World War II Nisei Soldiers’ Story Comes to the Big Screen

Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

In January 1942 —a month after Japan’s attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor — a group of dejected University of Hawai‘i Army ROTC students were sitting under a tree near Dean Hall on the Mänoa campus. Called to duty with the Hawai‘i Territorial Guard in the hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they had stood guard to defend the Islands against a feared Japanese invasion for weeks, only to be expelled because they looked like the enemy.

From his office across University Avenue, YMCA leader Hung Wai Ching, a member of the Territory of Hawai‘i’s Morale Committee, saw the young men and went to them. He tried to convince the confused and bitter young Nisei that even though their government did not trust them to carry guns, they could still serve their country and demonstrate their loyalty in another way — by swinging picks and shovels as members of a labor battalion.

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