Clarksville, TN – George Nishimura was now half a world away from home, his family, and all that he had known, as a member of the United States Army, at Camp Shelby Mississippi. The trip had been long and hard, but they were ready to begin their training.
Thousands of Japanese-American men had joined the Army, and were ready to serve.
George and his fellow soldiers were joined at Camp Shelby by 1200 mainland volunteers from the relocation camps. They were called “Katonks” because of the sound their head made when hit, like the sound of a hollow coconut.
George and his fellow soldiers from Hawaii were called, “Buddha Heads” not for Buddha, but “Buta” meaning pig. The two sides didn’t get along at first until they heard the stories of their evacuation and subsequent ordeal of life in the relocation camps. They were also separated because of their accents, which were different.
Once they arrived, they were greeted by Colonel Charles Pence; Commandant of the 442nd. They were then assigned to units.
The 442nd was comprised of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company, 206th Army Ground Forces Band, Antitank Company, Cannon Company, Medical Detachment and Service Company.
Their motto was “Go For Broke.”
George was assigned to the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, Battery B. His brother Walter went to the infantry. Their barracks were poorly constructed with single walls and tarpaper roofs. The grounds became a muddy quagmire after the rains, making life even more miserable.
The times were tense in that part of the country. America was at war, and blacks and whites were struggling with discrimination and racism. On after duty hours and weekends, George would stay in the 442nd area to avoid confrontation with white soldiers. There were incidents of fights when the word “Japs” was spoken.
George remembered one incident at a white division PX when a handful of Hawaiian’s went in for beer and some of the white soldiers called them “Japs.” In the fight, the Hawaiian troops were greatly outnumbered and got beaten pretty good.
In July of 1943, instructors from the Military Intelligence Service Language School in Camp Savage, Minnesota came to Camp Shelby to recruit new students. George was ordered to appear before the instructor for an interview and after a few preliminary questions, he was given a sheet with Japanese writings and asked to translate.
After the interview, the instructor asked if George would like to go to MIS, or Military Intelligence Service. He said, “no.”
The next day, he got orders to go to Camp Savage, Minnesota with 250 others.
So much for what he wanted. Truth be known, those chosen for MIS were more educated and were handpicked for their assignments.
Life in Minnesota was a little better than life in Mississippi. Camp duties were done by others so the students were free to focus on their education. George liked the fact that he didn’t have to pull “KP.”
On the weekends, they had a pass to go into town, so they boarded the bus to Minneapolis-St. Paul and off to the “twin cities” they went.
One of the first places they would go was the Chinese restaurants. The restaurants served large portions of food at reasonable prices and most of all, plenty of rice, George’s favorite.
Rice never seemed to be on the menu at the Army Mess Hall.
On Sunday’s, George went to church. After the service, he would often be invited to Sunday dinner with one of the church families. He remembers a family would have him over for dinner every time he went to their church.
Church folks love to eat.
George graduated from language school in February 1944. After several promotions, he knew that he would be headed to the war in the Pacific.
His orders were for Australia. He would serve with the Allied Translator Interpreter Service (ATIS) there.
Tomorrow, life “down under.”
Dignitaries including Woody Parker and Bo Patten from Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s office, State Representative Joe Pitts, State Senator Mark Green, Mayor Pro-Temp James Lewis, and LTC Richard Coyle, from Fort Campbell will be on hand with family and friends to honor George Nishimura.
George will celebrate his 90th birthday on Monday.