100th Infantry Battalion
December 7, 1941/Homefront
On the day of the attack, Stanley works a double 8-hour shift at Smile Cafe. He sees planes flying towards Pearl Harbor but doesn't realize war has started. By the time his shift is over, no buses are running. With apron in hand, he walks several miles from Waikiki to Houghtailing Street.
Honolulu is a war zone.
Later, Stanley is called back home to the island of Hawaii by his mother. He finds work harvesting sugar cane on the plantation.
December 7, 1941
[Smile Cafe.] That's where I was on Sunday, December 7. All the customers coming in and say, "Hey, you got to go see the maneuvers, just like real." We could see the planes flying around towards Pearl Harbor.
[Smile Cafe] was open. Yeah, surprisingly. Nobody thought it was that critical enough to close everything. You know, like today, a little disaster and they close the whole nation down.
[I worked a] double eight-hour shift and by that time, no bus running.
That afternoon, no buses running so I had to walk from Waikiki all the way back to Houghtailing Street. Going up - I forget what route I took but I had to walk all the way back to Kam[ehameha] Heights. All the way up there with an apron in my hand.
Maybe latter part of the day, they said, "Oh, it's Japanese attacking," but it didn't really occur to me that it was a war.
Return to Hilo
Being the eldest, my mother called me back. She said come home to Hilo. So I went back to Hilo.
Being the eldest in the family, I kind of was resigned to the fact that she would call me home. Because Honolulu was a war zone after the Japanese attack. It wasn't a safe place to stay. You don't know what's going to happen. So when she called me back, I just went back and thought nothing of it.
And nothing to do, all my friends are working in the plantations so I figured, ah, might as well fool around, work at the plantation also. So I ended up cutting cane. Harvesting cane. So I did that for a little while until they asked for volunteers.
It's all hard work in the plantation because when you so-called "cut cane," what you do is, you go into the cane, with the cane knife, you cut the cane into stalks about three, four feet at the longest and you pile it up. You take two leaves together, make a knot. You have a stalk in which you lay down and put all whatever you cut on that and you tie a knot. Then after you through, you got to carry that to the flume.
Thinking back, these plantation carpenters were real ingenious people. I don't know if you noticed a long time ago, they used to make those framework to go up. They had a flume way on the top to go over the gulches. Sometimes I wonder, who ever thought of how many feet apart it has to be by the time they reach the top. Then together.
And all that framework of that, only wood now. They have a walkway with the flume and all the cane is coming down, going towards the mill. But after you cut the cane, you carry it to the flume. In the open field, the mule come in [with] a section of flume, two piece on both sides. They join the flume and keep going down towards the main artery flume. It all dumps into the flume and goes down to the mill.
Spur to the main flume. The main flume, is about four feet wide and about four, five feet deep with a lot of water running. So if we go fishing or doing something far away from the plantation town, if we're near the flume, when the bundle of sugar cane come down, we just wait for the sugar cane, we just drop on the sugar cane, ride all the way back down to the mill.
[We rode] on the bundle. And the cane, like a log jam, when it comes to near the mill. They cannot just take everything at once, they take a section at a time. So that thing come, stop at the log jam, you just jump off.
[We rode] half a mile to a mile. Oh yeah, those days, something which today's kids would be glad to do if they can do it.
At that time, either walk around the gulches or ride across it, you know. I don't think we felt that danger feeling when we were young. We did a lot of crazy things. But the danger part didn't come into our mind. Later on, when you think about it, then you think you're stupid.
When the spur goes through the field, the middle of the field, they pile the bundle of sugar cane right next to the spur. Then when they run the water, there's a guy that's right there, just feeding the flume. They just grab bundle by bundle. Two, three, bundle or whatever, half a dozen bundles, goes down and goes into the main artery. And there, it forms a big bundle where you can jump on and ride.
On the plantation, for every bundle, you get a penny, you cut. It ran something like that. So chee, you got to cut a couple hundred bundles before you can make one or two dollars. And that's a lot of work because you go to carry all that to the flume afterwards. So in my case, I was there just to kill time so I'm lucky if I made fifty bundles. Everyone is making a hundred, I'm making fifty. But it didn't bother me.
[I took a pay cut to work on the plantation.] So my mother used to always tell me, "Your lunch costs more than what you make."
Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Masaji Uyehara, Hawaii Plantation Museum, and Franklin D. Roosevelt Digital Archives.