Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Youth and Early Adulthood

Whitey is a student at Ninole Elementary and John M. Ross Elementary schools.

Rain or shine, he walks a mile and a half to school.

In the afternoon, he also attends Japanese-language school.

Whitey attends Laupahoehoe High School. When his father becomes ill, Whitey leaves school in the 10th grade to care for him.

Ninole & John M. Ross Elementary Schools

When I was growing up we had this Ninole School, which they had class up to the sixth grade — or fifth grade, I suppose, yeah. And Mr. Kamakaiwi was the school principal.

Ninole School is up to, I think, I was third grade and then, at that time Hakalau plantation built the John M. Ross School up to seventh grade. So they closed down Ninole School and then opened up John M. Ross School. And that’s where all of us attended was John M. Ross Elementary School. And after seventh grade, we go down to Laupahoehoe High School. So that’s how we met my wife, down at Laupahoehoe. And that area, Ninole School was one end of the community and Ookala was the other extreme area and they all merged down at Laupahoehoe High School. . .

[Ninole School was] pretty large size those days. And of course, they had a Japanese[-language] school adjacent to that Ninole School. And Mr. Shigaki was the principal and the schoolteacher for the Japanese-language school. So after public school they would attend the Japanese school over there. But when they closed down, everything all the buildings were demolished. And then there’s no Japanese school in that area. But next to John M. Ross School, they had Ninole Japanese-language school and Honohina language school. And I attended the Honohina Japanese-language school for a short period of time. And Reverend Okura from Honohina Buddhist church. . .

So I wish I was smart enough to realize I should have concentrated to learn Japanese language, you know, take advantage of it. But no, we didn’t do that. We just went over there to play because the parents told us go attend the Japanese school. But thinking back, you know, I should have taken advantage. (Chuckles) Kids are kids, I suppose, yeah.

[John M. Ross School] was a brand-new school. And Hakalau plantation, Mr. John M. Ross was the plantation manager and he had a big influence on that. I guess that was his pride and joy to build this school. And then, of course, then Ninole School was small. And I guess a new building being John M. Ross School was more modernized and was well built. And they had a yard, they had a big ballpark to play with. But the outhouses were not within the building. You have to go out for the outhouses for the boys and the girls.

I liked [John M. Ross School] because we all, you know, we know each other, all the students from Honohina, Ninole, Kaiaakea, and all the communities. So we know them well. The classes were small then. I would think for each class they had about, oh, I think fifteen, sixteen pupils per class. So you get to be very close relationship, yeah?

[Y[ou have to use your foot. You have to go to school rain or shine and that’s about a mile, mile and a half walking distance from where I used to live. So that was something. But on the way going to school or not, it’s no problem. Rainy days was a little bit difficult and all barefooted, too. So during the rainy days, barefooted, and of course, we’re familiar with it. It doesn’t bother us.

Laupahoehoe High School

[T]hey had school buses provided going from — the buses picked up the students from Honohina. I think it went a little farther beyond, more toward Honokaa. . . Yamada transportation used to provide the bus for that whole district, for Laupahoehoe. So we took the Yamada bus transportation down to Laupahoehoe School.

[The bus was] free. I guess the government or city and county provided, paid for the transportation, yeah.

Laupahoehoe High School
Laupahoehoe High School, founded in 1883 and relocated after the tsunami of 1946

The Yamada family lived in Laupahoehoe. So I remember Mr. Yamada, the father, started off with a, if you can remember, you heard them talking about banana bus? Well, that’s how he started his transportation business. Then the boys took over. And the Yamada family, Bob started hauling sugar cane from, I think, it was from Ninole to Hakalau. Load the sugar cane and then take it over to Hakalau sugar mill. Then, the other two boys started out with the school bus. And that’s how the Yamada enterprise started to grow.

Amy Yamamoto as a student at Laupahoehoe School
Amy Yamamoto as a student at Laupahoehoe School

A banana wagon is more of a square, it’s made of, that’s a nice little vehicle. How to describe it? It’s more of a square design and had a wooden panels on the side and back. And they had, I think, three rows of seats in the little bus and the driver. And the father, Mr. Yamada, used to pick up passengers from the countryside to Hilo in the morning and then return back in the afternoon. And that’s it.

I enjoyed while I was going to school. Yeah, just like any other schoolmates. And, of course, I attended over there up till tenth grade. And I left Laupahoehoe School to take care of my dad when he got ill, sick. And until he died I took care of him. So I didn’t go back to school at all. And after that, well, after my dad passed away, let’s see the war came by in 1941.

Well, I wasn’t thinking that far away [about hopes or aspirations or goals]. I’m thinking of more going to school, have fun with the neighbor’s kids, and all that. So, that’s, I guess, a normal process for a young boy or man to experience. We weren’t thinking too far ahead then. But get a good education, go to school, get educated. But I was thinking of what probably a plantation life, I suppose. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

Community

And as we were growing up, I remember, with the neighborhood children, kids, we used to go down to the cliffside of the ocean, go fishing or so. And they have watercress growing on the side of the cliff. And the wind blowing up the cliffside and the waterfall from the gulch or rivers, small streams, makes it very, you know, watercress grow up real nicely. Yeah, we used to pick those from there, you know, cliffside.

They had a lot of mountain apples, a lot of guavas down the gulch. And I can’t think of it, but we used to sneak into the plantation sugar cane field (chuckles) and chew sugar canes, too. So that was another thing, yeah. But a lot of other things that are available, too, which, we never . . . . But during the summertime, mountain apples and guavas were plentiful.

Well, [the families] were all active in the church. And the church they had over at Ninole, small church, but the main church for us and the Uyeno family was connected with Honohina and so was Sasaki. He was connected with Honohina Buddhist church over there. And Rev. [S.] Okura was the minister at that time. And the other families had another church with, I guess, connected with Papaaloa church, I suppose. So that’s about the only social family get-together like that. And of course you have other events coming out, New Year’s Day or some other time. We don’t get together, but we sort of, each family had their own celebration among themselves. But, how shall I say? But the family, you know, the older people, they get together more so and they socialize. But the kids, like us growing up, we would have a baseball or some other games to play with it. And of course another village, Kaiaakea is not very far and they have Kaiaakea plantation camp. So they have a lot of children that goes to Ninole School and John M. Ross School. So we know them well, so we all play baseball games together with them.

Whitey Yamamoto's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Whitey Yamamoto.

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