Katsugo Miho
522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT

Life at Camp Shelby

In 1943, the term “Japs” is used by the government and media to rally American support for the war effort. But, use of the term by Caucasian GIs in reference to the 442nd RCT is anathema to nisei at Camp Shelby. Its use, sometimes coupled with drinking, leads to fights.

Fights also arise between kotonks and Buddhaheads. After Hawaii nisei see the conditions under which Mainland nisei volunteered, relations among the men improve.

Food

Not much to complain [about the food at Camp Shelby], except the menu was the same thing over and over. There was very few variation. Most of the food that we were exposed to in the army were completely different from Hawaii food that we were used to eating at home. Like what is the one, something on a shingle? [Shit on a shingle, creamed hamburger or chipped beef on toast.] It’s usually in the morning we would have that. Completely new to us, from Hawaii. But you got to remember, the cooks were our own cooks, our boys. They were very good in cooking Japanese style to make do with whatever they had, so that it would be palatable to us. So [the food] depended on the cooks of your unit.

I had no complaints as far as the food was concerned. It never bothered me. I tried to enjoy whatever there was available.

[When we were not drilling or training, we were] playing poker or going to the movies or going to the PX [post exchange]. Going to the PX was a very popular thing, although you didn’t have money, so you always had to have financier take you out.

Fighting

When we first went to Camp Shelby, there was this incident I should record. We were in a completely new area. In the army, a unit is entitled to a PX for their own soldiers to patronize. So the 442nd infantry regiment had their own PX. I think there were three or four PXs on the infantry side. Before the artillery had their own PX, remember, the artillery was a brand-new area. We didn’t have any PX.

The 69th Division, they had a nearby PX, but the first incident that happened that brought the boys together, so to speak, is that — and this is word-of-mouth kind of a thing. In the army, you always go by word of mouth.

What happened was, during the first week we were there — you know, beer and Hawaii boys always go hand in hand together. But they were looking around and found some PXs. They patronized a PX that was the 69th Division that was there by the infantry group. You got to remember, we were quarantined for the first month from going out to Hattiesburg because the army was going to let the Hattiesburg people and surrounding neighborhood people know about our presence.

The 69th Division were supposed to be oriented to the fact that there was a regiment of Americans of Japanese Ancestry, a unique group coming into Camp Shelby. A couple of [442nd] boys went to this 69th Division PX and they were kicked out by the Caucasian boys in the PX. The way how they were kicked out was, “Who are you boys, where are you boys from?”
“We are from Hawaii, Japanese Americans.”
“What? You Japs? How come you Japs are in this uniform?”

There were just two or three of them — they were kicked out. So they went back to the company area and [said], “You know, we just got kicked out of the so-and-so PX over there, we were called Japs.” So a delegation of Hawaii boys moved over to that PX. Within ten, fifteen minutes, all of the Caucasian boys who were in that PX were down on the floor. This happened in the first week.

Of course, throughout our training, the one year that we were in Camp Shelby, there were numerous number of fights between 442nd and Caucasians, the 69th Division boys. Because you’ve got to remember, in 1943 it was the height of the propaganda era where the American government was trying to indoctrinate the general population to support the war. All of the movies and the news, everything, referring to the Japanese as “Japs.”

So the GIs did not know any better, that any Japanese Americans, as far as they were concerned, was Japs, and that the terminology was accepted terminology.

But to us, it was a declaration of war, as soon as we were referred to as “Japs.” This invariably happened. The first one happened in the PX, but also at the bus stations where the boys, after a night of drinking, and the Caucasian boys, after a night of drinking, would be at the bus stop and they would be feeling high. I’m sure the reference to the 442nd boys by the Caucasians that they were Japs were, in many respects, innocent. Or, [it] may be sometimes, maybe intentional, vicious.

But the kind of fight that happened is like this. In the Caucasian boys’ case, you will have two or three of them going out together, or four or five of them going out together from one unit. If there were fifteen other Caucasians there, none of them were really related, well, from the same unit or whatever. Whereas in the 442nd, the Hawaii boys, the AJA was an AJA. No matter who, he was one of us. When a confrontation happened between two or three Caucasian boys, two or three Hawaii boys, and they got involved in a fisticuffs, the Caucasian boys was with whoever they were with, three or four of them. But any other niseis who were around the vicinity would get involved in the fight. So it was never a fair fight.

Video Icon
When we got to Italy, and before we moved up north beyond Rome, before we got to Anzio, we had a couple of days in Naples. I personally witnessed a fight between one of our boys and airborne division boys. This was a fair fight, in a way. The airborne GI had referred to us as “Japs.” This was at the staging area, where we were required to meet for transportation back to our unit. After the leave was over, we had to be at this staging area to go back to our camp. And it was at this staging area that this fight happened. Later on, this was the same airborne division, the Anti-tank Company from 442nd became attached to. And when they found out, the story goes that the airborne, some of the boys apologized to the niseis because the Anti-tank boys supported the airborne in such a manner that the airborne boys were very surprised at the kind of support that the nisei boys gave them in the invasion of southern France. So there was a makeup after the fight. But even overseas, we had these fights.

AJA Relations

With reference to fights, of course, you’ve heard that there was a period of time when, within our own 442nd, Mainland kotonks and the Buddhaheads [AJA from the Mainland and AJA from Hawaii], we had our own fights, which is based on different reasons.

When the 442nd Hawaii boys moved to Camp Shelby, we were met by a cadre of Mainland boys. Mainland boys who had already been in the army before 1943, who were draftees. Like the Hawaii 1399th boys, they were already in the army. In January of 1943, as I understand it, these boys who were going to be the cadre of the 442nd, were gathered together, and they were given intensive training from [about] January till March.

Video Icon
When our boys came, all the top positions, the first sergeants, staff sergeants, the buck sergeants, so-called cadre who were going to train the Hawaii boys, were already in place. Now, these boys had a tough job of controlling the Hawaii boys. And the Hawaii boys, after basic training, when you consider that the IQ of the Hawaii boys, at that point, the average IQ in the Hawaii boys was the highest in the army. In the administration, or in the ordinary day events, that difference between the IQs had come up.

You know, in the infantry you had to have all kinds of situations where various solutions to the problems were put up. Now, if the staff sergeant couldn’t give a solution, imagine when you have a guy like Dan Inouye, Masato Doi, [Matsuo] “Mats” Takabuki, who were buck privates, and their solutions as compared to some of the nisei Mainland boys? Not all of them, because I had a very competent first sergeant, staff sergeant, bar none. But in the infantry, it wasn’t the case. So whatever the Mainland boys did, it was like throwing the rank. In order to get the Hawaii boys to obey — from the point of view of the Hawaii boys, it was the rank being thrown at them. Not because of rationale, but because they were buck sergeant, because they were first sergeant.

In the army, ordinarily, you have any kind of gripes anyway. What would happen is that in Company A, first platoon, a member of the first platoon is mad at his sergeant, but he won’t fight his sergeant because he knows what would happen. So he would tell his friend in B Company, because maybe they happen to come from Maui, but they’re in two different companies. This is the same throughout all the 442nd. You have all of these friends scattered all over the different companies. From what I’ve heard is that the sergeants all slept in the same hut with the squads. His bunk would always be his bunk. So this particular disgruntled GI would tell his friend, “My sergeant is sleeping on this position in the bunk.” After lights out, couple of his friends from another company, not the same company, would come in and beat up the particular sergeant. From what I understand, these are the type of fights that occurred. Because it could not be done in the open. So it was different company boys beating up on the sergeant. Not within the same company.

This happened for a while, to the extent that Colonel [Charles] Pence had to call the entire regiment together, oh, two or three times, I think, to reprimand the entire regiment for internal fighting. He called the whole regiment together and, “You’ve got to stop. I won’t stand for all this internal fighting.”

Incarceration Camps

Some bright brilliant idea was, as reported in many various ways, let the boys visit the relocation camps. And so Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas was right nearby. Two or three visitations was done. Busloads of infantry boys. We got to Jerome or Rohwer, Arkansas, and saw the conditions under which the Mainland boys volunteered. And our fights stopped.

Whoever had family or friends at Rohwer or Jerome came with us. But Jerome had a whole bunch of Hawaii people.

I went to both, Jerome and Rohwer. I met my Japanese[-language] school teacher. I think was in Jerome. He was interned earlier, but then he was released to go to Jerome. I met him, he and his family. He was my Japanese-language school teacher. But as Dan Inouye wrote in his book, all fights stopped thereafter.

When we got to the camp, we were in buses, in uniform. Our first visit, the bus stopped at the entrance. Then outside the bus was a couple of guards with rifles. One or two of them, came into the bus, and they frisked all of us. Even though we were in uniform, they frisked us, patted us down.

Then we got into the camp. When we got into the camp, the four corners of the camp had machine gun posts. I vividly remember they had this, like a stockade. They had this ten-foot-tall barbed-wire fence bordering the encampment. The machine gun was pointed inside. There was manned machine guns with the guns pointed inside the enclosure, which shocked us, because we were in uniform. Vivid recollection of those, as we entered into the camp.

Then we got exposed to their style of communal living. The cafeteria. Then we started to hear about what they were doing to make a living. In camp, you had to have schools, you had to have doctors. The story that was told us was that there was a minimum pay regardless of what you did. If you did some work, everybody was paid the same rate. I forgot the exact amount, but it was such unreasonable, atrocious wages that we couldn’t believe it. But, even that, everything was provided for them — something was better than nothing, so to speak.

But the reception we got from the people in camp was simply astounding. Putting up a cheerful front to us. I don’t remember any of them crying to us or giving us a sad story. All of them were going out of their way to encourage us. When you reflect on it, it should have been the other way around. We should have been encouraging them.

I have a vague recollection of how we did the visitation. In both [camps], I visited a specific family. I don’t know whether we were assigned the host family or what, but we got exposed to every facet of their living conditions. I remember the second visit, there were no more frisking, I think the machine guns were down. Because we complained right off the bat. First visit we had, we complained vigorously. The machine guns were taken off the posts and we weren’t frisked. Although there were some armed guards at the gate.

[After we came back to Camp Shelby, relations] completely changed. Although in artillery, we never had these fights. In my battery, my first sergeant was so outstanding, in ability and capacity, and such a stern first sergeant. We all respected our first sergeant. He was a produce company manager before the war and even after the war. [His name was] Jim Mizuno.

Hattiesburg, Bogalusa, and New Orleans

Artillery group, we had very little interaction with the Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg people. Because if we go down there, we go to a bar or something, or the USO [United Service Organizations]. [Mary Yuri] Nakahara, what is her name now? That later on got married to [William] Kochiyama. Yuri [Kochiyama], yeah. She was the USO — she had an uncanny memory. Meet you once, and she’ll remember your name and face. She was in charge of the USO that we developed later on in Hattiesburg. Of course, you know the story of Earl Finch.

But unfortunately for artillery, like a lot of things, that we are left out, too. Artillery has always been left out of the infantry activity. Earl Finch took care of the infantry boys real well. But I don’t remember the artillery ever being invited by him to any of his functions. But he was, as far as the infantry boys were concerned, their godfather. Yeah, he exposed them to all kinds of Southern hospitality.

Very early in our training, a group of the 442nd boys were invited to go visit and stay with a Southern family. My memory was that we were invited to Bogalusa to be exposed to Southern fried chicken, baked beans, and whatnot. So I spent a weekend in Bogalusa. For years thereafter, we didn’t have any follow-up except for the one weekend visit. But for years, I’ve always wondered what, or how it was, that we were invited to Bogalusa.

Four years ago, I had this chance to visit Camp Polk, [as a reporter for] Hawaii Herald. At the end of that trip, I visited Bogalusa. In one of my archival documents, I had discovered my old address book from 1943. There were two names in that from Bogalusa. I had probably corresponded with them once or twice back in 1943, but I had completely lost track of them. Through the trip that we’re going to take, we tried to chase down somebody who remembered about the niseis. In my case, being my host. So we went to Bogalusa and [located] the daughter-in-law of the host family. The father-in-law [Dr. Fleming] was a doctor in Bogalusa. Bogalusa, a small mining and timber town just north of New Orleans. What I found out was that Bogalusa was in the center part of the maneuvering areas in Louisiana. A lot of GIs spent their furloughs in Bogalusa, this small little town.

The citizens of Bogalusa, at that time, got together, and they said, “You know, all of these GIs coming into town, we have to do something for them.” Because their boys were going all over the United States for training, instead of Bogalusa. So they formed a welfare and friendship committee, to invite various military units to Bogalusa, and host them for the weekend. When they found out about the 442nd — and Bogalusa to Hattiesburg is kind of far — we got their invitation. I accepted and visited.

When we had a three-day pass, the other pass is overnight, you know, no pass, you just go out. But three-day passes were given out every so often. Then we’d go to New Orleans. That’s where we were exposed to Oysters Rockefeller. I never forgot Oysters Rockefeller. But we enjoyed Bourbon Street. I went to New Orleans maybe twice.

Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.

All rights to the reproduction or use of content in the Hawaii Nisei web site are retained by the individual holding institutions or individuals.

Please view the Hawaii Nisei Rights Management page for more information.