My Dad…The Hero (A Family Oral History)

For my class “Family Oral History” assignment, the person I chose to Interview is my Dad. He is currently 78 years old and the era of his life in which I conducted my interview began in 1954. My Dad was 18 years old at the time and fresh out of High School. He decided to join the Army because of something he had witnessed when he was just a boy. On December 7, 1941, my Dad, who was living in Hawaii on Oahu, the island in which he was born and raised, directly witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. He said that it was at that point that he decided that he wanted to join the military and do his part once he was old enough. In 1954, after joining, My Dad was sent by ship to Fort Ord, CA to complete his basic training. While my Dad was on the ship, he recalls becoming seriously ill due to sea sickness along with most of the other recruits that were on board. “Sick as a dog”, they were still forced to get up early every morning and do KP (Kitchen Patrol). These new recruits were forced to do some of the most gruesome cleaning chores and manual labor which made them feel even worse. Whether their job for the day was washing what seemed to be a “never-ending supply of dishes”, mopping “miles of floor”, or “peeling enough potatoes to feed America”, they were forced to do it no matter how sick they were.

My Father recalls this time as being one of the hardest times he’d ever faced growing up. Not only was this the first time that he had ever traveled on his own, but this was also the first time that he’d ever traveled off the Island of Honolulu, period. Before he left, he recalled his Mom saying something to him that would stick with him forever. She said “before you act, think of home”. This is advice that he’d always hold to heart and was one of the things that helped keep him strong through the whole ordeal. Sometimes though, even with those “weapons” in place, the pressures he faced on this ship seemed too much to bear. One day he was on kitchen duty peeling potatoes and was confronted by one of the ship’s cooks. The cooks on the ship were always mentally abusing and giving these new recruits a hard time in some way or another. Finally reaching his “boiling point” that day, my Dad “fired” back at the cook and gave him his “peace of mind”. However, because he did this while he was holding a kitchen knife in his hand and happened to be waiving it around while he was doing the talking, it had so much of a detrimental effect on the poor cook that he never bothered anyone again after that incident. For the rest of the trip, everyone seemed to give my Dad his respect and space, making his trip a lot more pleasant from that point on.

Once he arrived at FortOrd for Basic training, however, things got hard again. My Dad recalls the way people used to “crack up” (Go Crazy) in “Basic” because they couldn’t take it. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be kept up at night by other members of his platoon “screaming for their Mamas” or ranting on about the need to leave. My Dad said that he really learned a lot about life during this period. After finishing Basic Training, My Dad went to Maryland for AIT (Advanced Individual Training). AIT is the military’s version of  College and the place in which you study to learn your chosen MOS (or career you picked to do in the military). My Dad chose Automotive Mechanics as his MOS…Specifically “Automotive Field and Electrical Systems”. He chose this field because it was something he was interested in and already knew a little about from some experience he had growing up. After months of schooling, he finally graduated AIT and was able to go back home to Hawaii on “Leave”. Shortly after, he received orders and was sent on Active Duty to Korea.

The year was 1955. The Korean war had just ended and the US and Korea were in a two-year truce, however the US still had soldiers deployed in that area to monitor. The battalion my dad was assigned to was the 24th Infantry division. His job was to maintain and repair tanks and other military vehicles. His battalion was on the “front lines”. My Dad recalls North Koreans being on one side and his battalion on the other. They were literally a “stone’s throw” away and he recalls constantly seeing them engaged in training or other military operations. “It was spooky”, my Dad recalled.

He also took notice of many Korean citizens and how they were living. Many lived in houses made out of mud and most had to beg for food. They were living in poverty and many were starving. My Dad noticed that they certainly didn’t have the luxuries that many Americans back home enjoyed like TV, Radio, and Cars and felt sorry for them. Through them, he learned about life and to appreciate what he had. After a short time in Korea, my Dad couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to leave, so he petitioned to be transferred back to the states in the hopes of becoming a paratrooper, however his petition was later denied. Luckily though, He did manage to get a short “leave” to go back home and spend some time with his family. Although my Dad wanted to stay there in Hawaii, after his leave was up, the army made him leave once again to Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then from there, to temporary duty in Wisconsin. One day my Dad received notice that his Father had become ill and was in the hospital. Because of this, he was able to get “Medical” leave to go back to Hawaii and see his Father. There was only one problem. He was on his own when it came to trying to get back there and because my Dad didn’t have any money, he couldn’t just catch a civilian airliner back, therefore he did the only thing he could: He decided to go from air base to airbase trying to hitch a ride on one of the military jets. People back then commonly referred to this practice as plane “hopping”. One of my Dads “hops”, he recalled, was aboard a fighter plane with Army para-troopers. He recalls literally having to put on a parachute and jumping out of the plane to get to his next destination. That plane took him as far as Arizona and from there, he “hopped” another military aircraft that took him from Arizona to Travis Air Force Base in California. Starving and hungry because my Dad was hardly eating at the time, he was taken to a restaurant by a good Samaritan at Travis and was fed a good meal. After that my dad made his final “hop” that took him back to his homeland of Hawaii. After making it back home to Hawaii, he finally got to spend time with his family and take care of his Dad. His timing couldn’t be better as exactly 19 days later, his Dad passed away.

After his Dad’s passing, the army again wouldn’t let him stay on the Island and shortly after, my Dad was re-assigned back to Active duty in Wisconsin. Luckily, the return trip was provided by the Army this time, so it wasn’t as much trouble getting back. When my Dad’s “Tour of Duty” was finally up, he decided that he was not going to stay in the military and returned home to Oahu. Although he made this decision, today he feels that he learned a lot in the service and although often times it was very difficult, he feels honored to have served and done his part.

Once back home in Hawaii, My Dad decided to take advantage of his Montgomery G.I. Bill for the first time and went to college to learn business. Although he learned a lot about business and business law while he was there (traits he feels has helped him immensely over the years), he was never able to graduate because his Mom was having a hard time with bills and needed his help at home. Therefore, he was forced to quit school after over a year in and go straight to work.

Although there were a few different companies that wanted to hire him, he decided to get a job with Hawaiian Electric because of their good reputation as a company among the Island’s citizens. He started off working as a clerk for $1.10 per hour but because of his great respect for the company and the love of his job, he persisted and would eventually end up staying for over 30 years. Working his way “up the ladder”, my Dad would eventually become “Head” Supervisor over the whole department. By the time he retired in 1988, was making over $20 per hour…the equivalent of almost $40 an hour today and more than a 1600 percent increase from what he was making when he first started at the company as a clerk years before.

During his early years after getting out of the military and shortly after he started work at Hawaiian Electric, he ended up meeting his first wife, Lillian. Later marrying, he had three children: My two half sisters, Jenny and Julaine and my half-brother, Shane. Because he hardly had any money at the time, they struggled financially and lived in poverty, but because of his upbringing and because of the many valuable lessons about life he learned in the Army, he was able to persevere.

My Dad first learned about poverty when he was just a child himself. He was one of five children. His whole family lived in a 2-bedroom house. His parents got one room, the four boys shared the other room, and his sister slept on the couch. There was only one bathroom in the entire house so all seven occupants had to learn to share. The family was poor. One of the most important lessons came at the dinner table. Everyone was expected to eat whatever was made and FINISH their entire plate. There was to be no wasting in the house. His parents couldn’t afford it. If my Dad didn’t particularly like something that his Mom made that night, the only choice he had was to eat it or go to bed hungry and punished.

The pursuit to make more money to help his family was on my Dad’s agenda even as a child. He recalls how he and his brothers used to frequent the shopping centers and would shine shoes for money. Hoping to collect as much as they could, they would give it to their parents at the end of the day. He also worked all kinds of odd-end jobs just to help his family pay the bills. Times were rough but they did what they could.

By the time my Dad retired at the age of 53, he was married to his 2nd wife…My Mom and I Was just a boy. After his retirement, my parents decided to leave the Island of Hawaii and move to what Hawaiians call the “Mainland”. So at the ripe age of seven, my family and I moved here to California, where we have resided ever since. From here, a whole new story would take place. One of which would be my own as well.

Looking back, I grew up very different from my Dad, but after hearing his story, I understand now that it was through his ordeals and many of his sacrifices that I was born into a life less difficult. I was an only child and my parents always lived in domiciles with at least two bedrooms growing up, so I never had to experience sharing a bedroom with many other people. My parents were also “working class” citizens with established jobs, so I never had to feel the sting of poverty.

Also, it wasn’t until I would join the army myself in 2004 and follow in my Dad’s footsteps, that I would ever be forced to finish my food. Growing up as a child, if I didn’t feel like eating something, there was a million other dishes my Mom could make and if I couldn’t finish it, I didn’t have to (Although my parents always did try to provide me with good ethics about “wasting”). Looking at my Dad’s story compared to mine, I realize how truly blessed I’ve been compared to his difficult upbringing and his fight to “carve” a prospering and fulfilling future for himself and his family, which includes me today.

In my eyes, my Dad is a hero and it doesn’t become apparent until the above story be told.