Captain

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Courage in Captivity: Three POWs’ Stories

 

Revisit stories from Bill Paty, Frank Padgett and Jerry Coffee and their harrowing experiences as prisoners of war.

 

Bill Paty, who served as Director of the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, landed in German hands in Normandy, right before the D-Day Invasion.

 

On the other side of the world, retired Associate Justice Judge Frank Padgett parachuted into enemy territory during World War II and was held prisoner for eight months by the Japanese military.

 

Navy Captain Jerry Coffee spent seven years in captivity in North Vietnam.

 

These three stories of fortitude and faith are a testament to the strength of the human spirit and dedication to one’s country, even in the darkest of times.

 

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

 

Courage in Captivity: Three POWs’ Stories Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I became a POW, and that was a very humbling, frustrating experience for me. One of the worst things that could have happened, that I was taken out of combat while the great men I’d been training with all this time, and they’d go on into combat without me. And I never got over that for many, many years.

 

You didn’t want to be in a Japanese military prison. So, you know, you lose weight very quickly when you’ve got maybe dysentery, and malaria, and beriberi. Beriberi … the water accumulates in your lower extremities; they swell up. You can take your thumb and put it in, and see a puka. You know. You can’t walk very far. But then again, I wasn’t doing any walking. I couldn’t walk at all; I was in the damn cell.

 

My prayers changed from, Why me, to Show me. I quit saying, Why me, God, and I started saying, Show me, God. How can I use this positively? Help me to use it to go home as a better, stronger, smarter man in every possible way that I can. To go home as a better naval officer, go home as a better American, a better citizen, a better Navy pilot, a better Christian. Every possible way, God, help me to use this time productively so that it won’t be some kind of a void or vacuum in my life. And after that change in my prayers, every single day took a new meaning.

 

Former State Land Director William Paty, retired Hawai‘i Supreme Court Associate Justice Frank Padgett, and retired U.S. Navy Captain Jerry Coffee all survived ordeals as prisoners of war. On this compilation edition of Long Story Short, we look back at these previous Long Story Short guests and see how they never really stopped believing that they would come home alive. Courage in Captivity, 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. While prisoners of war may be valuable commodities to their captors, that does not mean they’ll be well treated or survive. Sir Winston Churchill observed that courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality which guarantees all others. This can mostly certainly be said about three Long Story Short guests. We begin with William Woods Paty, Jr., better known as Bill. In 1945, he left college to join the Army and become a paratrooper. He soon found himself on the ground in Normandy, France on D-Day, fighting in one of the most famous battles of World War II.

 

We dropped six miles further inland than we were supposed to. And then, on top of that, we dropped right on top of a German parachute regiment that had been training right in that area. Yeah; it wasn’t a comfortable landing. Yeah.

 

What happened when you landed?

 

Well … I ran into a French milkmaid early on. And some of you heard that story. D-Day morning, all this firing is going on, we’ve had skirmishes all night long from midnight. And you could hear the big shells from the Navy cruisers offshore coming in. The Spitfires and all were all over the place. She’s milking a cow in the middle of the hedgerow. And I walk over. I told my sergeant. . . We didn’t know exactly where they were, where the Germans were, and I go to give them my best Punahou French. Which is supposed to mean, Where are the Germans around here? She doesn’t say anything; she milks the cow. But she moved her head like this, and I look, and there’s a German patrol coming down the road just above us. So, I jump up, and jump back over the hedgerow. But I think I told my sergeant that I’m gonna get us a date tonight. I said, Captain, you didn’t do too good, did you?

 

Have a date with a German regiment.

 

Yeah. And I became a POW, and that was a very humbling, frustrating experience for me. One of the worst things that could have happened, that I was taken out of combat while the great men I’d been training with all this time, and they’d go on into combat without me. I never got over that for many, many years.

 

What were conditions like for you as a POW?

 

Nothing’s good about being a POW. The Germans, in terms of handling their officers, POWs, were more lenient than they were with the enlisted. By and large, if they went hungry, we went hungry. But it could have been worse. I think the worst part was being transported in forty box cars. Forty box cars, all jammed in together. And then, they shipped us up across France and into Germany. And every time we were at a marshland yard, they changed engines. And then the Spitfires or the B47s would come down, and the sirens would go off, and there you are locked in this boxcar. That got to be a little wearing.

 

Did you worry that they’d kill you, as a POW? Or torture you?

 

No, we didn’t get any treatment like that. But if you tried to get away, they don’t get very happy about that.

 

You tried to get away.

 

Yeah.

 

What’d you try?

 

Well, first of all, coming down, actually, I was wounded. They put me in an ambulance, and the Spitfires came down and shot up the buses we were in, the wounded. And so, the Germans would jump out and get in a ditch. If you tried to get out of the bus, you’d get shot. If you stayed there, you’d get strafed. So, in the process, the bus caught fire, and I scrambled out somehow. I was ambulatory, and got away, and got to a French farmer. And they took me up and they put me way up in their little attic they had up there. But they were gonna get the French Resistance guys to come in and help take me out. But as it turned out, the German artillery unit came in there and set it up as a command post, and they searched the place, and there I was. So that wasn’t too bad; they put me back into the bus.

 

They didn’t discipline you?

 

No. No, not then. They were too busy doing that. After that, the second time was kind of a bad one.

 

What happened the second time you tried to get away?

 

Well, the second time I got out was on a discharge from the German hospital. And they had a compound there, and they had the barbed wire around the walls.

 

And what had you been treated for?

 

I had a Smizer bullet in my groin. It’s still there, by the way. And they never took it out. But be that as it may, we wanted to try to see if we could get out. And I guess there were several dozen, fifty or sixty were in the compound that had been pulled together. We had an idea that four of us would get out and make a break for it. And well, when the time came, there were only two of us, an Englishman and myself. So, we went out with blankets at night, and they had the watchtower, but the lights didn’t go on all the time. We threw the blankets over, climbed over the barbed wire, got down the and over the next one. And it gets kinda touchy there, because you’re not sure if the lights are gonna come on, they’re gonna use the machine guns. So we got over, and it was getting close to dawn by then.

 

Were you cut up by the barbed wire?

 

We had gloves we had gotten, and we also had blankets, so they were not too bad. So we hightailed it off across the field. And I guess after we’d gone a few miles, we decided we’d better try to hole up. And so, we holed up in a cowshed, and again, a French lady came by, and we gave her our best, charming Punahou French again. She said, No, wait, wait, wait. She comes back with four Germans and two police dogs.

 

So far, that Punahou French …

 

Didn’t work out too well. But we got solitary time for that, you know.

 

But solitary was the worst of it?

 

Solitary—no, they didn’t try. The Geneva Convention was observed quite well by them. But we got bread and water, and no lights. Gives you a lesson. Yeah.

 

Bill Paty didn’t give up trying to escape, and on his third try, he succeeded and made his way safely back home. On the other side of the world, Frank Padgett, a U.S. Air Force pilot, was captured and held prisoner for eight months by the Japanese military police. After losing an engine to enemy fire, he and his crew had to bail out. He was twenty-one years old.

 

When we bailed out, we weren’t sure where we were, because the navigator, when we were on the deck, he hadn’t take times and stuff because the engine was wind-milling, that propeller, he couldn’t use his instruments. So, we didn’t know where we were. Turned out, we were northwest of Hanoi.

 

So, did you fall into friendly hands at first, or not?

 

No. Well, yes and no. I was trying to walk out to China. You know, I didn’t know what the hell to do. We didn’t know that the French were alerted. The French had a thing that when they found an American plane was down, they’d go and walk up and down the roads whistling Tipperary. Nobody ever told us that.

 

That was a sign that there was a friendly person.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Come show yourself.

 

Okay; okay.

 

Did you hear Tipperary, and not respond?

 

No. No; no, I didn’t. About the second day, I was walking on a pathway between rice, and I looked, and there were all these Vietnamese following me. So, I stopped, and I spoke enough French, and they spoke enough, so that they asked me if I was hungry, and I went back to their village and they fed me. And the Japanese arrived, and I tried to run out of the village. I got outside, but it was surrounded. Fortunately, I’d laid down my pistol while I was resting, and I didn’t have it, so I didn’t try to shoot it. That’s why I lived.

 

You can laugh about it now. You not only got captured by the Japanese, but you were put in the control of the Nazi gestapo equivalent of the Japanese forces.

 

Yeah. That’s the Kempeitai. The Kempeitai was a combination of military police and gestapo, which is kind of a bad combination. Fortunately, the jail in Chalon was really military police, and the jail downtown was regular Kempeitai. That’s where you’ll see the name Nix and the other name in July of ’45. And in the French prison camp, B-24s from the 7th Air Force raided Saigon. A plane got hit; you could see it. You know, you’re out in a trench watching your American plane go over, and listening to the bombs whistle. You know, they whistle when they come down. Anyway, these two guys bailed out, and the Kempeitai got them, and they cut their heads off.

 

And I’m being treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. They beat you, and you’re back in the cell. And you know they’re coming back, and they’re gonna do it again. And it really bothers you, you know. And then, they take you out, and they take you back, and the first time they hit you … that’s it. They’ve done it, and you know they’re gonna hit you some more. That’s it; that’s it. There’s nothing you can do about it.

 

I was really intrigued by this quote in your book, with your son. It’s from an unknown person. But it says: To a prisoner of war, the enemy is everywhere; he controls your fate, your future, even your bodily functions. You’re at war at every second. You’re never given leave, and you can never leave the combat zone. Is that what it felt like?

 

Well, in a Kempeitai jail, yes.

 

You’re always on alert.

 

Well … yeah. It was a little different. They were starving us to death; okay? We wore a breech cloth, we had a blanket. The tatami pillow on it, had a six-by-eight cell, the lights were always on. They came and stared through the thing. But, you know, human beings are human beings. One of the guards was from a dairy farm in Japan, and the only thing he was interested in was getting back to Japan. So, they would come and talk to you, and they weren’t supposed to in that jail. They were not supposed to, but they did anyway.

 

So, that was a nice bit of humanity you could share. I notice when you talk about being a prisoner of war, as awful as it was, you laugh. Did you have that sense of humor when you were there?

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Kind of a dark humor?

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

But I think that might be resilience, too.

 

Well, probably. But, you know, what are you gonna do? You can’t do anything about the circumstances, so you know, try to see if you can find anything good, okay; you know. There wasn’t in that jail. The best thing that happened was, every two or three days, you got to carry the chamber pot out and dump it in the sewer.

 

That was your excursion; right?

 

Yeah.

 

Now, you had become a Catholic when you were thirteen or fourteen. Did that faith kick in, or was that helpful to you at this time?

 

I said the Hail Mary; I said the Rosary on my knuckles every day, and I prayed that I’d get released. God apparently moves at His own speed; it took a while.

 

Frank Padgett was released from prison and sent back home when the war ended. He later served as a justice in Hawai‘i’s highest court. Just over twenty years later, the United States was involved in another overseas war, this time in Vietnam. Navy Captain Gerald Coffee, better known as Jerry Coffee, also was a pilot. He spent seven years and nine days in a North Vietnamese prison after his plane was shot down.

 

I had to eject at a very, very high speed, and the airplane was totally out of control, rolling rapidly. So, when I pulled the face curtain, it was about six hundred and eighty miles per hour. And you can kind of imagine the impact hitting the airstream at six-eighty. I say, you know, it was like going down H-1 in your convertible with the top down and standing up in the front seat. At six hundred miles an hour. And I was knocked unconscious immediately, but regained consciousness floating in the water. And already, some small Vietnamese boats and militia men, and army guys were there, and I was captured immediately. Right after I was captured, some airplanes from the Kitty Hawk, the carrier that I was operating from, showed up and they see the boats there, and they see my life preserver and the dye marker out here, and they think the boats are still on the way out to pick me up. And so, they figured, well, if they strafed the boats, they won’t be able to get me. But they didn’t know I was already in the boat. So, these two A-1 aircrafts strafed the boats that we were in, and I’m watching the bullets whack at the side of the boat. The Vietnamese stood up in the boats and returned their fire with their own weapons. And we got to the beach finally, and jumped out and ran across the wide sandy beach and dove behind a rice paddy dike to take cover just about the same time that an A-4 Skyhawk from the Kitty Hawk rolled in and fired a pack of rockets, which blew all those beach boats to splinters. That was my introduction to North Vietnam. Sometime in that battle, my crewman was killed. He was my navigator, and I never saw him again, and kept asking all through the prison experience, you know, about him. Have you seen him? Have you seen my crewman? And nobody ever had. And his remains were returned here through Hickam in the late 80s, as a matter of fact. And I found myself a prisoner of war, a POW. And it takes a while to, we used to say, get to know the ropes. But the ropes were how they tortured us.

 

Yeah. You know, I think people are very interested in the torture part, ‘cause we all think, Could we have withstood that? What would that be like? I mean, just the mental agony of never knowing when it was gonna happen, or what it was gonna entail. And early on, there’s this really vivid scene that you describe in your book, where you were with your broken arm and, I think, a shattered elbow, you were tied up with your arms in back.

 

That’s right; to a tree. Yeah.

 

And to a tree, and essentially, you became a game of tetherball to some Vietnamese on the ground.

 

Yes; exactly. The tree was on a hill, and the guards kept pushing me downhill, and all the weight was on my arms. I was tied to an upper branch of the tree. And I was so naïve. I mean, I was a professional naval officer, military officer, and I didn’t even realize, it didn’t really register to me that I was being brutally tortured at the time. It wasn’t until I had a chance to kinda catch my breath, and laying on a stack of hay in this stable, which was in this little village in Central North Vietnam, and I just realized, Oh, god, I’ve just been tortured.

 

Well, you mentioned that at one point, your broken arm was sort of encased in inflammation, swelling which acted like a sort of cast.

 

It was.

 

It was an untreated broken arm.

 

It was an untreated broken arm. And my hand swelled up, and I couldn’t get the red hot ring I was wearing on my finger off. So, they put me in interrogation one night, and sliced my finger open, and pulled the ring off, squeezed the blood in the lymph out. And then the next night, they took me to a military hospital and set my arm, and all the swelling went down. And they could have just taken the ring off. And they did a reasonably good job on my arm. That’s about as good as they did for their own people. But they wanted to keep us in presentable shape, at least, to be propaganda vehicles.

 

You had to be so strong, though. I mean, you were in this tiny little cell. It was just filthy, and unsanitary, and you never knew when you were gonna get called into the next session.

 

Exactly. And as you described that cell, everything that happened to you got infected because of the environment in which we were living.

 

An infection could have killed you.

 

Yeah; it could have, and did kill some men.

 

The toilet was a bucket without a cover.

 

A bucket right there; yeah.

 

In this very small space.

 

Right; right.

 

And you exercised in that tiny little space.

 

Right.

 

How many miles a day did you walk, at three steps at a time.

 

Three miles day, three steps at a time. One of the first things you do when you’re moved into a cell—and the cells did vary sometimes in size. But you’d walk it off and see how many laps it had to be for a mile. And you’d go get your exercise, and you’d do pushups on on those concrete bunks, and stay in as good a shape as possible. ‘Cause you never knew what the next day was gonna require. In some cases, guys were forced to march northward towards the Chinese border to a new prison. They weren’t hauled up there by trucks; they had to march. And images of the March of Corregidor in World War II in the Philippines comes to mind, where if you fell behind, you got killed. And so, we’d try to stay in as good a physical shape as possible.

 

What are some of the attributes that you think made each of those who survived, and later did well in life; what were of the common attributes that you all shared?

 

I think optimism. And it costs no more to be an optimist than it does a pessimist, and it’s a lot happier way to live your life, I think. But those who were the most optimistic and could translate that optimism to faith, or through faith, I think that they were the ones that were able to make the most of the experience, and learn the most, and be able to make the biggest contribution because of the experience after we returned. I think that guys who were mechanically-minded also, that could be inventive, and guys can do some of the most remarkable things, not the least of which was learning how to put our sandals, to balance them on the edge of the top of the bucket, to sit down on the sandals instead of the edge of the bucket and made a toilet seat. How come I didn’t figure this out earlier? You know.

 

Veritable luxury.

 

Oh, what a breakthrough. You know. And also because most of us were aviators. I have to say this; there’s something about military aviation that is kind of a winnowing process. And we were all college graduates, because you had to graduate from college to get your wings, whether it be Air Force or Navy. So, we were all better educated and had an appreciation for the things that you could learn by yourself, by just going inward and thinking about yourself, and thinking about the world, and thinking about what the future might hold.

 

You couldn’t be afraid to face yourself, and a lot of people have trouble with that.

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Jerry Coffee wasn’t released from prison until the end of the war in 1973. He stayed in the Navy until he retired a dozen years later. He became a national commentator on political and military issues, a motivational speaker, and a columnist. Despite lingering health problems for their captivity, Bill Paty, Frank Padgett, and Jerry Coffee went on to have full lives. Mahalo to these men for their heroic service to our country, and for the inspiration and life lessons we gain from your courage in captivity. For PBS Hawai‘i 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.

 

They call our name, you walk across in front of this guy, and he said, You know, you do not need to accept repatriation, you may stay in our country if you like. What? Get out of here, you know. Walk away and salute Colonel Abel, and shake his hand, and then this big Air Force major put his arm around my shoulder and said, Come on, Commander, I’ll take you out to the airplane. And we walk up. And we’re going up the ramp of the C-141, and at the top of the ramp there’s four, I’m sure, hand-selected gorgeous Air Force nurses. Go up there and hug them, and you know, they smelled so good. Got magazines and newspapers, and hot coffee, and donuts, and so on. And we’re all chattering away there, and finally we get the last guys aboard. And the pilot comes up on the intercom and he says, Come on, guys, let’s strap in; we’re ready to go. And it got quiet. And we’re all thinking, Wow, is this gonna be it? So, we strap in, and he cranks up those engines on the airplane. Cr-r-r. We’re taxiing out toward the runway. He gets on the and revs up the engines to full throttle, and pulling the brakes back, and he finally releases the brakes, and we’re rolling down this kind of rough runway. And we’re all straining against our straps saying, Come on, you beast, get airborne. Get airborne; come on, let’s go. And then they pick up speed and the nose comes up, and then we hear that hydraulic whine of the wheels going up into the wheel wells and clunk up in there. And we’re climbing on out, and the pilot comes up and says, Congratulations, gentlemen, we’re just leaving North Vietnam. And then, we believed it. And then, we cheered.

 

[END]

 



POV
Dalya’s Other Country / 4.1 Miles

 

In Dalya’s Other Country, follow a family displaced by the Syrian conflict, walking the line between their Muslim values and the new world they inhabit. Afterward, the short film 4.1 Miles features a Greek Coast Guard captain caught in the middle of the biggest refugee crisis since WWII.

 

4.1 Miles

 

 

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 6 of 7

 

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the hit 1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter taken in by the captain.

 

Part 6 of 7
A mysterious smelting company challenges the local copper barons. Poldark confronts the same cardsharp who swindled Francis.

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 5 of 7

 

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the hit 1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter taken in by the captain.

 

Part 5 of 7
Poldark and Demelza start a family. The miners riot, and Francis takes desperate measures to recoup his losses.

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 4 of 7


Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the
hit 1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall
after the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter
taken in by the captain.

 

Part 4 of 7
The community awaits news of the fish harvest. Poldark’s copper mine
struggles. Demelza must get used to a new way of life.

 

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 3 of 7

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE Part 3 of 7

 

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the hit
1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after
the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter taken
in by the captain.

 

Part 3 of 7
Poldark’s battle with the local gentry deepens. He faces one turning point with
Elizabeth and another with Demelza.

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 2 of 7

 

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the hit 1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter taken in by the captain.

 

Part 2 of 7
Determined to open his risky copper mine, Poldark seeks backers. Verity’s big chance leads to a showdown.

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 1 of 7

 

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the hit 1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter taken in by the captain.

 

Part 1 of 7
After fighting for England in the American Revolution, Poldark returns home to Cornwall and finds wrenching change. He loses one close friend and gains another.

 

Rickover:
The Birth of Nuclear Power

 

Combative, provocative and searingly blunt, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover was a flamboyant maverick and a unique American. When few thought it possible, then-Captain Rickover undertook to harness the power of the atom to drive the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, whose trip under the polar ice pack was one of the great adventure stories of the 1950s. Later, Rickover built the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant at Shippingport, PA. Rickover’s achievements made him a national celebrity, and he appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Many questioned Rickover’s goal of an all nuclear navy, and others questioned his creation of a technocratic elite, his own navy within the Navy. However, few contested that he had transformed the Navy and changed the course of America’s technological development.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
John Clark

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 31, 2010

 

Keeping Hawaiian Stories Alive

 

In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks story with a true Renaissance man. John Clark relates how learning to surf at a young age led him to become a waterman, lifeguard, fire fighter, historian, and writer. The author of a series of books on Hawaii’s beaches, John Clark took the innate curiosity that we all have and hunted down the source and mo’olelo, or stories, behind the names of Hawaii’s surf spots and shoreline landmarks. Find out how this descendent of a sea captain is doing his part to keep Hawaiian stories and characters alive.

 

John Clark Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

One of the guys that I interviewed was a man named Kerr. He was born back in the 1890s, so he was a surfer as a young child. By the time he was already ten years old, he was already surfing in Waikiki. And Queen was still alive at that time, and she had a home called Hamohamo, which is right where the Pacific Beach Hotel is. And she had a pier that ran out from her home, that went out into the water. And she would sit out on her pier, and she would watch the surfers, which were right out in front of her. Anyway, this guy and another friend of his, she would ask for them; she would ask them to go out and surf, just so she could watch surfers while she was sitting on her pier. He and his friend named the spot Queen’s. And that’s Queen’s—

 

That’s Queen’s Beach?

 

That’s Queen’s Surf.

 

Oh, Queen’s Surf.

 

[CHUCKLE] Queen’s Beach is a little further down the road. So anyway, that’s Queen’s Surf that’s almost now—it’s almost straight out from the Duke’s statue.

 

We’re surrounded by water, so it’s only natural that many of us play and work in the ocean. But as we’re enjoying our beaches and reefs, how many of us are curious enough, and persistent enough, to learn the background of our favorite fishing or surfing spot, what its name means, who’s responsible for naming it, and what role does it play in Hawaii’s history? Next, on Long Story Short, we’ll meet a man who’s combined a love of the ocean with an insatiable curiosity.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to Long Story Short. When you think of a name, do you ever wonder what’s behind that name? For instance, why is a place called Toes, or Snipes, or Gums? How about the name John Clark; a relatively simple name, only two syllables, but the simplicity of the name hides the complexity of the man. He served in the Army. He was a lifeguard at Sandy Beach, waterman, and firefighter who worked his way up to Deputy Chief of the Honolulu Fire Department, author of a series of nonfiction book about Hawaiian waters. Somehow, it seems only natural that this complex man, with a simple name, is a descendant of a sea captain.

 

His name was William Carey Lane, and he came here in the 1850s. And in 1853, there was a smallpox epidemic that was going on in Honolulu. So he was here. He had decided to make his home in the islands. And he was asked to take some medicine to a Hawaiian couple down where the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is. So he did; he met their daughter, he married her, and ended up making Hawaii his home.

 

But he planned to do so, even before he met—

 

Met her

 

—and fell in love.

 

Yes.

 

Was he at the end of his career, or did he just decide, Heck with my career, I’m staying?

 

He—exactly that. He decided that he didn’t want to go to sea anymore. And he really loved Hawaii, he decided to make it his home. So he married her, they ended up having twelve children, six boys and six girls. And the first Clark that came to Hawaii married one of the six girls. So anyway, going back to that marriage between the sea captain and Kahooilimoku—that was her name, I’m fifth generation from that marriage.

 

You seem to concentrate your fascination and your—

 

[CLEARS THROAT]

 

—passion where the sea intersects with the shoreline.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The coastal areas, not the deep sea that your—

 

Yes.

 

—your ancestor loved, or once loved. You love that, where water and land connect.

 

Yes; exactly right. My mother likes to say that she and my dad had me swimming even before I walked. They took me and put me in the ocean before I was even a year old. So that connection for me and the ocean and the beach has always been there from the very beginning. And that was really reinforced when I learned how to surf. I started surfing when I was eight years old. And—

 

Who taught you? Or did you learn yourself?

 

Oh, no, not at all. My dad was in construction here in Hawaii, and one of the guys he worked with was a man named Clarence Maki. And Clarence was an avid surfer—actually, an avid surf photographer as well. So anyway, he and my dad were talking one day, and Clarence just told my dad that he’d be willing to teach me how to surf. He did, and I’ve been a lifelong surfer since.

 

What was your upbringing like? Where’d you grow up, and what was it like?

 

I grew up at a place called Kaalawai, which is over between Black Point and Diamond Head. It’s a little community there.

 

Were you right on the water?

 

Oh, no, no. We were back up towards Diamond Head Road. But anyway, that’s where, really, that I learned to surf in Waikiki, but that whole Diamond Head-Kaalawai area was my backyard.

 

What was it like? I don’t know that area, except to walk along it. What—

 

Oh.

 

—was it known for?

 

Actually, Kaalawai was known for several things. As far as traditional Hawaiian resources go, it was an area known for limu, for seaweed. There’s a lot of limu there—or there used to be. There used to be wawaeiole, which is a thick, green limu, and then a finer one that

everybody calls ogo now. But we used to call it manawea, limu manawea.

 

Did you gather that for salads?

 

Yes, we did. So those two, I find them every once in a while when I go back there to surf. But not too much. But there were also octopus there. People would come spearing for octopus. And there’s a seasonal fish that used to run through there, the mullet. And they would start off in Pearl Harbor in schools of thousands, and they would just start flowing around the island, and they’d run all the way down the coast, all the way around Makapuu Point, and then head up towards the windward side.

 

Does that still happen?

 

No, not like before. We don’t see those mullet runs before. But the throw net fishermen, when they would run, and it would be in the fall, when the anae, the mullet used to run through there, the throw new fishermen would come from all over the island to throw net on the schools.

 

Did you go down to the beach every day?

 

Almost. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was your routine? Before school and after school, or after school?

 

No, only after school. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] ‘Cause lot of folks came to school with their hair dripping wet.

 

Yes; no, that wasn’t me. [CHUCKLE] But I did surf a lot after school. And like I said, that was my backyard, all those spots. I surfed a lot.

 

What kind of boards did you surf on, as you went along?

 

I started off on balsa. So I started surfing in 1954, and that’s just when the foam boards are starting to make their appearance, mostly in California, and they’re just starting to make their way to Hawaii. We don’t actually get a foam surfboard factory here, which was the Velzy Factory, until 1960. So those first six years of my life, or my surfing life, anyway, from ’54 to ’60, I was riding a balsa board. So it was what we used to called a Malibu. It had a kick in the front, and it was just a single fin. And of course, no leashes.

 

And there are two of your surfboards behind you. Tell—

 

Yes.

 

—me about those boards. They look like they’ve seen a lot of action, and—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—and they’ve been cared for.

 

Yes, they are. Those are called alaia’s, and the alaia’s are traditional Hawaiian surfboards. Anyway, one of them, the one with the round nose, is made out of redwood and pine. And the other one is made out of all traditional Hawaiian wood; it’s wiliwili with koa strips, stringers. So anyway, the alaia’s are boards that I still ride ‘til this day, as opposed to a regular surfboard. And—

 

No fins?

 

No fins at all. So they like to side slip; they don’t a line quite like a regular surfboard does.

 

And they’re not that long.

 

No; they’re only five-feet-two, both of them. And they’re very thin too; they’re only three-eighths of an inch.

 

What size waves are they best on?

 

They’ll ride anything up to like double overhead waves. Just gotta get out there and fly. [CHUCKLE]

 

And what’s the story of how the boards were made?

 

Besides board surfing, besides learning how to surf on a surfboard, I’ve also been a paipo rider all my life. And one of the guys that I ride paipo with builds paipo boards. So when I started researching my book on traditional Hawaiian surfing, I wanted to know what it was like to ride a traditional board. So I just asked my friend—his name’s Bud Shelsa; I asked Bud if he would build me an alaia board, and he did. So we started off with the one with the round nose, and then I got to know that board. And then I decided to try something a little different, shape wise, and we went with the second one, the one with the wiliwili and koa.

 

 

In the Hawaiian culture, moolelo, storytelling was crucial in passing down the history of the Hawaiian Islands from generation to generation. In today’s world, the moolelo behind many of Hawaii’s beaches and landmarks would be forgotten and lost without people like John Clark.

 

So you were an early swimmer, an early surfer?

 

Yes.

 

But those skills are different from collecting and writing about swimming and surfing, and coastlines. How did that all come together?

 

It actually started with surfing. When I got into my teens and I started surfing around the island, when I got a driver’s license and my friends did too, we started surfing all the different spots around the Island of Oahu. And I actually got interested in the names of all these different spots; where the names came from, what the story was, the moolelo behind the names. And I just started just collecting these as I went along over the years. So anyway, in 1970, when I got out of the Army, I became a lifeguard at Sandy Beach. And as I sat there on my tower, I decided that I was gonna do something proactive to try and reach people and before they got in the water, and got in trouble. So I started writing about Sandy Beach, I started writing about water safety. But when I read this material over, I thought it was really boring. I thought no one would be interested in it. So all this stuff that I’d gathered about surf spots and names, and where the names came from, I decided to combine that information with the water safety stuff. So I just rolled it all into one, and I ended up with a book.

 

Speaking of names, Sandy Beach—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How more basic can that be?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Does that have a Hawaiian name, or a history that’s more interesting than the words, Sandy Beach?

 

So the area where Sandy Beach is, is called Wawamalu. And if you go out and look at the old highway bridge out near the entrance to the Hawaii Kai Golf Course, you can see the name Wawamalu; it’s still on the bridge out there. But anyway, the name Sandy Beach actually came from the ulua fishermen that fished at Bamboo Ridge, which is over by the Blow Hole. And they would fish at Bamboo Ridge, and they would just call the beach next door … the sand beach. They’d call it Blow Hole Sand Beach; that was one of their names. Anyway, Blow Hole Sand Beach got edited down to “sand be”—Sandy Beach, and nowadays, the kids just call it Sandy’s. Simple.

 

There are so names that make you wonder. And there are also more than one name for a place.

 

Yes.

 

So you had to figure out which is the more appropriate. And then, there are probably different versions of how things came to be named the way they are.

 

Yes, there are. So that’s something that I’ve done all my life, just collect all of these stories, and then just kind of balance the stories one against the other, and try to come up with what I think is the original version, the original moolelo for that place name.

 

How do you go about finding the moolelo? I mean, how do you do it? You show up at a beach, you’re curious about it, and then what?

 

Well, because I’m a water person, I guess I can talk surf speak, or I can speak the language. And I just talk to guys or girls in the water, and I say, What do you call this spot? And, I mean, where did the name come from? So I just pick up stories as I go. And I also go through literature. People besides me have written about surf spots and about beaches, and just different places. So I gather all this material, and I just kinda sift through it, and come up with what I think is the legitimate story behind the name.

 

Do you try to find people who are living there, or associated with the beach a long time ago?

 

Oh, yes.

 

You go away from the beach to find the story?

 

Yes, I do. In fact, that’s one of the things that I’ve done religiously over the years, is going to the communities and talk to the kupuna; the people that were born and raised there, that know the area, that know the names. And the Fire Department was wonderful for that. Because everybody has a fireman in their family, or everybody knows a fireman. So I would ask the guys at work. I’d say, Oh, you’re from Kaaawa. Do you still have family out there? Can I go talk to your grandma or your auntie, or whatever? And then you get the ripple effect. So I talk to the grandma in Kaaawa, and she says, Oh, now,you gotta go talk to my sister in Punaluu. Or, You need to go talk to my dad, who’s out in Laie.

And did you know you were gonna put the information into books? Did you have that idea to begin with?

No; I never did, you know. Just going back to Sandy Beach in 1972; I never thought that I would ever put all of this information into books, into what turned out to be an entire series of books. They were just things that I was interested in, you know, I gathered the information.

 

And you were methodical about it. You thought, back in 1972, to take down names, and commit—

 

Yes.

 

—it to paper.

 

Yes. I really valued the information that people gave me, and I thought it was important to recognize them, to honor them for, confiding in me and helping me with what I was after. So I did. That’s something that I’ve done all these years, is acknowledge everyone who’s contributed to my work.

 

Can we take some surfing sites that lots of people know—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—but they may not know the origin of the name.

 

Sure.

 

For example, along Ala Moana and Waikiki, there are all kinds of surf breaks.

 

Yeah.

 

And people know the names, but they might have forgotten the reason. Some—

 

Sure.

 

Some, you can tell, some not.

 

Sure. Well, if you want to start at Ala Moana, first of all, you have Magic Island. And there’s a spot out there that’s called Bombora’s. And Bombora is actually an aboriginal word; it came from the Australian surfers who came here to Hawaii. And somebody just tagged that name for the surf spot out there. You move—the next spot down, going west now, is Baby Haleiwa’s. That’s named, because that spot breaks just like the surf spot Haleiwa on the North Shore. It’s got the same right with a pocket on a shallow reef on the inside. So that’s for a geographical comparison. And then you hit Courts, which is named for the tennis courts—

 

Which are right across.

 

Exactly right. Straight in; that’s your landmark. You go a little further down, you hit Concessions, right out in front of the food concession. So anyway, all of the spots, they all have a story, they all have some reason that they were named. A lot of the names come from just geographical location.

 

There was one near where I grew up, Niu Valley, called Snipes. Do you know the origin of that?

 

Yeah; Jerry Lopez told me that story. Snipes are birds.

 

Mm.

 

And the snipes were the little seabirds that were running back and forth on the beach at low tide, just foraging for food.

 

There’s another surf spot called Gums. What’s the story there?

 

[CHUCKLE] Okay; Gums is out on the North Shore, and Gums is at Ehukai Beach Park, right next to the Pipeline. Anyway, Randy Rarick told me this story.

 

Who grew up in Niu Valley, by the way.

 

Who grew up in Niu Valley, and who surfed at Snipes, and he named Toes too, by the way. Randy is the one that came up with that name. But anyway, getting back to Gums. Randy said that there was a surfer out there who had false teeth. And one day, he got hit in the mouth by his board, and he lost his false teeth.

 

M-hm.

 

So everyone was teasing him about coming in toothless. So the spot just got tagged Gums.

 

Gums.

 

Which it’s been ever since.

 

There’s also Yokohama Bay, which folks on the Waianae Coast have now taken to calling by its original Hawaiian name.

 

Yes.

 

Keawaula.

 

Keawaula; exactly right. So anyway, back when it was called Yokohama, the train, the OR&L train used to run from Honolulu around Kaena Point to Haleiwa, and actually beyond. The train actually ran up ‘til 1947. But anyway, there was a camp out there, um, of repairmen who were mostly Japanese workers. And their job was to repair the tracks. So Yokohama was one of the ports where a lot of the Japanese came from, when they came to Hawaii. So that name just kinda got tagged with them, to that particular bay, Keawaula Bay.

 

And why was it called Keawaula? There must be a reason for that.

 

There is.

 

That Hawaiian name.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, the name Keawaula is actually three words in Hawaiian. It’s ke, which is, the; awa is harbor; and then ula is red. So it means, the red harbor. And there are squid in the Hawaiian Islands, besides octopus, now—these are the true squid, and they school. And when they come into a harbor and they’re schooling, and they’re mating, they turn red. And so it looks like the water turns red, because the schools are so massive. So anyway, that’s the moolelo behind Keawaula, is because of the squid schools that used to come in there seasonally.

 

You know, we were talking a lot about …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—things you can see, you know, surf sites.

 

Yes.

 

But … I live on the North Shore, and—

 

Oh.

 

—I’ve always lived around or among surfers.

 

Okay.

 

And … it appears to me that there’s a whole world out there that a lot of us don’t see, but it’s as real as anything to those who are in the waters a lot. So many people know the underwater landscapes just as well as they do the streets of—

 

Yes.

 

—the town.

 

Yes. Well, you’re actually making a very good point. Surf spots are ocean parks. And that’s how surfers see them. So if you think of your favorite park, or your favorite golf course, or the tennis courts where you play tennis; to a surfer, a surf spot’s the same thing. That’s his park, that’s his area where he does his recreation, his activities. So you’re right. The surfers know the ocean bottom, they know all the quirks, and the currents, and what happens if it’s high tide and low tide, whether it’s summer or winter. All of that stuff plays in, and they know their spots just as well as golfers know their golf courses.

 

No matter how random life is, sometimes people become who they were destined to be. In the case of John Clark, he channeled his love of surfing, his career as a firefighter, and his passion for historical research into leadership of the Hawaiian Historical Society.

 

I’ve always liked English. I’ve always been a very good reader. A voracious reader, actually. So I thought I would be an English major, and that’s what I started off doing up at UH Manoa. But as I got into it, I realized that I really didn’t want to be a teacher, which is pretty much where you have to go if you’re an English major. So I switched; I switched my major to Hawaiian Studies, which was what I was personally interested in. And at that time, I was already in the Fire Department, so I didn’t have to worry about my degree being my profession.

 

I see.

 

I already had my profession. So I got a degree in Hawaiian Studies.

 

How did you go, all of a sudden, from water to fire?

 

[CHUCKLE] I was a lifeguard for two years; that was from 1970 to 1972. And my roommate at that time was a guy named Aaron Young, and Aaron was working for Hawaiian Tel. So anyway, Aaron decided that he wanted to be a fireman, and after he got in, he said it was a really good job, it was a good lifestyle, and he encouraged me to take the test, which I did. And one of the reasons I did is because at that time, there wasn’t any upward mobility in the lifeguard service. If you were a lifeguard, you were a lifeguard pretty much for life. So there wasn’t too much chance of me moving up in the ranks, getting higher pay; you know, that kinda thing.

 

M-hm.

 

And in the Fire Department, it’s just the opposite. They’re a big organization, lots of mobility, lots of room to get promoted.

 

And lots of different aspects of the work.

 

Yes; including ocean rescues. The Fire Department here does ocean rescues. So that’s something that I did as the years went along, too.

 

And when you ended your career after thirty-three years—

 

Oh, yes.

 

—Deputy Fire—

 

Fire chief.

 

—Chief.

 

Yes.

 

Far away from the water.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And even fires, right? You were in an—

 

Yes.

 

—executive role.

 

Yes. So the last seven and a half years of my career were as the Deputy Fire Chief of HFD. But even that was good, too. During that time, I went and got a master’s in public administration. And I really took that job seriously, of being a public administrator of a first responder agency.

 

You’ve spent a lot of time gathering information, writing, and taking—

 

Yes.

 

—care of the publication of books. Why do you do it? Do you make a lot of money from it?

 

Oh, no. It’s all for love. [CHUCKLE] Just real quick; the royalties are very minimal from the sales of all of my books. And the royalties that I do get, I just channel them back into the research, and all of the field trips that I do for the current projects that I’m working on. So there’s no money in it. But I really enjoy doing it. I think that I’m capturing pieces of Hawaiian history that other people haven’t. And the feedback that I get from people that read my stuff tells me that I think I’m touching some bases out there. Maybe not making a homerun with everybody, but I’m touching some bases, and people seem to appreciate what I do.

 

Sometimes on a mainland trip, I go to one of these, say, LA subdivisions, you know, malls. And you don’t—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You don’t see any distinguishing characteristics, or landmarks.

 

Yes.

 

It’s just paved.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I think it would be really hard to live in a place like that.

 

That you can’t relate to somehow; yes.

 

What’s the history? I don’t know. [CHUCKLE]

 

Right. So that’s something that I’ve tried to do for Hawaii. So if you live in Lanikai, you know where the name came from, what it means, you know the history of the area. If you live on the North Shore, why Sunset Point is Sunset Point, and you know why Rock Piles is Rock Piles, and all the rest of it.

 

I notice that you’ve been the president of the Hawaiian Historical Society—

 

Yes.

 

—for years.

 

Yes; for six years. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why? What do you enjoy about that?

 

The Hawaiian Historical Society … does what I do. They preserve Hawaiian history. And that’s something that I’ve been doing all of these years, is telling history, telling Hawaiian history through the beaches. So to me, it’s a perfect fit. The Hawaiian Historical Society has a library, they have an archive. They’re one of the key resource research centers here in the Hawaiian Islands. And I’m a part of that. I’m a part of the journal that we’ve put out. In fact, I’m one of the editors of the Journal of Hawaiian History. So it all plays in, it all ties in, and it all works out really well for me.

 

Even if it’s land history?

 

Yes; even if it’s land history. [CHUCKLE]

 

So the next time someone asks you where the name Snipes came from, or why Queen’s Surf is called Queen’s Surf, pass on the moolelo. Then, tell them that you heard if from the guy slipping down the face of a double overhead on the alaia surfboard. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

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

 

Is there a favorite surf site name that you’ve come across? I know they’re probably all like your children, but is there a favorite one?

 

Actually, I enjoy all of them. I like all of the names and all of the stories. But I’ll tell you this real quick. The spot that I get asked the most often about, over any spot in the Hawaiian Islands, is a spot out in Makua that’s called Pray For Sex. And Pray For Sex actually comes from another surf slogan from the 60s, which was Pray For Surf. Somebody just change one word in the slogan there, and they actually wrote it on a rock out there. So you can go out there right now, and see Pray For Sex; it’s still written on that rock.

 

And what is another name for that surf spot? Is there—

 

Oh.

 

Is there another name for it?

 

It’s actually more of a little bodysurfing spot out there. The rock that it’s written on has a Hawaiian name; it’s called Pohaku Kulalai. And there’s actually a little marker out there that explains that. But people still know that ‘til this day. And every time I talk to people about surf spots, they always ask me about that one.