F Company, 442nd RCT
From infancy, the Oba siblings are tended to by their oldest sister.
Ronald and his friends build totan (iron sheet) boats. They fish and swim in Pearl Harbor. Backpacking empty five-gallon cans, the boys walk up Aiea Heights to fill the cans with mountain apples. They repeat these apple-picking treks a dozen times each summer.
Ronald participates in ball games and sumo wrestling.
One summer, he earns fifty cents an hour, digging trenches.
My oldest sister, whenever we get together — we’re all alive, nobody died yet — she said, “Do you know, I was the one that had to raise all of you. As soon as I could walk, I had to take care of every little baby that was born.”
And in those days, midwives used to come. The Enga lady, she was the midwife. She lived — the Enga family lived one house above the Kuroda — and the Kuroda house is right next to Aiea Medical Center — and then the Enga. The Enga family is famous for the Enga avocado. Big avocado, this beautiful, delicious. [Bill] Pregill, next door, used to live by the post office. He got the Enga avocado tree and every time the branches hang over our side, I said, “Wait, Bill, don’t cut the branches now. Everything that grows on our side is ours, you know.” He said, “Yeah, you pick.”
Ho, big one, delicious, you know. But unfortunately, the termites got to it, you see, so he finally had to cut it down. I always tell him, “I miss your avocados.”
Pearl Harbor was so pristine and clear, that we went fishing. We caught all kinds of fish, onaga [red snapper], papio [young crevalle] and they even had sea cucumber. You know, to have sea cucumber, the water had to be really clean. And there were clams, we went digging for clams and all those. We swam there every day. Every day we’d run over there and swim in Pearl Harbor. Now, it’s so polluted that if you go in, your skin gets itchy. It’s terrible. But, in those days, was so clean.
And we used to make tin boats. You know how you make tin boats? You know the corrugated roof? Totan.
You put the two-by-four in the front and the back and you nail it up. You go to the road and pick up tars — all the roads were nothing but tar — you pick the tar. When they get hard you can pick and we used to chew that, see. Yeah, the tar. And then you put tar where you nailed it and we’d put outrigger and we would go into Pearl Harbor and go fish all the time. Sometimes, on a windy day, we would pile totan boats on the anchor chain of submarines, destroyers. And the navy didn’t say anything. We could go anywhere.
Picking Mountain Apples
We used to walk up, all the way up to Aiea Heights, where the forest reserve is and we used to carry this five-gallon can in burlap sack and somehow we used to make armbands for our shoulders and we would carry this five-gallon can on our back. And we were only third-, fourth-graders. We would go all the way up, way deep into the valley, then we would stumble down, all the way down toward the river, where all the mountain apples were.
We would pick mountain apples, we’d fill it up, not satisfied that the five-gallon can [contained] enough, so we would put ti leaves on the side, and put some more mountain apples, and we would tie it up like this. We would carry home almost a can and a half of mountain apples and tie it down, we’d put it on our shoulders and we walked down here, all the way, and give to all our friends around. Every summer, we used to go about, oh, a dozen times up the hill to pick mountain apples. Those days, mountain apples were delicious, nice solid, red ones.
There’s usually a trail alongside the ridge where pig hunters use. See, you don’t go on the ridge, you take the trail on the side and then you slide down to the river and that’s where the pigs and the mountain apples are. Same with Waimalu, we used to go Waimalu Valley and pick mountain apples all the time.
Waimalu Valley had only two families, Azama family, because one of the boys was my classmate and the Higa family. I think, as I told you, one of the Higa boys had a defective heart. In those days they used to call them “blue babies.” Those blue babies weren’t given many years to live. One of the Higa boys used to follow us, then he would stop after a hundred yards and we would stop. We would keep on walking and he would finally catch up with us up the hill. On the way down, he had to stop and rest and whatnot. So finally, he passed away. He probably had a puka [hole] in his valve, in his heart.
And on our way down, the Azama lady would pick one of those taros. She would boil it, and mash it — cooked taro, fresh one — and she would make it into patties with green onions, she would fry it. I can still talk about eating fried taro patties. She would always make for us on our way down. Delicious, boy.
Group Activities and Sports
For entertainment, or for something to do, we had about five of us as a group, we always stuck together. Henry Chagami, Johnny Kaito, Joe Taniguchi, myself and who else? [Henry Yamaki, and] oh, Murata. So, we would always go visit each other. We would just sit around the yard, no place else to go. And Henry, he had a humpback. He had, you know the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Just like that. Because he was like that, his mother always favored him. No matter what he did, she never scolded him. Every weekend, Saturday, Sunday, he said, “Come our house.” And they were produce salespeople. They had a produce shop on River Street. We would go [to] his house.
First we would start drinking beer in the yard, then pretty soon we would go up to his living room and at first the mother would make something for us to eat and we would drink and we wouldn’t go home. Twelve o’clock come, the mother would look at us but she won’t scold him because he’s handicapped. Then two o’clock come, she would make faces at us and we would still not go home.
Well, for us, that was entertainment. Nothing else to do, you know. We didn’t have soccer, tennis. Later on, we had a roller-skating rink where the tennis court is now. We had baseball but at our age, we weren’t playing baseball. I played baseball at Iolani School. But there was nothing to do, except sit in somebody’s yard. Those days, people used to raise weights and they ruin their back because they’re trying to outperform others and they would carry too heavy a weight. Chee, all my friends ruined their back from raising weights.
We had the Down Camp group and then Middle Camp gang and then New Camp gang, we were very competitive. So whenever there was a softball game or baseball game, we would compete against them. In those days, sumo was very popular. So, one day, I was at the sumo dojo [arena, school] and I was wrestling and Tabata Store man, he liked sumo, so he came to visit. We would wrestle each other and the coach would say, “Okay, the first guy wins five, gets a prize. So you have to take five guys.”
I wrestle five guys, I won. I beat all five guys. Mr. Tabata was so happy that Down Camp guy won so he came over, he gave me five dollars in my hand. (Chuckles) Oh, what a fortune, you know, five dollars. He was so happy to see me win. And I beat all the Up Camp guys.
[We learned sumo] by playing with each other and you learn how to grab the — I don’t know what you call that. Mawashi [belt]. You learn how to turn them over and whatnot. It’s mostly like judo. If the guy push you, you try to evade him and trip him over and it’s easy. If you’re holding each other, the guy who’s stronger will lift you and throw you down. So my style of wrestling was always, let them come after me and I’ll trip them. I beat all five of them. So sumo, drinking and partying.
[I started drinking before] high school, when we were eighth, ninth grade. I remember one time, the five of us — Henry Yamaki had a roadster, you know the kind with the rumble seat in the back — all five, six of us would get into that. For some reason, I remember we went to Hachiban. Hachiban is right by Pearl Country Club, the seventeenth hole. Just by the tee. Nobody knows but just behind the tee, there’s a little pond, depression. That’s the Hachiban.
We used to go there and I killed a pint of whiskey. I was working — oh, high school — I was working at Hawaiian Pine[apple Company] that summer. And boy, I went to work the next day, I couldn’t work, so I had to hide from the foreman. I would go there, he would be looking for me. All day long I was hiding from the foreman.
But that was our so-called sports and activities in those days.
Working for E.E. Black
You know where naval housing is? Past Puuloa. As you go the old Kam[ehameha] Highway, you pass Makalapa Gate, just above there, there’s a fire station. Then if you go down, that goes to Pearl Harbor Gate. All those houses, naval housing, see.
And Henry Chagami, we used to ride bicycle with. Every morning we would get on the bike and ride up to that naval housing. We got a job and we had to dig a two-feet-by-four-feet trench for the foundation of all those houses, the houses that are there now. And, you know, we were still eighth grade, I think. Before CPC and Hawaiian Pine.
He and I, man, we had to dig as much as the Filipino guys were digging. And they were all adults. Ho, we broke our back, and, by the time we came home, we were exhausted. We had a luna, you know, foreman. We were so scared of him, we would dig and dig and dig, until we were so exhausted we couldn’t dig anymore. But we digged these two-feet-by-four-feet trenches every day. I don’t know how far we dug. We worked the whole summer to earn fifty cents an hour. They were paying good money. So Henry Chagami and I, we were buddies.
Later on, we worked at Hickam Air Force Base and all that, but that was one of the first real hard work that we did. But before the war, I worked at Waianae side and all that but this was still when we were still in elementary school.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba and Trust Territory Archives, Pacific Collection, University of Hawai'i Library.