November 11, 2013 – Honolulu, Hawaii. The Battleship Missouri Memorial hosted a ceremony to recognize the 70th Anniversary of the Nisei Veterans of World War II. The event was held on deck of the Missouri and was attended by veterans, families and friends.
Veteran Ted Tsukiyama, 442nd RCT and MIS, gave the following speech:
ANSWERING THE CALL
Pearl Harbor Attack
7:55 a.m., December 7, 1941, that fateful moment in history when the first Japanese bombs rained down upon Pearl Harbor and drastically transformed the lives of everyone in Hawaii, and most particularly those of Japanese ancestry. No one who was here can ever forget that day. I remember it well.
I couldn’t sleep that unforgettable Sunday morning by the constant rumbling of thunder that would not cease. The sky above Pearl Harbor was black with smoke, punctuated by puffs of white aerial bursts. “They’re sure making this maneuver look real,” I thought. Turning on the radio, I heard the KGU announcer screaming, “Take cover! Get off the streets! We are being attacked by Japanese enemy planes. This is the real McCoy! Take cover! Those words pierced my very core like a piece of shrapnel.
I heard but could not comprehend. I was assailed by swirling succession of feelings and passions. First I was stunned by utter surprise and shock. I was benumbed with disbelief and then denial….”this is just a bad dream, it can’t be really happening.” There was indignant condemnation…..”You stupid damned fools, don’t you know who you are attacking?” Then strangely, there was a twinge of guilt and shame for being the same race as the enemy but quickly supplanted by a dark foreboding and concern for innocent people like my parents who had nothing to do with the bombing and for the suffering that was sure to follow. But the final and lasting emotion was anger, outrage and hatred for our attackers and a vow that “I’m going to get you bastards!”, feelings that would last and would not diminish for the rest of the war.
Meanwhile the radio announcer Webley Edwards was frantically calling for all soldiers, sailors and marines to report to their battle stations, when suddenly I heard him say “All members of the University ROTC, report to your campus unit immediately.” I jumped into my ROTC uniform and rushed up to the ROTC armory at the UH campus within the first hour of the attack. The several hundred ROTC cadets arriving on campus were greeted with the sight of ROTC staff Sgt. Ward and Sgt. Hogan feverishly inserting firing pins in the World War I vintage Springfield .03 caliber rifles and issuing us a clip of five bullets. It should be noted that 60% to 75% of the ROTC corps was made up of cadets of Japanese ancestry, yet throughout it all there was no registration or signups, no swearing in nor any kind of formality. No one questioned us. There was absolutely no hesitancy, doubts or distrust in mustering us in. We were ordinary ROTC cadets responding to the call to defend our country, just like any other American soldier or sailor reporting to their battle stations in time of war. I reported to my ROTC unit, Company B, lst Battalion commanded by Captain Nolle Smith, for which I served as First Sergeant.
We received our first orders almost immediately. Japanese paratroopers had reportedly landed on St. Louis Heights just above the University campus and the ROTC was ordered to deploy to the bottom of the hill, meet the enemy and repell their advance into the City. We marched down a dirt road which is now Dole Street, crossed Manoa Stream and formed a defense line in the bushes where Kanewai Park and Hokulani School now stand. Were we excited? Please remember the University ROTC was made up of freshman and sophomores, only 17, 18, 19 years old! With pounding hearts we crouched down in those bushes, clutching a rifle we had never shot, with our eyes fixed up the mountain waiting for the enemy to appear. I will put it to you bluntly…..we were scared shitless! Fortunately though, after fruitlessly waiting in the broiling sun for endless hours, no shots had to be ever fired because the enemy never showed. This was just one of the many hysterical rumors that spread like wildfire that day.The only casualties we suffered were bad cases of dehydration, sunburn and mosquito bites.
Around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon that December 7th, the ROTC was recalled back to the campus because martial law had been declared over Hawaii and the Military Governor had ordered the ROTC to be converted into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. Up to that time we had no official military status or standing, territorial or federal….we were just ROTC cadets responding to our country’s call to its defense. But 36 years later at a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony, the UH ROTC was awarded a battle streamer for being the only ROTC unit in the United States to enter active war service by engaging in “the Battle for St. Louis Heights!”
HAWAII TERRITORIAL GUARD
We were trucked down to the National Guard Armory where our State Capitol now stands. We were issued those shallow World War I metal helmets and gas masks and immediately assigned to guard Iolani Palace, Courthouse, government buildings, electric, telephone, water supply, pumping stations and reservoirs and other critical installations over the City. Our Company B was stationed in the Dole Cannery to guard the Iwilei\industrial and gasoline storage facilities and Honolulu Harbor. I can still picture the sight of one of our 17-18 year old HTG guardsman crouched behind a sandbagged pillbox at the end of a Honolulu Harbor pier, armed with an ancient Springfield bolt-action rifle and only five bullets defending against a Japanese invasion. If Japan had only been smart enough to invade Hawaii, they could have easily walked in! I share with you a popular anecdote about the defense of Honolulu Harbor. Ships were pouring into Hawaii loaded with soldiers, sailors and defense workers. As one of them docked in Pearl Harbor two soldiers looked down to see the Harbor guarded by soldiers with Asian faces. One of them elbowed the other with a despondent remark: “Hey Pal, looks like we got here too late!” If this story is true, they weren’t looking at the Japanese army. They were looking at us…..the nisei soldiers of Company B, Hawaii Territorial Guard doing their duty guarding Honolulu Harbor!
But this funny story would arise again, this time with tragic consequences. By six weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack no Japanese navy could be seen in the Pacific Ocean, so Company B was ordered to camp out at the Koko Head Rifle Range to learn how to shoot that Springfield rifle. Meanwhile a frantic report was received by the War Department in Washington, D.C., to-wit: “Honolulu is being guarded by hundreds of Japs in American uniforms!” We were rudely awakened in the 3:00 a.m. darkness of January 19, 1942 and were tearfully told by our Captain Nolle Smith that he had received orders that all HTG guardsmen of Japanese ancestry would have to be released and discharged. That discharge order was more devastating than if a bomb had exploded in our midst. There is no way I can fully describe my feelings as of that moment, but I once tried to express them in these words [and I quote]:
“This blow, to us, was actually worst than “Pearl Harbor!” By then we could accept the fact that Japan was our treacherous enemy. But to have our own country in its most extreme crisis and time of need, reject and repudiate our. services, was something more than we could take or understand. Many years have now passed and I have benefitted from a good college and professional education, but yet to this day I have difficulty in grasping words in the English language that can adequately and sufficiently describe that terrible feeling of rejection, repudiation and abandonment I experienced from being dismissed from the service of one’s own country, only because our names, faces and profiles resembled that of the hated enemy. I had become a man without a country. The very bottom dropped out of my life.” When we were trucked back to the ROTC Armory and honorably discharged, our officers cried. Our fellow guardsmen, our classmates and friends for many years, they cried. And of course, we cried.
VARSITY VICTORY VOLUNTEERS
We had nothing else to do but to return to the University but study would not come. Education had become meaningless. Nothing made sense, when our own country was desperately crying out for military servicemen and war manpower, yet we were distrusted, useless, unwanted and rejected outcasts.
One day in early February 1942, a historic meeting took place on the University campus when Hung Wai Ching, Secretary of the University YMCA and a member of the Morale Division of the Military Governor, confronted a group of dejected HTG dischargees to persuade them to find if there were other ways they could serve their country. I was one of them and remember that meeting well. The dialogue went something like this. At first there was bitter resistance. At Hung Wai’s suggestion that the country still wanted and needed us, an angry voice from the back shouted, “Hung Wai, tell’um to go to hell. to go screw themselves.” Hung Wai responded “OK, OK, I know how you feel. You got a bum deal. It was shameful. But what you going do about it? Are you going to sit on your asses and fell sorry for yourself for the rest of the war, and do nothing?” Then Hung Wai challenged us. “So they don’t trust you with a gun, maybe they’ll trust you with a pick and shovel. Why don’t you volunteer as a labor battalion?” “Labor Battalion?” was the astonished gasp from those who sought out a UH education just to avoid a future of pick and shovel work. Hung Wai responded “Damned right, labor battalion! Don’t you guys realize you behind a big eight ball right now. Your loyalty is at stake. This is a good chance to show your true colors.” Hung Wai’s words made sense and was accepted.
A petition was drawn up and was signed by 169 nisei who had been discharged from the HTG. The petition was simple and concluded with these memorable words: “Needless to say, we were deeply disappointed when we were told that our services in the guard were no longer needed. Hawaii is our home; the United States our country. We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible and we hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us.”
The chances that our Petition would be accepted looked dark and grim. Consider: Pearl Harbor was still in smoking ruins. SE Asia and the Pacific Islands were overrun by the Japanese military…. Midway and the Hawaii were expected to be invaded next. Frantic citizens are fleeing to the mainland in droves. 40% of Hawaii’s population is Japanese…their loyalty is under grave question and doubt. False/hysterical rumors of Japanese disloyalty are running rampant. The draft status of all Nisei are reclassified from 1-A to 4-C (enemy alien). There are cries for the mass evacuation of Japanese from Hawaii. On February 19, 1942, Pres. Roosevelt signs EO 9066 Our Petition is addressed to the very person who discharged us from the HTG!
General Emmons is in doubt and refers the Petition to Gen. Albert Lyman, chief of the Army Engineer Corps; Gen. Lyman says: “Gimme all the local kids you got. I’ll take’um all!” FBI Chief Robert Shivers and Army G-2 Col. K.J. Fielder endorsed the Petition. Prominent business and community leaders vouched for the loyalty of Hawaii’s Japanese. Overcoming all odds Gen. Emmons accepted our Petition.
Despite the Nisei’s 4-C status, on February 25, 1942 Gen. Emmons created a civil service organization called “Corps of Engineers Auxiliary,” which was nicknamed the “Varsity Victory Volunteers” (i.e. “VVV”) because we had volunteered from the University. The VVV was assigned as a company in the 34th Army Construction Engineer Regiment out at Schofield Barracks and we became a full army engineer unit except in name only. We were divided up into ten work gangs, and for the next 11 months the VVV performed the same construction work as the 34th Engineers necessary for the defense of Oahu.
In December 1942 Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy came to Hawaii to inspect the defenses on Oahu. To our immense good fortune the person selected to escort Secretary McCloy for the inspection was none other than Hung Wai Ching, who will go down in history as “the father of the VVV.” As they toured Oahu’s defenses Hung Wai made certain to take Sec. McCloy to view the VVV Quarry Gang cracking rocks and operating the rock crusher up at Kolekole Pass in the Waianae mountains. Hung Wai explained: “These are all Japanese-Americans, former University students who are giving up their education to perform this dirty, heavy labor because they are not acceptable for military service.” Whether by coincidence or not, one month later in January 1943 President Roosevelt announces the War Department’s decision to create an all-nisei combat team and issues a public call for Nisei volunteers. This was the news the VVV had been waiting for. This was the exact mission and purpose for which the VVV had volunteered….to regain the right to wear our country’s uniform and to fight and even die for country. The VVV unanimously voted to disband so that they could volunteer for this new Nisei combat team. 111 out of the original 169 VVV were accepted to serve in the 442nd RCT and I was privileged and fortunate to be one of them. Sadly, by the War’s end seven VVV were KIA and never came back home with the rest.
What is the historical significance and legacy left by the VVV? (1) It was the first all-nisei volunteer unit to go into service during World War II. (2) Its service was a concrete demonstration of Nisei loyalty to country and helped to stem the rising tide of hysteria, fear, and prejudice against Hawaii’s Japanese at a critical point in Hawaii’s war history. (3) And the VVV experience contributed and constituted a significant factor in the War Department’s decision to form the 442nd Combat Team.
What I have shared with you today only covers that short one year period between the Pearl Harbor attack and the formation of the 442nd RCT and the little known story of the Nisei unit’s service to country during that critical period in Hawaii’s wartime history. At the peak of those fearful days when Hawaii expected to be invaded by Japan, Nisei of the ROTC/HTG and the VVV answered the call and stepped up to render loyal sacrifice and service to country calming the fears and doubts of those who would question and challenge their loyalty to country, and literally “paving the way” and “holding the fort” until Nisei military units could take over and render their unchallengeable combat record of service to county. The rest is well known history and need not be retold here.
Several thousand Nisei of the 1399th Construction Engineers stayed behind at Schofield Barracks to take over the critical defense work left by the VVV as “unsung heroes” of Hawaii wartime history.
Three thousand Nisei volunteered from Hawaii to be trained at Military Language School to fight the intelligence war against Japan. McArthur’s Intelligence Chief Gen. Willoughby is credited with saying “the Nisei language specialists shortened the War by two years and thereby saved thousands of American lives.”
The superb training record of the niseis of the 100th Battalion at Camp McCoy convinced the War Department that the Nisei were qualified for combat service and sent the 100th Battalion into combat against the Nazi enemy in Europe.
The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team…..what higher tribute can be conferred upon them than that the 100th/442nd is recognized as “the most decorated military unit of its size and time in combat in the entire military history of the United States.” At War’s end in 1945 after images from European battlefields showing 719 white crosses marked with Japanese names spread across America, any challenges, questions or doubts as to Nisei’s loyalty to country were no longer raised or asked, because the Nisei had conclusively demonstrated and proved for all time and had bequeathed to America the priceless and invaluable lesson that “Americanism, to be an American in America, is not a matter of race, color or ancestry; Americanism is and always will be a matter of the mind, the heart and the spirit!” God bless America!