By Rina Takahashi
Between his frequent and extended visits with his wife Virginia, now at a nursing home, he sat down to share his memories and opinions of the war that has passed and the war that continues today.
What is your most memorable experience from the war?
The most memorable experience from the war. . . There are a lot of them but, you mean , me personally? I believe a concussion bomb. Tree burst hit (a bit flustered), and we were in a fox hole and I was paralyzed. The fella besides me, he was a hollerin, and I thought I was hit too. I thought my legs were gone, I took my hands and run down my stomach down the full length of my legs, and they were still there, and pretty soon the feeling started comin back. Probably wasn't out for more than a few seconds. Then I asked him where he was hit or hurt. He wasn't hurt either, it was just a concussion. But my rifle was up on the side of the fox hole and it did split that. A piece of shrapnel went through that, and I think that is one of the most memorable things I remember.
Where were you?
That was in Belgium.
Not to be blunt but did you kill? Was it just aim and shoot, or hands on combat? How did you cope with the fact that you killed,? Did educational films help you?
Oh yeah, we were prepared for anything, we had good training, seen a lot of those films, but actually most of my fighting was up in Ardane Forest, Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. There were a lot of casualties up there, an awful lot. But we seldom ever seen the people we were fightin, it was woods. It was like being in a big pine woods you know, and firin at one another, you see em dead but you never were sure, thank God we never were sure who killed who.
So you have never experienced hands on combat (one to one)?
Nope, just taken prisoners. We did come up to a hill one time, and we were getting the worst of it, till we got up on the hill, and the first fox hole we come to, a German prisoner come up , done everything just right, put his hands up just right, took his helmet off, and I was taking him prisoner, and a kid come up beside me and ... shot him. He was just a young kid. I've never seen him before or afterwards.
Yeah, he was with us, but he just must have lost it, cause that wasn't the practice. We never..., well no one that I know ever did that. He was just carried away with it I guess. That is another memory I could never forget. That kid shooting that prisoner.
You were drafted, but you had a choice of being a conscientious objector and serving time in jail. Why did you go?
I was ready to go. I mean, I figured it was my duty and I was a patriotic citizen. We had to do it. And I would have been disappointed if I hadn't passed after they had called me.
You are part German, did this give you problems?
Some German, but not enough to pin down. I don't think.
So you had no objections for going and shooting Germans?
Oh, I had a lot of reservations about it, but I knowed something had to be done. I wanted to do my part. See at that time, it was a different situation. Everyone was patriotic, everyone was helping putting their best efforts in the war effort. So I had no reservation for going at all.
How did you feel about conscientious objectors?
Didn't care about them at all. Some of them for religious purposes, I could understand that. But just to get out of the war, I didn't see it, I couldn't understand it. They were cowards as far as I was concerned.
How did you feel about movies made to stir hatred towards Germany?
They didn't work.
You didn't hate them?
No, no, never. In fact, we'd be in our fox holes and I started thinking "I betcha if I had known him(the enemy) any other time, we could drink together", and after the war we did. Some of them were still in their uniform and we drank together, partied together. I never worked up any hate at all.
Can you remember any of the movies you saw?
I remember parts of them but they were just showing you exactly what you're gonna see, and it turned out pretty much so.
What do you think kept you alive?
I have no idea.
You were just lucky?
I guess you could call it that, because the law of averages says I shouldn't be here at all. At one time, our company was down to nine men from over a hundred. They weren't all dead, some of them did get back because they were wounded but the company was replaced several times. According to the law of averages I wouldn't be here. Why, I don't know. It wasn't like I was any smarter, or I did anything any different than anybody else, it was luck of the draw I guess. It was meant to be.
Did you ever starve?
No, the only time we were out of food was that one time when that prisoner got killed. We were up on the hill for about two weeks, and they couldn't get the food up to us. The food was there but they would send carrying parties up at night, and they would start shelling, and they'd scatter and the food was scattered before they got there. I was pretty thin when we got done, but I never starved.
What did you eat?
K-rations when I was up there. It's a little box like a Cracker Jack box it's got cheese, and crackers and it's a prepared meal in a little box, and that's what they would bring up on the lines because that's the only thing you can get up there. Ordinarily, our food was adequate. All the way through. I lost a lot of weight when I was up there. I was 135 when that was over with. I went in at 160.
Were you aware of the Jewish population in Germany?
Ahh, that's not the way it really was.
So you weren't concerned about how they were being treated?
Oh, we knew enough about that.
Did the military films tell you of the Nazis' cruelty toward the Jews?
Yeah, they did, oh yeah.
Did you think it was an explicit objective for the Americans to go to Europe to save them?
That wasn't number one in my mind.
Where would you place it?
Well, it was very important, but it wasn't a main concern. I mean I knowed there were people dying, but there were people dying where we were. We knowed that had to be stopped.
On a scale of one to ten, one being the most important, how important were the Jews?
I don't know... It wasn't number one. We were thinking about the whole picture of what's gonna happen when this is over, where we're gonna be, and we knowed Germany had to be stopped. That's what we were told, and what we believed, and I still believe it. It wasn't just the Jews, it was anybody over there who was suffering like that. Of course we felt sorry for them. But the Jews themselves weren't up that high on the totempole.
Did you know any Jews or minorities ?
They were in my outfit.
Were the minorities treated any differently in your corp.?
No. There were a couple of Jew boys in my outfit. You wouldn't know the difference, unless someone would bring it up now and then. No, they weren't treated any different.
How about any Afro-Americans?
They were divided. There was a whole tank platoon involved, blacks. They would work with us, we was in the infantry. They were segregated. I don't remember having a black in our outfit with us. But we worked with them. No discord between them, but they did have their own platoons and their own companies.
Were you aware that many of them were sent out on more dangerous missions?
I didn't know. I've heard that. And I figured they would too.
How did you feel about blacks, or the situation they were in?
I didn't think they(American military) were right. But then again, I told you I didn't know if they really did that to them. I heard about it like you did, toward the end of the war. But the ones that I've seen, they weren't treated no differently. They worked with us the same as they were in a white outfit. Got along all right. Of all the different companies I've been in, I don't think I've ever seen a black with us. We were down in Florida, and I knowed there were a lot of blacks, but there was none in our outfit. Were they really mistreated?
There are some sources which say so, some accidents involving many blacks have been hushed.
Well, you would expect that propaganda anyway. It might have happened. I don't know. They still ain't getting along like they should. So I don't know, but they worked with us and I had never heard anybody complaining about it.
What were you doing when Pearl Harbor happened?
I was sitting at the breakfast table and I was eating. I remember that. Everybody stopped eating. It was on the radio. I felt terrible. I was scared. I didn't really expect it. Not at that time, anyway. Maybe someone else did, who knew more about it than I did. I sure didn't. The whole country was upset.
What was your opinion of the Japanese before and after it happened.
I don't know if that changed anything. We knowed that they weren't on our side. I known that. I don't know if it changed our opinion or anything.
From what I know, I thought American soldiers were shown films where they made you believe the Japanese couldn't possibly attack American soil because the Japanese are myopic and they also can't plan strategies. Did you know of that?
No, I never heard of that. We knowed that, well at least in my opinion, when the Japanese got in there we were going to have an awful war. I didn't think they were going to be , oh yeah, they tried to feed us propaganda, but we knowed better than that. I don't think the American people were fooled by the propaganda because we could get news from all sorts of sources you know, and we're free to make an opinion here so not everybody went right down the line and say "you're a backward country", there were some, a lot of people who were telling us the opposite, you know. But I didn't think they would ever bomb Pearl Harbor.
So the propaganda films about the Japanese, did it ever change your opinion one way or the other?
I suppose they did mold my opinion. Yeah, the propaganda had an effect on me, sure.
Did you notice the change in propaganda before and after that attack?
Oh yeah, oh yeah, all kinds of songs "Dirty stinky people you are" (laughs) . That's hard to believe but that's the way they were you know. It was just war, and it was just fair as anything else in my book but they tried to put it over as an under handed thing "where all is fair in love and war" as they said. Oh yeah, you were cut down as much as much as they possibly could. That was their job. Try and turn us against you.
Did you see a difference between the Propaganda made against the Germans as to the Japanese?
I don't think so. Hitler was really hated. He was a dangerous man, and we knowed that. And all the Germans, they got their share of it too.
But from the propaganda films I've seen, when they talk about the Germans, they refer to them as the Nazis, whereas the Japanese were always referred to as the Japs or Nips. So the American population hated the Nazi of Germany. You mentioned before that you thought you could go have a beer with the Germans. Did you think you could do that with the Japanese?
(After some thought) I believe I could of. Because I've known so many different kinds of people, you know, and you get em one on one and they're all the same. I don't believe that propaganda worked on me as much as it did on other people.
Did you know the American military was planning to drop the bomb on Hiroshima?
No, never known that till the moment. The first time I heard it I was in Germany and we were pretty well done over there. The word got out that they dropped the bomb equal to 20,000 Tons of TNT or something like that. We could not hardly believe it. It seemed unbelievable to us. But we thought the war was close to being over so I can't say we were set back by it because that ended the war whatever it took.
Knowing what you know now, if the same situation came up again and you were given a body of a twenty year old, would you go fight again?
Yeah, if the same thing was taking place over there, as it was then I would still feel the same way about it. I think it was something that had to be done and I was willing to go do it. I had two kids and my wife was pregnant at the time I went too. It was hard to leave but I just thought it had to be done, and I still think it had to be done. If we didn't go, we'd still be doing the goose step over here now.
That's the German march. That's what we called it.
Did you think the Germans were going to take over the U.S.?
Yeah, I believe they would have too. They had to be stopped.
Who was top priority? Germans or Japanese?
Germans were top priority. I think. cuz they were advancing too fast in their technology you know. They were just about to get the bomb, and they already had them buzz bombs you know.
Yeah, those remote control bombs. They were getting dangerously close to taking over. I've seen them flying over us. They were sending them over to England. Bombing England, we knew they had to be stopped because they were way ahead of us in that.
If Germans were top priority, did it make sense for you at that time that the Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps and the German American weren't?
You mean the ones that were here? I never gave it much thought. Hell, I was just a kid, and I thought they (government) knew what they were doing. You're more susceptible to propaganda when you're young like that. I never gave it much thought. Looking back on it, it was stupid but they all know that now. But at that time, it seemed like the thing to do. Yeah, there was this Japanese family that lived in our neighborhood up there. Nobody ever bothered them, but they took them away.
Yeah, I think they took them away, and put them in camps with the rest of them.
I thought it was just the Japanese Americans on the coasts.
I don't think so. I don't know for sure, but I knowed these people was gone. Maybe they just left. It might have been that. I knowed that they were putting them in those camps out there, but looking back on it, it wasn't necessary.
Anything you saved from the war that you can share with us?
I never saved nothing. Nope. I'm sorry, afterwards, that I didn't pick up any souvenirs. All I wanted to do was get back home. That's all I had in mind.
Anything else you would like to say for the record?
No, except that when the war was over, you'd think you'd be suspicious of everybody over there, but you wasn't. I knowed that that was gonna happen. I figured it was. I thought "that guy over there, knowed what I had in mind, I bet we could have been drinking beer together soon. And we were, afterwards. There were some nice people over there. They were so damn sick of the war, they were sicker than we were, they had it longer.
One night, they would have a bed check, and I couldn't find half my people because they were out partying with the Germans. Everybody had a friend out there some place, a lot of the guys had girlfriends, some of the younger guys and they brought them back, or went back and got them. I told them all my men were there. Then I tried to find them, but I couldn't find them (laughs).
What do you think of the situation between Iraq and the U.S. and how the media is covering it.?
Oh, this is a mess. This is a real mess. I don't know what to think of it. I think it's all just one man, just like it was Hitler. The people I don't think are any different. They're full of propaganda. They don't even get the news like we do.
You don't think the news we have is propaganda?
Oh, I think it's news. Sure, they dress it up to suit their purpose, sure. But it is news, it's happening over there. You might not think so, but he bombed his own people with that nerve gas, mustard gas. Do you believe he did?
I haven't been paying close attention but, I suppose he could.
They're really not his own people. They're a tribe of their own, never got along with him, but their in his country. I really believe he did bomb them with that germ warfare but, they say they are his people. He doesn't really own them.
O.K., but what I want to know is, looking back at W.W.II American propaganda, they made Hitler look stupid, and Hirohito childish and ape-like. Do you notice right now, Saddam Hussein is often called by his first name rather than his last? Did you notice that his first name is mispronounced by some to sound like Sodom as in Sodom and Gomorra.
I've never heard that. I know what you mean by Sodom and Gomorra, but I've never heard that. It never dawned on me. I never put the two together.
Bush tended to pronounce his name like that.
It never registered on me.
Have you noticed how he is infantalized?
Oh yeah, but I don't agree with that. He didn't get where he is being stupid. He's a smart man. Very very smart.
Do you think it's necessary for the U.S. to go in there and get rid of him?
For the oil. It's all politics. This business. Yet he's been a rascal.
What do you think of Islam?
Damn, I've never heard nothin but bad about them.
What did you think of Buddhism? From what I know, during the war, they made Buddhism look like something evil and something unable to be understood.
I don't know much about it. But Muslims, their religion allows them to kill I believe. As long as their doing it for Allah. Allah is great and they can kill, and they don't hold it against them. We believe that our God don't like that. We can't do that.
Don't you think they would think of Christianity as something evil?
Where would they get much evil out of Christianity?
Oh yeah, but not modern Christianity. But yeah, there have been many more people killed over Christianity than anything else.
Do you see any parallels between how we see Muslims, saw Buddhists, and how a Muslim might see Christians?
Yeah, if they go back in history. But right now, everything that Christians
stand for.... is not.. hell, they still send you to war. [They] tell you
God's on your side (laughs). I thought about that too in Germany. The German
soldiers, on their buckle has "Gott mit Uns" (God is with us)
you know, and I thought "If He's with you, then we're in trouble"
(we both laugh).