Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Military Enlistment and Draft

Whitey volunteers for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT).

Enlistees are assigned to Schofield Barracks on Oahu before leaving for basic training in the mainland U.S.

Prior to the men's departure, the community holds a formal gathering at Iolani Palace in Honolulu.

The Decision to Enlist

Video Icon
[Mr. and Mrs. Rhoads] were concerned about me and I suppose they were concerned about themselves, too. So they didn’t express very strongly as to what their feelings were. They more or less went along by the minutes and hours or days just like regular parents. And they didn’t emphasize about, oh, what you should do or what their feelings were. But I have felt, you know, it’s a little bit touchy. . .they didn’t know what to do with me, I suppose. And I don’t know what to do with myself, being a young person yet. And of course I don’t want to go to war. And nobody wanted to. And I talked to my former neighbors out in Ninole and they felt the same way like the Rhoads folks, too, because of our relationship being I’m Japanese and they were the haole people. They were very sympathetic and, of course, they know that if I was in their family, they don’t want to see any of us to go to war. Of course, this was when they were called up for the volunteers to join up in the 442.

Order to Report for Induction, issued to Shiroku Yamamoto
Order to Report for Induction, issued to Shiroku Yamamoto

But from getting all this feedback, then I decided, well, I better join up because my classmates down at Laupahoehoe School, one, two — about three of ’em joined up. So I felt more at ease because they went in. Well, I have a little encouragement or felt more comfortable that I’d be with the boys, together. So that’s why I volunteered also. And it was easy, at that time then, realizing. So the other boys, too, and they felt, “Oh, good. I’m glad at least you’re in the service, gonna join up. Oh, we’ll join up.” So it was gung-ho. And of course (chuckles), I guess we’re young and more adventurous type. And no brains but more guts.

Hilo Men to enter AJAX Unit
Hilo Men to enter AJAX Unit

And of course that’s what they were looking for I suppose, yeah, because there were about 10,000 of those people out here in the Islands joined up. . . We were able to get in on the first wave.

Like I mentioned, some people, other than the Japanese people, they think, “Oh, gosh. If he doesn’t join up with the 442, oh gosh, probably he’s influenced by them, by the Rhoads family,” to get me, what do you call, excused not to join the group. But on the other hand they may think, “Gosh, he’s getting away easy if he doesn’t join up.” But if I do volunteer to join up in the service, then it’s a different story, just the opposite. And say, “Gosh, you know that young man willing to join up the service.” And then at least that would relax their emotional feeling with my haole foster parents, the Rhoads. So I feel better looking at both sides. That’s how.

And today, of course I’m glad that I joined up. And the Japanese community was very much closely attached to the Rhoads, you know, when they found out I was part of the Rhoads family. And they think, “Gosh.” And they would ask them, “How’s Whitey doing?” and all that. They were concerned about my welfare, even the Rhoads family, too. And so when the other, I guess, the other people look at it, non-Japanese people look at it, “Gee, after all, you know, he had a Japanese boy and then he volunteered in the service.” And they feel very openhearted to them, also. So I think they benefited quite a bit for me to be in the service. So their relationship with the school, the school principal and the student parents are very closely, couldn’t get along with it.

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.

Induction of men in Hilo, Hawaii
Induction of men in Hilo, Hawaii

I suppose it’s the same thing, join up. Because, you know, being Japanese ethnic people like us, we said, “Oh, gosh,” here, you know, had some really strong feeling that we’re caught in between. That gosh, just to show our Americanism, I think to show our patriotic feeling, I think we should do the best we can to convince those ones that’s doubtful about it. To prove ourselves that, you know, we’re like anybody else. So we signed up and they had the same feeling like I did. Of course, probably mine was a little bit difficult. But it was a right decision that I did and there’s no regret today. In fact, I feel very proud of it.

Schofield Barracks

[W]e signed up and volunteered. And they registered us, took our names, and sent us to Oahu at Schofield Barracks to get our military uniforms and for arrangements to ship us out to the mainland for basic training, military training.

I guess a lot of things went through my mind. The emotions which I never experienced before — it’s kind of very fragile, touchy, sensitive and, of course, at my young age, I’m looking for adventure, also. But daring, being a young person. I think like I mentioned to some of the boys, it’s more brains and guts — no brains but have a lot of guts to go into that kind of adventure, I suppose. So, it was not that difficult a decision. But still, I was in a more difficult, compared to other schoolmates of mine, because I was living with the haole foster parents since I became an orphan at the age of sixteen. And I left school at tenth grade — after tenth grade — and the war came about. And they asked if any of us would like to volunteer to be in the service. So, we talked among the boys, I talked to the former neighbors that I grew up with, and putting all these things together, I decided to volunteer for the first group of the boys from the Big Island.

[The first group from the Big Island] were selected, and then I was sent to Schofield Barracks on a ship, on the Inter-Island ship. And then, at Schofield Barracks, we were assigned to the tent city. That’s the backside of Schofield Barracks, and we were furnished with the uniforms, physical exam, and orientation. That was the most things we went through before we were shipped out to the state side. Of course, before we departed the islands, they had a big gathering down at the Iolani Palace of all the volunteers, and we had a big gathering by the people in the community. And that was a solemn, very sad and solemn occasion. I guess all the parents must have felt that way, too, to see their boys, or their sons, leave the islands to go into the military service. Then, after the ceremony, we went back to Schofield Barracks and, in a day or two, we were shipped out from the Islands to the mainland. So we were on a ship, Lurline, and took us about three, four days to reach the San Francisco area. But it was cold winter months (chuckles) up in San Francisco. March is still a cold time of the year, yeah.

442nd RCT soldiers from Laupahoehoe, Hawaii
442nd RCT soldiers from Laupahoehoe, Hawaii

The feelings were. . . . All, like the rest of us, were sort of — mixture of adventure, what to expect in the future, and yet it’s a sad thing that we’re leaving all the families behind. And I cannot describe the feeling we went through, this is about sixty, seventy, almost seventy years now, since then.

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

All rights to the reproduction or use of content in the Hawaii Nisei web site are retained by the individual holding institutions or individuals.

Please view the Hawaii Nisei Rights Management page for more information.