Herbert Isonaga

Military Enlistment

When the army issues a call for nisei volunteers, a majority of the VVV, including Herbert, enlists in the 442nd RCT.

His decision is accepted and supported by his parents.

From Schofield Barracks, he and the other men of the 442nd RCT are transported to Honolulu where they board the westbound Lurline.

Aboardship, gambling is a popular pastime.

Call for Volunteers

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When the announcement was made that the army was going to accept AJA [Americans of Japanese Ancestry] volunteers to serve in the army, we had a great rejoicing among the members of the VVV at Schofield. And I really don’t know whether we — there was a table where you signed up. I don’t think you could have volunteered right then and there. The paperwork, I don’t think, was ready for such a thing. But the mood was that the majority of us would accept the challenge to volunteer.

VVV Enlistment
Varsity Victory Volunteers enlist

My reaction was one of great rejoicing, anxiousness to serve, like most of the boys. That’s the way most of the boys felt, that here, we had accomplished our mission. Now we’ve, the Triple V, volunteered to serve as a labor battalion to open the door for that opportunity to serve in the military.

Ted [Tsukiyama] tried to determine what was the actual number of VVV members who volunteered. Now we had [one] hundred and sixty-four [169] members in the Triple V. My guess would be that the number who volunteered was in excess of one hundred and probably closer to [one] hundred twenty-five, out of the [one] hundred sixty-four [169].

Now, of course, those who didn’t volunteer, many of them have various reasons. For example, my friend, who recently passed away, Himoto, did not volunteer because his mother said, “If you volunteer, I’m going to commit suicide,” Teruo Himoto, his name. That’s why he didn’t volunteer.

And of course, Reverend [Yoshiaki] Fujitani had special feelings about not volunteering at that time. But of course, he subsequently volunteered. But there must have been many reasons along those lines.

I wouldn’t say that [the aim of the VVV] was specifically to become members of the armed services but to be recognized and accepted as full Americans, yeah. And when they opened the door for, when they changed our classification from 4-C, enemy alien status to, they dropped that and made us eligible to serve, [they] recognized us as full Americans. That was the aim of promoting the Triple V.

Decision to Volunteer

I don’t think I even thought about not volunteering. I think that was true in most cases, that there was no thought process involved and that it was a natural follow-up from the VVV to volunteer for the 442nd.

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I don’t know how my friends reacted but my parents accepted the fact that I would serve. And, having been in the VVV and having volunteered, they felt that it was kind of expected. So it was no surprise to them and they were rather proud that I was able to serve.

When I told them I volunteered, [my mother] said, “You remember now, you’re not a Japanese soldier, so you can. . .” She said, “The Japanese soldiers, they don’t give up,” but she said, “the American soldiers, you can give up.” So I remember that. Said, “You’re not a Japanese soldier, now.”


I really don’t know what the time span was but since we volunteered and finally being called, I recall that I went to work. I worked as an ambulance, not driver, ambulance assistant at Pohukaina School. I think I was employed for over a month by the civil defense department. There was a gap, time gap.

Then of course, we were inducted sometime in March and hauled off to Schofield Barracks. And I was in the kitchen again. But fortunately, that was only for about, very short duration, less than a week and then we hauled off to the Mainland on the Lurline.

SS Lurline departing Honolulu with 442nd boys
SS Lurline departing Honolulu with 442nd RCT

Mother’s Reaction

Now, you know, going back to my mother, who’s the prime mover, she got my sister to volunteer for the WAC [Women’s Army Corps]. So she was fully supportive of our, you know. . .

First WAC company in Hawaii
First WAC company in Hawaii

It’s rather a long story but my mother was [influenced] through her reading. She used to read the Reader’s Digest, the Japanese version of the Reader’s Digest. She learned to accept the American way of life. She accepted it and fully appreciated American, Americanism. Because of that and her way, in her way of thinking, she developed reasoning that to serve was the ordinary thing to do.

In many ways, in looking back, [her appreciation for the American way of life] manifested itself early in life. For example, growing up, she made us go to Christian church, which is kind of unusual for issei family to get the kids to go to Christian church. Somehow or the other, the Christian way of doing things appealed to her. They never went to the Buddhist church. My parents never did. Although, they observed O-Bon and those things.

For example, when (chuckles) my nephew was of marriageable age, my mother told my father that it would be nice if my nephew, married a nice Filipino girl. My father was like, “What the hell you talking about!” But that’s the kind of attitude which made her, I mean, I recognize now that she was really Americanized in many ways. I thought it was part of her American conversion, American way of looking at life.

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She had a great admiration of the American way. Of course, she, you know the Reader’s Digest presents a very what you would call idealistic way, American way. Of course, in her days it was more so than it is today. But she really learned a lot about Americanism through the Reader’s Digest. That’s why she told us, she said, the Reader’s Digest has showed her how great the American people and their attitude is, compared to the Japanese way of thinking.

My father didn’t communicate with us too well. My mother was the honcho in our family. But as I mentioned earlier, my father could not accept, for a long time, the defeat of Japan. He wouldn’t believe it. And it took him a great length of time to learn to accept it.

Now my father was — most of the time, he was reading Japanese magazines. So, I think he was imbued with the thought how invincible his country was.


You know people talk about this train ride [from Schofield Barracks] or truck ride to Iwilei and marching from the railway station with this heavy duffel bag to the pier. That’s about half a mile, I think. That’s a struggle. But that picture is very vague to me. I don’t remember the train ride, I don’t remember the walk from railway station to the pier. It’s very vague. But it must have happened.

[Aboard the Lurline] I was in a cabin with twelve guys. One of the guys in my cabin was a professional gambler. So, he told me, “Herbert, we’re going to have crap games in our room and you run the game.” I never ran a crap game before. He said, “You run it.” So, I ran the game for several nights and he gave me a bundle of money. So that’s what I remember about the trip on the Lurline to the West Coast. I got a bundle of money.

I tell you, the money that was flowing on the ship among the gamblers now, I don’t know where all the money came from. Boy, there was a lot of money. A lot of money. So, you know, these guys from the plantations where they had all these going-away parties, they came aboard ship with a lot of money.

People that got money from relatives and friends, came directly from the community they came from. So they had going-away parties and stuff like that. Even if I were in Koloa, I don’t think they would have given me. But being at the Atherton House, no such goodies.

You know, after VVV, I volunteered, I went back to Kauai, stayed for a couple of days and then came back.

Herbert Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert Isonaga, Ronald Oba, Honolulu Star Bulletin and U.S. Army Signal Corps.

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