100th Infantry Battalion
With the outbreak of war, the epithet “Jap” is regularly used by some non-Japanese on the plantation. Some, who called Stanley and other Americans of Japanese ancestry by name prior to war, now substitute the term, “Jap”.
In 1943, when the call for volunteers comes, Stanley enlists in Hilo. He is sent to Schofield Barracks.
Initially, he is excited about being in the service. Only later, during training, does he think about the dangers of combat.
Being Called a "Jap"
Right after the war started, I went back to Hilo. We have a lot of these different ethnic groups within the plantation. Like we have the Japanese camp, Portuguese camp, Filipino camp, where everybody in that camp in Filipino, everybody in this camp is Japanese, and we do our own thing, ethnically. Filipinos do and eat their own way, cooking food. The Japanese do the same thing, and so did the Portuguese.
But while doing so, all that different ethnic groups found a new word in the dictionary called "Jap." Everything today was, "Hey, Jap." ["Jap" was] derogatory, yeah.
"Eh, Jap, sit down." You know, that type of thing. You go to the movie and if they can't see, they say, "Eh, Jap, move your head." But you don't know who they're talking to because we're all Japanese boys lined up. And they weren't afraid to speak out loud.
Nobody used the word [before the war], they never called us "Japs." They called us by our regular name.
[There were people] born and raised in the plantation. We went to school together with a lot of them. So at that time, the discrimination all of a sudden turned from black to white. Completely opposite. Up to that time we were friends, we played in the school ground, and thought nothing of it. Played ball against each other. But after that, things were a little different. We were their enemy, like.
Reasons for Enlistment
So you got to have the feeling that these guys are taking us cheap, in a way. Or degrading us in a way. So when the notice came out for volunteering, say "Oh, heck, we better do something about this."
Five of us from the plantation camp rushed down to volunteer. Had a good friend of mine called Atsushi Murakami, Teddy Miyatake, Teiji Ishii and Tsukasa Ishii. And myself.
And me, being the shortest guy in the group, I was kind of concerned that I may not be picked. I was really hoping that I won't be the one left back. Then I'd be like a 4-F. I'm not fit for the army. But when the notice came that I was picked, I was so happy.
I would say that [enlisting was] one good way of showing [the people calling you a "Jap"] that you are an American. Being allowed to join the army. Because not everybody could join whatever unit you wanted. For example, us Japanese, during that era, could never have joined the navy. They would never have taken us in the navy, I don't know why. I don't know what's the difference. Armed services is armed services. But now, you got Japanese all over, every unit got Japanese soldiers in there. And they got high-ranking officers.
Not much [talk about proving our loyalty], not much in that sense. But to a certain degree, it could have been excitement of getting away someplace. That talk about to prove something wasn't as pertinent as what we were looking forward to. Like going in the service and being sent to the Mainland, which we never expected to do.
[It was kind of like, "Eh, we go sign up," just like "Eh, we go pick mangoes."] Sort of in that sense.
Reaction of Parents
My dad, when I volunteered, I guess he was resigned to the fact that I would have done something like that. Because he didn't say anything - why I shouldn't have or why I should have, on that type of thought.
Except that they said make sure you don't shame your family name. That, I believe, every parent told their child.
My mother didn't say a word to me as far as going in the service. In fact, she was more busy with my kid brother who was just born at that time, 1943.
At that time, I found a job with the city, the county of Hilo [County of Hawaii]. I was a park maintenance man.
The five of us that volunteered wasn't a plantation employee. I don't know if they would come under essential worker. And sugar was essential those days. I know of a few guys who were drafted into the army that was a plantation employee. I don't think it really mattered that much unless you have an essential type of job. Maybe if you're a foreman or supervisor, the plantation might want to hold you back. But ordinary truck driver or field worker, I don't think they would have bothered.
[I signed up in] Hilo.
What went through my mind was if I wasn't picked to serve in the army, then I was 4-F, somebody unfit for the army. So when I was picked with the rest of my friends, I was so happy that I was picked.
I would think [people looked down on those not picked]. I would think so, that you're not able to serve in the military or anything. I don't know how to put it but it's a little on the embarrassing side.
[I was worried] because I was the shortest guy. And even in the service - I may be short today but during the 442nd, the tallest guy, a real big guy is five feet eight over there. Those days, our generation. So in fact, while we were in Camp Shelby, the army thought of cutting the gun stock for us so the gun would fit us better.
We all went to Schofield [Barracks].
At that time, it's more the excitement of being in the service. Being in some kind of altogether different environment that you never knew. Maybe later on, during training, after they train you to kill people, you going be killed and that kind of training, you have a little thought behind that, chee, maybe we won't come back. Maybe I'll be dead instead - not everybody going to come out alive. But early part, it was more the excitement of being in the service.
The uniform never fit us. It was too big. Always too big or too long. All our uniforms had to be altered.
Iolani Palace Parade
The only so-called parade we participated in was in front of the Iolani Palace. See, we rode the train from Schofield to Iwilei, at the present train station. From there, we walked to - not even a parade - just walked on the street, King Street, to Iolani Palace and that's where they had that famous picture taken.
[My parents] couldn't come out. They're in Hilo. I think most of the outside island parents couldn't make it out. In fact, even to get a plane fare, you had to be somebody well known otherwise you can't get a plane fare to move here and there, in those days.
It was excitement of a different environment altogether. You don't know what to expect and yet you know it's something altogether different from what you've been through.
Stanley Akita's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Stanley Akita, Hawaii State Archives, and U.S. Army Signal Corps.