522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
442nd Veterans Club
Katsugo and other artillery veterans play billiards and talk story at the Owl Café in Honolulu. On Saturdays, the group enjoys barbecues at Sandy Beach.
Later, these veterans and others form the 442nd Veterans Club. To raise funds for a permanent meeting place, the club sponsors carnivals, circuses, and sumo tournaments.
The club engages in community service and activities for its members and their families.
In my situation, the artillery boys, one of the first things after reunion with the family, the boys were always trying to locate each other because we scattered. We had no idea where so-and-so was living. But a lot of time was spent hunting down who was where and their telephone numbers to get in touch with.
In my case, it also involved finding out when the university was opening up. I had come back January 13 or 14, 46. The second semester started three days after my return. I registered to come back to University of Hawaii three days after discharge.
Now, don’t ask me about my first year in college because to this day, it’s a vague memory of what happened during the first semester, especially the first semester after I returned.
Keeping in Touch
As veterans, as soon as we got settled, we agreed to meet Downtown, where now is the old Mitsukoshi Building, right on Bethel [Street] and King [Street]. It was the first building in Hawaii that had an escalator. Right alongside, on the mauka [towards the mountain] side of Mitsukoshi Building was a cafe called Owl Cafe. In the back of the Owl Cafe, had three billiard tables.
Somehow, especially our artillery group, we would meet at the Owl Cafe around lunchtime and just spend our time playing billiards and just talking stories, finding out what each other was doing, where we were located. Even after I enrolled in school, I know that I would spend almost every day at Owl Cafe with the rest of the boys.
It got to a point that almost every Saturday, we would have barbecue and beer drinking at Sandy Beach, where the park is now located. For probably a good year every Saturday, every weekend, we used to have a get-together at Sandy Beach.
At that point, [the group] was twenty-five to thirty or more. Battery boys that I got to know after joining up with the 442nd. These were all our battery boys.
Pretty soon the battalion group wanted to get together, like the infantry boys, different companies. At that time the infantry companies were much larger than us. The 442nd boys as a group, various groups, started to meet each other at various places. In the beginning, most of the boys used to meet at Nuuanu YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association]. Not the now Nuuanu YMCA. Where it was located was the [present] highway. Most of the group used to meet at the Nuuanu YMCA. The groups meeting started to evolve: the different company always meeting with their own company boys, like the artillery boys would just meet with artillery boys.
Now, at that point when we came back, the 100th infantry was already a club. They had formed [Club 100]. Well, they started to save money from Wisconsin. They were assessed so much a month, which was put into the kitty. Before our return, the veterans of the 100th Infantry started to come back. People got wounded and injured, spent maybe six months, maybe one year. But they had already come back to Hawaii way ahead of us, even before the end of the war.
When we started to meet, in the beginning, we were meeting in the Nuuanu YMCA and other places. But the 100th heard about our difficulties and so they said, “Ey, come on over to our place. We have some meeting rooms and you can utilize that place for meeting.”
The Club 100 boys, the veterans of the 100th Battalion, had a nice meeting place. Graciously, when they found out that the 442nd boys had difficulty finding places to meet, extended the invitation for us to meet at the available rooms. For a while, we continued meeting at the Club 100.
442nd Veterans Club
The 442nd [Veterans] Club was not formed, yet. But the boys of the 442nd inquired: What kind of entity the Club 100 was? How did they go about it? We found out that it had been formally organized way back.
Eventually there was some suggestions raised as to, “Number one, can the 442nd boys become members of the [Club] 100?” And that initial — “Oh, yes, they can.” No problem as far as I understand, as I recall of this. You got to remember, this is my personal recollection and others may have different. At that time, I was very much involved with what was going on because the 522nd was working as a unit, as a 522nd Battalion group. Infantry group was a little different. The infantry boys were E Company, F Company, I Company, and then like that. There were large groups, the initial group of our artillery was just as large, but Dan Kono and myself were the so-called negotiators for the field artillery group. We ended up being the spokesmen for the artillery group in all of these various discussions.
And so, the initial approach was made that, “Oh, yeah. You can join the Club 100 if you want to, but you have to become a member of Club 100.” The name is Club 100 and not 442nd. This was the basic hard, fast, primary restriction or requirement imposed by the Club 100. And so, being that as it was, the 442nd boys decided that, “Oh, no, no. If we’re going to form any kind of club, it would be 442nd Veterans Club.”
Remember the Club 100 boys were assessed monthly dues when they first went over to Wisconsin and trained. So, the 100th prerequisite was: In addition to it being Club 100, you have to pay all of the monthly dues that all the 100th boys were assessed from back in 1943. You have to pay that lump sum amount to become a member of [Club] 100, which was an impossible requirement for us to meet because back in 1945, when we got discharged, we were given what was called “mustering-out pay.” Our mustering-out pay was $300. This is a one-time payment that we got from the army upon discharge. No way was the $300 going to be adequate to take care of our living expenses as we got discharged and we go and get work or anything like that. So the talks fell off. This idea of joint venture, joint committee, or 100th and the 442nd being one outfit, never proceeded any further.
Some of us continued to use the [Club] 100 as the place for meetings and whatnot. But eventually, we decided in 1946 sometime, that we would form a eleemosynary nonprofit organization just like the 100th, under the 442nd Veterans Club. And so, we incorporated. We formed the club in 1946. Chaplain [Masao] Yamada was the first president. All the presidents of the club, we have their portraits up in the clubhouse, ever since day one.
Then we needed to find a permanent place to meet and all that. But somewhere as early in 1946, we had an offer to meet at or to lease this little gymnasium that was located at 933 Wiliwili Street. This was a small, little gymnasium where our clubhouse is now located. The plaque at our clubhouse shows that ultimately, the land was deeded to us by [the Moiliili Young Men’s Association].
But my recollection is that when we started to use the premises, we had to displace a group of young kids who were utilizing the place for their gymnasium activities. When we leased the premises, we deprived them of their meeting place. We had to restrict the use of the premises to club members only. We had a very good reason why. When we started to use the premises, at that time, there were only two other places in Honolulu, other than the military-established area, where slot machines were being used. Somehow or the other, our club had three slot machines on hand, five cents, ten cents, and twenty-five cents. Because we had these slot machines on the premises, we were sure to make [it so] that the children cannot come into the premises. So, we displaced the activities of the young boys and girls in the Moiliili area, McCully area, after we took over the premises.
But the first few years that we were in existence, the income from the slot machines were adequate to take care of all of our expenses.
Then we wanted to get a building, so we had our first carnival. I think it was 1947, at the old Honolulu Stadium, where we had a five-day carnival. And one of the minor acts — a big-mouth comedienne [Martha Raye]. She was the star of the show. A supporting act was the [Berry Brothers], three brothers’ act. Later on, this, one of the performers became famous as Sammy Davis. He was one of the acts. At that time, a totally unknown performer. But for years thereafter, Sammy Davis always had an open heart for the 442nd boys. Whenever he come to Honolulu, he would try to get in touch with somebody from the 442nd Club. He always inquired about the 442nd. He never forgot the 442nd.
In 1947 when we put on the carnival, many of the so-called nonprofit organizations were putting on money-making projects. THE game to be played and to make money was bingo, out-and-out bingo. Ralph Yempuku [who had served in the Varsity Victory Volunteers and the Military Intelligence Service] was our co-sponsor. He was one of the promoters to help us out. Then we got into partnership with Earl Finch [who befriended the AJA soldiers in Mississippi and later moved to Hawaii]. They were to supply us with all the prizes for the bingo games. Fred Matsuo was the general chairman. The artillery, because we were such a big group, we were assigned the bingo games. We had three bingo game sites because it was going to be the biggest money-maker. So we had this scheduled carnival.
About two or three weeks before the opening, we got word from the police, [Lieutenant Arthur] Tarbell. [Tarbell was deputy police chief in the 1950s.] Tarbell came and told us, “Up to now, all of the nonprofits have been playing bingo. But we’re going to get strict. You cannot play bingo as is played now. The game of bingo as played now is a game of chance.” The authorities were clamping down on gambling and games of chance that was going on. At that time, they had this game in Waikiki, which was very popular. Later on, it ended up in the courts as to whether it was a game of chance or game of skill.
Tarbell informed us that the department was going to start the policy of no bingo games as played at that time, which was, from their interpretation, a game of chance. But when we got that notice, the merchandise had already been bought, committed to us, basically. And so, we thought what we are going to do was, we’re going to turn it into a game of skill. Up until the opening, we thought that it would be a game of skill if we put the balloons on the board with all the numbers and then one person from the audience, a player, would get a dart and throw at that balloon and then whatever balloon he hit, that number would be the one that’s called. Well, bingo got to be played in five, ten minutes a game. You don’t make money unless it’s done and over within ten minutes. But playing that dart even, sometimes they would miss. Then you got to turn it over to another guy, another person. And play that one.
I remember the first night, we tried this dart throwing and it took forever and a day. So, the next night, we tried variations of making it into a game of skill, like picking numbers, a couple of other devices that we thought about. We tried that the second night. It still didn’t work. We were already on our second night of three more days. So we had a meeting of the committee. And we said, “What are we going to do?” One-arm bandit Dan Inouye was a vice-president of the club at that time. I was the chairman of the bingo games. So, at the meeting, we said, “I think we’re going to take a chance. It’s too much of a loss for the next three days if we’re going to try the same thing. We hardly made any money the first two nights.”
So he said, “Okay. We’re going to play regular bingo. See what the police department will do.”
But then, we had to choose who was going to be subject to being arrested. So, Dan Inouye and myself, as the bingo concession chairman, and Danny being the second vice-president of the club. The reason why Dan was to be the volunteer was because our president was Chaplain Yamada. So, we didn’t want him to go to jail. So Dan and I were going to be the volunteer to be arrested.
The third night, we opened up the carnival and played regular bingo. No arrest. Three nights, we played regular bingo and we recovered a little bit. The first two nights was a total loss but the last three nights, we made some money.
But the rest of the story is, in Kakaako, right where Hamada Store is located, used to have a little church in a small lot. Was a Portuguese Catholic church [St. Agnes] and they had a little carnival every year. The one game that they put on was bingo. They had theirs scheduled one week after us. They got arrested. They were stopped from putting on the bingo games. It was at that point in Honolulu, wide-open bingo was closed.
Then, we reflected. We said, “Ey, I think we must have a little bit of political pull.” I believe that was the initial beginning that the boys felt that they could flex their muscles a little bit. But this is 1946, now, 47, before any of our boys were in office, yet. But that was one of the incentives for our boys, our members, to become involved in politics.
But that was very early in our club activities. Thereafter, we had to put on money-making projects to meet our expenses. We had a fully paid executive secretary. They also confiscated our slot machines. We had to turn it in to the federal authorities. It was a very serious matter as far as the federal [authorities] was concerned. But until then, it was open.
So now, it became necessary for us to put on money-making projects. Where the Ala Moana Center is now located, at that time, it was a vacant lot. You know, it was where Hawaiian Dredging Company had this swampland over there. They leased it out to the army during the war and they used it for all kinds of storage area. So a good portion of where the center is now located, especially where Macy’s is located, was the solid, covered area, big enough for us to put on circuses.
With Ralph Yempuku as our co-promoter, sponsor, I became the project committee chairman for the club after our first carnival at the stadium. Fred Matsuo had left Hawaii and had basically gone to Japan to do all this promotional work with the entertainment industry. So, I became the project chairman from that time on, on all of our money-making projects, which included these circuses at the present site of the Ala Moana Center. We put on several circuses.
All-Japan High School Baseball Federation
The club, very early in our formation, we wanted to get involved with some community activities. So one of our first activities was getting involved with the All-Japan High School Baseball Federation back in 1955.
Mr. Torao Kobayashi was the first sponsor of an all-star high school members from Hawaii going to Japan and traveling all throughout Japan under the auspices of the Japan All High School Federation. We got involved with this goodwill series. Every two years thereafter, Hawaii would send one all-star team up there. Two years later, Japan would bring over an all-star baseball team. From 1955 until 1993, we continued this program.
Unfortunately, in 1993, we couldn’t get enough veterans to provide a place for home stay and so we ultimately turned over the program to the Interscholastic League of Hawaii.
But the 442nd club initiated not only that program, which is within ten years after the war, we got involved with this goodwill program of our kids going to Japan home stay and Japan kids coming to Hawaii home stay.
Then in 1960 — 61, we had the opportunity to promote and get involved with the sponsorship of Tokyo Ozumo [sumo tournament]. That was a money-making project, too, although there were strenuous objection from some of the members to get involved with sumo.
I had a difficult time getting the boys to go along with the idea of promoting sumo because we were already involved with the All-Japan High School Baseball [Federation].
So, to have the boys agree to taking on a sumo project, at that time, well, a great many of them said, “What is sumo?” They didn’t know what is sumo.
But I was involved with the sumo from Maui days when I grew up. My father was an avid fan of sumo, would put on a shortwave and listen direct broadcast from Japan about the sumo. Because of the five-hour difference, he would listen in the middle of the morning, early in the morning. So I was exposed to sumo from very early in my upbringing.
I was luckily able to persuade the boys to take over the tournament and we started 1962 with a small group of ten, top-notch sumo-tori from Japan.
Somehow, Takao Hedani and I — Takao Hedani was the customs inspector, he was a kibei because he had his high school education in Japan, but he was a member of the 442nd. He wrote and read Japanese and so I had to depend on him in our negotiations with the [Japan] Sumo Kyokai [Sumo Association].
From 1962 on, we started to sponsor sumo. I think we put on about nine or ten tournaments in Hawaii. And this Takasago Beya [Stable] — the stablemasters that we worked with very beginning — believed that sumo was to be introduced to the Western world after World War II, were a strong believer in the way of sumo, sumodo, which is the most ancient of Japanese sports.
[Sumo] stablemaster, Takasago Oyakata was a very liberal-minded stablemaster in Japan. You know, stablemasters in Japan were tradition-bound. Sumo in Japan was very much bound by all kinds of traditions. Most of the stablemasters were very conservative. But Takasago Oyakata was very forward-looking, and he wanted to reestablish the ties between Japan and especially Hawaii with sumo because before that, before World War II, there were a lot of appearances by Japan sumo-toris in Hawaii and California. He wanted to continue this and he wanted to introduce the lifestyle and the traditions of Japanese sumo to the Western world. That was his ambition.
[It] was about 1988 or 1989 that [the 442nd Veterans Club] did the last promotion of sumo.
I was the [sumo] project chairman all the way. And Ralph [Yempuku]. The project required somebody to underwrite the project because [the club] didn’t have a big bankroll. We were barely meeting expenses. Advance money was required [by] the Japan side. They wanted x number of dollars in their hands before they came out here, whether it was loss or what, that guaranteed money, had to be turned over before the project was started.
In 1962, we took the group over to Maui and Hilo. We had them perform. There was this young Baldwin High School football player who had been practicing sumo to better his football performance. So he was taking sumo with my good friend, Okazawara, who was the sumo master in Maui. Jesse [Kuhaulua] was learning sumo for his football, learning the stance, in a defensive line. So he was participating in sumo. When we took over the sumo-toris in 62, he said hey, maybe he wanted to get involved.
But you got to remember, 1962, the draft was still in existence. Jesse, being a high school graduate, he was subject to the draft. But he decided he wanted to go, and Takasago Oyakata said he’ll take him. Being from Maui, I had some contacts yet on Maui. My very good friend was the head of the local board of Maui. So he advised me that I can try and get an exemption, at least one-year exemption from the draft for Jesse because he’s going to go to Japan. I wrote a letter to the draft board stating the circumstances that Jesse wanted to go out and try to get involved with sumo, the national sport of Japan. The Maui local board gave Jesse the exemption. One year later, when he had to reregister, or inform the local board, he had to report that he was weighing so much, which was way over the eligibility weight of the recruits. So he got exempted from the draft on that basis.
And the rest of the story, he became such a [success, rising to sekiwake, sumo’s third-highest rank] — today, he is still a stablemaster. Of the Hawaii contingent, he was the first one, post-World War II. As of now, he’s the only stablemaster of the Hawaii contingent. Quite an accomplishment.
442nd Veterans Club
[These promotions were] fundraising for the building fund.
[Moiliili Young Men’s Association] was an athletic club. [Nine] surviving members of this nonprofit group. They were elderly. They had no use for the building. We were leasing it on a one-dollar-a-year lease from them in the beginning. So they decided, what better than to donate it to us. Back in , lock, stock, and barrel, they turned over the whole property to us.
At that point, it was necessary to renovate the gymnasium. It was a small gymnasium, so we had to renovate the complex. [A clubhouse building with apartments was constructed and dedicated in December 1960.] We now have: an office site, meeting place, together with apartment to bring in some income. We had to borrow again, now we had something to put up for mortgage. It took us until 1987 or 1988 to pay off our mortgage. But now, today, finally, debt-free because we had put on all these other projects, too.
[The club was important] because the members wanted a place to meet and get together with each other. And we were — how should I say it? — very jealous of our contacts, of our ties with our fellow veterans. We wanted to maintain that. For some, the basic activity they’d ever got involved with was the 442nd activities. Of course, I got involved with all kinds of other activities, but for the majority of the boys, their lifetime contact activity was 442nd.
When we decided to meet at either Nuuanu Y[MCA] or Club 100, we started off with the beer bust that we used to have at Sandy Beach. But that was regular. Sandy Beach was more beer drinking, carousing, singing. But, the meeting was for more formal things. We had a 442nd softball league. Very early we had basketball league. Subsequently, we had bowling. Bowling was, for a long time, a big club activity. Softball, bowling, those were the primary activities.
In that respect, in the beginning, the 522nd Battalion was a single club, single chapter, when Dan Kono and I were basically in charge. But we dominated all of the sports. Basketball, we dominated in that. In softball, we dominated. Bowling, we dominated. So, when I was gone to law school, three-and-half-years later I came back to find out that the infantry boys had successfully split the 522nd Battalion to three different chapters. Instead of one 522nd Battalion chapter, they split into A, B, and C. From the infantry point of view, equalized the competition.
And the picnics, all of those years, picnics individual chapters. We had Christmas parties, individual chapters. So, there were enough things going on with the club that many of the boys restricted their family activities to activities of the club.
Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco had a veterans group. But in Los Angeles, you had both 100th and 442nd. San Francisco it was basically niseis, majority of them were 442nd. Seattle was the same thing. But when we started to have these reunions in Hawaii, a lot of these Mainland boys started to come. We started out with Hawaii, but then the Los Angeles group became better organized and so we had reunions alternately, three years in Hawaii, three years later in Los Angeles. And so, we kept very close touch with the Mainland boys.
Laura Miho, Katsugo Miho, Hideo Nagamine, and James Mizuno at a reunion of the 442nd RCT. Lahaina, Hawaii, 1985.
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.