1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Military Service: Duties
After coming back from Opaeula, Elbert gives milk and butter to the Caucasian mess in exchange for rice, a local staple. The cooks of his mess prepare rice and Japanese-style side dishes.
As mess sergeant, he is in charge of the battalion mess. The cooks travel with the unit to worksites all over Oahu.
Men of the 370 th Engineer Battalion form the nucleus of the 1399 th Engineer Construction Battalion, activated in April 1944. Elbert’s job stays the same.
They give [the ingredients] to us. They give you the menu, what to cook. We had no choice, whatever they give, we got to use that. No, I don’t make no menu. They provide everything. That’s the good part of it.
[I cooked for] my company. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, three times. But when we went to Opaeula, the men go out to work. They never come back for lunch. We have to send detail cook to bring the lunch to them. So we used to cook like that. That’s quite a responsible job. They say the army run on the stomach, yeah. Without food, they won’t do anything.
The garrison ration was good, the people enjoyed it. And some of them was never fed as well as that. So I see one guy running down and come first in the line and he’s in the middle of the line again, he finished up the portion. And he run back that third time he come. But we had plenty to eat, so no problem.
But when I was taking charge of the battalion mess, [when some of the 370th Engineer Battalion (Special Service) was attached to the 47th Engineer Regiment] this guy, one guy worked hard, big guy, too. I told my cooks, give one person each one drumstick. If we have extra, they can come and help themselves. And this guy came by, the cook gave ’em one drumstick, “No, no. Give me some more. I’m hungry.” And they say, “No. I got orders. I cannot do that.”
The guy got so mad, he come around behind. He want to punch the cook. And I was in the back so I stopped him, “No, you cannot go.” He was going to shove me off and several other boys were there. They all stopped him. So pull him back. Yeah, that’s how he was. I don’t blame him because they worked hard and he’s kind of big, too, so they need more food. But we under, that no longer garrison ration but we were field ration. So, we’re not given too much food, just so much, that’s all. So we have to ration it out, too, and they didn’t like that but what can I do?
They used to serve us a leg of lamb. People don’t like the leg of lamb, that smell is different, strong smell. So I tell ’em, “How we going to serve it?” I don’t have other food to serve, to give them. So, I told the cook, “You remove all the glands that cause smell from the meat and then we make ’em teriyaki steak, slice ’em thin. The steak, the smell and the taste, is so different from just roast leg of lamb. So they don’t know, a lot of them ate, oh, taste good. But [Yoshikazu] Kakimoto, he knew, even though we camouflage it.
He say, “Oh, this is lamb. I cannot eat lamb,” he said. So only one guy, so easy. I get one can of salmon, I say, “Okay, I give you salmon,” yeah.
After we [370th Engineers] came back from Opaeula, back to Schofield, then we went back to cooking all that. Then we figure, chee, the kind of rations they give us not so hot. Milk, butter, the boys don’t use much of those. So I say, “Hey, let’s go to exchange.” So we get on the truck or car and then we went from mess hall to mess hall around the area. They were glad to have butter and milk. So I said, “How about you give us rice then?”
They say, “Yeah, okay, you can have it.” So we took all the rice they have. Our men liked the rice, so we used to cook a lot of rice and then make okazu [side dishes], Japanese-style, yeah. (Chuckles)
It’s the haole mess. We exchanged. It helped a lot. We can make different type of cooking. Shoyu [soy sauce] and we use miso [fermented soybean paste], too, mix. So the men there enjoyed it. [We cooked] Sukiyaki [Japanese beef and vegetable hot pot]. I kind of forgot already. Anyway, I didn’t do the cooking. All my cooks did. (Chuckles) They’re good cooks, that’s why. No worry.
They were cooks already before they joined the army. In the civilian life, they were cooks already. So no problem, they can cook anything that I tell ’em to cook. So I had no problem.
In the beginning, I wasn’t a mess sergeant. The other one, he could hardly speak English and so they chose me. Then later on, other cooks came in, see. I can speak English so I had no problem. Later on, I had other cooks come in.
[The 370th was formed on October 1, 1942. Company A and B were assigned to 47th Engineers.] I know A Company was there. But I think there must have been other companies involved, too, because when we went to Kahuku, we had a battalion mess, four companies now.
Nobody wants to take charge so they told me, “You go take charge.” So that’s when we had the problem with the big guy come and want to lick the cook. Yeah, that’s where battalion mess.
We stayed in Schofield quite a long time. Then our job location was all over the island. So we had to move with them. Eventually, we came back again. I don’t know what happened. I’m not so clear now on that.
We had a truck. As soon we had to move, our truck is there already. So we just load ’em up. Yeah, we went to Kahana. We went to Kahuku. In fact, we went to [Wahiawa.] We went to Haleiwa, too. We were in town for a while. So we went all over the place.
Wahiawa was the coldest place and I noticed that when we were stationed there, I think they could hardly sleep so they come and make fire. I used to have three barrels hot water and they used to wash mess kit in there after a meal. They used to come early in the morning, everybody, warming up.
[The 370th were called “pineapple soldiers.”] They get all kind of names. We were the “pineapple soldiers” because we were all around the pineapple, yeah. (Chuckles) But I don’t know why they call it. Then later on they call ’em “Chowhound.”
They like to eat. In the beginning, they used to rush, come down. You know, in the army, they have a bugle, eh? In the morning reveille, okay, go. Then chow time, another bugle, he say, “Doggie, doggie. Come get your chow,” kind of sound. And then on the nighttime, taps, yeah. So we always had this bugle, yeah, telling us what’s going on. After a while, they don’t rush so much.
442nd RCT and the MIS
They were asking [for volunteers] at the time when we get through training. But right away they told me to go 298th so I was out. A few of the boys went, though, I know. Let me see now. I don’t know when they volunteered. This guy, Fred Okada. He was with our company. I remember he was at Opaeula, too. Then later on, he joined the 442nd.
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
[The 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion was formed in April 1944. No changes], was same, I’m out in the kitchen.
The name changed. But as far as my job, is the same.
I didn’t play sports. But I was taking a correspondence course. I know I was taking some course and then studying because nothing else to do. Of course, we had our friends who would play sometimes cards, yeah. Other than that, nothing much.
On the way shopping, I drop by my house. I take the army car and I used to go Downtown to buy different things, that’s when I stopped by my parents’ place. So, I had chance to come around.
Elbert Arakawa's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History.