522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
Katsugo returns to Maui. He works on defense projects at Puunene.
In January 1943, the War Department calls for volunteers to serve in an all-nisei combat unit. Despite Katsugo’s efforts to dissuade Katsuaki, who aspires to be a doctor, both brothers enlist in the 442nd RCT.
Katsugo goes from Maui to Schofield Barracks on Oahu, then aboard the Lurline to Oakland.
By the time the men arrive in Camp Shelby, they are fully indoctrinated to follow orders.
Varsity Victory Volunteers
[After discharge from the HTG] I remember signing that petition for whatever they [U.S. military] want to use us in. But I don’t recall ever being contacted thereafter. Having signed the petition, I left right away back to Maui. But Eddie Honda, who was working with me, suddenly just disappeared. I didn’t know where he went. Later, I found out he left Maui to join the VVV. But that was already done.
I don’t know if I would have gone because at that point, I felt I had to stay with my mother more than anything else. But unfortunately, I don’t remember being contacted, either by my brother or whatever.
[I was working defense at Puunene.] U.S. Engineers [USED], and later on it was naval construction. When the navy construction took over, we got an increase in pay, too. Seventy-five cents an hour, I think it was.
When I went back to Maui, I was told by my friends, “As long as you have a hammer, saw, square, and ruler, you’re qualified to be a carpenter’s apprentice.” I said, “Well, chee, I have all that tools in my house.” I went to apply for the job — it so happens that one of the so-called straw bosses of the construction was an old family friend. So I got a job right away. Even though I didn’t know how to saw and I learned on the job.
Carpentry work was kind of hard for me because you had to make drawings, you have to saw straight. But the one job that was an easy job was roofing job. They needed to put in these tiles on the roof. This was a backbreaking job because Puunene is a hot spot. Barren land, basically. Even if you go today, it’s red sand and red dirt and windy area where the airfield was being built. What we were doing was constructing barracks along the airfield. So it needed shingle roofing. That was my main job, to nail down the shingles.
All of [the workers] were local, as far as I recall. In that carpentry work, I don't think there were any Mainland workers. Although there were a lot of workers brought in from the Mainland because the defense work. Terrible shortage of manpower because they were trying to build the Kahului Airport. Until then, it was only the Puunene airport. So about the time we got through with the barracks in Puunene, the Maui complex was being worked on. The Maui airport construction was a big job. A lot of Seabees [U.S. Navy construction battalions] came in, at that point, into Maui. Those were all from the Mainland.
My mother was taking care of the hotel all by herself because my dad wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. When the Seabees came into town, there were hardly any restaurants. In fact, my mother had to open up the restaurant to feed anybody who wanted to come in and eat. For a while, she was forced to open up an eating place. Well, not only because business was good.
But she couldn’t do it all by herself. When I volunteered, Andrew Sato, a good friend, was living at my place before. About one year, he stayed with her. But ultimately, she had to sell the place and move to Honolulu. The people who bought out our place really prospered. They really made a big restaurant out of the old place. They were really lucky to take over our place.
Decision to Enlist
My brother [Katsuaki] came back to Maui, early 1943, to tell me that he’s going to volunteer for 442nd. This is before it was public information. My brother Katsuro was very close to the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] people and so was already informed that they’re going to form an all nisei outfit. So he came back to pay a final goodbye to my mother. That’s how the picture that we have the three of us, when we decided that we would volunteer.
Katsugo Miho, Ayano Miho, and Katsuaki Miho. Farewell photo taken before being shipped out. Kahului, Maui. March 1943.
I spent a couple of days, and in fact, one whole night with him, as to whether he and I both volunteer or whether only he volunteer and I volunteer. Because one of the Japanese customs is that things done as a family. A lot of times, any member of the family can represent the whole family. Katsuro has glaucoma, so even though he volunteers, he’s not going to get taken into the army. Paul can volunteer, but he isn’t going to be taken into the army. Even if he did, he’s divinity student so he’s going to be exempt for one way or the other. So it’s only between Katsuaki and I.
I pointed out to him that he had already worked several years, one year longer than what he expected to go to medical school and that he could have gone at any time at that point, in 1942. But I told him, “You’re already accepted to medical school. Your future is to become a doctor and be a professional,” which was, at that time, for the nisei community, kind of unheard of. There were just a handful of doctors. In Maui, you had only one or two doctors. Even in Honolulu, the Kuakini Hospital, was the only medical facility available for the nisei population.
We argued, argued, argued all day long, but he said “No, no, no.”
We had no discussion whatsoever, my recollection, about my having been honorably discharged from the HTG [Hawaii Territorial Guard] and that the niseis were being mistreated. We had very little discussion about those aspects.
Involved was our family, our individual choice. His choice, my choice, individual choice. He put it on the basis that it was not a family matter. My argument: “I represented the family, so our family would be represented. You have every reason to continue, go to Tulane, and go to school, and become a doctor.”
But to no avail, we akiramete at that point [gave up dissuading each other]. He would volunteer, I would volunteer. “It’s an individual matter,” he said. His answer was that, “Look, if both you and I, we survive this war,” and then came this business of what did the niseis do during World War II. He said, what is he going to tell his kids, that “I didn’t volunteer because I went to medical school?”
As compared to he had a choice as an individual, as an individual member of society, did he fight for his country or not for his country? That was his argument. There was a choice made.
Nobody else [in the family] was involved in the discussion. It was strictly between [Katsuaki] and I. The discussion was basically between he and I as to whether he would or not. It was a given as far as my going, my volunteering.
On Maui, I don’t remember the process of volunteering. I think it was a matter of signing an application or something after which, we got notice to report. I don’t know how long after. Probably volunteering was done February 1. Sometime in March, we got orders to report, in my case, to the Wailuku gymnasium at a certain time of the day. Prepare to join the army.
So we took a minimum number of clothes and things and reported. I think that day after or even that same day we reported, we got transported from Wailuku to Kahului, where the harbor was. I forget, either the Hualalai or the Waialeale were there to transport us to Honolulu.
I was assigned to Company 11. That was basically the hundred-something boys from Maui.
When we were given notice to report, we were already accepted to join the army. I think we were sworn in, in Maui, as a formal procedure. There was this big formal so-called swearing in ceremony at Iolani Palace. But that was basically for show, I think.
[From Maui, we went to] Schofield Barracks. Basically all of the Honolulu group was already in. I think of the total number of people reporting in, we were number eleven reporting in, and I think that’s how it was. One, two, three, until eleven. There were twelve, twelve or thirteen. So the last two was from Kauai. The thirteenth was Kauai group of boys.
Everything was brand-new [at Schofield]. It was a constant — oh, how should I say it? Expectations were rampant as to what’s next. With all of this physical examinations, which is, first time you get gathered in a group of men and we all do everything together kind of a thing. Standing in line and waiting. You soon learn that everything you did in the army was get there early and wait, wait, wait. No matter what you did, you waited. I think the ten days that we spent at Schofield was full of standing in line.
My company commander, I remember distinctly, was Yasutaka Fukushima. Even after the war, I continued to be somehow connected with him because we both became lawyers and he was a judge. He was an unusual Republican member of the senate. And he was my first company commander.
Impressions of Military Life
One of the very first things you did was to stand, wait for everything. That part of the waiting is a basic foundation for all the griping in the army. All griping in the army is based on the fact that you wait. You spend so much time waiting. It’s not that things are bad, but the fact that you had to wait for it is the reason why you [gripe] — why couldn’t it be done faster? But everything is unusual.
It was totally new for many of the people who were doing the processing and whatnot. We came in almost three thousand strong. I don’t think, in the normal process of enlisting in the army, you had such a big group being processed at one time. Where you may have basic training groups of maybe two [hundred], three hundred in the case of volunteers and whatnot. But nothing like where we had close to three thousand of us being processed at one time. I think this was highly unusual.
We had no idea we were going to leave or when we were going to go. But suddenly, on a Saturday night, we were told to pack our luggage in duffel bags to get ready for movement. It was already after visitation hours, so I don’t know if I had a chance to call my brother, Katsuro. Sunday morning was a visitation day and everyone had expected family members to come and visit us at Schofield. But by the time the family members came, we were already on the flatbed railway cars, prepared to move to Iwilei, the railroad station. There was Dillingham railroad [Oahu Railway and Land Co.] station in Iwilei where the Aala Park is now located.
By the time the family members were all coming to Schofield Barracks, the train had started to move, and so word spread very rapidly throughout the city that we were leaving. When we arrived at Iwilei, the street was completely packed with people.
At that time, our duffel bags were fully loaded. We were bringing all kinds of unnecessary things with us. Afterwards, we realized. But up to that point, nobody said you can’t take this, you can’t take that. All of them had ukuleles and guitars. So it was a great embarrassment for a lot of us because that duffel bag was heavy.
We had to walk all the way from King [Street] and where that train station is about a mile. We had to walk in that. One side of the road, all the spectators and all the families members on the other side of the road. Everybody yelling at each other looking for members, and whatnot, trying to carry their big heavy load of duffel bag.
You see, because we were not as physically ready like after three months of basic training we could just barely carry that duffel bag. But that’s how we got the farewell to our families.
I don’t remember if my brother [Katsuro] was in the line or what. My mother was still in Maui. My brother was the only one in Honolulu. So I don’t recall anybody, family-wise, saying goodbye to me when I got on the Lurline. The Lurline, at that time, we were supposed to have something like three thousand. Anyway, the normal bedroom with two people in the Lurline were stacked with the bunk beds, six bunk beds, where normally only two people in the stateroom. Four-and-a-half days, I was solidly sick, seasick. Somehow, I think the smell of the diesel is what most people get seasick on. Not the rough waters or anything like that.
I was seasick all the way. I haven’t gone out of my bunk. It wasn’t only me, there were a whole bunch of others were seasick. So it was nothing unusual, being seasick.
Can you imagine, most of the members of the 442nd had already been working ten hours a day, seven days a week, no time to spend the money, so they’re all loaded with money. On top of that, the Japanese community was very strong in supporting us and all the families who did not have anybody in the 442nd followed the Japanese style of giving money as a going-away gift [senbetsu] for those who were in the army. So in addition to their earnings, some of which was left home, a whole bunch of men took their money with them.
Never in my life, even to this day, have I seen a duplication of the kind of gambling that went on aboard ship. Can you imagine? The crap game was the most popular game. You would have these crap games of thirty people in one game. Not only one game but two games, three games going on in whatever room that we have on the deck of the ship.
Even though I was seasick, I would be simply amazed. I was too young to gamble at that point, yeah, I didn’t know how to gamble. How the game of crap was played, how poker was, I had no idea at that point. But twenty-dollar bills just covered the floor in these games. As you may know, a crap game, there has to be a houseman. He calls the bet, he collects the money, and he pays off the money. So if that twenty-five to thirty bet people going on, there’s unlimited numbers of bets that can go on. But there is a house pool that is the basic part. There’s a houseman that runs it. He’s the guy that runs the game. And they don’t play one dollar, it’s all twenty-dollar bills. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not even in Las Vegas. But for four-and-a-half days, this went on.
We were left alone [by the officers]. At that point already, we were Company 11. We were broken down into squads. A squad usually twelve or thirteen people. So there was a squad leader. Above the squad leaders, you have the staff sergeants or whatever, in ranking. So you had all these ranking people within the same area. Officers were not around but the sergeants were always with us. So there was a controlled element.
I soon learned how to gamble.
On payday, our pay was paid, close to fifty dollars. Anyway, I don’t know the maximum because there was so much deductions. We had bonds, we had so much allotment going home. So the net result was that in my case and the average person, payday came, we received about twenty dollars for the month. We had to make do with the twenty dollars.
A lot of people bought bonds. And we all took out life insurance, that was a big deduction. Yeah, in the end, the average paycheck that we got over the table was twenty dollars. But when you consider that going to the movies was maybe five cents, it can go a long way.
I remember few of the boys who never got involved in gambling. But the majority of the boys, they learned how to play poker basically to pass the time. You had nothing else. In the evenings, after all the basic training and especially after payday, for the next five days, poker was the most prevalent because the crap game was too fast. The losers lost their money real fast. So it didn’t continue for two or three days. Except for the big-timers. These so-called pros who ended up with most of the money. Anyway, they had their own particular level of games. Amateurs and tenderfoots had their own pennyante games, whereas the others played with big money. So you had two levels of gambling within the [group].
Some of the boys were a little older than us. I think I was twenty-one, twenty-two. But there were those who were twenty-three, twenty-four, a little bit older and who had been working longer than us and were already adults. There was this group of 1399th [Engineer Construction Battalion] boys. These were the boys who were in the army prior to the war. Much older than we were. So they had already been indoctrinated into the army two, three years ahead of us.
You know, in my battery case, I remember that there were three or four of the boys who were always the winners. But these boys were so generous that when we didn’t have any money to go to the PX [post exchange] or anything, they would say, “Okay, let’s go down to the PX,” and they would pay for everything. And if we wanted to go see a movie, they would say, “Okay, let’s go,” and they would pay for the whole group that goes. Five or six of us would go and one person with money would pay for everybody. That’s how it was. Even going downtown for a pass, they would treat the boys to whatever, beer. Of course, it would be very limited. But there’d be one person who would pay for everybody, because he had the money. It was more or less to be expected who had money, always treated the ones who didn’t. So we never suffered from want.
En route to Camp Shelby
[We got to] Oakland. Then we got on the train and we had no idea where we were going. We had absolutely no idea. We were herded around like sheep. Whenever we got on the train, the orders were to pull the shade down. We traveled all over the place with the shades down. Except when it came to a stop. I remember, the first stop was in Bakersfield, California. I don’t know how come I remember so distinctly but Bakersfield was the first stop out of Oakland. Then after that, the next stop was in Ogden, Utah. When we were on the countryside, it was okay to lift the shade. But whenever we came into any town or any city, we had to close the shades.
I didn’t think anything particular [about the shades being down], except that it was a known fact that our movement was to be kept secretive and we didn’t even care about where we were going to go. Not having any say, as to where we were going. It was strictly regimentation. You were already in the army, you were fully indoctrinated to the fact that you just followed orders.
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.