F Company, 442nd RCT
Ronald serves hot meals on the front line. He cooks and bakes in a stainless steel field kitchen equipped with kerosene stove.
Hamburger patties, beef stew, peas, rice, bread, biscuits and cake are some items he prepares. When he runs out of fresh food, K and C field rations are available.
Ronald is wounded while delivering food during an artillery barrage at Hill 140. When a shell lands three feet from his foxhole, he sustains a perforated eardrum.
Serving Hot Meals on the Front Line
Lieutenant [Jack] Rodarme — he later became captain of G Company — came out of the black, he scared the hell out of us, so dark you cannot see. The jeep has only the small little light. He came out, so we stopped.
He came over and he said, “Oba, what you got there?”
I said, “We got hamburger patties, rice, peas, pineapple chunks, bread.”
He said, “Forget everything, just serve them hamburger and rice.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “They cannot come with mess kits and make all that noise. The enemy is only twenty-five yards on the other side of the hill.”
You practically can see each other. But there’s some kind of truce in fighting. At night, you don’t fight, you don’t shoot at each other. As soon as daybreak, you start fighting but as soon as it gets dark, everything stops.
It wasn’t an official truce. They just didn’t fight at night, because you cannot see. Not like today’s army, where you can see shadows and silhouettes with the infrared and all that.
Anyway, he said, “We don’t want them to know.” Except when they hear the jeep making rattling, they think that we’re bringing our ammunition or guns, see. Then the mortar shells start coming. The cook, kitchen crew, would always attract mortar shells. We attract the artillery. Anyway, he said, “Stand over here and the boys will come.”
It’s so dark, I cannot see. And out of the dark, somebody grabs my hand, I said, “Who’s this?”
They said, “Oh, somebody.”
So I said, “Okay, give me two hands now.” I give hamburger in one hand and rice on the other hand. Yeah, they cannot use mess kits.
[I cooked] in this field kitchen. We had a field kitchen, a square one. We have a kerosene stove we pump and then we get different levels. Second level we put a pan with rice with water and we cook. And on the top level, we bake cakes and pies. And the very bottom, in a pot, we cook beef stew, like that, all on one range.
[A field kitchen is] a stainless steel unit, about this wide, this tall and it has a door this way and a door on top, folding door. So you put all the food and the pots, you close it, you close the top. Usually, we cook one at a time but as I said, the bottom would be stew, the next would be rice and the next would be a yellow layered cake or biscuit and that’s how I cooked the biscuit in the field.
One time, Lieutenant [Donald] Rowlands from quartermaster or service company, he’s the one that usually tells us where F Company is, he said, “Follow me.” So I follow him, follow him for two hours. Finally, he said, “You guys stay over here, I’ll go see where your F Company is.”
He was gone for about an hour, he finally come back, he said, “Don’t make noise.” I said, “Why? Where are we now?” He said, “Behind the enemy lines.”
We were behind the enemy lines, waiting two hours over there. And I thought, here we are, on the top of the hill, we make good silhouette for the enemy to shoot us. But, oh boy, so we crawl back with the jeep.
Another time, I was asked to take food to F Company. We came up, there was Sherman tanks shooting at the Panzer on the other side, this hill to that, they were fighting each other, oh, the big noise and whatnot. There was a Japanese [American] lieutenant, I forget what his name was, I said, “Where’s F Company?” I had a detail, they’re carrying the marmite can, where you keep the rice, some food and then bread and water, and I’m leading the thing.
He said, “They’re on the other side of the hill. F Company’s there.”
They were fighting each other, see, so he didn’t get a chance to tell me anything. I follow the trail, five of us went down, down, down, down, down. There was a little trail, you can just see footprints going down. I went through there, and I went up, delivered the food and came back. As I came back — and they had stopped firing already, they were all quiet — as I came up toward the hill where the Sherman tank and the lieutenant was, they’re all clapping hands.
I said, “Hey, what’s going on?”
He said, “You went through a minefield. Just before you, one H Company guy got blown to pieces, cannot find the body.” Oh, boy.
I said, “And you didn’t tell us?”
He said, “No, we couldn’t tell you. The Sherman tank was fighting and the Panzer tank was shooting at us, so everybody was hiding.”
Those were some of the incidents and I can tell you a lot of stories about going to the front line. One day, we were setting up and then this Shimabukuro came with his canteen and we pour a cup. He’s five steps away from us, a sniper shot, a bullet right through his canteen. Yeah, we were that close to the front lines. Every time we get to the front line, we attract artillery and mortar shells because the jeep make noise. And then we have to jump underneath the jeep. So we complain to the first sergeant. I said, “First sergeant, you guys all have foxholes and we bring food to you guys, you’re comfortable. We come over with the jeep and they start shooting, we have no place to hide.”
Then they got orders. Anytime the cooks come up, you dig so many trenches, foxholes, or slit trenches, they call. So we had slit trenches to jump into every time we get shelled, yeah.
One time there was a Panzer tank coming up, so sergeant said, “Tommy, bring your bazooka, get close to the Panzer tank and shoot ’em.” So he goes up there, pull the trigger, nothing happens. The supply sergeant forgot to put battery in there, it runs by battery, see.
When we were going up the Italian peninsula, we came to Hill 140 just about thirty miles from Leghorn and Pisa. The Germans had to protect that. The enemy was always above us to get the better view. So, here we are on Hill 140, a little lower than the Germans. Once we traverse Hill 140, we’re all the way to Leghorn and Pisa, so they didn’t want to have us go through there.
First was G Company, they got hit so bad, they were replaced by E Company. They got hit so bad and finally, F Company went. One guy, there’s always somebody who likes to count the number of cars going by, the number of street lights and how many light bulbs are there. So there was one guy in our company. He said, “In a day and half, the Germans threw 18,000 rounds of shells on that hill.”
When I took the rations up there, the Germans were methodical, they either went right to left or left to right and then front to back or back to right, at intervals. So you would have about two to three minutes to jump out of your foxhole, shishi [urinate] or whatever, see. While we were on Hill 140, the artillery shells, barrage, we call it, start coming. First sergeant said, “Oba, you better jump in my foxhole.”
I jumped in his foxhole — he’s a six-footer — so I jump and he jumped on top of me. A shell landed, oh, about three feet from the hole. All the debris and the dirt and rocks fell on us and I found out I got a perforated eardrum. They never sent me to aid station or anything because this is the front line and I wasn’t bleeding or anything.
The next time, I went to another hill and left some food there and then they said, “The rest of the company is on the other hill.” But, see, there’s a road going down and the Germans know that you have to traverse that to go to the other hill. So every five minutes or so, boom, the shell would land right on the road.
The Germans, as they retreated, they would always zero in on an intersection or a house, farmhouse, where they knew that the American soldiers would go. So every intersection you had to be careful. The shell would come right on the intersection. They would zero in on that as they leave.
Kato Matsumura and I were — he was the driver and I was the one delivering the rations. And I said, “Kato, when we go down, as soon as the shell lands, you gun the car with the trailer, go down the hill, and don’t stop now, okay?” He said, “Okay.”
The shell lands, he guns the car and then there was a branch on the road. So the branch got stuck, making big noise. Kato going stop, he’s going to take the branch out. I said, “Kato, don’t stop, don’t stop.” I said, “Get the rations through, we’re going to get hit.”
He worried more about his jeep. And me, I worried more about the rations. We went through and the shell landed right behind us, oh boy. I said, “Kato, good thing you didn’t stop, you damn fool.” We went and took the rations to the rest of the company over there.
Making Biscuits in the Field Kitchen
On the front line, the boys had one day of rest. A lot of times, you get more than one day of rest but captain says, “The boys are going to get one day of rest, so cook some hot food.”
And they’re eating canned rations, see. Beef stew, stinky — those days, the beef stew smells. And then the kitchen had a gallon can. So the mess sergeant said, “Well, we have to open the beef stew.” I said, “The boys are eating that C ration, the can, every day, unless you do something.”
We bought tomatoes and celery and onions, and we mixed ’em up. It’s still beef stew, see. He said, “We’ve got to do something.” Mess sergeant says, “Ron, can you do something better than just this?” I said, “What about if I bake some biscuits?” He said, “Okay.” I said, “Then get the boys to pull out the field kitchen, put ’em down on the ground.” We were in the farmland and all the Italians are around us, especially the kids.
We took the field kitchen and everything was still in the truck, so we had this aluminum garbage can full of flour, I scooped the flour, so many scoops of flour and then so many pounds of lard and mixed up salt and I knead it, I knead it and I get a C-ration can. I put it in a pan, on the top level. Put the biscuit in there. The boys said they never ate such a delicious biscuit in their life. Unfortunately, I can bake just so many. We still had over a hundred boys and the kids are right there, right next to the stove. We cannot chase them away, no matter what you say. But we couldn’t give them, we didn’t have enough to give them. They always come to the kitchen.
You always give [the Italians] cigarettes, gums and chocolate but they need food. One time, I was in Pisa or Leghorn, and this — the Italian bread is all grayish, they don’t throw nothing away. They grind the wheat kernel and they bake it in this concrete oven, yeah, and it comes out hard like a rock. The guy cutting with his knife and eating, see. He cuts that, he eats bread. I said, “Chee, I’m sorry that the war is causing such hardship, you don’t have food.”
He said, “No, you folks get us wrong. Before the war, Italy has always been poor. That’s what we used to eat. It’s no different from before the war and after the war.”
Italy was nothing but rolling hills. We didn’t see any big trees or bushes. Nothing but arid rolling hills. Today, you go Italy, it’s verdant, just like here, trees and everything growing. But when we fought there, for some reason, it was all bare and every well, you could not drink the water. They’re all contaminated. So we could not drink any well water. One time, we gave a family a whole bunch of flour and lard, too.
Sam Sugawara said, “If we give you enough flour, would you make spaghetti for us?”
The lady said, “Oh, yes, if you give us flour, we’ll make.” We went. Ho, and Italians, when they eat spaghetti, heaping, that’s all they eat. That’s their staple. We went and a little kid, barely one year old, just walking, standing drunk because they cannot give him water, they give wine. From the time they’re born, they’re fed wine. All Italian kids. You’ll hear this from other people, the children all drink wine.
[With water] we had Atabrine, a pill. And chlorine pill. Atabrine was to prevent malaria. We had chlorine pills that — we had a canvas bag that people can go and fill up their cans. If we didn’t have that kind, you had to get from the brook or stream, they had to put those pills in there. That’s the way they kept from getting infected.
Service Company guys would bring the rations, they also brought the fresh water. I don’t know where they got the fresh water but they always brought fresh water for us to make coffee like that, yeah.
There were no shortages because if we ran out of fresh food, there were always K or C ration. K was the canned stuff, C ration was in the wax container. And in there, they had hard crackers; powdered lemon — lemon powder, sugar — you make your own lemon juice; chocolate; small pack of cigarettes, with about three or four cigarettes in a little pack; and they were sealed in a waxed, brown container. That was the ration. So they’re always looking for fresh food.
While we were in Italy, they gave us salted bacon. We would cut the bacon and put water and cook it. And after we boil it, the salt would be this thick in the pan. We’d clean that out, boil it again and this thick. No matter what you do, you cannot eat the bacon, it’s so salty, salty, salty.
Even the eggs, when we crack eggs overseas, all yellow. We say, “How come the thing, even the white is yellow?” They said, “Oh, they took these eggs out of these caverns, where they had stored eggs and preserved it in sulfur.” This came out from World War I eggs, all yellowish, everything yellow. So that’s how we got that.
[The World War I eggs] taste all right, except the smell of sulfur. The only thing that we couldn’t eat was the mutton. Mutton. Just couldn’t eat mutton.
Later on, we start getting powdered eggs and powdered [milk]. If we had enough ice like that, the powdered egg and [milk] and whatnot can make ice cream. Yeah, we could make ice cream with that. But half the time we didn’t have the ice, so.
But you wanted to know about my experience serving food in the front. And, of course, when we were at Peira Cava, in a hotel, Captain [Joseph Wallace] Hill was our captain then, at that time. He invited a captain of another outfit, I think they were going to take our place. So he said, “Hey, Ron, can you make a special lunch for him? The guy coming to visit.”
At that time, we had beef. I made steak and vegetable and I had mashed potato. But I didn’t mash the potato ahead of time, see. Served them coffee first, then salad. Then when they sat down, I got the piping hot steak on the platter and the vegetable and I mashed the potato real fast with a lot of butter in there and a little milk and salt and pepper. And I had a pan of milk and cheese mixed, so I had to be careful they don’t burn. I had it all ready. After I mashed the potatoes, I poured that in and mixed it up and scooped the mashed potato au gratin and it was served.
The captain liked it so much, he asked for seconds. I gave him more of that. And delicious, when you make mashed potato with cheese with milk. Oh, delicious.
Next day, he sent his cook to learn how I made that mashed potato au gratin.
Peira Cava, there was a hotel in the Maritime Alps and we were guarding this border between Italy and France. And when we were ready to leave and be replaced by another outfit, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Millo, gave us a going-away party.
We started with the squash soup, nice orange soup, delicious, they made such good soup; then some vegetables; and then a small piece of steak; and then blood sausage. I think there were two blood sausages on each plate. I looked afterward, nobody ate the blood sausage but they ate the potato and the steak. I thought, oh, Mrs. Millo must have been really disappointed because nobody would eat the blood sausage. We’re not used to eating that kind of food, see. But she painstakingly made that just for us, about twenty of us.
Wartime, there’s no guests [in the hotel], so we were the only ones sleeping in beds with sheets over us, for the first time.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba and Library of Congress.