1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
Life After the War
Richard is discharged from military service in January 1946.
Seeking higher wages than the prewar wage he earned at the University of Hawaii, he submits an application and is hired by the Veterans Administration. Starting as contact representative in 1946, he retires as benefits officer in 1976.
He serves in the army reserves for about nineteen years.
Married since 1946, Richard and Florence Okamoto have two daughters and one grandson.
I was discharged on January 7, .
U.S. Veterans Administration
Soon after I was discharged, I checked in at the University of Hawaii about my old teaching job. They told me that I would still receive the $120 a month that I was getting before I was drafted. I went in hoping that there would have been incremental increases while I was in service. But that wasn’t the UH policy, so that was it.
I guess [$120] was a livable wage. Because my classmates who started teaching for Department of Education [then Department of Public Instruction] got $110 a month. So must have been a livable wage.
I didn’t check with DOE [DPI] about getting a teaching position. Because I must have figured I would get the starting pay and my pay situation would be no better than going back to the University of Hawaii.
By that time, I had applied with the federal government and I knew that I could get considerably more. So I said goodbye to the university and started working for the U.S. Veterans Administration.
[Beginning pay] was $2,000-something a year.
I was discharged on January 7, I was hired January 31 by the Veterans Administration [VA] as a so-called contact representative. This was a job where the VA employee interviewed veterans and family members who needed assistance, decided what kind of assistance was appropriate and provided that assistance, including completing claim forms, assembling support documents and the like.
[VA headquarters were in] the little white house on Iolani Palace grounds. From there, we moved to Patten [Co., Ltd.] building and I don’t even recall now where it was. It was right in the heart of town. I think it was on Union Street. Then after that to Mitsukoshi Building on Bethel Street. Thereafter to 680 Ala Moana Boulevard, where that was my longest station. I left the Veterans Administration just before it moved into the new [Prince Kuhio] Federal Building.
So at the Veterans Administration, I was a contact representative serving under Kanemi Kanazawa, a captain with 100th Battalion. He took off for dental training and I was promoted to take over his slot as so-called contact officer. That was in the late 40s. I served in that position [veterans benefits officer] until I retired [in 1976].
I stayed in the activity from 46 to 76, a little over thirty years.
After I started working for VA, I used up exactly eleven days of my GI Bill entitlement. I took Japanese because I realized that I needed to know more Japanese.
It was a beginning Japanese[-language] class but for some reason there was a bunch of real professional language people in that class. I believe Dr. [K.C.] Kondo was the instructor. One in particular was a woman who was an announcer for a Japanese radio station. She would be jabbering all the time with Dr. Kondo. I felt out of it.
I knew I couldn’t keep up with them, so I quit.
U.S. Army Air Corps Reserves
I distinctly remember that Stalin was making waves. We were allies during World War II, we were allies with him, but after the war was over, he started going his own ways.
I must have a patriotic streak in me because I figured I better still stick with the military service. So I signed up with the [U.S.] Army Air Corps [Reserves in 1947].
In the meantime, my boss, Kanemi Kanazawa, and another fellow officer, William Hiraoka, were active with the army reserve and the counter-intelligence unit that they had down there at Fort DeRussy. They said, hey, why don’t I join up with them?
Paperwise, I was transferred out of the army air corps, into the army reserve [114th Intelligence Detachment in 1949]. I stayed in the army reserves for [fifteen] years. That’s how I got my military retirement privileges.
[I left in nineteen] sixty-four.
You know, essentially, I was fired from the army reserves because I was in the slot for the commander of one of the two military counter-intelligence units. My rank was major and there’s an educational requirement. You either go away to school or you got to do army correspondence work. I started the correspondence work but I didn’t complete it because the work on the VA side was heavy. You can stay in that status for only so long. I reached the maximum number of years I could serve as a major in a lieutenant colonel’s slot without completing the educational requirement. So in 1964, I had to leave.
Ralph Yempuku was our commanding officer in the army reserves for a long time. And Ralph was an operator. He knew how to manipulate things and he did good for our detachment.
But training — we used to have two weeks of army reserve training, active duty training, every August. We never went away, the training was always on Oahu. Sometimes in Schofield Barracks.
But very shortly — I think the year after I left the army reserve, my detachment went to Korea. So that was a lucky break for them, not for me.
I recall when the Korean War started, it was a good question as to whether we would be called in. We weren’t, but they did call individuals in. Bill Hiraoka got called in. He ended up in civil affairs position, I think, in Ryukyu Islands [Okinawa].
And then two Korean officers got called in. They must have known some Korean [language]. But they got called into active service. But otherwise, the unit wasn’t touched. Not like these days when so many units are called up to go to Iraq and Afghanistan.
[I met my wife] when I was in active duty in World War II. Our company artificer, we had a man who was responsible for maintaining tools that are used for construction projects. Well, he got married to Dorothy Ozawa, who ran the Kaimuki Dry Goods store. We helped with the wedding activities. I was some kind of an usher and that’s when I met my wife [Florence]. Because she worked for Kaimuki Dry Goods.
[We got married in August 1946.]
[I have two daughters and one grandson.]
[Since retiring in 1976, I keep busy] doing housework, doing yardwork, which I generally enjoy. I like to fool around with plants.
I used to golf three times a week, now that’s reduced to two times a week. Mentally, I’m just happy, I’m grateful that I can still get out on a golf course. Scoring doesn’t matter that much anymore.
Some of the personal contact, personal relation skills [I learned during the war], I made use of. One thing when I was drafted, I was a college graduate, the vast majority of the guys who were drafted with me were not college graduates.
I’m afraid I had a little sense of superiority going, but pretty quick when we got involved in labor work and construction work, I was on the same level as everybody else or maybe even beneath them because those guys, a lot of them were used to construction work or labor work. I wasn’t.
So I took myself down several notches and I think I learned to get along with people better.
Richard Okamoto's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Richard Okamoto and Public Domain.