Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

GI Bill

Through the GI Bill, Whitey goes to Stout Institute, an industrial arts school in Wisconsin.

For a semester he studies to become a teacher but changes his mind and leaves Stout Institute.

Still on the GI Bill, Whitey attends a watchmaking school in Albany, Missouri and then a jewelry manufacturing school in Newcastle, Pennsylvania.

Stout Institute

Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin
Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin

[After I graduated in 1946] We took a trip to the mainland during the summer before I started at Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin. And when September came, I enrolled in Stout Institute and went for one semester and decided, well, this is not for me. And I left Stout Institute.

Stout Institute is an industrial arts school. At that time it was a private institution, it wasn’t under the state of Wisconsin. And we had an enrollment of about eight hundred students, and mostly was veterans. In fact, there was a big influx of the veterans going to universities and other schools. So it was mostly eight hundred people. Of course, today I understand they got about four thousand, five thousand students because the state took over the institution. They’re run by the state of Wisconsin.

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto with Herbert Watanabe at Stout Institute

I was more mechanically minded and Stout Institute. . . . When I was going to Laupahoehoe High School, we had a shop teacher — carpentry class — by the name of Mr. Spinola, and he’s from Hilo. And, those days, to be a high school industrial art teacher, was mostly — well, shop teachers, as far I know — and carpentry is involved. Most of the high schools. So, that’s what I figured would be kind of interesting, with my foster parents being educators. So, just to satisfy them, that probably I’d continue with their traditional occupation. But when it comes down to reality, I guess that wasn’t for me, so I left Stout Institute.

Kenneth Oda with Herbert Watanabe in Menomonie, Wisconsin
Kenneth Oda with Herbert Watanabe in Menomonie, Wisconsin

Watch Repair School

And I had almost four years of GI Bill of Rights educational benefit. So without disposing that, I went over to Minneapolis, St. Paul Veterans Administration (VA) to take aptitude tests. . .And the result of that aptitude tests came about, is that what I best qualified for was commercial art or mechanical skills in small things. And they asked me if I want to get involved in any of those two, they would correspond with schools that will teach you artistic commercial art or anything in that line, or some precision.

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And they recommended I should try watch repairing because that’s a very small precision mechanical work that I’m well qualified, according to their tests. But when they corresponded with different watchmaking institutions like Elgin, Waltham, Bradley Tech, and couple other places, but they were all filled for the next two years, so they won’t be able to accommodate me immediately.

And they came across one down in Missouri where Jimmy Dale, he was the owner of a watch-repairing school for the State of Missouri. But they had such a small group of students, only about eight or so, this only for the state of Missouri, so the VA [Veterans Administration] encouraged him to expand the school so the veterans can apply, and start training those veterans as watch repairing. At that time, when I first went down, we started off with a class of about eight, nine, ten of us, but it was located above the grocery store in a small makeshift class.

Everybody built their own wooden bench, and that’s all you required for watch repairing. But the Veterans Administration furnished the textbooks, the tools, and the test equipments, and everything for the benefit of the veterans. And that, you get to retain or keep it for yourself. That was nice about it. But as the enrollment started to trickle in, so we were out of room. And they worked out with the Veterans Administration and Jimmy Dale, where they had the national guard armory, about a mile out of the town of Albany, Missouri — and it still is in existence.

And by the time I left the watch-repairing school, that was about year and half after going to school, we had an enrollment of about one hundred three students and four instructors teaching us. And in that class, they had three ladies taking up watch repairing, too. That was something unusual, but that’s all right, they’re capable of doing it, too.

Jewelry Manufacture

So after finishing graduating from the watch-repairing school, I went back up to Stout Institute where Mr. Nelson Anshus had a jewelry store. And, of course, when I left, Mr. Anshus asked for me to come back and work for him, which I did. And Mr. Anshus has very nice family members, and they really accommodated the island boys. Because they understand we’re so far away from Hawaii, we won’t be able to go home for Christmas vacation, so they entertained the island boys a lot, and they were very nice people.

So I worked for him for about three months. Yet there was lots of GI Bill of Right[s] privileges, so I told Mr. Anshus and they encouraged me also, “Yes, if you’re in this field, try and take up some other courses in line of the jewelry field.”

So, I went back to Minneapolis at the Veterans Administration to get some advice and information where there’s any schools that can teach about jewelry manufacturing, stone setting of the jewelry. So they said there’s one over in New Castle, Pennsylvania. So I went over there after corresponding with them.

Classroom at jewelry manufacturing school in New Castle, Pennsylvania
Classroom at jewelry manufacturing school in New Castle, Pennsylvania

They were able to accommodate all the veterans, and most of it was all veterans that applied for it. So, I used up all my GI Bill of Rights at that school. That took me almost couple of years, so I learned jewelry manufacturing, stone setting, and also they had an engraving class. The instructor was Walter Phelan. He was an outstanding hand-engraving instructor.

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto with instructor and classmate at jewelry manufacturing school

So, after that was done, I returned back to St. Paul, Minnesota, and worked for Lawson and Jensen diamond wholesalers for about three months. I was gone from Hawaii almost four years, and this was in January, I decided this cold climate is getting to be a little too cold (chuckles) for me, so I returned to the Islands, thinking that I would probably open up a jewelry store myself.

Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto with classmate at jewelry manufacturing school

Treatment After the War

Well, among the veterans, it’s no problem, they understood. After explaining our situation, and what they went through the war also, so they were very sympathetic toward me. And, of course, in New Castle, we had another Hawaii boy, Onouye, from Community [Jewelry Company] here in town, they opened up a jewelry store. So he took up the same courses as I did. But the people there are very nice, too. And I stayed in a home — an elderly haole couple, they were formerly retired farmers so they were very nice, and we socialized and we had our fun.

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But I kept myself busy. After going to school, I had free time so I worked at the Castleton Hotel as a pots and pans, what you call, occupation? (Chuckles) Because my experience with KP [kitchen patrol] duty in the army, that I’m well qualified (chuckles). Then, after that was done, they promoted me to be a dishwasher (chuckles). Of course, there’s a pay increase.

But there’s a lot of hard work on that dishwashing. Of course, it’s all done by machinery, automatic. But when they have a banquet like that, oh gosh, you have to work hard and fast. But the dishwashing machine took care of all that, but I had two other ladies to help along with it, so we got it all done at night. But it was nice to be in that kitchen, because you have the privilege to eat — in the bakery section, the ladies were nice. They’d say, “Oh, Whitey, if you want to have some dessert, pies or cake, help yourself.”

[The hotel was i]n New Castle, Pennsylvania. So I was pretty well occupied till about nine, ten o’clock at night. So after school at three o’clock, I went down, got my free meals, then do the work, and help the janitor to clean the kitchen, also. There was a colored fellow, he was very efficient person. I learned something about how to use a mop and get it well done, you know, cleaning up the kitchen. He was a hard-working fellow.

G.I. Bill

[T]here's hardly any paperwork in my education in the trade. Just go to school, do what you could, and the instructors will grade you according to your workmanship. Being a veteran, they accommodated a special treatment, I suppose. Because this is still fresh in peoples’ mind that you just came out from the war, and they tried to be nice to the boys or help the boys out. So, yes, I had the privilege being a veteran. So even to get a job. . . .

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

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