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Do you recall anything else about the Japanese-American community after Pearl Harbor? Between the time of Pearl Harbor and when they were taken away? Anything that you recall seeing, hearing, either pro or anti Japanese sentiment in the Modesto area.
Of course it was such a shock that this had happened, so no one knew if there were Japanese spies here, no one know. These Japanese here some were Nisei, some of them were born here. Now this one family that we were good friends with, they would send their children back to Japan after they graduated from high school, they would go back to Japan to learn the culture in Japan. Blanche Komodo, her sister was on the plane back to Japan and had called or gotten in touch with her and told her you better come home. So, she got on a ship to come home and they got halfway here and the war started and the boat turned around and went back to Japan and she was interned there for the rest of the year. She married a Japanese fellow because she was an outsider then. She was Japanese-American. She was looked down on. So by marring this Japanese man, she became more accepted in that situation. This sister didn’t come home until after the war. She came home. That’s what they would do, so nobody knew, well, are they trying to spy on us. At that time we didn't know if the Japanese were going to land on the California Coast. Nobody knew that, it was some panic I guess, but I don’t remember that we were panicked by anything.
Were there Japanese-American students at your school?
Yes, yes, sure.
Right after Pearl Harbor, before they were interned did your classmates—non-Japanese classmates—ever pick on or ostracize the Japanese-American students?
No, no they did not. They just slipped away and that what happened. My wife talked about it too. We were wrapped up in our own lives, just like you might be, and they were gone. “Oh, where did Norbert go? Oh, he’s gone, he’s not on the farm.” But they did not go to concentration camps, they went to relocation camps. You said not to editorialize but it was wrong in retrospect, but at the time, you don't know the feeling that was in the country. The same thing happened to the Germans in the First World War. They were ostracized in the same way. We now know that that is not the thing to do—we don't do that to Muslims here in this country now or Iraqis, or Syrians or whatever. Nobody goes into a camp now.
Section below transcribed by Rowan R ('08), cleaned by Noah SJ ('09) and Elana L ('07)
Were there anti-Japanese American internment rallies or protests in your area?
Not that I know of around here there weren't. There might have been in Los Angeles or San Francisco I don't have any idea of that and I don't remember reading anything about that but, there could have been.
Was there any anti-Japanese propaganda?
Oh yes, the Japanese were all bad just like the Germans were all bad. I have in that briefcase a thing that General Bradley sent to us about how we never should trust Germans, ever. But I trust one now, I trust all Germans now.
When did joining the military first become a relevant issue for you?
Immediately. We all wanted to serve—it's not like today at all. Everyone wanted to serve, everybody that was able, that was physically fit wanted to serve. Of course we all wanted to fly airplanes but that didn't happen for me, so I just kept working in the service station until they called me.
Why did you want to serve?
Well, we'd been attacked. The Japanese attacked us and then the Germans. We went to war with them, we'd already been sort of helping them, helping the British—sending them more material on. But the Japanese and the Germans and the Italians were the scourge of the world! What are you going to do?
Had you wanted to serve before Pearl Harbor?
No. Never thought about it. Thought about going to college and going on with our lives, marrying someone—we all thought about being married then.
When you were drafted you were excited? How did you react?
Excited. Got on a bus with fifty others that were on the bus and off we went and that was it. My father took me. I actually got on the bus in Turlock and my father took me down there and I just remember looking out the window and there was my dad. "So long....”
How your family feel about it?
I guess my mother probably worried about it—I'm sure she did—but we didn't. No soldier in whatever army ever thinks your the one who’s going to be killed. You don't think you are. You get killed maybe but you don't think you’re going to be killed. I never ran into anyone who thought they were going to be killed. So you didn't worry too much about it.
Were you the only one of your siblings to...
I was the only one of my siblings to serve, yes.
Was there a reason for that?
There were younger, they were all too young. The next one was eight years younger than I was. So they were just children. They didn't serve. They helped my dad on the farm because he needed help farming but that's all they contributed. Yes, next question?
So you were taken to a training camp once you got on the bus?
Yes. We went over to Monterey and that was just an induction center where you got your clothes and you learned something about how to march—very little—and you learned some other things that you didn't really care to know, and you got shots. I could go into stories about that but I'm not going to.
How long were you there?
About two weeks at the most, and then we were on a train to where we actually took basic training in Colorado.
What was basic training like in Colorado?
Learning how to march, going on field marches where we’d go hike ten, fifteen, twenty miles—that was good because we were young and physically fit at the time. I remember the cadre the people who were there to receive us were older—they'd been in the army and they weren't in as good condition as we were. So when we'd go on these twenty-five mile hikes, we’d see if we could just run them into the ground, which we easily did, we'd have to end up carrying their packs. But it was good for us, because we learned responsibility, how to make up our own beds, how to pick up trash. That's what gets me today. I pick up trash over here by this nice parkway, Virginia Corridor where we can go walk but the kids are trashing it. So I take my little grabber and a bucket and clean up the trash so they don't do that anymore. But in the army you learn to do that, you picked up everything. You took a cigarette butt—there were a lot of cigarettes in because the cigarette companies were giving away free cigarettes so that you'd be hooked on it. But I never started. Anyway, if there was a cigarette butt you had to take it, unwrap it, roll up the little paper into a little ball and get rid of it so there was no trash. You learned how to do kitchen police, how to set tables, how to peel potatoes, all that good stuff.
How soon after you were drafted did you find out what your job was going to be?
When we went to Colorado we knew we were going to be ambulance drivers or we were going to be in medical field somehow. We were in the 427th's medical battalion. They had companies A, B and C. That was for basic training. I was in Headquarters Company so I drove a jeep for an officer. We'd do motor marches and we'd drive ahead and stop traffic in the town for the ambulances to go by.
How far do you guys want to go with this, because I could go on with this?
We have a lot of time.
When we went to maneuvers in Tennessee they broke up the 427th medical battalion and made three companies. Company A, B and C turned into the 584th Ambulance company, the 585th Ambulance company and the 586th Ambulance company. What they were doing then was abandoning the headquarters company so three of us were sent down to the 585th Ambulance company and some of the others went to the other companies and of course we got there and had no job, there was no job for us. Just to do KP out in the boonies where they had a tent set up in Tennessee. They used the worst country down there so they wouldn't tear it up too bad because of the maneuvers they had.
I remember, I'll tell you this right now, I was really low there. I was in a pup tent in a shelter house—so two men sleep in this tent. I had a partner who I'd known in Headquarters Company there. This one fall morning I was really low and I went down this trail and walked quite a ways and the sun was shining and I sat on this stump down there and I thought, “This is really bad I don't have a job now I’m not on the ambulance what am I going to do?,” and I thought, “Well, I'm still alive I'm still healthy, as I walked back and came through the company area, the first sergeant came out and said, "Hey! Sanders! Do you want to go on an ambulance?" Aw man! I tore down my half of the shelter put it all in my barracks bag went running over, jumped on old ambulance thirty-three just like the one out there and I was home, I had a home, I had a friend, Ray Lockhart. We did the whole rest of the war together. That was a traumatic experience for me and I don't know whether it's even worth recording. You can't imagine how I felt, having been driving a jeep, and then, nothing. No future there it didn't look like. Well, then on the ambulance it was wonderful. We kept our barracks bags on the fender and we were just separate people, we just traveled separately on our own. We got lots of maps and we took care of some casualties. Always in a maneuver somebody gets hurt. The first one I remember carrying—you see these things stand out in my mind even today, after all these years—we were asked to pick up this fellow that had been run over by a tank, and he was dead, and we're not supposed to carry the dead. But the tank had run over his head. He had his helmet on, sleeping by a tree or something. This was our first introduction into this kind of stuff. You don’t want me to tell these kinds of stories, do you? Anyway, that was our first—somebody's going to die in this thing, you know? I remember our mail clerk went in to pick up the mail and he was in a jeep and he wanted me to go with him and I said “No, I’m going to stick with the ambulance.” And he turned it over and was killed, so who knows what might have happened?
Make sure you let them ask questions.
Go ahead and ask questions.
We all the sudden just jumped from basic training into...
Down to maneuvers.
You're still in the United States right now?
Yes, of course, Tennessee.
So there were casualties in the United States?
Yes, oh yes.
When did you become an ambulance driver?
Right down there in Tennessee, when I folded up my shelter half and jumped in the old ambulance thirty-three. I became an ambulance driver. But I'd had a Dodge. One of my cars had been a Dodge. I think I paid fifteen dollars for it. But it was kind of the same engine actually, that was in the Dodge ambulance. So I'd driven a Dodge, so it wasn't any problem to drive.
Did you get any training on how to drive the ambulance?
No. Because we knew how to drive, so there wasn't anything. We had basic medical training. Just basic. How to care for a wound, how to stop blood flowing, whatever. Of course we could get onto that later on, if we've got time about what we had to do taking casualties back from the front to a EVAC hospital like a MASH unit. Go ahead.
What were your feelings when you first saw that man who died who was run over by the tank? What realizations did you have?
What realizations? I just knew that people were going to die and I couldn't believe this man had been run over by a tank. But it was night, so that happened. I've thought about it later and wondered why I didn't know more about him and of course that goes on all through the war. Why didn't I know more about this person? Why didn't I know about these people lying in the fields on?
Did that make you upset? In Tennessee?
No, because we had a job to do. Once you get into these things got a job to do and you're going to do the job. You don't want to let down, because of all your friends. You don't want to chicken out or something like that. So you keep going. You don't let it bother you. You try not to.
Was it ever hard not to let it bother you?
I suppose but once you're busy and once you're into it, we can get into that later on when we get into Normandy and into Brittany. You just go with the flow.
Try to avoid feeling questions. Try to build facts.
Let's build facts.
Let's move towards his departure for Europe.
Let's go out of Tennessee.
When did you first hear that you were leaving for Europe?
We knew we were going to be going to Europe, because we were in Tennessee and we were going East to New Jersey and if we'd been going to Japan or into the Pacific we would have been over in San Francisco, but we weren't. We were going to New Jersey, which was an embarkation camp to Europe. We knew that. We went up to a camp called Kilmer. We turned our ambulances in, in Tennessee, and rode a train up to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey and we were there for about a week. They gave us a pass into New York. So we were just young kids going into New York! We got off the train and we went outside the station and got this taxi and said, "We want to go to the Empire State Building!" and the man said "Ok.” He drove us around the block and around the other side of the building we were in front of was the Empire State Building! So that was fifty cents. We'd blown fifty cents to go around the block.
Can you describe what it would have looked like if we were walking into the camp?
Many, many soldiers. Soldiers everywhere. One of the fellows that had been in our outfit in Tennessee had been thrown in the stockade which is an army prison. We saw him up in Camp Kilmer in the back of a garbage truck with fatigue pants and shirt and a big 'P' on the back of his shirt. "Hey! What are you doing up there?.” He was hauling garbage.
What did he get in trouble for?
I don't know. Probably drunkenness. Yes, probably. Probably drunkenness. I don't remember anything about him other than that we saw him again.