Chito Isonaga
A Different View

WAC: Military Training

Chito volunteers for the Women’s Army Corps in 1944. She knows Japan will lose the war and wants to be in a position to help family and schoolmates there.

She is sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia for basic training. She gets used to military regimentation, learns to march, and pulls kitchen duty.

At military clerk school in Iowa, Chito and three or four other Japanese-speaking WACs are pulled out and transferred to Washington, D.C.

Enlistment

[In late 1944, the U.S. Army] asked for volunteers [for the Women’s Army Corps]. The people that first applied and went in — there was a lot of publicity. All the papers tell that. I said, “[All that publicity is] not for me.” So I waited until the very last day and then I went in and registered.

Chito Isonaga. WAC.
Chito Isonaga. WAC.

Before that, [the Army] came to recruit menfolks. Because I was connected with the Morale [Division], I had something to do with the recruitment of the men. I must’ve said that when the chance came for me to volunteer, I want to volunteer. I’d be the first one. I think somebody interviewed me.

Even before the recruitment took place, I was getting letters from [Lieutenant Colonel] Paul Rusch, [director of personnel procurement] at MIS [Military Intelligence Service Language School], that they wanted me. I have letters from him that I didn’t bring, but that’s how I was interested already. Even before they recruited I was trying to get in from that angle, but when the recruitment came here, I volunteered here.

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[I wanted to volunteer] because I knew my relatives in Japan and I knew that Japan was going to lose. I wanted to get back to Japan [with the U.S. Army]. I was sure that we were going to win and there’ll be a chance to go back to Japan. I wanted to help my relatives and my schoolmates, and I did. That was the main reason, too, one of the main reasons, why I volunteered. I knew that because I knew the language that I had something to offer more than the people here that went to school here. But, the main reason was, when they lost, I knew they would need help.

If I were back in Kauai, my mother may have objected. But, I don’t think she would have objected. I said, “You know, Japan is going to lose anyway. When they lose I can be there and help my relatives.” So, I’m sure she wouldn’t have objected, but I don’t know.

Office of Censorship didn’t want me to go, more or less, because they said, “You are doing just as much here.” But, no, I wanted to go. After I came back, one of the girls told me, “I wish you volunteered from Kauai. If my parents knew that you were joining,” she said, “they wouldn’t have objected my going, too.” Because I’m sure some parents didn’t favor the idea of girls going into the army.

But me, I had purpose and I think my parents understood that I wanted to go back and help my relatives.

Military Training

[After we volunteered,] I think we went to Fort DeRussy. And stayed there couple of nights. [We went to basic training in Fort] Oglethorpe, Georgia.

It was sort of cold [on the Mainland]. We went on a train [from the West Coast] and when we reached Flagstaff, [Arizona in January], there was snow on the ground. And the girls from Hawaii, who saw snow for the first time, really had a ball. But, I had seen snow in Japan, so I wasn’t too excited. But they were.

[Fort Oglethorpe] was a regular army [installation] with barracks. Barren, you know, huge place. We used to go into the [nearby] city. I don’t know what the [name of the] city was. But, I remember, [Fort Oglethorpe] was a bare place with just the barracks. It was just bunk beds lined up in the room. I just remember going in there to sleep.

[Our nisei] group was all in one group. The [Caucasian] recruits from the Mainland, they had another group. It seems that we didn’t associate with them. We stuck to ourselves. [Chito was one of a few dozen women from Hawaii to volunteer for the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.] [Our officers were] Caucasian. We didn’t have any Mainland[-born] nisei group at the time I had basic training. Only the [Hawaii] group and the Caucasian group.

I think we behaved pretty good. We didn’t have any problems. And we stuck together, the Hawaii group. I’m sure the officers didn’t have any trouble with us.

[The type of ranks] was the same [as those given to the men]. But we had no ranks when we joined.

[Military life] was regimented. Getting up in the morning and dressing really fast to get to the mess line, you know. That’s sort of hard, having to dress as fast as you can to get ready. And trying to make the bed straight. Oh, that was an effort. Especially when you had the topper bunk. The bed had to be just so. But even today I don’t do a good job of fixing the bed (chuckles).

I remember only marching, learning how to march [at Fort Oglethorpe]. We learned pretty fast. But it was marching, marching, marching.

WAAC Band, Fort Ogelthorpe
WAAC band marching in a review before President Roosevelt, Fort Ogelthorpe, 1943.

I don’t remember the classes either, but I’m sure we had classes, too.

We had kitchen duty. Of course, it was peeling potatoes and scrubbing the kitchen. Once when I was on duty in the kitchen, I was scrubbing the back steps and the water froze as I washed. I remember having that difficulty. The soapy water just freezing as I washed. It was the South, too. It was pretty cold.

Clerk School

[In March 1945,] a group of us went to clerk school in Des Moines, Iowa. I know we went to classes and I guess we learned how to do clerical duties. But I don’t remember the classes either, too much.

I didn’t finish clerk school. In the middle of it, they took three or four of us who knew the [Japanese] language and moved us to a place where we stayed before we transferred elsewhere. It was at a time, I think, FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] had just passed away. [FDR passed away on April 12, 1945.] I remember watching the others from the clerk school marching in memory of him. This was about that time when I was transferred and got orders to go to Washington, D.C.

Chito Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Chito Isonaga.

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