Edwin Nakasone: The Nisei in Hawaii
During World War II people across the United States learned to pull together toward the common goal of victory. In the Hawaiian Islands, people took part in rationing, salvage drives, and other patriotic defense measures, just like their mainland counterparts, all the while living in fear of a possible Japanese invasion. Defense activities took on a different cast for the Nisei—citizens of Japanese descent—living on the islands. Edwin Nakasone, a Nisei high school student on Oahu, recalled the impact of the war in the Pacific on his school.
TS: Mr. Nakasone, let me ask about your experiences, your personal experiences during the war. You were in school. In high school.
TS: How did the war come to your school and how were the relations at your school between Japanese children and white children?
EN: Okay. What happened is, Leilehua is located right next to Schofield Barracks right next to Wheeler Air Base, so many of our haole Caucasian white students came from the military.
TS: So they were attending your school.
EN: They were attending. They made up the bulk of our white student population.
TS: What was the student breakdown by the way, roughly? Japanese and—?
EN: Oh, I would say in the classroom there would be thirty people. And you would probably have about four or five at the most white kids and the rest were all pretty much mixed. Maybe about half were Japanese and you've got Korean, Chinese and Filipinos and so on.
Well, anyway, those guys were almost immediately sent back to the mainland because their parents were military. So white kids were sent home. So we didn't see any Caucasian kids in our school.
TS: How about your teachers?
EN: Yes, we had some good teachers of white ancestry.
TS: Let me ask about how you perceived the war coming to your school. Was there a discussion of the war in your classes, for example?
EN: Yes, we did. During Social Studies period we had a little discussion because the war was going to fall upon our island after islands were being taken [over]. We had—I reflect upon the fact that we did not have our own Leilehua High School building anymore. It was in a military area and that was taken over as a military hospital. So we had to go to three Japanese magnet schools. These three Japanese magnet schools had buildings and so the high school was located in one Japanese language school. The junior high was located in another language school. The elementary was located in the old-time Wahiawa elementary school.
TS: I see. So their schools were taken over by the civilian authorities to use for public school facilities?
EN: Oh, yes. Because Japanese language could not be taught any more.
TS: So that was stopped by law?
TS: How about other things at your school? Do you remember bond drives, scrap metal drives, anything like this?
EN: Yes. I remember every Tuesday being stamp day during homeroom hour. The homeroom monitor would go around and sell stamps. Ten cents a stamp. Defense stamps. Then for those with a little more money, twenty-five cent stamps. Ten cents would get you a $10 bond. $18.75 would get you a $25 bond in ten years. We had scrap drives all the time. We had metal scrap drives. We had rubber tire scrap drives. We had newspaper scrap drives. We had tin can scrap drives and so on.
Right in the middle of our campus. We would have a big pile. Sophomore class here. Junior class here. And so on. There would be competition which one would create the most in the way of scrap metal and so on. Then also I think it was one day a week we would be called to do our defense bit by going to the pineapple fields and working in the pineapple fields.
TS: Doing farm labor during school hours?
EN: During school hours. The whole day was spent in that. Most of us enjoyed it.
TS: Did you perceive change, for example, in the Social Studies classes as being more focused on patriotism or things like this? Was this in the air?
EN: No. I don't think we spent that kind of time in cranking up patriotism as such, because it was only being done by the radio stations, by newspapers, by whatever was around us. Programs and so on. Movies. So the school did not spend very much time in doing things like that. What they did was the wartime bit, as I say. Selling stamps, saving stamps, bonds, scrap drives and so on. I don't remember any real rah-rah thing as far as going on for the good of American forces and so on.
Nakasone, Edwin; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Thomas Saylor; Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2003.