Ronald Oba
F Company, 442nd RCT

Reflections and Observations

“At this point, I think the impact of World War II has faded. We’re history now.

If it wasn’t for us fighting, the conditions or the fate of Japanese Americans would not have been the same. Because of the war, we’re no longer laborers. We came back as professionals, we helped control the legislature and we are respected. We are well educated, no longer plantation laborers; and that the future for this present generation, you can be anything you want.”

Right after the war, we were draft-[in]eligible and the government classified us as 4C just because we looked like the enemy. And I said, “The people around my neighborhood did not discriminate against us but the government did.” They practically took my citizenship away by making me an enemy alien. But that didn’t seem to faze the boys, it didn’t faze me. I said, “I just want to work for the U.S. engineers and make good money.” In the book there’s a passage that I said, “In times of great emotional stress, our government does not know right from wrong.” And it happens even till today. Our government keeps making ethnic kinds of mistakes over and over and over.

Losses

In F Company, there was only one other Aiea person, that was Clarence Oka and myself. Strangely, although we had fifty-[three] boys from Aiea who volunteered and taken into the army, 442nd, we had only one guy in my company. We didn’t buddy-buddy up and we didn’t celebrate after we came home.

But there was a guy in our company, Jo Okazaki and he became very good friends with a hapa-haole guy, Howard Clifford Hana. They went to furloughs together, went to New Orleans together, became very good friends. They promised each other that, should one of them die and the other survive, they would go and visit each other’s family. Clifford Hana got killed before Hill 140, so Jo Okazaki went to visit his mother in Florida. He wrote a beautiful letter from the hospital bed how he met Clifford, how they became friends, and how he observed or saw Clifford get hit by artillery shells and described how serene he was in death and wrote all this to his family, to his mother.

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But there were quite a few from Aiea who died and some of them were my classmates. In fact, Robert Kuroda and couple of other guys, they were my classmates because we were same age. And I remember carrying them in mattress bags. During the Gothic Line, after they took those mountains, we were asked to carry the dead down the hill. So I carried one on a litter and I slid on my okole [buttocks] all the way down. The mountain was so steep that you couldn’t stand. We slid on our okole and took the wounded and dead all the way down. And I swear, I had a sore okole for a couple of days, yeah.

But the thing that I remember the most about that and dying, is I can’t never forget the smell of a dead human being, especially summertime. Because the bodies get bloated, and it smells. Even when I smell cat or dog that’s dead, and they start to smell, it reminds me of the war.

Ike Ikeda on Maui tells me, he has dreams, he gets nightmares. And I get it once in a while but I don’t get it weekly, like some guys. I might get it maybe once a month or I dream about it. And I don’t think is traumatic stuff for me. It’s just that sometimes, I think I dream about my friends. But Ike Ikeda, Mas Miyamoto, Roy Matsuda, they tell me that they wake up in sweat, all the things. But, see, they were different from me. I was in the back.

Although I was nearly killed about four, five times, they were almost killed almost every day. The enemy was shooting at them every day, artillery shells, mortar shells were landing all around them. And like Harry Matsuo said, a dud landed between he and Dopey Hironaka. The dud landed right between the legs of Dopey.

Whenever we have reunions, Dopey said, “Don’t believe the stories, that shell didn’t land between my legs, and I didn’t lose my balls. It landed only on the ground.” (Chuckles)

But it did, you know. Those two got so shell-shocked. As soon as they hear a shell explode, they would jump and try to hide. So that’s the reaction of post-traumatic [stress disorder]. You hear a bang on a street, a car backfires, some of the guy would jump — I don’t know about now, but in the early days.

442nd Veterans Club

I was not [active] at first. I didn’t believe in post-World War II organizations that relive and rehash all the wartime stories. I’m a really late bloomer. They asked me to join many times, but I said, “Nah, nah, I’m not interested in veterans of foreign wars,” and all that stuff. So I didn’t join.

But after my kids grew up, we were in Kailua at that time, I said, “Well, I now have a little time.” Then I went to picnic with them. Then one day, during their anniversary banquet at Sheraton, I wanted to buy a ticket so I can meet some of my F Company buddies. And the local chapter here, Fox Chapter, refused to sell me. I called them two, three times, I said, “How much is it? How much is a ticket?” They refused to sell me a ticket.

Later on, somebody said, “You know, we subsidize these banquets. We have a hospitality room, we buy goods, we buy beer, soda, pupus [appetizers], and prizes. And for you to come and pay only thirty-five dollars for the banquet is not right.” So I said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

There’s a registration fee besides just buying the banquet. I didn’t intend to go to the hospitality room and drink beer with them, see. I just wanted to go to the banquet and meet some. . .I couldn’t. So I said, “So, how do I meet my friends at the next reunion?”

He said, “Become a member. You pay your annual dues and whenever we have a hospitality room, we have to contribute to buy the beer and the pupus and whatnot, plus the banquet ticket.”

About 1972, [19]73 or so, I finally joined. Much later than that after I joined, nobody wanted to be president, so I became president of Fox Chapter. And as a president, you have to go to the board meetings. I was on the board for one year, then before I knew it, they said, “Ronald, you’re going to be third VP.” I said, “No, I don’t want to be.” “No, don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything, we have the president, first VP, second VP.”

Robert Sasaki told me, “Just don’t do nothing. The only thing your duties is to become nominating chairman every year. Get a nominating slate.” I said, “Okay, if you’re going to help me, I will.”

Second VP died, he had cancer. Sunshine Fukunaga also died and I became the first VP. Then the president’s term is over, so before I knew it, after one or two years, I was the president. And this was in [1991]. I was president for 1992 and [199]3. And 1993 was the fiftieth-year anniversary so we planned a huge reunion. We planned this march through Waikiki, you remember the march through Waikiki? We marched through Waikiki and all that. We had General Sullivan, [chairman of the joint] chief of staff of the armed services, he came, he gave a speech.

Reflections

The thing that I try to impress upon [students] is, I always ask them, “Did you experience the Second World War, Pearl Harbor attack?” Everybody says, “We weren’t born yet.”

Then I try to leave the legacy of not only 442nd but Second World War, what it meant, what it all comes down to in terms of our freedom and our liberty, by protecting our freedom and liberty. And they always give me a great big hand after I speak.

But they like the war stories. I tell them about Hill 140 where we cradled some of the guys like Shaw Kojaku. I don’t know if I told you that he got concussion right in his foxhole and we don’t know whether he got shrapnel in his body. But when Tommy Tamagawa went to cradle him, Shaw told Tommy, “Tommy, I know I’m going to die but I’m not going to cry because I’m a brave American soldier.” He died. There were two other guys that died on Hill 140. I forgot to tell you the stories about Hill 140. I told you only about my eardrum.

I try to impress on them why we volunteered. And I always tell them my side, that I didn’t want to volunteer to prove my loyalty. I said, “All the other guys said that they went to prove their loyalty.” But I said, “During the battle, when facing the enemy, you’re not proving your loyalty, you’re trying to prove to yourself that I’m just as good an American soldier as the 69th Division guys or the 85th Division guys. I can fight just as well.” And in the end, you help liberate. But does this prove that you went to fight to prove your loyalty? I don’t think so. But everybody, when asked by the news media, whether today or ten years ago, “Oh, I joined to prove my loyalty” they keep saying.

At this point, I think the impact of World War II has faded because of Desert Storm, Iraq, Korea, Vietnam. We’re history now. We’re no longer in the forefront of present discussion. We’re already something that happened yesterday, so therefore, it’s history.

Ronald Oba, Joint Memorial Service

But whenever I give a talk, I try to impress upon them that if it wasn’t for us fighting, the conditions, or the fate of Japanese Americans especially, would not have been the same. Because of the war, we’re no longer laborers. We came back as professionals, we helped control the legislature and that we are respected. We are well educated, no longer plantation laborers; and that the future for this present generation, you can be anything you want.

General [Eric] Shinseki always said, “If it wasn’t for you folks, I would still be a colonel, I would never become a general.” General Ono says the same thing. And most recently, Vice Admiral [Robert] Kihune said almost the same thing. He said, “Because of your legacy, you proved your ability to fight and be loyal citizens, I am able to become a vice admiral in the navy.”

They all said this, second, third generation. But I don’t know about the fourth and fifth generation.

Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba.

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