Herbert Isonaga
VVV

Military Duties

At Hill 140 Herbert hauls rations and ammunition to frontline troops. He is also assigned litter-bearing duty: bringing wounded off of the hill to the aid station. This duty is repeated in the Vosges Mountains and at Mt. Folgorito where he hears a wounded soldier call,” Oka-san [Mother].”

Hilly, forested terrain renders antitank guns useless. His platoon is in the rear while other troops are in the front.

As war progresses, the 442nd arrives in Ghedi.

Litter-Bearers

Hill 140 was a bitter struggle for our unit. And the troops were in need of ammunition, water, food. So we were called up, Antitank Company, people in the headquarters company call up, to haul ration, ammunition to the front line troops.

Casualties were very high. So, we were called on to litter-bear, as litter-bearers, to bring the wounded off the hill, back to the aid station.

Medics carrying wounded nisei, France

For the action there, someone thought it warrants a citation for those of us who were on that detail to bring the troops off the hill and we were awarded the Bronze Star medal for heroism. But I was more surprised than anything to know that I got this award.

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Hill 140, we were litter-bearers. During the Lost Battalion, we were litter-bearers. And we were litter-bearers on the last post off Mount Folgorito, you know that hill that 442nd got up at night and we caught the Germans by surprise. And we had to do litter-bearing there.

And I still remember on that litter-bearing duty, we had a wounded soldier and I can still hear him say, calling for Oka-san [Mother] (Catch in voice). But I understand it was common that the wounded, the seriously wounded, would call for their mother.

[The men] were in no shape to be talked to. And most of the time, we were so scared hauling them in this battle area and we were so anxious to get them back to the aid station as fast as we could. You wouldn’t be thinking about talking to them to try to get them to feel comfortable because we weren’t medics where we could provide them with any kind of relief.

So we were pack animals, we want to get the hell out of the area and we tried to go as fast as we could.

You’re on your own. Of course, when you’re litter-bearing, you’re not on the direct front line. You are removed a little ways. But you’re not under direct fire of the enemy. But you’re susceptible to all the mortar fire, all the overhead firing that comes in that area.

From my experience, usually the person wounded has been removed from the front line by the medics and been given first aid. The wound is packed with bandage or given morphine to relieve the pain. No blood because the front line medic doesn’t carry any blood. The aid station has the blood. So you want to get the wounded back to the aid station as fast as you can so he can get the intravenous.

Medics at aid station in the Vosges Mountains

And where the aid station is located, usually a jeep can reach there. The aid station provides whatever care they can give him. They put him on a jeep and send ’em to the hospital facility that’s back in the rear.

[Litter-bearers] may be called on, someone in the unit may be called on to point out where — for example, the three dead, they asked someone in my unit to point out where those bodies were. They ask you to help them locate the bodies. The grave registration people come and remove them. There’s another unit that’s responsible for removing the bodies.

[Litter-bearing was] mostly daytime. But this experience I had with — I told you the patient was seriously hurt and calling Oka-san, that was at night. So it could be [at night] but usually it’s daytime.

I think the thought [of being wounded] comes to you quite frequently but knowing that the task had to be done or accomplished, it’s not a lingering thought. The thought is, “Get your butt out of there as soon as you can. Just go.”

Having Rank

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You know among Hawaii people, rank don’t mean a damn thing. (Laughs)

In fact if you have rank, they expect you to do more than those without rank. For example, I told you I became a sergeant because my sergeant was killed. My sergeant shouldn’t have gone on this litter-bearing deal that he was killed. Somebody else was supposed to go. But the person, they don’t want to go. So my sergeant said, “Okay, I’ll go.” So, that’s why I’m saying, you got rank, you tell the guy, “Ey, you gotta go.” The guy said, “No, I not going.” You got to go yourself.

Most of the instances in combat is, you know that at a certain time, you have to do a certain thing. No — I mean, it’s automatic. So, there’s really no problem in accomplishing a mission. You get problem when you ask for volunteers, that this is something you really don’t have to do but it would be great if you did it. That situation becomes a little different.

Hauling Items

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[We hauled rations.] The ration come in case box that weighs about twenty pounds, I guess. Then you have to haul water. Now five gallons of water is awfully heavy. And you can use a backpack for that. And then we have to haul ammunition. Bandoliers, we usually string them around our body and haul the bandoliers up forward.

[We felt vulnerable hauling ammunition] but not as vulnerable as the guy we’re delivering it to. (Laughs)

Prior to the Lost Battalion, we were, we had to do litter-bearing and we had to haul rations up to the troops. I know in one case, when our boys went out to deliver ration and ammunition to the troops up front, they were ambushed.

So, when we went back to Champagne Campaign along the coast of southern France, the battalion said that they want us to write experience during the war that would be beneficial for everybody, to the unit. So I wrote about our ration party who were ambushed and they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t have any weapons.

See, when you go on this ration detail, you go as light as possible. So you don’t take your weapon because, you have enough to carry. So I wrote that ration party should be armed in case of, what you call. And I won and they sent me to Paris for that recommendation.

I don’t think [they followed my recommendation]. Because the weight, you want to minimize weight and if you had a lightweight weapon, it’s all right. But most of us didn’t have that lightweight weapon.

Living Conditions

Litter-bearing, hauling ammunition, they took up only a fraction of the time I served overseas.

Most of the time, since we were antitank, the troops were fighting in the front, we were in the back. We were sitting comfortably in farmhouses having a good time, being in a unit that didn’t have to go up front to dig the Germans out. So most of the time, we were having a good time.

[We were] playing cards, cleaning our equipment, trying to enjoy ourselves as much as we could. So my experience, was mostly pleasant than bad. Ninety percent of the time, I was having it good.

No Tank Warfare

The areas we were involved, there were no such thing as tank warfare. There were tanks around but the tanks in the forest, nothing you can do with a gun. So our guns were never called on to be in position to shoot the tank. Even if we shot it, we wouldn’t do any harm anyway. Our guns were so puny compared to the armor that most of the tanks had.

Our gun, well, it’s clumsy. So it’s not maneuverable. I mean, it has to be set. It’s not mobile. I mean, you need a truck to move it, it’s so heavy. So in hilly and dense forest, the antitank gun is useless. I mean because it’s not maneuverable.

The bazooka is different. The bazooka is shoulder-held. And that’s what the infantrymen had. Because the infantrymen has a bazooka and the tank is only about twenty-five yards away. That’s when they use it. Or fifty yards away.

Soldier holding a bazooka

There was no use for [antitank guns in the rescue of the Lost Battalion]. We were not involved directly in the Lost Battalion.

Lost Battalion

I recently read the story about the Lost Battalion written by Andy Ono. It goes into great detail of what happened. It’s very, very interesting.

But so far as my personal recollection, it’s minimal. All I know is that — because I wasn’t involved directly with the action there — that they were having a bad time trying to rescue the battalion. But in totality, I mean, looking back now, that is considered one of the ten great battles of the U.S. Army, something to be proud of, really quite an accomplishment.

Losses

Of the Triple V boys we lost during the war, none of them did I know intimately.

The only one I feel somewhat close to is Danny Betsui. Dan Betsui. For two reasons, he was in the VVV, of course, and he’s from Kauai, my same island, although different part of the island. I thought his death was very tragic in that he lost his life when they were demonstrating — he was in the engineers like Hichi [Matsumoto]. They were demonstrating how to handle mines and the thing blew up on him, the mine.

But aside from Dan and, of course, my sergeant, I would consider, they were the only two that were killed in action, killed during the war, who I feel close to and I think about that all the time. Like I told you, the three guys that were — they had recently joined us so I never felt real close to them.

Civilians

As we moved north, I observed that the people were less in dire straits than the people down south, you know, Naples area, you see poverty. But up north, they were more well-off.

In France we had very little direct contact with the people other than in the city, like in Nice and surrounding. I found the French to be, well, they weren’t as bad off materially as the Italians. They were not as friendly as the Italians. And I still maintain the French are arrogant. (Chuckles) They won’t accept that America saved them.

Herbert Isonaga and Edwin Shimabukuro
Herbert Isonaga and Edwin Shimabukuro, France

Champagne Campaign

Some units were fortunate enough to be close to the coast and they had a great time, like the 100th.

We were inland. So we weren’t along Monte Carlo, I mean, Monaco, and some other cities around in there. So, our experience was, when we could get leave to go to Nice, which was not too often.

Herbert Isonaga, Nice
Herbert Isonaga, Nice, France

So our unit, being inland, Headquarters 2nd Battalion, we were up in the mountains. We didn’t get too much of the coastline, Cote d’Azur experience.

Gothic Line

During that final push, my personal experience, my unit’s personal experience, was only the first maybe three or four days of the campaign going up Mount Folgorito.

We did litter-bearing up on the side of the hill. After that the action was so fast and furious we were riding our truck, just moving, keeping up with the action.

And before you know it, the war was all over. And then we ended up in the Ghedi area.

Herbert Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert Isonaga, National Archives, and Library of Congress.

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