1800th Engineer General Service Battalion


A full-fledged engineering battalion during World War II, made up of soldiers of Japanese, German and Italian descent and a few others, whom the United States government wanted to keep under surveillance.[1]

Background

Most of the Japanese American soldiers who had ended up in the 1800th Battalion had committed no acts of sabotage but came under suspicion for a variety of reasons such as questioning the validity of the so-called loyalty questionnaire; protesting the imprisonment of their family in a U.S. concentration camp; opposing discriminatory policies in the U.S. Army; having visited Japan before the war; or having prewar associations with groups the government considered subversive such as a martial arts organization or Buddhist church. (See Military resisters.)

Prior to joining the 1800th Battalion, most of the soldiers were part of the 525th Quartermaster Service Company, which was activated in July 1943 and stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. All the soldiers had been demoted to private, and more than half of the 525th were Japanese American soldiers. On March 1, 1944, the army disbanded the 525th and the Japanese American soldiers were reorganized into Company B of the 1800th. The German Americans were Company A and the Italian Americans were Company C.

The 1800th soldiers initially lived in tent camps in Lebanon, Tennessee, and were later transferred to other parts of Tennessee, including Bell Buckle, Hillsborough and Waterhill. A permanent barrack camp was eventually established in Brooklyn, Mississippi.

The 1800th soldiers trained in the usual army maneuvers such as repairing roads and bridges. They received a congratulatory citation from the commanding officers when the soldiers participated in emergency rescue efforts after the White River in Arkansas flooded to historic levels.

Protests and Prosecutions

Shortly after the 525th was reorganized into the 1800th, eight of the Japanese American soldiers wrote a letter protesting the discriminatory treatment they experienced from the U.S. Army and government. They wrote the letter in Japanese and signed it with their blood, a common practice in Japan. Private Cedrick Shimo translated the letter for the Caucasian officer.

In early March 1944, the soldiers were put on trial and found guilty of disobeying orders and starting a mutiny. They were dishonorably discharged, ordered to forfeit all their pay and allowances, and sentenced to 15 years at Fort Leavenworth. After the war, these men would receive a Presidential Order, cutting their sentences down to three and a half years. At Leavenworth, some of the 1800th soldiers would come in contact with the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee members, who had been sentenced there for protesting the U.S. government policy of drafting Japanese Americans from U.S. concentration camps.

Once Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended in May 1945, the 1800th was sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi. In June 1945, Companies A (German Americans) and C (Italian Americans) were reorganized into the 5000th Quartermaster Service Company. Once Japan surrendered in August 1945, Company B (Japanese Americans) of the 1800th was reorganized into the 4000th Engineer General Service Company and stationed in Camp Shelby. A month later in September 1945, the Secretary of War Major General Clayton Bissell recommended disbanding the 1800th/4000th.

In December 1945, Captain Hyman Bravin received orders to offer legal assistance to approximately 75 of the 1800th soldiers who were to appear before the Board of Officers to determine their form of discharge. These soldiers were mainly Kibei and spoke with an accent or had difficulty speaking fluent English. Private Shimo acted as Bravin's interpreter. Japanese American soldiers, who spoke English well enough, represented themselves before the Board of Officers. Despite Bravin's best efforts, all the soldiers he represented were given a blue or without honor discharge, disqualifying the men from any veteran's benefits.

Postwar

In the 1980s, Kiyoshi Kawashima, an 1800th veteran who had received a blue discharge, reconnected with Bravin, who, until that time, had not been aware that the men he had represented had all been given blue discharges. Bravin agreed to represent the 1800th men on a pro bono basis before the Army Discharge Review Board. After two years of preparation, Bravin was informed by the Army Discharge Review Board that the veterans would receive a "favorable finding of fact," which translated to mean that any of the 1800th veterans who applied to have their discharges upgraded would be given one.

The story of the military resisters, particularly of the 1800th Battalion, would have been forgotten had not Kiku Funabiki urged Shimo, during the 1980s, to write about his experiences. Funabiki had a cousin, Tow Hori, who had been part of the Fort Riley incident and ended up in the 1800th Battalion. (At Fort Riley, all the Japanese American soldiers had been rounded up and guarded in a hangar at gun-point while President Roosevelt toured the grounds.) When Shimo initially balked, Funabiki took it upon herself to write about the 1800th. This encouraged Shimo to go public with his experience, and since then, Shimo has been the only Nisei military resister to consistently speak out publicly and to write extensively about the 1800th.

During the 1990s, Leila Meyerratken, a middle school teacher in Lafayette, Indiana, contacted Shimo. Meyerratken's students were undertaking an enormous quilt project to honor the Japanese Americans soldiers of World War II, and she had been encouraged by Jack and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga to contact Shimo about the history of the 1800th. The students devoted a panel to the 1800th Battalion.

Authored by Martha Nakagawa

For More Information

Castelnuovo, Shirley. Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008.

Footnotes

  1. This account is based on interviews with Cedrick Shimo, Frank Emi, Tow Hori, Paul Minerich, and Tetsuo Nomiyama; the personal papers of Cedrick Shimo (in possession of the author), and Shirley Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008).