After the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, many wanted to help, but not all were welcomed.
Akira Otani was 20 years old and preparing for the reopening of his family’s fish market when he looked toward Pearl Harbor in disbelief.
“We could see the planes flying over Pearl Harbor. We could see smoke, oh, black smoke, coming from that direction,” Otani said.
By the time he got home, FBI agents were arresting his dad, Matsujiro Otani, a non-citizen and an influential business leader.
“They had their pistols drawn,” Otani recalled.
The following morning, he and other UH ROTC cadets mobilized into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. For six weeks, they guarded Oahu installations until all men of Japanese ancestry were dismissed.
One-hundred-sixty-nine ROTC cadets still wanted to serve and went to Schofield Barracks to help the 34th Combat Engineers. The Nisei called themselves the Varsity Victory Volunteers.
“We felt that we were Americans. We wanted to serve our country. If they won’t let us carry arms, we’ll do whatever they ask us to do and serve our country,” Otani said.
The government eventually authorized the creation of a Nisei regimental combat team, the 442nd. Nearly 10,000 Hawaii boys signed up to fill 1,500 slots including the Varsity Victory Volunteers.
Otani rose to the rank of 2nd Lt. before returning to home in 1946.
At 95, he still works at the United Fishing Agency. His roots there are deep and so his loyalty to America.
When asked about his love for his country, Otani replied, “Very much so. I owe so much to it, yes.”
There’s much more on the events of that fateful day in stories told by Joe Moore, Ron Mizutani, and Pamela Young.
You can watch “Pearl Harbor: Untold Stories of Heroism” this Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 9:30 p.m. on KHON2. Click here for more information.
Many more events are scheduled this week to remember the 75th anniversary of the attack, including a morning commemoration ceremony at Pearl Harbor on Wednesday, Dec. 7, which KHON2 will air live on-air and online here.