HUNG WAI CHING
By Ted Tsukiyama
Left photo 1942 Right photo 2000 at MOH ceremonies
Most of the 442nd boys don't know or remember this, but in early April 1943 when the U.S.S. Lurline rulled away from Pier 10 in Honolulu Harbor with 2,452 volunteers for the fiture 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the few persons permitted on the pier to see us off was Hung Wai Ching. when the Lurline pulled into San Francisco six days later, there was Hung Wai Ching again on the pier to welcome our arrival. After an arduous rail trip across the country, when our troop train pulled into the railroad station at Camp Shelby, there to greet us again was Hung Wai Ching! Just who was this person "Hung Wai Ching," and what is his connection to the 442nd?
Hung Wai Ching was born in 1905 in Honolulu,, one of six children born of Chinese immigrant parents. At an early age his father was killed in an accident leaving his mother to bring up her six children under circumstances of extreme financial hardship, forcing Hung Wai to sell papers and do odd jobs to help his way through school. He lived in the predominantly immigrant neighborhood around the Nuuanu YMCA where he grew up in fellowship and tolerance with peers of Japanese and other races.
He attended Royal School and graduated in 1924 with the famous "McKinley Class of '24" which included Hiram Fong, Chian Ho, Masaji Marumoto and Elsie Ting to whom he was married for 60 years. He graduated from the University of Hawaii (UH) in 1928 with a degree in civil engineering, earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, and graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1932 with a Master of Divinity degree. Through 1928 through 1938 he worked at the Nuuanu YMCA as a Boy's Secretary, and served as Secretary of the Atherton YMCA from 1938 through 1941.
In December 1940, one year before the Pearl Harbor attack, Hung Wai was invited to attend a meeting with the FBI, Army and Navy Intelligence and community leaders present to form the Council on Interracial Unity to prepare the people of Hawaii against the shock of imminent war and to preserve the harmonious race relations among Hawaii's multi-racial population. Many years later he found out his name had been suggested by Charles R. Hemenway who was his mentor during his University days. When the Japanese bombs fell on Pewi Harbor on December 7,1941, the Military Governor appointed a Morale Division comprised of Charles Loomis, Shigeo Yoshida and Hung Wai Ching to put into effect the plans prepared by the Council of Interracial Unity. The Morale Division served a key role as a bridge between the Military Government and the civilian community, in particular with the Emergency Service Comminee comprised of leaders of the local Japanese American community.
Hung Wai Ching reported to Col. Kendall J. Fielder of Army Intelligence charged with the internal security of Hawaii and also reported to the FBI Chief Agent Robert L. Shivers. There were any number of Japanese in Hawaii, who, unbeknownst to them, were either not detained or were released from internrnent because of Hung Wai's intervention on their behalf. In the first few weeks of the war, the Military Governor assigned Col. Fielder a quota of Japanese to be picked up each day, but upon consultation with Hung Wai, Fielder refused to make indiscriminate quota arrests, even at the risk of court martial and his military career.
Through his Morale Division job Hung Wai met some very high and influential people, including President Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt but he never used these contacts to benefit himself. During a 1943 visit to the White House, Hung Wai used the occasion to brief the President on the wartime situation in Hawaii, how well Sen. Emmons and the FBI were handling the "Japanese situation" and assuring him that there was no necessity for a mass evacuation of Japanese from Hawaii.
But while Japan continued to wage its fierce [war] in the Pacific, all persons of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii remained "on the spot" and their loyalty to America suspect. Hung Wai had no question about the loyalty of Japanese he had known all his life, but he knew that the general American public would never be convinced of the loyalty of JapaneseAmericans until they could shed their 4-C (enemy alien) status, get back into military service, and to fight and even die for their country. The greatest contribution made by Hung Wai Ching were his outspoken affirmation of the loyalty of Japanese-Americans and the direct part he played in the long struggle of Japanese-Americans to regain that opportunity to bear arms and to prove their ultimate loyalty to America.
In January 1942 when all soldiers of Japanese ancestry were discharged from the Hawaii Territorial Guard, comprised of UH ROTC students, Hung Wai Ching met, counselled and persuaded these confused, bitter and disillusioned Nisei dischargees to offer themselves to the Military Governor for war time service as a non-combat labor battalion. The petition of 170 Nisei volunteers was accepted by the Military Governor who assigned this group to the 34 Combat Engineers at Schofield Barracks as a labor and construction corps, popularly to become known as the "Varsity Victory Volunteers." As "Father of the VVVs" Hung Wai showed off the VVVs at every opportunity to military, intelligence and governmental officials. In late December 1942 Hung Wai was asked to escort Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy around military installations on Oahu and made certain that McCloy witnessed the VVV volunteers at work in the field. Was it mere coincidence that only a few weeks later in January 1942, the War Department announced its decision to form a volunteer all Nisei combat team. This is exactly what the VVV had been working for, so its members disbanded so that they could volunteer for the newly conceived 442nd.
Hung Wai then adopted the 442nd in place of the disbanded VVV and thereafter dedicated himself to seeing that the Nisei got every fair opportunity to prove their loyalty. With the Military Governor's blessing, the Emergency Service Committee sponsored Hung Wai's assignment to monitor the Hawaii volunteers' movement to Camp Shelby and flew him up to the mainland. while the Lurline sailed to San Francisco, Hung Wai met with the infamous General DeWitt to urge the latter that "These are American soldiers, not prisoners of war" and not to insult and humiliate the Nisei by placing armed guards along the embarkation route. He also asked DeWitt to grant the boys an overnight pass to San Francisco Chinatown for a chop suey dinner. DeWitt thought this man was crazy! During the week the boys entrained overland to Camp Shelby, Hung Wai flew to Washington D.C. to persuade Secretary McCloy to change the training site of the 442nd outside of the South, but to no avail, but he was authorized to go to Camp Shelby to observe the initial organization of the 442nd.
Prior to the arrival of the 442 volunteers the town ofHattiesburg, Mississippi was in an uproar over the news that "a Jap regiment would be trained at Shelby," generating "Japs Not Wanted" editorials and ""Go home Japs" signs in town. Hung Wai met with the editor of The Hattiesburg American and the Hattiesburg chief of police to explain that "these boys were all Americans and that they had all volunteered to serve their country." Thereafter, the "Go home Japs" editorials and signs disappeared. Hung Wai convinced the brass that the 442nd should have its own USO, which should be located in the "white side of town" and "not across the tracks." Hung Wai raised hell about the Southern Baptist minister as regimental chaplain and insisted that the boys should have "their own kind." Soon thereafter, Hiro Higuchi and Chicken Yamada showed up at Shelby as the new chaplains for the 442nd.
When Hung Wai returned to Hawaii, he went everywhere speaking to families, plantation camps, civic and business organizations about the Hawaii volunteers and the progress of their training at Camp Shelby. His constant message was; when the boys come back home, treat them like full American citizens, save their jobs for them, let them finish school, and to "give them a square chance." And after the war was over and the boys came home, Hung Wai worked ceaselessly and tirelessly for their orderly rehabilitation and return to civilian life. Through the Veterans Memorial Scholarship Fund which he headed, many returning veterans got scholarship aid to complete their education and vocational training to supplement the inadequate finding from the G.I. bill. He was responsible for placing Nisei war veterans into jobs with the Big Five and other previously inaccessible and unavailable employment opportunities in Hawaii.
No one ever asked or requested Hung Wai Ching to render all this support and assistance to the Nisei, nor was he ever adequately compensated for the same, for which he never asked. He did not have to speak up nor stand up to defend and affirm the loyalty of the Japanese in Hawaii, when most others chose to remain silent, but he did so willingly and courageously, in the face of peer criticism, racial animosity and wartime anxiety directed against the local Japanese.
The history of wartime Hawaii relating to the story of the fair, calm and reasoned treatment of the Japanese in Hawaii, how the tragedy of mass evacuation and internment was avoided in Hawaii, and how Americans of Japanese ancestry were restored the right to bear arms to fight for their country and given the opportunity to prove their loyalty to Amencan, cannot be written or told without mentioning the service and contributions of Hung Wai Ching in that historical process. And this is exactly why Hung Wai Ching was one of the very first to be elected and accepted as an Honorary Member of the 442nd Veterans Club.