442nd Antitank Company
December 7, 1941 and Home Front
Whitey learns of the attack on Pearl Harbor when police stop by to inform Mr. Rhoads. After December 7, Laupahoehoe High School is closed for a time.
Students are asked to join the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to assist the military.
Whitey helps build Saddle Road with other CC Corpsmen, cutting through lava rock fields from Kona to Hilo.
December 7, 1941
The folks were getting ready to go to church. And of course, I don’t go to the same church like they do. So I was just, well, I stayed around — this was in the morning — and we had a visitor from the police department, Nishida. And Mr. Nishida was, we used to call him “Dime” because he’s up in Laupahoehoe, the police department over there. So he came down and they talked with Mr. Rhoads that something happened. And that was December 7. They were trying to keep a low profile of that incident taking place. They didn’t want the community to get all excited about it. So that was on Sunday.
I wasn’t quite familiar about that kind of situation. That’s the first time anybody would get involved. So it’s sort of a mixed feeling as to what’s going on. December 7 here, Japanese people came to Pearl Harbor to drop the bombs. So I was kind of confused, you know, let’s see. But I wasn’t old enough to realize how serious that was. So this happened when I was only about what, seventeen, eighteen years old down at Laupahoehoe side. So that’s it. But when the war came, I guess, as time went by, we took it kind of seriously, realizing. But it wasn’t too close to my age. I was getting to be almost nineteen years old.
Yes, I knew where [Pearl Harbor] was. But I didn’t think much of it at that time, no. It’s kind of difficult thing, you know, living on the Big Island. . . But I felt kind of, you know, not comfortable being Japanese and then Japanese came over here to drop the bomb. So I don’t know, I just took it one step at a time.
Civilian Conservation Corps
So when the war came in December 7, 1941, the school was closed for about three months, I think. While the school was closed they asked any high school students if they would help the military for the defense purpose, to join up with CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps]. During that time, CCC was very strong under President [Franklin] Roosevelt time to take care of the depression period I suppose.
So CCC was just about phasing out, but when the war came they started up again. And all the high school boys volunteered to join the CCC and we were up at Pohakuloa. That’s where we were assigned to the headquarters and build the Saddle Road, they called at that time during the war, from Kona side to Hilo, out in the lava rock field. And what we had was one big dump truck — in fact, two if I call recall now — two dump trucks and one bulldozer and the rest was manpower, high school boys. And they issued us leather shoes naturally and lava gloves because lava rocks are so rough and when you handle that, you know, it cuts your leather gloves and soles of the shoes because we’re working out in the lava rock field to get up these rocks, put ’em in the dump trucks. And once that is full, the dump trucks will take it over to where there’s a spot in the road that we build needs to be filled up and leveled. And the bulldozers would come and then pat it down to make it solid. And we continued that until, oh gosh, we left.
I tell you up in Pohakuloa — Today, of course, that’s a military place — oh up there was cold, cold. (Chuckles) It’s a high elevation at the base of Mauna Kea mountain. And they provided us with about two or three blankets and sleeping on the canvas cot, and that was still not enough to keep us warm. But we had lots of meat because they had wild sheep running all over the place. So like the superintendents would have the rifle, they would go and shoot those sheep when they come around the camp area. And we had the outdoor netting enclosure where they hang up all these meat. And the boys, when they go back home, they take us on the truck and if anybody wants a chunk of meat, oh we got lots of meat.
So well supplied with meat. And we used to, as a whole, you know after having supper at the camp there’s nothing else to do. The boys would play baseball and others; we would climb up on the side of the mountain because the mountain was right next to it. And they have a big gully. And when we had the idea of how to catch those lambs, I mean the sheep. One group of boys, about three or four of ’em, would be walking up on the side of this end of the gulch. The other group would go up the other side. And one or two boys going on the ledge and look for the animal. And if we do, then what we would do is pick up some small rocks, all little, about this size, and we would throw it down and then startle the sheep.
And some of them, what do you call, being hit by the rock and they would topple over and then land down at the base of the gulch. And they had two or three fellows going up the gulch. And if any of those sheep topples over and falls down to the base, they would go and use a knife to kill the sheep. And after we have about two, three of ’em we would go back down and then help the boys over there to bring all the part of the sheep and then take it back to the camp. And then we would hang it up inside the enclosure. So we had ample meat for the meals and then take it home during the weekends, yeah. So that’s it. But that was part of the fun. We enjoyed it.
Whitey Yamamoto's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Digital Archives.