Chito Isonaga
A Different View

Home Front

On December 6, 1941, the Isonagas listen to a radio program broadcast from Japan announcing that there may be war in the Pacific. No one takes it seriously.

In church the next morning, Chito is shocked to learn of the attack.

Chito helps Rev. Masao Yamada at the Emergency Service Committee’s Morale Division. Later she joins the Office of Censorship in Honolulu. She looks for objectionable passages in letters sent to Japanese internees on the Mainland.

December 6, 1941

Mom and Dad — we had the store. The radio was right beside Mom’s sewing machine. They were listening to the Japanese program from Japan. Is that shortwave radio? I was ironing the dress I was going to wear for church.

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I wasn’t really listening but before they signed off they announced twice — just before they signed off, they said, “Kairai no minasama ima mo ichido moshiagemasu.” Repeat, once again, that there might be war in the Pacific. “Taiheiyo senso ga boppatsu suru kamo shirenai.” I don’t remember they giving the - wind direction, but they might have done that.

Mom and Dad, and we all laughed about it and we thought it was silly. I was working with the FBI and [the investigators] were staying at the Lihue Hotel. I didn’t have any telephone, but I didn’t think about calling them to tell them that I heard this. Because [we] just laughed it off, you know. But people who were connected with either the FBI or the military, somebody must have been listening. I can’t understand it. Before [the radio station in Japan] signed off, they said that there might be war in the Pacific.

December 7, 1941

We were in church [on the morning of December 7]. I remember sitting in that room there. Somebody said that the radio was announcing that the planes were flying, so go home. When I heard there was a war, did I fly home.

Japanese aircraft attack on Pearl Harbor
Japanese aircraft attack on Pearl Harbor.

I was shocked and kind of scared when they said [Japan] might be landing and everything. I don’t remember [my parents’] reaction, but I’m sure they were shocked. I think they thought that eventually Japan would win. [But,] they didn’t say that. I didn’t feel that way.

[Herbert] was attending UH [University of Hawaii]. [My parents] didn’t object to his volunteering for the [U.S.] Army. I expected him to. Because later on I wanted to serve, too. I thought I had something to offer because I knew the [Japanese] language.

Herbert Isonaga, France
Herbert Isonaga, France.

Rev. Masao Yamada

[I worked with Rev. Masao Yamada in the] Morale [Division]. [The Morale Division was part of the Emergency Service Committee, which served as liaison between military and community leaders as well as the local Japanese people during World War II. Rev. Yamada worked for the Emergency Service Committee on Kauai. He later became a chaplain with 442nd Regimental Combat Team.] I helped interpret, sometimes, what they told the people. I remember working in the office and typing out things, but I don’t remember what I was typing. I worked in the office mainly. But, we had meetings at different places and I went with them. [I would interpret] when necessary.

Chaplain Lt. Masao Yamada
Chaplain Lt. Masao Yamada

Federal Office of Censorship

I got letters [offering wartime work] from all over the place. They even wanted me to go and teach.

But I thought the Office of Censorship was the closest and I figured that I would do more good there than at the [Kauai] Police Department where I was typing out cards, just copying records. And so, I volunteered. I chose to come to Honolulu to work for the Office of Censorship.

[My job] was mainly reading different letters written in Japanese. I can’t remember what we were looking for. But, there were certain things that we had to look for.

[The letters were not written by] internees [Japanese residents of Hawaii detained and incarcerated in camps on the Mainland by the federal government, but by] families of internees to the internees. They were mainly those letters.

[If we found anything objectionable, we] had somebody at the head. There was a head of our section. We would take it to her. I don’t remember [blacking out or cutting out any portions].

[The office] was located on the second floor of the old Federal Building. On our desk there were about three who knew Japanese. And the boss knew a little Japanese. She was Caucasian. There was a Chinese on this side, next to us. [The English-language staff] was on the opposite side, but at our table.

I thought [the work we were doing] was necessary. But, actually, I don’t remember anything that was really serious during the time. I didn’t work for long.

Chito Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Chito Isonaga.

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