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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Noa Emmett Aluli

 

“The health of the land is the health of the people” is a core belief for Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli. The Molokaʻi physician comes from a prominent Hawaiian family of medical doctors, academics, musicians and historical figures. In the 1970s, he made his own mark in history as part of the Kahoʻolawe Nine, a group of activists who stood up against the federal government to defend the island, used for decades in bombing drills. Dr. Aluli admits his personal mission to restore the health of Kahoʻolawe, and the health of Molokaʻi’s people, is a challenging long-term journey.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

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The land is the religion, the health of the land is the health of the people, is the health of the nation.

 

Meet this Moloka‘i physician and Kaho‘olawe defender, Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, next on Long Story Short.

 

Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli has been serving Moloka‘i as a physician for more than four decades. He’s perhaps best known for his work alongside other protestors to protect and restore Kaho‘olawe, where the U.S. Navy carried out bombing drills for 50 years.

 

Dr. Aluli grew up in an extended Hawaiian family in Kailua, on Windward O‘ahu. His family line includes medical doctors; academics; and the Hawaiian patriot, Joseph Nāwahī, who in the 1890s opposed the U.S. government’s annexation of Hawai‘i. Dr. Aluli’s family also includes notable names in Hawaiian music, including his aunt, the late Irmgard Farden Aluli.

 

The Alulis are known for music.  Are you musical?

 

No.  My father would say: Don’t even try to sing, son.  I’m named after my dad, who was named after his dad, and it just goes on.  Musical—and on the other side, the Meyer girls.  You know, Malia was the oldest, and Mele Meyer, and—

 

Manu.

 

—Manu. Those are all my father’s youngest sister’s kids. And so, it was one, two, skip a couple houses, my dad, his brother, then my Auntie Irmgard were there.  But on the other side is my mother with 14 in her family.

 

You were surrounded by people.

 

Yeah, yeah

 

So, all these cousins, and aunties and uncles.

 

And we had to know them personally.  We just kind of really had to stick together and support each other. My grandpa was one of um … I think seventeen people who testified at the very first hearing on statehood in 1935.  There were about 150; Umm, 90 were in favor, 60 uhh, were against.

 

And he was…?

 

He was—he had conditions.  He said for the wellbeing and wellness, and the non-extinction of the Native Hawaiian, he had hoped that we would be recognized, as they had the year before, recognized the Native Americans and set up them as, you know, governments within-

 

-Mhmm.

 

—the government.  So, he—that was what he was thinking.  He was always—he was one of the organizers of the ummm, homesteading act, and he certainly kind of argued for it. We—we have that kinda like DNA or ancestral memory, or responsibility that—that we’ve kinda like grew up with.

 

Okay. So, with that scene set, that’s a lot of people around you, and people before you, and lots of talents.  But definitely, the DNA, as you mentioned, for standing up and standing against what you felt was wrong. 

 

M-hm.

 

So, you have Chinese and Caucasian, but you pulled on the Hawaiian.

 

Right, three-quarters, give or take.  I don’t know exactly, but you know, those days, you never keep track… English.

 

English.

 

Irish … English, Irish.  We have a coat of arm in—on my grandpa’s side, Cockett.  And the other one—

 

That‘s another famous name in Hawai‘i.  So, Aluli, Meyer, Cockett.

 

Yes; fortunate.

 

Did you feel privileged when you were growing up?

 

Didn’t know it, but yeah, we kind of like were able to afford good schools. Umm, never went hungry. Umm, you know, was able to compete in the ocean, was able to fish and—never hunted, though.  But privileged in the sense that we were given lot of opportunities, and had to prove that we would be able to kind of handle things in the years to come.  That was the big test of growing up.

 

 

One of Noa Emmett Aluli’s first major tests was self-imposed— he chose medicine as his career path, for the sheer difficulty of the training. First he earned his undergraduate degree at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Then he returned to O‘ahu and graduated in the first class of the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

 

I heard that in your high school yearbook, Saint Louis, you said you intended to be a doctor.

 

Well, I did that because it was the biggest challenge that anybody could ever accept.  And umm, it was kind of like in a sense and I’m gonna do it. But then, it was a challenge all the way through, you know, undergrad, and getting into medical school, and enjoying medical school especially in…It was a lot of work.

 

Did you think you were not gonna make it at any point?

 

Umm, yes, because I couldn’t- I couldn’t discipline myself to study things that I couldn’t really put my hands around.  You know, all the science. And the way we were learning things just by memory, rote, repeat-repeat-repeat.

 

You’re better at learning by doing.

 

Yeah, exactly.  So, after my one year in a rotating integrated umm, residency program, I told the professors that I wanted to go and learn from the community.

 

That’s Hawaiian culture, isn’t it?

 

Yeah.  So—and I chose Moloka‘i, because I was there in my fourth year as a rural health elective. Umm, and I wanted Moloka‘i because they were changing too.  And the professors in that time were studying what happened in Kahuku; was happening in Kohala, where the plantations were closed and the big hotels were gonna be the tourist destinations, and how people were gonna make that change.  And Moloka‘i was going to change that way, too.

 

Also, Moloka‘i is known as the most Hawaiian place. Or the most Hawaiian island, I should say.  Because I think it’s, what … the last data I heard was nearly 40 percent of the population is Hawaiian, and many are more than 50 percent.

 

Yeah.  Well, and it’s actually because it was a leper colony there.

 

Kalaupapa.

 

Yeah, Kalaupapa.  People just were afraid of being there.  And because it was actually the beginning of the homesteading program.  The very first homestead was Kalama‘ula.  And then, Keaukaha was the second one on the Big Island, and then came back to Ho‘olehua.  So, it really had a real strong kinda like presence there. And a small island, so everybody knew everybody else.

 

Was it hard for you to make that transition?  You were kind of a suburban guy.

 

Yeah.  No, it was pretty easy.  Because the way we were brought up too was, you know, you go to a house and you eat anything they serve. And- and I think it was because I was kind of like out there and interested, and people wanted me to stay on Moloka‘i, so they kind of took me in—uncle, auntie, and taught me what they could.  And you know, I think it was—when I look back, they kind of like had hoped that I would usher them to the next realm, taking care of them that long.

 

Moloka‘i would not be the only island drawing Dr. Emmett Aluli’s interest. His medical career was just blossoming when his next major life test presented itself: Kaho‘olawe. On January 4, 1976, Dr. Aluli was one of nine people who protested the U.S. Navy’s use of the island for bombing practice. They defied restrictions and landed on the forbidden “Target Isle.” These nine people came to be known as “the Kaho‘olawe Nine.”

 

I was kind of like on call for three days and I was working at the Queen’s emergency room.  And then, we had 72 hours off.

 

Mhmm.

 

So, I decided this was an opportunity; I wanted to do, I wanted to get away.  And so, I just kind of joined the group that was from Molokaʻi that was asked to come and kind of like see whether we could be part of this reclaiming of at least the fishing rights. Fishing around the island was so rich, and the fishermen, local fishermen wanted to be able to go there and fish.  And they were kind of like unable to get there, except that they snuck on.  So, then we just decided: Well, we’re here, we may as well go and look around a little more.

 

How did you all get together?

 

It was a guy named Charlie Maxwell.

 

From Pukalani, Maui!

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Who was kind of like against what was happening uh, with the umm, telescopes at Haleakala.  But he was the one that was really kind of like organized uhh, and reached out.  And uhh, but nobody knew that this was gonna be a publicity thing; they weren’t really serious.  And so, when we kind of like knew the Coast Guard was called, alerted—

 

And you gathered on—

 

Yeah; there must have been like about 30 boats, more fishing boats.

 

So, Charlie had called; he put out a call for: “Let’s go to that island.”

 

Yeah.

 

Even though they say it’s forbidden.

 

Yeah; yeah.  And let’s make a statement.

 

Let’s make a statement and let’s land there.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; and did he say you might get arrested, and it’s worth it?

 

No, no. We never got that: “Be careful, you might get arrested.”

 

It was more like: “Let’s just do this.”

 

Do it.

 

Okay.

 

But remember, there was an Alcatraz occupation, there was Wounded Knee, and so you know, people were just kind of thinking: “If this is what we gotta do as Native Hawaiians, let’s do it.” So, there was all that push to do something.

 

So, 30 boats left, but then they turned back.

 

They turned back.  Otherwise, they would have been confiscated.

 

And how did you get through?  Did you say: “I don’t care if the boat’s confiscated?”

 

No; so what it is, it was, once again, a reporter who kind of like knew a boat that was the fastest, that can outdo the—pick us all up, boom, take us in, and then get out.

 

Ah

 

So, that was how we did it.  We went, and the reporters turned back, ‘cause it was the boat that they had been on, but they took nine of us to the island.  And then, the Coast Guard came and took all the other seven.

 

But you and Walter Ritte were exploring the island for two days. Were you making yourself scarce, or were you just really exploring the island?

 

We were just kind of—we were bent on exploring the island.

 

And so, it was okay if you just—

 

Yeah. We just took off.

 

Wow.

 

In slippers.

 

For two days.

 

Yeah.

 

Before they came for you with handcuffs.

 

Actually, they cuffed our ankles. And they gave us a bar letter.  And so …

 

What’s a bar letter?

 

I mean, you can never return; you’re barred from the island.

 

Oh, I see.  Which did not happen; you went back.

 

So, we went back.  Because what we felt and saw was something just really different.  You know, like I personally had to go back and see whether it was real, that the land could be suffering that bad.

 

Noa Emmett Aluli and others kept returning to Kaho‘olawe in protest, despite those military restrictions. Then tragedy: On March 7, 1977, the charismatic musician and activist George Helm was heading back to Maui with park ranger Kimo Mitchell, in bad weather and rough water.  The two were never seen again. Dr. Aluli says that Helm, the fellow member of the Kaho`olawe Nine, had great potential and power as an emerging leader of the Hawaiian people. Dr. Aluli was devastated by the loss of George Helm.

 

I was wanting to just drop out completely.  You know, and just kind of move on.  But something just told me that, you know, you just at least carry his suit, and then you see that you’re successful. And so that’s one of the reasons why I’m still there to make sure that their loss or our loss is something that you know. We kind of like can make a difference and be able to kind of show some successes on the island, and show that we can green the island, and show that their life lost, not lost forever.

 

And did you know the other members of the Kaho‘olawe Nine very well?

 

No, not—not very well; not very well.  But I knew, because they were organizing on different levels, the—more like a legal kind of understanding of our claims and our rights.

 

But it wasn’t—there weren’t nine people picked because of their particular relationship and role. It was just- kind of an ad hoc group?

 

No. It was kind of a mixed bag. Yeah.

 

But what an amazing set of accomplishments was made by a group of people who didn’t even necessarily know each other ahead of time.

 

M-hm; m-hm. Well, so the magic—you know, they call it magic.

 

The magic.

 

Umm, because we knew that the more people we could take to the island, the more they would be inspired to kinda like do work that—

 

And you said you felt a kind of spiritual presence there.

 

I did. And I still do.

 

What does it feel like?

 

It feels as if you’re with nature, so strongly connected to it uh, that you’re kind of like feeling uplifted, or you gotta pass that responsibility, you know, that you kind of like sweat on that, and you understand that land.  But then now, you can get uh, get into the worship of the gods of the land. You know, and that was it, you know.  Pele creating new land, her sister Hi‘iaka the healer, and then there’s the other sister Kapo, and all the nature forms of all her brothers and sisters. You know, that’s all the people of old worshipped and had that connection to.

 

Dr. Emmett Aluli and others in the grassroots organization Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, or P-K-O, continued their fight to stop the bombing on the island. In 1980, the U.S. Navy and P-K-O signed a Consent Decree, requiring the Navy to begin cleanup efforts, which are unfinished to this day. Then in 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered an immediate halt to the bombing. Three years later, Congress voted to end military use, and Kaho‘olawe was turned over to the State. Since then, P-K-O and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, a State agency with which Dr. Aluli worked for more than 20 years, have focused on restoring the island that many regard as sacred.

Dr. Aluli draws parallels between the Kaho‘olawe protests four decades ago and the Mauna Kea protests against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Hawai‘i Island.

 

The land is the religion, the health of the land is the health of the people, is the health of the nation. What it is, is the decision, the Supreme Court decision is, there’s no… “Mauna Kea is already destroyed, so it’s no longer sacred.” They could have used that argument against us. I mean, what, just bomb the s— out of the island; no longer sacred. So, we have to rethink this whole thing through, but you know…

 

Do you think there are a lot of analogies between Kaho‘olawe and TMT?

 

Yeah. It’s the same kind of arguments for Mauna Kea.  And that’s the sad thing.  We’ve kind of like really kind of like got stepped on. I think indigenous folks around the world have their own culture science-

 

Mhmm.

 

—and understanding. And that is respected even more.  It’s just a matter of this next generation kind of coming up and proving it, yeah?  That you can manage the forests, the native forests, like, you know, the Hawaiians of old did, and get as good results as the sciences of today.

 

No longer the Target Island, Kaho‘olawe remains damaged by decades of bombing. There’s a long-term strategic  plan to restore the land, called I Ola Kanaloa, or “Life to Kanaloa.” Kanaloa is the ancient name for Kaho‘olawe, … after the Hawaiian god of healing, voyaging, and the ocean. Elements in the plan are experiential learning for students; and healing programs for abuse survivors and  former prisoners; also, restoration of Kaho‘olawe’s native habitat and cultural sites.

Meanwhile, in his medical practice on Moloka‘i, Dr. Emmett Aluli continues to tackle another challenge: the health of Native Hawaiian people.

 

We still have the only cardiovascular risk factor study. Then putting that together with some of the uhh, economic determinates of health, and you know, the access that poor people don’t have, or uninsured don’t have.  And putting that together, and just really looking at it, and using that as a tool on Moloka‘i: this is where we are. And it’s worked.  And then, from that study, we went into the Native Hawaiian diet study. So, if you eat more taro, sweet potato, reef fish, you know, limu, you should be healthier. You know, how to kind of integrate more, how to kind of like … I guess, extend care more permanently, especially to the Native Hawaiians and how we’re gonna continue together like benefit from the different ali‘i’s kind of like priorities.  Then comes the- A part of that medicine is just trying to finish off some of my research, like creating health systems across the board for Native Hawaiians. That we have Hawaiians that should start looking at the different programs and support that they need, so we can really do a good cleanup and a good kinda future.  ‘Cause the way it looks is, we’re not getting any better.

 

As far as?

 

As our health.

 

As our health; oh …

 

I think more the social and economic determinates of health are increasing, and so … sometimes I look at: How do you change the “ainokea” attitude?

 

To “aikea.”

 

To “aikea.”  You know, the famous—and how do we—can I look at being able to instill that pride again.  You know. That—because I think people are looking at: Oh you was coming- you owe me, you owe me, you owe me for taking the land, for you know, taking the Kingdom, and there’s a lot of pissed-off guys out there. And how do we kind of make them kind of like … ‘Kay, we gotta work a little bit harder, we gotta learn our politics, we gotta bring that leadership back, we gotta bring that trust back.

We will be able to survive, but we just have to depend on our connections to land a little bit more.  We gotta get our strength back, connections to the land, our relationships to the land.  And to make it sincere.  I think that—that’s what we gotta do.  And I’ve seen that happening in different areas.

 

For example?

 

Oh; in some of the fishponds, He‘eia and umm, you know, I see it kind of like umm, flowering in some of the farming projects.  You know, especially in Molokaʻi and the Big Island.

 

Because you think the health of the land is reflect … that’s a determinant of the health of the people.

 

People; right.  Right.  And then, how we work all together as a nation, or as a community, or as a ahupua‘a.  That we just, you know, automatic.

 

But in these decades since Kaho‘olawe, you say, you know, the health of the people has not improved.

 

Well, I don’t see it, because there’s something else that’s interfering.  I think it’s just “ainokea” attitude that’s… we’re addressing suicide also. Umm, on Moloka‘i, we’ve had a string of suicides. Depression setting in.  You know? And we’ve gotta talk this through a little bit more.  We gotta focus on that.

 

Yeah.  I mean, I think you’re a person who’s in it for the long term.  I mean, you hung in there with Kaho‘olawe, and you’re still in there.  And you’ve worked really hard on Hawaiian health.  But you haven’t really gotten to see the fruition of your hopes, all your hopes.

 

I feel like … it’ll come.  I feel it’ll really come.  I mean, I’m seeing it develop umm, in some key people. You know, we’ve had couple of young guys come in and, you know, and get credits working in my clinic, and I just—they’re teaching me more than I’m teaching them. My patients ask me: When are you gonna retire, Doc?  I said: When I don’t enjoy it anymore.

 

Do you still feel like that activist inside?

 

Umm, yeah; yeah.  And like, folks like Art says: We gotta watch you, Emmett.

 

And that competitiveness that you had when you said: I’m gonna be a doctor, just because it was a hard thing to do. 

 

No, that was—that was just … I think that pushed me through, because I said: I’m gonna do it.  Like it’s pushed me through with Kaho’olawe, I’m gonna do it. With the other issues I’ve been involved in, I’m gonna do it.  And you know, I don’t expect to be able to do it all, but at least some footprints.

 

And some continuity,-

 

-Yeah.

 

you’ll leave behind, people who can do it, or who will carry it on.

 

Who will carry it on.

 

You seem like you’re prepared for the long view.  You know, things can’t get done as quickly as you want, but you’re gonna keep at it.

 

Yeah.  And people know that.  People know that.  Stay out of his way.

 

Longterm challenges and the never-ending desire to heal the land and the people—these seem to define Dr. Emmett Aluli’s life journey. As of this conversation in the summer of 2019, Dr. Aluli is 75 years old, and he says he has no plans to stop working to heal people and the land anytime soon. He says he’s most thankful for his family, his medical practice, and his good health. Mahalo to Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli of Ho‘olehua, Moloka‘i, for sharing your story with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

 

What do you think the people of Molokaʻi can teach the rest of us?

 

“Molokaʻi, the friendly island” is because we adapted or adjusted to the leprosy.

 

Mhmm.

 

And it was okay to go there, and they’re family. And then, there’s—what I like is: “Molokaʻi ku‘i la‘au.” You know, strong, powerful healing. But the one that is being really shared is: “Molokaʻi ‘āina momona.”

 

Plenty.

 

Plenty fruits. And I think a lot of people are adopting that we gotta make our lands rich with food again.

 

 

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jimmy Lee

 

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

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 10, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, May 14, at 4:00 pm.

 

Jimmy Lee Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We had no radios or TV, and things like that; we didn’t. But let me tell you; from that moment on, when we were told that this was war, that’s it. My life, I thought, I changed. It was not fun anymore. And I think this is when I got to be a little bit—I think I grew up overnight. And because there was fear; from then on, it was fear. And so, you know, this is really something, you know, for a young kid just changing like that with all this. Never experienced, and it was not fun anymore.

 

Jimmy Lee was eleven years old on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was outside, feeding his family’s pigs, when he heard the planes overhead. He watched from less than a mile away, as they dropped their bombs on ships in Pearl Harbor. Jimmy Lee, 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 kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. James Hoy Sau Lee, better known as Jimmy, was raised on a farm in an area known as Kalauao. Just upland of Pearl Harbor’s east loch, Kalauao was famous in ancient times for its freshwater springs and fishponds. Today, the name is gone, and the land is covered with buildings and roadways, but in 1930 when Jimmy was born, the stream still flowed and supported the family farms in the area.

 

You know, my parents were born here, but their parents were born in China. And of course, my father at the younger age went back to China, and lived there for a short while. But anyway, they came back here and they were rice farmers, long time ago. And then, they gave up rice and got a farm; pigs and cattle, chickens, ducks and things. It’s really not for commercial type, it was just for home use. Well, anyway, that’s what we had there in the little place called Kalauao.

 

Which is where?

 

It’s located between Aiea and Pearl City right now. And I must say it’s no longer on the map anymore.

 

What’s there now?

 

Well, right now, it’s all full of warehouses, apartment buildings, and stores, and commercial area. The whole area has been filled. Even the fishpond that was there before; it’s all filled up, it’s all warehouses there now.

 

So, this is on the Pearl Harbor side of Kamehameha Highway in Aiea side?

 

That’s correct. Yes; that’s right.

 

Oh …

 

And you could never recognize the place before, because it was so rural, our neighbors were not just next door. I mean, they were maybe about half mile away. We were all friends, but you know, that’s what it is; just local rural area.

 

So, your farm was for subsistence.

 

Yes, for subsistence; yes. M-hm.

 

And where did you go to school?

 

I was going to school in Aiea, maybe about mile or two away up on the hillside.

 

You had many siblings.

 

Oh, yes. Well, you see, my father was married to this woman. And of course, she had four kids. And then, when one of the older brothers was born, she died. Through some way, you know, they met my mother, and they got married. And of course, she cared for the four kids like her own, and then, of course, she had six. I’m number six in that family.

 

Birth order is important; right? What does that mean your responsibilities were?

 

Well, me and my brothers, you know, we had to take care of more or less the animals. The rough stuff. You know, and of course, the sisters were there to help my mother, you know, whatever. But we had to take care of the hard stuff, like the cows, milking the cows and feeding the pigs, and picking up garbage, and walking in the pond, catching ducks and chickens, and things like that. My parents were very strict. You had to stay home and do your work; feed the pigs, and you know. And that took up lot of our time during the day. Yes, we had other neighbors. They may have had some pigs or some chickens, but not like we did. And of course, they mind their own business. We were never enemies, but we were all friends, but you know, they had their own little thing. But again, you know, they were not right next door. But we did get together once in a while, more than just to say hello.

 

And what was your personality like as a boy?

 

You know, my older sister told me that I was a rascal little kid, full of mischief.

 

And you know nothing about this; right?

 

And I know nothing. And, you know, but we’re just playing. I mean, whenever we had spare time, we would do that. And, you know, we had our pigs, and you know, our pigs were our pets. You know, we would jump in and play with the pigs, and things like that, because you know, that was what it was. But we were a bunch of rascals and did a lot of things. When I was eight years old, I broke my leg. And I was in the hospital, in Shriner’s Hospital for six months. Because I would just play, run through the fields, the cane fields, running all over the place, playing with the dog or playing with the cows, you know. Running, running, just running all over the place.

 

Lots of energy.

 

Lots of energy.

 

So, your idea of mischief is just really having tons of energy and running around.

 

That’s right. And again, typical country boy.

 

Did you see a lot of activity at Pearl Harbor? You know, you must have watched the ships. Oh, no, you were a mile away, so you couldn’t see it.

 

Oh, no; no.

 

You could see it?

 

Oh, in the inner side of the harbor, there were so many ships. So many ships anchored in there. And of course, this was closer to my home. As I mentioned, about a mile away, but this was maybe a quarter or half a mile, all anchored there, from what I could remember. There were a lot of ships.

 

On December 7, 1941, Jimmy Lee started the day the same way he began every other morning of his young life, doing chores. It was the last time his life would be so uncomplicated.

 

Your life changed one day when you were just eleven.

 

Oh, yes. Well, I can say it really changed. Well, not for that very moment. Because it was so exciting when everything was happening that it was fun. I never saw anything like that in my life. And although I was feeding the pigs that morning, when I saw all of these things happening, wow, what is it?

 

What did you see?

 

Well, feeding the pigs, and all of a sudden, all at treetop level, here come these planes. I could hear the roar of the planes, with gunfire, canon fire, and looking up, and I saw the bombs on the plane and the big red circle. And so low that you could see the pilot. But as I looked, wow, there were planes all over the place. And curious as I was, I ran down to the railroad track and boy, I tell you, I never saw so much.

 

You ran to the action, rather than away from it.

 

Yes. Down the railroad track, and sat on the railroad track just like sitting on the front row of a theater to watch a show.

 

And didn’t think of calling anybody.

 

Didn’t call; my parents didn’t know where in the world I was. I could see all the way in Wahiawa, over the airport, which is, I could say, at least ten miles. Planes all over the place. And you know, for a youngster, I’d never seen anything like that. All the sounds, the explosions, the planes coming in, the gunfire, the smoke, the fire; it was really a sight. And was I scared? No. I don’t remember ever being scared.

 

Did any of the bombs come close to you?

 

The bombs didn’t come close at all. And in close to our home, there were many ships in the harbor that day. But none of them were being even harmed. But way out there, what I saw near the island, that’s where all the fire and smoke was. But you know, what’s happening to this? Everything was there, not in front of me. And so, you know, there was not a shot or anything like that fired my way. I didn’t feel in danger at all. So, I was just seeing all of those things, the torpedo planes being blown out of the sky, the explosions. I didn’t know that was the Arizona at that time, but you know, the explosions, something I’ll never forget. And yet at the same time, up in the sky, the planes are flying, all the gunfire, none of the planes are shot down. But none of those shrapnel, those shells ever fell on us, either. And that was really a show. And then, the other most exciting, as I mentioned, was the Nevada. I didn’t know that was the Nevada, but that was a ship coming in, burning and smoking. And seeing the dive bombers coming in, dropping the bombs, blowing up on the ship. And the ship don’t sink. And then, here comes the planes coming by strafing, and the ship still don’t sink. It just keeps moving, and it’s burning and smoking, and it finally disappears.

 

Oh …

 

You know what happened. And then, you know, finally … you know, time went by so fast. But it was finally announced that, Hey, we’re at war. Through loudspeakers or something; We’re at war, we’re being bombed by the Japanese, the Japanese troops have landed. And let me tell you, when that happened, that’s when fear came in. Oh, it was not fun anymore. We were so scared. So scared, didn’t know what to do. My parents finally found me, and we got on the jalopy, took off into the hills up in the valley.

 

Just to while time?

 

Just to get away. Yes.

 

Okay.

 

And to hide out in the caves over there. And you know, they had banana fields, and you know, we’re in the caves, we could see the planes up here, we could hear the bombs, we could hear the firing, but we could not see the attack. And then, it was over after a while. A very short while, it was over. There wasn’t any more planes in the sky anymore. So, we went home to get more supplies and everything. We went there, no more planes, the attack was over. But at the same time, all the fire, the flames, the boats. And I think one of the most, I guess, sights that was very sickening to me was seeing the boats going around and around. You know, fireboats, you know, trying to put out the flames. But later, we learned that they were picking up dead bodies and survivors.

 

Oh, I see.

 

You know, seeing something like that, and it’s something that you’ll always remember. And of course, all of that, the explosions going by. You know, when I saw one of the ships on the other side of the island, the first one to get hit; wow, what is this? But again, always thought it was a game. But it looked so real. And I can tell you honestly, I watched these torpedo planes come in, dropping their torpedoes, and of course, not knowing what it was. It was the Oklahoma that was being hit. But what was most exciting was when the planes came in and was hit by gunfire, seeing the flames coming out, the smoke, and it blows up in the sky. I was cheering. I remember jumping up and down. Wow, they shot down another plane. Not knowing what it was. But it was impressive, you know, for a young kid. But let me tell you, from that moment on, when we were told that this was war, that’s it. My life, I thought, I changed. It was not fun anymore.

 

On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the Territorial Government of Hawaiʻi surrendered its authority to the U.S. military. The new military governor issued laws that severely restricted the freedom of residents of Hawaiʻi, instituting blackouts, curfews, and food and gas rationing. Soldiers enforced the restrictions.

 

When we came back down, there were soldiers all over the place. And this is when, later on we came under martial law, when the military was under control. And that’s where they told us, You folks will obey, you will follow our rules. And so, this is what it is, so we were scared of them. You know, these young soldiers, things like that. And I, for one, was scared of the military. But at the same time, we were very happy; we felt safe with them. You know, I can tell you that military really shaped me up. Because, you know, I was arrested so many times for doing things wrong, which to me, I mean, it’s nothing wrong at all, because I’ve been doing this all the time. Like going into the water, catching crabs, catching fish, and digging clams. Because that’s our food. But when martial law came, you could not step into the water.

 

Pearl Harbor.

 

That’s right; Pearl Harbor. And for myself, I know, I’ve been in there, I got arrested many, many times for violating, for trespassing. But because I was a little youngster, they let me go. But don’t do it again. Yes, okay. So, they turned their back. We were in there, we had to eat. That’s it. But martial law was very strict, and we lived in fear. You know, it was about three years that we had that. But I’m gonna tell you, I think the one that scared the daylights out of me, and I still remember this. You know, my job was to milk the cows in the morning. Hey, you know, we had to eat, so we had to milk the cows. And we had curfews. And cows don’t believe in curfews.

 

You know, I remember taking the cow out of the bushes that one morning before curfew time, and you know, you’re walking through the bushes and you hear a noise. And you know, a soldier met me with a bayonet.

 

Wow.

 

Sticking at my throat. Boy, I tell you. A tall soldier, and I think I was maybe only two or three feet high, with a cow, with a rope. And a soldier to meet you with a rifle, with a bayonet sticking at your throat. That young soldier told me he was so scared; he didn’t know whether I was friend or foe. And I looked different. You know. And he was so scared. And at the same time, he said, you know, with all the talk about the Japanese troops, and he thought I was one of them.

 

M-hm. So, he was sort of apologizing to you.

 

Well, yes, in a way. And I said, but you know, they’re small, but they’re not that small.

 

You said that, as a kid?

 

That’s right. I tell you, I remember saying that. And you know, maybe not exactly, you know, but basically that’s what it is. But I was so scared. But you know, he got to be our friends. And you know, because you know, their camp was right next to our property. But later on, when we got to know him and, you know, as the war progressed, they kinda looked the other way. You know. But that was very interesting. But that’s something I will never forget. You know, as an eleven-year-old kid, with a bayonet sticking at his throat.

 

Wow.

 

But you know, with the soldiers over there, we felt safe. And then at the same time, you know, they kinda let us into the camp. They knew who we were, and they could trust us. They knew we were not enemies or anything. So, they kinda bend backwards a little bit for us. And you know, for myself, I really liked the soldiers after a while. You know, and they were real nice to us.   And you know, that’s what it amounts to.

 

They just happened to be camping right next to you, too.

 

Yes; right next. You see, at one time, they used to have what we call barrage balloons, you know, up in the sky with cables dangling on it to prevent, to deter Japanese planes from diving, you know, from dive bombing. And the whole perimeter of Pearl Harbor used to have that. But that’s what it amounts to.

 

Right.

 

You know, and so this were the little detachments they had. And you know, I can say one of the things that they had was that we used to go out there and dig clams, and crab, and we taught them how to eat. And we had rationing. And they used to have lot of chickens and steaks. You know, and boy, we would kinda envy them. But at the same time, because of our pigs, they let us pick up the garbage from them. And you know, many times in the garbage, we had steak and chickens, wrapped up pretty well.

 

Oh …

 

And boy, I tell you, we ate ‘em. We ate lot of steak and chicken. They couldn’t give it to us outright. I think they hid it in the garbage. But we ate lot of chicken and lot of steak. But we were friends. We were friends.

 

Were they friends with everybody in the area?

 

They were; they were, in the area. And again, one of the things I do want to mention, though. You know, our neighbors were a little far apart, but when we had martial law, everybody came together to help each other. I didn’t realize we could even do that, but you know, we had to dig bomb shelters. They were out there to help us dig bomb shelters. They made sure that everybody was being cared for. You know, we shared things. I tell you, the community came together and really helped out. And the soldiers were there. And again, they were there as protectors, but then at the same time, you know, they were friends. You know. And so, that’s one of the big things, one of the changes that really got me, is how the community got together. You know, the Hawaiians, the Puerto Ricans one side; the Hawaiians, the Filipinos on this side. They were just great.

 

Jimmy Lee’s boundless energy continued to get him into trouble with the law. His parents came up with a solution.

 

My parents always said that I needed to have discipline. And because I was getting arrested and getting into problems all the time, you know, they sent me to ʻIolani School.

 

That was your prison?

 

Yes.

 

Oh, my goodness.

 

Because it was an all-boys school. You know, all boys.

 

But it was far away.

 

It was far away; yes.

 

And transportation was probably an issue; right?

 

Yeah; it was transportation. But you see, my sister married an alumni from ʻIolani. And through some maybe pull or recommendation, I was able to go to ʻIolani.

 

And did you live in town?

 

Yes; she lived in town, in the Chinatown area. You see.

 

And your parents paid the freight for you to go to ʻIolani?

 

Well, I think because my brother-in-law, you know, he was a photographer. And his father was a minister. I think they footed everything, because my father could not do that.

 

Did they knock that rascal spirit right out of you?

 

It sure did. It sure did, because again I say, martial law was still there. And this is where the teachers—you know, during the years at ʻIolani, it was all boys, and they were strict. You know, and the families that we hadi, the kids were not like me. They were not like me. They were you know, I think little more refined, I think, where I had to behave.

 

They probably never had taken care of pigs or anything.

 

That’s right; they never did.

 

I wonder if your parents, after having seen you arrested by the military, and you would go back and do the same thing again, even though it wasn’t a terrible crime, they probably were afraid that you’d really run afoul of the military.

 

Oh, yes. And you see, when they first sent me out there, my aunt lived next to Oahu Prison. And they were always saying, We’re keeping you close to the prison because you’re gonna end up in there.

 

And yet, when you think about it, you know, your crimes were not terribly serious.

 

That’s right; they were not.

 

Even though martial law ended three years later, Jimmy Lee stayed at ʻIolani, where he graduated and went on to the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. He was drafted into the Army, and eventually made the civilian branch of the military his career. Throughout much of Jimmy’s life, there was a mystery that he kept trying to solve. On the day of the attack, his best boyhood friend, Toshi Yamamoto, had disappeared.

 

When I came back that morning, December 7th, you know, this was around midday already. And I went and ran out by the plum tree, yelling out, Toshi, Toshi, where are you? There was no answer. I ran under the house where we played Hide-and-Seek. Toshi, where are you? None. I ran up to the house, where I used to sleep. The house was empty. From that day on, December 7th again, never saw him. During all those years when I was in school, even when I was in the military, I used to write little notes. You know, Where are you? Hoping that someday, you know, he would come back, and maybe an old man like me would come up and say, Hey, I’m Toshi. But that never did happen. And when I spoke about him over the radio on December 7, 2012, that’s when his son called and said, You’re talking about my dad. Oh, I tell you, that really struck me. I could not even say a word anymore; I was speechless. When I finally met his son, that’s when the son told me a little bit more about his father. And that they were at gunpoint forced to leave, they lost everything, but they were never imprisoned, and never threatened. You know, and he was allowed to work, and things like that. But you know, one of the things about this for myself, you know, when it started like that, it was not only you know, the feeling, of witnessing the attack, but I lost my friend, my best friend. I asked him, Where is your father? Buried in Kaneohe. So, on December 14th, I went out searching for the grave, and I finally did, sure enough. But I tell you, one of the things I had to do was just that I had to stand over the grave, and that was him. And I tell you, you know, it was raining. I don’t know whether it was rain coming in my eyes or not, but as far as I’m concerned, I had tears in my eyes. Well, I finally had to say, Toshi, after seventy-one years, I finally found you. You know, and so long, and goodbye.

 

At the time of our conversation just before the seventy-fifty anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Jimmy Lee was getting ready to mark his eighty-sixth birthday. Mahalo to Jimmy, a Kaneʻohe resident, for sharing stories that we hope will live on in commemoration of many lives; lives that were lost, and lives that continued but were changed forever. And mahalo to 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.

 

His son tell me that his dad worked hard. And one of the most remarkable thing about this is that the son, he’s with the community college in Ewa right now, and he’s never gone back to the old house before. So, on December 20th, I took him and all the grandkids, and sat them down, and told them the story. And the kids, ages nine to fourteen, all wanted to hear the story about what it is. And sitting on the seawall, I was able to point out where their grandpa and I played, in the trap where we used to catch fish. That’s where we used to go out in the mudflats, you know, digging clams and things. And with that, I tell you, I was very, very happy to be doing this.
[END]

 

 


NHK World Documentary
Road to Redemption

NHK Documentary: Road to Redemption

 

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

 

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