tries to look for the pin. The tank fired right in front of them and Kiyoshi got hit in the neck. And he gurgled with blood coming out and Wataru said, “Oh, I held him in my arms and he died.”
Because they fired the 30-mm mortars at the SP gun and the Panzer tank, they turned around and went back. But if they had come forward, 2nd Battalion didn’t have any tank support, we would have been killed, everyone would have been killed. So, because of that, Kiyoshi Muranaga got Distinguished Service Cross. Later on, he was upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
From there, that was on the road to Suvereto, near the first town. Because the 2nd Battalion was being hit from every direction, 100th Battalion was asked to go forward and they went around the enemy. They killed everyone. Because of that, 100th Battalion got a presidential unit citation for that action.
You know, first time they ever got shot at. To me, although 100th Battalion has fought for many months, as a battle-hardened troop, they should have been put in front to know what’s going on. The 2nd and 3rd Battalion were so raw, they didn’t know what was going on. And they got hit all over, yeah.
Oh, it was sad because all the guys that I used to serve every day for over a year coming through [the chow line], I used to know every single one by name. And then they say, “[Toshiaki] Morimoto got killed,” aw, shucks. Oh, “[Makoto] Hayama got killed” and oh, chee. Every day somebody getting killed, always. Sometimes one, two, sometimes five of them.
The first day of battle, three guys got killed. Sergeant [Dick] Masuda got killed, first thing. They found five German soldiers around him. Sergeant Masuda was a real samurai, you know, shogun type, small guy. And, what we think happened was, instead of being captured — he would never get captured — he must have pulled a grenade and exploded [it]. And there were five Germans around him, all dead. So he got killed.
And then [Satoru] Hiraoka from Kauai got shot right through his head. George Kawakami said, “He was sticking his head out, looking at the Germans.” The Germans had a lot of snipers, telescopic. And they always went for your head. I don’t know, one more guy got killed. Eight guys was missing in action. And some of them were captured but they fought their way out.
If you look at [The Men of Company F] — I have chapter by chapter, killed in action, wounded in action and missing in action. But all the ones missing in action eventually came back.
We have one guy named Yoichi Tamura, he comes to our reunions now. He got my book and he said, “Ronald, how come you put me as missing in action and never came back? I’m here in Honolulu, you know.”
I said, “Yoichi, you better tell the city and county, because on the memorial, you’re still missing in action.” (Laughs)
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Library of Congress.