Allegiance was split among the Japanese evacuees, but in many circumstances their imprisonment only added question and confusion to their loyalty.  The move raised their fears of the United States and loyalty to their homeland stronger.  In some cases, it was opposite in that the evacuees felt they would be punished by Japan (should they win the war) if they sympathized with America.  All of them had interests, relatives and ties to Japan that they felt would be jeopardized should they swear allegiance entirely to the United States.  While those of military and middle age faced these ultimatums, children still laughed and played without care and the elderly watched quiet and content.

 

Between March and May 1943, the 319th rotated out of Manzanar to the Florence Interment Camp.  Just as the first Italian prisoners of war began to arrive, the company returned to Manzanar.  The rest of the year improved significantly for both the M.P.s and the Japanese.  Facilities, order and relationships improved.  Rodriguez managed to regain his grade of corporal and ultimately sergeant.   His duties at Manzanar and the M.P.s no longer stood watch in guard towers waiting for dissenters, but escorted the internees who had lost baseballs and golf balls over the fences.  By April 1944 the company concluded its duties at the camp and left the Japanese who would remain detained for more than year.

CLIFFORD R. RODRIGUEZ

Master Sergeant | Airborne Infantry

Four days after his sixteenth birthday in November 1936, Clifford Rodriguez enlisted in the Army with a forged birthdate.  By the end of the same month, he was with the 35th Infantry Regiment in Hawaii in the midst of the regiment’s extended assignment to the Hawaiian Division.  The Pacific garrison had become a fortress against the growing Japanese threat across the ocean and was a desirable assignment for its incredible weather, exotic scenery and pristine beaches.  It was excellent duty with rigorous training and drilling to make proper soldiers of what would become the ‘old army.’  For nearly three years, Clifford remained with B Company where he rose to the rank of corporal which he held without incident until shortly before his Hawaiian posting ended.  He was reduced to private in April 1939 and departed the islands in August.  It was his last overseas assignment for several years.  Once home and immediately upon assignment to the 30th Infantry Regiment, he took a lengthy 90-day furlough.

Rather than sailing for North Africa with the 3d Division, Rodriguez instead moved to the Japanese Relocation Center at Casa Grande.  His assignment with the 319th Military Police Escort Guard Company was simple on paper, but in reality, the problem faced with guarding such an establishment was incredibly complex.  The Japanese interned in the camp were there only because of a rational fear of espionage that inflated to such a proportion that the American government’s solution was to intern all foreign born and American citizens of Japanese descent.  After the entire West Coast was split into military zones and responsibility for relocation of Japanese turned over to the Army, relocation centers were established in remote and desolate areas.

 

TINIAN

The Army either had trouble placing Clifford or he had trouble choosing his own path – by early 1945 he was once again reduced to private and assigned as a medical technician to the 303d General Hospital forming at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.   In a few months, the group departed for the Pacific and arrived at Tinian in July.  Members of the unit were prepared to set up and inhabit a 10,000-bed hospital facility, but they found the island dominated by the massive runways built over the leveled coral island.  Silver B-29s lined the long airstrips and at sunset they would take off every fifteen seconds with a tremendous roar that drowned out all noise until they lifted off to disappear to the west.

The hospital itself was a tent city set up by the Seabees and had few amenities.  Latrines filled with lime to kill bacteria and insects edged the perimeter; water supply was heavily chlorinated and unreliable as the Japanese still present on the island were persistent in shooting the bamboo pipes to steal water for themselves; the jungle reeked and was rampant with geckos, snails, rats, snakes, bats, ants, mosquitos and other pests and insects doused with DDT from above.  Though malaria carrying mosquitoes were not indigenous, other tropical diseases were rampant.

As American forces came closer to invading mainland Japan to end the war, the Hospital prepared to move off the island.  The rapid change ensured that their 10,000-bed hospital center never came to be on Tinian.  At the end of July, only two weeks into their Pacific tour, the men who arrived in khakis were measured for wool Ike Jackets, a sign they were moving somewhere north – Japan was the only logical destination.  Their prediction of the future changed dramatically when the atomic bombs arrived on Tinian and the local 509th Composite Group departed to bomb Japan.  When the Enola Gay returned on August 6th, all ranks celebrated well into the night despite heavy rain and mud.  Their war seemed over, though Tinian went from a secure and peaceful island back to wartime alert with blackout nights.  More celebrations came on August 9th when the Bock’s Car returned after dropping the second bomb on Japan, but surrender was delayed for another few days.

The two bombs and subsequent carpet bombings ensured there was no need for an invasion of the mainland the mission of the 303d General Hospital quickly dwindled.  The massive quantities of wooden caskets in storage on the island would no longer be needed and questions changed from when they would be facing an onslaught of casualties to when they would be returning home.

It was not until early November that Clifford arrived in San Francisco and promptly discharged, retaining only one stripe of Private First Class.  He experienced his only break in nine years of military service since 1936 due to ‘Convenience of the Government.’  Having found civilian life unsuitable, by February he enlisted again and managed to join the paratroopers where he excelled and managed to hold his rank without consequence.

 

He spent 1946 in Germany, returning to New Jersey on November 11th.  A night out to celebrate with his friend Lloyd Johnson turned into seven months in jail.  Holding passes from Camp Kilmer, the pair were off.  Lloyd suggested spending their evening in Bound Brook where they visited several bars and taverns before Rodriguez suggested going to New York.  They had second thoughts during their journey by taxi and they decided to hitch-hike back.  The police intercepted the pair near Jersey City and held only Rodriguez in custody after he was accused of assaulting a seven-year-old girl.  It was not until February that he faced trial.  The jury was split on the conviction and he had to wait until June for the second part of his trial where he was finally acquitted under the premise of mistaken identity.

 

After the Korean War erupted, Clifford joined the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team under the senior First Lieutenant William Weber who recalled that he “had many misfits that could not adjust to civilian life that were the best combat soldiers in the world.”  He continued, “Around 50% of my company before Korea came from the stockade. These were soldiers that would wreck the car on the highway to Fort Campbell or were drunk in bars getting into fights. And you train hard and fight hard, and you always maintain a sense of humor in the thick of battle.”  When Weber started rebuilding L Company on activation, he had 90 men – 72 came from the stockage.  It seemed that Clifford fit right in with his sometimes tarnished past.

 

Despite their behavior, it seemed that every man in the 187th wore a combat patch from an Airborne Division and a Combat Infantry Badge on their chest.  There were privates in the company who gladly took reductions from sergeant and sergeant first class just to join the unit for Korea.  As the regiments of the 11th and 82d Airborne were picked apart to build the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, it became, perhaps, the best fighting unit to ever assemble in the United States Army and would be difficult to ever assemble such a regiment again.  They were elite, proud, and ready to fight.

 

KIMPO

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Without their parachutes or the aircraft to take them there, they took up a section of the front recently vacated by the 7th Marines.  Inchon lay conquered to the south and in the distance to the east, Seoul was smoldering.  When they moved into the Kimpo peninsula, the battalion experienced something closer to a live fire exercise than combat, except for L Company who made contact sooner than expected.  The 3d Battalion was the first unit of the 187th deployed to Korea, arriving at Kimpo airfield days earlier on September 24th.  Their mission to engage a reinforced company of North Korean guerillas became a much grander operation during which Master Sergeant Rodriguez displayed what his commanding officer referred to as a ‘flagrant disregard for his own personal safety.’

 

It was just past noon and the day was clear, warm, and quiet throughout the valley except for the rumble of vehicles as they passed through rice paddies and low hills on either side.  Korean civilians remaining the area greeted the Rakkasans with cheers and waving flags.  The L Company trucks churned up dust as they traveled into the rural village of Yanggong-ni where they intended to set up combat positions down the road and clinch any straggling guerillas on the tip of peninsula.

Without their parachutes or the aircraft to take them there, they took up a section of the front recently vacated by the 7th Marines.  Inchon lay conquered to the south and in the distance to the east, Seoul was smoldering.  When they moved into the Kimpo peninsula, the battalion experienced something closer to a live fire exercise than combat, except for L Company who made contact sooner than expected.  The 3d Battalion was the first unit of the 187th deployed to Korea, arriving at Kimpo airfield days earlier on September 24th.  Their mission to engage a reinforced company of North Korean guerillas became a much grander operation during which Master Sergeant Rodriguez displayed what his commanding officer referred to as a ‘flagrant disregard for his own personal safety.’

 

It was just past noon and the day was clear, warm, and quiet throughout the valley except for the rumble of vehicles as they passed through rice paddies and low hills on either side.  Korean civilians remaining the area greeted the Rakkasans with cheers and waving flags.  The L Company trucks churned up dust as they traveled into the rural village of Yanggong-ni where they intended to set up combat positions down the road and clinch any straggling guerillas on the tip of peninsula.

While mortars and bullets continued exploding and plugging the earth around him, the Sergeant stubbornly refused medical attention and focused on keeping the Company’s left flank defended from a potential sweep.  Though he was already a slow, easy target, he crawled to an exposed position to better control his platoon and direct fire, even returning fire himself despite the limited and painful use of his arm.

The order to withdraw finally reached Rodriguez and he still remained where he lay to oversee the platoon’s movement until all of the wounded made it back to the trucks.  He refused any help to reduce the risk of another soldier exposing himself to the withering fire and only crawled back to his unit when he was sure the others had made it. 

 

He continued to put his men before him at the aid station when he insisted to be treated last, though his wounds were of ‘such compelling consequence’ that they should have been cared for immediately without any further thought of participating in a firefight – but even after a four-hour brawl he refused to put his own needs before others.

 

The company commander, Lieutenant Weber, credited the Master Sergeant with an ‘example of concern and loyalty from leader to follower that might well be emulated.’  The Company withdrew without loss of a single piece of equipment and with all of their casualties; the North Koreans suffered forty known dead, fifty killed and dragged away, and another two hundred wounded removed from the scene.  Their footprints trailed off into the distance.

 

MUNSAN-NI

When Clifford rejoined the regiment in early February, he was disappointed to have missed the October jump at Sukchon.  His company was scattered through snowy outposts that overlooked the precipice on the left flank of the regiment at Punggi Pass.  There was very little fighting in the debilitating cold; weapons and soldiers were both frozen.  Inches of snow fell on some nights leaving wooded ridges sparkling with snow.   A 30-degree day with clear skies was considered warm and springlike and when the guns were quiet singing birds replaced the blasts with their songs.  He had barely reintegrated when orders came to rush the combat team north of Wonju to hold back the Chinese 12th Army.  

The troopers immediately took positions in front of the battered 2d Division.  From Hill 339 they faced blazing emplacements of Chinese, artillery from the enemy as well as their own, and bypassed smoldering carcasses charred from napalm.  On the afternoon of February 14th, the 2d and 3d Battalion were ordered to seize Hill 342.  It could not wait until the next day and they prepared for a night attack. 

After nightfall the company advanced and quickly took the peak of 342, but fought to hold the crest until dawn.  It was the last Rodriguez saw of Lieutenant Weber after the officer lost an arm, continued to fight for three hours before losing a leg and was finally taken off the hill on a stretcher, still ordering the company to hold the peak.

 

At the end of the month, the regiment assembled in a barren field for presentation of awards.  General Bowen pinned a handful of Silver Stars and other decorations onto the twenty-three men assembled in order of precedence.  At the front end, Clifford stood nearly a head shorter than the rest of the men as he received the Distinguished Service Cross, upgraded from his immediate award of a Silver Star for the day at Yanggong-ni.

*

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The jump at Munsan-ni was under a clear, sunny sky into what the Air Force pilots called ‘Holiday Valley’ because of the number of opportune targets.  Humble farm houses ringed the drop zone and in the distance, the village itself was burning.  L Company was responsible for taking a hill in the southwest corner of the drop zone to open the path for Rangers to take Munsan-ni proper.  At the drop zone, the pathfinders had laid out a perfect white ‘T’ with green smoke billowing above it.  Occasional mortars and small arms streaked across the field, but within 25 minutes the company held their positions.  The entire company landed without incident except for one trooper who broke his leg – the same one he sprained in October.  After the soft and pleasant landing, the day passed with little action while the company waited for the Rangers to pass through.  They erected a sign on the edge of the village, “Welcome to Munsan-ni.  Courtesy of Company L.”

 

On the second day, L Company climbed aboard tanks in a driving rain.  They moved several miles up the road, dismounted and marched for a few hours before hitching another ride.  The entire regiment moved in this fashion throughout the day and night.  By morning on March 25th, L Company was scattered across both sides of the road approaching Parum-ni, the new RCT command post.  They came under heavy mortar fire and began to attack, still under a deluge of rain.  The resistance was mild and they quickly overwhelmed their attackers to move into Uijongbu valley.  The battalion suffered a three-hour mortar barrage while they watched 2d Battalion tumble into hand-to-hand combat.

 

By the third day, the 3d Battalion was facing a well-entrenched and determined enemy who countered their assault with mortars and machineguns.  3d Battalion led the attack against minimal resistance, but the afternoon became more difficult.  After B Company cut into the frontlines, 2d and 3d Battalions took the heights of 519.  Finally on March 30th, the 3d Division relived the Paras and they moved back to Suwon and then Taegu for rest and recuperation.

 

INJE

The regiment rushed back toward Seoul as the Chinese launched their spring offensive, but incredible artillery barrages in support of I Corps kept the need for the 187th at a minimum.  As the action in the west dwindled, they moved east to once again relieve the 2d Division around Hoengsong.  It was another long motor march through sharp passes and mired roads.  The sixty-mile trip was excruciating and wet, leaving men aching from violently bumping around on the hard wooden benches of their trucks.  Their destination lay through Inje at the coastal town on Kansong where they intended to sneak behind the main body of Chinese in the area.

 

The convoy was a twelve-mile-long train of trucks, jeeps and tanks.  At times they crawled only eight miles in ten hours, yet were still moving fast enough that the Chinese had no time to mine the road.  The Reds still managed to harass the vehicles as they neared their destination.  Under heavy rains, they snuck explosive charges under tanks, shot up vehicles, and sniped drivers from dark hills.  Instructions were to shove any shot-up vehicles off the road and find a spot in the next one – the march stopped for nothing.  At times, the company set up a bivouac and marched by foot to a nearby hill to fight for several hours before returning to move further to the east. 

Leading the regiment on tanks, by May 25th the 3d Battalion reached the outskirts of the city where the long lines of fleeing Chinese converged and prepared to defend their withdrawal north.  The convoy finally entered Inje where the enemy attacked ferociously, often several times before sunrise.  When the Chinese charged screaming ‘Shanee’ (pipingese for banzai) the paratroopers replied with a yell of ‘Airborne!’ ready to counter the attack with blades and fists if it came to it.  The warming weather caused the remains of dead to become most pungent and soon heavy rains made living uncomfortable.  The 187th held proudly against all odds for five days until May 27th when they held the city.

 

Though the 187th claimed Inje, the Chinese were still firmly dug in around the hills surrounding the narrow road leading out of the city.  Their column departed after noon on May 28th.  Less than a mile northeast, they ran into heavy mortar, machine gun and small arms.  The next two miles of road were devastating as the number of casualties climbed including the commanding officer, platoon leaders and enlisted men.  Clifford was among those killed during the eight hours of fighting on the last day of the battle for Bloody Inje. 

 

After his body was recovered, he was wrapped in a shelter half and buried six days later at the United Nations Cemetery in Tanggok. "I can't believe it's true after all these years in the Army.  I am the boy's mother and he has no father, so this has cut my heart through as I had only he and his sister," wrote his mother in a letter to Major General William E. Bergin.  He left behind his family of two boys not yet ten years old and a wife of four years.

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Sources:

Lepore, Michael J. Life of the Clinician. University of Rochester Press, 2002. 
Mytum, H. C., and Gillian Carr. “Life in Manzanar Where There Is a Spring Breeze.” Prisoners of War Archaeology, Memory, and Heritage of 19th- and 20th-Century Mass Internment, Springer, New York, NY, 2013, p. 253. 
Roberts, Arch E, editor. 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Rakkasan Club, 1956. 
Schmidt, Dillion. “Interview with William E. Weber.” Veterans History Project, https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/bib/loc.natlib.afc2001001.86654. 
Without Warning. 1951.