Herbert Isonaga

Military Service

Herbert spends twenty-eight days in a convoy to Oran, North Africa. Reading and sports occupy the troops. Gambling is not as prevalent as it was on the Lurline.

At Civitavecchia, Italy, the 100th becomes a part of the 442nd, but retains its designation as the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).

Herbert notices wartime conditions among Italian civilians. Their desperate need for food and clothing shocks him.

Convoy Overseas

My friend, Bill Thompson, spent twenty-eight days — it took us twenty-eight days on the ship from Virginia to Oran, North Africa — he was in bed twenty-eight days. He was seasick.

U.S. destroyer and aircraft carrier off North Africa

But for most of us who didn’t suffer from seasickness, our main concern was when we going to be fed. We were fed only two meals a day aboard ship. They said the word got around that if you went to serve at KP [kitchen police], you can eat as much as you want. Everybody wants to go KP. (Laughs)

But for those of us who didn’t get seasick, we were most concerned about food because for all this time, two meals a day: one heavy meal and the second meal was really not a meal. It was a half a meal.

I don’t know what they fed us but all I can say, it wasn’t enough. I think we got fed the staple military food. Lot of canned stuff, very little fresh food.

I didn’t [volunteer for KP]. I had two stripes at that time. So if you have two stripes, you don’t go on KP.

There was some gambling but minimal. No more money. You see, when the boys went on the Lurline they were flush with money because you know how Japanese are. When you go, they give you an envelope, yeah. And that’s the kind of money that was floating. I didn’t have any money. You know, going-away money. But the people from the plantation camps, they got all this going-away envelopes. Yeah, I didn’t live in a camp so I didn’t carry envelopes.

And of course, a lot of the guys came off the defense work, you know, so they had money.

It wasn’t like the trip on the Lurline to San Francisco, where everybody was loaded with money and gambling was rampant.

We had a lot of paperback books, which — when we got onboard, the Red Cross gave us a little packet. In each packet, there was pocket. So those books were circulated. We had circulated. We had sports events like boxing to keep the troops occupied.

100th Battalion

[In June 1944, in Civitavecchia, Italy, the 100th Battalion becomes part of the 442nd RCT.] Between battalions, there’s no contact at all. Actually, within the battalion and the rifle companies, being headquarters though, the rifle company, minimal contact. So all we know that shortly after they joined us, the 100th had a very successful occasion where they captured many Germans and equipment out there — I forgot what the name of that — and for that they got their unit citation, I think. Heard about that incident.

But, between units within the regiment, there’s hardly any contact. Even on the front line, you know that the 100th is supposed to be on the left of you and you in the center and the other unit on the other. But there’s no, so far as any physical contact, hardly any, hardly any.

Italian Civilians

The Italians we were exposed to initially were little kids that used to come to our, not mess hall, but feeding area, waiting to be hand out of our leftovers.

Italian civilians wait for food scraps
Italian civilians wait for food scraps

Then in combat, your exposure to the Italians was farmers. So when we saw them, we were looking for food like eggs, chicken. They had a lot of onions. But that was our contact with the Italians. Of course, we used to ask ’em, “Where are the Germans?” They would tell us, “Oh, they left long time ago.”

When you got into a rest area, the first major town we were in, I guess, was Naples. To see the people so desperate for food and clothing was quite shocking. But I don’t think we had too much sympathy for them because they were part of the Axis group at that time, shortly before we got there.

But we appreciated the fact that they welcomed us and treated us very nicely. And trying to get food, I can remember the only kind of food they could serve us was spaghetti with plain tomato sauce, no meat in it. But they were in desperate condition, what you saw in those old films about Italy, during the war.

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

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