1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Military Service: Activities
The 370th/1399th Engineers are called “Chowhounds” and “Pineapple Soldiers.”
In 1942, the Varsity Victory Volunteers is attached to the 34th Combat Engineer Regiment at Schofield Barracks. Toshiyuki plays for the VVV basketball team.
The following year, the 370th Engineer Regiment has its own basketball team.
Toshiyuki plays basketball, baseball and softball.
On weekend passes, he stays with friends in Honolulu or in Wahiawa.
I don’t know [how our unit got the nickname “Chowhounds”] exactly, but I think that name came to us because — you see all the time when we were in Schofield, the rice was distributed to all the troops together with potatoes and whatever. And you know us local guys rather than potato we all go for rice.
Our sergeant used to go around and exchange with the other troops, exchange potato and onions for rice. And then they said we eat rice just like that’s the last time you’re eating a dinner or something, ’cause we just wanted to eat rice. You know when we were first in, we didn’t have rice. They only served potato, carbohydrates, that’s the only thing they serve. So I think that’s where the name came from.
And we had this guy — Shiro Matsuo. He was one of the sergeants in the mess hall and he went around go exchange and he became famous for that in the group because he went around and collected the rice from all of the mess sergeants in Schofield and give ’em whatever they wanted in exchange. Shiro Matsuo still operates his saimin stand [Shiro’s Saimin Haven & Family Restaurant].
I don’t know where [the nickname “pineapple soldiers”] came from. But I think that was even when the local guys were in the outfit, too. I don’t know. I guess that has something to do with our mess sergeant also exchanging everything else for pineapples. I think pineapple and rice was what our mess sergeant wanted. They would give onions and potatoes and everything else in exchange for it but I don’t know if that’s where it came from.
I played quite a number of sports, intramural sports. But it was good for me because when I went to Teachers College, my intent was to be a teacher and then become a coach, too. So I wanted to be involved in as many sports as possible.
My first year in Schofield, the Triple V [Varsity Victory Volunteers] was formed [in February 1942] and Ralph Yempuku and Tom Kaulukukui were in charge of that group. Since I knew Tommy and Ralph well at the university when they had basketball team or whatever, Tommy would ask me to go because we were in the same area [in Schofield]. So I used to play for VVV [Varsity Victory Volunteers] basketball.
But the rest of the GIs around me said, “How come you playing for them basketball?” I said, “Oh I knew a lot of guys in VVV. I know Tommy, and I know Ralph Yempuku because I used to play in school intramurals.”
Claude Takekawa and I also played doubles volleyball. We played in the TC [Teachers College] basketball team as well as doubles basketball because Claude was in TC too, at that time.
They played at Conroy [Bowl in Schofield]. They had that big enclosed big stadium inside. I think a theatre, and gym and then the bowl. We used to go play outside, I think they went to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field to play against other teams.
That time [the 370th] didn’t have a team until later on, we had. But by then, the VVV had dispersed already, [many of the men] they went to the 442nd.
1399th Headquarters. Barney Sato, unidentified soldier and Toshiyuki Nakasone examine an awards display.
Schofield had the league and then they used to compete against Hickam Field and Wheeler Field. A lot of military bases. But we were small in stature because we didn’t have any six-footers like the others; others had six-footers. I think the tallest guy we had was maybe about 5'8" or 5'9", about my size. [Michael] “Bozo” Ikehara played.
In the service I only played basketball and baseball and softball.
[The barracks in Schofield] wasn’t so bad because we all had folding bunks.
It was pretty good because I was in one room by myself because I was sergeant, first sergeant. But the rest of them had beds all aligned and then we had a nice big bathroom and shower room and it was a two-story building, first floor and second floor.
We had about all of the companies, A, B and C. All lined up. So in the morning when we had our checkup, everybody came out. But it was very decent.
We were well-equipped with shoes, our clothes and our laundry taken care of. Only thing we needed to do is make the bed every day.
The only time that we dress formally with our regular khaki uniform was when we had a special event, but most of the time it was in our work clothes, you know. I think it was green. Fatigues. And we had big boots.
And then we were able to provide them with clean sheets every week and clean uniforms every week ’cause we used to take ’em to the laundry, the big GI laundry.
We were able to have a weekend pass to go to town. To go to Wahiawa or go to [Honolulu] town. We can go maybe Friday evening or Saturday morning and come back Sunday evening.
We used to go to Barney Sato’s house because Barney Sato used to have a big house [on Piikoi Street]. You know, his parents used to own Sato Clothier.
I had my next-door neighbor in Lahaina, Nagasako. They moved from Lahaina to Oahu and I used to go over and stay with them some weekends. But most of the time I was with Barney Sato.
And because I had the supply equipment I used to take the jeep on a weekend. We just took the jeep and came home in the jeep. But when we were in Honolulu, visiting, the Satos had a regular car.
And of course gasoline was very cheap. I don’t know, eight cents, nine cents, ten cents a gallon (chuckles).
[It was quite a drive from Wahiawa to Honolulu] because no freeway, so was only Kam[ehameha] Highway and Farrington Highway. I think Farrington Highway went around the island on the Waianae side and Kamehameha [Highway] went all the way up through Wahiawa.
We had to take our uniform [when we went to town] and we also had to take our — was it gas mask? We had to carry it around everywhere we went. And of course we had curfew too, yeah. I don’t know when that curfew was rescinded.
Toshiyuki Nakasone's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Toshiyuki Nakasone.