Richard Okamoto
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion

Military Draft

Richard passes the physical examination but is not drafted because the number of draftees exceeds the required number. Diagnosed with nephritis in a second exam, he is classified 4-F.

As the February 7, 1942 draft approaches, he chooses to be re-examined. He passes.

All draftees at Schofield Barracks, except AJA, do basic training. The ethnically Japanese draftees are placed in a provisional battalion relegated to labor or construction work.

I wasn’t called up for the February 7, [1942] draft, I didn’t receive any notice. My friends received their selective service notices. I previously had been called in for the draft two occasions prior than the February 7 draft and at that time I was staying at Atherton House.

I remember going down with a friend of mine. We both passed the physical examination for the draft but they had enough eligible people and so we were not taken in.

The next draft, I was examined and I wasn’t called at all. This was before the law [excluding Americans of Japanese ancestry]. I think it was in November of 1941, I was called for the draft for the second time in my life. And I wasn’t accepted, I wasn’t rejected, no notice came to me and I let it slide.

Then came December 7. Then when the notices for February 7 were sent out, I didn’t get any. So, I remember eventually going down to the selective service headquarters in the National Guard armory, which was at that time in Downtown Honolulu and they couldn’t find my records.

Iolani Barracks, Hawaii (site of National Guard armory)

So, they kept on searching and finally found my card in the 4-F section. I had been rejected because I was diagnosed with nephritis, which I understand is a kidney condition. They asked me if I wanted to go through the procedure again and I said, “Okay,” and this time, I passed.

I wanted to get into service. I was just dangling in the wind, so to speak. No job, nothing much to do. I had gone through the draft selective service procedure twice already. So, I was an old hand at that. My schoolmates were being called, so I guess I joined the gang.

I guess I must have wanted to do it because even after I found out that I was exempt from my third draft processing, I asked them to put me through again to see what happens. The second time I went through selective service processing, I had been doing a lot of physical activity with my classes at the University of Hawaii and that apparently affected my kidneys. How that happened, I don’t know. But after December 7, there were no classes, so physically, I was resting for two months before I was examined for the February 7 draft. So, my kidneys were okay then. But yeah, I guess I must have wanted to get in ’cause I could have remained 4-F.

So, on February 7, the Oahu boys were drafted. On the third day of our induction, we were loaded up on the train at the old OR&L [Oahu Railway and Land Company] depot in Honolulu.

[I was not concerned about possibly going into combat.] I didn’t think that far. Although if I had not been processed in the draft that I was finally succeeded in passing, I probably would have volunteered for the 442nd ’cause 442nd was formed a little over a year after I was drafted.

Schofield Barracks

I don’t know exactly what route the train took but it took us all day to get to Schofield Barracks.

The whole draft group [boarded the train] together. We had not been segregated yet. Eventually [we got segregated] because the non-Japanese guys all went through basic training, while we did labor work or whatever we were assigned to do. That’s when the segregation occurred.

We were put through processing, issued out clothing, all one size. All too big for us guys. I remember about ten o’clock at night, we were still getting our immunization shots, both arms.

One guy I recall, poor guy, he was about twice my size, he fainted. He couldn’t stand the thought of getting immunization because it wasn’t just two shots, we all received a whole bunch of shots.

But anyway, we finally got through the initial day’s processing and we were encamped in what was called “Tent City” in Schofield, a huge area with tents set up for inductees.

No Basic Training

Nothing much happened to us, except that, notably, we were not given any basic training. I shrug my shoulders. There wasn’t anything you could do about it. There was a whole bunch of us who were in that category.

What happened was the non-Japanese who were drafted with us eventually went through basic training. We, instead, were just handed out a pair of gloves and given different work assignments. One company was assigned to pick up garbage at Schofield Barracks, which was a very demeaning assignment, but they did that for quite a while.

In our case — there was a so-called provisional battalion formed. It was a labor battalion and the different platoons in my company, A Company, were sent to different areas to do labor work or construction work.

I recall one group being sent to Makua Valley — I never visited them, but they tell me that they were isolated there for a long time and pretty much ran things themselves. What they did exactly, I don’t know, but they had freedom to do their work and then go down to the beach after work, so it was pretty nice for them.

100th Infantry Battalion

[The] 100th Battalion was formed very shortly after we were drafted. I think we were drafted in February and they were formed in March [June], I think of the same year. I remember we were doing labor work on post and wherever we were assigned and, yeah, many of us were eager to go with the 100th Battalion but they didn’t take any of [my draft].

I guess for one thing, we didn’t have any basic training. None of us had fired a weapon in the military. So, training-wise, we were years behind the guys who eventually became the 100th Battalion. But militarily, I think that could easily be overcome because one batch of soldiers with no basic training, just put them through basic training. It could be, on the other hand, that they needed labor in the Schofield [Barracks] area and we were there.

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

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