Maj. James Lovell

‘He Was Always 100 Percent Fo’ da Boys’

Hawaii Herald, June 19, 1992
By: Arnold T. Hiura

As Hawaii’s young nisei sought to find their way in the world in pre-war Hawaii, they often found the path fraught with obstacles and challenges. Given the socio-economic position of Japanese then, help had to come from influential non-Japanese individuals from different segments of the community. History now recognizes the essential role played by key people who came forth in that critical era to support and nurture the efforts of Japanese Americans, who were striving to establish themselves as full-fledged Americans.

Educator Dr. Miles Cary, principal of McKinley High School, was one such person who profoundly impacted the lives of young AJAs. Following the outbreak of World War II, Lt. Col. Farrant Turner, the first commander of the 100th Battalion, provided the unwavering support and leadership the soldiers needed in the face of skeptics and critics.

Outside of the circle of nisei veterans themselves, fewer people may recognize the unique contributions made by Maj. James Lovell, whose career touched both the educational and military lives of the AJAs in Hawaii. After teaching, coaching and counseling students at Washington Intermediate, Roosevelt High and McKinley High schools, Lovell joined Col. Turner as second-in-command of the 100th Battalion and led the nisei soldiers as they left Hawaii on their journey into destiny.

James Lovell was raised in a world far from the raw fish and rice, blue oceans, and green hillsides of the nisei in Hawaii. But, as he explains, his hometown of Hastings, Neb. prepared him well for his move to Hawaii. “The people of Nebraska are pretty down-to-earth people,” Lovell states simply. “And we had quite a few Oriental people in Nebraska. Hastings, my hometown, has a religious college, so we had quite a few Orientals there as well as at the University of Nebraska. No, it was not a difficult transition (to Hawaii) at all.”

The opportunity to move to Hawaii came after Lovell’s third year of study at the state Teacher’s College in Kearney, Neb. Lovell was one of five teaching candidates recruited by a Nebraska state director who was familiar with Hawaii. Three of the five eventually signed contracts and made the journey to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“I had offers to teach at other places, but most of them appeared to my parents as ‘not going anyplace,’” Lovell recalls. “I had another year of school left, and my father wasn’t in approval of the places where I had offers of jobs-until the offer to come to Hawaii. His remark was, ‘Now you’re going someplace.’ So, with his approval, I left with the other two boys and arrived here on August 27, 1930.”

The 23-year-old Lovell took up a position at Washington Intermediate School, where he taught mechanical drawing and coached a variety of sports. A fine athlete himself, Lovell believes his coaching experience in baseball, football, track and basketball helped him to cement relationships with young AJA boys in a setting outside of the classroom.

After three years at Washington Intermediate, Lovell taught and coached six years at Roosevelt High, then an English Standard school. He later moved to McKinley, which was referred to as “Tokyo High” because of its high percentage of AJA students. He continued his teaching and coaching at McKinley under principal Miles Cary and was named Dean of Boys in his second year there. But, in that second year, Lovell’s tenure at McKinley was interrupted by war.

Like his dedication to education, Lovell’s military career was born in his home state of Nebraska, where he had been a member of the National Guard for six years prior to his moving to the Islands. He joined the Hawaii National Guard in 1931, shortly after arriving. On Oct. 15, 1940, the 298th and 299th regiments in Hawaii were among only four such units in the nation to be activated. Hence Lovell and the 298th had already been on duty for nearly 15 months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Lovell served as executive officer with the 100th, and, for a time, also fulfilled the duties normally handled by the S3 (planning and training officer). After arriving at Camp McCoy, the 100th’s unique situation became clear to the U.S. military brass. “There was no table of organization for a ‘bastard outfit’ such as us. We had no parents, no regiment to turn to,” Lovell reflects. “In a military set-up, there was no such thing as a ‘separate’ battalion. So when this outfit was formed .. I had to work up a table of organization.”

Shortly after they arrived on the Mainland for training, Lovell was ordered to report to Washington. He took the table of organization he had devised with him. The plan called for the 100th to set up its own supply section, so they could acquire uniforms, equipment, food and transportation. It had five rifle companies, and an anti-tank platoon, a dentist and two doctors-all features not normally allowed for a battalion.

“We formed our own outfit based on this plan that I had written,” says Lovell. “That plan was approved and was handed to us when we landed in Italy. Later, that plan was used throughout the whole military.”

The 47-year-old Turner was affectionately called the “Old Man” by the soldiers. Lovell himself did not have a nickname and was always referred to as “Major” or “Major Lovell.” If he were to have had one, however, Lovell might have fittingly been called the “Frontline Major.” His battlefield demeanor, leadership and sheer guts remain legendary amongst the soldiers he led into battle.

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