522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
Military Service, Italy
In May 1944 the 442nd RCT is deployed in a convoy of ships to Europe.
Onboard ship, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion practices using a new panoramic sight.
Landing in Brindisi, Italy, the artillery joins the infantry in Naples where the men encounter children in the streets.
Under the gun at Anzio, the men are “scared stiff,” fearing the unknown.
The 442nd joins the 100th Infantry Battalion in Civitavecchia. The 522nd is ordered to do an exhibition.
[In spring 1944] we were very eager [to ship out]. Finally going to do something about our training that we had prepared for one year. So we were eager and anxious to go overseas.
Convoy to Europe
We were told that the convoy that we were on was the largest convoy to go across to Europe at that time of the war. There was supposed to have been ninety [Liberty] Ships, that small type — that’s how [Henry] Kaiser made his millions — and with the supporting naval vessels. Because of the [convoy] size, it took twenty-eight days, from Newport News to Palermo, Sicily, where we first stopped.
It was a zigzag [route] — of course, we didn’t know it was zigzag, because you couldn’t tell from the boat. But most of our days were spent, we had regular calisthenics and whatnot, early in the morning.
I was sick for one week and thereafter, I was fine. I enjoyed the balance of three weeks.
Going overseas, I don’t recall that type of gambling that we used to have in camp or coming on the Lurline. I think most of us had already either spent the money or sent back home whatever cash we had on hand prior to going overseas. Because we never expected to be spending money overseas. So what little gambling that went on overseas was only on paydays.
Panoramic Sight Training
Because we were going to be using a new panoramic sight, morning and afternoon, we had a practice session of using the brand-new panoramic sight. It was completely different from the one that we had trained on. The old panoramic sight, if you wanted to move the gun to the right, you had to move the knob to the left, and if you wanted to go right, you move the knob — just the opposite.
But under the new panoramic sight, if you wanted to move the gun toward the right, you moved the knob to the right. If you wanted to move the gun to the left, you moved to the left. So it was completely different concept. All of the twenty-eight days was training because we had to have all of the gun crew, eight or nine of us, all of us fully prepared to take over from each other, as far as the gun sight was concerned. Although the gunner corporal, main job, there were two of us, fully assigned as gunner corporal. But any other member of the gun crew was also fully trained to take the place of any one of us. So it took up a lot of time in the morning and in the afternoon preparing and getting acquainted with this new panoramic sight.
Towns of Italy
Before we come to Palermo, it was a historic day to pass Gibraltar Straits. That was our entrance into the Mediterranean Sea. And then we expected to reach Italy. We discovered that the boat that I was in, we stopped by overnight in Sicily. We didn’t get off the ship, we were only allowed to stay onboard ship. The next day, departed. Considering the geographic location, we were told that, well, the following day we will get to see Italy. We expected Italy to be on the right-hand side of the ship. It took us couple of days from Sicily, we suddenly saw, one morning when we got up, the land was on the left. We all got excited, which indicated that if the land was on the left, the right-hand side was Greece. Greece was then under control of Germany, at that time in the war. But we had gone to the other side of the boot of Italy, and we landed in a place called Brindisi.
The infantry, bulk of the infantry, went directly Naples. But the artillery landed in Brindisi and we joined the infantry in Naples after crossing the boot of Italy on train. It was a beautiful, beautiful train ride. I think took us about two-and-a-half days by train.
The towns of Italy was built in the era when wartime, ancient days, everything was, whoever controlled the hilltop. Most of the cities were built on hilltops. So you look at the scenic view of Italian town, you have a castle, and you have the church, and then invariably there would be walls around the town. But when you get into the towns, it’s terrible because there was open sewer lines. Everything was just thrown out of the second window out into the streets. So the smell was terrible. That, I remember of the first exposure to Italian towns. But it was very picturesque and beautiful from a distance.
We gathered forces in Naples. We got to visit a place just on the outskirts of Naples called Pozzuoli. We discovered that Japan-style [onsen, or hot spring]. We took a sulfur bath in Pozzuoli. Years later, I found out that this was from ancient Roman days. Sulfur bath was very popular in Italy.
Then you had couple of days’ visit in Naples. Sanitation was so bad at that time that, either the first day or the second day that we were there, after we went into town, all of us had to be doused. What kind of insecticide duster? DDT [dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane]? Yeah, we were doused with it because of the problem with lice in Naples. It was terrible. All of us got doused. If you went to town, we had to come back, we had to get doused.
Little kids, raggedy-rag kids were all over the streets [of Naples]. Not begging but approaching the GIs. These little raggedys would come up to us and, “Joe, Joe, Joe, cigarette? Cigarette? Chocolate? Chocolate? No chocolate? Mangiare, mangiare. Come my house, mangiare [eat].” Then they would end up, invariably, end up with, “Signorina, signorina, my sister, young, young.” Those days it was something which you cannot forget from the raggedy-rag. At that time, it was shortly after the Germans had escaped away back to Anzio. And we had come up to Naples at the worst time of their rehabilitation after the Germans left. But this was a most common sight in Naples.
Most of us, we accepted to go and eat spaghetti. There was no restaurants. There were all private homes. Of course, we were told, “Don’t eat anything, you don’t eat anything out on the streets.” But we didn’t care.
In Naples, basically, it was either paying for our meals with cigarettes or chocolate, candy. No matter where, Italy, France, Germany, cigarettes was the standard bartering merchandise.
Part of our C ration, part of our rations was chocolate. So we all had chocolates available.
Anzio was the beachhead before Rome. When we got into Anzio, we were quickly sent out to, the outskirts, up on the hillside. We spent one or two nights there. But the last German air raid, as it turned out, was in Anzio. Because thereafter, we never had any — throughout our Italian campaign, we never had air attack like they did in Anzio.
One of the things that was scary in Anzio was that Anzio was a port where Allies were trying to establish their landing spot. The Germans had the port zeroed in on the railroad gun. We found out that it was a railroad gun up on a hillside where, during the day, it would be hidden in the caves. At nighttime, that railroad gun would come up. And the railroad gun is a 16-inch gun, which is, it could fire, I don’t know, maybe twenty-five miles away. But we would be up on the hillside, the port would be one or two miles in front of us. And in the back, the railroad guns would fire, and the shells would fly overhead, over us, and the shells, the noise of the shell, we could never forget. It was like a washing machine being thrown in the air, it would be flying all overhead, and it would land in the harbor. But we were already evacuated up on the hillside.
[This was the first time we were] under the gun, so to speak. At night, the two, three nights that we were there, the “Midnight Charlie” would come out. The “Midnight Charlie” was a German airplane that would harass the Americans by flying around and firing machine guns down, endlessly, just at random. So we had to jump into our foxholes because you couldn’t take a chance being out in the open. But then they had one, well, not big air raid, but the German air force raided Anzio, but that was the last, as it turned out. Thereafter, all the way up to Florence, we never were confronted with the German air force.
We were scared stiff. But of the unknown, basically. None of us got hurt, so we kind of got used to the idea. Of course, the unknown was a very scary thing. But there was nothing you could do about it other than stay deep in your foxhole.
The 100th Infantry Battalion
We joined the 100th [Infantry Battalion] up in Civitavecchia, which was three miles north of Rome. You see, the 100th led the way, the 5th Army, from Anzio all the way up to Rome. They cleared the path. When they were ready to march into Rome, they were ordered to stop on the roadside and some other American outfit entered Rome as the conquering hero. This is one of the things that the 100th were very mad about because they had endured so much, especially at the Battle of Cassino, before Naples.
Our first 442nd replacement joined the 100th in April of that year. The first replacement group, at a point when, after Cassino, the 100th had, from the original 1,300 battalion, they were down to about five hundred able-bodied riflemen. From the group that came back from the hospital, the wounded; and replacements from the 442nd, two or three group of 442nd replacements had joined the 100th. And this before we left.
We joined up the 100th in June. The replacements that came directly from Camp Shelby to join the 100th was early April. And April and May, they had come back to about a thousand able-bodied riflemen when we got together in Civitavecchia. The 100th had, original 100th and the replacements from 442nd, they became the 1st Battalion of the 442nd. [They] and 2nd and 3rd Battalion of the infantry boys combined, and became a combat team again, for the first time.
Exhibition of the 522nd
And it was at Civitavecchia, this place just north of Rome, that the 34th Division commander [Major General Charles W. Ryder] wanted the exhibition — to prove ourselves, the 522nd who had come with such a fabulous record in training. The artillery, 34th Division commander, wanted to see for himself just how good we were and called for an exhibition.
The battalion had three gun batteries. Four guns in A Battery, four guns in B Battery, and four guns in C Battery. In the normal course of things, the B Battery, number two gun, would be the gun that was to register the entire twelve guns for the whole battalion. We would be the ones to fire what is called smoke shells, to see where the shells would land. Then the fire direction center would make the adjustments after the first round. So when we got ready to set the guns, the sergeant who was in charge of the four guns, although he was in charge of number one gun, he came over to me and said, “Hey Kats, this is a very important exhibition, so let me take over.”
I said, “Okay.”
So he sat down, and he set the deflection. But you remember, on the ship, all of us went through morning and afternoon rituals of adjusting ourselves to the new panoramic sight. Well, the sergeant, as it turned out, came in, took my place, but he set the gun according to what he remembered. So when the call came, right so much, he naturally turned the knob left and set the sight. Fired the first round. The first round came right near where the general and the observation crew was watching. In any event, fire the second round because they want, “Make sure your adjustments are correct.” All they went through. The sergeant was still seated on my seat and he was still setting the reading. The second round came even closer to the observation point. They had to duck. The shell came so near where they were.
The general got so mad, he turned to our colonel, Colonel [Baya M.] Harrison, [Jr.,] said, “Colonel, you take your boys back to wherever you came from. I don’t need them over here.” He ordered them. Basically, at that point, nobody knew what happened because it happened just between the sergeant and I. One week thereafter, night and day, we had to go through the same ritual, which we had done on the ship. But it so happened that the sergeant had taken my place, and he did what he did erroneously. But that’s exactly what happened. He moved me aside and set the gun himself, the old-fashioned way, and almost wiped out the general.
So when we took over, there was no problem because we had gotten adjusted to the new panoramic sight.
I don’t remember any inquiry afterwards as to what happened. Nobody got hurt. That was really fortunate because he could have wiped out the general. That close, it came.
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.