The UH and the Nisei Soldier Legacy of World War II
The UH AND the Nisei Soldier Legacy of World War II
Just about this hour on December 7th , 60 years ago, the UH ROTC Regiment over 600 strong was called out over the radio to report to duty. We reported to the ROTC Armory, which is that little wooden building now standing at the end of Sinclair Library parking lot. We were greeted by the sight of Sgt. Ward and Sgt. Hogan feverishly inserting firing pins into Springfield .03 rifles. I reported to my unit, Company “B”, 1st Battalion, commanded by Captain Nolle Smith. We were issued a clip of 5 bullets with our rifles.
It was reported that Japanese paratroopers had landed on St. Louis Heights. Our first order was to deploy down across Manoa Stream where Kanewai Park now stands and to prevent the enemy from advancing into the city. We were crouched down among the koa bushes for long hours in the hot sun, waiting for the enemy which never showed up. This turned out to be just another one of the many hysterical rumors that spread across Honolulu that day.
During those few hours of service, we had no military status or standing, federal or territorial. We were just University ROTC boys heeding our country’s desperate call to arms. For our participation in “the campaign for St. Louis Heights,” many years later in 1977, the University ROTC was awarded with a battle streamer distinguishing it as the first and only ROTC unit in the United States to engage in active war service during World War II!
On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the University ROTC unit was converted into the Hawaii Territorial Guard and we were trucked down to the National Guard Armory where our State Capitol now stands. We were issued those pie-plate tin helmets and gas masks and immediately assigned to guard lolani Palace, the Courthouse, Hawaiian Electric, Mutual Telephone, and Board of Water Supply, and all other government buildings and utilities all over the city. Company B was headquartered in the Dole Pineapple building and assigned to guard the Iwilei industrial district and the waterfront and to defend against a Japanese invasion attack. Just imagine the pitiful sight of a greenhorn teenage soldier who never fired a gun crouched behind a sandbagged emplacement at Pier 10 defending against a Japanese invasion of Honolulu Harbor with a measly 30 caliber rifle and five bulletsl Mercifully and thankfully, the enemy never invaded! But the important thing was that we had responded to the call, we were proud to wear the American uniform, and we were serving our country in its direst hour of need!
We so served for six weeks after Pearl Harbor, but by January 19, 1942, the high brass in Pentagon had discovered to its horror that the city of Honolulu was being defended by hundreds of Japs in American uniforms! It should be mentioned here that over 75% of the HTG guardsmen were men of Japanese ancestry. The order came down that all HTG guardsmen of Japanese ancestry were dischargedl If they had dropped a bomb in our midst. it couldn’t have been more devastating. That blow of being rejected by your own country only because of your name, your face, and your race, was far worse than Pearl Harbor itself. Every Nisei who suffered that ndignity will attest to the fact that that rejection was absolutely the lowest point in our long lives!
We could do nothing else but return to the University. But books and classrooms made no sense, when our country was crying for military and defense manpower, and yet we were distrusted, unwanted, useless. But within a week’s time, Hung Wai Ching, who was then Executive Secretary of the Atherton YMCA near the UH campus, met with a group of the discharged Nisei, and soon inspired and convinced them why not offer themselves as a labor battalion. His key pitch was “So they don’t trust you with a gun. Wouldn’t they trust you with picks and shovels?” By February 25, 1942, a petition signed by 169 University students offering their services as a labor battalion was accepted by the Military Governor.
This group known as the “Varsity Victory Volunteers” (because they volunteered from the University) was assigned to the 34th Combat Engineers Regiment at Schofield Barracks performing vital defense work on Oahu. For the next 11 months, they dug ammunition pits, built secondary mountain roads, repaired bridges and culverts, built warehouses and field housing. and operated the rock quarry. One day in December, 1942, Secretary of War John McCloy, making a field inspection of Oahu defenses, witnessed the VVV Quarry Gang operating the quarry up at Kolekole Pass, and was told the story of the VVV by his escort, Hung Wai Ching. By some coincidence or otherwise, just a month later in January, 1943, the War Department announced its decision to form an all-Nisei combat team and issued a call for volunteers. On January 30, 1943, members of the VVV voted to disband so they could volunteer for the 442nd Combat Team. Most of the men were accepted and served the duration of the war with the 442nd, and also with the Military Intelligence Service. The rest is well known history. Seven VVV members with the 100th/442nd never came back from the battlefields of Europe.
From what I have told you, it should be clear that the historical lineage of the Nisei’s loyal service in the 442nd and the MIS during World War II can be traced back to the University of Hawaii ROTC reporting for duty on December 7, 1941. The HTG and the VVV that followed were manned almost entirely by University boys. Sothe underlying message that I wish to convey this morning is to remind the University and our community of this rich heritage, and to underscore its proud birthright and contribution it made to the legacy of the Nisei Soldier’s service to country during World War II.
Editors note: The above presentation was delivered on 3 December 2001, at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Visitor’s Center as part ofthe 60th Anniversary remembrance ofthe Dec. 7th 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. HHAA was part of that same program.
Photographs courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.