The Usat Royal T. Frank Torpedoed In Hawaiian Waters!

Author: unknown
Source: Club 100 30th Anniversary Reunion, June 1972

Article about the USAT Royal T. Frank being torpedoed on January 28, 1942. The USAT Royal T. Frank was transporting draftees back to Hilo from Schofield Barracks.

Normally a white appearing 200 Ton transport used as a mail boat plying the inter-island waters, before World War II, the USAT Royal T. Frank, dressed in wartime Navy grey, was plying between Maui and Hawaii on January 28, 1942, blissfully unaware, when disaster struck!

The Frank was taking 26 4th Draft draftees back to the island of Hilo from Schofield Barracks, they having finished their interrupted basic training because of December 7!

Of course, stories had been circulating about that enemy subs were lurking in the calm Pacific waters off the island coastline all the way up to the West Coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Hadn’t Oregon been shelled from out at sea earlier this month?

This morning had been rather misty and wet, consequently Yoshio Ogomori of Mountain View returned to the “hole” for new clothes, since he had gotten wet from the morning rain, after being on deck. After watching the dice game in progress in the “hole”, he was passing up to the deck again when he felt a nudge. Then while he was going up to the deck, there was an explosion! And, next thing he found himself in the ocean, afloat, next to Shigeru Ushijima. They surmised correctly that the Frank must have been torpedoed! That, there must have been at least three torpedoes fired. The first missed; the second, the nudge felt by a few, and then the direct hit — the third torpedo, followed by the explosion (of the torpedo) upon contact! The Frank sank almost instantly!

Tokimasu Takamoto of Kainalu had been sleeping on deck and was thrown into the water by the impact. Haruo Yamashita of Kurtistown survived the ordeal by floating on a life preserver with two others. George Taketa of Hilo was saved by a mailbag which he clung to until being picked up. (He still has his oil-darkened driver’s license as proof and souvenir!) Shizuo Toma (now residing in Honolulu) was thrown into the oil-covered waters from the deck; was subsequently picked and thus saved. John Souza, being a non-swimmer, had on his life jacket. He had gone for his mess kit so he could go for his breakfast, when he too felt a nudge. He rushed up to the deckside when the direct hit caused the explosion of the torpedo. He then jumped into the oil-covered waters. (He still has a piece of the life saving life jacket at his home as a living momento [sic] and souvenir).

The barge, in the same convey, pulled out to “search and find” and fished out the survivors. And rescued them all, even Souza, though he was in the water for nearly 2-1/2 hours before being found and rescued! 17 others of the crew were picked up by the barge. However, 17 others went down with the ship, though. May their souls rest in peace.

After the recall of the 298th and the 299th Regiments of the Hawaii National Guard units back to Schofield Barracks in May, 1942, all the AJA survivors were re-assigned to the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion and shipped out on the USAT Maui, June 5, 1942!

In spite of their near miss with the Grim Reaper, and harrowing experience, they were ready to serve again!

And speaking about subs and torpedoes, “Found out later that this Co. G, was an illustrious company to which I had been assigned.” This company was credited with having captured a Jap two-man sub that had been grounded off-shore off Bellows Field. One of two such subs captured on December 7. One man survived in the submarine was captured and turned into higher echelon! The torpedoes were still intact!

In early May, 1942 the 298th and the 299th Infantries were relieved of this guard duty and returned to garrison duty back to Schofield Barracks, with relief forces having finally arrived from the mainland. There was talk rift among the men that we were destined for duty “down under” to reinforce Guadalcanal. But whatever the future at that time, garrison duty proved relaxing and enjoyable.

From the viewpoint of the AJA’s they had but one burning desire: They secretly but fervently nourished the thought and desire to DO COMBAT WITH THE TROOPS from the land of the Rising Sun, their parent’s homeland, anywhere in the Pacific — to prove their status as First Class American Citizens, not second-class as they were being treated in this paradise of the Pacific, exemplified as a place where racial discrimination was non-existent!

But with the Battle of Midway imminent in late May and early June of 1942, General Emmons then the Commanding General of the Hawaiian Department made his COMMAND DECISION: THE AJA’S BE FORMED INTO A SPECIAL BATTALION AND TRANSFERRED TO THE MAINLAND UNITED STATES FOR FURTHER TRAINING! And that it be shipped out to the Mainland on the first available shipping. General George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, concurring, so ordered!

General Emmon’s feelings at this time was that he could NOT TAKE A CHANCE on the reliability of these AJA’s in the event of an enemy landing attack on Hawaii, which was sure to come in the event the Battle of Midway was lost to the enemy. And besides, should this occasion come and enemy troops land, cases of mistaken identity would be severe. Furthermore, among the AJA’s were the Kibei’s, the second generation AJA’s who had gone to Japan to study for long years at a time, and had only come back to Hawaii to avoid being conscripted into the Japanese Army. Nonetheless, though drafted into the American Army, they acted more Japanese than American? (Incidentally many AJA’s since repatriated back to the United States, did serve in the Japanese Army or were in the service of the Imperial Japanese Government.)

On or about June 3 it was, all AJA’s in both the 298th and the 299th Regiments were assembled en masse. We were told that we were being formed into a separate battalion to be shipped out to somewhere in the United States. We were to be shot — given all kinds of innoculations [sic], given physicals and passes of midnight duration only. No passes to be issued out on June 4. And we were sworn to secrecy-not to tell even our parents, until we had reached our destination! There were more than 1400 of us strong. Amongst us were a few hapa-Hawaiians & Hawaiian-Japanese).

Rumors went rampart again — the Japs could not be trusted — so the 298th and the 299th were to be shipped to Guadalcanal minus the AJA’s. And shipped out to the South Pacific, they were later on.