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Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV) Role in Activation of 442nd RCT

Varsity Victory Volunteers as bridge gang at Schofield Barracks

One of the least known Nisei military units in World War II was the Varsity Victory Volunteers, popularly known as the V V V which was activated and served during the first year of the War and now acknowledged to be the forerunner to the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The true origins of the V V V trace back to the very day of the Pearl Harbor attack when the University of Hawaii ROTC unit was called out for duty within the first hour of the attack. Close to five hundred ROTC cadets responded for duty, 60% – 70% of whom were Nisei, who were assigned a Springfield rifle they had never shot before and a clip of five bullets each. Their first order was to form a defense line in the bushes below St. Louis Heights to repel Japanese paratroopers reported to have landed in the hills above. This proved to be one of the many hysterical but false rumors circulating the City that day, but for which many years later the UH ROTC unit was belatedly awarded a battle streamer for its courageous response in “the battle of St. Louis Heights!” That afternoon of December 7, 1941 the UH ROTC was totally converted into the Hawaii Territorial Guard, “the HTG.”

For the next six weeks these 18 and 19 year old HTG guardsmen were assigned to guard the City of Honolulu, its government buildings, utilities, reservoirs, business and communication centers, transportation facilities, and my Company B of the HTG was assigned to guard the oil tanks and industries in the Iwilei area and the Honolulu Harbor. The Nisei guardsmen of the HTG faithfully carried out their duties proud in their defense of their country, when suddenly on January 19, 1942 orders came down to discharge all guardsmen of Japanese ancestry from the HTG! If a bomb had exploded in their midst it couldn’t have been more devastating. To be distrusted, rejected and abandoned by one’s own country only because their names and faces resembled those of the hated enemy was totally intolerable. The bottom had dropped out of their lives. They had none else to do but to return to the University.

A few weeks thereafter Hung Wai Ching, the Military Governor’s liaison with the Japanese community encountered a group of dejected, embittered HTG dischargees on the UH campus and boosted their depressed spirits, opened their minds to other non-martial ways they could serve their country and inspired them to petition the Military Governor to accept them as a non-combat labor battalion. There was grave doubt that their petition would be accepted.

Pearl Harbor was in smoking ruins, Hawaii’s 40% Japanese population faced widespread fear, distrust and hatred because of their race, the draft status of all Nisei was re-classified “4-C, Enemy Alien” and rendered ineligible for military service, Hawaii was expected to be invaded by Japan any time, prejudiced elements of the community urged the removal of all Japanese from Hawaii, and President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized all Japanese in the West Coast to be imprisoned in American concentration camps. Yet in the face of these great odds and with the support of fair-minded community leaders, the FBI and military intelligence officials, the petition signed by 169 Nisei was accepted by the Military Governor and on February 25, 1942 a civilian non-combat labor battalion was created and nicknamed “the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV)” because they were all volunteers with basic university origins.

The VVV could not be organized as a regular military unit because the draft status of all Nisei had been reclassified as 4-C (enemy alien ineligible for service in the US military). So the VVV were assigned as part of the U.S. Army 34th Construction Engineer Regiment at Schofield Barracks and for the next 11 months the VVV performed the same work as the Army Engineers, digging ammo pits, stringing barbed wire, building auxiliary roads, repairing bridges and culverts, building warehouses and barracks, operating a carpenter shop and a stone quarry and performing other vital defense work all over Oahu.

In late December 1942, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy was escorted by the same Hung Wai Ching on a field inspection trip of Oahu which included the VVV quarry gang hard at work at the Kolekole rock quarry and was told that these were all Nisei students who had given up their education to serve their country.

Whether by coincidence or otherwise, on February 1, 1943 President Roosevelt issued a call to all loyal Japanese Americans to volunteer for the newly authorized all-Nisei combat team. This fulfilled the very purpose for which the VVV was formed…that the only real way to prove loyalty was to regain the right to fight, and even die, for country.

On January 19, 1943, exactly one year to the date they had been discharged from the HTG, men of VVV voted to disband to volunteer for the newly formed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, into which 111 former VVV were accepted. The rest is well-known history. But it should never be forgotten that ultimately seven former VVV members gave their lives for country on the battlefields of Italy and France, namely: Daniel Betsui, Jenhatsu Chinen, Robert Murata, Grover Nagaji, Akio Nishikawa, Hiroichi Tomita and Howard Urabe.

What is the historical significance and lasting legacy left by the VVV? First, the VVV was the first all-Nisei volunteer unit to enter service during World War II, even before the famed 100th Battalion. Secondly, at a most critical point in Hawaii’s war history, it helped to stem the rising tide of hysteria, fear and prejudice against Hawaii’s Japanese and to quiet the cries urging and demanding their mass evacuation from Hawaii. And thirdly, the VVV’s demonstration of loyalty served as a significant factor in the War Department’s decision to form the historic 442nd Regimental Combat Team which went on to irrefutably establish and prove the loyalty of Japanese Americans for all time.

[Ted Tsukiyama, Esq. wrote this article on December 7, 2012]


*This article was originally published in JAVA Advocate in Summer 2015, Volume XXIII - Issue II.

© 2015 Ted Tsukiyama

442nd Regimental Combat Team hawaii territorial guard JAVA Varsity Victory Volunteers WWII