Military Intelligence Service
Varsity Victory Volunteers
Dismissed HTG and others form the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV) in February 1942.The civilian unit is attached to the 34th Engineers Regiment on Oahu.
Detained at Sand Island, Rev. Kodo Fujitani is later held in a Department of Justice Camp. Angry and having "lost feeling . . . for America," Yoshiaki quits the VVV.
In his father's absence, Yoshiaki works at the American Optical Company to support the family.
He also volunteers for civil defense.
What happened after that, of course, is the formation of the Triple V [Varsity Victory Volunteers or VVV]. When we were all kicked out, we didn't know what to do. Some fellows went to work, others just hung around the campus.
Leaders like Herbert Isonaga. . .Masato Doi, yeah. Ralph Yempuku, of course. You know, Ralph was working here, already. He was with the athletic department and he had a commission in the army. But anyway, chee, I wish I could just tick off these names of this leadership group that we had.
Anyway, those guys were approached by Hung Wai Ching. And Hung Wai Ching, who was the executive secretary of the university YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association], Atherton YMCA. And he came across from the Y and then he talked to the boys. And he said, "Why are you guys just moping around for." And he suggested, "Why don't you do something. Why don't you volunteer?" And so the guys began to talk about that and that's how the Triple V started.
So actually, it was a group of volunteers, volunteer laborers, offering to the army the use of themselves. And so the army accepted that and attached that group to the 34th Engineers Regiment in Schofield. And so this group was then - the official name was 34th Engineers Regiment Auxiliary. And so, it was just added. And the nickname became "Varsity Victory Volunteers" and it sort of stuck.
I didn't do anything [after being disbanded]. I guess I was just hanging around at home, maybe going fishing or something like that. Once it was organized, this call went out and so I volunteered.
I thought, yeah, I'd like to go. Out of, well, I don't know whether it was patriotism, it was more like adventure. Yeah, I've been wondering whether I had any sense of patriotism at all. But once we got in and got organized, we were established in Schofield.
[W]e were in the army barracks, we were billeted in the army barracks. We had different crews that were assigned different work. Like road builders. There was a quarry gang. That was hard work. But I think Shiro Amioka was in that, too. They were a rough, tough bunch of guys. Fixing roads and fixing fences and building buildings and all kinds of different groups.
I'm not too sure what our gang really did. My team captain was Bob Kadowaki and his nickname was "Wacky." But chee, maybe we were fixing fences or something. It was such a short time for me that the experiences have not really jelled for me.
I don't really remember [if we got any compensation]. I thought we were just volunteers, it was a volunteer unit. So they might have given us some kind of allowances. But I know we had use of the PX. That was a kind of a privilege. And, of course, we had our meals there and all that. But I don't remember any pay, receiving any pay.
[O]ur CO [commanding officer], we had a military cadre. There was a Captain [Richard] Lum and Tommy Kaulukukui was a lieutenant. I don't know who else. Our topkick was Ralph Yempuku. He held the group together. Yeah, he was given all kinds of nicknames like "Little Caesar." (Chuckles) He wasn't a very tall person. Yeah, we miss him a lot.
I didn't really enjoy [military life], myself. But under the circumstances that's the way things are done, so that was okay. And having gone through JROTC and ROTC. But I don't especially care for that kind of regimentation.
But I'm a member of the MIS [Military Intelligence Services] Veterans Club. That's a hang-loose group, we all served in the MIS. But out of the MIS group, some real gung-ho guys organized the VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars. And it's called MIS Post 110. And the person who started that was Kenichi Watanabe. He's a lieutenant colonel. So, anyway, people like that served in the regular army.
I mean, that's their way of life, so they feel comfortable with that. And they like to salute, and "Yes, Sir," "No Sir," that kind, which I don't especially care for. I joined the VFW too because they needed a chaplain. And I decided I can be a chaplain if they want. And so, perhaps, I'm the only Buddhist chaplain in the VFW.
You know, because they go by the books. They have a manual and they have everything spelled out for you. The prayers for this or that and they're all strictly Christian. So I felt if the guys are not uncomfortable with that, that's okay with me, too. I do the best [I can].
Father Taken Away
Couple of months later, my dad was hauled in. And when that happened, I sort of blew my top and said, "Here, I thought I've been a pretty good American, why should they take my dad?" Although I had suspicions that that would happen. But when it happened, then I decided, well, I am not going to cooperate anymore.
I declared that I was going to quit Triple V. And Hung Wai Ching came running up and tried to stop me. And he asked Shigeo Yoshida, also. But I was adamant and so I just left. That was not very good, I suppose, for the morale of the others.
But I sort of lost my feeling for America. I was thinking mostly of my dad. You know, all these poor guys, so helpless.
I wasn't very close to my dad to begin with, hardly spoke with him. But once I was in camp at Schofield, and we had privileges of the PX [post exchange], and so I wanted to get dad a good omiyage [going-away gift] at the first pass that we had. And so I bought him a box of cigars. And when I gave it to dad, he said, "I don't smoke cigars, why did you get cigars for me?" That was crazy. But, I guess, in this young mind, cigars must be valuable.
[It] never occurred to me [that joining the VVV might prevent my father from being called in]. Because there were others, Akira Otani. Akira's father was also interned.
I feel like I had done what was expected of me at that time. But since I couldn't stay with it any longer, I left. And after I left, I went to work. In a way, it was partly economic, too. When Dad was hauled in, Mother was left with a whole bunch of kids. I mean, we have eight kids in the family and my older sister and I were the only ones working. I mean, of working age.
And so I went back home to work. I was with the American Optical Company, making glasses. Yeah, there's some nice guys there, too.
It's on-the-job training, you might say (chuckles). There are two aspects. One, some of the guys made glasses, ground glasses. The others made spectacles. And we were with that side.
Mother was a kind of a leader within the temple so she got the women together and rolled bandages and stuff at the Moiliili Community Center. In other words, did Red Cross work. So she kept herself busy.
[T]here were some basic rules [for the temple], like not more than so many people could gather at one time at one place, and so on. But there were memorial services and things like that that had to be done. So Mother took over to do things like that. She had to take a crash course, I guess (chuckles), in rituals and stuff. But yeah, she did all right.
I was doing [civil defense work] with some of the fellows around there. And one was at the Moiliili Community Center, they had a fire brigade. A truck and a water pump. And at that time, I guess I was nineteen and I volunteered to be the driver. And so the only skill that I had to have was in backing the truck. The pump, which is an attachment, would wobble and so to do that, you have to maneuver the truck in a certain way. And I was able to learn that.
I thought I was a pretty good driver. But later on, when we got together to reminisce, I was given the bad news that - they say that they knew I thought I was the good driver but they didn't think so. (Laughter) Well, I tried, anyway. We had a lot of fun, though.
Yoshiaki Fujitani's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Yoshiaki Fujitani.