Herbert Isonaga

Life After the War

Herbert visits families of men in his unit.

With GI Bill benefits, he resumes college life – living at Atherton House and studying business at the University of Hawaii.

After graduation, he operates a bookstore near the university. Later, he runs Herbie’s Drive-In. After selling his business to KC Drive-In, Herbert goes into real estate with Hung Wai Ching.

Herbert marries Sue Kobatake on March 26, 1949. They have three children.

Visiting Families

[I became a fireman at Barking Sands] and then I quit the job when the unit, most of the boys came home. And then I went around to the, at least, to the island of Hawaii, to visit family of boys in my unit.

I didn’t go alone. I went with somebody else and I can’t recall who I went with. But they decided where they want to go. So I know we spent time in Hilo. Then we went way out to Kohala, the northern end. There was somebody in our unit from [there], so we visited the family. The family had a hotel in Hawi, Kohala. So we stayed with them a couple of nights and then moved on to Hilo.

University of Hawaii (1945-1948)

I was a professional student. I took up business, econ[omics] and I took that because that’s the easiest, I thought. (laughs)

Herbert Isonaga, UH
Herbert Isonaga, University of Hawaii

Very little [adjustment] because I went back to Atherton House. When the war broke out, I was at Atherton House. It was, more or less, a continuation because the guys that came back from the war were at Atherton, most of them were at Atherton House. So it was a continuation of where I left off.

I thought [the GI Bill] was the greatest thing ever. I hope they have something like that for this generation of warriors. Although I know that they have all kinds of incentives, yeah.

[The GI Bill] covered all the tuition, all the school books and we used to get a stipend, something like sixty-five dollars a month. So, looking back, gee, I don’t think I had to impose on my parents to any great degree. Yeah, there was enough money.

Running a Bookstore

[After graduation] I had a bookstore. You know where Puck’s Alley is today? [Corner of King Street and University Avenue, Moiliili, Oahu]. Well, before it was improved, there was a dinky old building there and on one end, closer to the present driveway, the little corner there, I had a second-hand bookstore. I used to sell artwork. But it wasn’t a flourishing business so I sold it. Somebody else wanted to buy it, so I sold it to them.

I wanted to get into some kind of business and I thought, gee, you know with the students at the UH, second-hand bookstore might be great. But never happen because the school handles second-hand books, too.

Running a Drive-In

[I had a drive-in] at King [Street] and Waialae [Avenue].

Hung Wai Ching sold that building, which was owned by Dairymen’s. They had that. Before Meadow Gold used to be Dairymen’s. They had that big ice-cream parlor on Beretania Street.

Anyway, [Hung Wai Ching] bought it and he helped the purchaser find a tenant for the drive-in. Dairymen’s used to own that. So he told me, “Ey, why don’t you go run that place.” I say, “Okay, I’ll try.”

[It was called] Herbie’s Drive-In.

Hung Wai Ching

We were very close, yeah. We got to be very close from the VVV days. And after the war, I used to keep in touch with him. Yeah.

Herbert Isonaga, Punchbowl Memorial
Herbert Isonaga, Claude Takekawa, and Hung Wai Ching

I used to write to him from time to time [during the war]. He had some good letters from me. I don’t know what he did with it. I know he kept one letter that I wrote to him.

He helped many people. Among them that I know is Keiji Kawakami, Iolani Sportswear. Hung Wai helped him get financing. Then I can’t think of the others but he helped a lot of guys for scholarship, etc., to go away to school.

Hung Wai was running the — I don’t know what he used to call it? I served on it. Hung Wai got me on to serve. Hung Wai’s scholarship committee or something like that. When I served on that committee, John Felix was the chairman. I think, the last I heard about that fund was, Warren Luke ran it from the bank.

Well, anyway, Hung Wai used to run that. So he got scholarship money for a lot of guys who went to law school, et cetera. And then people used to come and see him after they finished schooling.

Like, I know Ryoji Namba. He was a professor at the university but when he came back from graduate school, I think he was in some kind of. . . . About bugs, what do you call that? Entomology or something like that. So he want to see Hung Wai, he say, “Hey, Hung Wai. I cannot get teaching job at university.” Hung Wai call somebody, he got the job.

But he did things like that for the boys. And, like Ed Nakamura, he went to see Hung Wai for scholarship money when he went to law school. Ed Honda and a lot of them went to see him.

Real Estate

[I sold the drive-in about a year later to KC Drive-In. Then I did real estate] with Hung Wai. I always used him as the mentor. Our relationship was very close.

[After two or three years, I went on my own.] And I’ve been on my own since then. One-man operation. [I retired in my early seventies.]

Herbert Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert Isonaga.

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