Native Hawaiians in World War II

Over 2,000 Native Hawaiians served in the United States Army during World War II. When the Hawaiian National Guard was mobilized in 1940, 28 officers and 732 enlisted men were listed as being of Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian ancestry. According to Selective Service records, another 1,434 were inducted through 1946. Because of extensive inter-marriage before the war, many more soldiers with partial Hawaiian ancestry were reported as belonging to other racial groups. Of all men drafted in the Hawaiian Islands, an estimated 12 percent were Native Hawaiians or part-Hawaiian.

Soldiers of Hawaiian ancestry served throughout the Army during the war. At least 22 soldiers of mixed Hawaiian and Japanese ancestry served in Europe with the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442d Regimental Combat Team. Several Hawaiian soldiers in other units were decorated for valor. The most decorated Native Hawaiian was said to be Capt. Alexander Kahopea, who was awarded the Silver Star for action with the 83d Infantry Division in Normandy in 1944. On Saipan in July 1944 Pfc. Willie Hokoanna of Hilo was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and was eventually awarded the Silver Star. T/Sgt. Samuel Kamuela English fought with the 4th Armored Division in Germany in 1945 and was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.

Capt. Francis B. Wai, whose mother was Native Hawaiian and father was Chinese, received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for valor during the invasion of Leyte with the 24th Infantry Division.1 After graduating from the Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at Los Angeles, Wai enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard and was called to active duty in 1940. He earned his commission through officers candidate school in 1941. He was killed in action while leading soldiers off the beach against accurate and concentrated enemy fire on 20 October 1944.

The first Native Hawaiian to be awarded the Medal of Honor came during the Korean War. Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila'au of Waianae, Oahu, received this award posthumously for valor on 17 September 1951 while serving with the 2d Infantry Division. On 8 January 2000 the United States Navy named a strategic sealift ship (T-AKR 304) after him.

For further information, see the following:

Prepared 25 May 2000
by James C. McNaughton
Command Historian
Defense Language Institute
Foreign Language Center, Presidio of Monterey

1 This award was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.