F Company, 442nd RCT
End of War
When the war ends, F Company is assigned to guard German prisoners at Ghedi Airfield.
Ronald now has a kitchen out in the open. He cooks rice and hekka (meat and vegetable dish) every day. He shakes bouillon cubes in a bottle to make a substitute for soy sauce.
Some of the POWs are assigned to KP duty for F Company. One of the prisoners asks Ronald to deliver a letter to his girlfriend in Florence.
Then the war ended, and then we were guarding prisoners at Ghedi airport, the boys were.
I remember hearing that President [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had died [April 12, 1945]. We were all sad. The president of the United States had died. And the war was still on.
When the Germans surrendered and the war was declared ended, it was sort of like an anticlimax because we were capturing thousands of prisoners every day and putting them into a compound at Ghedi airport, surrounded by wire fence, nobody celebrated. Just word went around said, “Oh, the war finally ended.” But for us, kind of anticlimactic because there were no more fighting going on at that time. So we just took it in stride that the war finally ended.
And we were cooking — well, the war was over, so we could have a kitchen out in the open and all that.
That’s when we used to cook rice every day and make hekka [meat and vegetables dish] every day. We had a new captain, Captain [Jack] Certain used to come every day at noon. We get the middle of the pan, piping hot rice on top, cracked egg, raw egg and a heaping full of chicken hekka or beef hekka made with bouillon cubes.
We used to put bouillon cubes in a bottle and shake it and they make real excellent shoyu. Instead of using the beef and making steaks for the boys, we saved enough for beef hekka every day.
Some of the prisoners were assigned to F Company, like every other company and we had about three prisoners who did all the KP. Wash the pots and pans, clean the vegetables, onions, potatoes and whatnot for us. There was a huge German, husky bugger, his name was [Leo] Otto. Apparently, he had a girlfriend in Florence because, after all, we were on the Arno River for five-and-a-half months, they were on the other side.
One day, he gives me an envelope, he said, “Mr. Oba, can you deliver this to my girlfriend?” And it’s illegal. I can get court-martialed. But me, like a damn fool, I didn’t think anything, “Oh, you have a girlfriend there?”
“Yeah, over there.”
I said, “Okay, I’ll rent a bicycle.”
I rented a bicycle, I rode all the way across the Pontivecchia, that one bridge and I asked the people where is the street, where is the place and all that. And finally, I reached and got to this address. When I got to that address, I asked a few people there, “Where is this family? I got to deliver this letter.”
Wow, they disappeared like I was a plague because they realized that, here’s an American soldier coming to deliver a letter from a German prisoner (chuckles). I don’t know why I did that because that was crazy. But as I said, I was naive in so many different ways that I just took it. And I told one of the guys, “Give it to the lady over here, that’s where she lives.” They say, “Yeah, that’s right.”
The people didn’t come out, I just gave it to somebody who said, okay, he’ll do it. I got on my bicycle and came back. I said, “Leo, I delivered your letter.”
Later on, though, while we were on occupational duty, the army decided that instead of just wasting your time, people can go to University of Florence, take up journalism, art, sculpturing.
This is where [Shinkichi] Tajiri went, to University of Florence to take up sculpture, architecture. He was in M Company and he was so disgusted with the American government for interning his parents, he never came home. But he became a famous sculpturer and then made so much money that he finally bought a castle in Belgium. There’s a little town in Belgium, I forget, it’s all written up. He made sculptures in Rockefeller Center. One of his famous ones is called the “Friendship Monument.” He donated us “Friendship Monument” in Bruyeres when we went there. His sculpture is there, in Bruyeres city square. Some people in M Company, like Tadao Beppu and other people, went to visit him in Belgium.
Attitude Towards Germans
Human beings are funny. When the fight is over, you shake hands and you become friends. The Germans were very disciplined, very disciplined people. They were good citizens, they’re not like the Gestapo. I respected them.
Every now and then, when we got coleslaw, comes in gallons, see. The boys don’t like to eat coleslaw, it’s so sour. We’d give our gallon of coleslaw to the German KPs and they would say, “You have vinegar?” We’d say, “Oh, yeah, we have a bottle of vinegar.” They said, “Can we have a frying pan?”
They would put the coleslaw in a frying pan and put the vinegar and they make it more sour, and they used to like it.
But one thing they told us was — this was in Alabama, when we were guarding prisoners-of-war in Alabama. The prisoners were hired to dig peanuts and whatnot, and one of the stories is, they were so friendly with the boys that one of the boys said to the prisoners, “Hold my rifle, I got to take a leak.” (Chuckles)
The Germans said, “America is terrible.” I said, “Why?” He said, “They give us raw pork. And in Germany, we eat raw pork, so we ate raw pork.” Like sashimi. And they all got trichinosis. I said, “Don’t you know that in America you’ve got to cook pork?” He said, “Germany, the pork is so clean they don’t have to cook.” I said, “How come?”
He said, “Because we feed them. . . .” Not garbage, but they feed them like cows. The pigs there are clean and healthy, so they can eat raw pork. But they all got trichinosis. Of course, trichinosis can be cured by antibiotics and whatnot, so.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto.