Sue Isonaga
A Different View

December 7, 1941 and the Home Front

Sue is preparing breakfast for an Emergency Service Committee meeting at the Shivers’ home. Preparations are disrupted by a phone call informing Mr. Shivers of the attack.

Mrs. Shivers and Sue are taken to a location in Manoa. A man passing out guns instructs others, “At the sight of a Jap, shoot to kill.” Sue is very uncomfortable. They move to another location in Nuuanu.

Sue reports to Kahuku School to take charge of emergency feeding.

Emergency Service Committee

I wish Hung Wai [Ching] was here because he can explain everything. But, [Mr. Shivers] said that I was the first Japanese that they came in contact with. And then I think Masaji Marumoto.

[Mr. Shivers] asked [Dr. Charles] Hemenway, “Can you get me about a dozen Americans of Japanese ancestry, the ones that you think will suit the occasion?” So he did and I think that’s when Masaji Marumoto became friends with Mr. Shivers.

Slowly, they formed the Emergency Service Committee. I think, with that, they learned a lot about the Japanese people. They knew that we would not be against America, if and when the war started.

Shigeo Yoshida and Hung Wai Ching

December 7, 1941

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The day of the war [December 7, 1941], they were having an Emergency Service Committee meeting at our place. You know, I was home then, Black Point Road. And then the telephone rang — and they said, “Mr. Shivers, please,” — and I went and answered it. But we were busy in the kitchen because the men were coming over to have breakfast meeting.

So I took the phone and [they] said, “Mr. Shivers, please.”
I said, “Would you hold the line, I’ll call.”
So, I told him, “Mr. Shivers, it’s for you.”
Then he said, “What! I’ll be right down.”
Before he left, he said, “Turn the radio on.”

And he told Mrs. Shivers, “Don’t let Sue out of your sight. You take her with you wherever you go.” And with that, he was gone. And he said, “When the men come, give them breakfast and then send them to the office.” So when they came, they didn’t know anything about it, so when they found out what it was, they just jumped back in the car and they took off and went to the office.

[Mrs. Shivers and I] were staying there for a while and then we saw the plane, Japanese plane. And had a big sun, rising sun, emblem on the wings. And when it flew out, then I realized, this is all real.

Japanese bomber shot down during Pearl Harbor attack

And I felt sad, because of my mother. You know, I was thinking about my mother.

Then Mr. Shivers sent someone to pick us up to take us up to someplace in Manoa. So, this gentleman came and picked us up and took us to Manoa. And when we walked into the home, there were so many women all crying. All just hysterical.

Then one of the men walked in and passed out guns and said, “At the sight of a Jap, shoot to kill.” I felt very uncomfortable.

The person who took us there heard that so he went back and told Mr. Shivers what was happening. So, I walked out in the yard and Mrs. Shivers came and followed me and we sat on the wall together. And then somebody came and then took us to Nuuanu, way up in the valley. And they were so gracious. They accepted me, you know, both of us.

So I was there for a few days until I had to report back to Kahuku [School] because I was in charge of emergency feeding, if in case we were invaded out in that area.

[Mr. Shivers] had to be at the office and I don’t think he even left the office until the Wake Island situation was more or less settled. So we hardly saw him, she hardly saw him.

Mrs. Shivers told me he never left the office — he didn’t leave the office — until the Wake Island, that was a very serious fight there. He didn’t come home at all. So Mrs. Shivers stayed with the Thackers. Earle Thacker. Then they found a place right across where the Thackers lived. So that’s where she went and stayed.

Emergency Feeding

I was out in Kahuku [School]. But you know, there was a woman who lived somewhere in Kahuku, whose husband was in charge of the boys’ school or whatever. One day I saw her walk into the office and talk to Mr. [Carl] Weimer, who was my principal and walked away and nothing more was said.

But after everything quieted down, Mr. Weimer teased me. He said, “You know, Shizue, somebody came and told me that I should fire you because you might poison all the food that’s being served.” He said, “I shooed her out of the room and told her that, ‘She’s more American as you are.’” That he would never think for a second that I would poison anyone. I had people like that.

All the cafeteria managers had to report to their schools. Because in the case that they attack from Kahuku, then a lot of people are without — it’s my responsibility to see that they are fed. They call that emergency feeding unit.

[I lived in] Kahuku in the teacher’s cottage.

I really don’t remember [how long I stayed in Kahuku] but I know I used to come in weekends. Mr. Shivers wanted me to continue coming to their place every weekend. You know, so, I came back for the weekends. After everything was settled and there was no need to be out there.

Home Front

After the war started, I was at Kahuku for two years. In my third year, I was assigned to Lunalilo School, which was right in McCully. So I could commute here on the bus, from Mr. Shivers’ place from Kahala Avenue.

SI at Lunalilo Elementary
Sue Isonaga at Lunalilo Elementary

I moved back with [the Shivers’ after Kahuku.] I think, on — let me see. Kahala Avenue. They were at the Waterhouse home. And during the winter months, we would go. Summer months, we would move up to the Tantalus home because Mr. [John] Waterhouse’s family, from the Mainland, children, wanted the beach. So we would switch homes. We’d go up Tantalus and they would be where they can have the beach for themselves. So it was a switch that, it was really nice. I enjoyed that because we had a fireplace up at Tantalus, you know? Was very nice.


My mother is from Japan, I mean she’s Japanese. And I don’t know. I guess among young people, they’d talk about different things. Of course, they were saying, “Take all the Japanese away.”

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But I remember once Mr. Shivers told Mom Shivers that, “I cannot send someone like Sue and hundreds of them like Sue to concentration camp because it’s going to ruin their lives.” So that’s what he once said [to] Mom Shivers.

The truth is, I didn’t feel anything like I was Japanese. I went around doing what I was doing. I figured, I’m an American. But there were incidents like, one year, I worked at the cannery. My girlfriend and I started walking home, pass the River Street. There was a Filipino man, came chasing after us. Telling us, “You, because of you, Bataan fell down.” You know, fell. And he just kept chasing us, so I turned around and told him, “I have nothing to do with Bataan. I don’t know what happened there but if you continue calling me names, I’m going to report you to the FBI.” And that dropped everything and he went back. So my girlfriend said, “Weren’t you afraid?” “I was afraid but I’m not going to let anyone talk to me like that.”

And then once we went to the theater, it was very crowded, we were all standing up. And there was a Portuguese couple there that said, “If these damn Japs would stay at home, we don’t have to stand in line.” I just looked at my girlfriend and I just did (shakes her head). Didn’t say a word. You know, you fight with people like that, you not going to get . . . So I just shook my head, and I told my girlfriend. I think those two [incidents] I remember very clearly.

Once, Mr. Shivers had to go to Guam. He was invited by Governor [Charles Alan] Pownall and he took me along, made me secretary or nurse or something, so I went with them. We went on the USS General Randall and it was a navy ship, we sat down and then we knew the social officer. So he would sit Mr. Shivers first and Mom Shivers and I would sit right this side.

There was a family, Marine captain was there. His wife sat facing me. So she went and abruptly told the social officer that, “I will not sit and look at a Jap across the table.” You know, this woman was telling Mom Shivers that when the bomb started, all the Japanese mates took the injured off the cart and said, “When Japan wins, we gonna do the same to you,” or something. I don’t think it ever happened. But she was passing tales like that, just to let them know that we weren’t really American. So, the officer told him, “You better take care of your wife; otherwise, you gonna be in big trouble. You know, they are guests of Governor Pownall and Guam.” So, after that, everything was okay.

But when we got to Guam, we went to the governor’s place. We were sitting down having cocktails. Of course, I don’t drink but I was having iced tea or something. Then this couple, captain and his wife, walk in to come pay their respects. I don’t know how they felt but when they came, they were just taken aback. They saw me right there with them.

But the Pownalls were very nice people. They were really just lovely people, you know.

I had lot of these experiences. But I wasn’t afraid. I never felt that it would do me harm because I always felt that, as long as I’m American, I don’t have to worry. So I didn’t think, “Oh, Japanese,” or any other nationality.


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I had a calabash cousin [fictive cousin] whose father family was on Molokai. He was very verbal, too. Just like nobody can tell him anything. You know, he was one of those who was taken. Well, then his daughter called and asked me if there’s anything I can do about helping her father. I said, “I don’t know but I’ll talk to Mr. Shivers about it.” So, I did talk to Mr. Shivers and he checked into things, and he came back and told me, “You know, I couldn’t do anything because he was so verbal about things and there were others that would not accept his release.”

But Mr. Shivers told her, “Why don’t you come and see me in my office.” So she went and then he gave her a permit to travel to Molokai, which in those days, you couldn’t do, and permission to go and settle the father’s business. And that’s what he did. So she went, she was able to go back to Molokai and see the family and settle whatever needed settlement. So I didn’t know anything about it until she told me, way after the war, what Mr. Shivers had done for her.

I don’t think [Mr. Shivers] ever talked about [the incarceration] at home. I knew at one point, he said, there are some, because of circumstances, had to be taken. But I know once, he told Mrs. Shivers that, I think because they made good friends with the Japanese community. All those who really worked were Masaji Marumoto, Shigeo Yoshida and all those people. So they had a list already. But some of them were victim of circumstances but it just couldn’t be helped. It was a time of war.

I understand that Mr. [Yasutaro] Soga, he was newspaper [editor]. After the war, he went and came back and when he came back from relocation, he came up to see Mr. Shivers and said, “Please. I don’t feel angry at you because you did what you had to do,” and shook his hands. Because when people said, oh, “They [officials] did this and they did that,” I don’t think they actually did it the way, just yanked them out and took them away.

But there’s the memorial in Washington D.C., I was there and it’s only about the relocation, the people involved were all the Mainland people. So I was standing there, reading the plaque, and there was a haole couple standing there and they said, “Did this happen to you? Were you taken?”

And I said, “Hawaii never had this kind of problem. In Hawaii, a few were taken because they were, maybe more on the Japan side.” But I said, “We were just there, we weren’t taken away and we went on with our lives. The families, they were not rousted, the whole lot. If the head of the family went, the family could join him but they were at home and they took care of things and they went on to do their daily job.”

I don’t think that’s right. They get the whole picture that everybody was taken, you know. So when I explained that to them, they said, “Oh, in Hawaii, I thought you were all taken away.”

I said, “We weren’t, we went on doing our daily thing. A few of our friends, people had to be relocated, but it was a time of war, and that cannot be helped.”

Sue Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert and Sue Isonaga, National Archives, and U.S. Army Signal Corps.

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