Ted’s Corner *** Pearl Harbor Aftermath: From Tragedy To Triumph

Ted T. Tsukiyama resides in Honolulu and is an active member of the 442nd RCT Veterans Club. During World War II, he was a member of the Varsity Victory Volunteers, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd RCT, and the Military Intelligence Service. Throughout the years, Ted has served as a wartime historian, often writing about his own experiences.

We’re happy to have Ted’s participation on our website. We have created “Ted’s Corner”, which will feature, from time to time, Ted’s past and current articles.


[This story is based on a speech by Ted T. Tsukiyama at a Pearl Harbor Day Retreat Ceremony on December 7, 1977 at Ft. DeRussey where the University of Hawaii ROTC corps honored as the only ROTC unit in the United States to be awarded a battle streamer in World War II]


7:55 A.M, Sunday,  December 7, 1941, a day that will remain etched in my memory forever.

I couldn’t sleep late that fateful Sunday morning because of the constant rumbling of thunder that would not cease. Going outside I saw the sky black with smoke punctuated by puffs of white aerial bursts. “They’re sure making this maneuver look real!” I thought. Turning on the radio we heard the KGU announcer screaming, “Take cover! Get off the streets! We are being attacked by Japanese planes!  This is the real McCoy!  Take cover!” I felt as if a piece of shrapnel had pierced my very core.

I heard but I could not comprehend. I was assailed by a swirling succession of feelings and emotions. My senses were stunned with utter surprise and shock, then benumbed with disbelief and denial…..”this just can’t be happening!”  With the sober realization that we were being attacked by Japan came a twinge of guilt and shame for being Japanese, which was soon supplanted by dark foreboding and concern of the suffering in store for anyone who was Japanese. Then there was feelings of indignant condemnation….”You stupid damned fools, who do you think you are attacking our great country!” Overwhelmingly I was filled with feelings of anger, outrage and hatred for our attackers, feelings that I harbored and would not diminish for the rest of the War.

Amidst the frantic calls for all soldiers, sailors and marines to report to their stations, I suddenly and clearly heard the announcer say, “All members of the University ROTC, report to your campus unit immediately.”  I jumped into my ROTC uniform and rushed up to the University campus to the ROTC armory which was within the first hour of the attack.  My first and sharpest recollection was the sight of Sgt. Ward and Sgt. Pat Hogan of the ROTC staff grimly and feverishly inserting firing pins into our Springfield .03 rifles and issuing us an ammo clip with five bullets.  I reported to my ROTC unit, Company B, lst Battalion commanded by Captain Nolle Smith and for which I served as First Sergeant. It should first be noted that the greater majority, at least 60% to 75%, of the University ROTC corps was made up of cadets of Japanese ancestry. Yet through it all I don’t recall any registration or sign ups. There was no swearing in, no formalities. No one questioned us; there was no hesitancy or distrust in mustering us in. We were just members of an ROTC unit responding to the call, as we were trained to do, just like any soldier or sailor reporting to their battle stations in time of war.

All the theory we had learned suddenly became the real thing. Around 10:00 a.m. that morning we received our first order which really impressed into us the reality of battle. We responded to reports that Japanese paratroopers had landed on St. Louis Heights just above the University campus and we were ordered to deploy and meet the enemy and delay their advance into the city. With pounding hearts we formed a defense line across the Manoa Stream in the bushes where Kanewai Park now stands with our eyes fixed up to St. Louis Heights waiting for the enemy to appear. To put it bluntly, we were tense and scared witless!  But not for long. As we thought of the sneak attack that morning, a wave of fury and anger swept over us. There was no doubt or indecision as we prepared to repel the enemy. It was going to be “either them or us.” But fortunately, while we waited fruitlessly in the hot sun for many endless hours, the enemy never showed.

The report of Japanese paratroopers landing atop St. Louis Heights was just another of the many hysterical, groundless rumors that spread like wildfire across the City that day. Significantly, though, as we found out later, the University of Hawaii ROTC reporting to duty that morning and engaging in the “campaign of St. Louis Heights,” was later recognized as the first and only ROTC unit in the United States to enter active war service in World War II, and for which it was honored and awarded with a battle streamer. But for those scant few hours on December 7, 1941, we had no official military status or standing, federal or territorial. We were just ROTC boys heeding and responding to our country’s call to arms.

Around 4:00 P.M. that afternoon of  December 7th the University ROTC unit was ordered to be converted into the Hawaii Territorial Guard (the HTG) under the command of Col. Perry Smoot, and all of the ROTC cadets were trucked down to the National Guard Armory where the State Capitol stands today.


Organizationally the HTG preserved the same ROTC regimental structure, personnel and rank but augmented by a few outside volunteers. We of Company B were issued those round tin helmets and gas masks and were immediately assigned to guard Iolani Palace, the Courthouse and other government buildings, Hawaiian Electric, Hawaiian Telephone, Board of Water Supply and other utility installations. The night of December 7 was the longest, the darkest and the wildest night that I can recall. We laid down on the Armory floor, physically and emotionally exhausted, but sleep would not come. All kinds of emotions tumbled around inside of us. Foremost was the fear that the enemy would attack us again at any time. An airplane (one of ours) came flying low over the city and a nearby machine gun clattered into action. There were nerve-wracking sounds of occasional gun fire outside where anything that moved was shot at. The enemy was nowhere around, but a lot of dead dogs, pets and cattle were found around the City the next morning.

A few days later Company B was assigned to the Iwilei industrial area quartered in the Hawaiian Pine cannery to guard the port, the waterfront, fuel and gas storage tanks, the cannery and vital installations in that area. I can still picture the silhouettes of our boys hunkered down behind sandbags atop the gas tanks or peering out over the harbor waters armed with only a Springfield .03 rifle we had not been trained to shoot and five measly bullets to repel any invading enemy!  Many times since then I have wondered and speculated what would have happened if the enemy actually did land and invade us or had chosen to drop bombs on that Iwilei area. These may have been empty questions but the important thing was that we had responded, we were proud to be in uniform, and we were serving our country in its direst hour of need.

But not for long because six weeks after the December 7th attack, on January 19, 1942 to be exact, while we were encamped out at the Koko Head rifle range learning how to shoot our rifles, we were aroused in the 3:00 A.M. early morning darkness and told by our tearful commander that orders had been received that all HTG guards of Japanese ancestry would have to be released and discharged. If a bomb had exploded in our midst, it couldn’t have been more devastating. Years later, I was told that this order virtually decimated the Hawaii Territorial Guard in numbers and in spirit.  We made the long truck journey back to the University armory where we were honorably discharged.  When we parted, our officers cried. Our fellow guardsmen, our classmates and friends for many years, they cried. And, of course, we cried.

That blow, to us, was actually worse than “Pearl Harbor.” We could accept the fact, by then, that Japan was our hateful enemy. But to have our own country, in its most extreme time of need and danger, repudiate us, that was something more than we could bear. Many decades have now passed since then, and I have had the benefit of a very 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 our feelings  of complete rejection, abandonment and repudiation when we were dismissed from the service of our own county, only because our faces and our names resembled that of the enemy. There was no depth to which our emotions sank. The very bottom had dropped out of our existence!


Our nation was crying out for military servicemen and war manpower, yet we were deemed useless, distrusted and unwanted. We had nothing else to do but to go back to the University. But we couldn’t study. Education was meaningless. Nothing made sense when your own country had rejected you in its time of greatest need.

A group of us were sitting under a tree on the Manoa campus one day late in January 1942 when we were approached by Hung Wai Ching. He was the then secretary of the University YMCA and fortuitously he was a key member of the Morale Section of the Military Governor’s office with direct access to the military. At first he commiserated us saying “OK, you had a real bum deal.” But then he asked “But what are you going to do about it? Are you going to sit on your asses and feel sorry for yourself the rest of the war? Are you going to lie down and be quitters?”  He then challenged us asking “You think the only way to serve is to hold a gun?  If they don’t trust you with a gun, they’ll trust you with a pick and shovel. Why not volunteer for a labor battalion?”  An incredible gasp “Labor battalion???” came from some of the boys with plantation backgrounds who had sought a college education just to escape from that very life of pick and shovel work. Hung Wai responded “Damned right, labor battalion! You think you too good to do pick and shovel work when you behind the eight ball like now?”

To make a long story short, Hung Wai had opened our minds to other ways, other options, to serve country and to demonstrate our loyalty. [We didn’t know it then but the government had just changed our draft status to 4-C (enemy alien) which had rendered us ineligible for military service]  The boys slowly realized that what Hung Wai said made sense, and they decided to offer themselves as a non-combat labor battalion. A petition to the Military Governor Gen. Delos C. Emmons was drawn up and was signed by 169 of the Nisei students who had been discharged from the HTG.  The petition is simple and short. It is the heart of my narrative. It read:

“We, the undersigned were members of the Hawaii Territorial Guard until its recent inactivation. We joined the guard voluntarily with the hope that this was one way to serve our country in her time of need.

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.”

We harbored deep reserve and doubt whether our petition would be accepted because the picture of Hawaii at the time looked mighty dark and grim.  Pearl Harbor was still in smoking ruins.  Japan had overrun SE Asia and the SW Pacific, and Hawaii was expected to be invaded next, causing great fear, hysteria and anti-Japanese feelings. 40% of Hawaii’s population was Japanese and their loyalty was under great question. Hysterical false rumors are rampant. Some Nisei soldiers of the 298th Infantry were disarmed while others were transferred to the Army Engineers. Frightened segments of the community urged that all Japanese be removed from Hawaii. President Roosevelt instructs Gen. Emmons to conduct wholesale removal of Japanese from Hawaii (which fortunately Gen. Emmons ignored). And on February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which Gen. DeWitt uses to imprison 110,000 Japanese on the West Coast into American concentration camps. These were times of widespread fear, distrust and hatred of Hawaii’s Japanese, citizen and alien alike.

Fortunately, cooler and more rational heads prevailed. Government, military and intelligence officials like Gen. Emmons, FBI Chief Robert Shivers and G-2 Col. K.J. Fielder withstood the clamor and pressures to move or intern Hawaii’s 120,000 Japanese. Their actions were supported by fair-minded and courageous community leaders like Charles R. Hemenway, Leslie Hicks, Miles Carey, and Andrew Lind who stuck their necks out and public expressed their confidence in the basic loyalty and trustworthiness of Hawaii’s Japanese. Their faith and confidence in Hawaii’s Japanese had to be upheld, supported and vindicated. What was sorely needed at the time by the local Japanese were not just words but action—bold, positive, clear, visible, demonstrative acts of loyalty. The petition of the deactivated HTG Nisei to Gen. Emmons was just that.

Yet in the face of such formidable odds, on February 25, 1942 our Petition was accepted by Gen. Emmons.  This group of 169 volunteers, mostly University ROTC boys discharged from the HTG, was now accepted as non-combat civilian laborers assigned to the 34th Combat Engineer Regiment at Schofield Barracks. Because almost all of us came from the University, we were nicknamed the “Varsity Victory Volunteers” and the name stuck. We were divided into ten work gangs and were armed, not with rifles, but with picks and shovels, hammer and saws, crowbars and sledgehammers. For the next 11 months we dug ammunition pits, strung barbed wire, built auxiliary roads in the mountains, repaired culverts and bridges, operated the carpenter shop, built warehouses and portable field huts, operated the stone quarry at Kolekole Pass and performed other vital defense work over Oahu. For the first time in the war, we felt useful, productive, trusted and accepted.

One day late in December 1942, men of the VVV quarry gang looked up from their work up at the Kolekole Pass rock crusher to see Hung Wai Ching escorting Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy on a field inspection trip. Hung Wai explained to McCloy that these were former University students who had given up their education to contribute to the war effort as a volunteer labor battalion. Was it by mere coincidence that only a month later on February 1, 1943 President Roosevelt announced the War Department decision to form an all-Nisei combat team and issued a call to all loyal Japanese-Americans to volunteer. This was the moment we of the VVV had worked so hard to achieve since we knew that the only way we could prove our loyalty was to regain the right to fight, and even die, for our country. And now we had succeeded. The VVV unanimously voted to disband and to volunteer for the 442nd Combat Team and 111 of its members were accepted into the 442nd. Ultimately seven former VVV gave up their lives on the battlefields of Italy and France.

What is the historical significance of the VVV and what is the legacy it leaves behind?  First, it must be recognized as the first all-Nisei volunteer unit to go into service during World War II, even preceding the famous 100th Battalion. It had stemmed and stopped the rising tide of hysteria, panic and prejudice against Hawaii’s Japanese at a critical and strategic stage in its war history. And the VVV experience provided and served as a significant factor in the War Department’s decision to form the 442nd Combat Team, which as history attests went on to irrefutably and convincingly prove the loyalty of Japanese-Americans for all time.

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