Dick Hamada
Military Intelligence Service


From kindergarten to eighth grade, Dick walks several miles to Kukuihaele School. There, he meets students from Waipio Valley, Kukuihaele, and various camps.

After public school hours, he and his siblings walk to Japanese-language school where he takes part in occasional athletic meets and speech contests.

At both schools, he enjoys the companionship of classmates and teachers.

Going to Honokaa School, he no longer walks but rides a sampan bus.

Walking to School

It was about five to six miles [from our house to Kukuihaele School]. Every morning, it was a group of children walking to school, playing as we go along. The distance didn’t bother us, because we were getting good exercise.

We had never had any opportunity to ride a car. Rain or shine, we walked to school. That was my early life. I think as a country boy, I really enjoyed the freedom that you could do whatever you wished. By the way, we always went to school, hadashi, barefooted. It’s amazing, but I guess the foot does adapt and walking over rocks and pebbles didn’t bother me one bit.

Kukuihaele School

I went to [Kukuihaele School from kindergarten to eighth grade.] As I think back, it was a wonderful place to meet friends.

[Students] came from all over — from Waipio, from Kukuihaele itself. You know [near] the sugar mill? We used to call it the landing. Boat transport would come and the sugarcane that is processed and bagged were lifted in a net and transported into this boat. In that area, there used to be a camp. Oh, and the Portuguese people that used to live up in the mountains, they used to walk down to school.

Right next to Maite Camp, there’s a camp that my father folks built. [The camp residents] came from Kona to live, so that’s why we used to call it “Kona Camp.” On the way to the plantation and the Japanese[-language] school, the plantation store, there used to be a camp. There were lots of Portuguese people living there. They used to go to school with us, and we got along. But they invariably stood with their friends, they’re with Portuguese friends. They were quite a few kids. In my class, gee, I can’t remember. There must’ve been over twenty kids.

The principal of my school was George Lacker. He was a tall man, a haole [Caucasian]. He was a wonderful man. He loved company, and we used to go fishing and catch some shrimps, and then come home. Every Saturday, he would take me and my friends to Waipio Valley. I had to walk from Maite Camp to school, meet him, and walk down to Waipio, come back, and then walk home by myself.

And the class in itself, I remember John K. Thomas, who became principal later on [after Lacker]. [Mr. Thomas] was very, very strict and everybody feared that man because he was really a man of discipline. When we got into trouble, he’d really discipline us. He’d stretch our hands like this, you know [with] the pointer, he’d turn around and [give us] three whacks. It was awfully painful and it’s something you never forget that will keep us from trouble. And the three whacks that I got, I do remember. It was very painful.

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When the school wanted to build a stone wall, we never bought stone, the rocks. [The students] were ordered to go into the cane field to look for rocks, ten- to fifteen-pound rocks and carry it from the cane field and pile it. And [the teacher would] look at every rock. If the rock was too small, he’d throw it out and [he] says, “No, that’s no good.” It was not a punishment. We need to build a stone wall and we used to do it. It’s amazing we never got lost in the cane field, because the cane field was not low, it was high, over our head. Every night that we see a pile of rocks, out far away, we’d go to it and pick it and carry it home. We were ordered to pick fifty rocks over a period of time. Of course, he had to let us go because this was done after school, then we had Japanese[-language] school to go to. We were obligated to go, so he’d let us go then.

Mrs. Julia Hino used to be my teacher, she taught English, and it was through her that we got to this project of corresponding with people. I chose a young lady from Minnesota. She and I corresponded for over seventy years. It was a wonderful experience in exchanging information.

I had a wonderful schooling. I enjoyed it. Maybe I didn’t learn too much, but you know, we used to say, “We go to school [to] eat lunch.” (Laughs) But, I think we did well, as far as adapting to the up-and-coming world of ours.

Kukuihaele Japanese-language School

After English school, from about three-thirty to five o’clock, we’d go to Japanese[-language] school. That was every day, except Sunday. On Saturday, it was from morning till noon.

Transportation was our own feet. We used to walk to school and come home. On weekdays, usually, we’d get home by six o’clock and get ready for dinner. That routine was productive in a sense that I’ve learned the [Japanese] language — but not that good — which led to my future life with the MIS [Military Intelligence Service] and with the OSS [Office of Strategic Services]. But, it was fun, because it was a family thing. I had to watch for my younger siblings, as well as my older brothers. But we used to walk to school together, walk home together as a family.

We had celebrations in Japanese[-language] school. We’d have what is known as an undokai [athletic meet], exercise and play [day]. And we had competitive games, racing. I remember one of the games that we played. There was a pole with a basket, and there were a multitude of balls on the ground. So what we had to do was pick up the ball, cast it, and put it in the basket, which was about ten feet above ground. It was really fun, because even the girls, a little kid can do it, too. Competitively, there were two [teams]. The participation was a team effort, throwing the ball and racing.

Oh, and we’d have speech contests. I remember when I was little, I was supposed to make a little speech, “What I did.” I couldn’t speak the Japanese language too well, but, all I could think was, I says, “Doyobi,” which is Saturday, “boku wa, niisan to kachi grass ikimashita” [“On Saturday, my older brother and I went to cut grass”]. I couldn’t think of [the Japanese word for] cutting grass. We used to cut grass for the horse and the cow. And when I said, “kachi grass,” oh, the whole audience bust out laughing, and from then on, all the boys used to call me, “Ey, kachi grass boy.” (Laughs) They teased me, and I was so embarrassed.

I enjoyed both [schools]. But being in Japanese[-language] school, the teacher was very strict. Every now and then, we’d get caught doing something that we’re not supposed to be doing. And, invariably, he’d be walking around the classroom, and he’d get a yardstick and he’d knock us on the head. Pay attention, you know.

John K. Thomas, in [public] school, used to be different. He’d get the eraser and he’d throw the eraser. He was a good marksman. He really got the target, and we’d get all smeared with that dust in our face. (Laughs)

What I got from [Japanese-language] school, it’s not so much what I learned, but I guess the companionship with the students and teachers was great. I enjoyed it. But my brother never did. He never completed his Japanese[-language] school. He quit and he went to work in the plantation. This was because the teacher got a report from one of the students, he was teasing this girl, and she cried and reported to the teacher. And the teacher came after him and was going to beat him up. But he took off from school and never came back. My father said, “You either go to school or go to work.” So he said, “Okay, I’ll go to work.”

He never did graduate from high school and never did graduate from Japanese[-language] school. But, he was a good worker, hard worker. Later on, I remember when he used to do poisoning of weeds. They used to carry this little tank on their back, and they’d pump. I noticed one day, my brother was doing that and spilled some chemical on his back and it just burned his skin. He was scarred for weeks, and he couldn’t work.

Today, you wouldn’t find people doing that without protective clothing. See, the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the health people are more aware of the dangers of getting burned. So, you’re protected well, with boots and protective waterproof clothing. Just a raincoat, is what we had.

Honokaa School

[After graduating from Kukuihaele School] I went to Honokaa School for less than a year. I was about fourteen years old.

There was an incident on the way to school one morning. Sampan bus with open windows and the open door, okay. There were about a dozen kids on that bus. One rainy morning, this flash flood hit just after we got into the highway. There was a dip in the highway. As we were approaching, the water came from the mountain and flowed over. There was a cliff here, which was about seventy-five to hundred-feet cliff. And, the bus was swept over. It sat right in the middle [i.e. in between] these concrete poles about five-feet high. If it was set little forward, it would have been swept down into the gully. But it was swept right in here and it stood there.

We were all trapped in the bus. My [future] wife, Irene, she was on the bus, too. We couldn’t leave because the water was about four feet of water flowing. So, there was a camp there and these Filipino laborers came with rope and tossed it over to us and I, like a fool, didn’t think anything about it, and I held the rope with about a foot spare, not even tying it. If I had tied it in my hand, even if I released it, I would be still hanging in there. But anyway, when I leaped into it, I submerged, and I never got up. All the other kids say they saw that I was submerged and had been thrown out from there.

I was just about to give up because I was out of breath, I felt somebody grab my neck, pulled me up. It’s a good thing he did because the rope that I had extra was now out of my left hand, and there was only about that much left, which I clung to. Thankfully, I was physical enough to hang onto the rope, to the very few inches, which were left. I could’ve been swept down into the gully.

So, I judge this is all God’s doing. As I think now, I was a foolhardy kid. I didn’t think about safety. But you know, the Filipinos decided that’s not the way to get the kids out. So, they tossed the rope, they tied it to the railing of the bus and they hung onto the rope. Step by step, went on the bus, loaded the kids on piggy-back, and one by one, took them out. You know, I think it was a lesson learned. That getting out first is not the best.

My dad was so thankful and grateful for being saved that he gave a bag of rice and gallons of sake to the people that helped, and they were really thankful. But that memory of being swept in the water is a memory that I will never forget. As I think about it, it was a crazy thing that I did. I should’ve been the last. (Laughs)

Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.

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