Becoming Army Privates - joining the 31st Regiment at Camp Crawford in the city of Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
..."Wow, was I shocked and surprised. All these years, I felt that everyone I knew in my outfit had died in Korea and I was the Lone survivor."
From a letter written by George addressed to William and Karen Smith, dated March 4, 2000.
Used by permission
Copyright G Fukumae 2000
"I was born and raised in Hawaii, a Japanese American, and at the age of 19 on August 1949, joined the Army, where I met my good buddy, Richard Takahashi (another Japanese) during our 3 months of basic training at Schofield barracks in Hawaii. After graduating from basic training we were no longer classified as recruits and we were now---PROUD PRIVATES. We all left together for a tour of duty in the Far East and landed in Yokohama on November of 1949. Twenty one days at sea, stopping at Guam, Manila, Okinawa and finally---Japan. We parted company with most of our other buddies with Richard and I and a few others, heading toward Tokyo only because we were Japanese, while the rest of our buddies (Filipinos, Chinese, Portugese and pure Hawaiians), all were assigned to different Army units throughout Japan."
"Although the city of Tokyo and its surrounding area have not yet recovered from all the bombs that was dropped from our B-17 and B-24 bombers, we still enjoyed our 3 1/2 months with GHQ. Yes, that train ride from Yokohama to Tokyo showed the devastation damages everywhere.
On the bright side, all of us being Japanese, made enjoying the night life which was off limits to all servicemen---EASY. Once in the night club, we took off our uniforms and shoes, put on a Japanese robe and ALA---we were Japanese citizens. I guess all good things must end sometime cause most of us were at GHQ to study the Japanese language and Takahashi and myself just flunked out. I didn't speak the language at home even though my mom only knew a few words of English and only spoke in her native tongue---Japanese.
After 3 1/2 months and flunking from the Japanese School of Interrogation, we were shipped out. We headed North and hours later the train finally came to a stop in a little town called Sendai, home of the 17th Infantry Regiment. A few got off but not us, we both continued on. Much much later, the train came to a dead end. We were at the very Northern tip of Honshu and as far as I could see, there was nothing but the waters of the Pacific. We boarded a ferry boat and after 6 1/2 hours we finally saw land ---Hokkaido.
The island is the home of the Ainu tribe. A tribe of hairy people, half Japanese and a little Russian---so I was told. We were now being transported by trucks and still headed North. As we travelled, my observation was WOW, NOTHING BUT SNOW. i'VE NEVER SEEN SNOW COMING DOWN LIKE THIS BEFORE and the only ones I ever saw was the snow that fell and melted as soon as it touched the ground in downtown Tokyo. But here in the middle of March, only the roofs of the farmer's home can be seen. I HAD A FEELING THAT I WAS NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS PLACE AT ALL.
Welcome to Company "I", Camp Crawford, home of the Polar Bears, (This is the name of the 31st) Home of the 31st Infantry Regiment inSapporo, Hokkaido. Home for the 31st was originally in Alaska until the whole Division moved to Japan. Name of Polar Bears was still perfect for this unit in Hokkaido cause Here, there IS lots and lots of snow.
We were both lucky in being together, the only two Japanese in "I" Company, same rifle platoon, same squad and bunking next to each other. We were fortunate also to find 3 others like us from Hawaii, in "K" Company.
* Hesse, son of Chief of Police in Hilo, Hawaii
* Inouye from Maui
* and another from Maui whose name I've completely forgotten,
SAD BUT ALL DIED.
Karen, this is where I met your Dad.
As we entered the barracks, your Dad had the very first bunk on the left and it would have been impossible not to notice him cause he was---there. Unlike us, he was sharp and we had the impression that he truly belongs here in the Infantry. He was a true soldier and to us, a perfect one. he was known to us as "Smitty". He kept spit-polishing his boots constantly and I do remember that he was the only one in the barracks with a short-wave radio and skis of his own. In the 4 1/2 months that I've known your Dad, he was the best looking soldier in our company and when he was selected as one of the best soldiers in the 7th Division, he really was the best.
After the first two weeks, I got to remember all the names of the guys in our platoon. There were 27 of us as I think back, Smitty was the only blond in the barracks.
In the service, we, as a platoon must get along together. Every Friday night is GI night (General Inspection). One squad takes care of the latrine while the other two takes care of the barrack's floor. Lots of soap and water and finally mopping it completely dry. Pass inspection and we have passes to visit Sapporo for the weekend. Don't pass, we stay on base. One dirty rifle and the whole platoon stays on base. This would be my life for the next 2 1/2 years (3 year enlistment) and something that I was not looking forward to.
What does one do in the Infantry during the winter? My first 3 was something I'll never forget. With full pack on my shoulders (includes blanket and shovel) lacing snow shoes (looks like tennis racket) and marching single file for 5 miles in the snow and returning back to the barracks for lunch. It seems we did this every day, 5 days a week and each day, a different hill to climb. Those snow shoes was my initiation to this Polar Bear outfit and was I glad when the snow started to disappear.
Our passes to downtown Sapporo on Saturday's was routine for the 5 of us. Our usual hangout was on the 2nd floor of a little restaurant and here we enjoyed gohan (rice) and sukiyaki with bottles of beers. At least one day a week, we had rice instead of mash potatoes so for the 5 of us, Saturday or the weekend is what we look forward to each week---rice...
That latrine in our barracks was my favorite hangout each Sunday morning---guaranteed. Rumors abound of servicemen going blind from drinking Suntory Whiskey but heard nothing to the effect of drinking Japanese beer...
Just before the Korean conflict, our then company clerk left the outfit to return home for a discharge. In dire need for a new clerk, 1st Sgt asked if anyone had any typing experiences and it seems the only two guys with a year of typing was myself and Takahashi. He didn't want it so I volunteered. In my mind and by volunteering, there would be no more wearing of snow shoes next winter, no more daily hiking up and down those Hokkaido hills and most important, if and when our company commander got involved in any training exercises, I'll be driving him around in a jeep. I foreseen myself sitting in a nice warm office, scheduling guard duty for the 2nd platoon at the ammo dump or typing week-end passes for the company. My dreams were short-lived and shattered---only days later.
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