When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Japanese Americans, like everyone else in Hawaii, responded to the emergency. They pitched in with other locals to aid the wounded, sort through the rubble, give blood, and bury the dead. (GoForBroke)
Soon after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, leaders of the University of Hawai‘i Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) assembled their student members and ordered them to report for combat duty at the Manoa campus. (100thBattalion)
The ROTC students were assigned to the Hawai‘i Territorial Guard. Their responsibilities included guard duty over utility installations and Iolani Palace, the temporary headquarters for the military governor in charge of martial law in the Hawaiian Islands.
But on January 19, 1942, the Army disbanded the Hawai‘i Territorial Guard – only to reform the unit the following day without its Japanese American soldiers. By the end of March, all Japanese American men of draft age were redesignated as “IV-C” or “enemy aliens.” As enemy aliens, they could not enlist in the armed forces.
Then, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an order authorizing the evacuation of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers further inland. (ourdocuments-gov)
In all, between 1,200 and 1,400 local Japanese were interned, along with about 1,000 family members. The number of Japanese in Hawai‘i who were detained was small relative to the total Japanese population here, less than 1%.
However, the mass exclusion and detention of all Japanese Americans living in the West Coast states resulted in the eventual incarceration of 120,000 people.
The former UH ROTC cadets felt deep despair when confronted with such racism. But community leaders convinced the demoralized students to persevere.
The students petitioned the military governor: “Hawaii is our home; the United States is 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 government’s response was allowing the formation of a volunteer civilian work unit, the Army Corps of Engineers Auxiliary at Schofield Barracks. They identified themselves as the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV, also referred to as the “Triple-V”). (100thBattalion)
The group of 155 students worked for nearly a year on a variety of jobs involving heavy labor at Schofield Barracks. In time, the group grew to 169 young men, including some prominent amateur boxers who were recruited off the streets of Honolulu.
When they left campus on February 25, 1942, for their new lives as Army volunteer workers, they had no idea that it would be nearly a year before the US War Department would change their classification as “enemy aliens,” thus preventing any Japanese American from serving in the military. (100thBattalion)
On the Army base, under the direction of Chinese American Lieutenant Richard Lum, Native Hawaiian former football star Tom Kaulukukui, two haole sergeants and civilian supervisor Ralph Yempuku, the young men organized themselves into work teams that painted buildings, constructed field iceboxes for combat units, dug ditches and quarried rocks.
But they also participated in Army life on the base, playing respectably in basketball, football and baseball leagues and competing well in boxing tournaments. They also held their own competitions, including golf and tennis.
Some of the VVV members kept up their studies with instructors brought in for special lectures and by enrolling in some courses providing college credit. Most of their interaction with the regular Army troops at Schofield was fine. (100thBattalion)
“We were civilians, but we were assigned as a unit to the 34th Construction Engineer Regiment. So, in being assigned to them, we did the same work that a US Army Engineer outfit was doing, and well, this called for building up the defenses of Oahu …”
“… from digging ammunition pits to creating new roads in the mountains, repairing bridges, building housing for the troops. One unit was sent up to Kolekole Pass and they upgraded the stone quarry. So, we just did what the US Army Engineers were doing.”
“We were actually Federal Civil Service and we got paid the equivalent of an Army Private, I think that was $90 a month, but a lot of that was taken away for housing and food.”
“So, you know, we were lucky and most of us bought war bonds, so we had only a few bucks left every month and that went on for one year.”
“(T)hese guys are all university kids, but they stopped their education, gave up their education, and are volunteering and doing all this crappy work because that is the only way that they can, you know, show their loyalty.”
“And that, you know, we think, had a dent, an impression on the Secretary of War, because within a month, the announcement came for the formation of the volunteering for the 442.” (Ted Tsukiyama, GoForBroke)
The Varsity Victory Volunteers finally got their chance to fight.
On January 28, 1943, the War Department announced that it was forming the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and called for 1,500 volunteers from Hawaii. An overwhelming 10,000 men volunteered. The Varsity Victory Volunteers made up the core of the 442nd while other members served in military Intelligence.
At its request, the VVV was inactivated on January 31, 1943, so that its members could volunteer for the Army. Many went on to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. (GoForBroke)
“It was the VVV which marked the turning point in the treatment of the people of Japanese ancestry in this Territory and their acceptance by the rest of the community.”
“What followed afterward – the record of the 100th, the formation of the 442nd and its history of hard-won battles, the less publicized but equally important and impressive record of the interpreter groups, and the work of the civilians on the home front …”
“… was the natural result of the trend which was started in the early months of the war when a group of young men, who numbered at no time more than 170 …”
“… demonstrated to a suspicious and skeptical community that the Americans of Japanese ancestry were every bit as American and every bit as loyal to this country and to her ideals as any other group of Americans, whether they were white, yellow, black, or brown.” (Shigeo Yoshida; Oda)