Katsugo Miho
522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT

December 7, 1941

The Japanese attack is not a complete surprise to Katsugo.

Prewar signs of impending conflict include: rising U.S.-Japan tensions, FBI searches of the Miho household, travel restrictions, and blackout drills.

While preparing for church services, Katsugo hears radio reports of the attack. From atop Atherton House, he sees a skyline dotted with black and white smoke.

He and other UH ROTC members are inducted into the Hawaii Territorial Guard.

Father Investigated

You see, my dad, not only was he a Japanese[-language] school teacher before becoming a merchant, he was also serving as a volunteer worker for the consul general’s office in Honolulu. Do you remember in 1940 there was still need to register Japanese citizens? If families wanted to register their children into the records of their family in Japan, they had to go to the Japanese consulate general. So each island had different representatives, volunteer workers for the consulate general’s office as contact. My father was one of them. Besides that, he came over as a Japanese[-language] school teacher.

Besides that, [Koichi Iida] and my father went to Japan in 1940. Nisen roppyaku nen. Two thousand six hundred. There were about two thousand [overseas] Japanese in Tokyo attending this big celebration [the Japanese empire’s 2,600th anniversary]. [Koichi Iida] and my father were two of them. [From Hawaii, there were 188 participants.] And so they were on the list. Considered as people under observation. Remember, I picked this up sometime after studying all about what happened before and afterward. Back in 1937, General [George] Patton [at that time, a lieutenant colonel in military intelligence (G-2) in Hawaii] was assigned the task of what to do with the AJAs in Hawaii. That [“Plan: Initial Seizure of Orange Nationals”] was done in 1937. And so, 1941 somebody knew what was going on.

You know, it was not a big thing to be pro-Japanese or pro-Japan before 1941. Maybe because Maui and because of our small community, Kahului, that there was no big anti-Japanese movement or anything like that.

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One day, when I came back from working at the Maui Pine — I worked one year at Maui Pine[apple Co. Ltd.] and this was 1940, after high school — and I saw this.

My mother was scared stiff. I said, “What’s going on? What’s wrong?” And she tried to explain to me that there were some people in the house. When I went back there I saw these three Caucasian men walking around the living room in shoes. I say, “Ey, you guys, you know, this Japanese house. You guys don’t. Who are you?”
“The FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation].”
“Ey, my father’s being investigated more than once already. What do you want now?” But they wanted to find out if there were any additional stuff that should be declared.

And this is 1940 that it occurred in. So I was one of the few who wasn’t surprised December 7, [1941] happened. There are a lot of people who say they were so completely surprised, and that’s a lot of malarkey.

Gradual Warnings

If they were AJAs, they should have known something was going on. Because in 1941, all of the gradual warnings and whatnot was happening. You had the embargo imposed, and the Manchurian War going on. You had the embargo, you had the Manchurian Incident [1931]. And when we, the Japanese community people, were asked to help in the war cause in Japan. I remember a lot of Japanese families used to collect — you know, cigarettes were sold in tin foil, aluminum foil. So the fad was to save those cigarette [foils] make ’em into balls and send ’em to Japan. This happened.

My [future] wife [Laura Iida] was in Japan visiting when the orders came out that any American citizen in Japan have to catch this boat November 28 or 29 if they wanted to leave Japan because, thereafter, the American government will not be responsible if anything happens between Japan and U.S. And the orders came out that any Japanese people who wanted to go back to Japan, you catch one certain boat leaving Honolulu certain date. This happened in the last week or so of November.

Not only that. My brother [Katsuro] was very closely involved with the Emergency Service Committee, helping out. So he was on top of things that was going on. And my brother Katsuaki lived with Hung Wai Ching, and Hung Wai Ching was a member of the Emergency Service Committee. They knew what was basically going on, how bad things were.

Shigeo Yoshida, Hung Wai Ching, and Charles Loomis, Moral Committee and Emergency Service Committees liaison directors.
Shigeo Yoshida, Hung Wai Ching, and Charles Loomis, Moral Committee and Emergency Service Committees liaison directors.

[Laura Iida] came home on the last ship from Japan. But my sisters, Fumiye went to Japan 1940 [after graduating from University of Hawaii] to teach at Doshisha University. And my other [sister], Tsukie had been living there [since the 1930s]. But Fumiye never thought that anything would happen. She said, “Oh, no, no. Nothing’s going to happen.” So she refused to come back. But this pronouncement was made and I remember distinctly that there was a newspaper article and headlines that between Japan and the U.S. it was equivalent to a state of war. The diplomatic relationship, I think, had already been cut off.

So when December 7, [1941] happened, I don’t know how it can be said that for the AJA member of the community in Hawaii that it was completely a surprise. On the Mainland, I’m sure it was a complete surprise. But in Hawaii we had practices of blackout, even to that extent, already. On Oahu, every once in a while, the Fort DeRussy cannon would be shot off just to see that it was in working order. These were happening, 1941.

December 7, 1941

I was dorming at the Atherton House. The [19]40s Church of the Crossroads was considered like the university church for our YMCA members to go to. At that time, it was very popular. One morning, a couple of us, “Hey, let’s go check out Church of the Crossroads.”

Atherton House.
Atherton House.

So to do that, we had to get up a little earlier than usual, which meant that we had to get up about seven thirty [A.M.] and then get ready to go to church. I think the first church [service] was something about eight thirty [A.M.]. So we were up there, cleaning up, shaving, wash up. Just about that time, all kinds of noise was downstairs and a big row. Atherton House has an open, center way, you had the stairway that go up. And so, noise comes up from first floor. And we, “Hey, what’s going on down there?” They said, “Hey, listen to the radio, put on the radio.”

We put on the radio. Radio said, “This is no maneuvers. This is the real thing. This is the real thing and Pearl Harbor is under attack.” The airplanes are supposed to have red dots, indicating that these are planes from Japan.

From the third floor, you could go up on the roof of Atherton House. We got to the roof just to see if we could see anything at Pearl Harbor. Sure enough, from the roof, we could clearly see the skyline of Pearl Harbor. The skyline was all dotted with black smoke, white smoke. Just peppering all over the sky with the anti-aircraft bursts. Oh yeah, and then pretty soon we started seeing black clouds of smoke. You could see that a lot of fires going on and became worse.

(Pearl Harbor bombing. Raider is hit. The Japanese bomber, a thin line of smoke trailing in the wake, was struck by anti-aircraft fire during the attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 100 Jap planes are estimated to have taken part in the attacks, at least 28 of which were shot down by U.S. Navy gunners. Library of Congress photo)

While we were watching, all of a sudden we heard this big thud right in front of the Atherton House. A shell fell down and there was a big fire. Right in front of us.

Hawaii Territorial Guard

Shortly thereafter, the call came out that all University of Hawaii ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] members were to report to the gym, which was just down the road, across the street from Charles Atherton House.

I think we had to get into khakis, the regular ROTC uniform. By nine o’clock, I had reported to the gym already. We were one of the first ones to get to the gym. It was an automatic reaction. The radio called for ROTC students to report and we reported. By the time we reported to the gym, all of us were being herded into the gym. It was a mess and nobody knew what was going on.

After a while, there was somebody in charge and they brought out all these old-fashioned rifles, which was in thick cosmoline. You know, cosmoline is a gooey, thick oil, in which these guns were stored. The firing pin was separately stored, so we had to put in the firing pin into the rifles. This was a major task. For most of the day, we spent getting these guns ready for, available for use.

There was very little time to think, actually, because we were so busy. Of course, we were anxious and wondering what was going to happen.

I don’t know if at that point, I became a Hawaiian Territorial Guard member. But I do remember that morning, during all that chaos, there were these rumors that, “Hey, I think the Japanese wen land some parachuters up on St. Louis Heights.” I think Ted Tsukiyama was involved because Ted was an advanced ROTC ahead of us. He led a group of those boys who were there to investigate what was up there. Turned out to be a group of Sunday hikers.

Hawaii Territorial Guard, University of Hawaii, 1942.
Hawaii Territorial Guard, University of Hawaii, 1942.

But it was so chaotic. Having cleaned the guns that day, by nightfall, makeshift squads were formed and we were given these rifles. I had absolutely no knowledge of a rifle. And five rounds of ammunition, they gave us. Five rounds, which is one clip. We were instructed that, “Okay, you open the bolt this way, and then if you have to load the gun, you put in, and you press it down like this, and you load the gun, and then you put the bolt back. If you’re going to fire, then you’re going to press the trigger. But make sure you lock the gun first.” So they showed us how to lock the gun. So we were issued these five rounds of ammunition which we were told to keep in our pocket, not to put in the gun until, you know.

After that was all done, then we were makeshift groups and hodgepodge, we were shipped out to Iwilei. Because it was such a last-minute thing, or unplanned thing, couple of boys were lost. The truck driver who dropped them off forgot where they were dropped off. So instead of the four-hours shift that we worked on, some of them had to spend eight hours.

Each one had about a fifty-yard area. But you got to remember, all of a sudden it’s blackout. Completely blackout. But we survived that two, three nights out doing the same thing.

[We had] the Springfield 1903. Nineteen-O-Three Rifle, they called it. Where you bolt action. You had these rounds that you press in, five rounds. Five rounds to a clip, and we were just given one clip. But the [19]03 Rifle was better than the first rifles we were issued in Camp Shelby. In Camp Shelby, the first rifles we got were the Enfield Rifles. I have very vague recollection of this Enfield Rifle, but it was real obsolete, the Enfield Rifles.

Richard Okamoto at firing range with a Springfield ’03 rifle, 1943.
Richard Okamoto at firing range with a Springfield ’03 rifle, 1943.

Then, I got assigned to standing guard at Farrington High School. Farrington High School had been immediately converted into a hospital. I don’t know how long I was standing guard at Farrington High School.

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Then, I was assigned to a squad that guarded the electrical plant on Liliha and School Street. We would stand outside, right on the sidewalk, and the two of us would be standing guard. Then the traffic would be going by. But early in the morning when it’s still dark, a lot of the defense workers had to go on School Street to catch the bus at Liliha. They had already heard all these rumors about the trigger-happy guards. So these people going to work when it’s still dark, they would make all kinds of noise so [we would] know they’re coming across, to let us know that they’re coming. Bang the sidewalk, the fence or whatever, to let us know they’re coming.

Many things happened to Hawaiian Territorial Guards. One of which was that the first few nights, the downtown patrollers, they shot at each other. They actually shot at each other. Fortunately, nobody got hurt. But everybody was so excited and, unwittingly, without proper notification, proper identification, they shot at each other. Different groups shot at each other. Or like in Kalihi, they heard all kinds of rattling noises and they fired the gun, and the next morning, they found they had shot a cow out in the water pump station or something out in Kalihi.

Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.

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