Herbert Isonaga

Military Training

At Camp Shelby, Herbert is assigned to the antitank platoon of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion.

His training includes: marching, hiking, and trench-digging – done over and over again. He finds this cycle of tasks boring but knows that repetition is the essence of military regimen.

After several months of training the order to go to combat is met with relief and great anticipation.

Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion

[At Camp Shelby] I was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion.

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Initially, our duties was to train. And as the training program progressed, they began to assign you to different functions within the company.

I was assigned to the antitank platoon of Headquarters, 2nd [Battalion]. Each battalion headquarters had an antitank platoon. And of course, the regiment had Antitank Company.

But in essence, what had happened in combat was antitank guns in Italy and in northern France, I mean, in France, tank warfare was minimal. So the antitank units within the regiment had no real function as antitank. See each platoon, antitank platoon, has three antitank guns.

Herbert Isonaga with antitank gun
Herbert Isonaga, Camp Shelby

I swear that my gun was the only gun that actually fired at an enemy tank. However, I talked to Masato Doi, he was in Antitank Company, he said they fired so, (chuckles). But it was minimal, the use of antitank guns was minimal.

We were assigned duties, primarily litter-bearing when casualties were high. When the war was intense like in Hill 140, we had to haul ammunition, water, and food to the troops on the front line. So most of our duties was just like we were pack animals (chuckles), hauling things up to the troops and hauling the wounded back.

[We hauled things] on our backs. The jeep will bring it up as far as possible, where the jeep, motor vehicle, accessible to the front line. So from that point, climb up the hill or down valleys where there’s no roadways available, we packed on our back. Although in certain areas, as I told you, we have this ammunition and pioneering platoon which did most of the hauling of ammunition to the troops up front. At times they had packed mules, packed animals available to them, very rare occasions, very rare occasions. Most of the time we have to haul it on our backs.

Training at Camp Shelby

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Training was a monotonous cycle of doing repetitious marching, hiking, listening to lectures, digging trenches and very boring, very taxing, monotonous. So when we were told that we were going to move out to go combat, it was a great relief.

Training is hell, you know. Combat is hell, too. But at least combat is — you’re not going through the motions for the heck of it, you’re accomplishing something.

Training, you don’t seem to feel, you don’t feel that you’re accomplishing something. You just doing the same old thing and listening to, berated by the sergeants. But of course, that’s the philosophy of the military. They want to beat you down so that everything becomes automatic, so that you don’t have to think and you do it. Repetition is the essence of military training.

I don’t think I had any feeling of regret [for having volunteered]. And I don’t think my friends had any feeling of regret.

Herbert Isonaga, Camp Shelby
Herbert Isonaga, Camp Shelby

It was more a sense of frustration that training seemed to be monotonous and wearing. In combat, I don’t think that anybody complained. I have no knowledge of anybody complaining. You say that, oh, things are getting rough over here and all of that but you don’t get the feeling that you wasting your time. Whereas training, you have the feeling that, gee, this all a bunch of baloney, you know.

Relations with Officers

Most of our relationships was not with our officers. It was mostly with the top-ranking sergeant. You get to have a feeling that, you know, these guys are really not as smart as you are.

And how come they telling you what to do. But that’s that kind of frustration you have in training. Of course, you learn to accept it but, you know. Most of us never made it an issue that we were being trained by people whom we really didn’t think too highly of, maybe, but that’s the way it is.


While in training, we tried to get together. I recall one gathering, we tried to get the boys together and went out to dinner. But there was not much opportunity, once we were assigned to all these different units, to really get together. So the identity of the VVV was completely lost.

Herbert Isonaga and Edwin Shimabukuro, Camp Shelby
Herbert Isonaga and Edwin Shimabukuro, Camp Shelby

Like in my unit, there were, I would say, five or six of us who were in the Triple V. But even then, because we were assigned to different units within the company, the relationship broke down. We had our own problems, separate problems.

I don’t think [the VVV] had any bearing so far as making us better soldiers. The VVV members had two years of ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps], at least, or one or two years. So that was a help for training, in training.

At least we could do the basic, we knew the basics, how to march, how to turn, how to go back, in that regard. So a lot of the Triple V boys who were in senior ROTC, two years was mandatory. Then if you were desired, or if you qualified, you could go into the senior ROTC. Now those who entered into the senior ROTC, they had the kind of training that qualified them to become officers, you know. Many of them became officers.

I know that in my company, a VVV member became first sergeant. So. If you examine the kind of ranks, my friends in the VVV who came out, a lot of them came out as mere privates. But it’s one of those situations where being in the right place at the right time.

I became a sergeant because my sergeant was killed in action. But that’s the way it is. So people who went into the field artillery units, where casualty was minimum, the chances of, you cannot move up because the guys up here don’t move, they’re there. But in the rifle companies, people get wounded, they go to the hospital. You have a lot of turnover to get you up in the ranks.

Race Relations

I lived on the Mainland several years. I wouldn’t say that I was really conscious of the black problem, in terms of race relations because up in the Northwest, you don’t have that many black people. So but, for example, people were shocked at the separate restroom, sitting on the bus, the blacks sitting in the back.

So far as I’m concerned, I looked at it as the way it was. I didn’t feel that I was going to be a reformer and all that. We had minimal contact with the blacks because we live in camp and we hardly went out into the towns to mingle. Most of our leave was in New Orleans. When we went down there on leave, hardly any contact with the blacks. So that, we’re really not exposed to [much], aside from the visible signs of segregation.

We’ve read about New Orleans, all the good food and exciting place. So after I read about Hurricane Katrina, really felt for the city. And of course, we spent one holiday there. Christmas in New Orleans.

I didn’t have any strong feelings that the situation was abnormal or considered a change is necessary, at that time anyway. We were too busy trying to stay alive and to get ready to fight a war to be thinking about those things. I don’t know. I got to review some of my old letters and see if I expressed any kind of feeling.

People talk about Hattiesburg, I can’t remember. All I know is I went to Hattiesburg, for example, for the dinner the VVV had. But I never did go to Hattiesburg to be in Hattiesburg. There was a USO [United Service Organizations] for VVV in Hattiesburg. I don’t know where it was. I never was in there. So I never did go to Hattiesburg to visit, to walk around town.

Living Conditions at Camp Shelby

It was terrible, looking back. It was very primitive.

Each hut was a wooden barracks with two stoves on each end of the barracks. To keep warm, they had coal, they were coal-burning. So on a winter night, you pile the coal in there and try to keep warm. But you never felt warm.

The mess hall was primitive. I am surprised that the cooks were able to dish out the meals they did with the kind of equipment and facility they had. Very, very primitive. Pretty much like what you found at the relocation camp.

The type of facility we had was the same kind of facility that people at the relocation camps have.

The Tsukiyama Family

I used to write to my parents. I think I used to write to Ted Tsukiyama.

I used to write to Ted’s mother, parents. And Ted’s parents kept my letters. Ted recently sent me all those letters. But those are the only letters that I have. I mean, wartime letters that I wrote. The letters I wrote to my parents, they’re gone. They never kept any of it. I could communicate with Ted’s parents because I didn’t have to write in Japanese. They understood English very well. And they wrote in English.

Herbert Isonaga and the Tsukiyamas
Ted Tsukiyama, Yoshiko Tsukiyama, and Herbert Isonaga

During the Triple V days, Ted used to invite us to his home to stay there on weekends. And his parents used to take good care of us, yeah. Then during periods when I had no place to stay, I used to stay with Ted’s parents. So I was very — I felt very close to Ted’s parents.

Thoughts on Going to Combat

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I’m trying to recollect today how we felt. I know that a day before going to combat, that my battalion had a big gathering.

And our colonel got up and told us how important it was, that we were going to battle very shortly and that he expected all of us to perform. And he didn’t want to see any cowardly action on our part, which turned me off.

And I insist he said that, “If any of you run away from combat, you will be shot.” I recalled him making the statement. I asked others, “Do you recall that?” They said, “No.” So I don’t know if it’s true.

But I think the true reaction prior to going to battle, actual battle, was one of great anticipation. I mean, something that you’ve been trained for this for one year, at least. And now, let’s get on with it.

[Hearing about the 100th] and how well they were doing, I’m sure that was a motivating thought. That, “If they can do it, we can do it, too.” Yeah.

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

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