People

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sacha Pfeiffer

 

Sacha Pfeiffer was part of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for exposing the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of clergy sex abuse. The story behind the reporting was made into the 2015 Oscar-winning film, Spotlight. This interview with Pfeiffer is from a February 2017 community conversation about the importance of asking difficult questions, even when the answers threaten the fabric of close-knit communities.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 8, at 4:00 pm.

 

Sacha Pfeiffer Audio

 

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Transcript

 

My job has given me an incredibly joyful and meaningful life. I get paid to ask questions for a living. How much fun is that? It’s always interesting. You get access to all sorts of worlds. And I’ve also learned, because of some of the work we’ve done, that on a very good day, you can also do incredible positive change. And so, I hope tonight, part of what we can do is celebrate journalism. Because as all of you know, if you’ve paid attention to the news, it’s a very perilous time for the journalism world. You know, the newspaper industry has had financially catastrophic sort of turn of events in recent years, essentially a collapsed business model that it’s still trying to figure out how to replace. And at the same time, we have a political climate now in which the press is sort of portrayed as the enemy.

 

Sasha Pfeiffer was one of five journalists on The Boston Globe’s elite investigative team called Spotlight. That’s also the title of the Academy Award-winning film about the reporters’ shocking findings with a transformational outcome. The Spotlight team never could have predicted that they would expose an almost unimaginable conspiracy that reached far beyond Boston’s Roman Catholic Diocese. Their pursuit of clergy sex abuse was controversial. But the newspaper built its case on the weight of evidence. The power of truth telling in our conversation with Sacha Pfeiffer, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. For this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll take you to a special event in Honolulu organized by the Hawai‘i Leadership Forum before an audience. Our guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Glove journalist, Sacha Pfeiffer, who was played in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight by actress Rachel McAdams. As part of an investigative team, Pfeiffer interviewed men in Boston who told of being sexually abused as children, sometimes for years, by Roman Catholic priests. What emerged was a pervasive Church culture that tolerated, and even protected child molesters. And not only in Boston. Sacha Pfeiffer joined us for a conversation about truth telling, and truth to power journalism.

 

How’s the cake?

 

It’s pretty good. You saving yours?

 

Nah. I can never eat those things. They kind of oppress me.

 

I know. From Washington?

 

Yeah.

 

Very interesting.

 

I’m not asking you to. All I’m asking is, who’s behind it. M-hm. Okay; I get it. You don’t want to talk. No, Dad, I’m not mad, I’m hungry. I’ve been talking here so long, I didn’t eat lunch. So, I’m gonna go get something to eat, and that’ll give you an hour to decide whether you want to be on the right side of this, or read about it like everybody else. Bye, Dad.

 

You think Cahill has something?

 

Maybe. I just don’t think the story is for us.

 

Ben likes it.

 

Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s just not Spotlight.

 

What’s just not Spotlight?

 

The PD numbers.

 

The numbers.

 

Oh. You got Cahill to talk?

 

No, but I will.

 

Good.

 

You did your investigative reporting on the Spotlight team on clergy sex abuse in the most Catholic city in the country, by percentage.

 

M-hm.

 

And I think most all of the reporters involved were lapsed Catholics.

 

M-hm.

 

You were also a Protestant, and I think you lapsed there too. And much was made in the Spotlight movie about the outsider coming in, the Jewish guy running the paper and saying, You guys need to explore that.

 

Yeah.

 

Could you talk a little bit about that?

 

Yeah; this is in reference to Marty Baron, who was the editor of The Globe when I was there, and who is now the executive editor of The Washington Post, a paper that’s doing some of the most dynamic work in the country right now. And, yeah. And Marty is a tremendous, tremendous leader. He’s an exceptional leader, he’s a very gift editor. He has this incredibly pure moral compass, which I really love about Marty. The movie makes a lot of Marty having been Jewish. I think they took a little fictional license there. I mean, I think, yes, they wanted to portray sort of the outsider. But I think what Marty showed is that sometimes when you bring a set of fresh eyes to something, it makes an enormous difference. I mean, we began our project because there had been a priest named John Geoghan who had a long history of abusing kids, and there were many lawsuits filed against him. All those cases had been sealed in the court. The Church asked the court to seal the cases, the court did. Marty came to town from the Miami Herald, and he said, Why are these cases sealed? And there was this uncomfortable silence in this news meeting, because all of us were so used to just accepting that those files are sealed, we can’t access them, that we hadn’t questioned it. So, Marty told the Spotlight team, Go find out what you can. And at the same time, he asked The Globe’s lawyers to try to unseal those files, which they successfully did after several months. So, I think again, fresh eyes can make a difference in coming to a place that’s been used to the same thing for a long time.

 

I’m sure you knew when you started poking around, and you started going to press, that you would become targets. Who are these people? What’s the vendetta about?

 

Because Boson is so Catholic, we were worried that we might be picketed, or there would be protests. We got none of that. And I think that part of why that didn’t happen is that, you know, we were able to get into the Arch Diocese of Boston’s file cabinets. We were able to access all of their clergy personnel records. So, these weren’t stories based on anonymous sources; these were record by the Church itself. And I think that when a project is that bulletproof, it makes it hard to blame the messenger.

 

I guess it was Mr. Baron who had the idea of, Don’t go after individual priests because we’ve heard of individual priests for so long; go after how the Church institution treated the priests. And you showed evidence of passing priests. They call it passing the trash, or mobile molesters, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

 

Yeah. I mean, this was Marty’s mantra. Is that, you know, for years, The Globe and other publications had written stories about priests that abused children. We were looking not simply at that, but about Church officials who cover up for priests who abused children, who systematically would get reports, and then shift priests to other places. And in the pre-internet era, if you sent someone thirty miles north of Boston, the people who lived thirty miles south of Boston would lose that person. You wouldn’t know where they went. So, that was our goal the whole time, is to focus on the system.

 

I know what you must be thinking. Like, why would I ever do that to some creepy guy who’s thirty years older than me? But what we have to understand is that this is the first time in my life that someone told me that it was okay to be gay.

 

Mm.

 

And it was a priest. I’m sorry; I knew I was gonna do this. Oh, I’m sorry.

 

Don’t be sorry. It’s okay. Joe, it’s okay.

 

Of course, there is a church right there, and a playground.

 

Joe, did you ever try and tell anyone?

 

Like who; a priest?

 

You know, often reporters are doing stories as a team, they get really excited about nailing an interview, or catching someone in a lie, and you see high-fives. But this is not the kind of series that would produce that kind of rejoicing.

 

No. I mean, it was pretty sombering. And, you know, we had some very dad, intense conversations with adult men who, when they were adolescents or children, had been abused by priest. And again, very intense, very emotional. But, you know, you also become angry, because you realize someone has been damaged at a formative time in their life, and it’s hard to recover from that. And I think anger is a motivational tool, and that’s what it was for us.

 

The most haunting moment in the film to me—and when you get a chance to ask questions, please mention yours if it’s appropriate—I think it was Father Paquin. And I think you knocked on his door, and he told you, I was just fooling around.

 

Hi, there. I’m looking for Ronald Paquin.

 

Yes?

 

You’re Father Paquin?

 

Yes, that’s right.

 

I’m Sacha Pfeiffer from The Boston Globe.

 

Okay.

 

Could I ask you a few questions?

 

Go ahead; yes.

 

We spoke to several men who knew you when they were boys at St. John the Baptist in Haverhill. They told us you molested them. Is that true?

 

Sure; I fooled around. But I never felt gratified, myself.

 

Right. But you admit to molesting boys at St. John the Baptist?

 

Yes, yes. But as I said, I never got any pleasure from it. That’s important to understand.

 

Right.

 

Yeah. You know, a lot of people have asked whether I thought that priest had dementia. And I don’t think so. I think you really just saw this twisted rationalization for why they did what they did. I think for me, the biggest unanswered question is the why. I mean, there are many theories about why it happened, but that’s a really hard one to answer.

 

And you devoted some of your coverage to why.

 

Oh, we did. I mean, we ended up writing for about a year and a half about this issue. And we didn’t just write about priests who abused children; we basically followed the story as it tentacled. So, we looked at why did this happen, was it because the lady wasn’t very involved, was it because women couldn’t be priests, if women had been more involved would this not have happened. As the Arch Diocese of Boston began settling a lot of cases, it hurt the Church financially. So, we wrote about the Church being on the brink of bankruptcy, the Cardinal resigned eventually. So, it became a daily beat, essentially. You know, when I joined the Spotlight team, Spotlight had been known for basically doing a story or two a year, maybe. They came in at nine, and they left at five, which is very rare in the newspaper world. And someone had said to me, Enjoy your early retirement. Which I thought was funny. But my experience with Spotlight was nothing like retirement, because basically, once that story broke, it became a daily beat, a competitive beat, where national newspapers were following it. So, it was very intense.

 

This event is called The Transformative Power of Truth Telling. What kinds of results did you see from this one and a half or two-year investigation?

 

You know, I think this will sound so basic. But in way, the gigantic lesson of this project was the importance of questioning authority. Part of why this happened is that the Catholic Church in Boston had so much deference that people looked the other way; they stopped asking questions. My grandmother, who’s depicted in the movie, was so devout.

 

 

Sacha, can I have a drink of water?

 

Yeah; sure, Nana. Yeah.

 

And I remember that when the story came out, she said to me, I can’t believe this happened, because we all though the priests were little gods. And I remember thinking, And that’s why it happened. Because when you think someone is a god, you’re not going to ask tough questions, and even if you suspect that something’s not right you might look the other way. So, I think it’s an important reminder to all of us for why we need to ask very difficult questions of people in high places.

 

And I’m sure some journalists in here remember there were calls in Hawaii to newsrooms, where it would be somebody who didn’t identify himself, he seemed very much in pain, maybe stuttered, and he would say, I was abused by a priest. He would say the priest’s name, but he didn’t want to say the timeframe, and he said there were no witnesses, and he didn’t tell anyone at the time, and no, he didn’t talk to the police, he didn’t speak to a lawyer. And he didn’t want his name used. So, what are you gonna do with that? So, it really required a different approach. And of course, later, as these boys grew up, they did seek out lawyers; some of them.

 

Yeah. You know, the movie makes clear that probably The Globe could have done these stories earlier than it did. But I think in a way, it ended up beneficial that we waited ‘til we did. Because first of all, it was the very beginning of the internet era, so our stories went online, and instead of being read only by people who got The Globe delivered to their doorstep, they were read by people all over the country. So, our phones began ringing off the hook with people from Washington State, Texas, Maine, Florida, saying you know, I was also abused by Father Paquin, I was also abused by Father Birminghan. So, confirmation came from around the country. And I think that Boston was more ready to accept a story like this. I’m not sure if we had written these stories in the 60s, or 70s, or even 80s, when the deference was still so high, that they could have accepted it, and maybe The Globe would have been picketed and protested. But I think the city was ready.

 

Was there corporate pressure? Okay, enough of the series, enough about the Catholic Church?

 

No, you know, there was one editor who, after we had been writing for a few months, felt like, Is this enough? But he basically was overruled, and several months after that, Cardinal Law resigned. Which I think showed you that we were right to keep up with it. But no, other than that, I would say no pressure. I think that we recognized the story had to be done.

 

What’s up?

 

Another time, Jim. There are cover-up stories on seventy priests. But the boss isn’t gonna run it unless I get confirmation from your side.

 

Are you out of your mind?

 

Come on. This is our town, Jimmy. Everybody knew something was going on, and no one did a thing. We’ve got to put an end to it.

 

Don’t tell me what I gotta do. Yeah, I helped defend these scumbags, but that’s my job, Robby. I was doing my job.

 

Yeah. You and everyone else.

 

I think we were all conscious that this was gonna take a toll of sorts on our family members, potentially. But it didn’t make us feel that we couldn’t do it. My mom, who’s also very Catholic—I think I told you this earlier. She wanted to be a nun, but at the time, convents were cloistered, so once you went in, you could only come out about three times or so. And her mother begged her not to do it, not to become a nun. And so, I remember that my mom, I didn’t hear from her for a while after our stories began to be published. And I think that my mom had to make peace with the fact that her daughter had played a role in something that was damaging to this institution she loved, even though I think she recognized that that story had to be told.

 

When reporters start on a story like this, they have a pretty good idea of at least how it’s gonna start. Did it take you to places you didn’t expect?

 

Oh, yeah. I mean, I don’t think any of us ever imagined it could possibly be at this scale. I mean, early on, we realized there may be as many as seven priests, and that seemed shocking to us. And then, in a few weeks, we realized the number was probably twenty. And then, by the time we published, we knew it was seventy. And then, we quickly learned that actually, it was hundreds. So, I think we went into this having absolutely no idea what we would find.

 

What did you find when you asked the question, Why? Why so much molestation?

 

Well, I mean, I think that there are so many theories for that. But I think that what I believe played a role is that, at least back in the 50s, and 60s, and 70s, boys who were gonna become priests actually went to pre-seminary. So, sometimes, you went to priest school, essentially, as early as age twelve. And I think that you’re at this formative stage in your adolescence in terms of your sexuality, and I think everything became sort of stunted in a way. There was a psychotherapist who was depicted in the movie who talked about … that it was sort of a version of arrested development. And I think you end up having these very immature priests who weren’t sure how to have relationships, and I think it expressed itself in an incredibly tragic way.

 

What did you see of the victims? I mean, after they were grown up, and they’d been in adult life for some time, what were they like?

 

You know, I think all of us know that sexual abuse is one of the most terrible things that can happen to someone, and if it’s also by a leader person and authority like a priest, it’s even more damaging. And so, I think that it’s hard to ever recover from that. And we saw that.

 

And these boys were pretty sure that other people knew that they were being taken to a rector’s office or a church office. It was a pattern, but nobody spoke up for them.

 

Yeah. Or sometimes, people did speak up, and they weren’t believed. Their parents may not believe them. And that, I think, compounded the tragedy. So, it was a culture of secrecy.

 

Hi.

 

Hi.

 

I’m Sacha Pfeiffer from The Boston Globe.

 

Yeah; what do you want?

 

I’d like to speak with Thomas Kennedy.

 

He doesn’t live here anymore.

 

Do you know where he lives? Sir, I’d just like to ask a few—

 

Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe.

 

Oh, yeah. Hi.

 

Hi. Thank you. Anything else you can recall?

 

No.

 

No. But I got a cousin in Quincy; she saw him on the street a few years later.

 

The bishop came over the house. He said nothing like this had ever happened before, and he asked us not press charges.

 

And what did your mother do?

 

My mother? She put out fricking cookies.

 

 

Here, we saw a couple of priests who were named in lawsuits and in accusations. And one molested someone for quite some time, and then mentioned him to someone else, and that person picked it up. It was really hard to hear about.

 

Yeah. After our stories began to run, I got a few calls from people who would say things to the effect of, What was in the water in Boston, why did your priests have these issues? But they were missing the point, which is that in almost every city in which this has been looked into, it happened. And it was just a systematic problem, and if you had the ability to get into the files, you would often find out it happened in every city where there was a major Catholic presence.

 

What is an investigative journalist? Because other reporters who are assigned to other areas of coverage, they do stories. What’s the difference?

 

Yeah. I mean, many people believe, and I think I agree with this, that there really shouldn’t be a distinction between a reporter and an investigative reporter. There are some people whose fulltime job is just to do long-term investigative stories. But really, any beat you have in addition to the daily news and the feature stories you’re looking for, ideally the beat reporter would be looking for investigative stories to do as well. So, there’s no argument that there’s no distinction.

 

You work for a commercial newspaper, and we have nonprofit news folks here. Any thoughts on what business model is best to get journalism that truly matters?

 

No. I mean, I think that is the question that everyone is trying to figure out right now. What is the new business model? I mean, it used to be that if you were a department store and you wanted to advertiser, if you wanted to place a classified ad, you went to your newspaper. That all changed with things like Craigslist; right? So, no one quite has figured out how to replace that business model, but that’s the key, I think, to making the industry survive.

 

One of our attendees has a question, which follows right along. What would you like to see happen to the news, going forward? What would you like to see it evolve into?

 

That’s such a big, broad question. I mean, I just hope the news survives. I hope that people realize that it’s worth paying for. And for those of you who are digital subscribers or print subscribers to a newspaper, thank you. If you’re not, I feel like every time I have a captive audience, I can’t help but give that sales pitch. You know, when you buy a newspaper or you make a contribution to an organized nonprofit like Civil Beat, that’s what pays for the reporters to do what they do. So, I hope that you realize that there’s a direct connection between keeping the news alive and being a subscriber or a donor.

 

Another question from the audience. After your courageous investigation, what have you learned about people? Are we basically good, and if so, what do we make of the evil that people are capable of committing?

 

That’s another one hard to answer. I guess I’d just go back to what I said earlier, which is, we have to always be willing to ask very tough questions of powerful people and powerful institution, and nonprofits, and businesses. You know, tonight, we’re talking about truth telling. And that’s really what I think journalism is. So, we just have to be always willing to question authority and ask tough questions.

 

What are some of the areas that most need sunshine or transparency in truth telling?

 

Government, always. Because I think, unfortunately, what often motivates people to go into government and politics is not a sense of public service, but power and access. So, I think that that makes it very important for us to keep tabs on that. I definitely believe the nonprofit sector is one, because too often, it does get a pass. And obviously businesses. I mean, I think everything.

 

Do journalists take oaths of ethics, like lawyers or doctors, the Hippocratic oath?

 

We don’t officially, but it’s a job that involves an enormous amount of judgment and ethics all the time. What we cover, how we cover it, when we stop covering it. You know, you have people tell you very sensitive information, and we interview children. I mean, there’s an enormous of amount judgment, and that’s why you need to make sure you have reporters with high ethics, and editors with high ethics.

 

The New York Times is using headlines that say, Trump Lies. That’s a policy now. What do you think about that? You know, it’s not your policy, it’s the paper, but what about—

 

I think it has to be case-by-case. But I think sometimes, we have to call things for what they are. And you know, Marty Baron, again, the former Globe reporter now with The Post. You know, President Trump has said that he’s at war with the press. And as Marty said, and it’s beautifully said; We’re not at war, we’re just at work. You know. I mean, that’s …

 

Great line; great line.

 

It is a great line.

 

These are two kind of related questions. What are some of the investigative stories you most admire, and why?

 

I think I admire all of it. I think, you know, when you do investigative reporting, it probably is gonna keep you out of the paper or off the air for a while. And that makes reporters feel uneasy, because you’re judged in part by your productivity. So, you have to hope you have the backing of a strong editor and publisher who recognizes that you may not see your byline for a while, you may not see that person on the air for a while, but hopefully what they deliver will have been worth the time.

 

Here’s another question from an attendee. Given your experience, what do you think warrants deeper investigation in terms of investigative reporting? What’s the contemporary iceberg that we need to go deep and see?

 

I think the past few months have clearly showed us government. I mean, it’s gonna be harder than ever to get information. And the other interesting thing is … I think that there’s also another thing the media is going through is trying to decide, Okay, what is the value of sitting through a presidential briefing? You know, someone has suggested that maybe you send the interns to the briefing, they take down what was said, and really, what the reporters need to do now is do all the tough digging, and have to rely on civil servants to give them information. It’s a very challenging time to be a reporter right now.

 

It is. And we’ve seen in debates and in other live coverage, a reporter will miss a factual mistake by a newsmaker, and then get called on the carpet for it.

 

Right. The media critic for The Washington Post is a woman named Margaret Sullivan. She used to be with The New York Times. And I think it was Margaret that wrote recently about how some of the NPR hosts, who are excellent, when they do live interviews, you can have a situation where the person you’re interviewing says something that is incorrect. And even if you’re very prepared for that interview, you may not realize that something incorrect was just said, and it’s almost virtually impossible to correct after it’s been said in that forum. So now, there’s a debate out; should they be doing fewer live interviews, since you don’t have the ability to fact check in time. Because of all the changes happening politically, it’s making the media have to really rethink about it does its job.

 

After sharing the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for public service with The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, Sacha Pfeiffer left the newspaper in 2008 as the paper struggled financially. For six years, she worked for Boston’s Public Radio Station. At the time of this conversation in 2017, she’s back at The Globe writing about wealth, philanthropy, and nonprofits. Sacha Pfeiffer is a gifted journalist and author who is matter-of-fact about speaking truth to power. We’ve been very fortunate to share an evening with her in Honolulu. Mahalo to the Hawai‘i Leadership Forum for conceiving and organizing this event. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

I think they did a …

 

You know, what was really interesting was, most people only get to see these movie stars on the red carpet or in a movies. We got to see them prepare for these roles, and it was really impressive to see the amount of work they did. I mean, they spent time with all of us individually, we spent a lot of time socializing with them. And I realized later, what I thought was socializing was research for them. I mean, we all of a sudden were seeing mannerisms depicted on the screen, and we began to realize all the time they spent with us, they were dissecting, they were observing, they were analyzing.

 

So, they work hard to be as good as they are.

 

[END]

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
The Impression

 

The acclaimed series returns, with Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. exploring the mysteries, surprises and revelations hidden in the family trees of popular figures.

 

The Impression
Comedian Larry David and politician Bernie Sanders discover they have more in common than they thought, as they trace their roots from 1940s Brooklyn back to Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

The Real Sherlock Holmes

 

Sherlock Holmes has been described as “the greatest detective who never lived.” How has this ever-popular detective influenced modern-day crime-solving, espionage and even space travel? The film reveals the hidden side of Holmes’ legacy through interviews, reconstructions and memorable clips from popular Sherlock productions.

 

Undefeated by Dark Times

 

CEO Message

 

Undefeated by Dark Times

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa and Ralph Aviles

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Waikiki Health’s Chief Medical Officer   |   Ralph Aviles, former professional boxer

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOIt’s happened maybe a dozen times already.
Within a minute of running into someone I know or meeting someone new, I’m asked about a guest whom I interviewed recently on our weekly Long Story Short program.

 

“You know, the man from Waikīkī,” said Blake Johnson of Honolulu, shortly after we met at a PBS Hawai‘i film screening. “What a guy! I can’t think of his name.”

 

Mr. Johnson went on: “You ask yourself, ‘Can he be real?’”

 

He was referring to Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Chief Medical Officer at nonprofit Waikiki Health, who matter-of-factly told about growing up in Pālolo public housing. An only child, he didn’t know his father, and at a young age, his single mother left him on his own much of the time, going off to drink and gamble.

 

There was not the slightest trace of self-pity or bitterness as he related how he would eat dinner alone most evenings and put himself to bed. In the light of morning, he would find his mother sleeping soundly in her bed. Taking care not to awaken her, he would kiss her goodbye before making his way to school.

 

The future Dr. Kalauawa blamed no one for his circumstances. He knew that his mother loved bars and card games. He also knew that she loved him.

 

“I’m really happy I came upon that program,” Mr. Johnson smiled. “He’s quite a person. Yes, he’s real.”

 

Viewer Judy Soares also was moved by Dr. Kalauawa’s story. And she found former professional boxer Ralph Aviles “spell-binding” as he described his tough early childhood and his volunteer work today with at-risk youth.

 

Ms. Soares wrote: “I am a retired teacher who worked at a school where children came from difficult family circumstances. I used to spend many hours worrying about their futures. After seeing your interviews, I was so happy to see the resilience both men displayed.”

 

“…Both now have a dedication to helping less fortunate people. But they don’t do the helping in a condescending way – they respect the people they are helping. It’s inspirational.”

 

These Long Story Short guests are not celebrities, but they shine. Their dark times didn’t defeat them. These men quietly illuminate their lives and those of others.

 

A hui hou (until next time),

 

Leslie signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Rita Palafox

 

Rita Palafox left her sheltered plantation upbringing on Maui to join the Army straight after high school, and serve her country in the Vietnam War. Her 20-year career took her places beyond Hawai‘i – to Guam to recruit, and to the Deep American South, in the heart of Klan country.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 1, at 4:00 pm.

 

Rita Palafox Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Today, you have women climbing telephone poles, repairing lines, jumping out of aircraft if they want to go airborne, and infantry. So, the doors are wide open now, because we’re integrated. But back when I first joined, jobs were limited, and to get promoted, you had to compete with the men.

 

Rita Palafox joined the Women’s Army Corps at a time when there were very few opportunities for women, whether it was in the Army, or on Maui, where she grew up. She left her plantation community to provide for herself, and became witness to one of the most transformative eras in modern American history. Rita Palafox, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Rita Margarita Palafox served in the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, for twenty years, retiring at the rank of Master Sergeant in 1976. Her military career spanned a time of profound change in America, from her encounter with segregation in the 1950s to working as an Army recruiter at the height of protests against the Vietnam War. Growing up in a small plantation community on the north side of Maui in the 40s and 50s did not prepare her for the culture shock she would later experience, but it did teach her important survival skills.

 

I was born in Spreckelsville on Maui, 1937. Community living was wonderful. I had so many aunties and uncles, as everybody kinda was like one family. We shared problems, went to school together, some from grade school to high school. The thing that I did not appreciate as a youngster was the outside toilet facilities. Hated that. But we learned to cope and live with it. Everybody, I would consider, whether you were Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, the living was hard. The women, some worked in the cane field to help to provide food for family. My father was fortunate to work in the plantation store, but he had a hard job. He had to go to each camp, and there was ten of ‘em, to take orders from the families, and then take it back to the store, and fill those orders, and deliver it again the next day. I was about four or five years old when I used to go with him. He was my babysitter, being the youngest in the family. So, I watched him do this and said: Whoa, what a hard job. But then, Mama-san and Papa-san, and my aunties and all my uncles used to see me in the car and bring things for me, so I kinda benefited from this wonderful trip. But I learned how hard living was. If people didn’t, you know, unite together to survive, it was hard living.

 

He was the plantation store manager, which I don’t think a lot of Filipino guys did in plantation days; right?

 

M-hm. He also loved music. He could go to the store and buy a Glenn Miller, let’s say, one of his favorite songs, and he could write notes for every instrument. And I told him: How did you learn all this? He said: It was a gift. And he started putting together a band. ‘Til this day, he never told us how he managed to get them all dressed in Navy uniform. They rented it, but I don’t think it was ever returned.

 

They used to call it the Old Filipino Glenn Miller Band. It bothered my mom, because she needed his help sometimes, but she knew he loved his music.

 

Your mother was a Vares.

 

Yes.

 

Portuguese stock.

 

Yes.

 

And then, your dad, a Palafox; Filipino.

 

Yes.

 

And tell me about how those ethnic groups affected your upbringing.

 

Well, to be honest with you, you know, our camps, we had Filipino Camps, Japanese Camps.

 

Portuguese Camps.

 

Portuguese Camp, Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian. And the camp we lived in, we always get picked by the other kids, because it’s supposed to be the worst; outside bathrooms, the facilities weren’t as good as the ones in the other camp. They had indoor toilet facilities, little things like that.

 

So, people teased you for having the junkest facilities.

 

Yeah; and you know, like with the low class and stuff like that.

 

Because which camp were you in?

 

I was in Camp 1; they used to call that the …

 

Filipino Camp?

 

Filipino Camp. But you know, later on, as they ran out of home facilities for the other race, like the Japanese, they kind of brought them into our camp, which was good. You know, so we had a mixed plate after a while. But anyway, it was hard. Being Filipino, I’m going be very honest with you, they used to call us book-books.

 

It’s usually the newer immigrant group that gets picked on; right? And Filipinos were newer.

 

Yes. I went to Maui High School, and I always used to tell my brother: We’re only going to school to eat lunch. We were that motivated in the sense that, you know, I love history and I love science. So, those are the two subjects I made sure I paid strict—I was not what you would consider a college-bound student at that time.

 

Just weren’t interested?

 

Just weren’t interested, and knowing my parents could not afford it, anyway. You know. But they did save a lot for the two oldest. They did very well in school. In fact, all three of them went to Catholic school. They pulled them out of the public school, because they were complaining that the teachers were not fair. You know, they favored certain groups.

 

Ethnic groups?

 

Yes.

 

Which ethnic groups?

 

Japanese.

 

In public schools.

 

In public schools. My brother would say: I raise my hand, I had the answer, they called the next person, you know, the other person. So, my mom and dad talked, and says: About time we sacrifice, and pull our kids out of public school and send them to Holy Rosary Catholic.

 

But not you.

 

I lucked out, because, I said I didn’t want to go to a Portuguese school. No; it was a joke in the family.

 

Because Catholic schools are—

 

Most of the Portuguese—

 

Many Catholics are Portuguese.

 

Right. And I said: I went to school with all my friends from the camp, and I want to stay with them. My father said: No, you’re going. I said: No, I’m not. So, I won. I said: Dad, save your money; I’m barely making it through grade school, I can save you a lot of money, Dad.

 

So interesting that you weren’t a motivated student.

 

You know, my friends used say, I’m gonna be a beautician, I’m gonna be this, I’m gonna work in the bank, I’m gonna be a nurse. The only thing that really got my interest was the military, because my father was in the National Guard. He spent twenty-six years there. He was a wonderful sharpshooter.

 

Expert rifleman?

 

Yeah; expert. And he had his own rifle team, and they used to compete with all the other island National Guardsmen and Reserve. And they did pretty good. When I became a sophomore, I start thinking: Hey, you know, you better start thinking what you’re gonna do, ‘cause time is going fast. So, I thought about the military.

 

And what was there for women at that time?

 

Very little; the jobs were scarce. But you know, what motivated me is that they had some technical fields that I had been interested in. And definitely, they had the GI Bill, which is a college degree. So, if I could progress myself and find myself, hopefully in the military as a starter, maybe there’s a possibility I can, you know, find myself.

 

After graduating from Maui High School, Rita Palafox went right into the service, volunteering for the Women’s Army Corps. She was sent to Alabama for basic training, and on the journey there, had her first encounter with segregation.

 

We knew there were some racial problems, but we didn’t know how severe it was until we went by train, and our first stop was Texas. And we had stopover there, and that’s the first time we were exposed by the word Whites Only Bathroom, Colored or Black Bathroom Only. So, you know, we figured with our group, we had eight of us. We had some Filipino gals, a Hawaiian gal, and looking at me, mixed plate, dark, my tan. Well, we were confused and scared. For me, I have to use the word culture shock. It took a while for me to look at that and say: My god, we just raised our right hand and swear under oath that we will support and defend this wonderful country of ours, and this is the best they can do for us?

 

What year was that?

 

This was 1955.

 

And you had to choose what bathroom to go to?

 

Yeah.

 

White, or non-White?

 

Right in Texas. And so, we decided to flip a coin.

 

And we ended up going into the Black side of the house. And they were just as shocked as we were, because, whoa, here’s a group of—some of ‘em thought we were White trash trying to make trouble. So, we told them we were from Hawaiʻi. The minute we said that, boy, the whole world stopped. This one gal held the door open and says: I’ll hold the door. Because you had to pay a dime to use the bathroom. It was not free. So, we apologized; it was sad. And later on, we just told them, I wonder why they don’t have one for beige.

 

Everybody had a laugh about that. What about riding the bus? Anything happen on that score?

 

Yes. Our first pass, which we worked so hard for to go downtown and shop, and hopefully go to a Chinese restaurant and have some hopefully good Chinese food. Well, I was the last to board the bus. And I know there was a little bit confusion, ‘cause I could sit on … our group that went on the bus. I mean, like …

 

Where were they sitting? The ones who already got on the bus; where were they sitting?

 

Well, I don’t know what the bus driver really told them until I thought I heard: Back of the bus. So, my five senses went twenty-four/seven like, bing-bing, the vision got sharper, the hearing. I said to myself: Oh, my god, not on the bus. So, by the time I got to my turn to pay, I looked at the bus driver and I said: Did you say the back of the bus? He said, Well, yeah. Kinda he was just as stunned seeing all this. So, I said: You know, sir, in Hawaiʻi, we fight for the back seat.

 

And that’s so true.

 

And over here, we can go and, we can go to—

 

Now it’s reserved for you.

 

And he said: Hawaiʻi? He served with some folks from Hawaiʻi, and he apologized in the sense he said: You tell them sit anywhere they want. But they were already sitting down by the time I got there. So, I went to the back, and asked this nice gal in the back; I said: Do you mind if I sit with you? She says: Oh, no. So, I sat down. She said: What happened? And I told her. She just touched my hand and said: Thank you.

 

She was a Black woman?

 

Yes. So, I asked permission to sit back there. And I think I did tell her: I wish they had one for beige. And I said this was our first pass, and what a way to go. So, there was a lot of bumps in the road.

 

What a disconnect, after swearing patriotically.

 

Yes; that’s what hurt the most. Right. And how proud my father was when he arrived here. You know. And to be greeted like this, I’m saying: My god, this can’t be America, the land of the free.

 

So, you volunteered for the Women’s Army Corps.

 

Correct.

 

Which many people now don’t really maybe recall that there was a separate division for women, and it was separate, and not equal, because pay, power, very different in the Women’s Army Corps.

 

And you had to compete. When promotions come in, you then have to compete with the guys.

 

Tell me; were there jobs that were earmarked for women, and others for men, or were you competing for the same slots?

 

Well, when I joined, I would say we were lucky as women if we had thirty jobs available.

 

For women?

 

For women. The rest was open for the men. I lucked out, because I got on-the-job training. I guess my typing skills was so good they said: Don’t spend money on her, just send her on to her next assignment as a clerk typist. I knew pretty much what I was getting into. We had a wonderful recruiter. I mean, she let us pretty much know what was going on. Not too much with the problems with segregation and all that good stuff. She touched off a little bit, but not enough. We only took the minimum two-year service to find ourself, for me. And if I could not, you know, in two years realize, you know, what I should do, then I was in trouble. I mean, it was an opportunity, you know.

 

So, in two years, did you find yourself?

 

I sure did. We had a bulletin go out in every WAC detachment, and I used to check that bulletin board like a hawk eye. And when I was stationed in Oakland, my first assignment army terminal, I saw on the board, Okinawa. I said: Oh, wow. But I knew I didn’t have enough service time. You needed a year, unless you waiver your time. So, I only came in for two; I had to have three years. So, I went right to the first sergeant and asked what paperwork I needed to waiver and take that extra year. And she said: Oh, I don’t know, you still, you know, should stay a little longer, Rita. You know. And I said: No, I want to go. So, I lucked out and got Okinawa. So, when I got there, my first sergeant was Charles Los Banos. And that name is for me, legendary. So, I said: Wow. He was very strict with me. He said: Don’t you make trouble or bring shame to us, you know. He just wanted me to make sure, you know, watch what I do. And he was very protective. I told him: Jesus Christ, I left Hawaiʻi to get away from my father, and look at you.

 

So, was he talking about dating?

 

Dating, and be careful because uh, you know, we were young. He used to take me home, and met the family, and pretty much felt very adopted by this wonderful family. What a wonderful soldier, professional. So, I consider him a mentor. So, through his wonderful guidance, he kinda instilled me. I think I pretty much found myself, and I thank him, because I believe in mentors. I think this is why I can honestly sit here and tell you if it wasn’t for all these wonderful people who cared, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today.

 

Did you have a significant other?

 

No. No; at the time when I joined the Women’s Army Corps, once you got married, you had to get out. So, you know, we are—

 

You were marrying the Army.

 

We were married to the Army until the law changed. And it didn’t change until we integrated.

 

Which was when?

 

I would say between ’75, ’76; maybe after that.

 

After her two-year assignment in Okinawa ended, Rita Palafox reenlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. She was next stationed at Fort Ord, California before heading to Fort Lawton, Washington, where she was one of twelve women picked to be a senior missile tracker. Her second three-year term of service was almost over, when yet a new opportunity opened up.

 

Doris Caldwell; she was a young captain at that time. She knew I was thinking about getting out of the service, you know, when I was there in Seattle. So, she kinda sneaky through or politely knew the director of the Women’s Army Corps was coming, and she said: Rita, if you had one job that you’d like, which job would you take in the Army? I said: Recruiting. Knowing the chances of me getting army recruiting in Hawaii was … forget it.

 

Why would you want to recruit? ‘Cause this was during the Vietnam era.

 

Yes.

 

And you know, it was a hard sell in Hawaiʻi, in many cases.

 

Reason; you know, like I said, as you progress through your journeys, you grow up a little bit, you start finding yourself, and you said: Wow, I wonder what I’d be like if, you know, I could share my journey with the people that I really have high respect for, you know, or local kids. I mean, for me, I mean, there’s quality here. I mean, the family, the tradition of the Nisei or the Japanese, the 442nd. I mean, history is here. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t get recruiting.

 

The Vietnam War, of course, became a very unpopular war. Was it unpopular at the time you were recruiting?

 

Pretty much. In fact, Patsy Mink and Abercrombie was doing their thing with the University of Hawaiʻi. I’m not against demonstrating; I think it’s honorable, I think that’s what we fight for, and to have our freedom of speech and stuff. But when they go cross the line, yeah, we have problems in Hawaiʻi, but not as bad as California. Burning of the flags, draft cards, walking around with packages over their head. The part that hurt me the most, our recruiting station was on Halekauwila Street next to the unemployment office. And President Johnson came to visit with Inouye to give a speech at ʻIolani Palace. I went with my commanding officer. And they were so loud and so … oh, I was so embarrassed that these folks, as the President was trying to talk, they were yelling and screaming, and doing whatever with packages over their head. I went up one of ‘em and I said: If you believe so strong against the Vietnam War, take the package off your head. I know they weren’t from Hawaiʻi. Then, you had these kids that, not to be drafted, come in and say: I want to volunteer. There’s the balance. I said: My god, here’s this one guy putting a package over his head, demonstrating against the war, probably will never serve, and here’s the kids still coming in the door saying: I want to go in the Army and volunteer.

 

How did you feel about the Vietnam War at that time?

 

Pretty much, I’m not one for wars. I did a lot of visits to cemeteries. I still have a hard time.

 

But you still volunteered, asked for the recruiting job.

 

Yes.

 

With unsettled feelings about war.

 

Wars. There’s a lot of us feel the same way, even the ones that went there. You know, and some went back for second tour, because in their heart, especially if they lose a comrade at arms, their friend, they felt: Gee, I lived, and he didn’t, I want to go back. And they knew at that time, it was not a fair situation. They did not know a lot of things that was going on, and it was troubling for them, but they went back because they lived, and their friend didn’t. One of the things when I was picked as the recruiter here in Hawaiʻi, I knew I was already in trouble. Because the recruiting station know for you to get in recruiting, you had to be a recruiter. Well, I was brand new, fresh. There were warning signs that if I don’t produce, you know, the door I came in would be open to go out, kinda thing. I saw this recruiter by the name of Joseph Hao, top recruiter in the nation. And I said to myself: Who best can train me than him? He said: You know what; lot of those schools have ROTC. The Cabral brothers was with Kamehameha School, so he knew them. He said: I’m gonna call them, and see what they can do for you. I said: I want to go to Kamehameha School. He said: Forget it; I don’t think the principal gonna let you in. I said: Well, we can try. But the Cabral brothers got me in. And I was greeted by the president; I think her name was Clark. She said: You can talk to them, but they’re all college-bound. I said: Okay, at least I have the opportunity; thank you very much. So, I wore my dress blues, I went up there. I gave my presentation. And I was shocked; after I was done, about five of ‘em came up to me, says: Can we talk to you privately? I said: I’d love to have you guys. So, they came down. The principal wasn’t too choked up. But they came down, and they went in the service. Just to make a long story short; these kids, I know they were good. If you live in a dorm, they had white glove inspection. You know, basic training would be a breeze for them. They went in there, and we got a letter from the director of the Women’s Army Corps. She got a letter from the commandant of the Women’s Army Corps in Alabama, and she said she was so proud that there was a group of young women that came in and broke every record at the training center. American Spirit Award was the top, outstanding training; every category our good old Kamehameha School did it.

 

And that didn’t keep the young women from going to college, either. In fact, they would have their college paid for if they stayed in.

 

In fact, I had feedback from one of ‘em; she thanked me. She said: You know, I saved my parents a lot of money; I got something they could not afford. She was a good student, and thanks to the Army, she got her degree.

 

Did the headmaster let you back in?

 

No problem.

 

After nine years of recruiting in Hawaiʻi, Rita Palafox was proud to be asked to establish a recruiting center on Guam. Three years later, the Guam Legislature acknowledged her for meritorious work. Rita Palafox left recruiting to become a drill sergeant back in Alabama, at the same basic training camp where she started her Army career fifteen years earlier. She had received many commendations by the time she retired in 1976. Moving home to Hawaiʻi, she spent the next twenty-one years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mahalo to Maui girl Rita Palafox, retired and living in Windward Oʻahu at the time of this conversation in 2017, for your service to our county in active duty and civilian roles over a career that saw tremendous change in America. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Don Ho was my best friend. ‘Cause every group that graduated, or day before they finished their basic training, the last song they play before bedtime was the Taps, and I used to do my walk and give them my farewell speech. And I said: I would like for you to meet my best friend. And I turn on my tape recorder, and Don Ho would come on and say: I’d like to dedicate this song to my family, or to the audience, and then he sings I Will Remember You. And as soon as he got through singing, I would say to them: Bring some aloha wherever you go, whatever you do. Show respect, love one another, and spread some aloha throughout this world; we need it.

 

[END]

 

 

Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears

 

The story behind Johnny Cash’s 1964 Native American-themed concept album, a collaboration with folk artist Peter Lafarge is told in this documentary, with the participation of Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Nancy Blake, Rhiannon Giddens and others.

 

FAMILY INGREDIENTS
Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City – Pho

 

Vietnamese American Chef Andrew Le is friendly, carefree, fun and funny. He is also passionate about his work, family and mother who is keeper of all the secret broths! In this episode we learn about how the Le family immigrated to Hawaiʻi after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and became an American success story. Today they own one of the most popular restaurants in Hawaiʻi.

 

Airdates:

Wednesday, November 1 at 7:30 pm (premiere)

Wednesday, November 1 at 11:30 pm (encore)

Sunday, November 5 at 4:30 pm (encore)

 

Broadcasts of Family Ingredients on PBS Hawaiʻi are sponsored locally by:

 

FAMILY INGREDIENTS
Vietnam, Hanoi – Pho

 

If you’ve been to Honolulu, there is a good chance you have eaten at the Pig & the Lady in Chinatown.  One of the most popular dishes on the menu is Pho. In this episode host Ed Kenney and the Le family travel to Hanoi to explore the origin of this simple noodle soup and end up tasting many bowls.

 

Airdates:

Wednesday, November 8 at 7:30 pm (premiere)

Wednesday, November 8 at 11:30 pm (encore)

Sunday, November 12 at 4:30 pm (encore)

 

Broadcasts of Family Ingredients on PBS Hawaiʻi are sponsored locally by:

 

FAMILY INGREDIENTS
Lanaʻi, Hawaiʻi ‐ Venison

 

Cultural pride can be found everywhere in world but on the tiny island of Lanaʻi, one woman makes it a way of life. Hula dancer and sustainable hunter Anela Evans is remarkable in many ways but it is the memory of her father and her love of all things Hawaiian that keeps this young woman committed to championing the land she walks on.

 

Airdates:

Wednesday, November 15 at 7:30 pm (premiere)

Wednesday, November 15 at 11:30 pm (encore)

Sunday, November 19 at 4:30 pm (encore)

 

Broadcasts of Family Ingredients on PBS Hawaiʻi are sponsored locally by:

 

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