Military Intelligence Service
In 1936, Dick goes to McKinley High School in Honolulu. He adjusts to life in a city school. A skilled marksman, he joins the rifle team.
He completes Japanese-language studies at Hawaii Chuo Gakuin.
His father dies in 1939, the same year Dick graduates. To help his family, he works alongside his brother for Okita General Contractor.
In 1941, the brothers, employed by Pacific Naval Air Base Contractors, build barracks at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
Move to Honolulu
[I transferred to] McKinley High School [in 1936].
I felt sad [when I left Kukuihaele] because I’m going to miss my parents. But then, the new adventure is something that I looked forward to. Back then, the city life is so advanced and so crowded, and so many people, it’s astounding. Adjusting was my main problem. Adjusting to the life of a city school. It took time for me to get adjusted, but I did well after that.
My uncle living in Honolulu, the younger brother of my father, had asked that he send me to school in Honolulu. They had three children, and he said, “He can stay with me.” So, my father said, “Okay.”
[My uncle lived] in Nuuanu on Ohai Lane. In that lane, the second house from the end. The first house used to be [Seichi] Nakamura. Then, [Iichi] Aoki, my uncle. He changed his [last] name because [he became an adopted son-in-law or] yoshi. He accepted the wife’s name, so it changed to Aoki.
That was the area I used to live and I used to walk to [and from] school. We used to cross Thomas Square, from McKinley, and up where Royal School is, and then we’d cut up to Nuuanu and then go up. I had fifty cents a week spending money for lunch. If I had lunch, and I caught the bus to come home, I’d have that much less the next day. I had to have ten cents a day for five days. And so, we used to do a lot of walking.
When we catch a streetcar, we used to just run and hang on the side while that thing was moving. The conductor would pass by to collect the money, and sometimes, he’d miss us, so we’d get a free ride.
Transfer to McKinley High School
In those days, you never think about going through the process of having your [school] records transferred, so we went to Honolulu, and when we went to [McKinley High] School, school says, “Where’s your transfer papers?” I said, “Oh, must we do that?” They said, “Yes, that’s the process that you have to go through.”
So, we went to see the governor. [It was] the only thing my uncle could think of. [Joseph G. Poindexter was governor from 1934 to 1942.] We went to see him, he says, “That’s no problem, I’ll call the school and have the records transferred.” But, you know, when we met him that day at his office, he says, “Young boy,” and I was all shook up, I’ve never seen any haole [Caucasian] man address me before like that. He says, “What is seven times six minus six times seven?”
I was all baffled that I couldn’t answer, you know? It’s supposed to be zero. But I was so nervous, I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know if it was plus or minus.
McKinley High School
In high school, you have your curriculum, you have your class. But back home, it wasn’t regimented like that. It’s more or less like a free-for-all. So, being that regimented, I had a very difficult [time] adjusting to the new high school. I’m always asking questions. That is the only way I can sustain myself, otherwise I’d be lost. And I was lost, most of the time.
Back home, you know everybody and everybody knows you. But here, they were all individuals. There was over a thousand students in my class, and the sophomores, also the juniors. I’ve never seen so many people congregate in an area. That was quite frightening.
Here in this big city the people were more to themselves and to their own associates, but to get acquainted with someone new was quite a task, even for me. I had a very difficult time trying to associate myself with them, but eventually as time grew, the wall broke down and we became friends, and so I got a little adjusted. But it’s nothing like the country. I’m a country jack. (Laughs)
We had English and typing. I wasn’t much of a typist, I had more errors. But it’s amazing, I still have the touch today, go on the computer, so it works out okay.
I used to really enjoy math. I think I was pretty good, but I never did get calculus. In those days, I had trigonometry and algebra. I used to love it because it’s always a question-and-answer. How do I get that? That process you go through. There’s no shortcut in math, you got to go through steps.
I think algebra was my favorite class. I didn’t really excel, but I was able to get by. Other than phys[ical] ed[ucation] where we used to do a lot of impromptu types of games with baseball, and football — just pass, no tackling.
I had quite a few teachers and they were real friendly and I guess they saw a country boy in me, not aggressive. They sort of helped me along and that made a big difference in trying to get adjusted. By the third year in high school I got along and I think I did fairly well, not the best, but enough to get by.
In high school, I took ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps]. We did a lot of marching formations, saluting, but it was fun. During my ROTC class, the instructor told me, “Eh, son. Do you like rifle shooting?” I said, “Oh, I love that.”
As a kid back home, I used to own a Benjamin air rifle, one of those pump type. I was a pretty good marksman. I used to shoot birds, and small as they were, we’d consume that thing.
In high school, I was advised to pick up riflery. So, I joined the rifle team. Never did much competition, but I did lot of shooting. In those days it was not air rifles like they do today. It was a .22 caliber rifle, target rifle. I really managed to hit that bull[’s eye].
In the future when I became a military man, a soldier, I was able to use that talent, you might say, for my own good.
When I joined the 442nd [Regimental Combat Team] there was an Al[bert] Kariya. He was a nisei and the day that our group went to the firing range to fire, we became pretty good friends and he asked me, “Dick, I want to bet you.” [Not for money], just by points. He says, “I’ll give you twenty points and let’s go fire and see who wins.”
So I said, “Okay,” so we went out there. Five days we fired till my arm was oh so painful because that M1 we had really had a mean kick. Anyway, after the firing was done they tallied the scores and the sergeant [Kariya] said he was going to give me twenty points, handicap, because he figured I was just another country jack (chuckles). But anyway, when he found out that I could have given him twenty points and still beat him, he was shocked. But in spite of that, we became real good friends.
And shortly thereafter I got my first promotion as a squad leader. So I would say what I learned as a child and being on the rifle team did help me.
After McKinley [High School] was finished we’d walk over to where Nuuanu [Avenue] and Judd Street is located. On the Waikiki side of Nuuanu [Avenue] used to be a Japanese[-language] school known as the Hawaii Chuo Gakuin. I went for three years and I graduated not with honor, but I was able to pass all the tests.
One of the things that my uncle was critical of was that I do good in Japanese. I never had any failing marks, but when I didn’t do too good he would really scrutinize me and give me a lecture for not doing my best. But, many times after McKinley was over I’d go to the rifle range and fire and practice and when I got done, I’d go to [Japanese-language] school. No sooner I sat down the bell rang, I was ready to go home. So I wasn’t able to really utilize all that time that I really needed for studying Japanese.
[My uncle] made a point to look at my [McKinley High School] report card and he’d ask me, “How come your grade is not that high?” Well, I had to make some kind of excuse, but he never did use his hands to punish me and I’m really thankful that he was fatherly to me. I missed my father who was on the island [of Hawaii] then, but nevertheless being that substitute father, I think he did great.
My uncle used to like to read and he used to read the newspaper. In fact, maybe out in the country, we never even had Japanese[-language] newspaper. But in the city, my uncle used to read a lot. I would say he was a smart man and very diligent, but I’m thankful he was really fatherly to me.
Death of Father
My father used to like to write and he had real good handwriting in writing Japanese kanji [Chinese characters used in Japanese writing], and he used to do a lot of practicing during that time that he had nothing to do, because out in the country we didn’t have any TV then. All we had was radio in the latter part. But in the beginning, no TV, so while he’s sitting down and talking, he’d be writing.
Sadly, my father was a heavy drinker. He developed cirrhosis of the liver. In other words, his liver was just burnt up through alcohol consumption and the doctor said, “You have only two months to live.” So, he says, he wanted to go back home [to Japan] to see his parents and die. So, he went home and exactly two months later, he passed away. He died in Japan in 1939.
[After graduating from McKinley in 1939,] I had vision of going to the University [of Hawaii], but I felt my brother been working hard to try and help the family, so I decided to help him.
[My brother] was working for an Okita General Contractor and so I got hired by Mr. Okita at fifty cents a day. It was a lot of labor, but I was thankful at least I got a job and I was able to learn the trade of carpentry. It was something that my father was. He was a carpenter, my brother was a carpenter, and I became a carpenter. I liked to build things with my hands and that interest helped me promote my trade work.
[I was an] apprentice. Learning from scratch, but I got along and I guess with interest you pick up your knowledge faster.
[I built houses] all over the Honolulu area, and those days in 1939 there were quite a few [new] homes. We used to build about three or four homes a month. Usually there were about three of us building a home and I was involved even at my early stage. When the houses were practically finished, just the finishing touches, my brother would remain at site on that home and finish up while I would go with the foreman to build a new home. And when he’s finished he’d join us and continue from then on. At fifty cents a day, it wasn’t much, but at least I was able to buy a loaf of bread for five cents, which is quite a lot.
I was [with Okita General Contractors] for about a year and a half. Then, my brother and I transferred to Pacific Naval [Air Base] Contractors building barracks down the [Pearl Harbor Naval] Shipyard [in 1941].
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard
We built naval barracks [at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard]. Even today as you enter the main gate, [you] can see the building that we had built. I was making about dollar-quarter [$1.25] an hour.
There were quite a few Nihonjin [persons of Japanese ancestry] or nisei working at Pearl Harbor. I guess basically people who labor for a living want to get better pay and that was it.
Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.