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American Valor
George Sakato
Interview Excerpt

I was born in Colton, California, which is sixty miles east of Los Angeles, in San Bernardino, Riverside, Redlands area. And we had a grocery store in Colton, my parents were barbers, and we ran a pool hall and a bathhouse, for the railroads that ran through the opposite city of Colton, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads.

I finished my high school in Redlands, and in December we just had opened the store and I listened, heard on the radio that Franklin Roosevelt says that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and I couldn't believe that happened. This affected us through the fact that, we had a curtailment that we could not travel within three miles of our area. We had to just stay home and do what we could, and then we had orders that we had to either, prepare to go to relocation centers, or, actually it's just a barbed wire fence all around the camp. It had guard towers on each corner, and machine guns were pointing in to camps.

So, therefore we decided rather than go to the camps, we voluntarily moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and was on the south side of the tracks and the people there say, well, you better move again, because those that live in the south of the river tracks has to go to camp. And so we moved again, that time, to the north side of the tracks.

Q: How did you come to enlist in the United States Army?

Sakato: I volunteered for the Air Force in 1943. But my draft card says 4C. 4C was listed as enemy alien. Cause they wouldn't take me, so then when all of the campaign finally started, and the hundredth battalion was in such a good job, therefore President Roosevelt, crossed off the decree of 4C and classified it as first draftees, and so I was able to join the Army again, so I volunteered for the Air Force again. 1943, end of 44. I was called for duty, and I was on a train going east and came to this camp landing Florida. And I looked out, and I was looking for the airplane, and there was no airplanes in sight. No, this is the infantry. You are now in the infantry.

And President Roosevelt came to visit the camps, and the, all the Japanese soldiers, American soldiers, put them in a barracks, had machine guns around them, 'til the President left. Now, they're already in the Army, why should they do this. I figured this is my country, I'm an American, I should be allowed to join the Army. So therefore that's why I volunteered, to show my loyalty to the United States, this is, when my, kids, when I do have kids that grow up, at least they can be, looked up to, rather than downgraded as being a Jap. And I figured well, this will help to build our country up. Not only this for, Italians, Germans, they were, they didn't go to camps, but the some of them did I hear.

So, in order to prove our loyalty I volunteered into the service. And my parents said, just don't bring disgrace to the family. If you're gonna fight for your country, you fight for your country. But don't do anything, like, doing extra bombing things - or things that you shouldn't be doing. And, so respect your country, and everything will be all right. So, this is why we tried to do, to show our loyalty. This is America. I'm an American and I want to be respected as an American, even though I look like the enemy. But, this is what we tried to do.

Q: Did your combat training prepare you for the level of violence you encountered?

Sakato: Well, it's eight weeks of basic training. You shooting the rifle, learn how to (shoot) different guns. And I take guns, 50-caliber machine guns, we couldn't even hit the little plane that was flying around there. The 45-caliber pistol I couldn't hit the side of a barn with it. And then, two hundred yards of rifle target practice, all I get was this wave of a rod that had a little red circle on it, indicating the area that you hit the target, it never did stop to aim at one spot, that I hit the target it just kept waving back and forth, telling me that I missed the whole target. I couldn't shoot that thing.

...Then (suddenly) your in the forest, the bushes are about so high, trees so dark at night you couldn't even see you hands like this, unless you look up into the sky, then you could see. I saw a tank that blown- - was blown up, I crawled into the tank and I picked up the Thompson sub-machine gun. That's it, that's the thing. I could have more firepower with that, if I see something over there in that direction, I could aim this way, and I'll hit him. But if I aim this way, the gun would go up, and I would never be able to hit anything. So I always put the Thompson's on the side, and I fired him. He had to clips of, out, clips that had 30, ammunition in it, and I double-taped them both together, so I had 60 rounds of ammunition, and I emptied it and I reversed it, and pushed it up. And I was able to fire that way, anything that was behind the bush over there, I'm bound to hit as long as I keep it level.

But, but then, I only saw eight or ten of them, that I could actually saw, hit somebody with. We were out on patrol, had to go up this hill, we had to find where the Germans were, and a German spotted us. And he was yelling some instructions to another machine gunner I guess, because he shot, and, shot the fellow to the left of me, and shot his pack off. So then I shot him, and hit him across the leg and it knocked him over. But he was still giving the instructions, then he saw me, so he picked up his gun to shoot me, and then I let him have it again. Then I knew that, he was calling for medics I guess, and he after we left, I says, we got out, better get out of here.

So I took the patrol back and then I heard this explosion go off, the area that he was in, but after we took the hill I went off to investigate. And I couldn't, can't blame the kid, he was hollering for medics, and nobody came, so he stuck a grenade under his head and blew his head off, rather than to suffer the pain, he'd rather, die. So we took that hit home. And then we finally took, we got going, and we had the- - somebody got hit with land mines, so we had to sit down on our stomachs and probe for land mines. We had to take our bayonets out, inch by inch, probing for land mines, as we move forward, inch by inch.

Then we would take turns, let a shift take over, luckily I didn't see any landmines, but two other fellows got hit, and one of them stepped up and stepped on a mine and lost his leg. And then after that we went into another campaign, into Belmont area, where we took a hill. And I was following this ridge, and it turns to the right, the road goes to the right, and the ridge comes together like this, and another ridge meets here. And another ridge on top of that, so, when the machine gun pinned us down, I called down, and I went below the hill, and I went across the road.

And I came back up on top of the road, and I knew about the area where the machine guns were, where it was at. Then I see two Germans running up the hill. So I'm, there was this log sitting out there, and I got behind the log, and I fired up the hill to shoot at the Germans running up the hill. And low and behold on the other side of that log, a machine gunner and the Lieutenant surrendered. They put their hands up. Scared me more than anything else. I sat there, so I just motioned to go that away. I took his pistol out and rolled them, I kept his pistol. And I sent the prisoners back, and we finally took that hill. And we had to go for another hill. We got sitting down, were about fifty feet apart, were all surrounded this one hill. There's only, not even the two of us and we kept this hill and the Germans were trying to come up the hill, they were shooting back down again. When I tried to climb those hills, I could never have climbed a hill like this, and I'm always the last one up that hill.

That day, after we had taken that hill, Sergeant says, come on let's go back, everybody was going back up, and I was still down there, and I'm trying to come back up the hill, the Germans is still shooting and I'm shooting back at them. When I got up to the top of the hill, platoon was gone. They thought I got shot. I'm standing on this hill and which way's our lines? So I didn't know where- - where we were. So I saw a bunch of bushes and laid down in the middle of them and cut some of vines off, and covered my face up so that I could look up and see a silhouette of anything going by. I saw somebody coming and I just didn't make a move, I saw the shape a that helmet, flat on top and kind of curves and tailed out like this, and I just, that's not our helmet that's a German's helmet.

So I didn't make a sound, or didn't make a move. 'Til that patrol disappeared. Two or three hours go by and another patrol comes up. And I recognized this one, these have a round top, little small lip on the end. I says, that's ours, so I says, what company is this? I scared the daylights out of that guy, he- - he was ready to shoot me. It was another F company, so I was able to get back down to our camp, our company, and the platoon sergeant says, tells the captain, cross Sakatos' list off the missing in action list. He's back. Yes, you guys left me up that hill.

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