My Superiors Felt WW2
Were "Just as
Important" by Harry Honda
As for my 50 months in Quartermaster
Corps (QMC) during WW2, I did have a half-year
stint with the 770th Railway Operating Battalion in Alexandria, LA., (Camp
Claiborne in the summer of '44). Army railroads were also QMC before the
Transportation Corps came into being. Comprised of railroaders, they originally
restored the Whitehorse-Skagway tracks in the Yukon in the early days of the
war. The original group was released and young railroaders were being trained
for the Philippines. Small railroad bridges and sections of track were blown up.
And RyOpBn engineers and crew repaired the damages. The line connected Claiborne
and Camp Polk. (Never had the chance to take a train ride to Polk and back.)
You'd think the transport ship would turn around when hostilities ended in
August '45, but it kept heading for the Philippines.
Incidentally, I was the only Nihonjin in the outfit, where I actually helped
(was it my prewar newspaper experience?) the Battalion public relations officer
keep track of the front lines on the wall map in his office. My job title:
information and education specialist.
When the 770th was ready to ship out, I was transferred out to allow another
person to pick up my T-3 stripes and returned to Ft Warren QMC Replacement
Training Center in Cheyenne, Wyo., as I had too many points by then to go
overseas. I was inducted in October '41. (This happened to be third stay at Fort
In 1941, U.S. and Canada were already busy improving and widening the
Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway. Truck drivers and mechanics were desperately
needed. Nisei Clarence Okazaki and I were in the same company. Tad Iwata (of
Whittier) in Company A and Nisei-Kibei Masao Yamamoto (from Sacramento) in
Company C were the lone Nihonjin in our battalion. Other Nisei in basic were in
cook & baker school, motor maintenance and supply. A separate all-Negro regiment
was also in training there.
The other Nisei I met at the post, Hisako Sakata from Douglas, Wyo. was
secretary to the post chaplain, Maj. Frank Myers. (I would meet her again after
the war in Washington.) She and the chaplain were instrumental enabling us Nisei
GIs to attend a pre-Christmas community party at the Japanese Hall in town on
Sunday afternoon, Dec. 7. Meantime, all officers and soldiers off-post were
being called back because of Pearl Harbor. Hisako had asked the chaplain for
help as the community had prepared the treat for the Nisei soldiers. The
chaplain took personal responsibility to permit us to, at least, eat the sushi,
manju and sandwiches. The party was interrupted by FBI men and local police who
came upstairs to haul away several Issei men.
When our training ended January '42, a trainload
(three coaches) of about 50 Nisei was special-ordered to Texas. Some thirty GIs
with German and Italian surnames were on the same troop train with us to Camp
Barkeley, ten miles south of Abilene. Marching from train together into the
1851st QMC Detachment area, the prewar regulars there thought we were
"Japanese Prisoners of War"
in Army OD overcoats and the hakujin GIs marching with us were
The next morning our commanding officer, Capt. Archie
Taylor (a master mechanic at Kelly Field, San Antonio),
straightened out what was in the minds of old timers, telling them that we
Japanese Americans were Americans in the same war, in the same uniform to fight
for and defend our country and that he didn't want to have any trouble because
The same message was delivered on Dec. 8, 1941. The entire garrison stood at
ease on the parade ground to hear President Roosevelt deliver his speech in
Congress. B/Gen. John Warden, post commander at Fort Warren, recognized there
were German, Italian and Japanese Americans and said, in essence,
"If any of you get in trouble or if anyone makes any disparaging remarks,
let me know, because we will not tolerate that type of conversation and
The QMC 1851st Detachment roll in November 1941 had 47 Nisei among 210 enlisted
men and one officer. When the first sergeant wondered if they was a typist in
the crowd, I volunteered and became the company clerk. Weeks later the Nisei
were helping the mess sergeant, the supply sergeant, at the motor pool,
warehouses, etc. Part of the post became a German war prisoner camp, housing men
from the Afrika Korps in 1943. Those helping as KPs in our detachment were
surprised to see cooks with Japanese faces working in the kitchen and in our
My Army days later as chief clerk dealt with training enlisted personnel in QMC
administrative procedures. They were from WW2 combat units training at Barkeley:
the 45th Infantry Division (its cartoonist Bill Mauldin was to become famous
with his "Sad Sack"
characters in the Army Yank magazine), the 90th Infantry, the 111th
Armored and 112th Armored Divisions. Camp Barkeley was also the Medical
Administrative Corps OCS. Fred Kosaka of Seattle was (I believe) the first Nisei
Our new commanding officer, Capt. Walter Fields, didn't
place my name to be transferred to Camp Shelby, saying what I was doing in the
Quartermaster Corps at Barkeley was as important in services and supply. Fields,
who graduated from Texas A&M, had also told me his
classmate was a fellow named Saibara (whose father was a well-known Issei rice
growing pioneers in Webster).
My last stint took place at Headquarters, Fort Jackson, S.C., in late 1945
processing discharge papers for several months including my own the day before
Christmas, 1945, from Camp Grant. I collecting mileage pay from Chicago to my
place of induction at Fort MacArthur, San Pedro, Calif. I thought my visits of
the relocation center in Rohwer, was "deep Dixie,"
being in Arkansas, until venturing into Columbia, the state capital, to be
shocked by obvious discriminatory signs over water fountains, theater doors and
shops marked "colored." In
all, I stomped through 36 of the 48 states.
Harry Honda edited the Pacific Citizen
for 50 years (1952-2002) and continues to contribute his column once a month.