522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
Military Service, France
In Marseilles, Katsugo and others unload American cargo when French stevedores go on strike. From there, the 522nd travels along the Rhone Valley Highway to Bruyeres.
In Bruyeres, the 442nd RCT is ordered to rescue the “Lost Battalion.” The 522nd provides constant protective fire. The questionable leadership of General John Dahlquist results in a rescue overshadowed by losses.
Later, the 522nd travels down the Rhone Valley Highway to Nice.
We were in Marseilles for I don’t know how many days. Staging area. One day we got orders to get on the truck, and we got shipped out, and we ended up at the docks. Lo and behold, we were ordered to do some stevedoring, and we ended up hauling cargo and ordinary stevedore work, which is hard labor for which I remember each of us got one can of corned beef.
But anyway, it was in the midst of the war, before we got into Bruyeres area, that couple of days where we spent in Marseilles. The French stevedores went on strike. They were the ones who were unloading the American cargo ship and whatnot. But they went on strike and they had to call upon us to do the stevedoring. This was in Marseilles.
I remember we had one day off that we went to Aix-en-Provence, where we understood was a very famous small little town, the home of [Paul] Cezanne. When we went there, it’s all these streets — and then this town was completely untouched by war.
It was normal every day, as if there was no war around there. So this small little town, Aix-en-Provence, was wide open and we went there and then we enjoyed — although ordered to don’t eat in the French restaurants, we jumped at a chance to get any of the French foods that was available.
My recollection of French restaurants was that as soon as you get into the restaurant, the soup of the day would be in a pot, right on the table. You help yourself with the soup of the day and then you order whatever entree. Almost always, it was very little difference in menu. I enjoyed the soup of the day. I thought that in and of itself was a meal. But almost every restaurant I remember had this big bowl of soup of the day right on the table as you sat down.
You learned the very minimal [of a language]. When we were in Italy, we learned Italian. Even to this day, I remember the phrase that we initially learned was, “Do you have any chicken?” It started off by, we would ask, “Pollo?” Very soon, we found out pollo is chicken. Then I remember the response by the Italians, “Niente.” Niente means we don’t have it. “Tedeschi tutto portare via,” meaning all of the chickens were taken away by the Germans. That was the standard response we got from the Italians. But very often in the farmlands, there would be chicken and we would have a chicken hekka [chicken and vegetables dish].
Rhone Valley Highway
[After Marseilles, we went to] Biffontaine. Artillery had to take our trucks and guns. So we drove up what was called the Rhone Valley. We rode this famous highway from Marseilles on up to Lyon, Epinal, and then Bruyeres. We had to stay over one or two nights on the way up to Bruyeres. We had to lay over because it was such a long trip. But that Rhone Valley highway was very notorious in that the French people had the use of their own cars. Most of it was charcoal-burning cars that would burn charcoal as fuel. Most of the European countries at that point had charcoal-burning cars. I don’t think gasoline was available. But I don’t know if it was the French or whether American troops — mostly French — were notorious drivers.
This Rhone Valley highway was noted for all of the accidents that happened on this road. We could clearly see the evidence of all these accidents because this narrow highway had trees lined up. All European roads had apple trees and fruit trees along that. Evidence of accidents were all over the place. In fact, a lot of the cars were left as is. When it was a total wreck, it was just left on the roadside and we would see the evidence because we traveled this highway going up to Bruyeres, coming down from Bruyeres when we went to recuperate after the Lost Battalion, in Nice.
Then we had to go back on the same route when we were ordered to go to invade Germany. So we drove this route on going, coming, and going again. Three different occasions, the Rhone Valley, and it was a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful countryside, you know, hard to forget that. Because you have the hills, and the valleys, and rivers, and most of it was along the river. I guess that’s the Rhone River, I think it was. Most of it, most of the highway, you were along the river, so it was a beautiful countryside.
There was no evidence of any war. No war-torn cities or anything. South of Paris, there was no war damage. And this was in the middle of France — Lyon, and Epinal, Dijon — we all passed through these cities.
In fact, the one night, I think it was in Dijon, there was a circus going on the night that we had the one day off. So we had a wonderful time at the circus. This is when I first met Dan Inouye, because the infantry boys were there, too. Some of the infantry boys, I think, went by train and they laid over that night over there. My good friend from Maui, who we grew up together, was Dan Aoki. I don’t know if you folks know. Well, he was the enforcer for Jack Burns, Governor Burns.
Anyway, “Balloon” as we knew him, he was from Maui, we grew up together. He was a couple years older than I was, but very good family friend and all that. I happened to see him on this night, one night out in Dijon. He had a couple of boys with him. He said, “Hey Kats, come, come, I want you to meet somebody.” By that time, we had heard about this young punk who was one of the up-and-coming officers, because he had just gotten his field commission, by the name of Dan Inouye. He grabbed me and said, “Come, I want you to meet my friend and my lieutenant.” That’s how I first remember meeting [Dan Inouye.] He had just become a field commission officer and for me, it was such a big thing because we had already heard about the exploits of this daring, devil-may-care, tremendously sharp field commission officer. Somehow, I cannot forget that experience and that was the first time I met Dan Inouye.
Rescue of the Lost Battalion
It was [late] October. Winter just had time to set in, but it was a wet type of winter. Had a lot of rain, mud, and then winter had just started. The snow just started to fall. So it was terrible conditions.
The story of the Lost Battalion is that the 442nd had been up there, and so they were relieved, and the 141st [Infantry Regiment] came in to replace where the 442nd had been. But remember I told you that you have to have your flanks protected at all times? Well, this 141st took over where the 442nd was, and as in the usual case, the 442nd is the leading, attacking unit. But somehow, the 141st were not adequately protected on the flank, and so they got quickly — after they replaced the 442nd — they quickly got surrounded by the Germans, [who] made an encircling movement.
The word got out that there was an outfit out there in trouble. If you recall any of the testimony by the infantry boys, they had only come back three or four days. After they had come back and been relieved, they were ordered to go back again. I remember Joe Shimamura’s video, saying that, “Yeah, we went out there, three days, and then we had to go up again, how come?” you know. “You’re entitled to one-week rest.” But they were ordered to go back again and get the 141st out of the predicament that they got into.
This is the Lost Battalion episode in the forest of what we call the Vosges Mountain of Bruyeres.
Colonel [James] Hanley, the 2nd Battalion commander, tells us that he was involved, as a very young lieutenant, during World War I, but there was no fighting in the Vosges Mountains because the pine trees were so thick that there were no battles in that area. The old days, warfare was trench warfare, wide open field and all that.
Vosges Mountain was just pine trees. I don’t know if today, the lumber industries have recovered from it. When you had all this firing, and all these projectiles, and all the shrapnels hitting into trees, the lumber industry has a reluctance to go into there to harvest the trees because of the metal contents in the trees that ruin their saws and whatnot. But this was the one big aftermath of the war that the French people had to live with.
We constantly gave protective fire to the Lost Battalion group. We were giving them protective fire, preventing the Germans from encircling them any further. See, that was our number one task of the artillery. We were still in placement. The 36th Division artillery had not come into play yet, so we were constantly supporting the Lost Battalion.
This is the episode where General [John] Dahlquist, who was right up there, directing the 442nd so near the front that his military aide, as you may have heard, was killed by a sniper because they were too much up front. The military aide [Wells Lewis] happened to be the son of Sinclair Lewis, a famous writer. But that’s how near the front the general was up. He had, on his own, gone to the artillery fire direction center, looking at the maps, and he ordered the artillery to fire at certain location on the map, and said that’s where they need to be protected the most. Don Shimazu says our battery forward observer told the general, “General, wait, that’s where the Lost Battalion is located.” So they did not obey the command of the general to fire in that sector, which turned out to be very accurate. That was where the Lost Battalion was located. But had we shot in that vicinity, we would have probably wiped out the Lost Battalion itself. Well, they call it “lost,” but they weren’t lost, they were just encircled by the Germans up on the hilltop.
[We got our coordinates] through a telephone. There’s a telephone directly to fire direction center. The fire direction center is the headquarters where they chart and read and everything. Then the forward observer is with the unit that visibly and physically tells you where the shot landed. The fire direction center gives you the map coordinates where the rounds are supposed to land, but the actual landing is by the forward observer. So they have to adjust. It’s a complete team work. Everybody has to be consistent in order to be effective.
We’re always mindful of the fact that, in our case, E Company, 2nd Battalion was always our guys that we were in support of. E Company had a lot of Maui boys, so in my case, I always considered, those are Maui — my boys. Dan Aoki [from Maui], Dan Inouye [from Honolulu, Oahu], and a whole bunch of Maui — Toshio Ansai [postwar legislator from Maui], he was E Company. So we were mindful of who we were supporting all the time.
[At the time of the rescue] not being physically in the presence of the infantry boys, as well as those rescued, [we did not hear about casualties]. Because we were there, we did the job that we’re supposed to do. Those who were rescued, we didn’t even get to see them. Those who were wounded or whatnot, in the K Company, I Company, we didn’t get to talk to the survivors, at that moment. We were still up there giving support to the ongoing battle. Because after that was Biffontaine. Battle of Biffontaine, we had to give continuous fire support. So it was moving from one job to another job.
I don’t recall when we heard the number of casualties suffered by the infantry in rescuing the two-hundred-something Texans. I don’t recall any significance other than the fact that we were so decimated that we were being sent out to rest and recuperate and to regroup in southern France. Because we didn’t have physical contact with the infantry boys. The artillery, somehow, we were by ourselves. How the infantry moved out from Bruyeres area back to Nice, I don’t remember. I think they all went by train. Whereas, we went on our own.
After the Lost Battalion incident, I don’t remember too much discussion on the net effect of the battle. We were more concerned with physical discomfort because winter was just coming in.
Physically, we didn’t suffer, except it’s cold and we’re always on the road going down from northern France down to Marseilles again. Compared to the northern side, southern France was relatively warm. Nice, there was no snow, or anything like that, except for the temporary time that we were up on the mountains in Sospel, it was cold. It was so cold that my incident, I incurred what was my sore back.
What happened was that we were making fire to keep us warm in the evenings. So one day my job was to chop wood. I had this axe and chopping wood, I heard a crick in my back. Very painful. It went away but the next morning, it was really painful. So I went to sick call and the medic sent me down to Cannes. I spent ten days in the hospital in Cannes. After ten days, I came back. Thereafter, my back was never the same. But not that bad to disable me.
While we were in Sospel, we were on this mountaintop. At about a thousand yards in front of us, was the horizon, it was a little bit higher than us. We were down on a slope, and just below the horizon, there was this one Cannon Company gun. Because it was such a safe area, they were living in a big pyramidal tent, instead of pup tents. They were directly in front of us. Wherever we were firing, we were firing over their heads. This was in a very quiet zone. The other side of the mountains, there was a big valley, and on the other side of the mountains were the Germans, in Italy. On our side was France. Very little action between Germans and Americans at that point.
But one day, there was a call to fire — and that was about the only time that we used the full gunpowder charge seven. Each canister, we have seven powder charges. Normally we use charge five, meaning that we would take two bags out of the shell, discard them, and then fire with only five powder cases. So this charge seven came in and they were going to fire a testing round. I don’t know what the firing mission was. So we got the gun but we suddenly realized, “Hey, maybe we’re not going to make that horizon.” We have a certain procedure that we follow, looking through the gun barrel to see whether there is a distance between the horizon and the ultimate route setting on the gun. When we looked there, there was some leeway between the horizon and the eye level of the gun. Even the captain recognized, “Yeah, I think we can make it.” So we just go ahead and fired the first round.
Kuuipo, #2 gun. Katsugo Miho peers in sight. Hisashi Yamagishi loads gun, Roy Fujii is on the right. France. October 1944.
That was my gun, so we fired the first round. To our horror, we saw — and this by naked eye, you could see, it’s about a thousand yards — we could see a puff of smoke right near the pyramidal tent. That’s why we knew the pyramidal tent was occupied by our Cannon Company boys. Fire direction center, “Hey, what happened to the round?” Puff of smoke out there, we don’t know whether it went over the horizon or whether that was the round. “Well, fire another one, we need to have this. Fire, go ahead and fire another one.”
Captain comes out, “Well, we got to fire, we’re going to fire.” So we fired another round. Sure enough, same place, a puff of smoke comes up. Must be some miscalculation, so we terminated the fire mission. Then what happened is that, our two guns were — on both sides of us, there was a road that goes up to the hill. And that road, the Cannon Company mess hall would take up warm meals every night to the gun crew up there. They would have to pass between our two guns. So every time that weapons carrier would pass by, they yell at us, “Where you guys? What war are you fighting?” and all that. So this incident happened.
Years later, I’m going to law school and we had a whole bunch of Hawaii boys in law school. Every chance we get, we would get together, the Hawaii contingent. One day, when we were having a beer bust, I related a story of how we accidentally almost shot at our own boys. My roommate, with whom I had been rooming for about a year at that point, John Ushijima, who later on became president of the first state legislature, hearing the story, he gives out a big ha-ha, he laughs and he says, “Hey Kats, what you mean?”
I said, “Yeah, that was my gun.” He says, “You know, I was up there, I was one of the boys who were in the tent.” I said, “No.”
“Yeah,” he says. We laugh. Then I get kidded by John, “You almost wiped me out.”
Then years later, we’re in a cocktail hour at [Seichi] “Shadow” Hirai’s senate office. That was when I was in politics. At this cocktail hour, all kinds of stories would come out. I gave the same story. Shadow looks at me, Shadow Hirai, he was a politician’s politician of Hawaiian politics. Shadow laughs and said to me, “Hey Kats, I was there, also.” He said, “Now I know who I can blame.” I said, “What do you mean?”
Shadow was an operator even then. The most desirable item that we could get at that time was an Air Force pilot’s jacket. The filling was down fur and very desirable, it was the envy of all the infantry boys that the Air Force guys had these wonderful jackets. Shadow somehow got one jacket in his hands. But a brand-new jacket has a smell to it. So just after he had gotten it, he was hanging this jacket on a clothesline right next to the pyramidal tent to get the smell out. That jacket ended up full of shrapnel. Oh, we had to laugh.
Then he tells me, “You know John and I, and, not only that,” he says, “Najo was also in that same gun crew.” So Shadow Hirai, [Nadao] “Najo” Yoshinaga, and John Ushijima, three big-time politicians of Hawaii after the war, could have been wiped out by Kats Miho.
We didn’t get to talk to too many French people because it was just a matter of going down overnight visit down to Nice. Maybe once a week or something like that, we had these passes that going to Nice. One of the things that I remember of Nice is that there was a small little photo studio called Erpe. I would say, 80, 90 percent of the artillery boys got their pictures taken at this Studio Erpe. It was a small little dinky little studio. It was very nominal, the price for taking your pictures. But all of us who had their pictures taken came out looking like movie stars.
Yeah. I look completely different in that picture. And later on we found out, sure enough, movie actors and actresses, French actors, had their pictures all taken by Studio Erpe. It was a well-known studio.
I never [had a camera in Italy and France], but there was [Susumu] “Sus” Ito, the biochemist from Harvard, later on, he was a lieutenant in the artillery. He had a small little camera and he took a lot of pictures. Today, copies were made and a lot of the boys pass it around among themselves. And one of our boys from Wahiawa, Takamori, Nobuo, he was a photographer and he had a camera.
Menton was just on the border between Monaco and Nice, small little place, we did receive some shelling from the Germans but nobody got hurt. But it was a nuisance fire, it wasn’t that frequent. But I guess it was just an erratic hit-or-miss kind of a thing because it didn’t seem to have any direction. Nobody got hurt.
One of guns at full recoil. Katsugo Miho, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Battery B. Menton, France. Ca. 1945.
When we were in Menton, it was more the French people speaking English than we were speaking French because it was a tourist town. Nice was completely [wide open]. It was as if nothing happened. The bars were wide open, the shops were wide open, and we had one-day pass. We were there from November of 1944 to March of 1945, I think, during that winter period. But we did have the opportunity to go to Nice every so often.
But it was what we called the Champagne Campaign, figuratively speaking. But we learned to drink “green cognac.” Cognac has to be aged x number of years. But the French people learned that American GIs didn’t care what age the cognac. As long as it was liquor, it would satisfy us. So we were always provided with what we learned later on was called “green cognac.”
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.