Herbert Isonaga
VVV

End of War

War in Europe officially ends on May 9, 1945.

At Ghedi Airfield, Herbert helps process surrendering German troops.

Approached by recruiters, he volunteers for the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Before going to MIS Language School, he is given 30-day leave in Hawaii. En route to the islands, he hears of V-J Day. Eligible for discharge, he is released from service in Hawaii.

At home in Koloa, Herbert sleeps from morning to night for about a month.

Thoughts on War

My thoughts was mainly grateful that it [war in Europe] was over with. But I knew that it wasn’t the end because we still had the war in the Pacific going on. There was always a threat, not threat, but there was always a possibility that we’ll be called on to do some other kind of function, not military, not going to war as such, but to act as occupation, army of occupation, which I thought would be a terrible thing to do. I didn’t want to be involved in part of the army of occupation.

Having volunteered for a war, I didn’t want to stay on in the military to do something other than what you were asked, thought you were going to do.

Germans at Ghedi Airfield

We were all involved in processing the German — I wouldn’t call them prisoners because they were voluntarily coming, you know, giving themselves up.

So we were all, the whole unit, was involved in processing them, taking away all their weapons or anything that can be used as weapons and seeing that they were sent to the confinement area. That’s what we were doing, processing the Germans.

German army to be processed at Ghedi Airfield
German army to be processed at Ghedi Airfield

I cannot tell you [about how German soldiers were] before because I didn’t have any direct contact with Germans. And the only people did were front line guys where they picked up prisoners, German prisoners.

The only prisoners I saw before the Ghedi area were dead ones. But my observation of the Germans being processed was that I was surprised to find them to be not downhearted. I thought that they would be acting like losers. They were not. They still remained proud and they weren’t ready to take any guff from us.

They were very responsive to whatever we asked them to do in terms of, command like, “Please display all your equipment.” They lay it out for us to be inspected. I thought they were very disciplined and easy to handle.

Confiscated Items

But let me tell you this one story in processing. My lieutenant, his driver and I, in processing, we picked up a money chest. We were supposed to take their monies away, we were supposed to turn ’em in. We didn’t turn it in.

So, the three of us went on this jeep with the money chest, full of money now, good money. Of course, they were Italian liras and we drove out to the wheat field and each of us took a handful, I mean, just a pittance of all the money in there and we threw the money chest in the wheat field.

I’m always wondering what the farmer who found the chest must have thought, with all that money in the chest.

We weren’t supposed to keep the money. The army said they’re going to come through the unit to search us for items that we took from the Germans that we were not [supposed to keep] like cameras and watches and money.

So I know of my first sergeant who had a wad of money, he threw it in the toilet. We had these open toilet now, threw ’em in. A lot of us dug hole in our tent, pup tent, dug and buried items because they had threatened that they’re going to come down and search us. It never happened. They didn’t come. But we went through great pains to hide the items.

Cameras were the major item that our troops, soldiers, picked up from the prisoners. I know that they confiscated my camera. I told ’em, “Ey, this,” it was German camera but I got this camera way back, early in the Italian campaign and not from the prisoners being processed. I said, “You’ll find that out because you’ll find photos in there of areas before we got to Ghedi.” You know, they returned me the camera and I still have that camera. But they were concerned about cameras taken off the prisoners that we were processing at that time.

Military Intelligence Service

After our activity at Ghedi, 2nd Battalion moved to Lake Como area. It was a time for idleness, nothing to do.

That’s when a recruiting group from Military Intelligence [Service, MIS] came by and asked for volunteers. I was getting tired of doing nothing, you know, so I volunteered.

Among the incentives was that they were going to give us thirty-day leave to Hawaii before going to military intelligence school. So I [volunteered] and they accepted me. I don’t know why because they turned me down once.

At Camp Shelby, I volunteered for military intelligence. They turned me down. But accepting me, I guess, they weren’t too particular then.

Anyway, they flew us back to the Mainland and flew us back to Hawaii and gave us a thirty-day leave. But by the time we reached California, was V-J Day [Victory in Japan Day, September 2, 1945].

Jubilant crowd with ticker tape on V-J day
Jubilant crowd with ticker tape on V-J day

Discharge

Anyway, they flew us back to Hawaii. When I came back to Hawaii, they said, “Hey, you have enough points,” they went on the points system, “to be discharged.” So they gave me the discharge.

So I was discharged early. I think I was back here in June, July? Anyway, way ahead of the unit.

Homecoming

You know, Japanese, they’re not very expressive or sentimental.

The army flew me home to Barking Sands. There was a bus from Barking Sands to our town. I had this great big bag full of my old clothing, military clothing and stuff, which I still have around. Anyway, I went by, I had to walk from where the bus dropped me off, I had to walk, oh, about quarter-mile to my folks’ home.

So as I was walking home, Mr. Yamada, he had a store nearby, he says, “Hey, I’ll drive you home.” So he drove me home. His son was in the VVV and he was in my company. But he came later on. So I was able to tell him that his son was fine, I’d seen him and everything. But that’s about, that’s the only contact I had with people. They weren’t interested.

I can’t say that there was any kind of special sentiment. Of course, my sister wasn’t here but my brother, he took it for granted, you know, nothing. Just like my parents, well, great, you home. Not demonstrative in any way.

What I remember, having returned home, that I must have slept from morning to night for about a month. All I did was get up and eat and go back, go to sleep. So my mother got worried, she thought something was wrong with me. But, gee, I slept a lot.

Herbert Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert Isonaga, Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto, and Library of Congress.

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