F Company, 442nd RCT
Italy and France
Ronald is assigned to cook for the 2nd Platoon stationed along the banks of the Arno River in Italy.
Later, the 442nd joins the 7th Army in France.
Conditions during and after the liberation of Bruyeres and Biffontaine are brutally cold and wet. In the kitchen, Ronald is able to stay warm and sheltered from the elements.
After thirty-four days, the men are relieved and given new, but oversized, uniforms.
From Italy, after Hill 140, we approached the Arno River. And, because the Arno River was so wide, for five-and-a-half months, the Allied troops were stalemated there.
After about two months, they sent the 442nd Anti-tank Company to southern France. You know Whitey [Yamamoto]? They landed in southern France.
Before we went to southern France, along the banks of the Arno River, 2nd Platoon was over there and they were cooking their own food. They were raiding the farmland, cabbage and potatoes and whatnot. So the first sergeant said, “Well, we better send one of the cooks to each platoon.” So I was assigned to that 2nd Platoon, to cook.
And we had to take a truck over there, see. And they were in a sanitarium. It used to be a TB [tuberculosis] sanitarium where all the boys had cots and they were sleeping in there. And this is the first time during the day nobody fought each other.
The boys were in BVDs and running around the farm digging up cabbage and whatnot. So the German captain from across says to Chaplin [Masao] Yamada, “You know, we’re not going to fire at them during the day and you don’t fire at us but tell the boys, don’t be so bravado and go running around in front of us.”
But nighttime, you had to cross the river. The patrols had to go across to see whether the Germans were still on the other side or not. Therefore, nighttime, the first time, we fought at night. But actually not a firefight, only if you were discovered crossing the river.
I was sent there with a truck, we made such a big noise. That night, boy, the artillery, especially the mortar shells, fell — and I was sleeping in a bunk and first time on the front — sleeping in that sanitarium. I said, “Oh my gosh, boy, the shells are landing on the roof.” Pretty soon I look up, there’s an opening I could see the stars and more shells landing. So I said, “Hey, this is dangerous.” I went to the side, I open the door, boom, another shell blasts right over there. I came back in my bed, I said, “Hey, I better not act like a coward, everybody still sleeping in their bunks.”
In the morning, I get up, nobody’s there. I’m the only one under the blanket. So I go look, where did they go? Behind the building, everybody had sleep tent, they’re all sleeping. Oh, I got so mad, I felt so abandoned. I said, “Hit the deck, hit the deck!” I woke everybody up, woke everybody up, I was so mad.
Takao Hedani, my Japanese kendo teacher told me, later on, he said, “Ronald, they told me you’re a brave guy, yeah?” I said, “No, why?” He said, “You stayed in that building while the building was being blown to bits, you know? You didn’t even get out of your bed.” I said, “Those damn fools, they escaped while I was still in my bed.”
Then I cooked for them for about a month or so, and then we were ordered to — Anti-tank was made into a paratroop, glider troops and they landed in southern France and then we went to Marseilles. And from Marseilles, we went up to northern France, and into the Vosges Mountains.
This is the old World War I Alsace-Lorraine area, where they couldn’t penetrate through this forest, that’s where they sent us. We fought through the mountains.
Bruyeres and Biffontaine
The first village that we liberated was Bruyeres. From Bruyeres, we went to Biffontaine, La Broquaine and all the way up further. And then, the 141st Regiment of the 36th Division relieved us. We got relieved for two days. And in the meantime, we had fought through Hill 555 and all that.
One of the incidents is that one guy was hit and was lying in the open. His name was [Oshima] — they have a pharmacy, grocery store, in Kealakekua [Kainaliu], Hawaii. He was lying wounded in the open. Every time the boys put handkerchief, white flag, they want to go pull him back to safety, the Germans would shoot machine guns at them, so they couldn’t do it.
Then Abe Ohama, staff sergeant, came and said, “What’s going on boys?” “The guy is out there wounded, and we cannot bring him in.” He said, “Why?” “The Germans are shooting at us.” He said, “Just wave a white flag and go up there.” He wave a white flag and he went over there, they shot him dead, the machine gun. The Germans on the hill shot him down. So Ohama was mortally wounded. The boys said, “Boy, they kill our sergeant.”
Akira Hamaguchi says, “Everybody, fix bayonet.” And then he said, I swear he told me he used the word, “Yatchare! Yatchare! [Give it to them.]” Then when you do this, you have people give you firing cover to keep the enemy head down. With the firing cover, the enemy all stayed in their foxholes. The rest of the boys ran up the hill and they get to the foxhole, they killed eighty-seven of the Germans right in the foxhole, they were so mad. And the rest of them ran away, they saw the annihilation.
Then that night, Chaplain Higuchi went through that area. He said, “Oh, Ron, they were so scary.” He said, “Oh boy, going through that area was so scary, the dead soldiers were moaning in their foxholes.” I said, “I thought they were all dead.” He said, “Yeah, as the night came and got cold, their bodies squeezed and the air from their lungs came out and you could hear the moaning sounds from some different foxholes.” He said, “Oh, what a scary experience to go through there.”
That was our banzai charge. And K Company said they had banzai charge. Everybody had these so-called banzai charges. And then, so we were relieved — oh, before we were relieved, every day would rain this October and going into November. And the people of Bruyeres said, “This is one of the worst winters we’ve had in twenty years.”
I was in the kitchen, so it was nice and warm and sheltered. But the boys said, oh, in the morning, the water in the foxhole would turn to icicles and they would be covered. I said, “And then your clothes were all icy, too, yeah?” He said, “Yeah, we get up and we cannot unbutton our trousers and we cannot take a leak. Their hands were so frozen and the pants were also tight.” He said, “We had to take a leak in our own pants.” And then, somebody, “Yeah, yeah.” He said, “When we get chance, we turn our BVDs inside out, it makes us feel better” (chuckles).
You know, you couldn’t - for thirty-four days, day after day — and I tell my high school kids, “Can you imagine when you go out there and dig a foxhole and sleep in there every day with rain falling down, turning into ice and then in the end, in November, you’re covered with snow?”
Wataru Kohashi said, “Oh, I thought I was dead when I woke up, I thought I was in heaven.” I said, “Why?” “Everything was white. Everything was white, and I thought I was dead already.” He was covered with snow.
Anyway, then we got relieved and we were given portable showers, so we took shower. And then the quartermaster supposed to give us a new change of clothing. After all, we were in the same clothes for thirty-four days. So they brought clothing, and none of the uniforms fit anybody. We all got too-long sleeves, too-long trousers, which is okay, you can always roll it up.
But they couldn’t find BVDs for us. I had a waist of maybe twenty-four and I was still a hundred twenty-five pounds. You know what the quartermaster did? They went to the WAC [Women’s Army Corps] outfit and got panties. And they would deliver the panties for the boys to wear. Yeah, they refused to wear panties.
Rescue of the Lost Battalion
General [John] Dahlquist of the 36th Division ordered the 442nd to rescue his men because his own division, which is four or five times larger than us, for two days, couldn’t make any headway. So 442nd was asked to rescue their men.
In four days, we had eight-hundred casualties, two hundred got killed. I Company and K Company went in with about a hundred-fifty-eight men. I Company ended up with — there were only eight left. K Company ended up with seventeen men, no officers, no sergeants, all privates.
They rescued the Lost Battalion, finally, after four days. And they didn’t get rest, they said, “You’ve got to garrison the hill, so 442nd, keep on going.” So they went over.
We didn’t have a grand reunion kind of rescue with the 141st guys but they all remember that. The commander, he said he didn’t know that the 442nd had lost that many men until he read about it. [Marty Higgins] said he didn’t know that we lost that many men saving two hundred of his men. Actually two hundred eleven. They started off with two hundred seventy-five. He sent fifty men to try to break through. They all got killed, they were still there and by the time they got rescued they had two hundred eleven men left.
The word was the army was using us as cannon fodder, you know, we’re expendable. Every time there’s a hard situation, they ask the 442nd to go.
The next day, General Dahlquist asked Colonel [Virgil] Miller to send all his men for a dress parade. At the dress parade, General Dahlquist scolds Colonel Miller. “I told you that I wanted to see all of your men.” Colonel Miller with tears in his eyes, said, “Sir, this is all the men I have left.” So that’s the way it ended up.
Nobody in regiment likes [General] Dahlquist because he thought he was such a great man, he went to the front line with Sinclair Lewis’s son. While they were exposing themselves in the front line, Sinclair Lewis’s son got hit and he died. After that, General Dahlquist would never come to the front line. He got scared, he stayed in the back.
At one point, he ordered the field artillery to shell the Germans at a certain estimate. The field artillery said, “Sir, we fire that, it’s going right into the Lost Battalion, you cannot do that.” They disobeyed General Dahlquist and they fired away from that. They tried to land supplies but they couldn’t get it, all the parachutes all went different places. That was the rescue of the Lost Battalion.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba, Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto, and National Archives.