– Jay Sue Nin (1912?–2006)
Born in China, Jay Sue Nin was attached to the 1050th Army Air Force Base Unit (AAF BU) and served in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea. During World War II, stereotypes of Chinese Americans caused many like Jay Sue Nin to be assigned to kitchen duty. Victimized by “shell shock”, Nin spent about 7 years at the V.A. Hospital. This is excerpted from an interview mostly in Cantonese with Marji Lee and Irvin Lai6 on 21 May 1997.
I was born in Hoiping (Kaiping) I think near 1912. I came by myself in 1930. I stayed on Angel Island for about two or three weeks. I was already married in 1929 and I had a son, but I didn’t tell Immigration because families were not allowed. My father was born in San Francisco, and I came as a citizen’s son. I learned to cook at a restaurant in Jerome, Arizona. I had other relatives there. I came to Los Angeles in 1939. The mining in Jerome was closing, so there’s no more restaurant business.
I got drafted on 25 February 1942. I remember the exact date. I was about 30 years old. I got a one-week notice. When I got into the Army, I still cooked. I also did guard duty at night. I went overseas after three months. First, we were at Wheeler Field in Honolulu. One time in Hawaii, I went for a walk. The guards questioned me, thinking I was Japanese. I showed them my dog tags.
We were in the Midway Battle and at 3 o’clock in the morning, we got bombed by the Japanese. We were also on Solomon Island. There was a bomb on Solomon Island that exploded about 50 feet away. I was bounced out of the bed. I had shell shock7. My brain hurt. There were about three of four times with bombs like that. I went to the dispensary, but they didn’t do anything. They sent me back to work.
There were about 3000 people on Solomon Island, I think I was the only Chinese. They said I looked like Japanese. I had a few friends in the Army, but a lot of people would care less whether I lived or died. If 100 people went to the Pacific, 40 didn’t come back at all. The weather was also hard. It got so hot on deck that you couldn’t put your foot down. It was about 130 degrees. Many people got malaria. Because of the humidity, your cigarettes were always wet. Everything was rusty. Our squadron went to Guadalcanal. We went from island to island to Japan. I returned before Iwo Jima. B-24s were bombing Iwo Jima.
When I first went in to the military, we started at 70 cents/day or $21/month (laughs). It got raised up to $50 plus overseas pay. I got $89 for being a sergeant. But laundry was $7 out of the $21. $10,000 insurance was another $7.
I was first cook and a sergeant for about two years. We made corn beef hash, sausage, dried cabbage, powdered bean soup, and powdered eggs. Nobody liked the food. When I went in to the military, I weighed 141 pounds. When I came back, I was about 120 pounds.
I asked to return to the mainland. As I was no longer first cook, they demoted me to private first class in 1944, and I returned to Utah. I served three years and seven months. I was discharged on 12 September 1945. I already complained about a head injury, but they didn’t pay attention. My papers didn’t show that I was injured in combat.
After I returned, I went to work for eight or nine years as a cook. Then I was sick and I stayed at the V.A. Hospital for about seven years in West LA. I had a nervous condition, and my heart rate was too fast. When I was in the hospital, I had cleaning duty for about two hours a day. Then I went to vocational training making toys. The women volunteers taught me how to dance (laughs). I got disability. I didn’t bring my family over for a long time. In 1965, I went to the Chinese Confession Program.
6 Irvin Lai served in the Merchant Marine and Coast Guard between 1945 and 1947. He was also CHSSC President and longtime community leader. Lai is featured in the 2012 issue of Gum Saan Journal.
7 In 1980, symptoms of shell shock were officially recognized as “posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” by the American Psychiatric Association.