My Wartime Experiences,by Yoshikazu Yamada
I. The Philippines
I received my bachelorís degree at the University of Hawaii and while continuing my education at the University of Miohigan, I was drafted into the U.S. Army in early April 1941. The army assigned me to the Medical Corps and, after basic training at Camp Grant, Illinois, sent meto Fort Douglas Station Hospital, Utah.
In October 1941, I was assigned to a medical detachment of two officers (surgeons) and 15 enlisted men attached to the 5th Air Base Group, which was scheduled for deployment to the Philippines.
Although we did not know it at the time, we crossed paths with the Japanese Navyís preparation for its attack on Pearl Harbor. When we arrived in Hawaii, we noticed the Taiyo Maru berthed in Honolulu from November 1 to 5. From postwar published materials, I learned that two Japanese naval officers served aboard the ship disguised as crew members. One of them participated in the Pearl Harbor attack.
We reached Manila in late November 1941. A week after arrival, we heard the news about Pearl Harbor being bombed; then, about nine hours later, Clark Field in Luzon also came under fire. We at Del Monte airfield in northern Mindanao withstood enemy bombing and strafing about 10 days later.
In addition to my medical duties, I read name tags on parts from downed Japanese planes. The officer who brought these items to me explained that I was the only one who could read Japanese. I also translated radio messages intercepted from Japanese aircraft flying between Cebu and Davao.
Del Monte airfield (under American control until the total surrender of the Philippine Islands on May 8,1942) served as the hub for transit from the Philippines. General MacArthur. his family and staff wont through in March on their way to Australia. The President of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon, followed soon after. Although I did not see Clarence Yamagata and Arthur Komori pass through. I heard about them and knew for the first time that other Niseis operated in the Philippines.
In late April, the 5th Air Base Group moved to Maramag, a spot further inland on Mindanao Island. We moved by trucks at night. Under blackout conditions, the trucks used only dim, blue headlights, which made visibility very poor. As a result, the truck I rode on rammed a bridge. The impact knocked me on and I suffered a fracture of the spinal column.
With the Philippines on the verge of capture by the enemy, I was evacuated on April 23, 1942, to Australia on a stretcher aboard a B-24. Also on that plane was Carlos Romulo, who later became General MacArthurís aide and still later, President of the U.N. General Assembly.
I spent two months in the U.S. Army General Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. After discharge from the hospital, I worked for the language section in Allied Air Force Headquarters in Brisbane. In September1942, I officially assigned to the newly-formed Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS), Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) in lndooropilly, outside of Brisbane. For the first time I wasnít the only Nisei in my outfit. At ATIS, I became head of a section specializing in translating enemy technical documents.
In early March 1944, Admiral Mineichi Koga, Japanese fleet commander, and his chief of staff, Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, flew in separate planes from Palau to the Philippines. They encountered a typhoon and Admiral Kogaís plane was lost. Admiral Fukudomeís plane crashed in Cebu, where guerrillas captured him. Upon notification of this incident, General MacArthur dispatched a submarine to pick up Fukudomeís briefcase which had been retrieved.
The briefcase was rushed to ATIS and the documents classified "Top secret." Because policy dictated that only officer-ranking personnel could examine "Top Secret" documents, a team of top hakujin translators began scrutiny of the papers. No Nisei at ATIS qualified for this work at that time. Nevertheless, top echelon, making an exception, summoned George Sankey and me, to review the translations. Sankey was a Staff Sergeant and I was a Technician 3rd Grade. We won promotions to Warrant Officer Junior Grade (WOJG), about a month after finishing the work.
The captured documents revealed the strength and disposition of Japanese forces and their plans for the defense of the Marianas. The information helped Admiral Raymond Spruance and the U.S. Navy win the Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 13-16, 1944, which took place a month after completion of the translation.
Contents of the translated documents could not be disclosed until restrictions were lifted after the war. Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, who headed intelligence gathering in the Navy and who knew Japanese, took all the credit because he did a re-translation in his book. And / was There (William Morrow & Co., Inc., New York, 1 985). However, Joseph D. Harrington, a one-time Navy CPO, in his book, Yankee Samurai, gave credit to ATIS and the Nisei.
III. 112th Regimental Combat Team.
l joined the 112th Regimental Combat Team, a Ďcavalry" regiment from San Antonio, Texas, in the Fall of 1944 at Aitape, New Guinea. This outfit fought on Leyte and Luzon. I received a promotion to second Lieutenant while serving with the 112th.
I should mention two items of interest during this period:
1. Cabanatuan Prison Camp. In 1945. we stayed at Guirnba. a short distance from the infamous prisoner of war camp at Cabanatuan, which held thousands of severely mistreated, starving American POWs. Soon after a Ranger Battalion liberated the prisoners, I accompanied a team of officers to inspect the prison. When I checked the medical records, I spotted names of men from my former unit at Del Monte who had been captured in 1942, shortly after had been evacuated following my injury from the truck accident.
2. Norman Mailer, author of The Naked and the Dead. Mailer served with the 112th in the Leyte and Luzon campaigns. As an enlisted man working in the mess hall, he gathered materials for his book from experiences in these campaigns. In his book, Mailer writes about a Nisei Lieutenantís involvement with a white lieutenant. The story seems to parallel my own actual experience with a white lieutenant who was also a language officer.
IV. Survey of Japanese Science and Technology
After the Luzon campaign, I requested and received a 45-day leave in Hawaii. But the war ended; so, I had to abort my furlough and rush back to Manila.
There, I terminated my duty with the 112th ROT and received a new assignment. A team of American civilian and military scientists, led by Dr. Karl Compton, then president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, headed for Japan to study the status of Japanese science and technology. I was one of two Nisei selected as interpreters; the other was Dr. Fumio Yagi, who had just obtained a PHD in mathematics from MIT. The team also included Major Bill Hewlett of todayís Hewlett-Packard Company.
Among the Japanese scientists contacted by the team were Dr. H. Yukawa, Dr. K. Nishina and Dr. B. Nagaoka. all with international reputations. Dr. Yukawa later won a Nobel Prize in physics.
In the fall of 1945, as ATIS readied to release men from service, I applied for a discharge, having become tired of military life. I was off icially separated from the service in January 1946.