Herbert Isonaga


Late June 1944, the 442nd is ordered to take Sassetta, Belvedere, and Castagneto.

While moving along a road, Herbert’s antitank platoon encounters German shelling. Following orders, they move their truck to the side and seek cover. The eight men disperse and distance themselves from the ammo-laden truck. Fifty yards from the vehicle, an artillery burst occurs; Herbert goes over and finds three of the men killed.

This is his first experience of war.

First Experience in Combat

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My first experience in combat was the first day of battle.

Nobody knew what was going on. We were instructed to move along this roadway and all of a sudden, all hell broke loose. Shelling by the Germans. Because at that time, we didn’t know, realize it, but what we’re doing was we were going along a road and it was well exposed, the Germans had a clear vision of us moving along this roadway.

So antitank, we have a truck and a gun. So when the shelling began, the vehicles were instructed to get off the road and take cover someplace along. So we move our truck and move on the side. And we were on the truck and we said, “Hey, let’s spread out. Let’s not be all on the truck” because there were eight of us. So we dispersed ourselves.

Some went one way, we all went — see, we stayed away from the truck because the truck had ammunition and if it was fired on, it’d blow everybody. Well, shortly after we decided to disperse, there was a burst, artillery burst, about fifty yards away from where the truck was. And we knew that three guys went in that direction. So, we went over there, two of us went over there to see whether those three guys were all right.

Well, when we got there, the three of them were blown up, all dead. That’s my first experience.

It was very hard for us to accept that three of the guys were blown up. But the three guys that were killed — all three of them together now — they came to us recently.

You see, when we left Camp Shelby, we went overseas with two battalions because we’re going there and 100th went. We had a 1st Battalion. The 1st Battalion was broken up and much of the 1st Battalion boys were sent to different units to be fillers because we went overseas as extra strength.

So these three guys came to us from the 1st Battalion so we didn’t know them that well. So, in that sense, it kind of took away the feeling because we didn’t know them too well. But on the other hand, it was so tragic, you know, three of them.

After the debacle, I call the first day, because nobody know what was going on and it was really a disaster, we went into rest area, which was a relief. And from there, moving on to the next situation, you seem to forget the problem because you got new problems.

Third Day of Combat

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That’s the day when we fired our gun for the first time. Well, okay, the battalion was in a wooded area and we were being assembled, preparing for the next assignment. And then someone said they saw a tank in the valley. And our lieutenant says, “Okay, you guys bring your guns down the road, get into position and look for the tank.” And we saw the tank. That was my gun and I was the guy who, two-striper, you shoot the gun.

Anyway, we set it up and this tank was over a mile away and it wasn’t a big German Mach4 tank. It was kind of a small little tank. Anyway, we saw it, so we fired this gun like a dang fool.

And once we fired that gun, all hell broke lose because the enemy spotted our flash and they fired back. And the guy that caught hell was the rest of the unit, in the wooded area, being assembled. So we caught hell from the guys. They said, “Goddamn, how come you guys draw,” we drew fire, enemy fire, by firing a gun.

So that’s the point where I maintained that we were the only one who fired the gun, antitank gun, during the war. But like I said, somebody else said, no, they fired their gun, too. Maybe the gun, the antitank gun was just fired twice during World War, during the 442nd experience.

I thought it was such a stupid thing to do, firing at a tank a mile or so away, knowing that the possibility of hitting the tank was minimal. But here’s this lieutenant, he wants you to do it. So we did it.

Herbert Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert Isonaga.

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