1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Guns are taken only from the Japanese American soldiers.
Elbert cooks for new draftees.
In October 1942, the 298 th and 299 th Infantry and 395 th Quartermasters form the 370 th Engineer Battalion, which becomes all Japanese American. The men are called “pineapple soldiers” and “Chowhounds.”
Companies A and B attach to the 47 th Engineers.
The men labor in Opaeula. Less plentiful field rations replace garrison rations.
I was transferred to 298th. And then I came back again [to the reception center at Schofield]. By the time, all the cadre gone already so I was in charge. [The cadre] was all haole, came from the Mainland [to run basic training.]
They were very good in giving orders, distinct orders. Right face and left face, all kind of orders. When we go and drill and when we’re all marching, you have to listen to what they say so that we can jointly, all together, everybody, make the same motions. But, yeah, I enjoyed that company.
[After basic training, I went to the kitchen.] I volunteered. They don’t know [I had some background in cooking]. I volunteered. They took me in, that’s all. I don’t want to be guard duty and latrine duty, so I said, maybe I go work in the kitchen ’cause I have the experience.
Good thing that they asked us to do the kitchen [while I was in the 298th Infantry Regiment] and cook for the boys because they have to have some people to provide food for the new draftees. So we were kept behind. Otherwise, then we would have been sent out. So it was a good luck for me. I don’t want to go in the front. I’m a coward. (Chuckles)
100th Infantry Battalion
I didn’t have any choice [about joining the 100th Infantry Battalion]. I had to stay in the kitchen. Other people, who were outside of the cooking business, [were told], yeah, “You go 100th” or the 442nd [Regimental Combat Team]. But mostly volunteers, no? Those who went in there [442nd RCT].
There was one cook in our company, he worked under me, he didn’t like the idea of cooking so he volunteered to go to interpreter [Military Intelligence Service], down to Guadalcanal and all that area. When he came back, he started his own delicatessens. One day, I met him. He looked all right. But you know, in the front, no matter what you do, it’s scary, yeah. You don’t know where the bullets coming from. Kuga, we used to call him Kuga. The guy’s name.
In our outfit [370th Engineers was mostly Japanese American], yeah. Originally, we had some other nationalities, too; by the time we went to Opaeula, [attached to the 47th Engineers], there were other nationalities. But soon after that, as far as I remember, they all were assigned to another place. So in the end it became all Japanese [American] boys.
You know the story behind why we were sent to Opaeula? We were at the reception center and somebody spread a false rumor that all the Japanese in the army and those in the Wahiawa area going to join together and attack the haole. So, you know, when that false rumor spread, they took all of our rifles away, pistols away. I used to get pistol when I go to Downtown, like that, yeah. They took ’em all away. They were afraid.
And that’s why we were assigned to 47th Engineers group. We were 370th Engineers first and then [April 1944] we became 1399th Engineers group.
I don’t feel anything [when they took away my firearm]. I cannot use anyway, not in the kitchen, out in the front maybe I might use. I’m in the kitchen, I cannot. So that doesn’t make any sense. But they let us carry, you know, up to that point. I used to wear that and then go shopping and all that.
Yeah, so we went Opaeula, that was some experience. No more toilet and no more shower place. So what do we do? We got to dig our own hole and make our own toilet. And then no more water so we had to go detail somebody to go and pick up water and come back. And what else? Oh, yeah, shower was outside. It was outside, I think. Cold, ey, up there so a lot of people, I mean, I know the officers, they didn’t take a shower. They stayed like that. But Japanese different. They got to take a shower once a day. So we used to go take a bath.
Cooking at Opaeula
No more gas, no more anything. So wood, firewood. But open air, so no problem. Not in the tent. Not enclosed.
So it was all right. Yeah, then again, I know one of my cooks, see I don’t get up early in the morning, cook. I be in charge. I can go there later. So this cook get up early in the morning, go over there to cook. They dug a trench-like place to put the firewood in, so they can start the fire. The place was full of water. So he had a hard time start. So he had that lard, he throw ’em inside there, the whole thing.
And then he start the fire. That’s how he got it started. And so you got to use your head, what you going to do next.
Elbert Arakawa's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Elbert Arakawa.