Big Island Boy Through and Through

Byrnes Yamashita
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Writer’s note: The Nisei Veterans Legacy is a non-profit organization whose mission is to keep alive the stories of the Nisei (second generation Japanese American) soldiers of World War II for our younger generations. Dr. Caitlin Shishido is a member of the board of directors and manages the NVL website and Instagram account. This story is about her grandfather, Yukio Naguwa.

Naguwa in Italy (1944). (Photos courtesy of Caitlin Shishido)
Naguwa in Italy (1944). (Photos courtesy of Caitlin Shishido)

Hilo Roots

Yukio “Yuki” Naguwa was born in Hilo on May 29, 1923. He was the fifth of eight children of Sawanosuke and Toka Naguwa. Yukio grew up in the plantation town of Wainaku, just across the Wailua River from Hilo, graduating from Hilo High School in 1942.

After graduation, he worked for the Hilo Sugar Company as a maintenance worker in the engine room. During that time, he also helped the war effort as a block warden — checking homes for lights showing during blackout hours — and as a first-aid warden for the Wainaku Mill Camp. Naguwa was athletic and enjoyed playing sports. Basketball and baseball were favorite pastimes that carried over into his wartime and post-war years.

Naguwa relaxing with a ukulele during off-duty hours.
Naguwa relaxing with a ukulele during off-duty hours.

World War II

On Oct. 14, 1944, Naguwa was drafted into the Army and sent to Camp Blanding in Jacksonville, Florida, for training. Just before traveling overseas, he contracted German measles and was confined to the hospital. Desperate to join his buddies in Europe, he convinced his first sergeant to allow him to go overseas.

The war in Europe was almost over, and Naguwa was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Item Company, in Italy. He was a machine gunner and tasked to guard prisoners of war. Sometimes the 442nd soldiers had to guard military ration trains from Italian civilians that tried to rob the trains at water and refueling stops.

Post-war Life

After the war, Naguwa was honorably discharged and returned home to Hilo. He became a commercial fisherman, building painter and, later, a roofer. He married his wife, Asayo, in 1951, and they had two children, Alvin and Colleen, and, later, three grandchildren:  Sonya, Cariann and Caitlin.

Naguwa was an athlete and an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting, fishing and diving. With the help of friends and family, he made smoked pork and sausages from the wild pigs and sheep from his hunts. The bounty was shared with everyone.

Growing up in such a large family, he learned the value of hard work and his advice to his family was, “Work first and play later.” He managed to do a lot of both.

Naguwa (back row, second from left) with his post-war basketball team.
Naguwa (back row, second from left) with his post-war basketball team.

Naguwa knew the hunting trails around the island like the back of his hand, as well as the best fishing and diving spots on the eastern and southern shores, which he shared with his son, Alvin, and his friends. This detailed knowledge of the Big Island would serve him well when family visited from the continental U.S. or other islands. He enjoyed being their tour guide to the Volcano area or while driving around the island. Conversely, he also enjoyed traveling to visit family or to attend Nisei veteran reunions and gatherings.

Naguwa as a commercial fisherman.
Naguwa as a commercial fisherman.

In retirement, he taught building trades in community college for a decade, giving young men and women the benefit of his experience and knowledge. After retiring as an instructor, Naguwa worked in his small backyard nursery — growing and selling flowers at the Hilo Farmers’ Market, where he enjoyed talking to other vendors and making new friends of his customers.

Yukio “Yuki” Naguwa passed away on July 29, 2009, at age 86.

A Granddaughter’s Memories

Dr. Caitlin Shishido is a Yonsei. Growing up on Maui, she remembers her visits to Hilo fondly, especially accompanying her grandfather to the Hilo Farmers’ Market.

Yukio Naguwa in his later years.
Yukio Naguwa in his later years.

Her comments regarding the Nisei veterans: “Personally, I never knew of the large scale of contributions that the Nisei veterans made to Hawai‘i’s community until I became an adult. They never talked about all their accomplishments – they were humble like that. For example, one of my favorite places to eat when visiting my grandparents was Café 100, which is a staple in Hilo. I only found out that it was founded by a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion when I offhandedly asked my grandma why it was called Café 100.”

(Note: Café 100 was founded by Nisei veteran Richard Miyashiro who named it after the famed 100th Infantry Battalion in which he served during World War II. The restaurant’s specialty  is its loco moco plate lunch, a local version of hamburger steak that is now famous around the world. Naguwa was a loyal customer and frequently took his grandchildren there, fixing it in their memories of their time in Hilo.)

“It cannot be underscored enough that upon returning from the war, the Nisei veterans helped to build a better life for us, for our parents, for our children, for our community, for Hawai‘i and for our nation. I’ll forever be grateful for that. To me, when I think about the Nisei veterans and their life post-war, I’ll always think about my grandpa first and remember him getting together with the guys.”

In addition to her service on the NVL board, Shishido also contributed to a project to digitize Nisei soldier war records for the University of Hawai‘i Nisei Soldier Archives while working on her Ph.D. in zoology. The digitization project is a large, multi-year project undertaken by volunteer members of the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd RCT. It will provide a valuable resource for future researchers on the history of the Nisei soldiers when completed.

Naguwa (waving) marching in the 442nd RCT 50th anniversary parade (1993).
Naguwa (waving) marching in the 442nd RCT 50th anniversary parade (1993).

Men like Yukio Naguwa were common among the Nisei veterans. Hardworking and humble, they led quiet and productive lives after returning from the war. They made contributions to their communities in small, but meaningful ways. We that follow in their footsteps have much to be grateful for.

If you would like to join the effort to keep the story of the Nisei soldier alive, please contact us at

Byrnes Yamashita is a retired engineer and the vice president of the Nisei Veterans Legacy. The mission of the NVL is to preserve, perpetuate and share the legacy of the Americans of Japanese ancestry who served in the U.S. armed forces in World War II: the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion. To learn more about the NVL, visit their website at or follow them on Instagram.


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