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ROTC and College
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Were you in the ROTC in high school?
Not in high school. In college, yes, I was required to take ROTC because the college that I went to was a land-grant college, Even though after the war broke out, I became a man without a country so-to-speak because of my classification 4C—the irony of the thing was—I still had to take ROTC, wear the uniform, and be the drill master and captain of the rifle team and all that. And yet, I couldn't be in any of the military units in the United States. I couldn't take any of the graduate type courses that they were teaching for those who had volunteered for the navy or the army or the air corps.
What is the ROTC?
What is the ROTC? The ROTC acronym stands for reserve officers training corps. It was usually only associated with the army. They don't say that, but it was army reserve officers training corps. Anybody who had finished the ROTC course and then went into the service, even if there wasn't a war, would become an officer.
What was a land-grant college and what was the connection to the ROTC?
Certain institutions, colleges, and I guess high school, I don't know. At least in the colleges, they were considered land-grant colleges, they were not private colleges, like SC or like your school. The government was supporting these schools, and so in turn, the men had to take ROTC.
Do you have a story about the irony of being in the ROTC while also being considered an enemy alien?
Well, yes. I started school at Montana State College, which is a land-grant college, and ROTC is required. I started in 1940, no, 41, 1941. That would have been in September in 1941. Of course, Pearl Harbor got bombed in December, December 7th. Up until that time, I was just a normal citizen. I had to wear a uniform and I was a very skilled hunter, I was a crack shot, so I became the captain of the rifle team. We even competed in the 9th Corps Area. The 9th Corps area -that's a military term—that would include Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Our school won the championship while I was captain of the team.
After Pearl Harbor, I was classified—well, see a normal or able-bodied man would be classified as 1A, and anybody 1A would have to go to war, if you got drafted or volunteered. I was classified as 4C and I never did know what that meant until after the war. But it turns out that it meant "enemy alien, unfit for military service." The irony of the whole thing is that I was probably more able-bodied and more capable of being a good ROTC person, but they wouldn't let me because of my classification. At the same time, in order to go to school, I had to take ROTC, It was one of the educational units that you took for credit. On my report card, I got credit for ROTC. They never took that away from me, but I couldn't join the army, couldn't join the navy, couldn't join anything that was military, but I still had to take ROTC, which is really ironic.
No, I didn't, I wasn't angry. I was angry because I was not permitted to take any of the—I could take the classes but I couldn't be in the military and take the class and get credit both for the military and for my academics. This always bothered me, especially when they were telling me that I wasn't an American.
Did you want to join a military force? Where did you end up going to school?
Well, I wanted very much to go into what they call the Army Air Corps, it wasn't the Air Force then, in those days, it was the Army Air Corps. My school which was an A and M, so they taught engineering. Our school was selected by the Army Air Corps to be one of the four schools in the United States that they would make an Air Corps academy. So that was good because you had Cal Tech,and Michigan State, and MIT, and Montana State, and that ranked us pretty high, And at that time, it was very, very popular for men to get into the Army Air Corps. There were all kinds of songs that people would sing, and that was top level stuff.
Then I was taking aeronautical engineering as a minor, so of course I wanted to go into the Air Corps. They wouldn't let me even go to that school, and I was really bitter about that. It wasn't until January of 1943, that President Roosevelt realized that they had made a mistake about the classification. So they rescinded the classification and formed a military unit called the 442nd regimental combat team.
Now, the combat team is comprised of all of the units necessary to carry on a war all by itself. It's like we had three battalions of infantry, which was a regiment. We had one battalion of field artillery. We had a corps of medics. We had our own chaplains. We had a cannon company. As a unit the 442nd could be attached to any division or army or whatever that needed a specialty unit to come in and help them out.
In April of 1943—can I add on to my story a little bit—my department head, I took mechanical engineering, and so the Dean of Mechanical Engineering was a man by the name of Fred Halmon. Well, Halmon is very German and his assistant's name was Jerry Pessman. Pessman is also a German name. Well it turns out that these two professors were caught in the same thing in World War 1, They knew what I was experiencing. so they got behind me and supported me all the way. That was good because I had a lot of favors—before the war came about—but they were very protective of me, during the war. So, because I wanted to get into the academy so bad, they went to the Adjutant General, who was in charge, and pleaded with him to let me get, get into the academy, and see if they couldn't somehow get the Army to make an exception for my classification.
Well, he said, here's what he said. He said, "if you go to your community and get five letters of support, that is, prominent people who would testify to your being a good American citizen." And so, I did. Then he said, "Well now if you go to Butte, Montana and get a physical, and you pass the physical, then a week later we'll ship you off to Fort Douglass, Utah and you'll be in the Army Air Corps." Well, when I got to—I did, I got all the letters and I passed the physical, really because I was a strapping, strong person then—I went to Fort Douglass, the whole community was so happy that George was going go, finally going to get in the Air Corps and so we had a big party, and they gave me gifts and money and all kinds of stuff.
So then I went to Fort Douglass, Utah. When I got there I was in the infantry, and I said, "No, no wait a minute, I'm not in the infantry, I'm supposed to be in the Army Air Corps." They said, "No, you didn't volunteer for the Air Corps, you got drafted into the infantry." I said, "I didn't get drafted into infantry." They said, "Yeah, your serial number tells us that you were drafted." I said, "How could you tell?" Well, my serial number starts with a 3. 39618001. I said, "Well how can you tell?" They said, "Well 3 means you're drafted. How do you know if you're an enlisted man? It starts with a 1, and so those who enlisted have a 1, if the serial number starts with a 3, you're drafted."
From then on, I was so bitter, and so angry at the government, so angry at the Adjutant General for doing that kind of thing to me, It wasn't until just a few years ago, that I could finally deal with that and get over it. Because I was so deceived and it didn't make me any less of a good soldier, but it did have a big impact on my psychological life, I think. But that's all history, I tell these stories because I don't really want that to happen to anybody else.
Why did you want to join the military so badly?
Well, it was the popular thing to do with all of my buddies. All my college classmates, the men were in the military, unless they had a classification where they physically couldn't be in it. I was president of the student branch of the mechanical engineers, Society of Mechanical Engineers. I was a popular person. So, I wanted to do things that other guys did. I didn't want to be a laggard, I wanted to be a very good, patriotic American. So, that kind of hurt, you know, when you couldn't do that.
How did being in the infantry versus the Air Corps, effect you psychologically?
I'll tell you another little story that goes along with this. When I left Fort Douglass, Utah, they put me on a troop train, I don't know if you've ever ridden in an old fashioned Pullman car or not, they had shades that you'd pull down at night. So on this troop train, they had several soldiers that were infantry that they were transporting. So they pulled all the shades down so that the people couldn't see that there were any Japanese, or at least Asian type of soldiers riding on that troop train.
I got to Kansas City and I changed trains, and they also gave me a new package that I was supposed to go to take to the Commander of the newly formed 442; the Four-hundred and forty-second regimental combat team, in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. So I ended up in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. I reported in and the person that interviewed me, I think was an Adjutant General, said "Well, we're going to assign you to company so and so in the infantry," and I said "I don't want to be in the infantry. Don't you have something else besides the infantry? Anything!" and I said, "I'm an engineer." And he said, "Oh, well, we have an engineering company." And so I said, "Well, I'd rather go in that then be in the infantry." and so then he said "Well, yeah, but I forgot to tell you, it's full, there's no more room in the infantry. So I said, "What else you got?" And they said, "Well, I think that there is some openings in the field artillery." So I said "I'll take it." And that's how I got in the field artillery.
All these things are history that I mainly just summated that we're a little more discreet in what we do, in the way in which we defend our constitution and so that these kinds of stories don’t happen again, or at least not very often, because my story is the same story that many of the Japanese Americans tell.