F Company, 442nd RCT
Attached to the 92nd Infantry Division, the 442nd is ordered to break the seemingly impenetrable Gothic Line – German fortifications built into the 3000-feet high Apennine Mountains.
After delivering rations to an outpost in Cuneo, Ronald and two other soldiers are thrown out of their jeep when it hits an embankment. He is sent to an aid station where his head and back are topically treated with Mercurochrome.
We came back to Leghorn, almost to the exact spot where we left Leghorn to go to the invasion of southern France. We were in southern France for two, three months and we came back to the exact spot. The 92nd [Infantry] Division, another division — I thought there was only one but according to history, there was more than one division trying to take the Gothic Line.
The Gothic Line was like the mountains in Waianae. They were a series of [hills the military labeled] Ohio, Florida, whatnot. The other ones were called Mount Carchio, Folgorito, Belvedere and there’s one more, I can’t remember. But they were a series of mountain ranges three- to four-thousand feet high. That’s pretty high.
And when we got there, on the strictest secrecy, Colonel Miller asked General [E.M.] Almond of the 92nd Division, “We’re assigned to take that Gothic Line,” which had concrete bunkers with reinforcing steel that was built by the Germans over a period of time. And they had withstood artillery barrages, aircraft bombings, and whatnot.
Anyway, Colonel Miller told the boys, “We’re going to take the hills at night, not daytime. Tonight, you march to the base of the mountains, in a town called Pariana. And when you get there, you sleep, don’t talk, don’t move. Then when the next night, you come, you go up those goat trails, narrow trails, all the way to the top and you attack the enemy.”
The next night, they would climb those steep hills and twenty-five boys fell off those cliffs because it was so narrow. But luckily, none of them died. In F Company, according to Sergeant [Toshio] Endo, he said, “One of the recruits got so scared and trembling, he refused to move on this narrow trail.”
So he ordered his men to leapfrog over him. You know, the trail is so narrow you couldn’t go around him, so everybody sort of — you know what leapfrog is, just go over the guy. And when the sun came out in the morning, as dawn broke, they were ordered to attack. And in thirty-two minutes, they had taken the Germans by surprise and garrisoned the entire mountain range. The Germans never believed that anybody would come up, so half of them were sleeping.
As they went to the top, Captain [Joseph] Hill told our Sergeant Yukio Okutsu, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, to traverse this flat area and attack the Germans on the other side of the mound. Well, Yukio says, “Impossible, we’ll all be annihilated you go on a flat area because they have machine guns there.” Well, Captain Hill insisted that he take his squad, but luckily, just at that time, he said the fog rolled over. The fog came. So under cover of the fog, his squad, platoon rather, advanced rapidly and attacked the Germans and took another position.
As I said, they garrisoned the mountains within a day and from there on, the regiment was able to advance to Massa, that’s an Italian town around the west coast of the peninsula. And after Massa, it was Carrara and where the Carrara marbles come from. As we took Carrara, if you look at the mountainside, certain areas was all white, where they were cutting the marble slabs. And all these marble slabs that you see, even at Punchbowl, where the statue of [Columbia] is, those marble came from Carrara, yeah.
We advanced from there to Carrara and Massa, Carrara. And then we took Genoa, La Spezia, and up the coast. And we went to Asti, they have nice Asti wine. And Alessandria, all the way to Milano, Turin and all the way to the Brenner Pass to prevent the Germans from escaping. So the F Company boys were sent all the way there, and they brought back huge supplies of German ammunition and whatnot. But the war did not end yet.
Foot of the Alps
We were assigned to patrol an area called Cuneo, this side of the French border but down below the valley, in Italy, Cuneo. And there’s another town called Olivetti, I don’t know if that’s where the Olivetti typewriter came from but there’s an Olivetti. And then we said, “By gosh, we were up there on the Maritime and I was looking down, and now we’re looking up.”
And so one day, we were asked to deliver some food so we took some rations to the outpost [in Cuneo]. And coming home at night, about six o’clock, the jeep driver said, “We’ve got to hurry because our small light, we might not be able to see the road.” He’s going fifty miles an hour trying to come home, back to the command post, and these Italian farmlands, they’re squares, see. You see the white road, just like coral road, white road and he was going down — there were three of us, Harold Tarumoto, the jeep driver; myself; and [Yoshio] Kawamura.
All of a sudden, there’s no road. There was a 90-degree turn. Tarumoto didn’t even try to brake or anything. We hit the embankment head on and I remember flying out of the jeep but that’s all I remember. I don’t remember landing, I don’t remember anything after that. By the time I woke up, I saw stars. You see stars when you’re hit and you get unconscious. Oh, they were blowing all over my. . .And then after that, I sat down and I crawled over to a log, there was a log there. And I swear, I must have been unconscious for over half an hour because the Italian farmers were all around me already, around the jeep. But they were like ten yards away. I could hear them whispering. I sat on the log with my head down and I thought, “Wow, Kawamura and Tarumoto must be dead, they’re not moving.”
Pretty soon, fifteen minutes later, Kawamura gets up and he crawls over and he sits on the log. So another half an hour goes by and Tarumoto gets up, and he sits down on the log, see. And then we sit there, and the Italian people, the farmers, they didn’t even come and help. They said, “Who are these people?”
They used to call us Cinese you know, Chinese. They didn’t even realize we were Japanese Americans. You could hear them whispering but not a single guy came to help. Harold Tarumoto says, “Oh, the jeep, the axle went through the hubcap and was flat. The other three tires seem okay.”
We look at the jeep, there was a 50-mm turret stand in the middle of the jeep, see. We used to have a 50-mm machine gun attached to it. But without [the barrel]. [It went] about [two feet deep with mud on it]. That means as we were turned over, that turret helped us from getting killed. But we all landed on our head. I had blood coming out of my scalp. And then on my back later on, when I went to the aid station, I had lacerations on my spine. And so I said, “Tarumoto, the jeep’s not going to go, the whole windshield is smashed, the hood is smashed.”
He said, “Let’s change the tire anyway first because unless we change the tire, we cannot start the engine or go.” We changed the tire, and we sat in. And Kawamura says, “I lost my wallet, I don’t know where my wallet is.” We look around in the dark, cannot see anything. Finally said, “Ah, get in the jeep, all you had was Italian lires.” We got in the jeep. As he sat in the jeep, he says, “Here’s my wallet.” The wallet was still in the seat of that jeep.
And Tarumoto started the engine, ignition, and goro-goro-goro, it started. The jeep started, with all that damage. We went zigzag, zigzag and finally went back on the road and we came back all the way to command post. And the war was still on so the captain didn’t court-martial him for ruining the jeep or anything. So everything was hush-hush.
All they did was send me to an aid station and they put Mercurochrome on my head and my back and so there’s no record. The military doesn’t keep aid station records, they keep only hospital records. But you know, I was so naïve I didn’t even ask them to X-ray my head or my back, so I have absolutely no record in the military that I was thrown out of a jeep and was unconscious.
[The aid station] were boys from Hawaii and the Mainland. They, instead of being assigned to an infantry, they were assigned to the medical detachment. So they learned how to put tourniquets — how to put branches and tie a fractured arm or leg. The main thing is, they learn how to shoot morphine for a guy who’s lost an arm or his guts are spilling out. So that’s the extent of their training. They didn’t have any knowledge of triaging. You know what triaging? That, “Hey, this guy is really injured.”
“Well, there’s no blood, there’s no open wound, just put some Mercurochrome on his bleeding scalp and his back.” That’s what they did, put Mercurochrome on my head and back. I wasn’t smart enough to say, “Hey, can we take an x-ray of back or my head, especially?” Nothing was done. The next day, that very next day, I was cooking again, all these years.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba, Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto and National Archives.