1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
298th Infantry / 370th Engineers
Assigned to the 298th Infantry, Kenneth performs menial tasks around Schofield Barracks.
Only nisei soldiers are denied rifles. When out on work detail, they are watched by armed Caucasian guards.
In October 1942, Kenneth and others in the 298th and 299th as well as the 395th Quartermasters are designated 1st Battalion of the 370th Engineers that later forms the nucleus of the 1399th Engineers.
370th/1399th Engineers are stationed on Oahu.
[Supplemental historical text courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center.]
We started off with the 298th Infantry. They called that the provisional battalion. And we had two weeks of close-order drill and after that, nothing. No rifles or anything. Go around the barracks area picking up rubbish, this and that - cut grass along the highways, bust rocks at the quarry.
Chee, I think was about three hundred [people], I may not get the correct figure, because you see, there was another group at the 395th Quartermaster. They were working on the piers. Japanese Americans now. And they had, chee, I found out they had some fifth-draft personnel in there too, all mixed up. When I say "mixed up," they have first-draft people, second-draft people, and fifth-draft people all mixed up and working at the piers.
I heard the earlier group of draftees - at first they had the rifles - but when the war started, they took away the rifles from them. So, they worked on the pier, loading, unloading whatever goods from the ships. So later on, they joined us, and about that time we had Captain David Kahanamoku come in with the other different nationality officers. And that's when 370th Engineers were formed.
We didn't have rifles, just our gas mask. No rifles for two years. So when you look at it, chee, are we in the army or not?
At first you feel disappointed because you see the others, like the Caucasians, Chinese, Filipinos, they get rifles. And they go on shooting range or go on hikes. And here, we picking up rubbish, this and that, cutting grass. You looking at them, you feel disappointed.
At first we didn't think much of it. Only thing, we were discriminated. But the longer you think about it, and then you know, they only picking the Japanese Americans.
395th Quartermasters and 370th Engineers
At first they were different. Because as I mentioned, 395th Quartermaster and there were some in the 298th Infantry. So when Captain Kahanamoku came in and 370th were formed, all the others in the other outfits, we all got together. So, we ended up, just when I remember, about 620 enlisted men.
All Japanese. No. I would say 620 Japanese but we had different nationalities, too, at that time. We worked together. There was no discrimination, from the different nationalities and the Japanese Americans.
The only thing is, we didn't have the rifles. They had rifles. We worked together on different construction projects until, chee, I would say about half a year and then the other nationalities, David Kahanamoku, all them, went to South Pacific and we were the only ones left behind.
We did all kind of menial jobs like picking up rubbish around Schofield. And the worst one was, you know when you pick up this kitchen garbage, ho, that's terrible I tell you, stinkin' - wow. Most people didn't want that, that's why cutting grass like that is not too bad. You go out in the open yeah. Or bust rock at the quarry.
But the only thing is, at that time, even when used to go out on detail. When I say "detail," menial jobs cutting grass, this and that, or what. You know, we used to get a Caucasian soldier from another outfit watching us with a rifle. And let's say if someone has to go to the restroom, everybody has to go at the same time because he cannot watch just one and ignore the others. That was the situation.
[The Caucasian guards] treated us all right. The only thing is, they just watching us with the rifles, just to keep in order.
By then we knew that we were the only ones being discriminated. In fact, another thing that I wanted to mention, even in the supply room, people didn't realize until somebody told me; you know, in the supply room you have different kind rifles, supplies, machine guns, this and that. One guy told me, "Try look at the machine guns, they all facing where the Japanese Americans quartered."
We didn't talk too much about that, you know, discrimination. I guess by then we took it for granted.
Captain Kahanamoku was the battalion captain. Like we had the Headquarters, we had Company A, B, C. I was in C Company. My commander was Captain [Albert T.S.] Kong. Chinese officer. And as far as that, I had an easy life because at that time when he was there, we had the CO [commanding officer], in front of that they had the first sergeant, and I was the, just like the receptionist [orderly room clerk].
Whenever anybody wanted to see the first sergeant or the captain, he has to go through me to make the appointment. And I used to take care of the sick calls. You know, people getting sick. So, besides answering the phones. So, I was quite busy doing the receptionist work.
There were so many different designations. Like started off with the 298th Infantry, later on, had the 370th. But before that, there was some kind other designation. So the names come and go, we didn't think too much of that.
It was a little different [after the 370th formed]. It was more or less organized in the sense - that's when Captain Kahanamoku was in charge. And you know, he took care of the different companies and when we went out to work. In fact, by then, the person watching us with the rifle was gone already. Because we had our own company, just like. Like the other times, we were helping out another company and they were more or less the ones giving the orders. So by then, we were more or less organized and we started doing a little more of construction jobs.
That's when we started to build something like an underground tunnel. Not tunnel, but that's where they keep all the different things. And maybe work on different projects.
Well, that's when I was with that Company C, we went to Kahana Bay, and did some different projects. Company A was in Waialua - Haleiwa, doing other things. I mean, improving their airport, things like that.
In fact, at that time already, I left the orderly room and I learned how to operate the bulldozer. So at that time what I was doing, chee, that was kind of scary. Working near the Schofield Haleiwa gulch yeah. Chee, when that thing - you have to watch it, you know, in bulldozers, you go like that, you may tip over. We used to do quite a bit of things like that.
I was doing driving bulldozer at that time. So I used to level, make roads, this and that. I work near the Schofield, this and that.
We went to Kahana Bay. The whole company went to Kahana Bay and over there, we used to stay across the beach from the roadside. And we had to build tents, and each one, so much in the tent, eh? And at that time, we used to maintain the log, just like a fortress. That's where the American soldiers, when they go into combat in the South Pacific, they go into there, and hide, and they shoot from there. But sometimes they get shot at so we used to build that from coconut logs. So coconut logs all busted up. So we had to maintain that every so often.
We used to build roads like that. And, you see, one of the big projects was, you know when we built the water tank in Wahiawa, it's one of the biggest one. And in fact, the person that built that, he was a plumber in civilian life, he never did that type of work. And you know when you build a water tank, you have to shut down the water in Schofield - part of Schofield, and Wheeler field, and then you have to just work on that, day and night. That was something. But finally, they finished it.
The 1399th fulfilled their duties constructing 54 defense projects in and around Oahu that included the million-gallon water tank in Wahiawa (still active), a flying fortress airfield in Kahuku, artillery emplacements, ammunition storage pits, jungle training villages, auxiliary mountain roads, recreation camps, water ways, as well as bridge repairs.
Half a million gallons. And it's still in existence, supplying water to air force personnel, dependents in upper Wahiawa. So, actually, you see upper Wahiawa, California Avenue, you stand close with the chain link fencing, you see about two, three water tanks built by the city. Half a million gallons. There's one is stainless steel, this and that, looks nice and they keep 'em polished. You look at the ones the engineers built, chee, ugly cement, and nobody takes care of that. But, still supplying water.
Each construction project built by the 1399th was constructed efficiently and on time costing the War Department only $2.5 million.
I stayed four years in the army. Two years later, I mean, from coming from the end, before discharge, two years, 1399th came in. So 370th before that. . . . I would say about year and a half.
I think [we got paid] twenty-five dollars because when I got discharged, I used to get around seventy-five dollars so I think it was twenty-five [dollars], something like that. Not much to talk about.
When [the 370th] were drafted, you don't say you want certain types of people. You get a mixture of all kinds of people, all backgrounds. So that's how we ended up. You know, electricians, plumbers, clerical people, bookkeepers, and whatnot. Truck drivers, also.
We were doing just menial work at that time. But when we started to build the water tank. They had to go through blueprints and whatnot. And as far as the other type of construction jobs, that part we had, in civilian life, a couple of construction people. So they knew what to do, so they just carried on.
I learned how to operate the bulldozer, somebody taught me. I figured, well, coming out from the orderly room, hey, I might as well learn something, so I learned how to operate the bulldozer. Somebody taught me that.
Jungle Training Villages
[Jungle training villages are] just like a fortification. We build that from coconut trees, you know, the stumps there. And it's just like fortification. The American soldiers would go in there for protection and they fire from there, you see. And the enemy just whatever, rockets or anything, they fire back. So the coconut tree stumps get all busted up. So what we did was, every time we replaced that and they can continue that. That was the main part of it. [In] Kahana Bay.
Kenneth Hagino's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of 1399th Engineers Battalion Collection and Department of Defense Still Media Depository, U.S. Army. Historical information courtesy of Go For Broke National Education Center.