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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Alice Inoue

 

Inoue is the founder of Happiness U, an organization with a mission to teach others about achieving life balance and fulfillment. Her childhood in San Francisco and Taiwan left her feeling lonely and out of place. After working several dozen jobs in Japan, she moved to Hawai‘i on a whim. Inoue reflects on how her curiosity and entrepreneurial nature led her on an untraditional path to her current position of helping others find their life’s purpose.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Alice Inoue Podcast

 

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Transcript

 

In the 60s, being mixed was not really something that was- that you would be proud of. It’s- I think when I came to Hawai‘i, it seemed to be celebrated almost like, wow, you’re hapa. And it felt like very normal. But it wasn’t, growing up. It wasn’t normal. And living even in San Francisco, it didn’t feel like I was part of a San Francisco culture.

 

She calls herself a T.C.K. Or third culture kid who never fit in anywhere. Yet she says she overcame all the negativity she felt toward herself and the world around her. And today counsels people on how to be happy. Meet this life coach 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. Alice Fong Inoue of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu has had many jobs in her life, including teacher, television show presenter, astrologer and feng shui consultant just to name a few. Currently, she’s an author, a life coach and the founder of Happiness U. That’s an organization whose mission is to teach people how to balance their lives so they can be happy. Alice Inoue always says she was anything but happy when she was growing up. Born to a Chinese mother and German Irish father in San Francisco, she felt out of place, whether she was in America or in her mother’s homeland in Taiwan.

 

First, I just want to ask you used the expression that was the first time I’ve heard it; third culture kid.

 

Oh, T.C.K. Yes, third culture kids. So a third culture kid is someone who was raised not in the country of their origin. And the culture of a T.C.K. Is such that you become- you create your own culture. So if you think about it, I grew up speaking English in Taiwan, which was a Chinese culture, and going to an American school and then later going to Japan. So-

 

And speaking Japanese.

 

And speaking- Yeah. So I never felt like I really fit in anywhere. And so that is a very common thing for T.C.K and T.C.K.’s. I think Hawai’i has a lot of T.C.K.s because Hawai‘i culture is not like mainland culture either. Like Obama’s a T.C.K. There’s a lot of- and now- now we are adult T.C.K.s.

 

Kind of like being between cultures.

 

Yeah. Yeah. So I don’t feel like you belong to any culture. I don’t feel like I belong to any belief system. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. In fact, I feel that I am-

 

To this day?

 

Yeah. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Yes, I feel like I’m me. And either you get me or you e- you- you resonate with what I do and what I talk about or you don’t. That’s kind of it. So I don’t feel like I- like I don’t feel like I belong to Hawai‘i or I don’t feel like I am. I live in Hawai‘i. I love Hawai‘i. It’s supported me. I’ve had amazing learning experiences here. But I- but I’m not from here. So when people say, where are you from? I really feel like there’s no answer to that.

 

So you grew up in San Francisco until you were eight, but you didn’t feel like an American?

 

No, I don’t really remember much of that. And in fact, I somehow got teased as a child because somebody saw my mother being Chinese. And so the words such as Chinese pig, and so I was very much extricated from American people. So I never had a really good childhood in America. Then going to Taiwan, I had brown hair. I was different from them. So I was very much not connected to any culture. And so I never felt like I was one or the other.

 

You said your mother’s from Taiwan. What about your dad?

 

My dad, he was uhh- He was a merchant marine from Rhode Island. And so he was twenty six years older than my mother and met her when she was working at like a bookstore in Taiwan or something. And somehow they connected and brought her to America. So this is in the 60s.

 

So were hapa kids in San Francisco?

 

No…

 

Not really huh?

 

I think back in the 60s, being mixed was not really something that was- that you would be proud of it. I think when I came to Hawai‘i, it seemed to be celebrated almost like, wow, you’re hapa. And it felt like very normal. But it wasn’t. Growing up it wasn’t normal. And living even in San Francisco, it didn’t feel like I was part of a San Francisco culture.

 

And then in Taiwan, it didn’t feel normal either.

 

No, because then again, my father was American and they’re all Chinese and I lived with the whole bunch of my mother’s family, relatives and Chinese cousins. So I was always the odd one because I was part American.

 

Why did you move to Taiwan after-

 

So what it was, was I believe that my mother and I- my father was a merchant marine. So he would be away a lot and left my mother and I in San Francisco. And I think she must have missed home or something. So he thought, well, I travel all over the world on the ship anyway. Why don’t you just go live near your relatives in Taiwan? So that’s why we- I grew up over there. I went to an American school, but I lived with a whole bunch of Chinese relatives.

 

After Taiwan you moved back to the United States to go to-

 

-College.

 

–college?

 

Yes. So at 16, I graduated from high school and I moved back to go to college. And I still didn’t know who I was. I didn’t feel American college scared me with all the Americans. And they were very American. And I didn’t feel American even though I spoke English. And I was very unhappy. I- I was umm… I started eating. I gained a lot of weight. And I was just unhappy. And even though there’s nothing to be unhappy about, it was my reality. And the final… Week of school. Back then, we passed notes. We didn’t have text, right? And some classroom- somebody passed a note. Had my name on it. I didn’t know who it’s from, but I opened it up and the note said, you’re always so unhappy. Do you ever- do you even know what happiness is or something to that effect? And I looked around. I didn’t know who it was. But that, I believe, was sort of the catalyst to me recognizing, huh, is there such a thing as I didn’t know that I was putting out that vibe? I had no idea-

 

It’s how you always were right?

 

Yeah. I complain and blame and feel sorry for myself and cry. So I didn’t know that- that- that you could search this or I didn’t realize that I was giving that out. So I believe that kind of started the trigger. And then after college, I went to live in Japan and it was just, I think, little- finding little pieces of myself along the way.

 

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Alice Inoue spent the next four years living and working in Japan. Then she decided, on a whim, to move to Hawaii.

 

You’ve said that you’ve had 30 to 40 jobs, which is astounding. And I remember you’ve said that when you were in Japan, you had eight jobs simultaneously.

 

I’m kind of entrepreneurial by nature. So I- I didn’t know the word entrepreneur. You don’t know that word when you’re growing up. But it- when I look back so in college, uhh, I just learned how to cut hair. And so I started cutting people’s hair for money. So I used to make money, just cutting people’s hair in the dorm bathrooms. And then going to Japan, it was- I was there to teach English as my first job. But I also know how to play piano. So I started teaching piano. I also spoke Chinese, so I started speaking Chinese. Umm, I also cut hair as I would start cutting people’s hair. So I started to pick up all these different jobs based on the skills that I had. And I really enjoyed that. And my life has just been a series of one thing after another. Not for any other reason other than I really get excited by learning new things and then being able to share them with others. And if I can use that to- as a profession, even better.

 

And did you get tired of what you were doing? Is that why you stopped?

 

New opportunities would come up. And I think that…

 

You don’t have time for everything.

 

Yeah, so it’s just the situations would change. And I just wanted to do something more. I would just- it just kept evolving.

 

You’ve lived in Hawai‘i for- is it 30 years now?

 

30 years, exactly. This year I was living in Japan. And I watched a television show of Konishiki and Konishiki is a sumo wrestler that was very, very popular at that time. And there was a show about him coming to Hawai‘i. And I watched it. And it’s- it’s funny because I didn’t know anything about Destiny or Syncr- I didn’t know any of that. But all I knew was like, Hawai‘i, I want to go to Hawai‘i. And so back in- this is 1989. I call the travel agent and uhh, booked a flight to Hawai‘i. When I got to Hawai‘i, I- I… Had never felt more comfortable in any place in my whole entire life. It was as if I’d come home and that’s the only way I could describe it. And the taxi driver said that if you’re a first time to Hawai‘i, you have to go to Waikīkī. You have to go see Diamond Head. So I remember being in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue and laying there thinking, gosh, I have an American passport. I would love to live in Hawai‘i because I had already been in Japan for about three years- four years at that time. And at that moment, a newspaper classified ads blew by and basically blanketed my body. And when I looked at it, it had all these help wanted ads. I thought, oh, my gosh, maybe I could work in Hawai‘i. So I took my quarter and it was by that police station on Kalakaua.

 

When pay phones-

 

-Pay phones-

 

–Took a quarter.

 

Yes! And I called and I got an audition. And then I had to go to Liberty House at that time, bought an outfit, auditioned or not auditioned. What is it- interviewed. And then I got the job and I moved to Hawaii within a few weeks.

 

Wow.

 

And not knowing anybody.

 

And many people were between islands, maybe between coastlines in America. But you. That’s a big move.

 

It was huge. And I think just-

 

To do it alone.

 

Yeah, I was alone and I didn’t know anybody. And it was kind of a- I don’t know why.

 

That was a great leap of faith, would you say?

 

Yeah, it was. And it was just right. It just felt right. And it was uhh- it was a rocky start in the beginning. But 30 years later, here I am.

 

Once you got to Hawaii, how did you make a life for yourself besides landing a job first thing?

 

So when I first moved to Hawai‘i, I didn’t know anyone except the person that had hired me. And we didn’t have Internet back then. So you couldn’t really research people so you don’t really know about them. So the first company I worked for… It was during the time of that real estate boom. That was uhh, a lot of Japanese were buying buildings and buying condos here. So it was a kind of a real estate company. And it was it was difficult only in that they weren’t as ethical as uhh- as you would think a company wer- was. And there’s just a lot of complexities that came. So imagine coming to Hawai‘i with beautiful weather, just people that are so welcoming and then working at a company where the only person I knew was the boss. And his idea of work was, you come in at eight o’clock in the morning and you don’t finish until midnight. And I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t know about labor law. I didn’t know anything. So it took me a good year before I kind of got a little bit more entrenched into the community and realized like, oh, this is not how you- how you have to- have to live.

 

You married somebody very well known here.

 

Yes. Yes.

 

Egan Inoue.

 

Yes.

 

Racquetball champ and martial-

 

Martial-

 

Mixed martial arts practitioner.

 

Yes. Yes.

 

And that’s why your last name is Inoue now.

 

Yes. People always ask that. So I don’t have any Japanese blood in me per say. But through Egan, I got to keep his last name. And so I love- I love it. And he’s a- he’s an amazing friend and amazing person. Taught me so much about life and success. And if you want something and you want to be the best at something, you have to put time into it.

 

So you’re born Fong, now what was your-

 

You want me to tell you my real- maiden name?

 

I’ve seen Fong associated with you, but-

 

That’s just my middle name.

 

OK.

 

So my last name is Leary.

 

Leary.

 

L-E- and I never felt like me. I never liked that name.

 

Fong is your mom’s-

 

-Umm, I think-

 

–name?

 

–it was my my grandmother’s name. So Alice Fong Leary is how I was born. But Alice Leary never really had a good life. I’ll just say it just never seemed to go my way. Even when I first came to Hawai‘i and I was starting to do auditions. I never got anything as Alice Leary. I think I did- I counted it, like fifty-two auditions for different commercials and things and I never got it. Then as soon as it became Alice Inoue, everything changed. I did get a- that sort of started- and I think it’s because in Hawai‘i it was a familiar last name and it kind of integrated me a little bit better.

 

And you obviously feel comfortable with it because you- you’re no longer married to Egan, but you keep it.

 

Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s- it’s- it- it really has worked well for me because I got involved in the Japan market working for Japan TV news. So it really match. And I also speak Japanese. So it just sort of matched. And I kept it. And I- I just I feel like Alice Inoue now.

 

You know, there is a time you were known by tens of thousands of people in Hawai‘i, but they weren’t necessarily local people. They were people seeing you in their hotel rooms.

 

Yeah!

 

And you were terrific. I saw you doing news on visitor- Visitor Television.

 

Yes, it was called- it was Japan TV news visitor, it was O‘ahu visitors bureau television. We had these different uhh, shows that would air in twenty-eight thousand hotel rooms to all the visitors that came. So we did these daily newscasts about jellyfish or just different activities going on. So it was known much more to the visitors that came to Hawaii than people that lived here locally.

 

And then you besides being an anchor, then you went off and did a field reporting show where you were doing sports, and surfing.

 

Yeah! So that was our Fuji Television. So we wanted to show the visitors to Hawai‘i that it’s- there’s so much to do. So we did something like 39 or 40 different things. Everything from scuba diving to skydiving to anything that you could do as an activity in Hawaii. I got to do it. So we called this sh- we called the show Do Sports. And that was really helpful to a lot of the businesses locally so that we could showcase the things that could be done in Hawaii that you might not have known about.

 

You’ve said that you’re a- you’re an introvert by nature, but all these things you’re talking about really require the ability-

 

-Yeah.

 

–to present in front of people and bring it and- and depend on others for-

 

Mhmm.

 

–for your success, especially in television.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you-

 

Yeah.

 

How does that correlate?

 

So interesting. Like when I take any sort of test, if you- out of 30 questions, 29 out of 30, I’m more introverted. So I’m- I’m what you would call a learned extrovert. So by understanding that what I need is time alone, then I make sure that I have a lot of time alone. And when I say learned extrovert, it’s Toastmasters. It’s all these different ways to learn how to speak. I mean, people wouldn’t believe it, but in college or all the way through college, I never once raised my hand in class to ask a question because I was shy. And uhh, it’s the only reason that I can get up and do what I do is because I love the information that I’ve learned and I love nurturing people. And so I want to share information so that forces me to get up. And the more people I want to reach, the more confident I have to be in speaking to large groups. So it was- it’s a- it was a learned expanse. And in fact, every single time I have to get up to talk, I go through a complete challenged internally to be able to to present.

 

Alice Inoue’s career in tourist television and as an on camera talent and spokesperson for local businesses was flourishing in Hawai‘i. Then an unexpected turn of events changed all that. And off she went on an entirely new life path.

 

During those years, I felt that I had really become successful in some way. I was busy filming every day. We’re doing these shows and I had sponsorships from different companies, large companies that would pay me money. And it was wonderful. And I thought that this was the- this is who I am. This is what I do. I just introduced Hawai‘i and I try to showcase Hawai‘i to the- to the Japanese market and that I felt really good. And somebody uhhm, gave me a gift certificate for an astrology reading. Now, I wasn’t into it. Not my thing, but some gives you a gift certificate, you go. So I went and this- this man started telling me about myself. But my mind was like, well, you read that in the newspaper. I was on the cover of midweek. You read that there- so your mind doesn’t let you believe it. And so anyway, he pulls out a bunch of data and this is in 1997 and he says in April of 19- of the year 2000 you’re going to have a career change. You’re gonna go on a career change because of this planet. So I was like, mm ok. Do you remember Palm Pilots back in the day?

 

Yes. Palm Pilots.

 

So I was very modern in 1997. I had a Palm Pilot. So I- I clicked forward three years and I wrote in there, astrologer says, Pluto changes my life. And I almost did it facetiously. Wrote it in there April of 2000. And I kind of put it away and forgot about it. Then as we got towards that time period, I started losing sponsors and losing shows and I was doing a variety of contracts and shows. But it was fine. I still had my full time job that Japan TV needs- news. And then they came in on April 1st of the year 2000. And my boss at the time said to me, Alice, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that we sold the company. Now, I didn’t even know the company is for sale. Good news was we sold company. The bad news is they didn’t purchase your- your little newscast. And so we’re going to have to let you go so you can go get an employment. And so without the vehicle of television, nobody is gonna- I- sponsor. There’s- it was pretty much my whole identity. I didn’t- I didn’t know who I was without television.

 

And blindsided-

 

-Yes, I had no idea.

 

–And not to have any warm up on it.

 

Yeah. So I remember going to unemployment. And as clear as day. Glass- you pull out a form and it says, how long did you work that? Right. You have to write down your work. And I turned on my Palm Pilot and the pop up came up that I had written three years ago that said that your life would go through a career change. And I just thought, oh, my God. And it was one of those moments literally where that chicken skin moment, that realization that this was destined. Kind of like it was so foreign to me. But all I knew was I made a commitment in that moment that I wanted to learn it. I want to learn how to calculate somebodies life. I wanted to- because I felt safe in that moment, because I was scared of- what am I gonna do? Who am I?

 

But it felt better to believe that this was preordained.

 

Somehow, yes. So in that moment, I felt very like, wow, how do- how do you do this? And I was curious. I think that was it. I was very curious. So from- and from there unemployment, I went to Borders and I bought like four hundred dollars worth of like astrology. Like- and I was on unemployment. I had no work. So all I did was study. And that- that was like the birth. And that was literally 20- 20 years ago. Yeah, basically 20 years ago. And that started this whole new journey of wanting to understand the divine workings of human beings, of the universe, of life and why things happen. So that began this- this sort of segment of my life that I’m in now.

 

You also did feng shui?

 

OK, so the- the- the way it goes is like I started and I said, wow, how do you figure this out? So I started learning the- the- the- the- about astrology and cy- life cycles that say it’s more about timing. When did- when do you move? When do you change jobs? When- when do you transition? So learning about life cycles. And then, well, the next thing, if the planets have something governing us, then what about your environment? So then I got into Feng shui. So I went to learn about feng shui. And once that- whenever I learn something, I delve so, so deep into it that I learn it and I embody it. And then I- I was- I was a astrology and feng shui consultant for a while. Then people would say, you know, I can’t help it because I’m a Scorpio, or oh, I talk too much because I’m a Gemini. So people would give these excuses or they would say things like, I don’t have money because my bathroom is in the wrong place. That kind of thing. And I started thinking, you know, no, it’s not. You can’t blame the planet, can’t blame your environment. It’s you. So then I got into life guidance, meaning how do we create our life? So, yes, the planets are there. There’s a sun in the morning, the moon at night. Yes, our environment is there. If it’s uncluttered, we probably feel better. But it’s really up to you. And so that’s how I moved into life guidance. And that’s where I started discovering that we have so much more… Power over our lives than we think. Things don’t just happen to us, they happen for us. And how do we look for the good in situations and how do we train ourselves to be able to kind of live a life that we want.

 

And you found answers for all of those things?

 

Kind of. I found answers that satisfied me. Yes. And then uhh- then I used whatever I’ve researched, whatever I’ve learned. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books and spent thousands of hours studying. And I’ve come to understand that we- there- things do happen for a reason, if we can find that reason, because then we can move forward. So, yes, I feel like in my case, I found answers.

 

You know, I notice you’re really keying in on, you know, why do things happen? When do they happen? How do we know?

 

Mhmm.

 

I’m just kind of looking back at your childhood, because so often what we do, we don’t even realize that at the time. But umm, something happens in our childhood and-

 

Yeah.

 

–we- It really- it influences what we do later.

 

I’m living in places that didn’t accept me. So if you’re not accepted socially, what do you want to do? You want to be alone, right? So when you’re alone, there’s a lot of time and a lot of umm, things that you start to discover about yourself. And so what I- what I- what I tell people too, is a lot of your purpose lies in what you used to love as a child, because sometimes as adults, we get into just doing what we have to do to make money, pay the mortgage. We kind of get into life and we do things because we have to. Not necessarily because we love it. And when we- when we’re trapped into it, our life kind of gets a little bit dimmer. It’s not as- it’s not as fun. But if you go back to when you were a child, what are the things that you love to do. Uhh, I used to love solving puzzles. I used to love dissecting animals. Uhh, so I- all the things that I love to do as a child. I feel that I’m doing them now as an adult. So it- its-

 

But you did them as a child for a sense of escape or to make yourself happy.

 

Yeah. Because I just enjoy doing these things. I loved magic tricks. I loved- I just loved anything that I could do on my own. And I- I remember umm, wanting to, to help people. But if nobody likes you, nobody wants you to help them. Right? So I would put these uhh, kind of stuffed animals or figurines and I would pretend like I was their counselors or their- their- their guide. So I would premake these questions that they had for me and I’d put questions out of the hat and I would pretend like I was helping them in life. I wanted to be like a Dear Abby. I loved Dear Abby. I used to read that all the time. Living in Taiwan, we used to get some sort of American newspaper and she was in there. And used to love- And I always thought like, I want to be a Dear Abby.

 

And so interesting, so by feeling unaccepted, you resorted to your own devices to find out what cheered you up and-

 

Yes.

 

-satisfied you.

 

Yeah.

 

And that- that- that’s a theme that remains to this day.

 

Yes. Because everything that I find and I do alone. And I- and I find it to be valuable to me. Or I want to come out and share it with you. So I feel like I’ve been interested in many, many different things. And because of that, I’ve learned a lot. In 2013, I uhh- and then I started writing books. I wanted to share what I learned at the end of the year with people. So I started writing books. So I- I had a plan. I wanted to do a book a year- book a year. And I got to my sixth year. I was going to write my sixth book. I couldn’t seem to figure out what I was going to do and I couldn’t move forward. And I asked myself, what do you really want to do? Because everything was going well. Many clients- I was speaking. I was- I had- I was doing fine in that business. And the answer came back. I just want to teach people to be happy. I just want to teach people to be happy. And in that moment of recognizing that, I had the idea, what if I could have a school, a school where didn’t you learn- Where you learned all the things that you didn’t learn in school.

 

Which you wish somebody would- So many things you wish somebody had told-

 

-Yes!

 

–you a long time ago. Someone, please.

 

Yes!

 

But you do find out by hard knocks later.

 

Later. So what if we could learn how to move through betrayal? What if we could learn resentment and guilt? And why am I feeling guilt? All of these emotional things that- and what is my purpose and why am I here? And how can this happen? What if we had a school that we could teach those thing? So immediately I decided physical, mental, emotional and spiritual classes. Spiritual classes like what’s my purpose? Umm, mental stress, overwhelm- emotional guilt, like all of these things. These are teachable. These are things that I’ve- I’ve learned that I can share. So that was my breakthrough. And I opened Happiness U in September of 2013. And so we have a location where people come and they learn these things. There are hidden blessings in everything, hidden benefits and everything. And if you can find the benefits and find the blessing, that’s where you thrive. We find that silver lining. That’s where we recognize that life is about growing.

 

At the time of this conversation, in the fall of 2019, Happiness U was still teaching its life lessons after seven years at its Kaka‘ako classroom in Honolulu as well as online, mahalo to Inoue of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu for sharing her life story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i. And Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha Nui.

 

You have a longtime relationship with another well-known person who is Alan Wong, the restaurant tour.

 

Yes.

 

So, of course, I want to ask you immediately-

 

Yes.

 

–what everyone must ask you. Who cooks at your house?

 

That is the number one question. I cook. I’m in charge in-

 

-You cook for Alan Wong?

 

–the kitchen. I do. I do. And he is one of the best people to cook for because he appreciates it. And in the 20 years that we have been together, he has never once said, why did you cook this this way, or this is overcooked. He’s never done that. He’s- he’s a- he’s just so appreciative. And so I get to keep the kitchen. That was the one thing we got together. I like cooking. I love cooking. I love nurturing people. And I thought, oh, my god, you’re a chef. The only problem is like, what am I going to do? Like, I need a kitchen. He’s like, you can have the kitchen.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Allen Hoe

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Allen Hoe

 

As one of more than two million draftees called upon to fight in the Vietnam War, 19-year-old Allen Hoe thought he would serve his time and then his life would return to normal. He couldn’t have imagined that his 10-month combat tour would make him what others describe as a soldier’s soldier. The longtime Hawai‘i attorney reflects on the wartime experiences that forever shaped his civilian life.

 

Read the November program guide cover story on Allen Hoe

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Allen Hoe:

 

The Flag

 

Why Polo?

 

Allen Hoe Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When U.S. Army General Robert Brown spoke of the 2018 recipient of the Mana O Ke Koa, Spirit of Warrior Award, he said: Awardees demonstrate unparalleled patronage for and civilian leadership toward our Army.  Allen Hoe embodies those qualities.  While each nominee for the award is deserving, we feel Allen’s dedication to the Army is truly outstanding.

 

Fifty years prior to General Brown’s statement, the Army sent a special invitation—a draft notice, to the same Allen Hoe, who admits he was a typical local boy of the late 60s, focused only on surfing, hotrods, and girls.  But a ten-month combat tour in a small country in Southeast Asia turned this local boy into a soldier’s soldier.  Vietnam veteran Allen Hoe, 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.  Allen Hoe’s father was from Kalihi on O‘ahu, and his mother was raised in Moloa‘a on Kaua‘i.  He points out his ancestors were all subjects of monarchies—on his father’s side, Chinese and Japanese; his mother, Hawaiian, English, Scottish, German, and Spanish. His father was a World War II veteran, and there’s evidence of warriors serving their country throughout Hoe’s family tree from the Queen’s royal guard in India, to a war lieutenant for King Kamehameha.

 

Now, you were raised a regular local kid?

 

Typical local boy; right.  You know, in the 60s, focused on surfing, rock ‘n roll, and girls.  The 60s, I think, for me, our history in the 60s was probably the most traumatic decade that our country has experienced in the last century.

 

And were you part of that resist, oppose? You know, resist authority was the call of the day for young people.

 

Yeah. Me?  No; I was more interested in hotrods and surfing.

 

So, that kind of passed you by.

 

Yeah, yeah; that kinda passed us by.

 

Were you in ROTC as a student?

 

So, did the war in Vietnam touch your life as it started out in the 60s?

 

You know, not really.  I think in my junior, senior year, it was just really kinda like an extra subject for history lessons, history courses.  And it wasn’t until the summer after we graduated that it kinda came home very personally, because the older brother of one my dearest friends was one of the first casualties in Vietnam.  He was killed in Cu Chi.

 

Oh …

 

And then, later on that year, I had a cousin who was killed in Vietnam as well. And then, it’s like, wow, this is for real, what’s happening here.

 

What happened next?

 

And then, I was still pretty much living life like a local boy.

 

Hotrods.

 

Hotrods—

 

Girls and surfing.

 

Yeah, yeah, surfing.  And then, I got a special call.  I love to tell this story, because the young soldiers today, I said: You know what, we are so proud of the decisions you made to serve your country, but you know, my legacy is a little bit different.  I was very special; Uncle Sam came looking for me.

 

He said: Mr. Hoe, we need you.

 

Had you been dreading a draft call?

 

No; no. You know, in my generation, that was part of growing up.  At some point, you know, you would either volunteer to become part of the then, what was very fascinating all-Hawai‘i company, which on 4thof July every year, you know, a hundred or so young high school grads would become part of the all-Hawai‘i company.  So, for me, you know, service was just gonna be part of my growing up.

 

So, that service didn’t, in your mind, include combat.

 

No. But it included, you know, doing some time in the military.

 

Right.  And so, even when you got that call, you didn’t say: Oh, my god, I could get sent to Vietnam, I could get put in really difficult circumstances.

 

Yeah; reality … I was nineteen, and that was not, I think, part of my reality. You know, I was young, still making perhaps unwise decisions regarding activities in life, et cetera.  So, for me, yeah, I didn’t feel threatened by it, neither did I feel any kind of overwhelming sense of obligation, other than to serve your country.

 

I understand after being drafted, you could have stayed here, I think.  But you volunteered to go to Vietnam?

 

Yes. Having grown up and hearing the stories from my aunts and uncles, and cousins, regarding our, quote, warrior culture, after training to become a combat medic—

 

Why did you train to be a combat medic?

 

Well, Uncle Sam said that’s—

 

You were designated.

 

Designated.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah; for training.  And you know, they give you a battery of tests, et cetera, and you know, who knows, but you know, fortunately, and I feel I was very blessed to have been selected to become a combat medic.  And after I trained long and hard to do that, when we graduated, all of the new combat medic qualified soldiers would go to the bulletin board to see where their next duty station was.  And the bulk of my class went straight to Vietnam.  I was assigned to San Francisco.  And you know, I didn’t question it.  And then, when I got to San Francisco, I was assigned to Travis Air Force Base.  The unit I was assigned to had a lot of soldiers who had come back from Vietnam, and they maybe had three to six months left on their assignment before they got out of the Army.  And stories that they shared with me in terms of what it was like presented a challenge to me, and I said: You know, given my background and my family history, I don’t ever want to … look back and say, I wonder how I would have done in combat.

 

But it was a different kind of combat.  I mean, it was like no other war we’ve had.

 

Yeah, but you know, for a nineteen-year-old, there’s only one kind of combat.

 

Wasn’t there some Geneva Convention ruling that it’s a war crime to shoot a combat medic who’s clearly identified in combat. But in Vietnam …

 

There were no rules.

 

Forget it.

 

Forget it; right.  And life expectancies for combat medics were worse than first lieutenants.

 

So, you wore weapons.

 

I carried, I carried both sidearm and a rifle.  And you wore nothing that indicated that you were a medic, other than your bag was bigger than the rest.

 

And then, you went out right after people got hurt in combat.

 

My mission, I was with a long-range reconnaissance team.  And so, when someone got wounded, they were generally standing right next to you, so you knew what was going on.  Yeah.

 

So, you could have been hit too.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you fire your weapon?

 

Yes. You know, for me, part of that experience, being twenty by the time I got there, and being young and adventurous, part of my responsibility being on that team was, I had to learn all the duties or all the functions of everyone else.  And as the medic, I trained the members of my team to the best of my ability in terms of, you know, first responder life-saving methods.  So, while with the team, not only did I fire my weapons, but you know, I helped set ambushes, I learned how to call artillery, and learned how to set demolitions and blow charges.  And yeah, you gotta understand, for a twenty-year-old, this is like fun stuff.

 

You don’t feel that it’ll actually hurt you? Do you feel untouchable?

 

You feel immortal.

 

Immortal.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

The most foolish kinds of things that one accepts in combat is that if it happens, it happens.  You know. And then, for me, it was, you know, as long as I can get through three of these life-threatening experiences, then I’ll be okay.  I very clearly distinctly remember the three times that I was supposed to have received something fatal, and survived.  And after the third time, it was like, oh, big relief.  I said: Nothing’s gonna happen.

 

I’ve got a force field around me.

 

I’ve got a force field around me.  And then, you just kinda learn how to operate just naturally and freely.  And yeah, you were still concerned, you were still frightened on occasion, but you knew that at the end of the day, nothing’s gonna happen. And you know … nothing happened.

 

But you can’t do that by skill alone; right?

 

It’s luck.

 

It is a matter of chance.

 

No, no, no.  Yeah; you survive combat purely on luck.

 

And meanwhile, you were seeing some scenes you can’t un-see.

 

Yeah.

 

Mutilated limbs and gory stuff.

 

Yeah.

 

Very sad, just grievous injuries.  How did you deal with that?

 

For me, it was just reactionary.  I trained; everyone trained.

 

You compartmentalized?

 

You compartmentalize.  When stuff happened, instinct kicks in.  And you know, I think one of the saving graces of our current force is that our young shooters, as I call them, the young infantry soldiers or the young combat soldiers that have to go to war for us, they are required to train twenty-four/seven.  And it becomes instinctive, it becomes reactionary.  So, when they’re on a patrol, they experience enemy action, they immediately shift into their combat mode.

 

Did you hear the talk that we understand was common at the time, where people were saying: What are we here for, why are here, this war doesn’t make sense.

 

Yeah. We would hear about that or read about that in letters or the newspapers that would occasionally come to us.  But you know, the reality is, at the end of the day in combat, you’re not thinking about fighting for your country, you’re not thinking about fighting to preserve, you know, family values or the constitution, et cetera.  You are simply thinking about saving the life of your buddy on your right and on your left. And you know, the reality is, at the end of the day, if you’ve done your job right and everybody survives, our country will be blessed by that.

 

Did you get really close to the guys you served with?

 

Oh; you know, to this day.  Fifty years ago, I met incredible bunch of young men, and probably spent twenty-four/seven with these men, maybe not more than four or five months with them, but to this day, when I hear their voice, I immediately know who I’m talking to. It’s that special bond that even kind of um, surpasses a familial bond.  You know, I have a relationship and memories of guys that I served with perhaps that run deeper than with my own two siblings.

 

Wow.  And you know, when you’re with somebody who’s terribly hurt, and possibly or inevitably dying, it’s a really intimate time you share.  How was that?

 

Yeah. For me, and the guys most closest to me, if one of our buddies was hit, we were—this is fascinating–we were doing our best to stabilize his condition, but it becomes not quiet and soft, but it becomes a loud, raucous kind of conversation to get their attention, to get them to focus, to get them to hang on and not to give up.  You know, so it’s yelling and screaming.  This is like—you know, I remember the first time that happened, my platoon sergeant, who obviously had been there longer than me, as I was treating one of my wounded buddies, he was shaking him to get him to respond, to wake up, and to fight on before we put him on the helicopter.  And I learned something that day, in terms of first, you know, you’re gonna … do your job to stop the bleeding, prevent the shock, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get that young soldier’s attention, to get him to focus on things he needs to do.

 

Because that helps him—

 

Him, yeah.

 

–help himself.

 

Help himself.

 

You know, you have seen some things that most people never see, never have to know what it’s like.

 

Yeah.

 

How has that affected you?

 

You know … at times, it causes me to kinda go into a slump, but I’ve always been able to deal with that in terms of, that’s war.  And I kinda kick into this mode where long time ago, I read this passage where, you know, in war there’s only two rules; the first rule is that people die, and then the second rule is that you cannot change rule one.  So, you know, we were at war, people are gonna die, you know, and thank God if you survive, that you survive.

 

That 1968, when you were there, that was a particularly …

 

Yeah.

 

–fatal—

 

Yeah.

 

–grisly year.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, lots of fatalities.

 

Yeah. I guess the high water mark was 1968; in May, 1968.  And yeah, May 1968 was a particularly bad month for me.

 

What happened?

 

I lost eighteen of my guys.  And but for the grace of God, I would not be here, because ten of ‘em are still missing in action.  The grace of God was that my unit was transitioning from Point A to Point B, and I was not with them that day.  I was back in the rear, getting ready to rejoin them.  Before I could rejoin them at the new location, they were overrun.

 

And some of them were never found, but were you treating your own men?

 

Yeah.

 

In the field.

 

Yeah.

 

May; was that Mother’s Day?

 

May, Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day, 1968.  Yeah. I mean … if you can imagine, I mean, you’re a mother, you know how important Mother’s Day is.  That day by itself, you know, to get the message or the knock on your door that your son was killed on Mother’s Day.  I mean …

 

And so now, when Mother’s Day comes around at your home, you think of another meaning for it.

 

Yeah. I am reflective on the mothers of my men who didn’t make it.  And you know, over the past fifty years … that bond I had with their sons, I’ve developed with them.  So, for me, it’s very special.  For me, it’s always been an obligation to assure their mothers whose sons never came home that their sons are superb young men.

 

You made an effort to go do that?

 

Absolutely.  The majority of the men who I lost on Mother’s Day 1968, their mothers and their fathers had absolutely no clue what happened to them.  And to live without any knowledge of what happened, I just couldn’t.  And that’s even worse, you know, to have your son taken from you in combat, and that’s all you know.  He’s not here.  Why? We can’t share that with you, we can’t tell you the circumstances, or what happened on that day.

 

Do you think you had PTSD after the war?

 

I had issues.  I don’t necessarily think it is or was PTSD.  Everybody who experiences combat has issues.  I remember when I first came back from Vietnam, the first month that I was home, it was just party time; right?  You know, I was riding motorcycles back then, and every night we’d go out and … go and enjoy life, tip a few Primos.  And I remember like after a month, one day, my dad came home.  We were passing, I think in the driveway; I was getting ready to go out, and he was coming home from work.  And said: Al.  He said: You have a moment?  I go: Yeah, absolutely.  He told me, he said: You know, son, I won’t even begin to understand what you experienced in Vietnam, and what you’re doing now, you know, I’m not supportive of your behavior and what your conduct is now.  So, you know, how much longer are you going to do this, ‘cause don’t you think you need to start thinking about your future?  I hope you’re not planning to do this the rest of your life.  And I said: No, Dad, I’m just having fun.  But you know, that kinda came home to roost really strong for me, my father saying: Okay, all right, it’s time to kinda like get on with your life.  And, you know, I did.

 

He did it in such a nice way, too.

 

Yeah; he was just an incredible guy.

 

Allen Hoe’s parents had always insisted he would attend college, so when he returned home, he took advantage of two new State institutions for learning.  He enrolled in the new Leeward Community College, later graduating from UH Mānoa, and he was among the first class of law students admitted to the William S. Richardson School of Law.

 

Okay; the style of the day was long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

So, did you go back from the war with your short haircut, to—

 

Long hair.

 

–long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

And did you see anti-war protests?

 

Oh, yeah; yeah.  You know …

 

How did you feel about them?

 

You know, this may sound strange, but to me, that was just part of our great democracy.  You know, I tell people: Yeah, I have no problems with the protests, the marchers, and the anti-war people, even when I was in Vietnam.  I said: Hey, that’s what we’re here for, to give them the right to exercise, you know, their freedom.  And it truly did not bother me.  One of the things, though, that did bother me was, a couple of the young Leeward students were egged on by this group to pull down the American flag. And four of us Vietnam veterans stood ‘em off, and we said: You touch that flag, and you’re gonna go down.  And … they left the flag alone.  I said: You can protest the war all you want, but you’re not gonna come and touch this flag.

 

And that was a spontaneous act by the four of you?

 

Yeah.

 

Did you ever get pegged the wrong way when you walked around campus with the long hair?  I mean, did people assume anything about you that wasn’t true?

 

The wife of a soldier who was in one of my classes, her husband was a career soldier, had not been in combat.  And she made this kind of strange comment to me.  She said: Why are you so angry?  And I said: What do you mean?  She said: There’s this hate that comes from your eyes.  And I said: Your husband’s a soldier, has he been in combat?  No.  I said: Well, you send him to combat, and this is the look that he will come home with. And she just couldn’t understand that.

 

That it’s not anger.

 

It’s not anger.  People these days, or even for many years, they call it the Thousand-Yard Stare.

 

Allen Hoe’s adjustment to civilian life was bolstered when he met his future wife, Adele.

 

We met actually, I think maybe the second month after I got out of the Army. And you know, when I first saw her, I said: Oh, my god, that is the girl of my dreams.

 

At first look?

 

That first day we spent together.  She was actually a coworker of the sister of one of my dear friends.  So, we just kinda like wound up on not a blind date, but time together.  And she was, or is just a special person.  Yeah; yeah.  Swept me off my feet, so to speak.

 

Adele and Allen Hoe married and shared in the joy of raising two sons: Nainoa and Nakoa.  Both young men chose to be warriors and serve their country.  The elder son, Army First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he led a foot patrol in Northern Iraq in 2005.  He was just twenty-seven years old, and had been married for less than a year.

 

My wife and I, Adele, we still hear from the soldiers who served with Nainoa. And that is very comforting to us. He absolutely loved being a soldier. And the fortunate part, if there is anything fortunate about that horrible tragedy, was that his last day on this earth was documented by a writer who wrote an incredible story of how my son spent his last day with his men in combat.  Now, for me, as a father who had experienced combat, that was just an absolutely incredible story.  For me, it was very gratifying to hear how he performed in combat, and how his men just dearly loved him.

 

Yeah; I was so impressed by your son Nakoa.

 

Ah …

 

Seeing him at an event where Nainoa was being spoken of and honored, and all the attention was on the fallen son.  And Nakoa is a very honorable and brave, Army leader in his own right.  Right?

 

Correct.

 

But it was not about him; he was just happy to see Nainoa being celebrated.  I thought, he’s grown up in that shadow of his—

 

Big brother.

 

–his big brother being venerated as a hero.

 

Yeah.

 

And not feeling like: What about me?

 

Yeah. You know, in retrospect, my Hawaiian culture, that’s what led me to name him Nakoa; brave, courageous, strong, army, a soldier.

 

It does take courage to kinda—

 

Yeah; to stand in the shadow.

 

To stand in the shadow; right.

 

Yeah. And he has become just an incredible young man.

 

So much grace.

 

So much grace.

 

Did you teach him that grace?

 

His mother taught him that grace.

How our family and how this community responded when our son was killed, for me, it was very eye-opening.  You know, having survived combat, having witnessed death, it was totally different when that knock came on our door.

 

2005.

 

  1. And then, it’s like our whole world just came screeching to a halt. And then, you know, over the years, I’ve become very close to the Vietnam veterans’ efforts, the memorials, et cetera.  Jan Scruggs is a very dear friend.  And you know, Memorial Day 2005, I was invited to come and be a speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony at The Wall.  It was not the first time I had been there, but that was my first experience when I got there and I looked at the fifty-eight thousand plus names in the wall, including like a whole panel of my guys.  And I just kinda like … stopped, caught my breath, and I said: Oh, my god.  Looking at all these names, you would think that the world would have come to a complete stop.  Because I know my family—

 

For some, it did.

 

Yeah.

 

Many, it did.

 

For some, it did.  And for, you know, my—my experience and my family’s experience, the world did come to a stop.  You know, but there it is, fifty-eight thousand plus names, and we’re still at war.

 

Shortly before our conversation with Allen Hoe in the summer of 2018, he and nine other local Vietnam veterans were honored at what the Army referred to as a long overdue ceremony.  While only ten veterans were selected, the Pentagon report said they represented a large number of soldiers who served in the Southeast Asia conflict, but were never given a proper military ceremony to present awards and medals.  Allen Hoe received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart at the ceremony, and told news reporters it was well worth the wait to have the brigade you went to war with recognized years and years after that war was over.

 

We thank Vietnam Combat Medic Allen Hoe for his time with us, and the work he continues doing in the civilian and military communities.  And we thank you, for joining us.  For more of Allen Hoe’s conversation, including how a flag originally purchased as a souvenir in Vietnam has earned a military record of its own, and why it’s in Hoe’s DNA to be passionate about horses and the sport of polo, please go to PBSHawaii.org and our Long Story Short archives.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i.  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.

 

People say: You do so much for the Army.  And I said: You know what, when I have a quiet moment, sitting in my backyard at Maunawili, looking up at Mount Olomana, which was one of Nainoa’s favorite places, I just kinda look up there and I says: All right, son, you didn’t think Dad had enough to do?  So, my mission has been to try and make the lives, and the comfort, and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Hiker Rescue Fines

 

The number of mountain rescues statewide continues to grow every year, with rescues on Oʻahu nearly tripling over a 10-year span ending in 2016. Emergency rescue squads are often called upon to rescue people who are trespassing on public property. Should the government charge these lawbreakers for the rescue service? Join us for a conversation on proposed Hiker Rescue Fines on the next INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI.

 

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Korla

Korla

 

Korla is the amazing story of John Roland Redd, an African American from Columbia, Missouri who migrated to Hollywood in 1939 and reinvented himself as a musician from India. As one of early television’s pioneering musical artists, Korla Pandit’s life was one of talent, determination, ingenuity and racial passing, a story not fully realized until after his death in 1998.

 

Preview

 

 

 

Allen Hoe
A Soldier’s Soldier

ALLEN HOE: A Soldier's Story by Emilie Howlett

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Allen HoeAs one of more than two million draftees called upon to fight in the Vietnam War, 19-year-old Allen Hoe thought he would serve his time and then his life would resume as normal. In his conversation on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, Hoe reflects on the experiences that turned this local boy into a soldier’s soldier.

 

Trained as a combat medic with the Army, he witnessed some of life’s greatest horrors, and these intense circumstances helped forge a life-long bond with the men he served alongside. The politics and ethics of the controversial war and the reasoning behind what they were fighting to preserve came second to “simply thinking about saving the life of your buddy on your right and on your left” recalls Hoe.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX, Tuesday, November 13, 7:30 pmOn Mother’s Day 1968, one of his greatest fears played out in front of him. While he hung back at headquarters waiting to rejoin the other men in his unit, they were overrun. Hoe lost 18 men from his unit, while several more were captured and held prisoner.

 

While many would seek to close the door on this tragic chapter of their lives, Hoe extended his kindness towards those who felt the loss most profoundly. “I am reflective on the mothers of my men who didn’t make it. And over the past fifty years … that bond I had with their sons, I’ve developed with [the mothers] … It’s always been an obligation to assure their mothers whose sons never came home that their sons are superb young men.”

 

“... my mission has been to try and make the lives and the comfort and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.” – Allen Hoe

 

Allen Hoe and the courageous men he had served with.

 

Along with the atrocities he witnessed as a combat medic, the loss of the men he served alongside would follow him long after his tour ended. However, life went on. After returning to Hawai‘i, Hoe found success as an attorney, got married and had two sons.

 

But tragedy struck again. In 2005, his elder son, 27-year-old Army First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, was killed by a sniper’s bullet while leading a foot patrol in Northern Iraq. “How our family and how this community responded when our son was killed, it was very eye-opening. You know, having survived combat, having witnessed death, was totally different when that knock came on our door.”

 

While visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day of that same year, seeing the names etched on The Wall, including those of his own men, took on a new resonance. “Looking at all these names, you would think that the world would have come to a complete stop,” Hoe says.

 

Allen Hoe’s own losses inspired a lifelong commitment to healing the wounds of war by supporting those touched by its effects. In June 2018, he was presented with the Mana O Ke Koa award, which honors his unparalleled patronage and his dedication and service toward soldiers, civilians and the U.S. Army Pacific. Hoe has transformed the tragedy in his life into generosity, serving as a guiding light for so many. “So, my mission has been to try and make the lives and the comfort and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.”

 

 

Oregon Revealed: Coastal Wonder

 

This travelogue highlights Oregon’s stunning landscapes and spectacular coastline stretching from the bridges of Astoria to the rolling dunes of Bandon. Featured on this dramatic aerial tour are cliffs, estuaries, ports and small towns, including Tillamook Bay, Cape Kiwanda, Coos Bay and more.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
They Did It Their Way

 

Long Story Short looks back on three previous guests who paved their own paths in life and followed their instincts, often against the grain of society’s expectations. Featured: Marion Higa, who spoke truth to power as Hawai‘i’s State Auditor; Kitty Lagareta (now Kitty Yannone), CEO of public relations firm Communications Pacific, whose career has been punctuated by a healthy dose of risk; and Kimi Werner, who gave up her success in competitive spearfishing to reconnect with the ocean in a more meaningful way as an environmental advocate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

They Did It Their Way Audio

 

They Did It Their Way Transcript

 

Transcript

 

MARION HIGA: At times, it felt almost personal.  But I didn’t take it that way, because it was my job.  And I always go back to the constitutional language; this is what the constitutional drafters expected of this office.  And as long as I’m doing that, then any governor can complain as much as they like.

 

KITTY YANNONE: I’ve had Democrats publicly won’t have anything to do with me. But late at night, when they need some advice, they call me, and they return my calls.  I’ve had media people.  I think when you’re a little more outspoken and they have a sense you’re authentic about it, they return your calls.  And you know what?  It never stopped me from doing what I do, with the utmost integrity and professionalism.

 

KIMI WERNER: All I just told myself is: I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing in my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that.  And that’s the feeling that I wanted.  I didn’t quite know what type of path that would take me on, or how it would affect my career, but I just knew I wanted that back.

 

Marion Higa stood up to two governors to stop an auditing practice that she felt was inappropriate.  Kitty Yannone defied the local political system by supporting a Republican for governor.  And Kimi Werner was at the peak of her powers when she quit national spearfishing competitions.  They followed their instincts and their hearts, and they did it their way, 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.  Sometimes, it takes an enormous amount of courage to do what you know to be right, when others want you to do otherwise, when it would be much easier to simply to go with the flow.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we revisit three women who have previously been guests on this program.  Each followed her own path, respectively refusing to give in to political pressure, community disapproval, or turning away from a popular identity that did not reflect her core values.

 

We begin with Marion Higa.  For almost two decades, she was the Hawai‘i State Auditor, investigating the use of State resources and exposing inefficiencies. She as unflinching when agencies criticized her, knowing she had a job to do, and believing she was representing the best interests of the people of Hawai‘i.  One of the highest visibility audits she performed was on the Superferry. The State government wanted the Superferry to be up and running as soon as possible.  But the community was divided in its support for the ferry. The State Auditor was called in to analyze the administration’s environmental review.

 

The environmental groups had challenged the lack of the EIS early enough.  I think it wasn’t completed by the time they started sailing because you might remember that the first ship was delivered. And I think Superferry was trying to avoid the timetable, and so they had planned to start service to Nawiliwili, again, because they could do that most easily.  And people in Kaua‘i jumped in the water and kept them from docking, so they never docked.  They had to turn around and come back.  Now, in the course of all of this, then the State had put up forty-two million dollars’ worth of improvements.  But because of the way they designed or had to design these improvements, and the sourcing of these materials, it could not be used, because they were not U.S.-sourced. That was the other problem.

 

What did you hear from the administration about that?

 

Oh, they objected, of course, to our findings, and had their own responses. But I mean, we could support our findings.

 

What was your recommendation? 

 

I think our recommendation was … well, first of all, the EIS; I mean, there was no question that they had to follow the EIS.  But I think eventually, we softened the recommendation, because there was the other court case that was still proceeding and was going to the Supreme Court.  So, I think we predicted that nothing be hard and fast decided until that case was settled. Eventually, the court came down, one could say, on the side of the environmentalists, and required the EIS.

 

How did you feel about the stinging rebuke from the administration?

 

I didn’t take it personally.  I mean, I expected it, because there was so much at stake.  And I understood that even the legislators, some of the legislators who had been avid supporters would be disappointed, at best.

 

Especially since they had put through a bill that allowed … it seemed it was written for a particular company, but general language was used, except the timeframe was so short that it looked like it was written specifically for the Superferry.

 

Yes; it looked like special purpose legislation, which again, is not permitted by State law.

 

And so, that was people you worked for who were on the other end of criticism.

 

That’s right.  And so, you know, they’re party to that process.  But again, it’s like: Well, that’s my job, I have to say it the way it is.

 

Even if it’s your job, and you say you’re doing it on the straight and narrow, what’s it like riding that wave, where basically are taking shots at you as you take that position?

 

You know, like I said, it’s my job.  This is what the constitution was intended for us to do, and if we can defend the work.  And so, the process seems so laborious, and it’s so careful.  There’s a whole system; it’s all electronic now, the working papers are electronic.  But there’s a citation system involved in our work, so every fact can be traced back to a source document.  And so, working for the Auditor’s Office is not easy.  You have to be very meticulous, and be able to defend your work. But as long as the overall conclusions are supported by this mountain of evidence, it’s all defensible.

 

I always used to think it was so funny when you’d come walking into a legislative hearing room, hearing about an audit of the administration.  I mean, how tall are you?

 

Four-ten; barely four-ten, more like four-nine.

 

Four-ten; and it was as if a towering figure were coming in, this shadow was entering the room.  Did you get that feeling, that’s how people were reacting to you?

 

Sometimes; yes.  Uh-huh; uh-huh.

 

And you wouldn’t back down, either.

 

No, because that’s not my job.  My job is to support the report, because that stands for our work.

 

Any memorable exchanges between you and someone else?

 

A few times.  I guess I was at … Ways and Means once, and I had a minority member ask me … hunched over the table like this, he says: Ms. Higa … who do you work for?  Who do you work for?  Ms. Higa, who do you work for?  And I said: The people of Hawaii.  No; who do you really work for?  The people of Hawai‘i.  What he was trying to get me to say was, I work for the majority party.  And that’s not who I worked for.  I said: The constitution says I’m the auditor, I’m the State Auditor, I work for the people.  So, he gave up.

 

Kitty Yannone, formerly known as Kitty Lagareta, started her professional journey as a volunteer fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House.  This eventually led to her present career as the CEO of a successful company offering integrated communication services.  Kitty Yannone is known for following her instincts.  She’s bucked public opinion, and risked her business.  One of her biggest risks was in ardently supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

 

I’d met Linda Lingle when she was mayor of Maui through some volunteer work with high school students that we’d gone over there to do, and I didn’t know her very well at all.  And she called one day and wanted to meet with me.  And my husband answered the phone, and he said: The mayor of Maui wants to talk to you.  I’m like: Why does she want to talk to me?  It was like, a Sunday.  I go: What does she want?  And he goes: Why don’t you talk to her and find out.  She asked if she could meet, and she was thinking about running for governor in a couple years.  This was maybe a year or two.  And so, I went and met with her.  I think I spent five hours asking her questions, and I knew nothing about politics. And she said: That’s okay, we’ll figure it out; it’s a big race, I need a communications person, I think you’re kind of a smart person.  And I’d volunteered on a couple political things, but nobody ever wanted to use that part of me they wanted me to stuff envelopes, which was fine, or do stuff which was happy to do, and it’s important stuff.  But I was kind of intrigued by having somebody want me to be involved in the strategic side.  So, I started helping her in ’98, and I immediately got calls from a lot of people around town, friends, parents of kids.  You know, if you’re gonna do politics at this time, it’s really kinda stupid to get involved with the party that has no power.  And I said: Yeah, but I like this candidate, and I really want to do this.  And I didn’t lose any clients; no clients said: I’m gonna quit.  They just, I think, were kind of bemused.  And Linda came within five thousand votes, and it was a huge learning and a wonderful experience for me, except for the losing part. But we all took it harder than she did. And before we had even let the dust settle, she was saying: We’re gonna do this again in 2002.  And I remember thinking: Eee, I don’t know.  But of course, I was onboard for 2002.

 

Had you suffered business-wise, advocating for her?

 

You never know what you don’t get.  I think once people realized she was a serious candidate, I certainly did, you know, I think.  And I tend to vote for people, and like people more than parties.  I don’t really feel connected to parties.  I’m sort of a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And particularly during that time, it was like somebody had branded a big R on my forehead; she’s a Republican. And all that they equate with anybody of any political party is interesting.  And so, that was a new experience for me.

 

But you weren’t following the playbook of most public relations executives.  You were following your mind and, to some extent, your heart.

 

Yeah. You know, I believe in that, because I think a lot of executives, if they can, they do that.  And I just feel even when it’s a learning experience, having the experience makes me better overall.  And that was a learning experience.  And by gosh, in 2002, we pulled it off, and that was interesting. And I thought we were done.  That was the other thing, kind of still had naïveté, not having been in politics.  It was like: Okay, we’re done, I can go back to my life.  And I remember Linda called and she said: You know, I think you would be one of the people I want to recommend for Board of Regents.  And I remember saying: Oh, why that?  I mean, I don’t know.

 

Talk about political.

 

She had to talk me into it.

 

What you got into was a mire with the president of the University, Evan Dobelle.

 

Yeah.

 

And a very slippery situation.  And your expertise is public relations, but it was very hard to manage it. 

 

Yeah; and it’s hard to be in it and manage something.  I know that.  Therapists will tell you: I can’t do therapy in my own family.  When you’re one of the players in something, and everybody’s got their own opinion, you’re not the PR managing something then, I think.

 

And as the chair of the Board of Regents.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, I think there was a perception at some time that you were bungling it.

 

Yeah; yeah.  I actually thought I was.  I knew it was bungled, but I also had the perspective of there was a whole bunch of stuff.  You know, it was an employee-employer relationship between the Board and Evan. And there are certain laws you have to follow, confidentiality and things.  So, we were not in a position to say: Hey, we tried this, we did this. And I think the employee can say whatever they want pretty much, really.  And you see that over and over.  So, that was a disadvantage, and it was hard.  The other part was, you know, you will never know the effort we made to do it carefully.  And the sense, I think, that was there was that, I have this contract, no way you’re gonna get me out of it, and I’m not going anywhere.  And as time went on, I think it became clear the University was suffering, and we had to do something.  And in fact, our creditors told us that.  And it felt very bungled.  It felt like there were lots of pieces that you couldn’t control.  It was horrible watching the public perception of it, and knowing there was another story, but you can’t be the one to tell it. You’re the employer.  That was really rugged, I think for all of us. And yet, I found the decision we made to be the right one.  I’ve never regretted that decision.  How it unfolded and what it looked like on the outside; yeah, there was a lot of regret about that, but not the decision.  And I don’t think any of us did.

 

So, the right outcome.

 

The right outcome; and it really was.  You know, that’s the decision.  I mean, there were regents who quit because they didn’t want to go down.  They knew what needed to be done, but they didn’t want to be in the middle of all that.  And there were some amazing people who stuck around and said: This needs to be done for the good of our university.  And I think there is some vindication in what happened at Westfield College.  It’s pretty much what happened here.  That’s taken a different more public turn, I think.  But came many years later, but it was there, and we did make the right decision. And under David McClain’s leadership, we went on to have some finished capital campaign, move a lot of things forward at the University.  And I look at it that way and say: Yeah, there was some personal pain, and I could have avoided it, but maybe it wouldn’t have been the right people in the room to make the decisions that I think were good ones if all of us had done that.  I’ve never found discomfort to be an inhibiting factor.  I used to give a speech after—this was when they were saying: Fear is your friend.  I use it as like, rocket fuel.  When I feel that, it tells me to turn on all my senses and look at something carefully. But sometimes, it really energizes you. And maybe that’s what I get from my mom and dad.  ‘Cause my mom and dad, in their own way, overcame a lot of stuff in their lives, built a really nice life for them and their family, and still do.  And they had certain values, and it didn’t include being afraid, or being uncomfortable, being something that pulls you up.  Yeah.

 

I’m sure you had some sleepless nights over the regents matter.

 

Many; I think I didn’t sleep for like a whole year.

 

And that was okay with you, ‘cause you felt like you were doing the right thing?

 

I felt like we were doing the right thing, and I felt like, you know, sometimes that’s what they call—that’s what I consider when I see people go through that, and I do with my clients sometimes, who are struggling with hard decisions and want to do the right decisions.  And I think I’m grateful I’ve had that experience a few times in my life, because I think that’s what you call political courage.  I call it that when I see it in other people.  And when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like any kind of courage; it feels like a nightmare.  But in the end, if something good came out or a group of people were able to come together to make something happen that was right or needed to happen, or bigger than they could do on their own.

 

What if it fails?

 

Yeah; it does.  I failed in ’98.  Do you know how many people wouldn’t even talk to me after ’98?  She’s the one who went to the other side, you know.  I lived through it.  I don’t know; I feel like I have to live in this world and do things that I think are important.  I can’t always defer to, that might hurt my business, or that may not.  Then I’d just be kind of a shallow person, I feel.  You have gauge with life and with issues, and with people, and the world you live in.

 

Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, known as Kimi, is a roving ambassador for the American Clothes Company Patagonia, as well as a trained chef and self-taught artist.  She grew up in rural Maui, tagging along on ocean dives with her father as he hunted for fish to feed the family.  Unsatisfied with her early career choices, she started thinking that maybe her childhood pastimes could still be part of her life.  She learned to spearfish, became an accomplished free diver, and a national spearfishing champion.  Yet, despite the success and recognition she was gaining through her awards, she realized that spearfishing competition wasn’t the right thing for her, either.

 

You know, my first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special.  And coming back home to Hawai‘i was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion.  And the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for.  But I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like I just always had a title to defend.  I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me.  And I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food.  And once I realized that, I didn’t like it.  I just realized it’s changing me.  You know, it’s changing this thing that’s so sacred to me.  It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this.  And it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition.  And this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again.  Am I really gonna do this to it?  Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing titles?  Like, I didn’t like that.  And so, just for those own personal reasons of how I found it affecting me, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely.  I mean, it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in the peak of what could have been my career.  You know, I had sponsors now, and you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me.  And all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it.  And it let down a lot of people, and definitely disappointed people. And for myself too, I mean, I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost.  I didn’t really know who I was without that.  It had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department.  It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more.  And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, I definitely felt like a loser.  You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt like I didn’t quite know if I would like … you know.  I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have.  I didn’t know how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

What happened, then?

 

It took me a while, actually.  It was probably a year where a lot of times I would go out diving, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be.  You know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet, it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting.  And it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish.  And then, I really would beat myself up.  Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up.  And I got pretty depressed.  But through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, couple friends of mine like said: You need to get back in the water.  Like, let’s go.  And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still fighting itself, and I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have it anymore.  And so, I’m like: Let’s just pack it up and go, guys.  I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home.  And they said: Okay, let’s go.  But then, I said: You know what, let me just take one last drop.  And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive.  And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe.  But I just took a dive, and just told them to watch me, you know, took a dive.  And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand.  I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand.  And I laid there, and I let every single critic come through my head, every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come.  And I listened to every single put-down, worry, concern, fear.  And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just still waited, held my breath.  Okay, what else you got; give it to me.  You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left.  And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, hadn’t already heard.  Like, it just went quiet.  And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.  I think the competition, and just more than that even, just the expectations that I was putting on myself.  And I think that can happen a lot with anybody who tries to turn their passion into a career; it can get quite confusing.  I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, you know, we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with, maybe. Because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish.  But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home.  And when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it.  I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me.  And soon as I came up, I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew.  They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like: You’re back.  And I’m like: I’m back.  And that was that.  And after that, then I just started diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have.  I’m gonna do everything I can to keep this pure.  Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner, Kitty Yannone, and Marion Higa followed their instincts and listened to their own voices to do it their way. Mahalo to these three women of Hawai‘i for sharing their stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawaii 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.

 

I still get approached by people, total strangers.  You know, I mean, it’s always complimentary.  I know it’s a curiosity.  I mean, I go into restaurants, and I know people recognize me. You can tell when you’re recognized.

 

And so, do they say: What did you really think?

 

Sometimes, people will say that.  But most of the time, people will come up and thank me for the work that we did.  So, I’d like to think that there were some good effects, for some folks, anyway.

 

Things that I have done that were much harder learning experiences than I anticipated. Ronald McDonald House was that way at times, and certainly Board of Regents, and getting involved politically. There are things in my company I don’t have a business background, and I’ve had to learn through trial and error, experience.  I wish I’d known more, but I came out the other side knowing it now, and I don’t regret much of anything.  I think, you know, I’ve had sad things and hard things, and it’s life.  And you know, as long as I keep getting up and experiencing it, I’m kinda happy.

 

I think by following that passion and really making the commitment to be true to my love for it, surprisingly, it did bring success, and just in so much more of a meaningful way.  Because now, it wasn’t just any sponsors that I was working with; it was sponsors and companies like Patagonia who truly hold the same values as me, who aren’t just, you know, trying to sell an image or, do what’s trendy, but really, really believe in trying to make this world better, trying to give back to these beautiful natural elements of our world.

 

 

 

RICK STEVES’ EUROPE
Assisi and Italian Country Charm

 

Join writer and host Rick Steves as he experiences the local culture, cuisine and fun in some of Europe’s most interesting places.

 

Assisi and Italian Country Charm
In the Italian countryside, Rick watches prosciutto and pecorino cheese being made. In Assisi – the hometown of St. Francis – he explores its stony center before trekking to its awe-inspiring basilica, built on the tomb of the beloved saint.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Right of Access

 

More than 50 years ago, under Chief Justice William S. Richardson, the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i ruled the public had the right to access all beaches throughout our State. But for decades there have been disputes — clashes throughout the islands — involving access pathways that lead to our beaches.

 

What do you think? Is is time we settled this “right of access” dispute linked to one of the most historically significant rulings in our history?

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:insights@pbshawaii.org

 

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