100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)
First Experience of War
In August 1943 the men sail for Algeria. From Oran they go by boat and disembark in Salerno, Italy.
At Benevento, in the night, Takashi encounters enemy fire. A day or so later, German shells hit the company as they walk on both sides of a dirt road.
Inexperienced in combat, witnessing others injured or killed for the first time, the soldiers just keep on going.
Among the casualties is baseball player Joe Takata, killed in action on September 29, 1943.
[We were sent overseas in August 1943 to] Algeria. Oran was the seaport. We stayed there, I don’t know how long, maybe few weeks.
Then after that we went by boat to Salerno, [Italy]. That was some experience, too.
We went to Salerno and to disembark we had to go down the net that was installed on the side of the boat. Each soldier would go down the net into small boats. The boat would go around and round. I don’t know what the reason was, but I guess that’s for security.
Then we would go to the shore. We would have to jump in water that was, in some places, almost up to your neck, depending on where you land, because each boat would land at different places. We went to shore.
Luckily, the enemy had retreated, by that time, several miles into the interior, when we went there. Initial contact with the enemy was made by some other group. There was very little action when we landed.
[After we landed at Salerno] we walked. We walked the whole of Italy. But to start with, we went to several cities, towns and I don’t remember what. But one of the ones that stands out is Benevento, where at night — they were shelling that area — that was my first contact with enemy fire.
In plain language, we were scared shitless. There is no question about it. We were up on a hill and we dispersed when the shells came. We fell on the side of the hill and had to stay in. It was wet. It had been raining for weeks prior to that time.
We were all caught by surprise, so to speak, because it was at night. We all dispersed at night. We didn’t know what was happening. These artillery and mortar shells coming down, we were completely defenseless. We didn’t know where it was coming from.
But luckily the next morning, we could see things and that helped the situation. Luckily, there was no casualty, at least not in our company, at that time.
One guy lost his helmet, when he fell down. He couldn’t find it. He didn’t want to get going without his helmet. He had to find his helmet. But we finally convinced him that, hell, there’s no damn use. We can’t hold back the whole company because he lost his helmet. And we kept on going. (Chuckles) There’s some humor sometimes in the army.
It was a day or so after that that we engaged the enemy. That was during the day, in the morning. We were on the road. The company was split in two groups, walking on a dirt road. The shells came in. This was the first time that I saw the shell hit people in my company. There was one person, he died there.
The night before it was torrential rain. The water was coming on the side of the road. Of course, we trained enough that when the shells come, you’re supposed to hit the side of the road and that’s exactly what we did.
We were the lead company and by “lead company” that’s the first company that goes into enemy territory. I remember — Jack Mizuha, he is a friend. He was a classmate of mine at the university. He was a captain. It was just the next day when the shelling kept on going.
This is when we had our first casualty, right next, just a few feet away, and Jack was with me. Why? Because he was the captain of the heavy weapons company and they had to be with the lead company, which we were in, to observe what was happening so that he could convey the message [back] to his group.
I said, “Jack,” I call him Jack, “Hey Jack! Let’s get out of here.” He said, “No, no, no.” He called me “Kit.” The boys used to call me “Kit.” “Just stay here. They’re not gonna shell the same place, so it’s safer if you stay.” And we did stay there for ten, fifteen minutes. I think maybe that was the wisest thing we could have done. Then we went on.
Among those [first casualties] was well-known [baseball player] Joe Takata [who was killed in action, September 29, 1943].
Reaction to Casualties
This is war, this is war. You talk about fighting when you’re back in training but this is the real thing. This is where you see people dying. This is where you see people getting hurt. We were dumbfounded. We just had to just keep on going, that’s all. Not having had any experience in prior combat, you can imagine how we felt.
We keep on going, that’s all.
Takashi Kitaoka's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Takashi Kitaoka.