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Arm Patch of the 90th Infantry Division: "Tough 'Ombres"

Interview of Joe Wayne Fong by James Scott,
May 15, 2002; 9:56 am to 11:03 am

SCOTT: …May 15th, the year 2002, it’s about 9:56 in the morning, and this is James Scott. I am interviewing the very kind Joe Wayne Fong. He has signed the waiver for giving access to his interview, providing public domain of all the information that are going to record today. So, without further adieu, um he can go ahead, and, ah, get goin’ here…it looks like we have some very, very interesting information being handed over…

FONG: That’s my outfit.

SCOTT: That’s the outfit. Now you were in the 90th…

FONG: We were attached to the 90th…

SCOTT: Right. What was, you were the, um “Mean Hombres”? Tough Hombres!?!

FONG: “Tough Hombres!”

SCOTT: “Tough Hombres!” That was it.

FONG: That’s the Division I was attached to, but I’m with the 773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion Recon Company.


FONG: And he’s my Company Commander (points to reunion photograph), uh Kelly. John Kelly.

SCOTT: Wow. Fascinating.

FONG: This is the Battalion Commander, uh, Colonel Spiess. He lived in New Orleans and he passed away 1990, there about. And Jack Kelly passed away just last year. So, most people are gone now, and…

SCOTT: Ya, that’s a tough thing to see happen.

FONG: Ya, but it happens…

SCOTT: But, but great memories…and

FONG: This is my separation picture at Camp Beal, California.

SCOTT: Look at you, lookin’ dapper…handsome.

FONG: Oh, that’s, ya

SCOTT: All right, um, what we’re gonna do, is we’re just gonna start off, um, with what you were doing before the war: um, you’re background, just tell me about your life…

FONG: How far back would this entail?

SCOTT: Well, probably back to your Junior High, High School years; things happening just prior to your entering the war.

FONG: Well, just before I was uh, the war started, I was at Lincoln Junior High School down at 4th and “P” Street. And then I said to myself: “I don’t think we have to go…the war will be over by that time. I was only 16. 14 or there about. And then, after graduating from Junior High School, I went to Sacramento High School. I went there for a few years, and then, I guess I took a little deferment and went to farm and work a little bit, and so the Army, and not have to go in so soon. So then, nevertheless, I went back to High School and graduated, and then soon thereafter I, I went into the Army.

SCOTT: Now, were you, you were born in Sacramento?

FONG: I was born in Sacramento, and spent about 11 years in Folsom.

SCOTT: Oh, okay.

FONG: So I was there when I was a child, childhood days....

SCOTT: A native son of the Valley…

FONG: I’ve seen a lot goin’ on in Folsom. Even then, those days, they have Cowboys running cattle into the cattle cars, down along the railroad! See, my father had a laundry in Folsom. He was washing clothing for the Natomas people; that’s the mining people I guess. They had a machine shop down in Natomas. They were very busy those days.

SCOTT: Interested. So, second generation?

FONG: Second generation, yes.

SCOTT: Well, interesting. So, so, you, you moved, sounds like, from Folsom down to Sacramento where you started Junior High…then High School.

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: Um, were you, were you involved with any sort kind of club or group like the Boy Scouts, or anything like that?

FONG: Well, we didn’t have time to get involved with all of that. Although we played baseball after I do my chores everyday. At twelve years old I ironed shirts most of the day…you know during vacation…and after school, and after we finished the chores, then we went out and played baseball with the boys.

SCOTT: Did you have a favorite team at that time or a favorite player?

FONG: We just played together like Ray Fong, you…you know Ray Kwong?

SCOTT: I don’t recall…

FONG: Ray Kwong and Harry Joe (sp?), and, um David Yee, among, my brother Jack. He was too young to play then, but, before long he was able to play.

SCOTT: Okay.

FONG: And, it was fun times.

SCOTT: Ya, good place to play baseball. Plenty of hot weather and sunshine…

FONG: Then I played, uh, when I was at Sac High I was chosen to be on the “C” team basketball.

SCOTT: Really?

FONG: I didn’t play a whole lot because my time was very taken care of during the day, so I just played whenever I can…

SCOTT: So, you went into the Army, uh, 1944?

FONG: Uh, yes, that was August the 5th, I think…

SCOTT: Okay. Um, real quick, and this is kinda of off the stream of questions here, but, uh, do you remember what you were doing on December 7th, and around that, that period of time at the beginning of the war? What were your feelings? What were you up to?

FONG: December the 7th…Pearl Harbor Day. Well, uh, what was, uh, that was a very, very busy time. I think the whole world was at war just about at that time.

SCOTT: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?

FONG: I was in, going to…I think I was at Lincoln Junior High School…that was a long time ago.

SCOTT: So, did someone run into the classroom, and tell you? Did you hear it on the radio?

FONG: Well, at that time, people were not that excited, truthfully, but it just happened that there are a lot of Japanese people that were my friends, and uh, and I think fifty-percent of the people were of Japanese ancestry…

SCOTT: Okay. Um, so why the Army? Did you choose the Army?

FONG: Well, first of all, I wanted to go into the Navy because I had machine shop training. And I wanted to go into the Navy, maybe hoping to get a job as a machinist. But, they didn’t take me, so later on I went into the Army.

SCOTT: Okay. Were you happy with going into the Army?

FONG: To tell you the truth, it didn’t matter where we go as long as we help the country.

SCOTT: Right, exactly.

SCOTT: So, we talked about prior to joining the Army, it sounds like you did have some training in machinery, it sounds like.

FONG: Yes. I had a major in machinery and auto repair…mechanic…

SCOTT: Oh, and that’s what you ended up doing with your life.

FONG: After the war I was…yes.

SCOTT: Okay. Um, so that, that was more-or-less something that you wanted to use before the war. Uh, during the war, your training with, uh, machinery and things like that…wanted to do it; didn’t turn out too well…Um…

When you entered the Army, let’s see, how many brothers did you have? Well, I had my brother Bob is still living. Jack passed away in 1989. And, I have Michael. He’s still alive yet. And he’s in San Francisco. He’s a fisherman. He likes to write fish stories… (laughs)…and tell big fish stories, too.

SCOTT: Of course, of course.

FONG: He went all over the world, making speeches, and people usually invite him to go for a gathering…

SCOTT: So, did all your brothers participate in the service?

FONG: My brother Bob participated in the Philippines.

SCOTT: That’s right.

FONG: And Jack was at Camp Beal. He didn’t go overseas.

SCOTT: So, when you, when you went off to the Army…it’s 1944…uh, your family was in Sacramento. Did you, did you have a girlfriend? Um, any close acquaintances that you knew you’d miss?

FONG: Well, I missed a lot of friends, but I didn’t have any regular girlfriend, so to speak.

SCOTT: Okay. So, taking a big jump, you’re entering boot camp and this is at Camp Beal?

FONG: Uh, no, boot camp was not at Camp Beal. We went down to San Francisco, and then we took the train down to Presidio Monterrey.

SCOTT: Okay, and that’s where you went into training?

FONG: From. No. After that I guess we had some shots, and got on a train and went to Fort Knox, Kentucky.

SCOTT: Um, what was boot camp like?

FONG: Well, like anything else you just have to go there…you line up every morning…they count heads and you say “Here” and make sure you’re there on time. If you’re not there, you’re AWOL, you know.

SCOTT: Right, right. Okay, so was it, was it pretty, pretty arduous? What it pretty tough training? Did they put you through the wringer pretty well?

FONG: I kinda think that it was, because we didn’t have that much time to go through, uh, that much training, although what they taught us is to survive and how to be a soldier.


FONG: And to be a soldier, you have to kill the enemy…

SCOTT: Did you know at this time that you were definitely going to Europe?


SCOTT: Okay…

FONG: See after I, uh, had my basic training, I went through armor training. Eight weeks of armor training. Learn all about weapons. I used to know how far the uh, the weapon will shoot, and, and things like that.

SCOTT: So, you operated a .50 caliber machine gun?

FONG: Well, during the war I did.

SCOTT: That’s a big gun.

FONG: It’s not too big, but big enough to do some damage.

SCOTT: Ya…So, at induction, and during boot camp, um, tell me your, your level of patriotism? Were ya thinkin’ about getting’ over there…were you itchin’ to fight the Germans and the Nazis?

FONG: Well, I think that patriotic…patriotism was very high at that time because we wanted to go there and get the war over…

SCOTT: …and it had been going on for quite a while…

FONG: But the thing is, I never realized that I would go over there and be a .50 caliber machine-gunner…but the story is a long story, but ah, when we went overseas, you know from Camp Shanks, New York, I guess, there were 5,000 of us, ah, armored infantry. That’s our classification is armored infantry…and we all went over there to Liverpool. I think we took the Mauritania, the sister ship of Queen Mary. We went over there in about three-and-a-half days…we went so fast the U-Boat can’t catch up with us.

SCOTT: Did you guys sail in a zigzag or did ya go straight on in?

FONG: That I don’t know. I don’t think we zigzagged. We went over there in three-and-a-half days.

SCOTT: Those were darn fast ships.

FONG: Fast ship! Yes…

SCOTT: How many guys did you guys have on the Mauritania?

FONG: We have 5,000 people. ...all armored infantry. All of these people were replacements of all the units that needed…

SCOTT: So, did you remember the reception you got when you got into Liverpool?

FONG: Well…we didn’t have any reception at all, because it was so foggy there we were just lucky to be able to see where we were going…

SCOTT: So, when you got to England were you stationed somewhere briefly?

FONG: Ya, we stationed there briefly…us…get processed…you know, made sure that we were okay to go on another trip down to South Hampton. You know where South Hampton is?

SCOTT: Right, and then you…which French Port did you get into, or did you go into Antwerp?

FONG: No. There’s a port, a port they call LaHavre, something like that…and that was the rear…at that time.

SCOTT: Um, so, just gonna backtrack real briefly to boot camp…um, did you make any buddies? Got any memories…friends…?

FONG: I had quite a few buddies that were close to me…uh, there’s one buddy named Raymond Wooley…I think his girlfriend was about to leave him…(laugh)…Can’t believe it…I wrote a letter for him…(laughs)…to his girlfriend…

SCOTT: To try to resurrect the relationship?

FONG: I probably did.

SCOTT: That’s a major contribution. Believe me!

FONG: In civilian life, yes!

SCOTT: Okay….um, all right, so…things are kinda jumpin’ around here a little bit, but when you, when you did join up, when you did join up, would you call yourself, or would you have called yourself moderately patriotic, extremely patriotic?

FONG: I think we were quite patriotic at that time because most of the fellas went in. There were only a few left around here.

SCOTT: Okay…ya…and, another thing about boot camp…another jump back…can you remember your toughest drill. Can you remember the dang toughest drill you ever did? Was it running? Was it doing your push-ups?

FONG: I think I carried the .50 caliber machine gun…(laughs)…

SCOTT: Dang!

FONG: No. I carried the .30 caliber light machine gun. I carried that on a…march.

SCOTT: Wow. How long was the march?

FONG: Well, I think a few miles.

SCOTT: Ya…probably seemed like about fifty-miles.

FONG: Well, we were pretty strong then…

SCOTT: Ya. So, um, were any, any of the guys you trained with removed? Were they deemed unfit for service? Or, did everyone pretty much make it through?

FONG: Well, most people make it through except one of my buddies. He wasn’t quite able to march through everything because I guess he was tired out.

SCOTT: Ya, so, so did he, was he removed from the service…or, given a desk job?

FONG: No…he went through it, and eventually he went to the Philippines.

SCOTT: Okay, so you were, you were trained as a machine gunner, um, sounds like you were trained specifically on the .30 or the .50?

FONG: I was trained on everything that…it so happened that I was an expert rifleman.

SCOTT: Wow. That’s quite an accomplishment.

FONG: But the thing is, when I went to LeHavre…you know…a person named Ward Johnson came down from the 773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion…he said “We need six people.” And he just called out the names, and we got on the 6x6…you know at the replacement depot…when we were ready to go. We travel, I guess, noontime until nighttime. We went up to ahhh, to the Arden Forest, you know, up near the Battle of the Bulge…

SCOTT: Okay, so the date you arrived in LaHavre…can you remember the date?

FONG: I don’t know…because it’s sort of…I thought that I went over there about February sometime…

SCOTT: February ’45?

FONG: ’45, yes.

SCOTT: Okay, so Battle of the Bulge essentially over…

FONG: Mop up at the Battle of the Bulge…and we were getting ready to fight to the Rhine River…

SCOTT: Okay…let’s see here…so you’re basically attached to a tank destroying battalion.

FONG: I am the Tank Destroyer Battalion attached to 90th Infantry.

SCOTT: Now, when you, when you had actually developed all of these skills; you’re an expert marksman, um, you had been trained on the machine guns…did you feel like you were pretty darn good at it? You felt confident in your ability to do these things?

FONG: Not as good as I should I think, but I can do it…might take a few more shots to do it…(laughs)…

SCOTT: Of course, you did have a machine gun to work with so that’s helpful…So, all told, during the war, um, and this can include combat, non-combat, whatever you can recall, but, but what accomplishment are the most proud of during your time?

FONG: Well, I’m proud that we won the war, because we all did our little part for the war…

SCOTT: Can you think of a specific instance? Can you think of a buddy you might have bailed out? You know, something specific that you personally might have done?

FONG: Well, I was credited for shooting down a German jet. (laughs)

SCOTT: An ME 262?

FONG: I don’t know what it was now. It was a funny looking thing. Because along the Rhine River they come by…I shot at a lot of German ME 109s, but I didn’t hit them, but I gave my position away. And then, then we got a lot of shells, but, but the Company Commander was very alert, and he, he moved us out of there real quick. As we moved out of there, we looked back and a lot of shells dropped in where we were…

SCOTT: So you shot down a German jet!?!

FONG: That’s what they say! (laughs).

SCOTT: Heck! That’s, that’s an accomplishment, of course at that time of the war, it’s very late in the war, but those planes were very effective.

FONG: Ya, they were, but nevertheless, you know, we were in different places, and the Company Commander…well each one, he watches over us, you know…

SCOTT: So he shoots down a jet…

SCOTT: Um, so you’re, you’re in Europe and you’re moving through…parts of France; you’re moving into Germany eventually. Um, did you, did you feel, all the while, that your training was really coming out as something that was effective? Did you feel good about the training you had?

FONG: I believe that it’s sort of natural when you are in combat, you just have to do what you need to do…

SCOTT: Okay. So it’s a little bit, it’s a little bit of human nature taking over? And then, and then some of your training too, maybe? You know, some of the things back at Fort Knox, that, you know, you had shouted at you over and over again…

FONG: Well, not as much. In combat it’s different. You just have to use your own common sense.

SCOTT: Where were you when you heard your first shot fired, or heard your first shell land?

FONG: That was, uh…

SCOTT: How did you feel?

FONG: I felt that “that is getting close!” (laughs).

FONG: That was in the Bulge. We were mopping up, and they were still firing ahead and around us.

SCOTT: Still pretty cold at that time too?

FONG: Cold too. Cold time.

SCOTT: Did you have gloves on? You had a long jacket?

FONG: Woolen gloves, yes, and coat…winter coat.

SCOTT: Ya, I was reading, um, something about the 90th, they had, they had actually crossed the river, um, crossed the Rhine, had to cross back over it because of everything that was going on in the Ardennes, and then had to make a seventy-mile run up the…

FONG: I gave the book to the Museum (California Military). One like this, and I mapped out all the places that I went, you know…In here they have a Task Force…you know we were on a Task Force going to the Rhine River. Kelly, Kelly is my C.O. That’s Kelly (shows picture), and there’s another person that’s on Task Force, and that one got hit, but we were lucky we didn’t get hit. We were doing Task Force all over Germany, after, you know, after crossing the Rhine.

SCOTT: Right, right, so when you guys were mopping up throughout the Ardennes, were the Germans still pretty active at that time-did they have some teeth to ‘em.

FONG: Well, I didn’t see that much there, but we rounded up a lot of prisoners, you know, up there

SCOTT: What do you remember about seeing some of those prisoners? Did you, did you feel any anger toward them?

FONG: …They didn’t bother us at all. They just, just like any prisoner. I guess they just have to submit to you, and…

SCOTT: Were they pretty cooperative?

FONG: Well, some other people took care of them, because when we were over there on Task Force and we go ahead, and the people in the back they come up and take over…they have a place where they put all the prisoners. MPs and everybody…

SCOTT: Anybody try to escape?

FONG: Now, that I don’t know. (laughs).

SCOTT: Well, this is the, to a lot of people, the most interesting part of an interview, um, where we come to the point when we start to talk about specific combat experiences. Um, you know…what did you see? What did you hear? Um, how frightened were you? Um, why don’t just talk about a few of your combat experiences…the most memorable.

FONG: The most memorable was when we were about to get shelled during the Rhine River operation. And then one time we were relieving an outfit, and I was standing guard, and they had a light tank, and one day I saw two Germans far away…I didn’t want to shoot at them, because I don’t know what they’re doing, but nevertheless, uh, I was ready for them if they’re coming because, uh, the tank was there, and I can either use the tank or use my M-1.

SCOTT: Right, right. So, just German soldiers…

FONG: Ya, they were on a bicycle.

SCOTT: Okay, so you didn’t fire because you didn’t know they might have…

FONG: Yes. We just have to watch it. As recon. that’s what we do.

SCOTT: Okay, exactly, you don’t want to give away your position, and you don’t give away too much information.

SCOTT: Okay, my next question was going to be “do you remember seeing any German soldiers?” And, obviously you do.

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: Um, within combat, obviously you saw prisoners, um, you saw those two other German soldiers, but do you remember seeing…

FONG: Well, I seen a lot of them, and on the Rhine River, I had seen their artillery column coming down from the other side…just a lot of dust and everything, you know. We just see them coming down…

SCOTT: Was that a pretty frightening site?

FONG: Ya. They’re the ones that tried to get us.

SCOTT: So, um, it was an artillery column. What…did they use .88s? Was that their…

FONG: I think that’s what it is. (laughs).

SCOTT: Oh boy, ya, those were really scary.

FONG: They were far away. They must be many miles away, but we could see them. But, we had lot of soldiers on the West bank of the Rhine River; there’s a lot of units all over getting ready to make the push across the Rhine River.

SCOTT: Right. And then right when you cross the Rhine River, what were the fortifications like? Do you remember what you were facing? …the Siegfried Line…

FONG: Well, no we didn’t have to go to the Siegfried Line. Because we went through it, because the 90th went through it, and we went through it when we went to the Rhine River, and uh, on the map. I got maps here. Do you want these maps?

SCOTT: Well, I wouldn’t mind looking at them…

FONG: These are the maps…

SCOTT: Okay there’s Heidelberg…

FONG: And that’s where we went most of the time. All these markings here, up to uh, these places…

SCOTT: So, you went into Metz. Were you part of the Siege of Metz?

FONG: No. We went up…the fighting was over now. They took us up to Bastogne somewhere, up here…

FONG: And we went up there from La Havre up to here that evening…you know that took six-hours, I guess. And then we, after we went up there, we tried to squeak out a little rest after that, and we get gas, and then we’re ready to go again.

SCOTT: Okay…

FONG: And then we went all along here…those were the cities that I read about in the book, uh about the 90th, you know the Tank Destroyer Battalion…most of the action that we had was along here, along the Rhine River down here. And then we went across at, um, Openheim. Can you see Openheim? Openheim is a town here. Openheim.

SCOTT: There it is. Right there, Openheim.

FONG: That evening the Tank Destroyer Battalion, the Recon. Company, uh, guarded the pontoon bridge that day…They didn’t tell us, but I kinda figured out that we stayed there so long, that’s why we had to guard the pontoon bridge…because there were no other outfits around there at that time. And as a task force we had to guard that till nightfall.

SCOTT: Okay. Any trouble with that?

FONG: We…some, some Stuka dive-bombers came by-we just opened up and shoot at them, and they were just out too far and weren’t able to get them.

SCOTT: Right, the old Stuka. Did they, did you hear the old siren or whatever that thing was when they dove down?

FONG: We…yes, they tried to make some noise, yes.

SCOTT: So um, do you recall any other specific combat experiences that you might have had? Anything…okay, you had actually gotten into Germany-can you remember anything about being in Germany…

FONG: After we got into Germany, to Darmstadt-you know Darmstadt-on the outskirts of Frankfurt, ah, some German ladies said “there are mines all over the place!” So we had to stop and then the pioneer platoon-that’s the demolition people-and they needed some people to cover them as they go and discover the mines. So, I had to get off the armored car and, and ah, take my M-1 and guard them…

SCOTT: So, at that time, did you guys have the electrical or the electronic mine detectors?


SCOTT: What? Did you take bayonets and go out there?

FONG: They had their job to do. I don’t know what. We weren’t trained for demolition, and they were the ones that took care of demolition…

SCOTT: Ya, I’m sure that’s something you just assume let someone else take care of…

FONG: Ya, that was a sergeant…that he wears Australian hat.

SCOTT: Oh, okay. So he wasn’t an American.

FONG: I guess he was American, but I guess demolition people wear whatever they want to wear and they can’t use the helmet, possibly…magnetic helmet.

SCOTT: Okay, so, so you said this German woman had, had…

FONG: They tell the people that there’s mines all over.

SCOTT: How did you find the German people when you got into Germany? Were they, were they pretty quiet? Did they just not say much? Were they interactive? Were they grateful that you were there?

FONG: Some…

Tape Side Change:

FONG: …In the cave. In this book, tell you…

SCOTT: …That’s another thing I wanted to ask you about, because…

FONG: I wasn’t there, but I, I…a lot of things I don’t know, see, but what I read…I found out afterward.

SCOTT: Right, there was the Mercker Salt Mine…

FONG: Ya, uh ha.

SCOTT: And the uh…there, there were three things and these are things that I’ve read about the 90th, but it’s the Mercker Salt Mine, its the 11th Panzer Division that you guys accepted the surrender of. Were you there during that?

FONG: No, no…I was on Task Force on the up, in Czechoslovakia. We went to a different place…

SCOTT: Okay, okay.

FONG: In TDs (TFs?) we went to a different place…

SCOTT: Okay…So, um…let’s see, so, the German people could be pretty, pretty helpful…

FONG: Well, the War was nearly over, and they just wanted to get it over you know…

SCOTT: What did it look like? What did it look like? I mean, when you actually went into towns um, like Darmstadt, and you went around, I mean, what did it look like?

FONG: Well, it was all bombed out, all the towns were bombed out. Even, uh, all the towns were bombed out…rats all over.

SCOTT: Right, um, so I guess you could probably contrast what you saw in France in terms of the towns, the villages, and how the people received you, um, with what you saw in Germany, a whole lot. My guess is that the towns were attacked in France, not really touched too much…

FONG: The small towns were all intact…only the big towns were all bombed out. All the factories were bombed out…

SCOTT: Okay. So um, was it satisfying? I mean, you and your comrades had to feel pretty darn good, you, you fought this War for five years, and, of course, you represent your country, but the War had been going on for so long, and you know, the man who started it was very close to his demise…you were on the door step of Germany, you had entered Germany-you were in the heartland of Nazism. How’d that feel?

FONG: Well, it’s a feeling that you don’t get too often.

SCOTT: I mean, you guys had really accomplished a lot, you were gonna end something terrible, and that had to be an incredible feeling.

FONG: Yes, yes it is.

SCOTT: I mean, down to this very day, um, you know, a lot of people will use the catch phrase, “The Good War”….you know, there was moral license for what you did, there was ethical license, um, and it just had to be a fulfilling sort of thing, and like you said, something that’s pretty hard to describe.

FONG: Yes, the feeling that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we felt that we had to take care of things and make sure that we’ll win the War.

SCOTT: Right, do you, um…the 90th, um, had gone on…it looks like they had made it to Flossenberg, the concentration camp? They opened that up. Had stories trickled back to you guys? When did you finally hear of what the Nazis had done?

FONG: Well, we went to a lot of places, and liberated a lot of GIs from the German hospitals, but concentration camps, we did not know till much later…

SCOTT: Was it after the War that you had finally heard about it?

FONG: Near the end of the War…

SCOTT: So, you were in Germany and you had heard about it from somebody? How did you feel when you heard that?

FONG: Well, not too good. Any concentration camp is not good, but I think, uh, I think they really had people with a lot of disease, you know, and they kept burning them was about the only thing they could do because that didn’t have any medicine to take care of people.

SCOTT: Right. Okay, this is…kind of a question that, it’s really off the main stream-we’re actually given some liberty here in so far as asking one question that’s kind of unique to your particular situation?

You are a Chinese-American, born in Sacramento, um, second generation, um, now, prior to Pearl Harbor, um, and during and after, Japan had invaded China, and um, a lot of information has come out from what the Japanese were doing in China, and in particular, what happened in Nanking-Iris Chang wrote very good book about that-and a lot of people have come forth and released a lot of very shocking information. Had you known about Nanking? Do you remember what happened there? Did it give you any incentive as you fought Fascism?

FONG: Well, uh, during that time, the Japanese were fighting China for a long time, they also bombed Shanghai-they killed a lot of people-and there was a little baby sitting there with everything all bombed out-it’s kind of sad that things happened. What had China done to Japan, you know, a thing like that. Why should Japan have to go and fight China?

SCOTT: So, being a Chinese-American, did you feel a special commitment to, um, you know, sort of, your ancestry, you know, back to East Asia-did you feel a certain commitment to end that..?

FONG: Well, look at this way, I just looked at it from the human being point of view; that people should not kill people unless there’s a reason to kill people, and War is not good.

SCOTT: It’s very commendable to hear that sort of answer.

SCOTT: Okay, well, let’s go on to our next question here. When you were in Europe, and, you’d just left France and had gotten into Germany, obviously you’re in a different Continent, you’re going country to country-what was the geography like? Did it present a problem for your units? For your armor?

FONG: For me, I think the mud was the worst and the weather, and shortage of gas.

SCOTT: Ya, it was cold, too?

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: And, of course, you’re fighting a pretty mobile war, you know, you’re pushing along a pretty wide front, and of course you need fuel-you gotta have fuel. And, and that time you guys had that supply line from Antwerp running??? What was that called again? The “Red Ball Express”? Is that what they called it?

FONG: Ya, it was from Le Havre. And the rear was at that place too, the main center for supply.

SCOTT: Okay. Did you guys ever run out of gas?

FONG: Oh ya. We run out of gas, but they didn’t tell us, but we can’t move so…

SCOTT: So, a pretty helpless feeling, knowing that you couldn’t really go anywhere?

FONG: When I got off the ship at Le Havre, I had 90 pounds on my back…marched ten miles. Not at all one clip, but we had to rest along the way. Along the way we rested-we can’t get up, hardly. But when we got up we’re okay.

SCOTT: Ya, that’s like carrying an extra body along with ya.

SCOTT: Okay, so, we talked about these instances where you would be, uh, you know, on recon, and you’d see Germans-pretty scary-or that you saw that armored, or uh, artillery column, you know, coming down the other side of the Rhine, and that’s pretty scary, too. Can you think of the scariest moment?

FONG: The scariest moment was, uh, when, uh, we got out of the place, and the shell all over, all over the place where we left, that came close…that’s too close.

SCOTT: Oh ya, exactly…and your commanding officer had actually moved you guys. I’m gonna ask you a couple questions that you don’t have to answer, okay? Umm, and they-I think they number three in total-but the first question, uh, has to do with alcohol. Did you ever drink to excess, and was there booze around aplenty?

FONG: Well, when I was over there, I never drank anything…

SCOTT: My guess is that you probably had buddies who did…

FONG: Oh, they drank a lot…after the War they drank a lot.

SCOTT: Beer, Whisky?

FONG: Beer, mostly.

SCOTT: German beer? Stuff that you guys would liberate, or?

FONG: Some guys, some guys, drink wood alcohol.

SCOTT: I’m sorry?

FONG: Wood alcohol…they almost go blind drinking that. This wasn’t good after the War.

SCOTT: Okay, next question, you also don’t have to answer this…any drug use?

FONG: No, not that I know of.

SCOTT: And, for the most part, that came later on, decades down the road, with Vietnam?


SCOTT: Okay, did you ever see or experience any corporal punishment? For example, maybe in boot camp did you see anybody get hit by-what did they call it?-drill sergeants?

FONG: No, no. During our time we did not have that problem.

SCOTT: Okay, okay. So, none of that. Um, your commander, and I don’t recall, which, which Army group were you in?

FONG: 3rd Army.

SCOTT: 3rd Army-George Patton.

FONG: George Patton.

SCOTT: Now, he actually, um, recommended a Presidential citation, which you got.

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: And something I heard which was kind of interesting, was he went ahead, and, and he recommended the 90th to be recognized.

FONG: Fleur de Guerre and some people have the Croix de Guerre…

SCOTT: Right, right, exactly…

FONG: They have that, and I got the Fleur de Guerre. That’s up in, uh, the northern part…of France.

SCOTT: Now, was that handed, was that given to you by the French government?

FONG: Yes. The French government.

SCOTT: Wow. Interesting. Um, another question, and it sort of tangential sometimes, um, but when you were in the Army, either at home or in Europe, did you see any of your buddies get disciplined by other buddies for maybe not doing their job correctly, uh, maybe not pulling their weight?


SCOTT: Ya, okay, the thing that…uh…and this is a required question, is that there were things such as “GI Showers,” “Blanket Parties”-things like that-that were used.

FONG: No. We didn’t have anything like that: No time for that.

SCOTT: Um, here’s another question that you don’t have to answer: Were you celebate during service?

FONG: Now, what do you mean?

SCOTT: Did you have a girlfriend when you were in the service?

FONG: Oh, not really…just writing letters to them. Even had one from Canada that I never met…a pen pal, yes.

SCOTT: That should be it for uncomfortable questions…

SCOTT: Okay, we pretty much made it through the War, um, it sounds like you spent some time in France studying a bit, and that was in Biarritz?

FONG: Ya, Biarritz, ya.

SCOTT: Can you tell me a little bit about that? You lived there basically, you were there for a couple of months…

FONG: Well, 8 weeks.

FONG: Biarritz is a millionaire playground in southern France. It had the latest music and best of food and everything…along the seashore.

SCOTT: The Riviera…

FONG: No, not the Riviera, but close to it…

SCOTT: Province?

FONG: No, not Province, but near Spain, along the Atlantic Coast. It was nice there. They also had gambling also.

SCOTT: It was pretty good living then, huh?

FONG: I met a kid there named Bernard, and a French girl named Josette, and I gave the French kid the rations, cigarette rations, and he gave me a bottle of Cognac…

SCOTT: Did you smoke? Were you a smoker? No, I don’t smoke. No, I did not smoke, I did not drink.

SCOTT: So, you’re done, you’re done with the War, the War is over…can you remember how you felt when the War had ended?

FONG: I felt very good that the War was over. When the War was over, I was in France, and VJ day came along, and they have a parade at Biarritz.

SCOTT: So were you pretty excited to get home?

FONG: Oh well, I know that I can’t come home right away ‘cus I didn’t have the points to come home, so after that I went back to a quartermaster outfit (Firth) that’s near Nuremberg.

SCOTT: Interesting to be so close to Nuremberg near the end of the War with the trials going on and everything.

FONG: Well, we never came across anything like that.

SCOTT: Did anything come back? Did you hear any news from there?

FONG: No. We didn’t hear any news there.

SCOTT: So, what was the furthest east you got?

FONG: Went into Czechoslovakia.

SCOTT: What were the Czechs like?

FONG: We don’t know. The town was empty of people…nobody there. Just a street like a ghost town.

SCOTT: So you’d finished up at Firth, and by that time you had gotten enough points. Did you come straight back to Sacramento?

FONG: No. We went to Bremerhavn and we took a trip called the Chenault Victory. It took us fourteen days to come home.

SCOTT: A little bit slower trip.

FONG: Yes. We went through the Azores Islands on the way home. There was nothing at Azores Island that I could see, but cows in the pasture.

SCOTT: You finally got…when did you get back to Sacramento? Do you remember the year, the month?

FONG: It was ’46 when I was (?) out from Camp Beall. I think July the 2nd,…’46.

SCOTT: How’d it feel to come home?

FONG: Nice to be home. And I met my brother Jack at Camp Beall.

SCOTT: Probably a sight for sore eyes, huh?

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: So, the War’s over, you’re back in Sacramento, what’s the plan?

FONG: The plan, well, we all had to do something afterward, and I worked a little bit at the garage for a person…I forgot what I got an hour…I guess it was worth maybe $3.25 and hour I guess; I helped him out a little bit, and then I went to Grand Tech College. That’s up north of town, Grand Tech College.

SCOTT: It’s now Sierra?

FONG: Yes. I went there for a while and I did not have enough math, although I took half a course in refrigeration and also…I don’t know what course I had, it’s been so long (laughs).

I think it was something, physics, or something like that…I didn’t have the math to do all that stuff so I dropped out. Later we found a place, and started a business at 1101 “S” Street, Sacramento. I operated a garage made in 1947. Gee, that’s just a little year afterward. So, I was doing all right and was busy all the time.

SCOTT: And this was an auto repair…?

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: Okay, so where did you pick up the skill as an auto repair guy?

FONG: Well, I learned a little bit in high school about cars; well, I didn’t learn as fast as I should because when I was 14-years-old I tore an engine apart and when I put it back together it wouldn’t run (laughs). Later, I checked with people and I was able to read books, so they said the valve timing; you’ve got to put the valve timing chain on right. So, that’s the key. So, from then on I knew a lot more from 14.

SCOTT: So, were you, were you, in the same, um, address, the same establishment from May 1947 um just through the decades?

FONG: No. I left “S” Street in 1958. And I went to 6th and “P” Street, and then Redevelopment took my place, and they gave me some money, and then I went to 7th and “R” Street-I bought a warehouse over there for $65,000 which I thought was pretty reasonable. I was there for a while and then I also had a parking lot down at 7th and “Q” Street, and I stayed there for the rest of my days repairing cars.

SCOTT: Wow…when did you finish repairing cars, when did you retire?

FONG: Well, I finished…working in cars, maybe a few years before I sold my place. I sold the place December the 31st, 1986. I sold the place.

SCOTT: Was that pretty good work in terms of keeping in shape and keeping you active?

FONG: I kept in pretty good shape, but along the way, I had high blood pressure in 1976. I was still at the warehouse at that time repairing cars. One day I felt so dizzy, and the next day I went to see my doctor, and my blood pressure was 176 over 142, and he said, “Joe, I’ve got to give you pills. You’ve to take it four times a day, and they’re gonna knock you out,” he said. So that’s what I did.

SCOTT: Right. So the health is in check. So, basically, you dedicated your life-when you got back-to sort of workin’ on the cars. Did you find it very satisfying work? Did you find it something that made you feel good about what you were doing, and helping people, and having fun?

FONG: I had fun. But, having a parking lot was more fun-you collect money all the time, and that’s more fun than working on cars.

SCOTT: So, again the parking lot was on..?

FONG: 7th and “Q” Street. Well, that was my “American Dream.”

SCOTT: Having that parking lot? Doing that car repair and all that stuff?

FONG: Yeah.

SCOTT: So, when you came back to the U.S.-and this is a little out of chronology-can you remember the reception? Were you “Joe the Hero”?

FONG: No. We had no reception. No, no. We just see liberties. They were waving to us and we were waving back, and then we got off the ship, and there’s this… “Past this portal are the best soldiers in the world.” And then they said, “you gonna bunk here and you’re gonna have steak tonight.” Yeah!!! [Laughs].

SCOTT: Interesting, okay. So, did you…you got into New York…did you take the train across the country?

FONG: Actually, I took the train, came back through the southern route through “needles,” you know how hot that is, Southern California, Arizona. That’s hot, but that’s all right. Coming home is all right no matter how hot it is.

SCOTT: Exactly. Makes it all better when you get back home. Um, so the War’s been over for a really long time…

FONG: For me it’s 57 years or more.

SCOTT: Do you harbor any resentment toward either of the countries who really started the War, either Germany or Japan?

FONG: Well, I think Japan was worse I think. Because, I think Hitler bombing England that’s not good either because they were shelling England, V-2 rockets and all that, not good. I wrote a little war story about myself. Do you have a copy?

SCOTT: No I don’t.

FONG: I’ll give you a copy.

SCOTT: That would be an honor.

SCOTT: Now, you’re uh, again we’re talking about life, the War is long gone, and you’ve told me a lot of interesting things about your life during that period, things that have happened-before, during the War, and after-is there anything you wanna add to the record?

FONG: Well, there’s so much, I just don’t know.

SCOTT: It’s a lot of stuff to happen in a short period of time, isn’t it?

FONG: Yes.

SCOTT: Would you call it probably the most singularly, um, I don’t know, the biggest moment in your life? Would you look at the War as that moment, probably, the defining moment of your life, in a way?

FONG: Well, I just thought that coming out of the War, and being here for so many years, that’s a blessing for most of us who can stay alive that long. It’s not easy…

SCOTT: Well, unless you don’t have anything to add, this interview with Joe Wayne Fong at his home in Sacramento-it’s 11:03 AM on the 15th of May-has concluded. This is James Scott the interviewer with the interviewee Joe Wayne Fong. We thank him most appreciatively for his time…

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Last updated November 18, 2002. Please send comments, questions, and reports of problems to jcscott@saclink.csus.edu. Composed by: James Christian Scott, CSUS Reference Librarian. Copyright ©: 2001.