522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
Military Service, Germany
In March 1945, the 522nd is detached from the 442nd RCT and sent to Germany.
They break through the Siegfried Line. The battalion travels a blistering 617 miles pursuing retreating Germans over the next 55 days. They fire 15,000 rounds.
The 522nd also helps liberate survivors of the Landsberg-Kaufering Dachau Death March and Dachau sub-camps.
In Germany, as in France and Italy, the men forage and bargain for food – anything other than military chow.
[The 522nd was detached from the group and went to Germany.] We went to what was called Dusseldorf, which was on the western edge of Germany. From there on, it was called Bavaria of Germany. We broke through the [Siegfried] Line in that area of Kleinblittersdorf.
From there, we got into the battles of Mannheim, and I think also Frankfurt, and Heidelberg, and Stuttgart, Ulm, Augsburg. Then, in the vicinity of Munich, we got into what we think was the main [concentration] camp of Dachau, where we opened the gate. One of the forward observer groups opened the gate to one of the — we think it was the main camp because there have been testimonies by so many others, but I have to explain the nature of battle at that period.
Once we broke through the Siegfried Line, it was a rat race. In fifty-five days, we traveled some six-hundred-something miles. Remember in Italy, we went yard by yard, also in France.
But in Germany, from March 12 to May 6, when officially in our area, war ended, fifty-five days, we traveled 617 miles. During that time, we fired some fifteen thousand rounds.
We followed General [George S.] Patton’s [3rd] Army. We followed them all the way down through Germany. The [3rd Army] armor would pursue the retreating Germans. The fighting, invariably, would be at the outskirts of various small towns or cities, whatever, along this route that we mentioned. Because the armor was chasing after them, the artillery was depended upon to come in the vicinity where the Germans were pinned down by the armor, the tanks. We would come over and take over [for] the armored, by pinning the Germans down because invariably, the defensive [perimeters] were very restrictive small areas. Then our trucks would go back and pick up the infantry and come back to where our guns had located. We would drop off the infantry and the infantry would wipe out the resistance. Then we catch up the armor again.
This is indicative because in that fifty-five days, we had fifty-two displacements. Let me explain what a displacement means. In fifty-five days, we had fifty-two occasions where we had to set the guns, then move again. Almost every day we were moving from one area. As I said, we traveled over six-hundred miles in that fifty-five days. So we were constantly in front of the infantry because the infantry had to walk, unless we went there to pick them up to bring them over there to wipe out the resistance. It was always small pockets of resistance.
Patton’s armor would come, locate, get in touch with the resistance and pin them down. They would make contact again, but in the meantime, we would take their place and pin them down with our guns, and our truck would go back, pick up the infantry, and then we drop them off, and then we’d catch up with the armor again.
The “Death Corridor”
Looking back, the 42nd [Infantry] Division and the 45th [Infantry] Division claim that they were the first unit to liberate Dachau.
Dachau was a major camp. The main camp of Dachau had about thirty [thousand] or thirty-five thousand inmates. Alongside of Dachau, along this highway, what we call “Death Corridor,” on the outskirts of Munich, were about eight or nine sub-camps, where they had normally five thousand inmates per camp. They were what we call the “feeder” camp to the extermination camp, which is the main camp of Dachau.
But a diary kept by one of our boys indicate that on April , which is supposed to be the same day that the 42nd or 45th Division claimed that they liberated Dachau, was the day that we opened the gates to a camp of Jewish inmates. In that area, I think we stayed about two or three days.
From Dachau to where we ended up the war, further down south of Munich, there were eight or nine other sub-camps. Thousands of these inmates were on the road, starving, dying. This was our experience just at the end of the war.
We kept quiet because the word was, we had violated orders in opening the gates. So those who opened the gates were under orders to keep their mouth shut. Most of us who only saw the freed Jewish inmates didn’t know about the opening of the gates. We saw these decimated zombies walking the streets and dying on the streets. This was our experience with Dachau for the majority of the artillery boys.
But we’ve had various testimonies from different individuals. One significant one is that he was in Dachau, definitely in Dachau, and was rescued by soldiers, Oriental-looking faces. This is in that testimony by our Hawaii Holocaust [project] video that Judy Weightman did, and quite significant, that.
I guess it’s recognized by the Jewish Memorial Museum, in Washington D.C. But beyond that, our own boys, individual records. That’s just a few of them who went into the camp per se, at that point. We saw the results of the liberated, the bulk of us saw the liberated inmates. But just a handful of them actually went into the camp at that time, before the end of the war.
[We knew very little about the concentration camps.] You see, we didn’t know what it was and besides, they didn’t speak English. None of them. All we saw was these zombies on the road, and some of them dying, and we did whatever we could against the orders. We gave them all the C rations that we had.
Then for a few days, for about one week thereafter, wherever we moved, there were these groups of starving people who would wait at the end of our chow line, waiting for the scraps and we had difficulty eating because we see these starving faces waiting for us to come to the end. At the end of the chow line, we have a little sump. Into the sump is the garbage sump. We would dispose of our uneaten food. But these people already waiting for us to discard the food into their hands and whatever they had to catch the food from. It was really an awful sight.
Supposedly, even the Germans didn’t know the existence of the camp nearby where they lived. One of the first things the American general did was to order the German civilians to walk through Dachau and the camps. Especially Dachau before it was all cleaned up. I think in some places, they ordered some of the civilians living in that area to come in and clean up the camps. But we weren’t ordered to do that.
Tadashi Tojo, who lives in Waianae, is one of those who really went into the Dachau camp. Tadashi is one of the few boys who recall vividly, he was one of those forward observer groups of A Battery.
We have a daily record of where our headquarters spent the night, all the way from March 12 to May 6. And April 28 to May 6, that whole corridor that we passed through, from the 28th to May 6, was what we called the “Death Corridor.”
Foraging for Food
When we were in the invasion of Germany, we were ahead of all, any other American troops. We came across a complex, which turned out to be a warehouse. From what we could gather, it was supposed to have been a warehouse for German officers, like a PX [post exchange]. The Germans had evacuated the area just before our arrival and there were no other American troops. Naturally, we would go in and investigate what was the complex and to our surprise we found out it was like a commissary.
First thing we saw were all kinds of foodstuff: schnapps, cheese — big-sized wheel cheese from Holland. Cigars and cognac, all of these luxury items, including Portuguese sardines. These sardines were, we discovered, in wooden crates. Each gun crew was advised to come up and pick whatever you wanted. My gun crew — we ended up with two boxes of sardines. Besides that, we had the cheese.
There was some musical instruments, a whole block of piano accordions. So there were a few of the boys who were musically inclined and for a long time, we had accordions, which was very loud. And when the unaccustomed players would play, it was very noisy. And a bunch of German Horner harmonicas, was in this commissary.
You know, our boys, after the regular meal, we were always looking for something else to eat. For instance, in Italy, we would have a lot of foods because we were in the middle of June, July, August it was all kinds of fruit, especially grapes. We were forever eating after chow. Oh, corn-on-the-cob was one of our favorite in Italy because July and August was the height of the corn season. As a matter of fact, many times we had to drive through corn fields to place our guns. So the corn was right at hand, just reached out and you could get these corns, and we would put ’em in the gallon cans. The Italians were completely amazed at us eating these corns because the Italians never, they never ate corn-on-the-cob. The corn was cattle feed, not for human beings, or for making flour. But we evidently exposed these Italians to corn-on-the-cob.
In France, our number one, potato chips, because we went into France in Fall, September and October. Whatever that was available was potato, potato patches in the area that we were in France. And so, we were constantly eating potato chips.
Then when we went to Germany, we had these two cases of sardines and so we ate sardines in all kinds of shapes and forms. These were excellent Portuguese sardines. We would read the writings on the boxes, you could see Portuguese, from Portugal.
Heidelberg was declared an open city, in other words, like Rome was declared an open city, fighting would cease just before Rome and both sides would agree that within a perimeter of so many miles, there would be no fighting, that the Germans would withdraw from Rome and then the Allies would advance. The next contact we had with the Germans was in Civitavecchia, right near Belvedere, where the fighting continued.
So the same thing happened in Heidelberg because it was a famous university town with a lot of artifacts and whatnot. So we had a couple of days of rest because of this open city declaration.
This was very early in our invasion of Germany because Heidelberg was maybe within the first two weeks of our invasion. And we were there for about fifty-five days. I think Heidelberg was around the second week that we were in Germany.
One day I was thinking of how to treat our boys — at that point, I was a kind of corporal and so how I’m going to treat my boys? I thought of a brilliant idea. Maybe sardine soup might be something interesting. And so I made sardine soup and it looked all right, we were in the middle of a vegetable patch so whatever vegetables we needed, we could get. I got some leeks, some onions, I forget what else.
But we made the sardine soup in the outside helmet, I think it was. I think I did just over the fire, yeah. We also had small, little gas stoves, too. We used the gas stoves quite often. But I think there was open [fire], because it was done enough to share with the gun crew, so there were eight or nine of us.
And then — but it had to be served to the men in their mess kit cups because that was the only thing we had. Everything was all right until we had to wash. I think we all enjoyed the soup. But trying to wash the soup after we had it was almost impossible to get rid of all that oil, fish oil, from the canteen. And so every once in a while when we talk story, some of the boys remember this and kid me about the sardine soup, to this day.
Beer was from the PX. Once a week, if possible, we would receive our ration of PX material, which included candies and the number-one item was beer that we all enjoyed. But as I said in France, we had green cognac. In Germany we were exposed to schnapps. I guess, schnapps, vodka, they all in the same line of liquor, almost straight 100 percent alcohol.
But I remember one incident, towards the end of the war, when things were rather relaxed. At one point we were told that, oh, we could completely relax and take it easy for one day or so.
So we all decided that we help ourselves to the schnapps that we had on the truck. Those days I wasn’t that much of a drinker other than beer, and these schnapps and whatnot was not something we were accustomed to. So, there was some orange juice. I mixed the orange juice and the schnapps and somehow I remembered that in France that the elderly couple that had invited us over had put some sugar into the jigger of vodka or cognac. I thought, well, “I’ll put sugar into this mixture of orange juice and schnapps.” For the rest of twenty hours, probably, I got sick.
I don’t know how my gun crew member felt, but all night long I was heaving and making all kinds of noise. That was a very sad lesson that I learned, not to mix sugar in with any kind of drinks. But none of our boys were bad drinking boys. They were well under control, even though they helped themselves to liquor. [We drank only during] breaks. [There was no problem with guys drinking out in the field.] Not in my gun crew or our battery. The artillery boys were not as wild as the infantry boys, so to speak. And you don’t blame them. The infantry boys go through hell. We did not go through hell like the infantry boys did. So, for most of us, it was a controlled endeavors throughout our campaign.
[No liquor] when you’re on duty. There was absolutely no drinking other than so-called “free time” that we had. The break, we’re talking about one-day breaks or two-day breaks. When we were completely off the line. You know, we were not on standby basis. We were not in a position to fire our guns. Our guns at that point were already covered up and everything. This happened every so often.
In this warehouse [for German officers], there were a whole bunch of cigars. A lot of us tried cigar smoking, but cigar smoking, you got to get used to it. So just to temporarily get into smoking, you don’t do that with cigars. For play time, we indulge in cigar smoking, but not really, it wasn’t available all the time.
At PX , we only had cigarettes. I did [get into smoking] because cigarette, once we went overseas, it was all free. There was a ration. Every person was entitled to x number of beer cans and cigarettes, the basic supplies. So, non-smokers would bargain away their cigarettes or used them as bargaining or bartering material. But drinking was the same thing. People who didn’t drink, made the best use of their ration.
I guess there were just a handful of the boys who did not smoke. I smoked because it was available and it was something that we did to pass the time away. Even after discharge, I smoked while going to college until I found that it was such a nuisance. After discharge, you have your own laundry and the cigarette in your shirt made it so difficult to clean your dress shirt that we used to wear. Those days we didn’t have aloha shirts as such. We had mostly dress shirts. It was such a chore that I gave up smoking. Although later on I started to indulge in cigar smoking.
In France and Germany, money was of no value in the countries invaded. What was issued was American occupation money that was printed out in — when it was Italy, we had this lire. And in France it was francs. And then in Germany we had the German marks. But these were American-printed, almost like a coupon. But that was the money used by the military and supposedly the German people, the Italian people, were. But the reputation was that they were very reluctant to get that money. Although I’m sure it was of value.
Talking about this money, when we were in Germany, we had the occupation German marks. But when we first go in there, I remember that one of our boys came across a cache of payroll marks. It was just a vast amount of German marks, printed in German money that was being used at that time. But the talk was that, oh, those were useless. So it was kind of used like a plaything. We used it among ourselves without any real value. But some, a couple of the smart ones, kept some of that marks to bring home. Even I have some souvenir of this, but the ones that I have were the one mark, German mark. Somehow, I got a cache of souvenir, a whole batch of German marks. But later on when we came back home, we were told you were foolish because at that point, the German mark was still good. We could have brought it back to the United States and turned it in to the banks and get dollars in exchange. We didn’t know that. We had thousands of dollars of this. Like I said, it was a payroll cache that one of the boys came across.
Chocolates, all kinds of candies, was our ration. We were well supplied with candies. [The men] ate their candies, but once we got overseas and met up with these civilians, we found that candies was one of our best bargaining merchandise and so we kept it for that purpose.
Most of us, we were always souvenir hunting whenever we had the time. Not only souvenir hunting but bargaining for chicken, anything to eat basically, other than the chow that we were fed. Anything other than chow was desirable, especially eggs and chicken. So the chocolate and cigarettes were [bargaining merchandise].
One of our prime objectives was something to eat. Invariably, it was eggs — fresh eggs — and chicken. And two big incidents that [Mamoru “Flint” Yonashiro] and I experienced, like that incident where we had this special prisoners of war [held by the Germans], that town that we came across these beautiful girls who had [P or] PW on their [uniform] back. [In the front of their uniforms, was the Star of David.] This was before Dachau so we didn’t know about it, except reflecting back to that incident, it must have been a special type of domestic servants that the Germans used during the war. But at this time, in the town, Flint and I came across a bucket of [about two dozen] eggs covered by water. I brought back to the boys and we had a feast of eggs.
And the other incident, very early in the invasion of Germany. We were hardly in the big cities, we were always on the outskirts. Flint and I walked into this hamlet, which was not too far from where we were, stopped by for a couple of days. So, we went in there and then we found that this hamlet was completely vacant. Nobody was there. We located a chicken coop full of chickens. We looked around and we found some burlap bags and we brought back, I would say, maybe twenty chickens in the two or three burlap bags. We brought back that treasure.
I still have a picture of the barbecue that the gun crew had with these chickens. But this one picture was taken to remember the day that we had the biggest chicken barbecue. Other days, we would have one or two chickens. But that one, we had about twenty chickens in a burlap bag, we brought back to the gun crew. Practically the whole battery had a chicken that day.
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.