My Superiors Felt WW2 Stateside Duties 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 Warren.)

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 "guards."

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 of us.

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 discrimination."

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 detachment

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 to graduate.

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.