Herbert Isonaga
VVV

VVV: Formation and Organization

After the disbanding of the Hawaii Territorial Guard, Hung Wai Ching holds gatherings at the Atherton YMCA to discuss the formation of the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV).

Herbert participates in the discussions and planning. He joins the VVV to be a part of the war effort.

The VVV is attached to the 34th Combat Engineers Regiment at Schofield Barracks. Work crews are organized among the 169 men; Herbert volunteers for the kitchen crew.

Meetings

Upon release from the HTG [Hawaii Territorial Guard], there were several gatherings between Hung Wai [Ching] and the HTG members at the YMCA. At Atherton Y[MCA], they had discussion groups. I guess they were planning what to do. Much of them, I noticed, were very dejected, having been released from the HTG and completely, well, lost. They acted like they were really hurt but at the same time, lost. You know, searching for something.

I knew some of them and they expressed their hurt to me. Of course, I thoroughly sympathized with them. Then, Hung Wai and his group got this idea about forming the VVV [Varsity Victory Volunteers], sending a petition to the general, offering services for whatever he saw fit. And I decided to join the group to form the VVV at that time.

VVV assembled in formal dress with gas masks

Meetings were being held at Atherton Y[MCA] and I got involved in the discussions and planning, and got caught up into the momentum that was building up to form the organization. And I became a part of it.

Aside from Hung Wai, who instigated the formation of the VVV, there were people like Ted [Tsukiyama], people like Ralph Yempuku and people like Shiro Amioka, Yutaka Nakahata. Those people, they were all involved. [Henry] “Hank” Oyasato, Unkei Uchima.

I decided to join them because I, too, felt that I wanted to participate in the effort, in the war effort, and saw this, the VVV, as an excellent vehicle for me to be a part of the war effort. Being involved. And in the end, it turned out to be the right move.

Leadership

[Ted Tsukiyama, Hank Oyasato, Yutaka Nakahata, Unkei Uchima and Shiro Amioka.]

If you know these individuals, you know that they are highly motivated people. They’re the type of people that, when they get involved in a task, they give it their all. This quality is recognized by those around them and they tend to subscribe to their efforts. So their dedication and enthusiasm, which they show towards something that they believe in, is contagious.

Non-University Members

My recollection is that they found that there were some nisei kids in the community who were almost juvenile delinquents. So I think Hung Wai and his group decided, “Chee, these guys, you know, they may create some problem in the community. Let’s see if we can’t get ’em in the VVV.” Get ’em off the streets. That’s my recollection how we got several non-university people in the Triple V.

Now when they joined us, it worked out real well. Because they mixed well and they stayed out of trouble. I think a few of them were brought in by Richard Chinen. Now, he had friends who were good guys. They weren’t juvenile delinquents but they felt that they want to become a part of the VVV. Richard got two or three of that type to join us. They were good boxers, you know. (Chuckles)

One of them is Roy Nakamine. Now, the other guy, I can’t recall. But I know Roy Nakamine, he was a good fighter.

Organization

We were turned over to the engineers [34th Combat Engineers Regiment in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] and they assigned Captain [Richard] Lum as the head of the group.

In addition to Captain Lum, there was several, [Lt.] Tommy Kaulukukui was assigned to us and they signed two sergeants — who were military, now — Bill Jarrett and George Aikau. And we had an officer, [Lt.] Judd, Frank Judd. Now they were the military supervisors of the VVV.

VVV Officers Richard Lum and Tommy Kaulukukui

Then, under them, Ralph [Yempuku] was the civilian head. And Ralph had an office staff plus his chief field assistant was Ted [Tsukiyama].

They organized work crews. Work crews were built up, depending on the type of work they did. For example, we had one crew made up of the muscled individuals, called the Quarry Gang. Then there were crews made up of carpenters, they did carpentry work. Then of course we had the kitchen crew, to which I belonged to.

I think we had like one, two, three, four, five, seven or eight different working groups.

We put in the hours that the military did. Our schedule was military schedule. The military schedule is Monday to Friday, eight hours normally. Saturday, half a day. That’s the military schedule. So we, half a day Saturday, we could go to town and come back Sunday night.

So that was the military schedule. So they had buses running from Schofield to Downtown. The pickup point for the buses was by the Army-Navy YMCA, right in front of there. So in the afternoon, Sunday afternoon, we all gathered down there and the buses take us back to Schofield.

Uniform

We had that blue denim jacket and trousers. That was the uniform (chuckles). Now, I don’t know how we got that. But that wasn’t government issue, now. Maybe the government bought it for us, I don’t know. But we had this blue denim jacket and trousers.

Herbert Isonaga, Schofield Barracks
Herbert Isonaga, Schofield Barracks

[The arm] band, I think, was developed to be worn on the base. You know, so that the troops on the base will know that we’re VVV, not enemy aliens. But I don’t recall ever wearing that damn thing. (Chuckles)

It’s a green felt band with white VVV. And you were supposed to — I think now — wear that on the base. You know when you go through and on and off the base. Now, I think that was the purpose. Because certainly, we wouldn’t wear it in town.

But somebody had that brilliant idea. That’s my guess, now.

Housing

In the barracks, yeah. It was a typical two-story barracks, which all the GIs, soldiers, lived in. Of course, they had some — you know, Schofield had permanent concrete buildings — but these were the wartime barracks, wooden-framed, two-story barracks which all the GIs used in Schofield. So we had the same thing that the rest of the troops had. The engineers, they all live in the same type of barracks.

Compensation

Of course, we got paid. Our pay was the same as the military. I think at that time, the lowest private got paid twenty-one dollars a month. So that was our pay. We got twenty-one dollars a month from the military.

I think there was a grade. Now, if you were a gang leader, you got a little more pay than the rest of the crew. I think Ralph got — Ralph Yempuku, being the — got a little bit more than twenty-one dollars a month. He probably got what the officers were getting. I think the officers were getting hundred seventy-five — lower-ranking, about hundred seventy-five dollars a month or something like that.

They gave us food, clothing, and shelter. [It’s] not the money.

At least we could go to the PX at the — a small P exchange — where the engineers located. I don’t know whether we could have gone to the PX in the main Schofield complex but they would accept us at the engineers’ exchange.

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

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