Pearl Harbor

Episode #820




Students from Aliamanu Middle School on O‘ahu tell the story of Jimmy Lee, an eighty-six year old O‘ahu resident who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor when he was an eleven-year-old boy. Images of the planes and the bombing are etched in Lee’s memory. Even today, when Lee looks up at the sky in the Pearl Harbor area he can “see the planes and hear the bombing.” Lee uses his vivid memories to teach school children about the event that launched the U.S. into World War II and changed his life forever. He also volunteers as a guide for the National Park Service to share his vivid memories with visitors.




–Students from Waiakea High School in the Hilo area of Hawai‘i Island tell the story of an athlete whose most formidable opponent is his own case of Type 1 Diabetes.


–Students from Montessori School of Maui in Makawao show us how to make a stress ball out of balloons.


–Students from Kalani High School in East Honolulu follow a piano teacher’s long journey to fulfilling her life’s purpose.


–Students from Island School on Kaua‘i find out how foreign exchange students at their school compare life in Germany to life in Hawai‘i.


–Students from Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha Public Charter School on Kaua‘i tell the story of how their new principal – a native of Ni‘ihau – finally agreed to take on the responsibility of running their school.


This program encores Saturday, June 3, at 12:00 pm and Sunday, June 4, at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website,


Sam Kamaka Jr. and Fred Kamaka Sr.


Meet second-generation owners of Kamaka Hawaii, Sam and Fred Kamaka. Now celebrating 100 years in business, Kamaka Hawaii has been the ‘ukulele crafter of choice for artists around the world.


From a young age, Sam and Fred, now 94 and 92 years old, walked the halls of their father’s ‘ukulele factory. However, that the brothers would inherit the family business was far from certain. After witnessing the attack on Pearl Harbor, then being drafted to serve during World War II, the two brothers pursued their own education and career paths, taking them far from Hawai‘i and the ‘ukulele factory.


Life changed directions overnight for Sam, joined later by his brother, and the two have dutifully worked to perfect their craft and “take care of the customer,” as their father used to say. Now, having passed the torch to their own sons, the brothers reflect on their journey.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 3, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, May 7, at 4:00 pm.


Sam Kamaka Jr. and Fred Kamaka Sr. Audio


Download the Transcript




SAM:   [UKULELE] My dog has fleas.


FRED:  The sound is still there.




FRED:  The dog with fleas.


Four simple strings playing a ditty we all grew up with. Many players and fans of the ukulele find happiness through this small instrument. Two brothers, whose name is synonymous with quality ukulele have also found happiness by continuing their father’s legacy, and staying close to each other and their families. Samuel Kamaka, Jr. and Frederick Kamaka, Sr., coming up on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro once said: There’s something about the ukulele that just makes you smile; it brings out the child in all of us. You can still see the child in two brothers in their nineties, Sam Kamaka and Fred Kamaka. They took over the ukulele business from their father, Samuel Kamaka, Sr. They remember a childhood of family and fun, and always, the music of the ukulele.


Sam, what’s your earliest memory of life? Where were you, what were you doing?


SAM:   My earliest … memory of life was playing on the streets in Kaimuki with our neighbor boys on Elizabeth Avenue. My families lived there early in the 20s, and they used to have kalua pig in those days, and the area had parties.


FRED:  Most of us lived together with musicians and family members. It’s only about two square blocks, and we all played together, and so, we grew up to know all our cousins.


How did it happen that musicians were living at the same place a family of ukulele makers were living? How did that happen?


FRED:  I don’t know, but when we were born, this is where we lived.


And then, I noticed you moved in 1929, which was the time when the Depression hit. You moved from Kaimuki. How come?


FRED:  I think Papa was interested in—he was always interested in floriculture and other things, because he grew up on Maui, and he wanted to get somewhere away from the crowdedness of the Kaimuki.


SAM:   Kaimuki.


SAM:   So, we bought the land in Kaneohe. It was two and … two acres, at least.


And you’re still there; right?


SAM:   We’re still there.


FRED:  Right.


And the street name is Halekou.


SAM:   Halekou.


And it was created from Halekou bushes.


SAM:   Yeah.


How interesting.


SAM:   We had a dairy down below, and I remember going there to milk cows in the morning just to learn something.


Did you like that as much as Kaimuki as little kids? More chores.


SAM:   It was different.


FRED:  Yeah. There was a big difference, of course. We have to say, we had a couple horses. And in the afternoons, see, with the dairies, the cattle were grazing at the base of the pali. It was all graze. And as kids, at about, what, four o’clock in the afternoon, we have to round up the cattle, get ‘em moving.


SAM:   They all came home. Over their—


FRED:  They all knew where they were supposed to go.


SAM:   –special trail. Had a special trail, and they all come back.


FRED:  You got just ‘em started, and they get to a certain fencepost, and all the ones for this dairy would—they all knew exactly which dairy they belonged to. Whether it was to Texeira Dairies, the Moniz Dairy, or the Souza’s Dairy.


Amazing how many dairies there used to be.


FRED:  Oh, yeah. It was all agriculture on that side of the island. It’s all changed. It’s all wall-to-wall houses now.


Sam Kamaka and Fred Kamaka watched as their father, Samuel Kamaka, Sr., grew flowers, and grew a business making ukulele. Whether he was tinkering with the sound of his ukulele, or growing beautiful Bird of Paradise flowers, Sam, Sr. was an innovator and a perfectionist. He developed an ukulele with a larger, rounder body, which became his iconic Kamaka Pineapple ukulele. He found ways to keep his business alive during the Depression, and he introduced his sons, Sam and Fred, to the family business.


FRED:  So, my father, he did a lot of things. And we wished he would stick to one thing, but you know, he kept us going for different things. On the weekends, we had to go with him to Waianae, or we had to stay in Kaneohe to get this thing fixed up.


SAM:   Every morning, our front yard was filled with the Bird of Paradise, the orange ones. And our station wagon going in to school would be loaded with flowers, and he’d have to deliver it at Fort Street. And another place was the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, he would take the flowers.


I heard that your dad had you start working in the factory at a very young age; elementary school age.


FRED:  Well, the thing about it is, when we moved to Kaneohe, Sam was in school, and my mother was teaching at Liholiho School on Maunaloa and 9th Avenue. It was called Cummings School at the time, and then became Liholiho later on. And Sam was attending school. When we moved to Kaneohe, I was only four years of age, and they weren’t going to leave me at home to burn the house down, a brand new house. So, I had to go with my father to work. And I got interested because the factory was being run like the Industrial Revolution, with a central shaft with belts going to this. And I got interested in wanting to do that. But my father would never let me touch, because you could really damage your hands or—


SAM:   You could lose a finger.


FRED:  –cut off fingers, like Sam said. And I had one of the workmen, he said, But you don’t tell your father, and he showed me how to do it. And he told me, if you put it on, if it grabs, don’t hold onto the sticks. You let it go immediately, because it’ll pull you into the machine. But I learned to do it. And then, my father finally found me putting it on, and he said, Well, make sure you do it safely.


What about you, Sam? What did you like to do in the factory?


SAM:   You know, I didn’t do too much. I was up front, or upstairs rolling strings, being safe.


Oh, so you weren’t engaged, really, at all in the factory at an early age.


SAM:   No, no; not that much.


And your mother passed away at a young age; thirty-six.


FRED:  Our mother, besides being a schoolteacher, was a kumu, hula teacher. She died from cancer. She died actually, three days after my birthday. My birthday’s on the 16th of September, and she died the 19th of September, 1936.


SAM:   Before she left, I remember her calling me into her bedroom, and telling me to keep the ukulele factory.


Another vivid memory both Sam Kamaka and Fred Kamaka witnessed, the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Fred as a student at the Kamehameha Schools, and Sam as a worker at Honolulu Harbor. Before Sam and Fred started working fulltime in the family business, they pursued careers outside of the ukulele factory. Sam, at the behest of his father, went to school in the Pacific Northwest to study entomology. Fred attended college with the idea of joining the FBI. And while their pasts had nothing to do with the ukulele, their father certainly continued to influence their lives.


You both had serious lives away from the factory when you went to school.


SAM:   Uh-huh.


I mean, you did become an entomologist; you studied for it at a high level.


SAM:   My dad sent me off to Washington State to study.




SAM:   Because around us, we had so many families with animals.


And you were on your way to a doctorate.


SAM:   Yes. That was with the study of the insecticide; it’s the translocation through its sap called phosphoramide.


And meanwhile, your brother was interested in a very different kind of instrument—guns.


FRED:  Right. Well, when we grew up, see, my father actually, he had guns because he had served in the National Guard. And because I got really interested in it, I joined the rifle team in high school at St. Louis at first, and then at Kamehameha. I remember once the war started, he told my brother and I; he said, If the government ever calls you to serve, I want you to go. I don’t want you reneging, so to speak. And he was proud of us when we got drafted, that we went in the service. He said, Do for your country.


And for you, Fred, it became a career.


FRED:  Yeah.


Before your ukulele career.


FRED:  Yeah; he was happy that when he died, I was a first lieutenant, by then.


And you became a lieutenant colonel. And meanwhile, you were going to become a scientist because of your early training getting rid of the bugs in the greenhouse in Kaneohe.


SAM:   Right. When I was drafted, I sent to Guadalcanal because of my operating skills at the pier. So, we did only two years, but we had to clean with local boys. I can’t remember all of them, but we cleaned out the forest and everything. Went on to this big tanker and they all disappeared out in the ocean someplace.


In so many family businesses in Hawaii, the children are encouraged to pursue higher education and professions that their parents could never have for themselves, resulting in mom and pop businesses reaching a dead-end. For Sam Kamaka and Fred Kamaka, there was no question they would uphold the Kamaka family business, if they were needed.


Your father’s impact on you is really clear in your growing up days.


FRED:    Yeah. He was a good businessman. And when he died, the business, you know, there was money available in the only two banks in Honolulu to run the business, and he was able to do that.


SAM:   Yeah; you were still in Korea then.


FRED:  Yeah. He had the factory. It was still there, but he had released his workers six months, because a he didn’t know whether we would take it over. But he had kept the business as Kamaka & Sons. And we stayed Kamaka & Sons until ’68, when we turned it to Kamaka Hawaii.


So, Sam was the first to come back and take the reins.


SAM:   In ’53, I was called home because my dad was dying from cancer. And the night he passed away … on his bed, he asked me to call Father Benito. And right away, I knew what was going to happen. So, Father Benito knew what was going to happen too, so Father Benito brought in a communion. As soon the communion touched my dad’s lips, he closed his eyes and passed away. Then from then on, it was my job … to restore the ukulele factory.


And you hadn’t had the hands-on with him.


SAM:   No.


You were off doing other things. And so, how did you find out the intricacies and the ins and outs?


SAM:   Well, the first thing I did was, go down to the Ala Moana area and checked with two ukulele makers. They were two gentlemen that were making ukuleles. One was Ah Tau Kam and another one. And a lot of it was being done by hand, and then they referred me to the Kumalae boys. And I checked their equipment. They went, You want to make ukuleles? They kinda semi-retired their business. And then, I met this fellow, George Gilmore. He was a guitar maker. I learned a lot from him, and reviewing my dad’s old ukuleles. That was the beginning of what I had to do.


Excavation and research.




And then, at what point did Fred come back into the picture?


SAM:   When he came back, he was an officer at the …




SAM:   You were at that base in Waikiki.




SAM:   Yeah, Fort DeRussy.


You had twenty years in. Were you planning on retiring?


FRED:  Right; I had twenty years and traveled all over, saw Second World War, Korea, and Vietnam. And I knew I would always come home, and Sam knew that I would eventually. So, when I did come home, we just had turned the company into Kamaka, Incorporated. The first couple years was tough, because we had we had quit making ukuleles in Japan, and this meant that we had to re-do how we did things. And we renovated in the first year. It was during the renovation of the back to make it more workable. After the Olympics in Japan, they went crazy for Hawaiian things. For instance, like now, they have more hula halaus in Japan than they have in Hawaii. And they were crazy for the instruments. But now, of course, they’re all making instruments around the world. But our product was the one name that they remembered from all the years. Our name is similar to a Japanese name, Kamaka versus Tanaka. So, the relationship is there; they always remember us. And some people have come into the shop and said, Are you Japanese? I said, No, we’re Hawaiian.


FRED:  It was a simple instrument. From the beginning, it became the most popular instrument to be made and played in Hawaii. The hotbed of ukulele making and playing has always been, from the beginning, Hawaii. This machine, computerized, will take five of these, come up with the neck I showed in the front; five in one hour. Now, once this is done, you put the body together; next station. We’ll go up there now. Come in.


FRED:  Now, this is the hardest part for me when I grew up. Right here. We take the tape off, put a light coat of Danish oil. We put the bridge on, label. Okay.


That’s Fred Kamaka conducting the Kamaka Hawaii factory tour in September of 2016, just after his ninety-second birthday. While his older brother Sam doesn’t visit the shop as much as he used to, Fred continues to tell the story of Kamaka Ukulele. When the brothers were still both working at the shop, they would ride together to and from work at the Kamaka Ukulele factory. From their childhood growing up in Kaimuki and Kaneohe, through their time upholding the standards that their father established, Sam and Fred have stayed close and supported one another, both as brothers and as business partners.


You know, let’s talk about your relationship. You’re about three years apart?


SAM:   Two.


FRED:  Little over two years.


SAM:   Two years; yeah.


You know, when boys, any children are about two years apart, they tend to knock heads; right? Or they can be close, but there’s also a lot of friction. In your case?


FRED:  No, we … well, of course, as little kids, we probably …


FRED:  You know, we played sports together.


SAM:   Yeah


FRED:  No; but we kinda backed each other up when things got rough. I remember he coming to my rescue for quite a number of times when I got into trouble.


What kind of trouble?


FRED:  Well, you know …


SAM:   He wasn’t a real good surfer, and a swimmer. And I loved it, ‘cause I built surfboards at the shop.


FRED:  Well, see, I got teased a lot. I got teased a lot because of my middle name, Ku. And if you take Portuguese meaning of Ku, means cu-zing.




And yet, Ku is such a proud Hawaiian name.


FRED:  It is, you know.


God of war.


FRED:  God of war, plus the overall god, Ku.


But you’re right. It was a Portuguese word for the rear end.


FRED:  Right. So, uh, but that’s not the way they treated my name. And I would get into fights.   Don’t tease me.


And Big Brother would come calling?


FRED:  Oh, he would have to come and rescue me. Yeah.


Have you ever had an argument? I mean, you must have had arguments. I mean, I know, you saved him as his big brother, but …


SAM:   I can’t remember an argument.


Is that right?


SAM:   Yeah.


‘Cause you’re so close in age.


SAM:   Yeah.


FRED:  No, we …


Maybe that’s the secret of life; don’t argue.


SAM:   Yeah.


FRED:  Now, it’s the old things; don’t make waves.  I remember that terminology. Oh, we’ve had some differences of opinion, but you know, when you ride together in, and you ride home together, you know, you better take care of each other.


Your family seems like it’s just been accomplished for a long time.


SAM:   Yes.


You know, basically working on its business, on its craft, on its happiness.


SAM:   Uh-huh.


It just seems like, I mean, for an outsider, maybe it’s too good to be true. Could it have been this happy and this blessed?


SAM:   We inherited something.


FRED:  We’ve been lucky.


SAM:   Yeah.


FRED: And … we thank the Lord above for keeping us here this long, ‘cause we’ve been able to see what has happened with the company, and what has happened with our family. And we’re very grateful for the one opportunity that we’ve been here this long. We never thought we would actually get here, because our parents died when they were so young. And here we are, thirty years longer than my father. And we’re still here. We’re very grateful to the Lord above uh, the benefit we’ve had.


SAM:   It’s amazing; I didn’t expect to be here at ninety-four, ‘cause my parents all went in their fifties, you know. And here I am. So, the ukulele must be a blessing.


At the time of this conversation in August of 2016, Kamaka Hawaii was celebrating its 100th year in business, and Sam and Fred were living simple, happy lives. Their sons and grandsons have brought 21st century technology into making Kamaka ukulele, and dedication to excellence and the strong ties of family are still key ingredients in the cheerful tones of every ukulele they make. Mahalo piha to Samuel Kamaka, Jr. and Frederick Kamaka, Sr. of Kaneohe, Oahu for sharing their story with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit


When I grow too old to dream, I’ll have you to remember. When I grow too old to dream, your love will live in my heart. So kiss me my sweet, and don’t ever go. So when I grow too old to dream, your love will live in my heart.


Wow. Thank you.


FRED:  You were supposed to sing in German.




Into the Arizona + USS Oklahoma – The Final Story


Pearl Harbor – Into the Arizona

Tues., Dec. 6, 8:00 pm


On the eve of the 75th anniversary, join the first expedition to explore inside the USS Arizona since the date that will live in infamy, as state-of-the- art imaging technology reveals the aftermath and incredible story of the Pearl Harbor attack.



USS Oklahoma – The Final Story

Tues., Dec. 6, 9:00 pm


Explore what happened to the USS Oklahoma, the only battleship to capsize during the Pearl Harbor attack. Examine new details about what may have caused the ship to overturn and hear stories from Oklahoma survivors and families of those lost.


NHK World Documentary
Road to Redemption

NHK Documentary: Road to Redemption


This film tells the story of two men who stood on opposite sides of the front line in World War II. Mitsuo Fuchida was the chief commander of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Jacob DeShazer, a U.S. Army Air Force corporal, dropped incendiary bombs on Nagoya in a revenge raid. After the war, both became devout Christians and embarked on missions in each other’s homeland. They eventually met – and forged a bond.


Daniel Martinez


As Chief Historian at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Daniel Martinez has heard the stories from the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and shares those stories with Park visitors.  In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, you’ll hear how his connection with that infamous event goes deeper than his role as an historian.


Daniel Martinez Audio


Download the Transcript




When we were on these trips back East, with my dad being in the space industry, we stopped at Gettysburg. And this park ranger came out with his Smokey the Bear hat. This park ranger gave a talk, and then he went in and he got in a Civil War uniform and came out with a musket, and fired it. And I said, That’s for me.


So, you truly intended to do that when you grew up?


I just said, That’s for me, but I didn’t know how I was gonna get there. But that whole idea of working in a national park like Gettysburg, it was just like, How do I do this?


Daniel Marinez has been captivated by military history since childhood, and he followed his passion. Today, he’s Chief Historian at the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, which preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific war, including the events at Pearl Harbor. Daniel Martinez, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Daniel Martinez has been the Chief Historian at Pearl Harbor since 1989, where he keeps history alive for the many visitors from around the world who come to see where World War II began for America. History has always been an important part of Daniel’s life, starting from his youth growing up in California. His German and Mexican grandparents shared stories of their lives, which started him on the path that would later lead him to become an historian.


Oh; without a doubt, my grandfather. My grandfather taught me how to fish, and I found out he was at Pearl Harbor, and he had this interest in the American West, and he was a miner. On my grandfather and grandmother’s side, in particular on my grandmother’s side, they grew up in Boise, Idaho, they were first immigrants to come in the late 1870s, became gold miners. And then later, one was a sheriff. And so, we had all of that. So, on both sides of the family. My father’s was more humble. My grandfather came from Mexico, from the area of Guadalajara, and emigrated here legally through the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was one of the workers. And that’s how my dad ended up being born in Lone Pine, California, one of nine children. And my love for railroad and that history, especially I’m a big Southern Pacific fan, came from that. And then, my dad was in the Navy, and my dad served in the Korean War. My Aunt Jo was the first one on my mother’s side to take me to a library when I was five years old, and picked up my first book, which was Custer’s Last Stand. There were always these influences on reading and going to places where events happened.


When you say, you know, history really imbued your family, you had a sense of that, did you say that to yourself? You know, history is important to me. Or was that not a known specialization or concept?


If my mom was alive, she’d probably have more of a description of it. Because when I was little, I had toy soldiers, and I would recreate battles. I would read books, I would be actively involved in watching films on history. I think it was just something that was instinctively there, and thank God my family endorsed it, and not only that, took me to a number of historic places that were like these deviations off the road. And so, I don’t know; I think my rudder was fixed, and I was headed that way.


You know, you’re cross-cultural; Mexican, German.


Yeah; and know, the difficult part was that I didn’t realize this, because even I grew up in a world that was not as judgmental. And here in Hawaii, even less. But it was called interracial marriage. And that’s what my parents’ marriage was, and they ran off and got married.


Because their family wouldn’t support the match?


Oh, no; on both sides. You know, my grandfather on the Mexican side was hoping that my dad was gonna marry a Mexican girl, and I know for a fact on my mother’s side, they wished the same. But love overcomes a lot, and they ran off and got married. And then, when I came along, all was forgiven, and the families were joined. And so, my grandfather, who was so opposed to this on my mom’s side, became so close to my dad that he was like a second father.


Did you ever have the sensation of having to pick one, you know, racial background over the other?


You know, I didn’t have a choice; the last name was Martinez. And I went to a Catholic high school and I went through a little bit of hazing of that. And I had a cousin named Paul Gomez, who was a scholar and a great guy, and he just said, Hey, just roll with it. Just roll with it; don’t be upset over it, just be proud of it. And I always have been. And when I came to Hawaii, one of the things that touched me a great deal was the acceptance of peoples here.


People always want to know what you are, even if they’re not prejudiced against you.




They want to know.


I tell them I’m sort of—


You’re hapa.


Hapa; you know, and then they get that. And so, I’m very proud of our German-English background, especially what my uh, grandparents on that side did.


When your grandfather moved to Hawaii, why? He was a miner.


Yeah; the thing was that there was a company, a big company, and everybody knew it at the time, called Morrison-Knudsen. And it was located in Boise, Idaho. And they were rounding up all of these miners and construction workers. They had been given contracts to build military bases throughout the Pacific; Wake Island, Midway, all over. My grandfather was in his thirties at the time, so he was relatively mature. And he had just remarried, and he saw this opportunity, so they wanted this work. They needed tunnelers, they needed people that knew how to work with dynamite; my grandfather.

What they were going to build was twenty of these that are basically twenty stories deep as well. And I forget the circumference, but it’s close to seventy-five yards in circumference. And these tanks were gonna be literally blasted out of the lava rock on Red Hill, and then they would use like an iron basket around it, and then gunnite that, and then use cement and build it. Now, they built these things, you know, kind of bottom up, and many men fell. And when you fall in there, even despite there’s water, it doesn’t come out well when you’re falling eight or nine stories. you know, over two hundred feet. And so, my grandfather worked on that, and then my mother came over in ’41, early ’41, went to school, living the dream as I say. That’s what I often say, living the dream here in Hawaii. And then, you know, went to school.


Wait a minute. Going back to those storage tanks. So, your father is working with people who are dying.


Yes; this whole thing that they were doing was secret. They tried to keep it as secret as possible. I don’t know how they did that, but they just didn’t want people talking about it.


But there was dynamite going off in Red Hill.


Yeah; but it was like a rumble, ‘cause it’s underneath the ground. And they were taking all the tailings, and they were not pulling them out of there; they were spilling them into the valley there. And you can still see some of those tailings where cement factory is now today.


So, he would go back, and he couldn’t even tell your grandmother.


He’d just say they were doing tunneling.


Was he there throughout the entire twenty tanks?


Yes, he was. Yeah.


How long did that take?


It took almost ‘til 1944. And you see, my family, my mom and her sisters, a baby and my Aunt Janelle [PHONETIC], who went to Roosevelt High School, they were sent back on, I think, the Mariposa, and went back to San Francisco. From there, they went back to Boise and waited, and then my grandfather returned and he needed to find work, and he knew that the war effort needed talc, and he knew where talc was. And so, he went there, and he established his family there, and opened a talc mine in the White Mountains. And my mom went to Lone Pine High School, and met one Rudy Martinez.


For the next six years after he graduated from college, Daniel Martinez taught high school in the winter, and during the summer he worked for the National Parks Service as a seasonal ranger at the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Parks Service offered him a fulltime position at the USS Arizona Memorial, which he readily accepted. Although his grandparents had told him stories about living in Hawaii during the war, he was unprepared for what awaited him.


Although I lived in California, my friends used to go to Hawaii in the summers, I never did. And I came here for the first time, you know, in 1985 with fourteen boxes and my girlfriend. And we were there at the airport, and we didn’t know what we were in for. But it was quite an experience adjusting to Hawaii. Because there wasn’t a lot of stores that we have now, and it was expensive, and I was very low grade. So, we worked some little second jobs, and things like that, to make it, make my way through.


Where did you live when you first arrived?


I lived in Aiea. And I lived right above the high school, and I didn’t have a car then, so I walked to work, and then later got established, and life changed and evolved. And I was adopted, ‘cause my girlfriend couldn’t hack it; she went home. I came home, and I had like a Dear John letter. And the family that I stayed with, I lived on the lower end of of a home. So, it was like a little ohana. And they were just really, you know, shocked that I had a Dear John, and they were so consoling. But I couldn’t afford it anymore, so Clinton Kane, who was a park ranger at the memorial, said, Come with me. And he took care of me, and I ended up living in Waimanalo with another Japanese American fellow who worked for Hawaiian Tel. And I learned to be Hawaiian. I ate food that I thought I could never eat, did things that I never thought I could do. I learned how to body board at Makapuu. And that was … thrilling. [CHUCKLE]


And the food teaches you a lot about history of the islands, too.


It does. I never quite caught onto opihi, but I gave it a good attempt. But I started to fall in love with some of the Hawaiian foods. And if I can digress, a simple story of this kind of generosity and culture here that was unknown to me was that, where we lived, we lived close to the mountain in Waimanalo. So, when it rained, the roof was metal, and it was just a racket. But you get used to it. And then, when we would go fishing or anything, the fish that we got, we would drop off to some of the neighbors who had their farms there. And the next day, there would be vegetables or fruits left there. And it just the kind of warmth and generosity that … didn’t see that in Los Angeles.


When you said your girlfriend couldn’t hack it, did you consider saying, Okay, this is really complex for me and I don’t think I’m gonna do it?


No; ‘cause I had fallen in love with the story of the USS Arizona Memorial, and the fact that both sides of my family were at Pearl Harbor. And I had fallen in love with the ethics of the National Parks Service. There was just no turning back for me. And I was told that if I wanted to be a permanent ranger, because I had come here for that reason, that I needed to go to the law enforcement academy. And I did so; I left here, I went to Santa Rosa, California and went to the sheriff’s academy there and became a law enforcement ranger for the National Parks Service. And on the day of graduation, I got a call from the chief ranger, and he hired me. And that was the beginning of that career, and it was one of those magical moments that I had arrived.


You know, most times, when people do go into history, it’s with the idea of teaching it. Getting advanced degrees so they can teach it at the college or higher ed level.




But that was not your course, and you remained employed in it continuously.


Yeah. You know, the bottom line is that we that engage in this, whether we work in a museum or work for the National Parks or State Parks, we’re public historians that have a history field, and we deal with the public. And that in itself defines that we are educators almost at every moment. Because when people come to the national parks, or like to our site, they’re there to experience it, and we’re there to inform and illustrate why the site is important, and how it fit into the national past.


And at a place like Pearl Harbor, you get more material that you can vet from listening to people.


Right. And we have a story beyond the tragic events of December 7th. Now, we’re a World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It includes all of the Pacific war.


You know, one of the things I used to love about going to Pearl Harbor, even when I was a young adult, was getting to talk to people, volunteers, who had actually been at Pearl Harbor when the bombing occurred.




Men who had experienced it. Are there any volunteers now who do that? They must be in their nineties.


Yeah, there are. There’s one who was a young man. I believe his name is Robert Lee. He lived right in in at Halawa Landing. His home was on the edge of Pearl Harbor, right there in that kind of Aiea Bay right there, and he watched the attack from his second story, on Battleship Row.




But we’re talking about individuals in their nineties, and that is our fading resource.


Because before, the survivors would walk you around briskly.


I know; don’t you miss those days?


And tell you this, and tell you that. But they must have more limited circumference these days.


Well, I was a volunteer and the parks coordinator in 1987, 88. And I had over twenty-five Pearl Harbor survivors that volunteered through the week. And it’s just amazing that we have seen since that time, you know, the passing of a generation. There’s also the other group that’s right here, the civilian eyewitnesses, and those that worked at Pearl Harbor or the airfields, or at home. The biggest connection we made with the civilian community here, and I’m very proud of it because it was a movement to make sure all of the casualties recorded, were the civilian casualties. And at the time, to get those records was very difficult, because they were held by the Health Department here. Mayor Fasi, God bless him, he paved the way for us to get their records. They didn’t want to release them to us. We got all the civilian records, death records.


Of the civilians who were killed, I think it came out later that much of that was from friendly fire.




Honolulu was defending itself.


We found out two things, that it was actually forty-eight civilians. Later, we’d find one more, forty-nine civilians were killed in the attack. Most of them, almost eighty-five, eighty-six percent killed by friendly fire, and the definition of friendly fire, which is a strange term for it, was that as we were firing up at the planes, the shells were either not being fused properly, or faulty, and they were landing all over Honolulu, Waikiki area. And when that happened, many of the people believed they were being bombed. Remember, the planes were still flying over. That’s what my mother remembers; the houses being bombed and it was friendly fire coming down.


You know, there are so many myths about Pearl Harbor, including some I grew up with. Some of them were dispelled after I attended school in Hawaii. And I know of them was, you know, the Japanese planes didn’t come through Kolekole Pass to get to Pearl Harbor.


I know.


I thought that for years, and I’d drive by those mountains and think, Oh, that’s right where the planes came in.






That myth had some truth to it. And that’s one of the things I found out in doing some of the research about, was eyewitnesses watching the attack, in particular on Wheeler and Schofield, in that area, saw the planes. But the planes were turning at the base of the mountains, not flying through it. And the Japanese were always kind of, when I interviewed them, Why do they think we would do that? Because the main strike force flew down from Kaena Point, all the way, and turned over Makakilo, and then broke up in their attacks at Hickam and Pearl Harbor, and Ewa. One group came down the center of the island over Haleiwa, and moved up and attacked Wheeler Field, but they circled around. And so, film kind of endorsed that; the book and film From Here to Eternity somewhat endorsed that myth. Then tour guides caught onto it, and then it became part of the story, and they took people out there to Kolekole Pass. Now, the pass itself is historic, but the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, you see them flying right through the pass. So, Hollywood in many, many ways instills and certifies, and embosses some of our myths.


So, something that happened all those decades ago is still a moving target in terms of learning about it and memorializing it.


I’ll tell you, Leslie; the more you know, the less you know. And that’s been my case. You know, everybody says, Oh, you’re one of the experts on Pearl Harbor. And you know, I think what I could say safely is, I know where to find it, but it’s just an evolution still occurring. So, long after I leave my position, there’ll be someone that will find more history and more angles of that. And that’s been my case. Every time I go to work, there’s going to be something that’s new.


Teaching visitors about history is an important part of Daniel Martinez’s job. But there are other aspects of his work that go beyond uncovering new facts and correcting misconceptions. There is the ongoing story of the consequences and the lessons of that even today continue to inform us and affect our lives.


One of the things that I’ve been blessed with is, I’m the interment officer for what takes place on the Arizona. To see how the Navy, or in the case if it’s a Marine, how they honor and work with us on that ceremony, and when the families come there, and I take the urn down, and the family members are with me, and then I turn that urn over to the family member that’s appointed by the rest to do that, and then that person gives it to the diver … that is a moment.


You’ve gotten to meet so many of the survivors of Pearl Harbor attack. And you know, many have come over the years, some have volunteered here, some have moved here. And you’ve conducted oral history interviews with a lot of them. So, I just wonder; for those who went through those horrific times, I mean, they saw their fellow soldiers and other professionals, they saw such terrible carnage. What were their lives like after surviving this?


After the war, no matter what horrific circumstance they went through, whether they witnessed people being killed, or wounded themselves, or nearly killed themselves, they wanted to move on with their lives. Think about it; many of them were young. I did my first oral history with my grandfather, and he agreed to do it, but he wasn’t wild about it. And I couldn’t understand it. So, I started the interview and I had a little recording machine, you know, and microphone. And I get into the whole Pearl Harbor stuff, and he gets up in the interview and walks away. And he said, That’s it, that’s it; that’s all. And my grandmother, you can hear in the background saying, No, no, go back. You know. He got up, I think, three times and walked away. It wasn’t ‘til I started doing oral history interviews on my own in the late 80s that I understood what I was dealing with. He had never told anybody about it. And he had seen a young Hawaiian boy that worked on his crew wounded. He had to dive for cover, because he was in the area of Merry Point Landing. That was ground zero for the torpedo attack; they flew right up that channel. And so, he was seeing things and remembering things that he had not talked about. And as a result, he was reliving it.


I see.


And I didn’t know that. And so, I couldn’t understand at that time, and it took several years for me to get from the university here that I was going into an area of his remembrance that was extremely difficult, and he was reliving it. And he remembered the Arizona exploding, but he didn’t know it was the Arizona; he just saw a ship explode and the concussion rocked them there. And he remembered that he stayed there as a Navy federal worker, pulling bodies out of Aiea Bay and placing them on the landing in Aiea for identification, and never got over how young the faces were. And he remembered going through a darkened and panicked Downtown Honolulu, and seeing people and behavior that he never had seen before. People were frightened, and they were scared, and they were running lights, and they were driving up to the sidewalks. And he just said it was crazy. And nobody remembers or really talks about that, but it indeed happened. And so, when he got home late at night, we were now under martial law and it was blackout. And they huddled in their home in Kaimuki, like so many others did, not knowing what the next day would bring, sensing there would be Japanese soldiers in their front yard. And that was just the beginning of the martial law experience in Hawaii that, fortunately for my family, they were lucky enough to leave, although sadly, and be in a place where there was a lot more freedom. So, for the people of Hawaii, I mean, they’re often not really congratulated for their own sustainability and courage and effort in the war effort, just sustaining themselves under martial law. And so, the one thing that my grandfather witnessed that he couldn’t believe also was, and I tell the story now to a lot of visitors, is that after the attack, suddenly the workers that were of Japanese ancestry were being attacked and called names by local people that worked on the project. Which just seems crazy. But it was crazy. And so, it got to such a point there were fights, and the inability for crews to work together, and ethnic groups from Hawaii now even that had been their friends were no longer their friends. So, the crews were segregated; there was a Japanese American crew. This went on for several months, and then as feeling subsided—


Yeah; fear is a terrible thing. It drives bad behavior.


We see it. Yeah; and it drove some bad behavior. But it was one of those untold stories that he mentions on his interview, and in doing so, gave me glimpse of the kind of fear, as you say, sustained itself in the weeks and months after Pearl Harbor.


We learn the human experience of history and war through the testimonies of witnesses and survivors. Daniel Maritnez’s passion for gathering and perpetuating these stories keeps them alive, so we can heal from the emotional wounds of the past and understand history. Mahalo to Daniel Martinez of Kapolei for teaching us through stories. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go the Apple iTunes Store or visit


I remember we were making a film about Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001. We were in Washington, D.C., not more than fifteen miles away from the Pentagon. And these suits come in, and he leans over and said, We just got Pearl Harbored in New York. And that’s going on while we’re having …


While you are remembering Pearl Harbor.


While we’re remembering Pearl Harbor. We were ushered out; we could see the smoke coming up from the Pentagon.


Did you stay in the building?


They kept us there, and they moved us into the cafeteria lobby area, and we watched the second plane go in. It was profound, because we were scheduled to fly that day on Flight 77, the plane that went into the Pentagon. But the reservation was changed. It’s never been lost on me that I had a second chance in life, and … so, September 11th is, I guess, my touch with a Pearl Harbor-like event.





PBS Hawai‘i to commemorate Pearl Harbor anniversary with special programming

PBS Hawaii


HONOLULU, HI – PBS Hawai‘i is dedicating its primetime schedule the week of Dec. 4 to documentaries and television specials related to Pearl Harbor. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that catapulted the United States into World War II.


The lineup begins Sunday, Dec. 4 at 7:00 pm with the local broadcast premiere of Remember Pearl Harbor, a nationally distributed public television documentary presented by PBS Hawai‘i, and produced by filmmaker Tim Gray and the World War II Foundation. The film, narrated by actor Tom Selleck, features stories from veterans and citizens who witnessed the attack on the American Pacific Fleet.


PEARL HARBOR: USS Oklahoma - The Final Story

The battleship USS Arizona sinks after the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Photo: National Archives


Dec. 4 also marks the local broadcast premiere of Road to Redemption, a documentary from NHK World. Two men from opposite sides of the WWII front line meet decades later – and form a bond.


On Tuesday, Dec. 6, PBS Hawai‘i presents a new episode of its weekly oral history program, Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox. Featured is Jimmy Lee, a local resident who witnessed the attack as a child.


Here is the complete schedule for Pearl Harbor-related programming:


Remember Pearl Harbor

Premieres Sunday, Dec. 4 at 7:00 pm // Encores Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 8:00 pm

Narrated by actor Tom Selleck, this documentary chronicles the personal stories of veterans and citizens who witnessed the surprise attack by the Japanese on the American Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941. Using archival footage and photos, the documentary shows in detail the bombings on O‘ahu, along with the fiery explosion of the USS Arizona, the sinking of the USS Oklahoma, and the attacks on Hickam Field, as well as on other parts of O‘ahu.


NHK World Documentary – Road to Redemption

Premieres Sunday, Dec. 4 at 8:30 pm // Encores Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 9:30 pm

This NHK World documentary tells the story of two men who stood on opposite sides of the front line in World War II. Mitsuo Fuchida was the chief commander of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Jacob DeShazer, a U.S. Army Air Force corporal, dropped incendiary bombs on Nagoya in a revenge raid. After the war, both became devout Christians and embarked on missions in each other’s homeland. They eventually met – and forged a bond.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox – Jimmy Lee

Premieres Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 pm // Encores Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 11:00 pm

Jimmy Lee was only 11 years old on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Watching the bombs drop from his family’s farm, Jimmy couldn’t begin to imagine how his world would change, or what his simple childhood would become after Hawai‘i declared martial law.


Pearl Harbor – Into the Arizona

Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 8:00 pm (originally aired Nov. 2016)

Join the first expedition to explore the inside of the USS Arizona since the “date that will live in infamy,” as state-of-the-art imaging technology reveals the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack.


Pearl Harbor – USS Oklahoma – The Final Story

Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 9:00 pm (originally aired Nov. 2016)

Explore what happened to the USS Oklahoma, the only battleship to capsize during the Pearl Harbor attack. Examine new details about what may have caused the ship to overturn and hear stories from Oklahoma survivors and families of those lost.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox – Daniel Martinez

Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 10:30 pm (originally aired Dec. 2014)

As Chief Historian at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Daniel Martinez has heard stories from the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and shares those stories with Park visitors. In this conversation, hear how his connection with that infamous event goes deeper than his role as a historian.


For questions regarding this press release:

Contact: Liberty Peralta


Phone: 808.462.5030


PBS Hawai‘i is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and Hawai‘i’s sole member of the trusted Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). We advance learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches people’s lives. We bring the world to Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i to the world. | | @pbshawaii

The Common Cause

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Casablanca 1943.



Air date: Tues., June 16, 8:00 pm


FDR shatters the third-term tradition, struggles to prepare a reluctant country to enter World War II and, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, helps set the course toward Allied victory. Eleanor struggles to keep New Deal reforms alive in wartime and travels the Pacific to comfort wounded servicemen. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1943 and with the war still raging, FDR resolves to conceal his condition and run for a fourth term.



Jessie Higa


Original air date: Tues., May 14, 2013


Jessie Higa is a volunteer historian at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Oahu. A child of parents in the service and now the wife of a military officer, Higa is a civilian who has always had close military ties. She shares her wealth of knowledge about the area that became Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Download the Transcript




Two years ago, we had one veteran who was ill. He said, Jessie, I won’t make it for the 70th, but if I come back, you’re gonna let me come to Hickam? I said, Oh, absolutely, I’ll give you a tour. Well, his wife calls me after Christmas, and she says, You can pick Fred up at United Cargo. And I was like … United Cargo? It was his casket.


Jessie Higa refers to herself as an old soul, and has taken it upon herself to preserve the stories of Hickam Air Force Base. Remembering the past with historian Jessie Higa, next, on Long Story Short.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Jessie Higa is a military wife and mostly volunteer historian for Hickam Air Force base. She leads historical tours of Hickam, chronicling its role in the 1941 December 7th attack, while highlighting some of the pre-war history and Hawaiian cultural sites of the area. Jessie Higa grew up around the world in mainland communities like San Antonio, Texas and Maryland, and faraway places like Yokota Air Base in Japan, and Tehran in the Country of Iran. She said that as a military child, it was hard to claim one geographical location as home. Both of her parents were born and raised in Hawaii, so during her summers, she would often come and connect with her island roots.


So, you have such an interesting history, in that you look like a local girl, and you are Japanese American, Hawaiian, Chinese, and yet, you’ve spent much of your life away from here. And you weren’t born here, either.


No. Katonk, I guess, is what my cousins used to call me. And being a military child, it gave me the opportunity to travel the world. And being that my parents were from Hawaii, I still had that cultural background of knowing that I had Hawaiian ancestral roots, Japanese American and Chinese American. So, it’s been great to be able to know that I have a multitude of experiences in my ethnic and military background as a child.


How much time did you spend in the islands while you were growing up?


Just the summer. It would just be maybe when school got out, the end of May ‘til maybe about August. My mom’s parents live in Pauoa Valley, and Kanealii Avenue. And that was home. Cute little house that was built by Grandpa. We call him Poppy Joe. And the avocado tree, the plumeria, the mango trees. It was literally coming home to what we felt was our grassroots. And it was during that summertime that my grandparents would really teach us Hawaiian lei -making, taking care of the plants. It was like home school, and learning our heritage, and my grandfather speaking his moolelo’s, his stories to us. And then, my dad’s side, we would spend the weekends in Waipahu. And I can still smell the stench of driving up that hill to the sugarcane mill.


Oh, and Waipahu Sugar Mill was still going.


Correct. And actually, my grandfather and my grandmother were still living in the old plantation areas of Waipahu. And it was great. You talk about nostalgia. You go back there now, you can’t even identify the streets anymore. But those are my fondest memories, to come back to Hawaii during the summertime.


When you say coming back, you weren’t born here, so your life in Hawaii was during the summer.


Absolutely. And that’s the predicament of being a military child. You don’t know what is home. And even if it’s the base that you’ve been there the most, which would be for me Japan, I still don’t consider myself technically Japanese. And though I’ve lived most of my adult life here in Hawaii, now I can say this is home. But as a child, that was the one challenge, was to really feel a sense of place. And you almost had to make it the best wherever you went. And that’s what my mom taught us as children, to just make home, home where it is, wherever you go.


Your parents have not only traveled the world, but they still haven’t come back to Hawaii to live. They left shortly after graduating from University of Hawaii at Manoa together, and off they went.


Yes; they are still on their adventure, what I call it. And they deserve it. My parents have been hard workers, they love Hawaii, they always get their time to come home. But I really find that Japan has been an important place in their lives, probably because so much of them, the memories of us as kids are still there. They’ve become unofficial ambassadors at Yokota Air Base, and my mom’s a teacher. And that really fills a void in her heart of us having grown up. She can now invest in these younger kids. And my dad’s also a professor there, associate professor, and they just love where they’re at right now in their lives. And the thought of even retiring … we’ll see. They’re seventy – three. [CHUCKLE]


And still going.


Still going. When they file their official retirement papers, then I can start planning that they’re coming home. Yeah.


But they really did a good job with you, then, of making you feel comfortable and able to take whatever came your way in a new environment.


They taught us to know how to be resilient. They taught us how to learn how to make friends easily, no matter where we went. And I watch my mom and my dad, how they interact with people, the generosity, the sincerity. That is what I think I learned the most from my parents, and I’m just so grateful.


You have siblings. Who are your siblings?


My older sister, four years older, but sometimes even though I’m forty – five, I feel like I’m sixteen around my sister. She’s incredible. She’s always been the independent one, very forthright, and I’ve admired my sister, I still do. My brother, Richard … not too many people know this on Hickam. But I had a younger brother who was a year and a day from me. My birthday is May 19th, his is May 20th. And my mom brought us back to Hawaii, ‘cause my father was serving in Vietnam, so he was born here at Tripler. We’re so close in age. We grew up together, there for one another. We had our sibling rivalries, like most siblings do. But there came a point about two years before his death that we really matured, and we were done with the fighting and the pettiness, and he just grew up to be a great young man. And it was cut short … but I have no regrets. I tell people … to have sixteen years with him is better than nothing. Sorry.


He drowned.


Yeah, there was a drowning incident, and it was one of the first deaths on our base. But the community just came together, they were there to uplift us and to support us. And I think that’s why in many ways, there are these very strong ties to Yokota, because that’s what I remember. And it’s an honor that he’s buried at Punchbowl.


In 1991, Jessie Higa was hired as a park service ranger for the Pearl Harbor December 7th Fiftieth Anniversary Remembrance. She reentered military life when she married Irving Higa, a local boy and Air Force officer. They were stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and then in 2003, the family was transferred to Hickam Air Force Base. Now back in Hawaii, she along with other military wives began to research the history of the base. In 2009, Paul Casey, the former president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines and current CEO of Island Air, requested a Hickam Base tour for his father, a World War II Australian Air Force veteran. Jessie Higa volunteered to lead the tour. In doing so, she gained a mentor.


And you’re still in military life, and that’s because you married an officer.


Yes. Now here I am in my mom’s footsteps. I tease my husband that unlike my sister, who followed in my dad’s footsteps to be an Air Force officer at UH ROTC, I found the other way to get an ID card. And that was to marry into the military.


You wanted to get into the PX, didn’t you?


[CHUCKLE] It turned out that way, interesting enough. And my husband says, Okay, we’re married, what do you want to do tomorrow? It’s the day after our honeymoon. Let’s go to Hickam and get my ID card. And it was so wonderful to have that little card back to go into the commissary and the BX, ‘cause I was so accustomed to that.


So, you’ve talked about your parents being really important influences in your life. What other formative influences have you had?


There’s been so many recently, but in regards to what I’ve been able to do now at Hickam in restoring and preserving the history, is Mr. Paul Casey. He found me at a time when I was most vulnerable, not knowing the direction I was going with being a volunteer historian for the base. And his father was with the Royal Australian Air Force, and he and their friends were coming from Australia to visit Hawaii. And Mr. Casey says, Hey, anyone at Hickam could help out and give my dad a tour? And our veterans that I know if, my friends, were very good friends with the Royal Australian Air Force, so of course, I wanted to meet him. And I’ve heard about Mr. Casey, his background with Hawaiian Airlines, and Hawaii Visitors Bureau, and I thought, what a great opportunity to meet new people. So, I did the tour, and through that came an incredible friendship and trust. I needed mentorship, and that’s what Mr. Casey provided me. Belief in myself, belief in my passion, and to just be able to know where I was going with my goals, and if I had to redirect how to do that.


You’re awfully young to be so immersed in history. What is it about you, you think, that calls to you?


You’re so nice to say I’m young. But it’s the Asian, I think, it fools people how young I am. It’s because of my heritage. My grandfather told us the stories, I grew up learning the history in college as an intern at Hickam, the base historian was my mentor, and being able to participate in the 50th anniversary in 1991 as a park ranger. It was just the sequence of events that happened early on in my life. But I did take a long sabbatical to get married, be an Air Force wife, have kids, and I’ve now just picked up where I left off. So, it’s been about eight years, nonstop, of work in the history to where I am today. But it’s my life investment, so I’m not done yet.


And I think you have a great understanding of relationships, from your travel and from your family. And you use that today in what you do. And you don’t do much of it for pay; much of this is for love as a volunteer historian.


Yes. There’s a lot of budget cuts in the military, and it takes volunteers many times to step in and help the military advance, especially in the area of history. Veterans who can’t travel anymore, I need to now find them and travel to them. And I don’t have very many hobbies or expenditures, or expensive habits, so my husband knows if I need to take a flight to go to the 11th Bomb Group reunion in Texas, I’ll do that. And for even the veterans that come back, there’s not much funds to provide leis, coffees, to host them. And it’s amazing that through my friendships at the base, we’re able to do those type of things. To be able to say as volunteers, we will make sure that we can still roll out the red carpet, give them the aloha they remember. Can you imagine when they were here, before the war years, coming to Hawaii on those Matson ships with the lei’s, and the hula dancers, Waikiki, truly the aloha spirit. And that is what we try to do as volunteers, if the Air Force is unable to provide that financially, that we can come in as volunteers and make that all happen.


Pearl Harbor is so well known, and kids go on excursions there, and people take visitors there. But Hickam Field is not on the beaten path for many of our local residents. When you go there, it looks like the place that time has stood still since 1941. Tell us about Hickam Field.


Indeed. Hickam Field, when you get to the base and you come through the main gate, you’re welcomed by these two beautiful concrete portals that say, Hickam Field in replicas of the original art deco letters, beautiful amber lantern. You really do, when you enter the base, you feel that you’re going back in time. When you find the building, the barracks building where those three thousand two hundred airmen lived, it’s still battle scarred. And children or visitors that come run their hands across it, it really is amazing that you can connect with the the past, a day that will live in infamy. On Hickam, there’s a main street in front of the barracks building called Vickers Avenue. There’s a door that leads out from what was the kitchen, and on the sidewalk is a manhole cover. The story is that a young lieutenant, very brave, skinny, tall, red hair, just managed to muster that steel cover lid off. And as these scared boys were running out of the kitchen, he started to trip each one of them into this manhole. It was when the twelfth young man ended up on the top of the pile that the barracks building was hit, the kitchen got a direct hit, disintegrating the lieutenant. We still don’t know who he was. But one of the veterans who was in the manhole whose life was saved came back, and he told that story. And it was just so poignant, because we drive up and down that street, never realizing how important things like a manhole could be, the door to the kitchen that today is the communications squadron. That is why at Hickam, unless we keep these stories alive, it’ll just be another little hole in the sidewalk.


And meanwhile, there were pilots scrambling to get up in the air. Did they?


That happened more at Wheeler, where there was also a group of P – 40s that were at Haleiwa Field. Those were the ones that got airborne. For us, we had the big bombers, the B – 18s and the B – 17s. We were able to get three airborne, but that was after the attack. And for us, it was just disbursing to pull apart engines, there were so many fires that were just domino effect down the runway. Because of anti – sabotage measures, they were all parked so close together. So, most of our men were being strafed and killed in the chaos of trying to separate all the aircraft and salvage what they could, and also respond to the many wounded. But what isn’t told a lot, besides just the men that lived in the barracks trying to stay alive, get to the aircraft, help with the wounded, the untold story is what happened in our housing area. The women and children that were commandeering their cars out the base to get to safety, hiding out in the houses, listening to empty artillery shells pinging off the roofs. What happened when some of these Navy shells ended up in the neighborhood, luckily one hit a house, but the child was in the dining room having breakfast instead of her bedroom. So, there was a lot of bedlam, a lot of situations where families could have been killed. And … that’s the story that’s not told. And I have a friend of mine, Paul Coghlin, we are trying to tell stories. That it’s not just the actual veteran that’s a Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field survivor, but so are the women and the children.


Another thing that outsiders know, because we really don’t know a lot about Hickam, I think that we need to be educated, is the former water tower, now Freedom Tower, which gets decorated every Christmas, just festooned with lights.


Absolutely. It’s the iconic structure of the base, and especially at Christmastime, it is the tallest Christmas tree on all of Oahu. It sits right in front of the Hickam Elementary School, where my children have gone to school, and it’s just a beautiful structure, which my grandfather helped build back in 1938. And it’s grand, it really gives you a perspective of how important architecturally this base was gonna be for Hawaii. Architects and designers that had their hands in it, that truly wanted to make their mark in making sure that Hickam was by far the greatest endeavor in the 1940s to build an Army air corps.


Jessie Higa’s family connections to the World War II experience and to Hickam Air Force Base can be traced back to both sides of her family. In one instance, her family suffered a tragedy directly linked to events at Hickam during the December 7th attack.


My grandfather had a brother, and he was walking down Fort Street Mall with his child in his arms.


In Downtown Honolulu?


Downtown Honolulu, Fort Street. And a Navy shell came over. It was friendly fire, and the shrapnel went through him and the child. So, my grandfather had a very difficult time. When I became a historian during the 50th anniversary of the attack, and he says, Oh, the Japanese killed my brother, killed my niece. And it was so challenging to have to sit him down and explain to him that it wasn’t the Japanese, but had they not come, it wouldn’t have happened.


Just looking at all the war connections you have, other family members in the war?


Yes; my dad’s maternal uncles, both of them served in the 442nd 100th Battalion, and for both of them, Purple Heart. And my Uncle Irving Masumoto, actually was a Silver Star recipient. And it’s ironic that for our family, because we’re Japanese American, they had jobs on Hickam, but they weren’t welcomed back because of their ancestral roots. So, what they ended up doing was, enlisting to prove their loyalty, and also, they felt American and they really were. And thankfully for us, both of them were wounded, so they had Purple Hearts. And my Uncle Irving actually had a bullet that went underneath the helmet, grazed his ear, came out the top. And my great – aunt still kept that helmet. And it’s an honor to realize that through that patriotism, that my dad was inspired to, while at Waipahu High School, become a civil air patrol, and then University of Hawaii ROTC.   And my great – uncles, to know that they had that immense patriotism to want to say, We too will serve.


The area surrounding Hickam Air Force Base has a rich Hawaiian history that pre-dates the founding of the base in 1935. Jessie Higa has researched that cultural history and educates the military and the Hawaii community about the ancient Hawaiian burial sites in the Fort Kamehameha area of Hickam.


The fact that you’re Native Hawaiian too, you’re sensitized to iwi or bone issues, burials. And there are burials that are still being discovered in the Fort Kamehameha area of Hickam.


Yes. Being Native Hawaiian, my grandfather always talked to us about iwi, how he lived on Molokai and would bury his ancestors. When we came to Hickam, I was interested in finding out about this burial crypt, because during many of the military construction projects, we’ve accidentally uncovered Native Hawaiian burials. Through the Grave Repatriation Act, we by law need to report that to the Oahu Burial Council, and an archaeological monitor will come in and will assess what to do. And it’s just beautiful that there at Hickam, we’re able to honor the Hawaiian history that a lot of locals don’t even know about. And for me to speak at a makahiki to the Royal Order of Kamehameha, and to share with them the story of Queen Emma, to share the story of how the kupuna iwi are buried here and that we’re doing our very best to take care of the ancestral bones, it’s amazing that the Air Force is able to bridge that gap, and cultural understanding is always in motion. It’s a process that each person that comes through Hickam their two years has to learn, but it’s just amazing that we’re able to keep a very good relationship and respect to the Hawaiian history that’s there.


It must be difficult with so many people moving on. I mean, that’s the way of Hickam, it’s the military way, people who are into their jobs, and they’re focused. But you’re there. You don’t go.


I think I’m the continuity. And I’m here to help those commanders and those in leadership positions, that when they leave every two years, I can be here to say, How can I help you? Here’s what I know, here’s the best way to go about this. To be a bit of an advisor. And that’s what I feel my role is too, as a volunteer, to offer them information to where they can now make a judgment call based upon being educated now about the history. ‘Cause it’s not just military; we have to respect what was there before us.


As an unofficial liaison to the Hickam Field, Pearl Harbor survivors, Jessie Higa along with other military wives continues to host events, and often receives some very special requests from veterans and their families.


So, it never ends. I continue to have families that go, Jessie, I think my grandpa was here. And you just find it coincidental. A former base commander at Hickam, Colonel Barrett, his mom’s first cousin was there, and I was able to help him with that history, and it became a personal interest to him as he sponsored these veterans every year for December 7th. That is where I find everything comes at its … right time. Two years ago, we had one veteran who was ill. He said, Jessie, I won’t make it for the 70th, but if I come back, you’re gonna let me come to Hickam? I said, Oh, absolutely, I’ll give you a tour. Well, his wife calls me after Christmas, and she says, You can pick Fred up at United Cargo. And I was like … United Cargo? It was his casket. And within a day, we worked it out with the base leadership to have his hearse come into Hickam, escorted by security police, and his wife was in my car. And we drove around Hickam flagpole, like he wanted to, and there were eight hundred Hickam personnel … there, standing at attention around the flagpole, saluting the hearse as it went by. And that was his final wish. And that’s what I feel my calling is too, is to make sure that these veterans’ wishes are done, and that I can help the families make that possible. Hickam Field in the December 7th attack brings back such horrific memories. It is still the one place that beckons them, because of all the great experiences they had before the war. And that’s why today, so many of them come back and say, Jessie, I want you to scatter my ashes; Jessie, I’m gonna be buried here in Hawaii. And that’s their final wish, is to truly come home. That’s why I think I’m like an old soul, Leslie. I really feel, with the stories that my grandparents tell me of the 40s and the veterans, I feel like I live in this nostalgic world, that when I’m with them, they tell me I almost make them feel young again. But I am happy that I’m still young yet, that I’ll be around for the 100th anniversary, and in hopes in the next five years finish a book. There’s never been another book on Hickam Field history written since 1991, and there’s so much more to tell.


And you’ve already spoken with quite a few of the survivors of World War II.


I have.


In the attack.


Yes. And truly, we are able to still find primary sources. The men still exist, and not everybody in their nineties has dementia and Alzheimer’s. So, it is a race against time to find these veterans now, to get their stories firsthand. And then, the continuum to that is, also give the history now and educate the community, but then at the end of that continuum, it’s to educate the next generation. I need to seed all that I’ve been working so hard to preserve into a generation that will carry on that legacy for me.


So, have you answered your own question of, Where do I belong, and exactly where and how do I navigate that?


I have. I have my sense of place now. My husband and I haven’t decided where we’re gonna permanently buy a house, but I do know that this is home, Hawaii in general. I know where I am. As far as the history, I’m gonna continue to do this. Again, my life investment is the Hickam history. And I’m happy, I’m content. I don’t feel like I don’t have a home, so to speak. I feel like now I can plant my roots and say, This is where I will be and flourish. To be able to set my roots and say, Ah, won’t be transplanted again, this is where I’m going to stay. I will travel, I’ll do a lot of that with my kids and my husband, but this is where I know I finally have come home.


Volunteer historian Jessie Higa, who draws from her diverse family history and her life as a military wife, says she will continue to research, preserve, and inform the community about military heroes, including the women and children of Hickam Field. Jessie Higa continues to volunteer many hours at the base, and also moonlights once a week as a private contractor for the Hickam Historical Tours. Mahalo to Jessie Higa for sharing her story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


But what isn’t told a lot, besides just the men that lived in the barracks trying to stay alive, get to the aircraft, help with the wounded, the untold story is what happened in our housing area. The women and children that were commandeering their cars out the base to get to safety, hiding out in the houses, listening to empty artillery shells pinging off the roofs. What happened when some of these Navy shells ended up in the neighborhood, luckily one hit a house, but the child was in the dining room having breakfast instead of her bedroom.