Richard Okamoto
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion

Early Adulthood

With the encouragement of Dr. John Hopwood, principal of Mid-Pacific Institute, Richard enrolls at the University of Hawaii (UH) where he studies on scholarship during his first year, 1936 – 1937.

In pursuit of a teaching career, he enters UH Teachers College. He receives his undergraduate degree in 1940 and his Fifth-Year Diploma in 1941.

That same year, at the invitation of Dr. Hubert Brown of the UH physical education department, Richard joins the staff.


Just before we graduated from Mid-Pacific Institute, I was called into the principal’s office, Dr. [John] Hopwood, and he encouraged me to attend college. I had never seriously thought about going to college.

Again, it was my background growing up, just playing around with the neighborhood kids, nothing too ambitious.

In fact, I remember during my senior year in high school, writing to Senator [Noboru] Miyake in Kauai. He had the service station [Waimea Garage, Ltd.] and some other activity [Waimea Electric Co., Ltd.] in Waimea.

But anyway, he never answered me, which was probably good for me because if he had offered me a job, I probably would have gone back to Kauai and stayed at that level for the rest of my life. But he never answered me.

University of Hawaii

In the meantime, Dr. Hopwood had talked to me, kind of lit a fire in me and he suggested different scholarship possibilities, too.

So, I did follow up on his suggestions and I got a scholarship for my first year at the University of Hawaii. That’s how I finally got to college.

University of Hawaii at Manoa, Hawaii

But when I got into college, I didn’t know what to take up. I remember talking to Dr. [Merton K.] Cameron, economics professor, and with my limited goals he ended up recommending that I go business school. So part of one summer, I did. I didn’t like business school so I quit that and stayed at the University of Hawaii.

I don’t know when it was. I think it was in my sophomore year I decided I better try teaching.

Teachers College

I had friends at [the University of Hawaii] Teachers College. Like I said, I never seriously thought about what am I going to do next? How high am I going to aim? I just kind of went from day to day, year to year. Teaching, of course, was a very popular goal for local people. So I ended up going, taking five years of college.

Teachers College, yeah. I still get requests from Teachers College [now the College of Education] for donations. They have a crew calling every year. But I have to tell them that I never followed up on my Teachers College education. (Laughs)

[My specialty was] social studies and English. Although I ended up teaching phys ed [physical education] at the University of Hawaii.

[I remember] Dr. [Bruce] White. I don’t think I had any class from Dean [Benjamin O.] Wist, maybe he wasn’t teaching. Dr. [William Norwood] Brigance was the speech teacher.

Dr. [Paul S.] Bachman gave me an A in spite of the fact that in my essay I disagreed with him completely. I didn’t know what his answer was to the question, I just wrote out my answer and when he talked to me later, he said, “You know, I’m completely opposed to what you’re saying in your essay but I think you’re well thought out, you presented it very well, so I’m giving you an A.” (Chuckles) That was one of my highlights. I still remember that.


I didn’t belong to any club, not that I recall. But I started out at [Charles] Atherton House [YMCA-run dormitory near the UH campus], which was a good deal for me.

Atherton House, Hawaii

I stayed there my freshman year and then I joined a group of Kauai students who were renting a home in the Bingham Tract area. So we shared the cost of that home.

But to be honest with you, my junior and senior years, I think I went back to Atherton House. Although part of the time I lived with my older sister and her husband. Yeah, I think I spent junior, senior and fifth year at Atherton House. The accommodations must have been very reasonable because my family was poor.

[My older sister] and her husband spent quite a long time on the Mainland. Then they relocated to Oahu and lived on Keanu Street. I used to visit them on Keanu Street in Kaimuki, although I don’t remember the exact location. Then, they bought this lot up in St. Louis Heights and built there.

Teaching at University of Hawaii

[I graduated from UH-Manoa in nineteen] forty. [Nineteen] forty-one, I completed my Fifth Year [Diploma. Fall of 1941, I started working at the university].

Number one [reason I ended up at UH-Manoa instead of the Department of Education (at that time DPI, Department of Public Instruction)], the director of the phys ed department, Dr. Brown, he liked me. Even if I wasn’t an athlete. I did well in his health classes and in his physical exercise classes, including tumbling. So he asked me to join his staff.

The other one that I told you earlier about was the monthly pay at the University of Hawaii for my category was $120. My poor classmates who went out to the department of education [i.e., DPI, Department of Public Instruction] got only a $110. So that $10 difference caused me to stay at the university.

Although later on, I regretted it. ’Cause after four years in the army, during World War II, when I reapplied for my old job back at the university, they said my pay would be $120 a month, which was what I was getting before the war. I’m not sure but I think maybe I could have gotten a better deal if I had started before the war at department of education.

My classmates, those who stayed in teaching, were all DOE [i.e., DPI] anyway. Although a number of them got better jobs during the war, non-teaching jobs, and they didn’t return to teaching.

Richard and Sozaburo Okamoto with "Biggie"

Teaching PE [physical education] at UH was very elementary, very routine. I know I had basic phys ed classes with men and women. I even got to teach using the bow and arrow. I didn’t know a thing about archery. (Laughs)

I had swimming classes. That was easier to teach. I don’t recall what else I taught. But I know that after the attack on December 7, my classes just had disintegrated. Nobody came to class.

All my phys ed classes were discontinued. I had no job to carry out, although I continued getting the pay.

Richard Okamoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Richard Okamoto.

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