Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto
442nd Antitank Company

Life After the War

After four years on the mainland, Whitey returns to Hawaii. He marries Amy Yamamoto, a Laupahoehoe schoolmate, with whom he shared a wartime correspondence.

He works as an aircraft instrument technician at Hickam Airfield.

Seven years later, Lockheed Aircraft Company employs Whitey; he stays with the firm until its local facility closes. Whitey then accepts a position at Aloha Airlines where he retires, 22 years later.

Work

So, yes, I had the privilege being a veteran. So even to get a job. . . .Or when I came back to the Islands, thinking that I might open up a jewelry store, but doing some research, there were too many jewelry stores or watch-repairing shops here in town. They were just working ten hours a day, or twelve hours a day to just make a living. I said, I guess this is not my business, why should I have to suffer?

Shiroku
Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto, civilian passport photograph

Hickam Airfield

Meantime, Hickam Airfield had that advertisement looking for instrument technicians for aircraft work. So I applied for it, and I was taken in — I was surprised — but the reason was that because I had the watch-repairing knowledge, going to school. And, being a veteran, they gave us privilege to sign up. But they accepted me right away.

This was back in 1951, when the Korean War started, so they wanted to build up the air force, and they need more aircraft instrument men. But I had no experience about aircraft instrument. I don’t think there is any aircraft instrument schools, but I was fortunate they had technicians in the instrument shop at Hickam, and they always have a manual. Any type of work that you do, they have a technical manual that you can learn from. And they tell you how to repair, how to check it, and how to test with the equipments.

So that was, I’d say, strictly in the line of precision work and comparable to watch repairing, which is very precision. And the inspectors are very strict in that, and I don’t blame them, but if the aircraft instrument is not accurate, probably the poor pilot or the flight crew might end up somewhere else.

I worked for seven years at Hickam Airfield, until the Korean War ceased. And being the least seniority, I was one of the first ones that they discharged from the work. Clarence Au, which is my friend, good friend of mine, we had the least seniority, so we were asked to leave.

Lockheed Aircraft Company

But at the same time, Lockheed Aircraft Company came to the Islands to open up major overhaul facilities here at Honolulu Airport. And they took over the naval docks, where they did their aircraft major maintenance. And at that time, the docks were not being utilized, so Lockheed came in, and they got the facilities from the navy, so we did most of the work with Lockheed Aircraft. Those aircrafts, it was Lockheed four-engine propeller type, three tail, with a big dome on the back of the fuselage, on the top of it, and that was all radar equipments.

And we were in that Cold War period, and we were concerned with the Russians coming across the Pacific. And, of course. . .their mission was to fly between Guam and up to the Alaska Aleutian Islands as a frontline surveillance duty. And Guam was the base for it. But all the major work that needs to be done on the aircraft, they would fly the aircraft to Honolulu, and all the major work is done. So aircraft instrument is one of them. Besides that, other things like radio communication, accessories, engine buildup, working on the aircraft, sheet metals, all those things, so it’s a major overhaul facility down at Honolulu Airport. So I was with Lockheed Aircraft for seven years, too, when the mission was ceased or ended.

Aloha Airlines

[After Lockheed], I was able to work for Aloha Airlines. Aloha Airlines called to — they realized that Lockheed was closing down — so they naturally, the airlines going to pick the experienced skillful tradesmen. So, I was called by Aloha Airlines if I would like to work for them, I was very fortunate. Andy Yamashiro, he was the head of the maintenance section, so I had an interview by Mr. Yamashiro, and I was accepted with Aloha Airlines. And I worked with the instruments shop, under that condition, for twenty-two years, and that’s where I retired.

[In those twenty-two years] there’s a lot of changes on the aircraft itself. When I first started working for Aloha, we had the propeller engines. They just phased out the DC-3’s, or C-47 in military form. Those were propeller-type aircraft. And they just got the jet combination, propeller and jet combination, I couldn’t think of it right now. And not too long after that, it went into a full jet aircraft, and we had that British 111, because Hawaiian [Airlines] came up with Douglas jet, so Aloha had to compete. And they were able to get that BSC or British aircraft 111, and that’s how we started.

But the instrument system have changed a lot, too. In the old days, it was more mechanical instruments, huge compared to what it is today. And today’s, when we changed over to jet aircraft, it’s mostly avionic type of — electronic type — of aircraft instruments. So all the things are more small, and I can see it helps a lot because the equipment doesn’t take up a lot of space in the aircraft, plus it’s lighter, and they have better load capacity for the aircraft. They can haul more passengers or more cargo that way. Less of the weight of the equipment.

And, like you take an example, the old time, you take a fuel quantity system on the aircraft, they had the floating type transmitter on the wings of the aircraft. Most of the wings are fuel tanks. And you start off from the very tip of the wing, the have just a small volume of fuel. As you come toward the fuselage of the aircraft, the fuel tanks are larger, so your float transmitter gets larger. You know the toilet tank in the bathroom? They have that floating — the old-fashioned time? That’s how it looks like, it’s the same thing. So, as the fuel is full, the float is up there, but as you use the fuel — the aircraft use the fuel — it drops down to the bottom of the tank. Then the next big tank will take over, and then it goes through the process about two or three tanks. So it tells you the full amount there, and then the third tank will tell you the empty portion of the instrument. That’s all mechanical things.

Today, they have just one tube that they call the capacitor unit. That’s all. There’s no moving parts in it. It’s just the fuel itself gives the transmission into the cockpit, and the cockpit gauges just this small, as far as I can think of it. And all your amplifiers and everything in the aircraft indicator, and that small. Before they had the transmission, and then down in the fuselage, they had the amplifier, big box like this, to transmit the signal over to the cockpit. And the cockpit gauge was about this big, and that’s it. But today it’s all solid state, it’s really compact. So all you need is one capacitor, no moving parts, and aircraft instruments in the cockpit has that two little items. That’s an example for it. Times have changed, yes.

Marriage to Amy

I met [Amy] down at Laupahoehoe High School. I was transferred from John M. Ross School, intermediate — not intermediate, elementary school — to go to intermediate school down at Laupahoehoe High School. So, I’m one extreme end of the community, and my wife is the other extreme opposite. And where she comes from is called Ookala community, that’s Ookala Sugar Company. And where I come from is Laupahoehoe Sugar Company. But that’s the extreme end toward Hilo, and she’s more toward Honokaa side. And we go down to Laupahoehoe High School in that district. So that’s where I got to know other students from different areas. And one of the attractions was my former wife — I mean my wife (chuckles). But I should have said former students.

(Laughter)

Oh boy.

Cake-cutting at wedding reception of Mr. and Mrs. Shiroku
Cake-cutting at wedding reception of Mr. and Mrs. Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto

I guess when you’re young and you take interest in the opposite sex, (chuckles) I guess they call it what? Puppy love? (Chuckles) But that’s really sweet.

So off and on we corresponded, not seriously. And when I came back from the service — we corresponded when I was in the service, too.

Wedding of Shiroku
Wedding of Shiroku "Whitey" Yamamoto and Amy Yamamoto

I had my interest in her a lot. Because I suppose she was a very lovely lady, and right now I always tell my wife, “You so yasashii, you know, you have a nice clean heart.” And being attractive lady, or girl at that time, for me she was attractive, so I wanted to continue with my relationship. So we corresponded during the war. Of course, when I returned from the mainland on the GI Bill of Rights, we got close to it, and then we finally tied our knots, committed ourselves to live together, and then here we are. We’re still about fifty-three years plus of marriage.

Shiroku
Shiroku "Whitey" and Amy Yamamoto with family at Volcano, Hawaii

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

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