growth

MISTER ROGERS:
IT’S YOU I LIKE

 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering PBS series that premiered nationally 50 years ago, is an enduring landmark in the world of children’s television and beyond. Hosted by Michael Keaton, this commemorative special features Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding, along with and neighbors “Handyman” Joe Negri and David “Mr. McFeely” Newell.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kim-Anh Nguyen

 

When she was 7 years old, Kim-Anh Nguyen and her family were uprooted from their home country of Vietnam after the war. Nguyen assimilated quickly in America, and she forged a path for herself in science as a researcher. She now heads the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which allows her to do what she says she loves best – connect with people.

 

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

 

Kim-Anh Nguyen Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I always to leave the door open and have choices.  So, that’s why I got my MD, but also my PhD.  And so, my first job was half research, half working as medical director of the Blood Bank.  And after

a year or two, my boss had a heart-to-heart talk with me, and she said: Kim-Anh, your eyes light up when you work in the Blood Bank; maybe that’s where you need to … spend your life, is to follow your heart.  And that was the hardest decision that I ever made, to close my research lab and follow my heart.  And I’ve never looked back.  And here I am, running the Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

Ever since she was a teenager, Kim-Anh Nguyen wanted to make medical research her career.  Her parents told her they didn’t want her to become a kooky, nerdy scientist, but she became a scientist anyway.  And then, her heart took her down a different path.  Kim-Anh Nguyen, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen moved to Hawai‘i in 2013 to accept the position of chief executive officer of the Blood Bank of Hawaii.  It was the job, not the culture, that attracted her to Hawai‘i, because she’d become accustomed to fitting in where she was.  When she was seven, her family was airlifted from Vietnam as the war ended.  Their new home turned out to be New Jersey.  And the name of her English language teacher? PBS children’s programming.

 

I was actually born in what’s now Ho Cho Minh City.  Back then, it was Saigon, South Vietnam.  And I lived in a suburb until seven years old, ‘til 1975.  And it was a normal childhood.  We had an outhouse.  We did not have indoor plumbing.  And we had a real honest-to-goodness icebox.  I would go down the street and pick up a block of ice, and put it our icebox, and that was our refrigerator.

 

Voila; icebox.

 

That’s right.

 

You mentioned it was a calm suburb.  So, no signs of war raging around you?  I mean, that was the time.

 

So, that was the beauty.  Until the day I left Vietnam, Leslie, I never saw a gun.  And my father had been in the military and had been drafted, my cousins were in the military.  But for me, it was just life as normal, and I never saw any violence.  Not ‘til the end.

 

How fortunate.  And in the end, you mentioned you left at seven.  That was under duress.

 

So, we were one of the families that were airlifted out in a helicopter.  We were so fortunate.  My mother was a secretary for an American company, and after they evacuated their American staff, a few of them were able to sponsor local staff.  And so, my parents heard one day: Take a small suitcase, take your immediate family, show up at the airport with a little bit of money, and that’s it.  And then, next day, we knew, we left everybody, we left everything, and we all stood out on the tarmac.  And a big helicopter came down, we piled in, and that’s how we left Vietnam.

 

Was it one of those scenes that we have seen in the old footage, where people were trying to get in and get up into the chopper?

 

Fortunately, Leslie, we weren’t that last cohort out.  But people were clamoring.  And so, that was the first time I ever saw a gun, and it was a man who pulled out a gun to keep the peace and quiet.  And it was scary.  We all huddled on the tarmac, and then the big, loud helicopter came.  And it was a cargo helicopter, and we all piled into the cargo bay.  And off it went.

 

So, you couldn’t tell family members outside your immediate family that you were leaving forever?

 

No.

 

That must have been really hard.

 

I remember my last thought before getting on the helicopter, not about my family, not about Vietnam, but that I was sad that I would never see my grandparents again.

 

So, they left without knowing.  They weren’t told: We have to steal out in the middle of this.

 

They knew.

 

They knew.

 

And they knew also that most likely that this was it.  And it was.

 

And they knew they couldn’t go?

 

They couldn’t go.

 

But they were glad to see you have a chance to go.

 

They wanted the best for us, but they knew that they couldn’t go.  And so, that was the bittersweet part, Leslie.

 

Did they survive?

 

So, they did.  And they lived a long life, but I will say it was a very, very hard ten years after the fall of Saigon.  Very hard times.

 

Mm; that must have been hard.  Meanwhile, you’re in a new country, learning a language, and have your own challenges.

 

That’s right.  So, to continue the story, that helicopter touched base in the middle of the Pacific on an aircraft carrier, which landed in Guam.  So, we actually lived in Guam for a little bit, and then we eventually ended up on the mainland, made our way in tent cities, aircraft hangars.  And we were the first cohort in the refugee camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.  And that was a beautiful time for us.  We actually lived in the barracks with hundreds of other refugee families.

 

That was beautiful?

 

Yes, because it was a permanent dwelling.  For the first time, it wasn’t an aircraft hangar, or a tent.  And so, each family was separated in the barracks by a blanket that was hung from the ceiling.  And we made friendships there that survive to this day.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.

 

Eventually, you were relocated?

 

That’s right.  So, after about three months, we were sponsored by my mother’s company, and we ended up in a town called Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  And I remember we landed at the Holiday Inn on a Friday, and on Monday, my mother reported for work.  And it was just before the American Bicentennial.  Pretty amazing.

Pretty amazing.

 

Looking back.

 

And could you speak English at all?

 

I spoke no English; zero.  My father spoke no English, and my mother had a rudimentary knowledge of English. That’s it.

 

And how were you received by the folks of New Jersey?

 

You know, looking back, Leslie—and this is one of my life lessons.  The American people welcomed us with open arms.

 

No prejudice?

 

Oh, you know, we had the prejudice and, you know, the little taunts from kids. But the most important thing is, we had a lot of help.  And so, what I’ve learned from that is, success is part individual effort, but a lot of it is systems.

 

Well, your mother’s company deserves a big—I mean, kudos to them.

 

That’s right.

 

Took you out of the country, and then gave your mom an immediate job.

 

They were so good to us.  They helped us find a house.  And you know what they got out of it, Leslie, was they got two employees that worked there their whole lives.  And advanced within the company.

 

Who’s the other employee?

 

My father.

 

Oh, he joined as well.

 

That’s right.  He ended up working in building maintenance, which was what we called facilities at the time.  And he worked there for over twenty years.  My mom retired there.  She started as a secretary, went back to school, and ended up in the accounting department.

 

How did you learn English?

 

I learned English through PBS, believe it or not.

 

Did you?

 

I learned English watching Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

 

Oh, that’s wonderful.

 

True story; true story.

 

And that got you what you needed?  You got enough English from that to build on?

 

TV can be amazing.  I was a latchkey kid.  And so, I watched hours, and hours, and hours of good old fashioned TV.

 

Wow.  You had good taste.  You went for PBS.

 

I did.

 

And how was it in school?  I mean, it’s hard enough to progress, you know, in learning if you’re language-challenged in the beginning.

 

So, I was very fortunate in that I was seven, which is around the age for critical language.  So yes, I didn’t know any English, and so, I started taking remedial classes.  But my teachers were very good to me, and uh, I learned very quickly.  Like again, TV and Sesame Street helped a lot.

 

So, did you become a Jersey girl?

 

I did. I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, so Fair Lawn.  So, when I’m stressed out, sometimes I say: Come with me to Fair Lawn, hot dawg.

 

 

My mother has a part-Vietnamese, part-Jersey accent.  So, I cringe.  Her voicemails: Hi, it’s your mom, cawl me.

 

That’s so funny.  And actually, she’s originally from North Vietnam.

 

That’s right.

 

So, the accent is probably even more different.

 

Funkier.  That’s right; that’s right.  So, when I speak Vietnamese, I actually speak with a northern accent, a pronounced northern accent.  But I grew up in the south.

 

How long did you stay in New Jersey?  That was where you spent your entire childhood?

 

I did. We spent our entire childhood there. My mom still lives in the house that I grew up in.  My sister lives in New Jersey.  And I’m the one that’s gone far, far away.

 

You know, whenever you’ve had something sad happen, and you find yourself in a better place at that time, you’ve still left your home.

 

That’s right.

 

You still left a place that you meant to stay. I mean, how do you feel about the loss of that county for you, your nation?

 

It’s there.  It definitely is there.  I’ve learned so much from it, but there are tradeoffs.  So, for instance, very fortunately, the town in New Jersey where I grew up, there were no darkies, as I call it.  We were one of the few minority families.  So, the good news is, I don’t speak with a Vietnamese accent, very assimilated.  The tradeoff is, you know, my Vietnamese is not that good.  And even today, I have very loving, but remote relationships with my family.  And so, it really is bittersweet.  There is some loss, but so much more gain.

 

Did anybody begrudge you jumping at liberty?

 

You know, I’m gonna be honest, Leslie.  There’s a bit of survivor’s guilt among some of us that left for better lives.  Among families, there is sometimes hard feelings. For the most part, I think that’s water under the bridge, and most families have reunited, and obviously, we love each other.  But yes, there were some hard feelings.  There were some hard feelings, jealousies, misunderstandings.

 

And there were some Vietnamese who left and resettled in America who didn’t have as much success as you did.  They struggled here.

 

Again, this is where … I want to reiterate how much welfare, religious groups, programs, support systems really matter.  They really do.  And so, not everybody had that support network, that safety network.  Some of it was individual effort, but a lot of it was luck and the assistance and the altruism of others.

 

By the time Kim-Anh Nguyen finished high school, she had decided that she’d become a scientist.  She credits those who helped her along the way to achieve her dream, but at the heart of it was her own passionate curiosity and determination.

You went to Ivy League universities.  BA, MD, PhD, very impressive; Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.  Wow; okay. How did all that happen?  I imagine you were really quick in science, math.

 

You know, again, I think it’s a combination of my own gumption, if you will. If I were to describe myself, Leslie, I would say that my intelligence is average.

 

I doubt it.

 

Average.  I don’t have a lot of talent, I’m not a great artist or an athlete.  I think I have curiosity and gumption, so that’s number one. Number two, though, and I think just as important, I had so much help and support.  I had the best teachers who believed in me, and said: Kid, you know, you can do it if you want to.  I had scholarship programs that were made available.  So, it truly was a combination of individual effort, but systems to help support that individual.

 

Once you into one of those systems—and Harvard is good example, I mean it’s a tough place to be.  It’s very competitive, and you know, there’s a lot of undercurrents there. How did you handle that?

 

Well, you’ll laugh.  But freshman year, I lived with three or four other women.  And four out of the five of us got a letter that said: You are in danger of failing at least one class.  Can you imagine?  So, yes, it was a tough place, and it was a real wakeup call.  But we all woke up, and we realized that it’s not just hard work, but also learning the system, and learning ourselves.  And all four of us that got that letter turned it around and have since done very well.

 

Did you know what you wanted to do when you started college?

 

I did know that I wanted to become a scientist, and just learn how the human body worked.

 

‘Cause you said you’re curious.

 

That’s right.

 

And it was about how the human body worked.

 

Absolutely.  And so, I always wanted to be a scientist.  But sadly, my parents were quite dismayed, because they did not want me, a girl, to become a quirky, kooky scientist, as they called it.  And so, they were hoping against hope that I would change my mind.  Never did, though.

 

You wanted to be a researcher to begin with, didn’t you?

 

I did. I did, and I had some wonderful mentors. And I actually did get my PhD and started my career as a researcher.

 

Then, what happened?

 

Well, you know, I think I followed my heart.  My first job was half research, half working as medical director of the Blood Bank.  And you know, I spent more of my time doing the Blood Bank medical director job than my research job.

 

Where was this?

 

This was at the Blood Bank in San Francisco.  And after a year or two, my boss had a heart-to-heart talk with me, and she said: Kim-Anh, your eyes light up when you work in the Blood Bank; maybe that’s where you need to … spend your life, is to follow your heart.  And that was the hardest decision that I ever made, to close my research lab and follow my heart.  And I’ve never looked back.  And here I am, running the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

 

I don’t know anyone who grows up saying: I’d like to run a blood bank.  But I can see how fulfilling it is to do so.

 

You know, one of the best decisions I ever made in my career, Leslie, was to come work at the Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

Did you answer an ad for that?

 

I was actually fortunate to be recruited to work here.  I had never been to Hawai‘i before interviewing for this job.

 

And that was five years ago?

 

Five years.  Here I am, five years later, I’m raising my family here.  And I see firsthand how this community supports its blood program. And I am thrilled to work here. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

 

What did you experience as you moved here for the first time, took a job here?  You never lived in a state where there were—I mean, you said there weren’t many Asians where you grew up.

 

I think people who live in Hawai‘i sometimes may not know how lucky we are here.  Because as I look around, there are people who look like me.  Not just around, but policewomen and men look like me, the mail delivery person looks like me.  That’s not true everywhere.  And so, I think Hawai‘i is a special place.  It really, really is.  We grow and live together, and we understand diversity.

 

Had you missed that, or did you not have it so you didn’t miss it?

 

I felt it keenly, Leslie, coming from Vietnam to New Jersey.

 

And that was double, because you were—

 

That’s right.

 

–an immigrant.

 

That’s right.  And you know, I took it in stride, ‘cause what choice do you have.  But coming to Hawai‘i, and seeing how we all for the most part are able to live together, what we have here is special.

 

What was it about the Blood Bank that got you going?

 

So, the beautiful thing about working in a blood bank is that I can use the medicine that I learned, that I got trained in, but it’s also a community resource, it’s a mom and pop small business, and it’s also a nonprofit.  And so, all of that combined, I think, makes the Blood Bank work fascinating.

 

And you save lives.

 

At the end of the day, I come in to work to save lives.

 

That sounds like a very fulfilling mission.

 

It is. And what we do is, we connect donors in the community to patients in the community.  So, it’s a full circle.  Hawai‘i depends on two hundred people every day, rolling up their sleeve.  The blood supply is precious, and is perishable and fragile.

 

What’s the most rare type?

 

So, Hawai‘i, actually the Blood Bank of Hawaii has the nation’s largest repository, largest repository of a very, very rare type called Jk3.  And it’s more commonly seen in Polynesians.  So, most people don’t realize that we are getting asked for this very, very precious rare blood from the mainland all the time.  And if something were to happen to Blood Bank of Hawaii, the nation would lose this very, very rare blood type.

 

And do you ever use it up here?  Is it really in short supply here?

 

All the time.  All the time. And so, we’re very fortunate to have a small group of donors, and we’re always screening the population to look for that next donor.

 

Are there are cultures here, since we have so many, that have different views about blood gifts?

 

Absolutely.  So, there are certain myths that are more predominant in certain ethnicities or cultures. And one of them is my own culture, Vietnamese and Chinese.  Many of my people believe that we’re born with a finite amount of blood in our bodies—that’s not true, and that if we donate blood or even give a blood sample, that that’s one less pint of blood I have.  Fortunately, that’s not true; our body is constantly renewing that.  But it takes real education to overcome that myth.

 

So, do you have a smaller percentage of Vietnamese and Chinese givers?

 

So, you know, the beautiful thing about Hawai‘i is, our donor population much more mirrors our patient population.  But you’re right; we have an opportunity to grow our minority donors.  We do not pay our blood donors.  And most people think it’s because we’re trying to save money, we’re a nonprofit.  That’s not the reason.  It’s safety. People who donate out of the goodness of their hearts are a different profile than people who donate for money. And so, we do not pay our blood donors, for the safety of the blood supply.  So, the cost of the blood bags, the staffing, all of the testing that we do, we put that cost onto the hospitals, and we charge a processing fee. But we are nonprofit, so just a tiny little margin goes into improving our program.

 

I look at what you started out to do, and what you’re doing now, and it’s just incredibly different from what you started out to do, even when you said: I’ll be the medical director of the San Francisco blood bank.

 

Well, when I was a kid, I always pretended that I was, you know, a guest star on the Donny and Marie Show, believe it or not.  And I look back at that, and some of the hobbies that I have. I guess in a way, it’s prepared me to be out there; out there in the front, and connecting with people.  And yes, I’m a nerd, but I love connecting with people.

 

I don’t know how many nerds are really good ballroom dancers, which you are.

 

Oh …

 

How did that happen?  You’re a ballroom dancer.

 

You’ve guessed my secret.  That’s actually a real passion and joy of mine, is ballroom dancing.  I did not go into it, believe or not, with the approval of Mom and Dad.  They really did not support my having one man in my arms one minute, and another man another minute.

 

Were you in high school when you started?

 

I started in college.  And I caught the bug, and it’s fun.  I love music. It’s fun, it’s social, awesome exercise, and it’s a way to express myself.  Because different songs call for a different character, and it’s a different part of command that comes out.  So, in a way, that is my job now.

 

I saw you in a—I don’t know if it was YouTube.

 

Oh, my gosh.

 

It was a video with your husband.

 

Oh, my gosh.

 

Dancing at the Blood Bank.

 

I owed my husband a lot of honey-do’s for that one.  I think that just goes to show I’ll do anything for Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

At the time of our conversation in the spring of 2018, anything included leading a capital campaign to raise money to build a new facility for the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which was displaced by the Honolulu rail transit route.  Mahalo to Vietnam born, New Jersey raised, Hawaii resident Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen of Honolulu for sharing your life stories with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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.

 

[END]

 

 


GROWING BOLDER
Every Day Be a Victory

GROWING BOLDER: Every Day Be a Victory

 

In this episode of Growing Bolder TV: life will present every one of us with challenges, but we can overcome any obstacle when we start Growing Bolder. Meet ordinary people who are extraordinary role models.

 

Tony Handler was living a great life. He was married to the woman of his dreams, raising a family and enjoying every single day. But in an instant, everything changed. Doctors not only told him that he had pancreatic cancer, but they broke the news that he likely only had a few years to live. That was decades ago. And Tony has never given up hope. Despite grueling treatments, experimental drug protocols, surgeries and later, battles with liver, prostate and skin cancer, Tony kept moving. He started to run and that led to competing in triathlons. Tony says that every time he crosses a finish line, he’s beaten Mr. Cancer, and now he’s taking that positive attitude and paying it forward.

 

Other featured stories:

• Doug Ulman: Set Unachievable Goals
• Every Day is a Victory
• The Art of Rebellion
• The Takeaway: Don’t Procrastinate

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
Leave The Past Behind and Start Growing Bolder

GROWING BOLDER: Leave The Past Behind and Start Growing Bolder

 

In this episode of Growing Bolder TV: why keep doing something that doesn’t make you feel like you’re living your best life? Get inspired to make changes and pursue your true passions.

 

Featured stories:

• The Extraordinary Life of Ms. Vi
• Toni Tennille on Starting Over at 75
• Financial Planning is Life Planning
• John Seevers is Standing Tall
• Military Legend Shares His Memories of D-Day
• The Takeaway: Wear the White Hat

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
Life Advice from a Group of Musical Legends

GROWING BOLDER: Life Advice from a Group of Musical Legends

 

In this episode of Growing Bolder TV: When you do what you love, you’ll be happier, healthier and you could even live longer! Plus, how one man’s marketing genius will help people for years to come.

 

Featured stories:

• These Musical Legends Say: “Live and Play Like There’s No Tomorrow”
• A Tribute to a Marketing Mastermind
• Road to Recovery: Be the Exception
• A Rocker at 70: McGuinn’s Big Birthday
• The Takeaway: Forgive, For Yourself

 

 

He was genuine, all right

 

CEO Message

Mister Rogers was genuine, all right

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOI love this line from a Jimmy Buffett song: “I got a PBS mind in an MTV world.”

 

That describes the mind of the late Mister Rogers, too.

 

In fact, Mister Rogers met a vacationing MTV news producer on a summer stay in Nantucket and asked producer Ben Wagner about his job at the network, which favored short, dramatic edits (“jump cuts”) and quickie soundbites.

 

Mister Rogers in trademark sweater

 

Rogers listened attentively and told Wagner warmly: “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

 

Wagner, impressed at Rogers’ gentle truths and authenticity, later produced an award-winning documentary, Mister Rogers & Me.

 

Right: Mister Rogers in trademark sweater

 

This month, PBS Hawai‘i presents Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like on Tuesday, March 6 at 8:00 pm. It’s a 50th anniversary celebration of the beloved longtime program that launched in 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

 

Before Fred Rogers became “Mister Rogers,” he watched a commercial TV program featuring people smashing pies in each others’ faces. He concluded there were better things to do with the miracle of broadcast technology.

 

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices,” he said. “And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

 

One of his choices was to learn how to present a different kind of television.

 

Gaining TV experience as a floor manager on a kids show starring cowboy-actor Gabby Hayes (a one-time sidekick to Roy Rogers), Fred Rogers picked up counsel that he wouldn’t forget. He asked what the actor thought of as he looked at the camera, knowing there were a lot of people out there watching.

 

“He said, ‘Freddie, I just think of one little Buckaroo,’” Rogers recalled. “And I thought this was superb advice…He evidently thought of one child.”

 

Indeed, when Mister Rogers later faced the camera in his own TV neighborhood, many children felt that he was speaking directly to them, one on one. He addressed their unspoken fears – about controlling their anger and frustration; a loved one’s illness; the possibility of spiraling like water into the bathtub drain…

 

In effect, Fred Rogers turned a mass medium into hundreds of thousands of personal talks. In the television/video industry, we call this uncommon phenomenon “breaking the glass.”

 

At a national PBS conference that I attended, a speaker asked how many PBS staffers had entered the field because they were inspired by Mister Rogers. Scores of people stood up, many of them in their mid-20s and 30s.

 

As genuine as Fred Rogers was found to be by those who knew him well, his caring manner was parodied mercilessly by late-night comedy shows.

 

Rogers shrugged off the barbs, even appearing on the shows that made fun of him.

 

And he always assured children that “the greatest gift you give is your honest self.”

 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood welcomed us into its cheerful, positive environs until 2001. Fred Rogers died in 2003, at age 74.

 

His observations remain more apt than ever, including the theme that he shared those decades ago with the MTV producer:

 

What our society gives us is shallow and complicated. Life is deep and simple.

 

Aloha nui,

 

Leslie signature

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]

 

 


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