F Company, 442nd RCT
After the Lost Battalion is rescued, F Company is sent to Sospel, France.
In the Maritime Alps, Ronald transports supplies by mule along a narrow mountain path shelled by German artillery units.
He is assigned to cook for a platoon of 24 men at an outpost on Mt. Grosso.
Ronald enjoys furloughs in Nice, where he and other GIs go to bars and see French women along the Promenade des Anglais.
After the rescue of the Lost Battalion, I and K Company went in with 150-plus men and ended up with seventeen and eight men. So manpower-wise, we were devastated. We were down to a bare minimum of people.
The army sent us to the French Riviera. The soldiers were billeted in and around Nice and the officers were at Cannes. The army still had separation of officers and men — no fraternization. However, although our playground was Nice, we were all deployed along the Maritime Alps from the Mediterranean Sea all the way up to Sospel, L’Escarene.
F Company, 2nd Battalion, was in Sospel. The Battalion headquarters was in L’Escarene. I would say this is about fifty to seventy-five miles north of the Mediterranean Sea. And those mountains between France and Italy was called the Maritime Alps.
We were stationed in Sospel and the boys were up on this high mountain range, Mount Grosso is one of them and they were looking down into Italy, from France, at the Germans. And the Germans were also making sure that we didn’t cross over because the war was still on.
After several months of taking supplies up to the mountains, where a cook was assigned to cook food for the boys, we took supplies on mules, mule trains. And cowboys [or muleskinners] from Texas and Wisconsin were assigned to our company to load the rations, boxes, onto the mules because if you didn’t load it correctly, the rations would fall off.
Every day I would be taking the mule up very narrow trails. Like one of our mountain ranges where people go hiking but just enough for one person. We would traverse from Sospel, go around the mountains and there was an opening ten miles away, where the mountains had an opening, a valley. Through the valley, the Germans used to throw shells at the path that we had to traverse to go further and up into Mount Grosso, where the boys were.
Every day we took the mules. The first time I had to take the mules up, as they came to this point, they knew that the shells would land close by, so they refused to move. And the Germans, with a telescope, could see that here comes the mule train, going up, see. So they would start shelling.
It was real scary, because if the mules go halfway to where the shells are landing, and they refuse to move, then we can get killed, too. So, after a couple of harrowing experiences, I learned that if you get a stick about ten-feet long, a tree branch like the haole koa [roadside shrub or small tree from tropical America] branch, and stay far enough away from the hind legs, you can prod the mule up to move forward. If you try to hit the mule, they would not move.
The only way you can, I found out, to make the mule move, is to stick that branch right into the okole [buttocks], right into the hole (chuckles). But, because no matter what you did, it would not move. They don’t care if you hit them or not. Every day, I used to stick that long branch into the mule’s okole and then, poot-poot [onomatopoeia for fart], he would go and we would follow.
Then the shells would start landing and it was scary. Once, we had a shell land so close that the mules tumbled and fell down the cliff, we lost all the rations. That’s how it was, whether we were on a holding pattern or fighting the enemy, we were subject to artillery shells, enemy fire, and get wounded or killed every day.
Finally, after doing that for a couple of weeks, it was my turn to go up to Mount Grosso and cook for the boys. When I went up there, the kitchen tent was like that and there were more holes in the tent than canvas because the boys up there were also being shelled by the Germans. And here was this field range, one field range, I had to cook for one platoon of soldiers, that’s about twenty-four boys. And they were assigned into what they call outpost so they can look at the Germans and watch.
I was assigned with Monro Shintani, the guy from Chicago. They had a restaurant in Chicago and he was the one who was the only Japanese in his high school. When he came to 442nd, he was just dumbfounded to see so many Japanese at one camp.
But anyway, I was assigned with him and we had to dig a shelter horizontally into the cliff because this was a mountain. We were hoping that the shells would never land on our shelter because then we would be buried alive. I cooked meals every day.
I guess I have to mention names, Lieutenant Hank Oyasato was the lieutenant and he would sit in his pup tent all day long censoring mail. The boys used to write mails every day and he was busy censoring mail from morning to evening. Every morning, I got up, make breakfast, fried eggs or pancakes or whatever. They said, “Lieutenant wants his breakfast.”
Here I had to put his breakfast on a plate, coffee, carry it to his pup tent. And then after several days of this, I finally told Lieutenant Oyasato, “You want your breakfast, you come out and come get it yourself.”
After that, he got up and came to the kitchen to eat his breakfast. After all, you know, you have one cook tending to about twenty-four boys, that’s a lot of work. I had to do my own pots and pans, do the scrubbing. Anyway, that’s how we were up on those hills.
Furlough in Nice
We were there for a while. From there, we had a chance to go to Nice. We took turns and go to Nice for furlough. I went to Nice a couple of times. We went, we promenaded on the beachfront called Promenade des Anglais. That was the name of the beachfront. We had a grand time.
One night, Bolo Yorita, myself, found two girlfriends from a bar and so we went to a cafe and bought cognac. In those days was cognac in France. We drank and drank and I got so drunk, the next day after I returned to the company, I was drunk for two days (laughs).
Most of the boys, when they went to Nice, stayed at the Hotel [Helvetique]. . .Oh shucks, I used to know the name of the hotel. But it was run by a woman [Madame DuVille] and her daughter, and the 442nd boys always liked to go there because the owners really treated the boys real well. So, we went there.
Many years later, Yoshitaka Kuwaye, who used to go there, went to visit them after the war. When he went to that hotel, the madame and the daughter wasn’t there anymore. He inquired and the people said, “Oh, the son lives down the road there, so you can ask him.”
He went down the road, talked to he son, the son said, “Oh, call them, they might come and visit you.” So Yoshitaka Kuwaye called them. [Mr. and Mrs. DuVille] came and visited. After all, this is sixty-two years ago — came and visited them, and she gave Yoshitaka a present. Yoshitaka thought it was a present so he hung on to it. They had nice reunion, they had a nice talk and they parted and went home. Kuwaye thought that was a present so he kept it. When he finally opened it, it was food and it was all spoiled by that time. They brought him lunch, you see, but he didn’t realize that.
Although we can speak some French, comment allez-vous, “how are you?” Merci beaucoup, [thank you] and all this simple, everyday language, we really could not string French words to make a conversation, except, “How much is that,” and stuff like that. Combien. Combien means, “How much is that?”
It’s almost like pidgin, you pick up words here, you pick up words there. And we said, “How do you say ‘thank you’?” Oh “s’il vous plait.” Please, s’il vous plait, please. And how do you say “How are you?” Comment allez-vous And combien, “how much is that?” We used to go shopping in the stores in Nice and we got along. We could shop and talk to the merchants just enough so that they understood us, and we understood them.
If they were German girls, we could not fraternize. But France had already surrendered, just like Italy. We met a lot of friends like Italian girls where we took our laundry and now it’s in France. Most of the bars were really hip-hop. They used to have loud music and everybody was jumping up and down, there wasn’t even a dance. Our passes at those times was like overnight kind of pass. It wasn’t a furlough for one week or two weeks. Just a — you’ve got to go back to your outfit the next day.
Of course, we used to go down to the Promenade des Anglais and sit on the wall and watch the French girls. In those days, I don’t know whether they were so-called advanced in social propriety stuff but they were running around all bare-breasted. All they had was a G-string. The boys all sat on the seawall and sat there to watch all the girls running around. But mostly they sunbathed. And upstairs, I have one picture of a female sunbathing but I didn’t bring it down. But that’s a memento, see, remind you of our army days.
After our strength came up to full strength — we were in Nice maybe about two months, I guess. And all the replacements from Camp Shelby came and we became full strength. General Mark Clark begged [Dwight] Eisenhower, please send the 442nd back to Italy, instead of going up northern France into Germany.
General Mark Clark wanted the 442nd to come back to Leghorn and start a diversionary action so that the entire Allied forces along the Arno River can finally cross over. After all, they were there for five-and-a-half months. Under great secrecy, Chief of Staff Eisenhower agreed to send 442nd.
522nd Field Artillery Battalion
When we went back to Italy, through Marseilles, General [George] Patton asked that the 522nd Artillery remain in Europe to help the attack on Germany with artillery fire. Again, the artillery was so fast and so accurate that they were in front of the infantry.
They were so far in front that when they reached Munich, they discovered the prisoner-of-war compound called Dachau. So they were responsible for so-called “liberating” the prisoners — Jewish, Polish prisoners in Dachau.
There was controversy about who opened the gates but research by Hideo Nakamine found that Dachau was more than one compound, one huge compound with several smaller compounds around the periphery. What the 442nd did was open the gates to one of the smaller compounds.
Sho [Shozo] Kajioka, who used to live on Kina Street, where we used to live, was the one who used his carbine to shoot the lock off. He was sworn to secrecy for the rest of his life for opening the gate. When we tried to interview him, “Did you really shoot the padlock off?” He would not say. But some of his companions who were with him, the first patrol that went ahead, insist that Sho Kajioka was the one that shot the padlock off and the prisoners came out with black-and-white stripes.
They were ordered not to feed them because if you feed them — they had sunken cheeks and skin and bones, you could see their ribs — they would die. Like Don Shimazu says, “All the food leftover, the army fed them so much that they throw into the pit. And the Germans would say, ‘Why, why, why can’t you give it to us?’”
Some of them jumped into the pit and they ate the leftovers. Some of the boys felt sorry so they gave them solid food. You gave them solid food, the prisoners die. You cannot give them solid food when they didn’t have food for months at a time. So the 522nd, that’s another story. I wasn’t there, so all I can say is the 522nd, which is part of 442nd, helped liberate prisoners at Dachau.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba.