Disciplinary Barrack Boys/DB Boys

Nisei soldiers who were dishonorably discharged and imprisoned during World War II for resisting combat training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Post-Pearl Harbor

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 , more than three thousand Nisei serving in the U.S. Army [1] found themselves in precarious positions. Their loyalty to the United States—the country of their birth—was questioned. Most had their weapons stripped and were transferred from combat training to the medical, quartermaster, and engineer corps. Assigned menial tasks, they ended up cleaning latrines, mowing lawns, shoveling manure, working in the motor pool, and picking up cigarette butts. A War Department memo, recognizing the wartime shortage of manpower, emphasized the need to keep these Nisei as soldiers but under security surveillance. In February 1943 the army lifted the IV-C ban on Japanese Americans as "aliens not acceptable to the armed forces," and Nisei could voluntarily serve their country. [2]

Fort Riley, Kansas

At Fort Riley, Kansas, where six hundred Nisei pre-Pearl Harbor inductees were dispatched, two-thirds went on to combat training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, upon the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team . Most of the remaining 160 Nisei, half of whom had been raised in Japan (Kibei), were placed in a segregated unit at Ft. Riley's Cavalry Replacement Training Center. Fifteen miles from the main camp, they unloaded freight trains and handled other tedious chores. [3]

On Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943, some 120 Nisei soldiers at Ft. Riley followed orders to fall out, expecting to line the roadside when President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited for Easter services. Instead, the men were marched in the opposite direction and led into an aircraft hangar while other soldiers pointed machine guns at them. Once the doors locked, all Nisei were ordered to sit on risers and remain silent. They were guarded, even escorted to the latrine in groups of ten by officers with drawn pistols. Not until four hours later, once the President had left the base, did officers march the Nisei soldiers back to their barracks. Despondent, they admitted to feeling like prisoners in army uniforms. Fred Sumoge reflected, "You don't trust me. You have to guard me. What am I doing here?" [4]

After Hakubun Nozawa complained to the War Department, army officials intercepted his letter and demoted him. A June 19, 1943, War Department report determined that Nisei soldiers did not face discrimination and that security measures were reasonable and necessary. The next month Captain Smith W. Brookhart, Jr. concluded that actions were "no more than ill-advised and excessive zeal" to ensure the President's safety. [5]

Fort McClellan, Alabama

In January 1944 the War Department reinstituted the draft for Japanese Americans in order to replace the high number of casualties in the 100th Battalion /442nd Regimental Combat Team. Fort McClellan's Infantry Replacement Training Center in Alabama would train the 33rd Infantry Battalion of Nisei, most who had been drafted before the war began and who had spent the past few years in menial military labor. Of the 608 Nisei who arrived at Ft. McClellan in March 1944, some one hundred came from Fort Riley, where their ranks had been stripped and they had felt the sting of mistrust. [6]

On the morning of their official welcome on Monday, March 20, 1944, more than one hundred Nisei soldiers milled about outside battalion headquarters. The men sought appointments with their officers, concerned about their treatment by the military as well as discrimination endured by their families. Sergeant Edward McDonald ordered the men to fall in and when several broke ranks (reportedly to protest being called "yellow-bellied Japs," which the sergeant denied), Major William B. Aycock commanded Corporal Jesse R. Ballinger to march the men to the Field House. After they proceeded about seventy-five yards, the columns stopped. [7]

While testimonies about the circumstances differed between the officers and men, it is clear that after seven o'clock that morning the military police arrested forty-three Nisei, most of them Kibei. After some fifty others refused to collect their military gear, a total of 106 Nisei were confined in Fort McClellan's stockade. The next morning officers (with translations in Japanese) gave the men a choice: They could exit the right door and return to combat training. Or they could exit the left door and be charged with disobeying a superior officer's order, a violation of the 64th Article of War. Of twenty-eight who made that second choice, twenty-one faced individual military criminal trials, among them eighteen Kibei. Each had the opportunity to be represented by defense lawyers, to be questioned in court, and to make a statement. [8] At the April 10, 1944, trial of Masao Kataoka, for example, his defense counsel read Kataoka's statements admitting difficulties because of his English skills. Since the evacuation of Japanese Americans and his Easter Sunday experience at Fort Riley, Private Kataoka was frustrated with injustices in America: "If true democracy exist even in war time, why doesn't Japanese American citizens or soldiers have the same rights as other Caucasian citizens?" [9]

At military trials held between April and June 1944, all twenty-one men were found guilty of disobeying a superior officer's order (although no decision was unanimous among presiding officers). [10] All were dishonorably discharged with prison sentences ranging from five to thirty years. Confined at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the men were dubbed the Disciplinary Barrack Boys or "DB Boys." On November 19, 1945, a special clemency action reduced all sentences to three years. [11]

Military Appeals

In 1946 all of the DB boys were released from prison but their conscientious resistance did not end. Hakubun Nozawa wrote letters of appeal to President Harry S. Truman , General Dwight D. Eisenhower, even the prosecutor at his own trial, as well as to the news media, seeking to publicize the unfair trials and sentences. Charles Edmund Zane, a friend of DB Boy Masao Kataoka, spent six years seeking honorable discharges for all twenty-one men. In 1948 he submitted a 63-page brief to the Army Board of Corrections of Military Records, contending the men were not arraigned for disobeying an officer but for antagonizing officers and trying to "talk things over and get things straightened out in their minds." Six months later the Army Board notified Zane that there was no basis for a formal hearing. The next month, in June 1949, the Office of the Secretary of the Army responded that there was "no basis" to change the decision.

In September 1949 Zane sent a revised 122 page brief, which he also mailed to President Truman, the Office of the Secretary of the Army, and the American Bar Association's Special Committee on Military Justice. Again he was notified that there was no basis for change. After six years of failed attempts, Zane submitted one more appeal on behalf of thirteen of the twenty-one applicants. His 1952 appeal to the Judge Advocate General was much more forthright. "Justice is not the business of the military," the frustrated Zane added, charging unfair trials, unduly severe sentences, unethical tactics, and trivial and timid defense. Two years later, after submitting a petition for reconsideration to the judge advocate general, he learned that the time limit had expired the year before, on May 31, 1952. [12]

Twenty-eight years later, Paul Minerich, an attorney and twenty-seven year old son-in-law of DB Boy Tim Nomiyama, resumed Zane's efforts for eleven of the twenty-one men. In an era no longer entrenched in wartime hysteria and four years after President Gerald Ford rescinded Executive Order 9066 as "one of our national mistakes," Minerich submitted his petition on June 3, 1980. His new perspective was that the DB Boys were punished not for disobeying an order to march but for exiting the left door, a "mild civilly disobedient action" against their repugnant treatment. The men had the right to demand an explanation for these unconstitutional and immoral acts of the government, he contended. Quoting historian Roger Daniels, he noted, "There are those…who will find more heroism in resistance than in patient resignation." [13]

The men were awarded honorable discharges in December 1980, but their records were not corrected. So two years later, in December 1982, Minerich and six of the DB Boys appeared at the Pentagon before the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. During the four-hour hearing, Minerich emphasized the men's choice of court martial in order to speak out about the violation of their constitutional rights. [14]

Forty days later, on Jan. 17, 1983, the Army Board recommended that the men's military records be corrected and it reinstated their military benefits. By a three-to-two decision, it voted to rescind the men's sentences after two years, void their dishonorable discharges, and indicate they were honorably discharged. It did not set aside their court-martial convictions, however. But the Army Board's conclusion affirmed that the DB Boys' military confinement for more than two years was "an injustice." And, as Paul Minerich had explained during the hearing, "World War II for these men, I think, should be put at an end." [15]

Authored by Linda Tamura

For More Information

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

Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Suyama Project. Military Resisters. Asian American Studies Center, University of California Los Angeles.

Tamura, Linda. Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012.


  1. Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 249. This number does not include those serving in the National Guard, including those from the Hawai'i regiments . Including those in the guard, James McNaughton estimates that there were some 5,000 Nisei altogether. James C. McNaughton, "Japanese Americans and the U.S. Army," Army History 59 (Summer–Fall 2003), 11.
  2. Linda Tamura, Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012), 50-53; Shirley Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience: Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008), 38.
  3. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 105.
  4. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 106–07.
  5. Col. James S. Daugherty, "Special Inspections Relative to American-Japanese Soldiers," June 19, 1943 and Capt. Smith W. Brookhart, Jr., "Investigation Relative to Japanese American Soldiers," War Department, July 28, 1943, 9, 15 in Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 108-10; Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 39.
  6. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 111; Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 39-42.
  7. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 111–14; Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 41-43.
  8. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 114-18; Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 42, 45.
  9. Masao Kataoka's trial took place on April 10, 1944. Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 44.
  10. At Masao Kataoka's trial, three of eight officers did not find him guilty. His sentence of thirty years in prison, the longest sentence among the twenty-one men, was reduced to ten years on April 11, 1945. Kataoka was dishonorably discharged on June 1946. Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 45, 87.
  11. Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 45-46; Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 121.
  12. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 211-18; Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 87-90.
  13. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 220-22.
  14. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 222-25.
  15. Tamura, Nisei Soldiers , 225-27; Castelnuovo, Soldiers of Conscience , 91.

Last updated Dec. 20, 2023, 5:29 p.m..