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2-Pearl Harbor & Internment
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Do you recall any memories about Pearl Harbor?
Pearl Harbor? Very clearly. I was on the San Francisco Bay Bridge that Sunday morning, driving over to a fraternity picnic. I was still in high school, as a senior, and while I was on the bridge it was announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Well, at first I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was. Never been to Hawaii. Then they gradually defined it, and when the details came out about Pearl Harbor it was just horrible, having visited it later in life, going on the ship, the Arizona, where there were 1800 kids at the bottom of the ocean right there that they never recovered. Then the next day, President Roosevelt gave this talk, the famous talk, of 'the day of infamy' on December 7th, 1941, and it said, "The hand that held the knife stuck it into the back of its neighbor," which was United States. Well, it's all complicated with what had been going on in Europe, because we were sending lend-lease ships to England, with supplies. They went into the war in 1939.
What about you? How did you personally react when you heard about what had happened?
It was difficult because there were over 2000 servicemen killed in Honolulu at that time, and here I was, just about ready to enter college, and it just turned our lives upside-down. We didn't know where we were or what was going to happen to us; we knew eventually we'd go into the service. But it took a while to sink in. And then, at homes we had blackouts on all of our windows, and they started collecting silver foil, and fats, and then everything went into rationing meats and other food items. It was very difficult to buy new clothes at that time. You couldn't get a new car, and it just affected the whole United States. You lived it every day.
Did you have any exposure to Japanese internment during this time?
The school I went to, at high school, at Lowell High, had a high percentage of Japanese students, and gradually they kind of disappeared. We weren't even aware what was going on, but they were sent to detention camps with their families, in Utah and Colorado. They were locked up. But the interesting thing about that is that they never did anything with the German citizens and the Italians, who we were fighting. Just retracing my steps, just going back to President Roosevelt's speech, the day after we were attacked is the day that he said that we're at war with Europe, and we're going in full force.
Did you personally listen to that speech or radio or did you hear it?
I think I did, but I've heard it so many times that maybe I didn't. I just assumed that I did.
What were people's reactions to the internment of the Japanese Americans?
At that time they called the Japanese,"Japs," which was a terrible word, but they called them "Japs." And they were all taken to these internment camps, because they were afraid that they would cause, I'm trying to think of a good word, that they would undermine and... Well I botched that pretty good.
But what were the attitudes of you and your friends and other people in the school? If you put yourself back as a sixteen year-old, seventeen year-old and you start to become aware that the Japanese community is being removed, what were those conversations with your friends like?
We fully believed that the Japanese were taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and all of our defense systems, and they were gonna sabotage everything, that they were bad people. And also Germans and Italians. But you couldn't tell a German and an Italian because of the color of their skin, so we just went on. But this thing with the Japanese was a big influence in our... the government was preaching hate, so that we should hate the Japanese. It was proven after the war that they never did one bad thing. They never committed one act of sabotage. They did however, having said that, there was one submarine that...
Was that around the time you decided to go into the army? When did you decide to do that?
No. I graduated from High School on a Friday, and started Cal on a Monday, Cal Berkeley, and joined a fraternity. For the next three or four months, there was a draft on, and so one by one the men would be leaving. Some were in the Army enlisted corps, some were in the Navy reserves, Marine reserves, and I tried to join one of those outfits, but I had problems passing a physical, because I was too short, too little, and had an overbite of my teeth, which kept me from going in the Marine Corps. But the pressure was on us when we were at Cal, in the summer of '42, because everybody was going. We just knew that we were going, and some of them tried to postpone it one quarter and another quarter. Finally everyone was leaving and I went down to the draft board and just said, "Take me now. I'm ready."
Joining the Army
Why did you want to join the Marines?
Well, they had a program that you could get into the Marine O.C.S., officer's candidate school, and they'd keep you in school a little longer. Then you'd go there and go through training. But I had an overbite and flat feet. So the Colonel said to me: "That keeps you out. Sorry." So I said, "Sir, with all due respect, I'm not gonna bite 'em, and I'm not gonna kick 'em. I just want to shoot at 'em." And this was a general feeling. I wanted to get in the service. I thought that would be a good place to be.
So you were feeling patriotic?
Oh, there was such an overwhelming patriotism in this country. We have never seen anything like it since. To the last person. There were street wardens that would go out every night with a little helmet on, and be sure people's... (the phone rings and interrupts us)
Well, the patriotism got to the point of every family that had a son, or somebody from that family in the service, they would have a little flag hanging in the window with a blue star for one—my mother had three stars—and when you saw a gold star on one of these flags it meant that the son or the father, whoever it was, was killed in service. Everybody was donating blood to the Red Cross and they were rolling bandages and everything that could be done. They were making sandwiches for the boys out in these forts out on the edge of the Golden Gate. They'd bring them out there. They had USO services for the Navy and Army and Marines. Everybody was involved. If you were a 4-F, that was a shame. That meant that Army classification, that you were physically disabled to go into the service. Unfortunately, I knew some men who were 4-F's and didn't go in, and I never thought much of them.
Did they want to join the service?
Well, if they really wanted to they could have gone into the Merchant Marines or volunteered for an ambulance service—which one of my cousins did. But there were also some 4-F men who stayed out and during the war they made a lot of money.
Could you tell me more about that? When you worked in the shipyards?
Yeah, well they were paying a lot of money at that time, per hour. As a student over at Cal I worked on the swing shift from three to eleven or something. I was not too productive. I was not too handy. So I didn't last there very long. It right just before I went in the Army.
In the book you tell a story about patching a hole in a ship. Can you recount that?
Yeah. When I went to work I was a ship fitter's assistant. This was a very sad story in helping the cause of the war. This master ship fitter took me and he showed me a little hole in the deck. It was about three inches in diameter. And he said: "I want you to cut some metal and get a welder to come over and seal it up." It shouldn't have been there, that hole. So every time I would get a piece of metal and try to fit it in it was either too big, so I had to start over, or if it was too small it would have fall through. It all came back to me when we shipped out of New York to go to France. I kept looking around the deck to see if there had been a hole in the deck that I missed. I wasn't too good.
Can you explain what it was first like when you joined the Army? What were some of your first experiences?
It reminds me of the story of the little boy in a department store who's lost. He isn't lost. He knows where he is. But his mother doesn't know where he is. So I went in, didn't know what to expect. It wasn't that bad. We had to take a lot of orders from some people who shouldn't have been giving orders, and do a lot of exercising and marching and all of that, which didn't help our war effort at all. I didn't mind being it the Army, and I thought it was kind of stupid. All of their regulations and saluting and all of that. But you were in the Army and that's what you did. You took orders.
My first medical training in the Army was nil. While I went down to Fresno in basic training, I had put down, naturally, that I was in pre-med at Cal. And so they said, "Oh, you must be well trained." So they immediately put me in the dispensary to help doctors with minor surgeries. I wasn't trained for that. Even when we went overseas I was detailed as a surgical technician.
I had wished that I could've had a proper surgical technician's training, but it was too late from the period that they washed out our college program until we were ready to go overseas. You were getting ready to go overseas. There wasn't time for it. When we got over there, we started going into the camps and giving emergency medical attention to these poor prisoners who were liberated. I did what I could.