Military Intelligence Service
Military Training: 442nd RCT
The cold, the chiggers, and the snakes make life in Camp Shelby, Mississippi hellish for Dick.
He is assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion. His basic training includes twenty-five-mile-forced marches.
During his free time, he goes into Hattiesburg where, for the first time, he witnesses racial prejudice against African Americans.
Camp Shelby, Mississippi
[Camp] Shelby was a hellhole. Mississippi. It was a terrible place. Not that I want to criticize, but I think we were sent to the worst state in the union. But home is home and you have to adapt. That’s the thing. When we got there our barracks was nothing like you would find in the military. It was just single-wall [construction], wooden bungalows, and it was not made for heating system within, other than a pot[-bellied stove, that] we’d feed charcoal.
With that heat, the only people that would benefit is the one that’s around it. We had two [stoves] like that, one on each end. The people in the middle didn’t benefit from the heat. And it was cold, it was cold.
Over in Mississippi we had two blankets, a comforter, overcoat. When we went to sleep it was so cold. I was never able to adjust to the cold. But you know what, when we went out for bivouac and camping out in the field, we’d have four to six of us share one [tent]. What we’d do is we’d have one cover on the top, the roofing, and we’d put a layer of that tent covering on the ground, put leaves and throw another [tent covering] on top and make it like our mattress. And five of us slept. You see, the center people gained warmer heat because they are surrounded, right? So what we’d do, every hour this guy would move in and this guy would go on the outside. Now he’s cold. And we used to do that. You couldn’t sleep because you were so cold. When you thought you were sleeping, then you had to move already, change position. We did that just to try to keep warm.
In Mississippi we used to keep our helmet half[-full] with water for when we’d get up in the morning we’d brush our teeth and wash our face. The thing is solid frozen. I’ll tell you, it was terrible. You couldn’t even wash your face or brush your teeth with frozen water. (Chuckles)
We were afraid to sit on the grass because of chiggers. Have you heard of chiggers? They are minute red bugs that would infiltrate your pores and they bite and it itches. And the more you scratch, it will inflame and cover the pores with the chigger inside and it was terrible. It was itchy, itchy, itchy, and it would get inflamed. I don’t think anybody appreciated that situation. People were even getting bit in their private area.
Not to mention, snakes. We’d dig a hole, and you find snakes crawling from their holes. One of the worst snake, if you get bit, you get instant death. It’s that coral snake. It was red, orange, and white, and they’re small. They’re no bigger than this pen. Smaller than this, but their bite is deadly. And I was afraid. I look at a non-poison snake and I’d still be afraid of touching it because we’re not used to it.
When you’re [outdoors] it’s something you have to do. You can’t just stand, you have to crawl on the grass, creep, and you get chiggers on you and the only way to get rid of the chiggers is to take a hot bath. Once you soak yourself, it’ll kill the chiggers. Chiggers and snakes we had, much, much, too much.
The chow was great. I couldn’t complain about eating. I think we had more than enough to eat. It was in Mississippi when I first tasted grapefruit. I thought it was a big orange. I really enjoyed it. But food was ample.
They used to feed us a lot of mashed potato and the Hawaii kids all like rice. But we had a cook, in fact, he was with us in the OSS [Office of Strategic Services], Shoichi Kurahashi. He used to prepare rice above the menu of potato, and we really enjoyed that.
I was in Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion.
Joining the 442nd, we knew where we’re going to end up if we belong to that organization. During my basic training we did a lot. My company commander was about six feet six [inches], and he led the group on marches, and I’m speaking of forced marches, twenty-five miles. Being a squad leader I was right next to him in the front. And I was just barely five-feet seven. He’d walk one big stride and I’d have to take two strides to keep up with him and he says, “Come on Dick, let’s go. Let’s keep up.” I was struggling, but I guess if you make up your mind to keep up and sustain yourself, you’d be able to do it and that’s what we did. As the Nihonjin would say. “Gambare [persevere].”
When we had time we’d go on leave and we’d go visiting. I remember going with my friend to Hattiesburg. His name is Toshio Higa. He tells me, “Dick, tonight you’re going to have to take care of me.” I said, “Why?” “I’m going to suck ’em up.” And he did. He almost reached the point of passing out, but when we got out of the bus he’d fall asleep and I had to wake him up and make sure that he goes to his own barracks and sleep.
[Hattiesburg] was just a small town. People never bothered us. When we go, we go visiting and eating. But the prejudices were great. I noticed colored people weren’t allowed to enter certain restaurants. When they rode the bus they had to sit in the back. When they walked down the street they’d get off the road to let the white people pass. It’s kind of odd because you never had that in Hawaii and this prejudice is a terrible thing, but the black people went through life under great strain. And as I saw that, I felt kind of pitiful.
Once my friend and I went to eat at a hamburger stand. The outlet where they serve was at the window at the sidewalk. So you buy and then you eat. And when we were eating, a colored guy came over and talked to us. He says, “Can I buy food here?” Their money didn’t mean anything. They were black and they don’t serve black.
But in this particular case, I said, “I really don’t know, but I can buy you whatever you want.” So he was so happy that I would buy so I went up and bought a hamburger, what he wanted. And I gave it to him. He must have had an impression that these Hawaii boys are different. Like I say, I went through that experience so I know how it felt from his end and from my end, because we never experienced that in Hawaii.
But life is life. That’s the way it was. Of course, today it’s much better and I think they are treated much like anybody else. So the worst came to better.
Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.