1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Military Service: Assignments
With no experience in carpentry or engineering, Toshiyuki operates a rock crusher. His task is to break up a boulder into rocks.
He is promoted to assistant supply sergeant. His duty is to take care of equipment, clothing, and other items needed to outfit the men.
The 370th Engineer Regiment is re-designated 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion in April 1944. The 370th/1399th Engineers are responsible for vital construction projects on Oahu.
[Operating the rock crusher] was my first experience. They had a rock crusher way up by Kolekole Pass and they needed rocks to take to fix the roads or whatever construction job that they needed. So our job was the big rock.
Our job was to not chop it down completely but chop quite a bit of it down so that they can go to some kind of a machine that will crumble it further. But our job was to get the big ones. Our job was to maybe take about four or five rocks and then go into this crushing machine because they weren’t able to take the whole big boulders.
I remember we did have some people [in the 1st Battalion of the 370th Engineers (Special Services) Regiment] who had either a major in engineering or in carpentry or whatever. So those were the ones that would be able to do the carpentry work or the engineering planning. Because guys like me, I don’t know anything about those things. Chopping a boulder, that we can do, but I remember doing some carpentry during the beginning.
But after I got promoted, I [was] in the supply room and then in the office as a first sergeant, I didn’t do any of those things. But I knew that they went to the various areas where the job was required.
370th and 1399th Engineers
We had A, B and C Companies. We [as 370th Engineers, later 1399th Engineers] were assigned various construction projects all over the place. We had some people in the outfit that were trained as engineers and so forth and some who were outstanding in carpentry and so forth. Some of us used to work in a rock crusher to crush rocks.
Then finally, we were asked to build Dillingham Airfield, Kipapa Airfield, even Kahuku Airfield.
Then we built jungle training facilities to give the other regular soldiers a chance to practice jungle training before they went to overseas. So we went to Kahana Valley and up to Pupukea Hills and then we also built tunnels in the Kipapa Valley, magazine tunnels where they put in all of the ammunition for safekeeping.
In Kahana, you go out up the valleys, it's all jungle land. We built all kinds of wooden structures all over the place. The GIs would go over there and bang, bang, bang, and bomb and everything then we’d go back and rebuild. We did that for quite a while in Kahana Valley and up in Pupukea.
Pupukea, we went up there to build roads. I don’t know whether we were able to build a road from Pupukea to Kahuku but we built roads all over the place.
Kahana Bay, we lived there for a while but every place else from Schofield we went. But I was a supply sergeant and a first sergeant so I didn’t go to these places, but I know that the members of our company were deployed here and there all over the island.
[My duties were to] take care of whatever needs that the company people needed, like we took care of the equipment, the clothing, the laundry and all kinds of stuff that applied to outfitting you as an individual.
Supply Sergeant Toshiyuki Nakasone (second from right) hanging out in front of supply room with other 1399th soldiers.
Since we were not armed, we didn’t have to worry about guns and ammunition and stuff like that. So we only did something to take care of your equipment, and your clothing, and bedding, and stuff like that.
We were responsible to take all of your sheets and everything to send them to the laundry together with your clothes, send them to the laundry, go pick them up and then distribute it to you.
That was my duty as an assistant supply sergeant. After I got promoted and became first sergeant, then I had other responsibilities where I would send people all over the place. My job was to see that whenever I got the request, they need so many people to this area, they need so many people for this. That was my responsibility.
[Orders came] from the 34th [Combat] Engineers, the colonel. The orders came to us. [I was supply sergeant for C Company.]
I think [the companies] were the same. But Headquarters Company, they were more responsible for maintaining the equipment. They were in charge of all the trucks, the jeeps and whatever equipment that the companies need they would provide them with the transportation needs. So they can go and do their job.
After a year-and-a-half or two years, all of the cadre that was assigned to us, they were relieved of responsibilities. So we, the local guys, we assumed the responsibilities.
I was the first sergeant and all of my other staff sergeants and so forth we’re all local guys already. Because the regular cadre, I don’t know where they went. We had a few at the headquarters, 34th [Combat] Engineers headquarters, they still had a few. But most of the others, were all the local guys that assumed the responsibilities.
[The 34th Engineers] was at one time mostly Mainland boys.
When we first started to play basketball, we used to mix with the regular cadre people whomever was still available. But after they left, only the local guys were there.
[We played sports against some of these Mainland teams.] No problem. Because I guess they knew that we were assigned as engineers to the engineer battalion and we were assigned to do construction work here and there. We played against the other soldiers that were stationed in Schofield and our regiment, the 34th Engineers, were just one section. They had all kinds of other regiments in Schofield.
[We got along with the cadre guys.] Was so funny because I remember in the beginning, early morning roundup the cadre would read the names of the GIs. At that time we were all already only Japanese, see. And they take to one guy by the name of Koki, K-O-K-I. And he says, “Private Cockeye.” Nobody answered. He says, “Private Cockeye, where the hell are you?” Nobody answered. He says, “Darn it Private K-O-K-I.” That’s when he said, “Oh I’m here sir.” That made me laugh inside, but of course we didn’t laugh.
My name, he was able to pronounce. He didn’t pronounce my first name, only my last name. When the war broke out, a lot of my classmates and a lot of my friends, they only had Japanese first name and Japanese last name. They added a haole name, so they became Robert so-and-so and David so-and-so and Allan so-and-so and so forth.
And me, I told those guys, “My dad gave me that name, I’m not going to change ’em.” I said, “My brother’s name is Masa-yuki. My name is Toshi-yuki, my kid brother’s name is Nobu-yuki and none of us going to be changing our names.” But everybody else changed, you know.
I don’t know whether you know Mike Tokunaga or not. He and I were classmates at Lahainaluna and we played basketball and stuff together and he was very active in school activities, too. His name was Nobuo Tokunaga. But he changed, it became Mike Tokunaga. He came very active with the Democratic Party [after World War II] and he was active with [Governors George] Ariyoshi and [John] Waihee. [And Governor John Burns.]
Taneji “Tarball” Kumashiro
I was assistant supply sergeant and my sergeant was [Taneji] Kumashiro. We used to call him Tarball Kumashiro. And he was about two or three years older than I was and he was in the 370th. I think he was in the service even before we came in. He must have been drafted earlier, before the war.
Then when he was supply sergeant and I was his assistant, he told me, “I’m going to leave, but I want you to stay.” I look at him, I said, “What are you talking about?”
I think they used his picture when they started to recruit among the GIs in Schofield. And so he thought that he had to go because his picture came out as a recruiting picture. So he told me, “You stay, because somebody with experience got to run the company supply.” So I look at him as if to say you’re telling me not to go [and volunteer for the 442nd] and you want me to stay?
So I stayed and he went [to the 442nd].
I thought about [volunteering for the 442nd], but you know, like me, I listen to my boss, “You stay, they need you here, you stay.” Because if I go and he goes, who’s going to run the show over here? Something to that effect.
I don’t recall anybody saying, [“How come you’re not over there fighting in Europe?”]. But even when I went back to school, some of my friends — they knew that I already was in the service and they weren’t in the service yet, so.
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
I don’t know when [the 370th was re-designated as the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion] but I know it happened sometime in [April] 1944.
I don’t know [what was different], only change in name. The 370th Engineers I guess was disbanded and the 1399th Engineers — maybe they had more companies, too. The 370th Engineers was a small group in the beginning.
I think our responsibility of building Dillingham Field and Kahuku Airfield and Kipapa Airfield and digging the tunnels, and magazine tunnels. I think those were all, as far as I know, the major jobs that we did.
Toshiyuki Nakasone's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Toshiyuki Nakasone.