Hero Shiosaki lives in Blackfoot, Idaho. He joined the Army and was part of the 442nd RCT.
Jim: When did you join the service? You joined right? You weren't drafted, is that right?
Hero: I got drafted March - I took my oath of allegiance March the 12th, 1942.
Jim: Was there a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment at the time?
Hero: Well, there was. We had some good friends but people who didn't know us, you know, thought well, them guys might do sabotage like the Hearst Newspapers were putting out and everything, but those who knew us defended us, you know. I remember the chief of police coming over and said, "Anybody gives you any trouble just let me know and I'll take care of it." And then my brother. He was the salutatorian and they didn't know about having a Japanese guy up there delivering the salutatory address so they didn't have one and sixty-three years later when I went to a high school awards assembly, somebody had gotten a hold of the principal and told him all this and the first thing that happened they called him up and gave him the salutatory award. And right here in Pocatello there was the Yamashta family that had five guys, five of the six boys in the Army, and you know how they used to hang out their blue stars on the red, white and somebody thought it was a pretty good thing to shoot at it with a rifle and I think things like that caused Mrs. Yamashta to not feel very good and she passed away I think at an earlier age . . .
Jim: What was it when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Did that change the way people looked at you?
Hero: Well, it probably did change the way some people looked at me, you know, but we had other kids because they played with us all the time, I remember going to the funeral of Russell Paxton and his sister was telling me, "Mom told the little boys go over and live with the Shiosaki's. You are over there all the time anyway" and we had friends who would come and eat, sit down and we taught them how to eat with chopsticks and they would eat rice and the Japanese food that my mom cooked, you know. So, for those people the fact is some of those just decided they were going to help us, you know. We might have been just friends. They became protective of us.
Jim: What was it like? I know you weren't in the camps, but when they started bringing these people in and putting them in the camps, what was that like for your family to watch that happening?
Hero: Well, they didn't get to watch it. My dad got fired you know and got kicked out of the section house and things like this. I think as far as newspapers were concerned they could not read English. Just very limited and we didn't subscribe to a paper and we didn't have a radio that they could understand so they probably weren't even in some ways not even aware that that camp even existed, see?
Jim: So that wasn't something that you guys knew about and everybody talked about and that kind of thing?
My dad told me he’d rather see me come home in a casket than come home in disgrace. My dad, on my last furlough as I was saying goodbye to him, kind of grabbed my arm and said, ‘Hero,’ in a Japanese I could understand, ‘you are an American soldier. You go fight for America. And if you have to die for America, so be it.’
Hero: No. Not until after it started happening and then some of the communities here they were going to be placed, they became kind of concerned. What's all these - what's going to happen with all those Japs or Japanese in here? Our governor Chase Clark didn't do us any favors. The fact that he said that they ought to take all of us people and all these Japs and put them on an island in the Pacific Ocean and sink it, sink the island and you know when those guys make "patriotic statements," just to get the people's spirits up, sometimes they say things they shouldn't be saying.
Jim: What is that like when you hear that from the governor? What does that feel like when you hear the governor say something?
Hero: The sad part of that is we had that governor at our Japanese American Intermountain District Convention in Pocatello on the Thanksgiving weekend which was just about two weeks before Pearl Harbor and they told him, "If war breaks out, we are going to fight for the United States of America." But sometimes politically you know, you let your mouth get ahead of your brains or something.
Jim: Do you think that was something he regretted later?
Hero: I don't know. I've read where he apologized or anything else.
Jim: Tell me a little bit about joining. I know you talk at how you joined, you moved around. What was it like when you actually ended up in the 442nd? What was that like for you at that time?
Hero: Well, we were going to go on a pass to Nebraska, some friends you know that were with us at Fort Warren, Wyoming. Said, well we're going to get a pass and go to my place which is probably a hundred, hundred fifty miles away and we were all set to go and they cancelled but they didn't tell us what was going to happen and in the Army they don't tell you even if you ask where you are going or what's happening and they just said, yeah, all the passes and leaves are cancelled and that was it and so we wondered, Well now what is going to happen? And on the appointed day, we left Fort Warren, Wyoming, got on a train and headed there. We didn't know it was Camp Shelby, Mississippi either till we got there.
Jim: What did you hear when they said there was going to be this thing called the 442nd? What did they tell you? How did that happen?
Hero: Well, we wound up and they had picked the cadre, you know the people who were going to be non-coms who filled the positions and because I worked in a garage they made me a motor transport person. Then we went down there and trained so that we could be ready for the new recruits and after we had arrived there and right after the people had arrived, Colonel Pence had us all gather around and he told us, "You are here training for combat," and even then it probably didn't sink in what we were going to do. And we'd just go do whatever they asked us or told us to do.
Jim: Were you surprised to look around and see all these other Japanese fellows?
Hero: Yeah. I never saw so many Japanese in my life.
Jim: They hadn't sort of known what to do with you guys from what I heard?
Hero: Well, they had officers who had been trained you know who came in and I don't know whether some of the officers really wanted to be with us but there were some who were really nice. You watched that video, didn't you? I think Colonel Hanley was speaking, telling that he had read this article that some newspaper person in his hometown had written saying that the only good Jap was a dead one and Colonel Hanley answered him and things like that. And he made the statement when he first saw these guys. He said they were the sharpest guys he'd ever seen, in this book you know. And how they worked hard and everything else without any complaints and did what they were asked to. That's how we got started.
Jim: What was the spirit of the day? You said at first when you found out it was going to be a combat team, you didn't know exactly what you were getting into but as you started to realize it, what did it feel like? What was the spirit? What were the attitudes of people and stuff?
Hero: Well, good. That's what they were in the Army for. I'll have to tell you a little story about the 100th Battalion. I don't know if that video showed much of the 100th but when Pearl Harbor broke out there were a lot of Japanese Americans in the 198th and 199th Regiments. Those were the guys who went down to the Waikiki Beach and built the fortifications in case the Japanese were going to land there and after a few days they got to wondering whether they could really trust them and I understand they took their rifles away from them and kind of put them in, you know, in limbo. And they decided to take most of or maybe all of them, I don't know, the National Guards out of the 198 and 199 and they brought them to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin and this was done very secretly that relatives who went to visit one Sunday and nobody was there. Nobody knew where they went. They didn't tell anybody and they rode this Matson Liner into San Francisco - about a five day trip they tell me - and when they got there they would not let the 100th Battalion disembark. They didn't want the public to see so many Japanese at one time. And it was about midnight one night that they decided to unload them. I guess they had to get the trains in there. And I read the story where they had three different trains. One went the northern route, one went the central route, and one went the southern route through Texas and then came back up to Wisconsin. The other one of course went toward Omaha and the other one probably went northern through Missoula and those places like that. And these guys had to train in the snow banks and if you can imagine a Hawaiian who lived where seventy-five was the coldest it ever got and it was about eighty-five to ninety all the time. And they were about eight months ahead of us.
They shipped out before we did and the 100th went to Oran, Morocco and they were guarding that port and I read where the colonel went into the division headquarters and said, "Well, when do we get to fight?" He said, "We came over to fight, we didn't come over to guard this blessed airport, you know." So when they were attached to the 34th Division and when they went into Sicily and southern Italy, they were committed to battle. But that was the attitude and a lot of the guys who came into our company wanted to go to the 100th. They didn't want the 442nd , they wanted the 100th because the 100th Battalion originated in Hawaii and this was their goal. Fact is one of my Jeep drivers wanted to go to the 100th and he got his wish.
But that was the spirit and I know that a lot of times our parents were not trusted because they were not able to speak English and I used to be kind of embarrassed that my father and mother hadn't learned too much English, but later on when I got older I got to thinking, where could they have learned English? And anybody who was capable of teaching them and my dad had to work six days a week to make a living so when could he have gone to school and learned English? As I look back, why I think for what he did, he did a great job coming over here uneducated as an American, you know, and adapted to things. And I know that almost all of the Japanese Americans, whether they were in the camps and went into the military or living outside the camps were admonished. Don't ever shame or bring disgrace onto the family name or the Japanese race.
My dad told me he'd rather see me come home in a casket than come home in disgrace. My dad, on my last furlough as I was saying goodbye to him, kind of grabbed my arm and said, "Hero," in a Japanese I could understand, "you are an American soldier. You go fight for America. And if you have to die for America, so be it." And of course he never lived to see us come back.
I remember a remark that (inaudible) made. There were two Japanese Americans who after about fifty-five years after the war ended were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. One was posthumous and the other one was still living and he said - his words were really good - he said, "You folks were not in the camps with the (inaudible). Fight for your country, survive if you can but die if you must." And I think that's the spirit that made our combat team become recognized for being the most decorated and the most decimated unit of its size and time in the annals of American military history. There were some companies - I don't remember whether the video tells you that - but when they rescued the Lost Battalion, we saved 211 and we suffered 811 - over 800 casualties. And some companies that at full strength are about 190 were down to nine and seven people. In name we were still the combat team but we didn't have any soldiers left.
Jim: There was a general who was listening to people, looking at the Japanese troops and sort of evaluating them. Remind me of the statement that he made about, you know, if this is what these guys - send me ten thousand of them . . .
Hero: General Mark Clark. When we were trained I understand that General Dwight Eisenhower did not want us in the operation like France and England where he was. General Mark Clark took us and the Pentagon naturally was wondering if these Japanese Americans were unloyal. We hadn't raised a lot of resistance to fighting and so somebody called General Mark Clark and he used the Lord's name in vain when he said, "They are the best blank soldiers in the United States. Send me all you've got." And after the first battles in Italy, the Japanese Americans had established themselves as being very formidable soldiers. And most of the guys were in their nineteen to twenties. Physically they were up. I was one of the older guys and I was about twenty-two, or twenty-three I think.
Jim: When you hear about Pearl Harbor and what was going on - Pearl Harbor happened and there was this great swelling in spirit and we're going to go over there and we're going to get them. What I've heard from some of the Japanese Americans I've talked to is when that happened it changed their lives in a completely different way. What was that like? How do you explain that to people what it felt like when that happened?
Hero: Well, when it happened I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was you know. I didn't even know where the Hawaiian Islands were because we didn't have TV coverage and things and my father never subscribed to an English paper. He got a Japanese paper out of California which was about a week old before it ever got there. And of course when they found out it was actually a real war then I figured that I was going into the Army. Period. Of course I didn't think about where I would be going to fight or anything else. I don't know whether we were caught up in events just like everybody else but we were probably more reserved I suppose in many ways than the rest of the people. After my dad got fired and that we didn't know what was going to happen to the family.
Jim: Did your dad get fired because he was Japanese?
Jim: What happened?
Hero: Well, we found out that the FBI had ordered the railroads and the mines to fire all the Japanese people. Period. A little side story is I met Fumi Shimata. I didn't have any idea about what was going on but while this reparation was going on after the war was over the JACL [Japanese American Citizens League] worked on getting some compensation for those who had lost all their valuable farms, businesses, land, homes and jobs and everything else. Kind of a payback for them and at the end Fumi Shimata was a two and a half year old girl when her dad got fired in Sparks, Nevada and it just burned her to a crisp to think you know, as she grew up and she kept thinking about it. It just burned her to a crisp to think that something like that would have happened to her folks and when they got fired nobody wanted to rent them a home to live in in Sparks. No job, no house.
So she made a one man committee, you know, a one woman committee so she could get this right. Right it. And one day she ran into Andy Russell and Andy came and interviewed some of us in Jackpot a little over ten years ago and she and Andy got talking and he said, "I've got a photocopy of that memo from the FBI," and Fumi took that and ran with it. Toward the end of Bill Clinton's administration and they ruled that the Japanese section railroad people and the mine people were entitled to this coverage or this act, the House Bill 442, and made Fumi happy.
And the way that I got to know Fumi is when they were reading this "Pacific Citizen" that Fumi Shimata they had quite a write-up about her and how she had done all this work. She was in Sacramento so I called directory assistance and got the number on the Shimata family and called them and I met Fumi. I thanked her for what she had done because as one of the surviving people of my father I got that money too, see? Just out of the clear blue sky I thought, well I'll send her some Idaho Russet potatoes and I sent her a fifty pound box and we, you know, calling and talking we became good friends and two years ago we met in Elko, Nevada. She wanted to come to Blackfoot because her grandpa worked on the railroad in Blackfoot and she wanted to see what kind of a town it was. I said, "Well Fumi, they've torn the round house down, they've torn the section houses down and everything. There isn't anything for you to see." But she still felt we should meet so I said, "Well let's meet in Elko, Nevada," and I met Fumi. And she had just retired as a school teacher down there and she and I are good friends.
Jim: Did your dad work for the railroad?
Hero: Her dad.
Jim: Your dad.
Hero: My dad was a section foreman.
Jim: Was a section foreman for the UP? For the Union Pacific or who was he with?
Hero: Union Pacific.
Jim: Okay. When did you first get over to Europe and where did you go?
Hero: Well we landed in oh, Naples, Italy. It took us a whole month to get there. Four good weeks. We got on the ship the first of May and we sat in that harbor for about five days and then finally shipped out and zig-zagged all over through the ocean to get to Naples and we landed there the very last part of May or first part of June.
Jim: When did you first see combat?
Hero: Oh, I don't remember the day.
Jim: What was it like and where was it?
Hero: Well, like I say, we probably didn't know what we were doing to begin with. You know we get unloaded, the arms and everything else like trucks and whatever you need and then the 100th Battalion became our first battalion. And we had three battalions and our first battalion moved Camp Blanding, Florida to train Japanese American soldiers as replacements for our combat teams, see? And I might have told you this story about (inaudible) coming out of the café. His dad had the Silver Grill Café. One day one of the guys found some flour and I threw this out to the kids. What would you do if you found a sack of flour? Some kids don't even know what flour is. Well he's coming out of the café went around and picked up this GI tooth powder which had baking soda and salt in it and he whipped them up some pancakes and boy did they like that. They had been eating out of these cans, C-ration cans and boxes, you know, K-ration boxes and I still cooked a pancake like that near his dad's café. Dad would have booted him out the back door but to those people who had not eaten any food like that it was just absolutely out of this world.
Jim: So when you got over there you said they outfitted you, you got armed up, they got your trucks and all that. When did they first move you folks into combat?
Hero: Well it was - Rome had been declared an open city and the Germans had withdrawn. It was somewhere around Sovita Vecchia and those places. I should have written down all those places I went to and the dates but, you know, sometimes you don't even have time to do that and you forget the towns. The first day of combat our first sergeant got shot. He got a million dollar wound. That means that you know, you never have to go back to combat. And like you say, our headquarters was out ahead of some of the line companies and we're supposed to be in the back coordinating all the battle scenes.
Jim: So tell me a little bit about what that was like when you guys got into it.
Hero: Well, I was not a rifleman. I had charge of the motor pool you know, to make sure all the majors and the colonels and that had Jeeps going all the time and the drivers and what not and it was the people in Companies A, B, and C, E, F, and G, I, K, and L, and you know where the line companies that carried the rifles, machine guns and things like that. Dog Company D, H, and M were the heavy weapons that had the water cooled machine guns and the 81 millimeter mortars instead of the 60 millimeter mortars. Because I was not a member of any of those companies sometimes we were always behind the line so to speak but we did get shelled sometimes by the Germans with their 88's and things like that.
I think the biggest thing that bothered a lot of us - we didn't know - they'd load up...The lieutenants would tell you that and lieutenants would get it from the captains and the captains would get it from - and the other thing that I think - I know will always live in my mind is we were not big enough to have a quartermaster company for our funeral detail, you know, our (inaudible) registration and our company executive officer, Lieutenant Gilmore, the colonel said, "You are it, you are the registration officer for this regiment. That means Lieutenant Gilmore had to account for every Japanese American soldier that was killed, you know, so we took him to the disposal area or can't find him or whatever.
Jim: You were talking about getting into combat and what that was like and -
Hero: Well, some of the fighting you know, it took some days to move forward and I think Hill 140 was one of the first ones that we went into and we had the job of - Lieutenant Gilmore was a nice guy, he came over and asked us. He didn't say, "You, you and you go with me." He said, "Well, Shiosaki, can you help me this afternoon?" or whatever and we would go with him wherever the maps indicated that the casualties were. And it was quite an experience, speaking of dead American soldiers.
You know, here in America when somebody passes away and have a funeral they're all decked out and dressed up and everything else but in battle it's not that way and I think one of the first ones that we went on, Sergeant Goshimoto and I and I think First Sergeant (inaudible) and we were calling around there looking for the people on the on this map and we finally asked Goshimoto if he'd found any and he said, "There's a fellow, a soldier here but he's a krombo," and a krombo means a black man and we went over there pulled his dog tag out and a Japanese name, but he had laid in the sun long enough that he turned bluish-black, you know. Others he could pick up that might have had a clean wound. I remember one major, a Caucasian major had stepped on a mine and his leg was gone and he'd been disemboweled and of course the beautiful thing about that is he never knew what he'd stepped on. And others that had lain there for several days were nothing but maggots crawling out of them, you know their orifices, out of their sleeves. If you get through one of those details in the afternoon you don't feel like eating supper at night.
These are the things that I think about when I think about patriotism and love of country and things like this, the fellows who gave their lives in this manner and a lot of our young people when you tell them, mention it, have no inkling of what is going on. Just say if it happened, the Germans - I know that we passed some tanks where a German tank had been shot and you know the fuel gets on fire and the guys get out of there as fast as they can. I saw some German guys who were just burned and another thing that I remember is we were going up the Alps Mountains, you know, the French Alps and those hairpin turns were so sharp that the American trucks could not get around them and they'd have to back up and go ahead and back up, you know. And there was one truck that must have backed up a little too much and it might have been towing a big cannon and it just pulled it right on down to the ledge where they had come up from and it killed all the guys that were riding in that truck. And at that time when the French people were just thankful and I remember the French were there...France and these guys died for France you know.
Jim: People talk about the 442nd and they talk about being a whole group of heroes. People always tend to think of heroes as storming the top of the hill or running through the town or shooting and dropping the bombs but the things that you talk about seem to me to speak more to real heroism.
Hero: I'd like to say that there are quite a few people who got the medal but there's probably a lot more of them that deserved and that did not get them you know, because there was nobody to substantiate what they had done.
Hero: He had wiped out two machine gun nests and then the Germans threw a hand grenade in the fox hole that he was in. He covered that with his body. In a couple of seconds he was gone but the other two guys in there lived and he received the only Congressional Medal of Honor during the war time. And Eric Stahl said, "Well, it was pretty hard for the United States government to say that the Japanese were disloyal and then to give them medals, you know.
And in the late 1990s Senator Dan Akaka probably was a member of a group or a committee that started reviewing the Congressionals and they reviewed fifty-three Japanese American soldiers' records that had gotten the Distinguished Service Cross which is under and when they compared that to Audie Murphy's record, these guys had done more to get a DSC than Audie did to get the Congressional. So a committee that reviewed those promoted I think nineteen more, nineteen or twenty more, to Congressionals and so we got twenty or twenty-one Congressionals instead of one. And the same thing happened to the 92nd Buffalo Division, Vernon Baker. He didn't get his until 1997 for the fighting he did in '45 and they promoted six and he was the only one living. The five people had perished. And in the case of the Japanese Americans, eleven of them had gotten killed getting the DSC so that left nine out of the twenty and out of the nine, three had passed away and one was unable to come but President Clinton gave the Congressional to five of the attendees there.
Jim: You mentioned Vernon Baker and we talked to him when we were working on the last program that we did. One of the things that struck me about him and about you is that I don't feel a lot of bitterness from either of you, though it would certainly seem to me that you have the right to be a little bitter about some of these things - you and Vernon Baker.
Hero: Well, I guess just to make the best of it. What's happened, happened, you know.
Jim: But that's tough -
Hero: And bitterness is not going to solve anything. Fact is, it will go the other way really.
Jim: You talked about the memorial that is here in Pocatello for these guys and the medals. And I know you don't go over there to fight for medals but why is it important to recognize with -
Hero: Well, I think we're trying to do it for the generations that follow, like my grandkids. When I start talking about discrimination, well, what's that, you know? I don't feel any of it or anything else but they need to know that you should know history so that you can plan the future and things like this. There probably are some people that you open their eyes. I know when I've spoken at schools I've had people go, my god, I didn't know we did things like that, you know?
You talk about the internment camps, you probably never heard of Crystal City, Texas at the 11th Camp. The United States government bartered with Peru to send some of the Japanese Peruvians up to this camp in Texas. They wanted to use those people to barter in prisoner exchanges and when the war ended Peru didn't want those people back again. They didn't want them so there they were, stuck in the United States. People without a country because we thought that was the thing to do and right now they are working on a Latin American reparations program to honor these people that we, you know, kidnapped and brought to the United States of America.
Jim: You talk about people without a country. Do you think that some of those Japanese Americans felt like that?
Hero: Well, there were some Japanese Americans that were probably upset you know. Here we're American citizens. We haven't been charged with a crime yet they were being treated like prisoners. No trial and the Supreme Court ruled that President Roosevelt's executive order 9066 was constitutional, it was okay. So they didn't charge anybody with anything yet they imprisoned them but these people had no appeals process because they weren't convicted. And there were people like Gordon Hirabayashi - there were three of those guys. Anyway, Fred Korematsu and a fellow from Portland, Oregon. This fellow from Portland, Oregon worked for the Japanese consulate in Chicago. The day after Pearl Harbor he resigned his job. He came back to Portland to get back into - he had a second lieutenancy in the reserves and found that he couldn't get in and things like this and it made him angry that he was being discriminated against, you know. I'm going to have to jot these names down so I -
Jim: That's all right.
Hero: Anyway, those three people really fought with the government and Gordon Hirabayashi was convicted in the court in Washington because he consulted - he was a law student and he consulted his law professor and the professor said, "Well, that's unconstitutional. We'd better go fight it," you know. And he was convicted and he was sentenced to go down to Arizona to serve his prison time. I hear the story that Gordon asked, "Well, how do I get there?" "Well, you're on your own." Can you imagine a felon being on his own? And he hitchhiked through and I read stories where he slept in some onion patches and when he got down there the word hadn't gotten down to the authorities down there to expect Gordon. The guy said, "I don't have anything on you." So, I don't know exactly what happened after that, but anyway these are some of the goofy things that happened, you know, during the war.
Jim: We were in Washington DC at the World War II Memorial. Have you been there?
Hero: I went to the Japanese American World War II Memorial.
Jim: I was going to ask you. We didn't go there. I think we're going to be making a trip back and go and see that but why go to that one and not the World War II Memorial - for you?
Hero: Well, I only went there for two days. I was appointed by or selected by Senator Craig for this two day symposium, Asian and Latinos conference, you know. And they kept us busy and the only time I went to the Japanese one was at night and I saw it under the lights.
Jim: I guess it's a pretty neat thing. What did you think when you saw it?
Hero: Well, I didn't know what I was expecting, you know. All I knew, they were trying to raise money and all of a sudden they had the thirteen million bucks, by God. Everybody must have chipped in a lot of money. And they have all the camps in it, you know. The ten camps and the granite wall there with the inscription, they've got waterfalls and all these things like that. It's quite artistic. It's near the Hyatt Hotel.
Jim: Inspiring or -
Hero: It makes you proud that it's something - it's an educational thing for anybody who visits Washington DC, who goes in without too much knowledge, you know, and just like going through the Smithsonian. My brother's got his picture in the Smithsonian. When I went there we caught a taxi cab. We want to go to the Smithsonian Institute. "Well, what building do you want to go to?" We didn't want to walk down so - and they had this Japanese American exhibit in this one building. It's a humongous thing.
Jim: Interesting. And his picture is in there?
Hero: Well, his picture is. I didn't get to see Mike's picture but I've had people tell me it's hanging there in the Smithsonian. "I saw your brother's picture."
Jim: That's funny. You talked about the Japanese Memorial in Washington DC and not going to the World War II Memorial. The World War II Memorial - we went there and it's huge and grand and the lights and water and stars and all that kind of stuff. Does that feel like yours also or not?
Hero: Well, I would have like to have gone. If I had been using my brain I would have probably said, "I won't come back." I probably should have stayed for several days and gone to Arlington National Cemetery and places like that. The Supreme Court Building. They showed me where Watergate took place and things like this but I missed a lot of spots and I missed a chance to do that.
Jim: One of the things you talked about was talking to kids and about why it's so important. You talked about it's so important to get the message out. What's the message? What do they need to hear?
Hero: Well first of all, they need to read history, hear about it so that if anything like this is trying to happen they can identify it and if they believe truly that everybody has equal rights here then they've got to get on the bandwagon and say, "Hey this is discrimination. It's not right." Historically I think it's nice to talk to the young kids because they can learn so much about history, about things that happened. What happened to the Japanese Americans is not in any books hardly. At least I've never been able to find it.
Jim: Not much. What does it mean for you to be able to talk to them, do you think?
Hero: Well I think I'm doing something I should be doing. I don't know whether the Lord is telling me to do it or what but it's something that I enjoy. I don't consider it a burden. I spend quite a bit of my own money you know, traveling and I've been up to Montana, Eureka. Do you know where that is? Way up there. And I've been to St. Maries and over toward Nampa and just wherever they ask me to come.
Jim: It's so much more meaningful when you can actually talk to someone who was there rather than just read the book or something - even if it's on television - that it's much better to hear from you than an expert on World War II sort of thing. What is it like - you talked about friends, buddies from the Army that are no longer with us. What is it like now to be one of the ones that's left that is telling these stories?
Hero: Well, I hate to think that I'm growing old but that's exactly what's happening and I don't know of anybody who can share the experiences that I've had and I think it's important. And the other thing that I try to get over to the kids is you are here to get an education. Your parents are not the most important people in your life. The most important people in your life are sitting right here in front of me and you've got to pick up everything and put it up here and get to work. And tell them to respect the teachers and help each other out.
I'll never forget John D. O'Brien. I never met John he met me in the parking lot. I asked John, "How long would you like me to talk," and we had no conversation before that. I thought he'd say, "Oh, a couple of classes. They're about 45 minutes." He said, "Well, our lunch hour ends at 12:40 and you can have the rest of the day," and he had an assembly arranged and when I was telling the kids, "You respect your teachers and your family people. You listen up, you ask them questions, you help each other out in school," and he was just sitting there grinning from ear to ear.
I think when somebody from the outside comes in and tells those kids the same thing that the school teacher has been beating on maybe they will listen up and there are two or three more people get to work, why, I've done something good.
Jim: One of the things that Vernon Baker talked about was that - I'd asked him about bitterness and those things and he said, "Fighting each other doesn't work." That you've got to find ways to come together. Is that something that you want to tell kids, and is that important do you think?
Hero: That's true. And I told Vernon I read his book and I said the one thing I really remember about you is you had to go hunt jackrabbits when you lived in Cheyenne you know so he'd have something to eat at night. He and I hit it off, I mean just like that when we met each other. I'm in a reading program. But last year and this year I've been going to the Southgate School, I mean I.T. Stoddard School four days a week and having the second graders read to me and it just makes me feel good to see these kids. They would have improved even without me but I think I've taken them maybe a step higher and gotten a whole bunch of good young kids as friends who come up and speak to me and give me a hug and things like this you know, for what I've done. They put a booklet together, with pages that each kid has written out and things like this and thank you for coming and helping us read and all these things like this.
Jim: We talked about some of the folks that are no longer with us. Do you ever think about why you are one of the ones that is still around telling these stories?
Hero: No. I figured I'd be dead by about sixty-five. I used to paint automobiles, spray painting, see? Grinding dirt off of the - dead paint off of the fenders and coughing it up and spitting it out and stuff like this and I thought, Heck, I probably won't live much past sixty-five. I mean I'm completely amazed. I had hepatitis in the Army and the doctor that checked me over - I would never drink or anything - but he said, "Don't you ever start drinking because if you do you'll get cirrhosis of the liver and it will kill you." I didn't believe in smoking because my dad did and he had a horrible cough all the time and I just decided those things aren't for me. Believe me I won't deny it, I've lost thirty pounds, thirty-five pounds, in the last year and I have to because I'm not as stable as I used to be and things like this and I guess it's the Lord's will.
Jim: What should people know about what that time was like? You know Tom Brokaw wrote the book about "The Greatest Generation" and we've heard people talk about the heroes from that war and other wars. Sometimes I get the feeling that younger people today don't really understand what it was like back then. Is there any way to sum it up to let them know what it was really like when you were there?
Hero: Well I think if you summed it up they still won't believe you. They think you're telling stories you know. I told my grandkids one time, you know, "The first job your grandpa got he got ten cents an hour," and they go, "He must be lying a little bit or something or he sure needed money real bad," and they've all lived with this no money down, no payments for ninety days you know and pay a small sum of $295.00 a month for forty-eight months you know and you own this big gas guzzling SUV and they've all fallen for it. Credit cards. A lot of them don't have financial stability or they don't even know how to figure it out. And it's like I asked one of my fellow adjusters one time how he figured his budget out. He said, "Well, we take my paycheck, we cash it and we pull out all the money for all the bills we've got to pay and then we live on the rest of it." He said, "Sometimes we eat a lot of spaghetti and cheese."
But these kids haven't done that you know. They go put it on a credit card and go to the restaurant and what not and then say, "My God, I sure owe a lot of money. How am I going to pay it?" It's got to slow down somewhere because I can't see where this economy is so doggone great you know like the President and some of the people would like you to believe. Well, I haven't compared Idaho with other states but there were other states that were pretty bad too. You know, the dust bowls and things like that.
Jim: Do you ever miss those days? Back in the service, do you ever miss being there with those guys?
Hero: Well, we became very close you know because we lived together for almost three years. Our company didn't get many replacements because they didn't get shot up like others and everybody that was in there pretty much had a stable job and so we became very close. I call Honolulu every once in a while or Kauai and people that I've known for years. And I think one of my nicest moments is when I went to a reunion in Hawaii in 1968. I think it was twenty-five year reunion and there was a Jeep driver by the name of Edward Yoshiro. I don't know why and when I was in Honolulu here comes Yoshiro walking up on me. He came up and gave me a big hug and kissed me on both cheeks and said, "I want to thank you for taking care of me when I was young." But when he came back and told me it just made me feel real good. They finally decided I wasn't picking on him.
Jim: What was it like to finally come home?
Hero: Well, it was nice. I hadn't [seen] mom for quite a while. Of course dad was gone but it was homecoming. I was the first one home. My brother that volunteered before I did didn't come home until December sometime and we did not have communication because my dad probably would have written in Japanese and I couldn't have read it anyway and so I think that our communication was a letter once in a while to June, you know.
Jim: How did you find out about your dad's passing?
Hero: Well, the Red Cross notified us. It was about a month after he'd passed away you know. Mike and I wound up in the same company. I tell people we kind of got together for a few minutes and shed a few dry tears you know and then went back about our own jobs.
Jim: It must have been hard to be away from home.
Hero: And you know, you look forward to going home when the war ended and everything. Well, the war ended in let's see - July or August the Germans surrendered. Well, we didn't get sent home till October. Just poopin' around and things like that and when we finally got on the boat at Naples, it was one of these Henry J. Kaiser ships. Went over on a ship and came back on another one and everybody was just happy, chattering like a bunch of magpies and stuff like that. About two and a half hours out somebody says, "We're going to stand up and sing Aloha to the guys we left behind," and Aloha is love, goodbye and several other things and all of us faced Italy you know toward the back end of the boat and said, "Aloha Oi." I don't think there was a dry eye on that boat.
Jim: And still a good memory.
Hero: We still live in the best country in the world but if we want to keep it that way we've got to do our part. You can't let George do it all. Them guys are disappearing I think. And this is what I tell the kids. You don't know how damn lucky you are you live here in America. You don't like the school lunch you jump in your car and you go to McDonald's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut or something and I tell them about I had seen people pick up one grain of rice off of the ground and go like that and eat it. They don't even wipe it off or anything. They haven't had anything to eat forever almost. Pakistan and Bangladesh.
And I tell the people about this girl. We had just freed this Italian town and she came out to eat lunch. I said, "You know what she had? She had a piece of bread that was tattle-tale gray. They don't bleach the flour over there. This was in April. She had three onions that had to have sat in that storage cellar for six months. She stood there and picked all the rotten and you know dried up parts of that onion off, cut - tore probably the tops off. She had three pieces of onion about this long on this slice of bread. She poured olive oil on it, sprinkled salt and pepper. She ate that like you guys eat Angel Food Cake. That's all she had. There was no more. There wasn't anything else." I said, "How would you like to eat an onion sandwich once?"
And then I relate the time that we were on our D series maneuver. They wanted us to get used to combat conditions. We ate baloney and bread for twenty-one days, three times a day. There was no such a thing as a bath facility or anything. After about ten days or so I found a cold creek, some water creek. This was in January. It gets cold in Mississippi and the water was still rushing but it must have been a few degrees over thirty-two and you know you just have to make the best of it. And as far as food is concerned we were up in the De Soto National Forest in the mountains and every once in a while you'd find a country story about as big as this room. And of course when we went there we practically bought everything the guy had. We bought some pickled pigs feet and this Hawaiian guy looked at it and said, "Pei lou." That means dirty you know in Hawaiian. Eating pickled pigs feet? After it was all over we went looking for Eto We called him Snafu. Snafu Eto and he was a colonel's driver, head officer of our regiment and he used to do the colonel's hair cuts. He was real good. He'd cut hair with a pair of scissors. And we looked for Eto and guess what? We found him in the weapons depot eating the pickled pigs feet. There were a lot of fun things. Entertaining things.
Jim: I guess you have to find some times to laugh and smile in the middle of all that stuff.
Hero: I was kind of pleased. Well, they wanted to send us to the Pacific Islands because they wouldn't be able to identify us and I heard stories how the Japanese soldiers would come in the early morning chow lines down in the islands, you know South Pacific. Go through the chow lines and get American food because they were probably hungry.
When I went to Italy I had studied Latin for two years and I knew about the Coliseum and the Tiber River where Horatio defended Rome you know on that bridge and all these things and we did a lot of walking around but I got to go to St. Peter's Cathedral three different times. And one time our company captain was there and he sent the Jeep over to the rest center, the Mussolini rest center. That's where the Olympic Games were held I think in '36 or something like that and a Jeep full of gasoline - go see the town and we went to the catacombs, and all those places like that. If I hadn't been in the Army I had never even thought of St. Peter's or those places and have to go to Venice and -
Jim: When you guys got back or when you were over there, did you ever start to realize that all you guys really were heroes?
Hero: Never did. I just went out and done the job and the chips fell where they did. Going over and coming back and in between was just part of the days work.
Jim: I know people talk about you now and "hero" is always in there. Aside from the fact of your name - but they think of you guys as heroes.
Hero: I don't think we ever did. And my name was spelled H-i-r-o to begin with and that was pronounced "Hee-toe" in Japanese and when I started going to school and they started calling me "High-ro" and "High-ru" so I just changed the i to an e and went into the Army that way.
Jim: So you went in a hero and came out a hero?
Hero: But I think even before - I know that when we trained at Camp Robinson, Arkansas our first sergeant came out and when he'd say, "Forward, march!" he'd say, "Forward, yo!" and when we completed basic training he was afraid to staff with these Americans. He said, "Boy, I wish I had a company of you guys." The rifles we turned in were the cleanest and everything else like this.
Jim: Do you spend a lot of time thinking about those old days?
Hero: Well, you can't forget them. I'll tell you and Sergeant Dale when we were in Fort Warren, Wyoming he knew every one of us by our first name and last name and there must have been about three hundred guys and he'd see somebody falling out late. He knew who was going to do KP. And you'd go to get your money, he'd know. "Shiosaki, Hero. Right here. Sign right here for your paycheck." And it was just amazing that Sergeant Dale had such a fantastic memory.
Jim: And you said you don't want to forget those times.
Hero: Well, you can't. I mean you think about people like Emi and them. Some of the guys you served with. We served and done things Emi thought was important like picking up cigarette butts, raking the lawn and cutting it and things like this. And Emi was always an optimist. I don't know how he ever got into the Army. He had athletes foot so bad they'd make him go to sick call and soak his feet in this potassium. He would turn them purple you know. And Emi would always say, every day he would say, "Shiosaki, I'm going to make through this war. Just like every day he'd tell that and sure enough, went through training, went through Italy -
Hero: Quite a few, about ten of my friends from Hawaii didn't make it home. They made it back to the United States but they never, ever, ever made it home. And you know people never hear these kinds of stories. And you stop and wonder well what future would those guys have gotten into? I found a book - the 442nd 1943 - and I loaned that to the guy that is going to speak Monday, see, so I don't have that and anyway I'm going through our company and I can identify a lot of guys in there.
Jim: To never forget.
Hero: Never will forget. Never will forget the officers that were so - and when Lieutenant Gilmore wasn't feeling too good they were going to have a reunion in California. They moved it up a month and I got my plane ticket and everything else and he passed away three weeks before the reunion. And anyway, they called me and said, "Well, Lieutenant Gilmore passed away, are you still going to come?" And I said, "Heck yes. I've got my ticket," and we had a memorial service for him and everything else.
And this pall bearer for all Japanese Americans and you know that was a good feeling because he had a house burn down and we got letters saying we think everybody ought to donate a hundred dollars to the Gilmores. And since there were a hundred left of us that would be ten thousand bucks and there might have been even more than that. And anyway Lieutenant Gilmore and this Okagaki came in with this shit-eating look on his face you know carrying a great big manila bag and gave Lieutenant Gilmore - Gilmore was a colonel then and he was teaching at San Jose State College - but anyway, Lieutenant Colonel Gilmore sent every one of us a money order back. He would not accept any. He said the insurance company treated him good and stuff like that. But this is how well we bonded. When the big typhoon hit Kauai we sent money over, about fifteen hundred bucks a piece and they distributed it and got all kinds of thank you letters from guys that we had forgotten about. It's been real good. I mean we were in a segregated unit but I'm glad for that in the way that we bonded so well and everything else. In that movie - heck, I'm closer to my friends than I am to my family you know.
And every time we've gone to Hawaii - one time when we went over there, out of eleven days we only had two events booked and my wife said, "Well, what are we going to do?" Well when we left we only had two nights that we didn't have something to do and we were damn glad that we could go to bed.
And a lot of the guys - I'd like to take you to some place you know and they found out somebody else had spoken ahead of them, see? And they weren't too happy about it. And we went to Pearl Harbor and one of the Tamigouchi was there. He was piloting a small yacht for the admiral. He wanted to take us right on out to the Arizona Memorial but we had already bought tickets and gotten in line, see? They were just wonderful to us.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: Of Camps and Combat