Hilo veteran reflects on service overseas

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Veteran Masao Kuniyoshi holds up a Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home T-shirt Friday outside of the facility in Hilo.

Before he served his community as an educator, Masao Kuniyoshi served his country.

Born in Hilo, Kuniyoshi, now 89, graduated from Hilo High School in 1947 and continued his education on the mainland, studying economics at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

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“Then after I graduated, I was drafted into the Army,” Kuniyoshi said during a recent interview at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, where he has resided since January. It was the early 1950s.

He received his first notice to report to the Army when he was a student in Ohio, “and that was the day I was graduating,” Kuniyoshi said. “So I asked the board if they would postpone my date and give me time to come home to Hawaii since I hadn’t been home for four years.”

He was instead drafted in September.

Kuniyoshi did his basic training at Schofield Barracks before he was sent to Germany, where he spent the rest of his two-year service.

In Germany, he worked as a radio operator.

“How did they select me? I don’t know. … I was as surprised as anybody else that they selected me,” Kuniyoshi said with a laugh.

At that time, the U.S. Seventh Army was the “main army in Germany,” he said. Their job was to stay in communications with the Seventh Army “and that was 24 hours a day, so we took shifts.”

There was one other man from Honolulu there.

“Only two of us went together from the time we were drafted,” Kuniyoshi said. They were assigned to a desegregated outfit.

He first worked in Bavaria and later in Kaiserslautern, which was “a huge supply depot.”

Kuniyoshi said that being stationed in Germany was a highlight of his time in the military. Having studied German language in college, he was able to speak the language.

He was also able to travel extensively while overseas, to other countries like Italy, Switzerland, France and England.

His time in Germany came less than a decade after the end of World War II.

Kuniyoshi said he served in Germany during the Cold War period “and we were not permitted to visit Berlin at all.”

“You were always on alert,” he said of being in post-war Germany, and on May 1, “they wouldn’t let us out of camp” because it was thought there might be some problems with locals.

Germany surrendered to the Allies during World War II on May 7, 1945.

After his time in Germany, Kuniyoshi married and went to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, where he got his masters degree in education with the help of the G.I. Bill.

“I came home right after I got out of the army and for some reason, I decided to go into education,” he said.

Although he returned home to Hilo after graduating from Columbia in 1955, Kuniyoshi said “it was a tremendous experience living in New York City and going to school over there.”

Once back in Hawaii, Kuniyoshi taught at several Big Island schools, including Laupahoehoe and Hakalau, and was a counselor at Hilo High School, vice principal at Kapiolani Elementary and Hilo Intermediate, as well as principal at Pahoa High and Elementary, before retiring in 1983 with nearly 29 years of service.

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He also volunteered at Yukio Okutsu before he became a resident, fixing watches for those who lived there.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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