FORT SNELLING (AP) -- Two old U.S. soldiers stood before more than 300 people -- many of them old soldiers, too -- and told stories of discomfort, uncertainty, boredom, fear and exhilaration.
Toshi Abe, 81, of Bloomington, told about slogging with Merrill's Marauders 600 miles through the jungles of Burma, fighting the Japanese for every inch.
Tom Oye, also 81, of Edina, told about the fierce fighting in Italy and Germany, where incessant rain flooded his foxholes, causing his feet to swell so he couldn't walk.
He refused medical treatment. "I was afraid they would send me to a hospital in the rear and I'd lose my assignment with Company B," he said softly. "And I loved Company B."
Other veterans in the audience at Fort Snelling nodded in understanding.
But Oye also told how his 100th Infantry Battalion -- all Japanese-American -- broke through the gates at Dachau.
"I suppose there was some irony to the fact they were liberating a Jewish concentration camp," he said, even more softly, "while their parents were in concentration camps back here."
Since 1987, the Twin Cities World War II Roundtable has brought historians and veterans together. This year's programs will include the battle of Leyte Gulf, the war in the Balkans, the development of strategic bombing in the Pacific and the role of engineers in the Battle of the Bulge.
But the series began last month with rarely heard war stories from home: stories of people who felt betrayed by the only country they knew -- but who fought for their country anyway.
Oye (pronounced OH-yeh) and Abe (AH-bay) are Nisei (NEE-say), second-generation Japanese-Americans.
After Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order to remove people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. During spring and summer 1942, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to 10 "war relocation centers" far from their homes and businesses. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards.
In the war's next three years, more than 33,000 Nisei served in the U.S. Army, mostly in two all-Japanese-American units: the 100th Infantry Battalion, formed in Hawaii, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of volunteers from the internment camps.
The two forces were merged in 1944 during the Allied campaign in Italy, and the combined unit sustained the highest U.S. casualty rate of the war.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.