Story

CALL THE MIDWIFE
Season 7, Part 6 of 8

 

Barbara helps a widowed, pregnant mother when she and her children lose their home. Lucille teaches a health class and encounters a furious mother who objects to her daughter’s attendance there. Sister Monica Joan prepares for cataract surgery.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kamuela Enos

 

Kamuela Enos’ vision for his community of Waiʻanae on West O‘ahu considers his deep regard for ancestral values, as well as an appreciation for contemporary innovation. He serves as director of social enterprise at MAʻO Organic Farms, a non-profit that aims to connect Waiʻanae youth to the land, while fostering in them workforce and life skills.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Proof of Loyalty: Kazuo Yamane and the Nisei Soldiers of Hawai‘i

 

Kazuo Yamane, a Nisei Japanese American from Hawai‘i, played a crucial strategic role in WWII. Drafted just before the war, Yamane became a part of the 100th Infantry Battalion. He was plucked from their ranks for his exceptional knowledge of the Japanese language, which would lead him to the Pentagon and to Europe, where he served under President Eisenhower. Yamane would eventually use his language skills to help shorten the war in the Pacific.

 

 

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, Apr. 22, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Rita Palafox Audio

 

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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]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Senator Daniel Akaka

 

Original air date: Tues., Jul. 29, 2008

 

You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – real aloha.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai’i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator, Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – not a cheap, smarmy version, but real aloha. Join me in a conversation with Hawai‘i’s junior United States Senator, next …

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate as I speak. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai‘i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate. Our conversation begins at his birth, through a story heard from his older brother, Abe, who would become the Reverend Abraham Akaka of Kawaiaha‘o Church.

 

Well, when I first entered the world, let me tell you about what Brother Abe said. He said that I came before dawn, and that my dad helped to bring me into this world.

 

Was it in your house?

 

At home.

 

Where was home?

 

And home was in Pauoa Valley. And they cleaned me up, according to Brother Abe, and my dad called the family to the parlor, and we had what we called at that time, ‘ohana. And ‘ohana was a devotion. And it was an ‘ohana to celebrate my birth. And when the ‘ohana was finished, according to Brother Abe, Pa named me Daniel. And he said that Daniel will someday be in the lion’s den. And in a sense, that was prophetic. Because when you think of what I’m doing now as a Senator, in a sense, we are in the lion’s den, and that Daniel will prevail, as it is in the Bible.

 

What part of what you do now puts you in the lion’s den?

 

It’s the kind of issues that are raised by members of the Senate, in our case today, and the way in which they try to have people join them in some of the issues, and the way they try to pass it on the floor. And I will tell you, it’s done in a procedural way, but the way it’s done, it’s tough.

 

Whats the most ferocious lion you faced?

 

Well, the most voracious lions are my friends [chuckle] who have issues that are dear to them. And the thing about me and coming from Hawai‘i, I will tell you, I would say would really benefit others who are also in Congress, is that you can still be friends.

 

So the toughest adversaries are your friends?

 

Yes. And that doesn’t sound right, but we are friends. And they’re friends today, and it occurs today with me where, after we’re done with the debate, and the bill is either passed or fails, they will come up to me and shake my hand, you know, which shows that the friendship was still there. And that’s a good way to serve.

 

So there you are, a few minutes old, and your family’s having a devotion, and you’re being named Daniel. And then what happened?

 

Then I then took my place in the family, and I was number eighth.

 

Were you the last?

 

And the baby of the family—and I was the last. But with eight kids—you know, it’s hard for me to imagine supporting eight children.

 

How was your life? What was it like?

 

It was good—I would use that word, although, it was difficult, because of the situation and circumstances. When I tell you that we lived in a two-bedroom home, and we had a lanai that we used too, as an extension.

 

So who slept where in this two-bedroom house?

 

Well, most of the children slept in one bedroom, and some in the parlor, and some in the other bedroom. And Pa and Ma slept in one, and they slept on the floor.

 

No beds?

 

There were beds, but we slept on the beds.

 

And your parents let—

 

Yes.

 

Theyd take the floor.

 

Yes. And we would have ‘ohana twice a day in the family. So early morning, before my dad went to work—

 

And where did he go to work?

 

He was an ironworker. He worked at Honolulu Ironworks.

 

Was that in Kaka‘ako?

 

It was.

 

That was a hardcore place. Lots of industry and—

 

Yes.

 

–tough folks.

 

Well, it’s located right across the present Federal Building, where the restaurants are. And he worked there every day. He was a molder.

 

What does a molder do?

 

He would use sand to make patterns in which they poured the steel to create whether it was a gear, or whatever.

 

Oh, I see.

 

And most of the work was for sugar plantations. So whatever parts that they needed, they made there.

 

And your mom, did she stay home with eight kids?

 

She was a housewife. She was pure Hawaiian, and very, very gracious, loving Hawaiian woman; rotund. And I remember her as such a beautiful lady.

 

Did she speak Hawaiian?

 

Oh, yes; she and my dad spoke Hawaiian.

 

When they didn’t want you to know what they were—

 

Yes, and—

 

–talking about?

 

–unfortunately, in those days when we were little, they would ask us not to speak Hawaiian; to speak English. Learn English as best you can, because that’s the language today.

 

Your dad was also Chinese, right?

 

Yes; he was Chinese, and his dad came from Fook Yuen, China, and married a Hawaiian girl. And they lived in Pauoa.

 

And in fact, his name, and your middle name, both refer to Chinese origins?

 

That’s right; and in Hawaiian, it’s The East.

 

Kahikina?

 

Kahikina.

 

What lessons did you learn from your mom and your dad, and how were they different?

 

My mom and dad, as I said, were very spiritual people. For us and the whole family, you know, the church was so important. And so Sundays for me, as I grew up, it was church day. In the morning, we would—there were times when we walked from Pauoa to Kawaiaha‘o Church. And we’d be there for Sunday school in the morning at nine. And after that, then we went to regular church service, which was done about noon. And then we went home, and we’d have lunch at home. Then we went to another church in Pauoa Valley at two p.m. Then we’d go back home and get ready for church again at Kawaiaha‘o, where we would have Christian endeavor classes, which started at six. And at seven-thirty, the evening service began, and we’d stay for that. And after the service we went home. That was our Sunday. But even with that, there was ‘ohana in the morning and ‘ohana in the evening for the family every day.

 

Devoted and devout. And headed for a life of service. Daniel Akaka would go on to graduate from Kamehameha Schools in 1942 (having witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor from Kapalama Heights).

 

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the War; and become a school teacher and a principal before entering politics. Dan Akaka followed his faith in God and in people who advised and supported him all the way to Capitol Hill.

 

Your brother, Abraham, would grow up to have a very prominent position as pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church. You were the choir director for seventeen years.

 

That’s correct.

 

The family was so spiritual. Did you ever have a crisis of faith?

 

I can’t remember that. I don’t think so.

 

You never said to yourself, Where’s God when I need Him, and—

 

No.

 

–maybe this whole thing I’ve grown up with isn’t really —

 

Well, when we grew up, my mother and dad really—I mean, they talked to us a lot too, you know, and they were sure that we understood that we could trust God. And anytime you need Him, He’s there. And I must tell you that it has helped me all my life, including where I am now.

 

And when you don’t get what you pray for?

 

Well, there’s a reason. I mean—

 

And do you under—

 

–that’s how they—

 

Do you—

 

–taught us.

 

–understand the reason?

 

That’s right. And well, we may not at that time. But later on, when we look back, we say, Oh yeah, we didn’t understand it that time, but things work out.

 

I’ll bet you were under some influence to become a missionary yourself.

 

Yes; yes. And later on, I came to think that, you know, there are different ways of being a missionary. You don’t have to be a preacher, like Brother Abe. And Brother Abe, for me, was doing so well, I thought, Eh, one in the family is enough; and so I would maybe do my work in other ways. And this is why I went into education, as I did, and that was to help people.

 

I presume you jumped on the GI Bill and attended college on that basis.

 

Yes.

 

Would you have gone to college otherwise?

 

No. You know, it was a blessing for me. The GI Bill, you know, helped not only me, but it helped Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga as well, and many others.

 

You went on to get a Master’s in education as well.

 

Yes.

 

Was that also on the GI Bill?

 

Yes; yes. So we really benefited. But when you look at it, what we did during our time really changed the world. And in Hawai‘i, it changed Hawai‘i too, because many of them became leaders in the legislature as well, and leaders of the government. And so my feeling was, we gotta have a GI Bill for our latest veterans. And so I’m so glad we were able to pass it, as we did.

 

In 2006, Time Magazine ran a feature that called you one of The Hill’s five worst legislators.

 

Yeah.

 

It said that you’re living proof that having experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have expertise, and it called you a master of the minor bill—minor resolution on the bill that dies in committee.

 

You know, they were very wrong, really wrong. And my colleagues told me that. They said, What? You know, this is wrong. For instance, one of the big bills that I just passed was the Filipino veterans. Sixty-two years, they haven’t been able to pass it, and I passed it. That’s really big. And there are other bills that I can mention, but these are important bills that I was able to pass. But I passed it, you know, using the Hawaiian method of dealing with my colleagues. And they appreciate it.

 

And I sense that you’re not there because you’re terribly ambitious to succeed in a certain way; you’re there because you enjoy it.

 

Well, it’s not only that, but I’m there because I can help people.

 

Because you—

 

That’s the—

 

–you’ve been effective.

 

–real reason. And I’m not there for Dan Akaka; I’m there for the people of Hawai‘i. And so whatever I do, as a matter of fact, many times, my staff would tell me, Eh, get up front. But I don’t. I would rather stay back a step and …

 

As a matter of fact, if you wanted to retire, you’d be under intense pressure not to leave, because of your seniority.

 

That’s correct. And we’re able to do so much for Hawai‘i, and for our country. And we’re doing it.

 

So you’re—how old are you now?

 

I will be eighty-four.

 

So what do you see in the way of your future? How do you expect the future to play out for you?

 

Well, I look at continuing to have good health, and to continue to do all I can to help the people of Hawai‘i, with my experience, with the way I work with people, and to help this country. And now with a new administration coming forth, you know, we need to transition into a Congress that can really produce and help our country and Hawai‘i. Speaking of producing; there is the Akaka Bill, which has been waiting and waiting and stalled and

stalled.

 

Do you think it’ll pass?

 

It can pass, if we can get it to the floor. Now, I’m saying it that way, because this has been the problem.

 

M-hm.

 

That I’ve not been able to get it to the floor. It passed the House twice; it passed—this Congress. And the reason is that in the Senate, one Senator can hold up a bill. And that’s what happens. And to get it to the floor, we have to use what we call cloture; we have to invoke cloture. And to do that, we need sixty votes, not majority. And so to get the sixty votes, it’s really tough. The last time I did that, I ended up with fifty-six votes, and therefore, couldn’t get it to the floor. But if we can get it to the floor, we’ll pass it.

 

Whats been dubbed the Akaka Bill is legislation to provide federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. In the U.S. Senate, Dan Akaka chairs the Congressional Taskforce on Native Hawaiian Issues and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. On the Hill and at home, his life is about building and keeping relationships. He and his wife of sixty years, Millie, have five children, fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

 

Where does Millie enter the picture? When did she come into your life?

 

She came into my life before I went to the Pacific, into the Army.

 

Where did you meet her?

 

She met me. [chuckle]

 

She wanted to meet you? Is that what you’re saying?

 

That’s right. See, I was with what we called the Junior Hawaiian Civic Club. And to take members, we would have to interview them.

 

M-hm.

 

So I was interviewing members, and she was one I interviewed.

 

Now, was she doing that ‘cause she wanted to meet you?

 

Well, I learned later, was she wanted me to interview her, and she was sure that she came to me. And that was the beginning.

 

You know, after six decades of marriage, your wife still comes to the office every day, and essentially puts in the same day you do and is so supportive of you. And you two seem like you’ve still got this very good thing going, very close.

 

Yes. She takes good care of me. As a matter of fact, she has that responsibility of keeping me healthy. And she comes to work every day. She’s my only unpaid staff. I tell her that.

 

What does she do in the office?

 

Well, she comes in, and she usually meets with guests who come. And many of them from Hawai‘i, or most of them from Hawai‘i. And she’s the type that, as soon as she gets in the office, she takes off her shoes and she walks around bare feet. And so some of the guests, they look down and they say, Ooh [chuckle], she’s bare feet. And I always tell them, Look, you folks are welcome to take off your shoes in my office—

 

[chuckle]

 

–and be comfortable.

 

But you know, she could easily stay home at your condo in DC—

 

Yeah.

 

–or go meet with friends; but she’s always there. Why is that?

Yeah. Well, she loves to do that, because she sees people, and she’s able to talk to people. And I guess it’s better than staying home. But she likes that style. And the other reason, although I’ve never said it, that she helps—we need three passengers in the car.

 

[chuckle] To get into the zipper lane—

 

To use the HOV.

 

–or something? [chuckle]

 

And without her, we don’t have three. [chuckle]

 

Whos the other one? Who’s the third?

 

The other is Jim Sakai, who is my administrative assistant, who picks us up, you know—

 

[chuckle]

 

–in the morning, takes us home at night. And so the three of us use the HOV.

 

You spend most of the year in DC, right?

 

About ten months. Yeah.

 

What do you like about living in DC? And why is it so important to you to continue working, long after a time when many folks would have retired, take it easy?

 

Well, there’s so much to do there, and that’s what I like too. The hours are long. I keep telling the young people; I said, Look, you never stop learning in your life. I said, I thought I was learning a lot when I was in Kamehameha; I thought I was learning a lot when I was at the UH. I said, But here, I’m still learning. I said, Every time there’s a new bill, there’s something new to learn. And my health has been good. And Millie has been very supportive. So that helps me do my job.

 

She’s completely herself.

 

Yeah, oh very.

 

Despite who she’s around, right?

 

Oh, yes. And even my colleagues know that. You know, she’s herself, and she says what she wants to say. And there isn’t a lot of pressure to kind of conform and be a certain way, and be accepted in a certain way?

 

You haven’t—

 

Yes.

 

–felt that?

 

Well, I’ve felt that. But she’s one that does what she wants to do.

 

And — And you support her to—

 

Yes.

 

–being that way.

 

But— Herself.

 

–you know, my colleagues like that. So whenever they see me, even today, they don’t say, Danny, how are you? They say, Danny, how’s Millie? [chuckle]

 

Millie will say what she’s thinking, won’t she?

 

Yeah; oh, very much.

 

Has she ever told anybody off on Capitol Hill?

 

Yes. [chuckle] Yes; but she says it in a way where—that they accept it.

 

M-hm.

 

And you know, if you get hurt—

 

And you do the same thing too, don’t you?

 

What’s that?

 

I mean, don’t—

 

Yeah.

 

Aren’t you able to tell people things in a way that they don’t get offended, even though it’s counter to what they’re thinking or what they want?

 

Yes; that’s what I call the Hawaiian style of communicating. And it works, and I just hope that more people would use that. And people like you for it, and feel that you’re a good friend, and they can trust you. That’s the other word that’s so important up there.

 

Tell me, what’s—give me a course in how to disagree, Hawaiian style.

 

Yes. Well, one is to be sure that your friend, your opponent knows what you’re all about, and where you are. And if you know that what you’re trying to do is what he doesn’t want, and you need to find out what it’s all about. And try to present it in a way that is non-threatening. And that’s a big thing. And to say it in a way where, you know, you’re not yelling or screaming, and you’re telling him in a nice way, or even say, You know, my friend, I disagree with you.

 

But first—

 

You know.

 

–you say you have to understand who they are, and what they want.

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

Let me ask you this. And you’ve seen this in campaigns, you’ve been through it all. When one is nice and kind, that’s often mistaken for softness, weakness, being less than smart. Tell me your experiences—

 

Yes.

 

–in running up against that.

 

When I first went there, many people told me that. They said, Eh, you can’t be like that. And now that I’ve been there all these years, I’ve gotta tell them they’re wrong. That you can be nice, but you’ve gotta be up front. You’ve gotta be sure they know where you are and what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And they appreciate it. And so that’s something I think that more people in elected office need to do, and use that method of dealing with people.

 

You mentioned that, when you came into the world, you were called Daniel because your role would be in the lion’s den.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel that has come to pass?

 

Yes; I feel, definitely, that the story about Daniel, of course, he was cast into the lion’s den, and the reason for that

 

 

was for the lions to devour him. Which they didn’t. And he lived through that, and became a leader after that. And I think, you know, the spiritual background and all of that, you know, helps you to survive.

 

But the difference is, you don’t want to leave the lion’s den.

 

Well, I hope someday we can calm the lion’s den and make it more productive. But that remains to be seen. This fascinates me, because it seems as though the thing to do when one has been very successful on Capitol Hill, is not to aspire to a wonderful retirement and take it easy; it’s essentially to work as long as you’re capable of working, and even die in office.

 

I mean, is that what you foresee?

 

Well, I foresee working as long as I can. [chuckle] You know, and, being in that position I’m in now, you know, it’s a great way of helping our country and the rest of the world.

 

Have you and Millie talked about that?   Does she want to take it easy at all? Or is she completely happy with, this is how it is, well—

 

I wouldn’t say she’s completely happy, but she lives with it, and she—

 

But you’ve told her, This is me, I—

 

Yes.

 

–would like to

 

Yes.

 

–continue on

 

But she’s supported—

 

–Capitol Hill.

 

–me; supported me very well. And that helps me in what I do. Yeah. So I’m so fortunate and feel been blessed too, with Millie and my family.

 

And what a high achieving person, what a high achieving life you’ve had.

 

Yes; and when I look back at my life, there was a reason for all of this, since I was born. And as Daniel, I’m still serving.

 

So you think that it was preordained, it was foreseen that you had this role in your life, and it was up to you to make it happen?

 

I feel that way; yes. Yeah; so when I think back, you know, on when I came to this Earth, I was destined, I guess.

But I didn’t know it. And I’m still on my way.

 

Still on your way.

 

Yeah.

 

An unknown author once wrote, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” The “Hawaiian style of communicating,” as Senator Akaka puts it, will be conducted on Capitol Hill for as long as he’s able to serve. Mahalo to Dan Akaka, and to you, for joining me this week. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawai‘i. A hui hou kakou.

 

The people of Hawai‘i tend to work together so much better than other places. And as a result, they’re able to be more productive. They’re able to do more things and are able to do it in such a way where people enjoy it and not take it as somebody losing something. And I feel that that style is really needed in the Capitol and in the country. And I think the diversity of Hawai‘i, the diversity of people has helped to bring that about. Hawai‘i is Hawai‘i because of its culture, its people, its diversity; and we need to keep that.

 

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