Leslie Wilcox

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Marilyn Cristofori

 

For 24 years, Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance, a statewide nonprofit that champions the arts through advocacy and education. Upon Cristofori’s retirement, the very nonprofit she headed selected her as its 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree for her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. In this conversation, she recounts her experiences as a dancer, a university educator and a nonprofit leader.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Marilyn Cristofori Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Once upon a time, arts was considered a basic part of life.

 

M-hm.

 

A formal piece of education.

 

And it still is. Because what we do at the Arts Alliance is … the big picture. But if you want to be a ballet dancer, you’ve got to get your body to a ballet studio and stand at the ballet barre, and learn … that particular discipline. If you want to be an opera singer, you’re not gonna do it … in a school classroom.

 

M-hm.

 

I mean, you can be exposed to it, you can learn about it, you can … the history and the composers, and so on, and so forth. But if you want to be a performer or a creator of that discipline … gotta go there. There is no other choice.

 

Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance for twenty-four years. Upon her retirement, she was selected as the 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree. That was a prestigious acknowledgement of her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. She joins fellow Preis Honorees 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. Marilyn Cristofori always knew she’d have at least two careers, because she started out as a dancer, a calling prone to injuries and other physical wear and tear. Next, Cristofori became a university dance teacher. And then, she enjoyed a long third career heading a nonprofit organization advocating for arts. Upon retirement, she was named 2017’s Preis Honoree for her arts achievements by the very organization she headed, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance. She joined a long line of distinguished honorees, many of whom she helped to select. We’ll revisit some of these arts champions during the half hour, and get to know Marilyn Cristofori. As a child, she spent summers and many other times away from her family home in Sacramento because her mother was often ill. Young Marilyn would stay with her grandmother in the Bay Area.

 

I loved my grandmother. It made me identify with the things that were part of that life. And I loved it. San Francisco.

 

Italian?

 

Italian. She loved the opera, I loved the opera. I can’t sing, but she loved the opera; she always played opera in the house.

 

And you were the only child in the house?

 

The only; yeah. She had three children, my mother being one of them, but they were all grown up. I was the only young child. My grandmother did not intend to raise another child; that was one of those … it happened.

 

And you felt at home at school, and at your grandmother’s house?

 

I felt very at home at my grandmother’s house, and I adjusted to my other home.

 

Was your grandmother your most formative influence, then, as a child?

 

I consider her that; m-hm. Yeah.

 

Did she give you any explicit advice about the future?

 

Oh, god. She was … a woman of her era. And I think the year she got married, the women’s vote was finally put in, and she was determined I was gonna get an education.

 

Did she know how she would pay for it, or anyone would pay for it?

 

Oh, no. I just had to get good grades and earn a scholarship.

 

So, you knew that from an early age?

 

M-hm.

 

That you were gonna go to college through a scholarship, and you were gonna make the grade to do it.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you know what you wanted to do?

 

When I was raised, Leslie, there was the idea that as a woman, you did nursing or teaching, or mothering, or sometimes a secretary, and occasionally you might have another profession. But those were the main ones. So, I thought I was gonna be a teacher.

 

M-hm. And you did get a BA in education.

 

I did.

 

From a very good college.

 

I did.

 

You got into Stanford.

 

Yeah.

 

On scholarship?

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

At that point in time, it was kind of fun, because women were still new to Stanford, so the ratio was about four to one. So, it was a great experience.

 

Lots of men. And did—

 

And I was young, so …

 

Did you feel younger than eighteen?

 

I was twenty when I graduated.

 

Oh; how did you get into college so early?

 

Well, when I was much younger, and all that shuffling back and forth to my grandmother’s and so on, they skipped me a full grade in school.

 

Wow. So, you graduated from Stanford University at age twenty.

 

Yeah.

 

As a … teacher.

 

Teacher. Yeah. And then, we had an opportunity to take a trip to Europe. And … I thought, that would be fun.

 

We, meaning you and …

 

And some … Stanford colleagues.

 

M-hm.

 

And a professor was doing the trip, and it was like a big deal. We had to go to New York and change planes, and fly over Iceland, and go to London. That was my first time out of California.

 

And you actually—

 

I didn’t come back for five and a half years.

 

Is that right?

 

I discovered dancing, which I had been doing all my life, but I didn’t know that I really wanted to do it.

 

What kind of dancing were you doing?

 

I was doing ballet at that time. So, then, I wanted to be a dancer, but I had gotten a full scholarship to what was then Radcliff at Harvard Business School. Why did I apply to Harvard Business School? Because the guy that I had a crush on applied to Harvard Business School. I thought it would be fun to go. And I went to Europe, and I decided I really didn’t want to go, and I knew that I could always go to business school, but I couldn’t always dance. So, I stayed in Europe.

 

And where did you dance?

 

I danced in Rome, and I danced in London, mainly. Those were the two.

 

And what was it about your experience in Europe that caused—you left the boyfriend behind too; right?

 

Yeah. But another one came along.

 

And is that part of the reason for staying in Europe, or was it—

 

Yeah.

 

–sheer dance, or a combination?

 

Well, part of it. Because he decided to go to London School of Economics, so we got married. I was working in a contemporary company. And I went to ballet classes, and I went to the Royal Ballet. I was not working as a professional ballet dancer in London. I experienced a lot of it, and that was what I knew. So, when I came back to San Francisco, I then was with San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Pacific Ballet, and Lathrop Contemporary Company. So then, I worked as a professional dancer. And because I was still young enough, since I had graduated so young, I was able to do it, and have … a fairly decent career.

 

What other types of dancing did you do?

 

Then, I did contemporary.

 

Which was freeform …

 

Well, modern dance. And that’s why I got involved until I … I needed to get a job, and became a professor and academic, and you’re supposed to write a book. And what did I do instead? I didn’t want to write a book; I made … documentaries for PBS about famous dancers. And so, I got very involved with that part of things.

 

And you felt passionate about a number of things, it sounds like.

 

Yeah; yeah. Well, I loved dancing. That’s definitely my first love. But every dancer needs at least two careers.

 

And you know that, going in.

 

Well, because you can’t dance beyond a certain age … adequately. I got to be a professor, I got to teach. And then, I went to business … eventually.

 

Because that’s what you were going to do years before. You know, it’s not a natural jump, it doesn’t sound like, to go from dancing to professor of dance, to an MBA at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

 

At least in my day, it was more natural to go from a professional dance career, or to parallel with teaching, and to move into academia.

 

You were a professor, and then, you left California and came here. Why?

 

Because I married … Gregg Lizenbery, my husband, and he got offered the position to be director of dance at UH Mānoa. So, I had taken an early retirement, and then it just so happened he got offered that position. And then, we moved here. That was almost three decades ago. I did not look for my career with the Arts Alliance. But after we moved here, we realized that the cost of living was a little bit different than we were used to.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, I had thought: Oh, I’m retired, I’ll just … but that didn’t work. So, I needed to find a position. That’s what I did. So, for a while, I worked part-time for the Arts Alliance, and part-time for Early Childhood, and made them partners. And then, when I was into the position at Arts Alliance, I realized that I would hit a ceiling if I didn’t get a new skillset. Which is why I went to business school.

 

After receiving her executive master of business degree from the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawai‘i, Marilyn Cristofori felt she had all the tools necessary to grow the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance.

 

How do you get funding for the arts?

 

Oh … so many ways. One of the biggest, biggest … important things that people don’t always get. I find when I say to somebody “arts”, the shade comes down, and what they see is a painting on a wall in a museum.

 

M-hm.

 

Or they remember, because there used to be arts in the school curriculum, when they were in school as a child; they had a music class and they had a drawing class, and they had maybe sometimes a dance class, and they could be in their … high school production, theater production. And they remember those things, and they don’t know that it’s not there anymore.

 

Mm.

 

So, you have to tell them … No, it’s not been there for quite a while.

 

Do public schools have virtually no arts classes? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Not exactly. It’s heading upwards, but mostly, one of the things the Arts Alliance does now, partners with the State arts agency to run what we call Artists in the Schools.

 

M-hm.

 

And that’s … funded by public monies for public schools.

 

But how do you argue the case when lawmakers or charitable organizations are saying: Look, I mean, we need to support the basics; reading, writing, and arithmetic, and computer technology. We can’t do art; that’s something you’ve gotta get on your own.

 

One of the biggest convincing arguments has to do with brain research. And they’ve done a lot of research to find out—one of my favorite studies was done, a longevity study. And they followed kids in high school who were either in like boy scouts or girl scouts, or some other community service organization, and where there school arts event in some way, whether it was after school or in school, or if they were in sports. And then, they followed them for … ten years, and how did they do ten years later, by which time they were usually married with some kids, and in a career of some kind. The ones that were happiest, most successful, had come from the arts. So, then they looked further back into that, and they examined what happens when you have those … experiences as a child.

 

M-hm.

 

That it shapes your brain differently. You have those connections, neuropathways. And if they aren’t formed by a certain age, usually puberty, they kind of wither and die on the vine.

 

It’s a key to happiness.

 

A key to happiness and success in life. So, that’s why back in ancient days now … arts were considered to part of the curriculum. So, the big deal is to get it during the formative years. So, right now, the way our Hawaii school system is built, by the time … children go into high school … there are art teachers, and music teachers, and band, and there are options, after school performing arts centers, all of which work very, very well. But a lot of the times, the kids that want to do those things didn’t have them when they were young, and so, they don’t have competitive skills to be involved. We teach about the arts and how the arts can enrich an experience and change your life.

 

How big is the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance? How many staffers?

 

Well, we’re all the way up to seven.

 

Seven staffers; and what’s your budget?

 

I took over in ’94.

 

’94; okay.

 

Yeah. So … it was thirty thousand. And I said: That won’t do. And then, we got up to … it’s varied, depending on what comes … from national, mostly. Not two million; just under two million. But that was a good jump. It needs to now double again. I feel really good about … we have a base that’s established in the education part. And there’s something to work with, and expand, and go to, and staying with education is essential.

 

You mentioned three careers, and it’s a very long work record. I don’t know what seventy-seven looks like, but to me, you don’t look like you’re seventy-seven years old.

 

I really am. And a half.

 

Do you feel it?

 

Starting to happen.

 

Marilyn Cristofori was the thirty-seventh recipient of the Alfred Preis Honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. In the past, we’ve featured other Preis Honorees on Long Story Short. We look back now at three recent recipients, and their contributions.

 

Sarah Richards was the 2015 Preis Honoree. As president of the Hawai‘i Theatre Center for a quarter of a century, she spearheaded an historic restoration, transforming the once dilapidated theater into a national award-winning performance center. A former college dean of students, Sarah Richards switched careers and actually succeeded the legendary architect Alfred Preis himself as chief of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

 

You succeeded a man who has got a lot of aura around him in history.

 

Yes.

 

Alfred Preis.

 

Right.

 

As head of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

 

Right.

 

In 1980?

 

1980; m-hm.

 

What was he like? Did you know him before you took over?

 

I got to know him. He was a wonderful man. He was a Prussian architect. And so, he was very Prussian in character, in modus operandi. And he was the one who really initiated the Art in Public Places program, really, on a European model. He was a lovely man, with a great vision.

 

And when it was time for him to step down, the foundation looked for somebody who was a good administrator, and who could handle the strong voices in the arts community.

 

Yes.

 

And they selected you to do that.

 

They did; they did.

 

What kind of strong voices?

 

Oh, well, the arts, as you know, because the State Foundation dealt with all the arts, whether it was visual arts, performing arts, literary arts. And so, there was a lot of variety of art groups we were dealing with. And of course, since we were the granting agency, we had a lot of very personal contacts with how much money grants were gonna be given to what groups.

 

Right; and projects are like babies.

 

Oh, yes; oh, yes.

 

You give money to one, and it’s my baby.

 

That’s right.

 

You know, it seems like a dream job to have all this money that you can give to wonderful art projects. But you probably are under criticism, no matter what you do.

 

Oh, yes. Giving away money is not just a piece of cake. You need to be clear on what your mission is, what you want to accomplish, and then also who makes decisions and who are qualified to make decisions. It wasn’t just sort of, Here’s some money. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the creator. But there are certain standards that the art community has, and that’s why you ask a group of knowledgeable people to review and make a judgment. We were proud we were number one in the nation in per capita state support. So, we did a fair amount of lobbying the State Legislature, and also getting money from the federal government.

 

You’re a very determined person, aren’t you?

 

I am determined.

 

You’re very goal-oriented.

 

I was very goal-oriented; yes, I was. Yes.

 

And you’re a missioned person.

 

Yeah.

 

Here’s 2016 Preis Honoree, Michael Titterton, former president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its broadcast reach across the State.

 

You got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.

 

Rhetoric; yes.

 

Why did you choose that?

 

Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually. And … coming into ’72, and I knew the U.S. was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility. And meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And that’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America, when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that.

 

And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.

 

Well, everybody does. Yeah. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative arc. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, that was … I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is, that’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—

 

Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.

 

Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.

 

Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling … I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there’s very few human behaviors that that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.

 

And radio has that intimate quality.

 

Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?

 

Henry Akina, who retired from the Hawaii Opera Theater, was the 2014 Preis Honoree. Born and raised in Honolulu, Henry Akina spent much of his adult life directing opera in prestigious opera houses around the world. He even founded an opera company in Berlin, before moving back home to Hawai‘i. Under the guidance of its first ever Hawai‘i-born artistic director, the Hawaii Opera Theater became known for vibrant, creative productions, sometimes incorporating modern updates and collaborations with top international artists.

 

I love that approach, in a sense modernizing with Harajuku costumes.

 

You’re referring to The Mikado, then.

 

Yeah, Mikado.

 

Right; yeah.

 

And you feel free to do that. You don’t take the same opera and present it again. You add new touches. You’ve had Anne Namba’s designs, you’ve had Dean Shibuya change things up.

 

We have a resident designer at HOT, Peter Dean Beck, who’s resident in New York, but who’s nonetheless been seminal for design here.

 

How do audiences feel about those changes?

 

I’m not sure. You know, people say nice things to me, so I’m assuming that they’re honest about those things. But I think that the audiences in Hawaii respond well to good stories, and we try and make good stories wherever we are, from wherever we are.

 

Do you look for ways to take a classic story and localize it or modernize it?

 

Well, modernize it, perhaps. Localize it, not so much. But modernize it, perhaps. And in the case of Mikado, for instance, we knew that we couldn’t go backwards; we had to go forwards. And we had to look at the Japan of today, which was a lot different than the first time we did Mikado, which was ten years ago.

 

So, in ten years, it changed.

 

In ten years, life has changed. Yeah.

 

Did audiences know Harajuku girls? Because that was the play.

 

I think that we tried to let the audience know that we were doing the style. But you’ll have to ask Anne about the Harajuku things, because it was based on one of Anne’s trips to Japan. But I think that in contemporary life, we would be someplace else in ten years.

 

Right. I think she reimagined those characters as hip shoppers out for retail therapy.

 

She did; she did. And using cell phones every five minutes. Right. And using an iPad; things like that. So, whatever we’re using in ten years will be reflected in the staging.

 

You’ve already been announced, I believe, as the 2014 Preis Honoree in Arts, which is a tremendous honor, probably the largest honor we have in Hawai‘i in arts.

 

Well, I knew Alfred Preis, and I think that that’s … I was saying that, you know, people who know me well don’t expect this honor. And I didn’t expect it, either.

 

Why? Why didn’t you expect it? I wasn’t surprised to hear that you were named.

 

Well, I was, in a weird way. And I went to a board member, Jean Rolles, who had been honored herself. And she said: You will do it for this organization. And since then, I have decided that I will do it for the organization.

 

Congratulations to 2017 Preis Honoree Marilyn Cristofori of Hawai‘i Kai. And mahalo to all of the recipients of this award over the years for the work you’ve done to advance the arts and keep them vibrant in Hawai‘i. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

The key thing, whatever you’re doing … is to support creativity in our society as a whole. Keep your passion about creativity, and moving forward with what is right … what is just, and what helps everybody. ‘Cause if we don’t preserve our creativity … the rest of it doesn’t matter.

 

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’m really proud of what we’ve been able to contribute so far to education. We’ve been able to create and move forward significantly with Arts First and get admirable, high quality arts back in the schools, particularly elementary schools. So, I’m really feeling good about that.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kanoe and John Miller

 

Kanoe Miller felt drawn to the spotlight at an early age, fantasizing about becoming a Broadway chorus girl or a ballerina. The young Kanoe began taking hula lessons, and her goal shifted to performing hula in Waikīkī. For more than 40 years, Kanoe has been living that dream. You’ll often find her biggest cheerleader in the audience: her husband John Miller, a former Aloha Airlines pilot. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Kanoe and John tell the story of their love and reflect on the life they’ve built together.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kanoe and John Miller Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

JOHN: Even my friends would say: Oh, that’s not a good idea. You know, if you come from the mainland and you steal away one of the local girls, they usually kill you. You know. You’ll end up in the Kunia cane fields someday, you know. Well, I mean, that was a joke, but I mean—

 

KANOE: They were joking.

 

JOHN: –people would say that.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: You know, to me.

 

KANOE: Even his mother said to him: John, now this girl is a performer, and she works on the stage in front of strangers every night; there will be lots of people in the audience wanting her. John, are you sure? You know, so there was a lot of … people.

 

JOHN: So, it was the two of us out there, just on our own, trying to make sure that the feelings we had for each other were real, you know.

 

When Kanoe and John Miller fell in love during the 1970s, they faced persistent doubt and opposition from family and friends. All these years later, they say challenges and adversity have only strengthened their marriage. Kanoe and John Miller, 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. Our guests today are a husband and wife who say that naysayers made them stronger. Kanoe Miller, born Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa, was crowned Miss Hawai‘i in 1973. For twenty years, she would be one of Hawai‘i’s top fashion models, and at the same time, and up to the time of our conversation in early 2018, she’s been performing hula the iconic Halekulani Hotel in Waikīkī, Oahu, with only a few breaks over forty-one years. Today, Kanoe and her husband, John Miller, own a digital entertainment company, creating videos and live shows of beloved Hawaiian Golden Era music and hula, with Kanoe as the featured dancer.

 

John Miller grew up in Denver, Colorado and became a military pilot, and served in the Wyoming Air National Guard. In 1976, John says he left the freezing cold of Wyoming to head to the warm shores of Hawaii as a pilot for Aloha Airlines. One fateful night in 1977, as he was walking through Waikīkī, Oahu, he stopped in at the luxury hotel, Halekulani. It was a moment that would change his life.

 

JOHN: When I first came out here, the second year I was working for Aloha Airlines, I lived on a boat in the Ala Wai. And I used to go for a walk in the evening if I had the evening off. And I walked by the Halekulani, and I saw Kanoe dancing. And I thought: That’s probably the reason I’m here. You know.

 

What made you say that? Because there are other hula dancers along the beach at Waikīkī.

 

JOHN: You know, well, there was a lot of entertainment. But Kanoe just has something special. You know? And so, I went in and sat down. And the way she dances, she relates to everybody. But I thought she was just relating to me. And so, I thought: Oh, my god, this is heaven. You know.

 

A lot of other guys in the audience kind of had the same expression on their face?

 

JOHN: Probably. I didn’t look at them, though. I was just looking at her, you know. So, yeah, I was probably Number 16 in line.

 

And it was about the Lovely Hula Hands; it was all about that.

 

JOHN: You know, if you’ve seen her dance, you know it’s about the whole everything. And I just thought: Oh, my god, she’s dancing right to me. And so then, I tried to talk to her, and I realized she’d never even seen me. You know? It was like, I was just another tourist. And she said something like: Are you having a nice vacation? You know. And I thought: Oh—

 

And where are you from?

 

JOHN: Yeah; where are you from? I thought: Oh. But I still was smitten. I just thought: This gal has something different than anybody else. So, I just kept coming back, and coming back. And after I came back enough times, I realized that she had a ring on her finger. She was engaged, or married. I thought she was married. And I thought: Oh, man, I’m too late. You know. But I still kept going. Like everybody else, they go the Halekulani for the music and to watch her dance.

 

Was that a ring to ward off suitors?

 

KANOE: No; I was engaged to someone else. And normally, you know, when you dance hula, you’re not supposed to wear any nail polish, no jewelry except your Hawaiian bracelet. But he insisted that I wear this ring. So, I wore it.

 

So, you’re engaged.

 

KANOE: I’m engaged.

 

JOHN: And then, actually, after a couple years of me being smitten by her, a friend of mine who knew that I really was infatuated with her called me up one night, and she said: John, Kanoe is not married; there’s an article about her in this magazine, and it’s all about The Fox of the Month. And it’s like all these questions about what she hopes to meet in her perfect guy.

 

KANOE: You know, this magazine; it was called …

 

JOHN: O‘ahu.

 

KANOE: O‘ahu. And every month, they had wonderful articles, and it was more tailored for the single young set of Hawai‘i, of O‘ahu. And every month, they had a Fox of the Month. And I was Miss November. And they had asked me: Describe your ideal man. And I did. Describe your ideal life. I did. When my fiancé read the answers, the first thing he said was: You’re not describing me. And that was my reaction: Sure, I am. Of course, I am. Yes, I’m describing you. He says: No, you’re not; everything you say in here is not me.

 

JOHN: Well, I read this article, and every question they asked about, what’s your perfect guy like … it was me. And I thought: Well, she’s talking about me, and obviously, she hasn’t gotten married yet, so he’s not the right one. Must be me.

 

KANOE: By the way, you have to tell the story of how you got that magazine.

 

JOHN: Oh. Well … one of the pilots that I got hired with, his wife was along for the whole time that I used to go and watch her dance, and take people there. I would take them there. I took everybody there. And of course, she would see me going: Oh, gosh, she’s so beautiful. You know. And of course, everybody feels that way about Kanoe when they watch her dance. But she was the one that called me up and told me: I read this article about Kanoe in the magazine. And so, she called me kinda late at night, you know. So, I said: Well, what’s the name of the magazine? She said: Oh, I don’t know, but her picture’s on the front. You know. So, I walked to all the bookstores looking for this magazine. And the magazine wasn’t there; it wasn’t for sale in newsstands. So then the next morning, I called her back up and I said: Where did you see that magazine? And she said: Oh, at my hairdresser’s; it’s a little place called Shear Power over in Kailua. I said: Okay. So, I drove over there. And I went in, and I went upstairs, and I walked in, and of course, the dryers were going and ladies were cutting, and you know, it’s a real female place.

 

Boy, you had it bad.

 

JOHN: I know. And I walk in, and there’s this table, and there’s the magazine with her picture on it. So, I walked in, and this one lady looks up and she says: Can I help you? And I said: Well, yes, you know, a friend of mine got her hair cut yesterday, and she told me about this magazine that has an article about someone I’m interested in; could I have that magazine? And she says: No; those magazines are for my customers. And I tried to think really quick, you know. I go: Could I get a haircut? And I took her aback. I said: If I get a haircut, does that make me a customer? Then, could I have the magazine? And she says: Okay, sit down and I’ll get with you in a few minutes. So, I sat down and waited for my haircut. At the end of my haircut, I got the magazine. And as an aside, I had my hair cut from her for like, twenty-five years after that.

 

KANOE: Faithfully.

 

JOHN: I was very loyal.

 

KANOE: You paid for that magazine.

 

JOHN: I paid for it; right. But then I took the magazine and read it, and that’s when I realized: This girl is talking about me. You know?

 

Okay, now; what did she say? What did you say was your perfect guy?

 

KANOE: What did I say? The most important question was: Describe your ideal man. And I said: Well, my ideal man is a global thinker. He thinks three hundred sixty degrees, all the way around, his vision goes out. You know, it’s infinite, and it goes three hundred sixty degrees; he can see both sides of the story no matter what the issue is. He has to be a global thinker, he has to be a big thinker with big ideas. He needs to have a big heart, and he needs to have big hands. In other words, generous. I want somebody who is generous in their thinking, generous here, and generous here. And that’s what I ask for. I said: I want a life that … watch out what you ask for. I want a life that goes up, that does down, that goes sideways, that whirls around like a Mad Mouse ride. I don’t want flat-line; I want highs. I want highs, I want desperate lows. I want to turn to the side, I want to go on two wheels, screaming. You know. I got that.

 

JOHN: So, I renewed my efforts. I was down there that night, you know, a trying to ask her if she would go out on a date with me. You know. And I told her that I had read this article, and that I thought that she was describing me.

 

KANOE: And I was like: Stalker.

 

JOHN: Yeah. And she was thinking: Oh, my god, how do I get rid of this stalker?

 

Did you feel any attraction to him?

 

KANOE: Oh, yeah; immediately, soon as he came up to me. I was like: Wow, this guy is really cute. Wow, he’s really attractive, but I am engaged to someone else. And I really like him, but no. I’m engaged to someone else; no, no, no, no, no.

 

JOHN: So, I asked her if she would go on a date. And she said: No.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: So, I just thought: Okay, how can I bridge this gap? So, I asked her: Well, how about if I come here and just walk you to your car? Now, this is the old Halekulani, where you drive in, and you parked on the grass, right in front of the old building. So, all the cars were parked right there on the grass; everybody parked there. And where she danced was just out at the House Without A Key. So, I knew that the walk would only be like, thirty steps or so, you know. But I asked her: How about if I come and walk you to your car; would that be okay? ‘Cause that way, maybe you could get to know me.

 

KANOE: Yeah; actually, what you said was: I read that article, and I think that if you got to know me, you would see that I’m the guy you’re talking about. So, I said: Okay, you can walk me to my car. Okay.

 

JOHN: So, I guess she felt safe. You know, there was lots of people around. I didn’t look too creepy, I guess. Had my hair cut like a pilot, you know. So, I would go every night, and wait until she got off, on the nights that I could go. Sometimes, I had to fly. But she would let me walk her to the car, and we would just talk about a little something.

 

KANOE: Oh, but the walk would only take, you know, thirty seconds.

 

JOHN: Yeah; the first week, the walk was like, just thirty steps. But after the first month, I think it was probably taking about an hour to get to the car.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: And we could talk about anything. You know, we weren’t in a rush. She wasn’t in a rush, and of course, I wasn’t in a rush.

 

KANOE: And I really enjoyed talking to him. And we had a lot of things in common. You know, lot of interests that were the same. Lot of almost kinda the same dreams. You know, which every time after I’d leave him, I’d go: Gosh, he and I have the same dreams, same ideas, same visions, but I don’t have that with my fiancé, as much as I love him. You know, we don’t have the same ideals, I think. So, anyway, I looked forward to him coming and walking me to the car.

 

JOHN: I think I had been coming for about two months, and she was letting me walk her to the car. And one night, I just told her: You know, I think I’m in love with you.

 

KANOE: Of course, I was really afraid. Terrified; terrified. Because I knew he was right, and I knew he was the right person for me. But now, I had to break off this six-year engagement to someone that I thought I loved, away from his family that I love so much. So, it was like, you know, seeing this giant maw open up in front of you, like a giant crevasse that you know you’re just gonna go plummeting down into. It’s very frightening to break off from people you know and you love, a lifestyle that is comfortable to you, to go off with somebody you’ve only known for maybe two months. And he’s from the mainland, he hasn’t lived in Hawaii very long, he doesn’t know us as a people yet, he’s totally from Colorado. These are things that are frightening to me.

 

Kanoe Kaumeheiwa had feelings for John Miller, but was conflicted because of her six-year engagement to another man. In turn, her fiancé did not appreciate John’s sudden appearance in her life. John asked to meet with Kanoe’s fiancé at a church in Kailua, Windward Oahu, to sort out the difficult situation. John sought the advice of the church’s brand new priest, and after several hours of counseling, the priest had some advice for the three of them.

 

JOHN: He came up with the solution and he said: Okay; I want you to not see either one of these guys for a month, and I want you to go and date. I want you to go out there and date as many people, and as many dates as you can, and all different kinds of people.

 

KANOE: And I want you know, that’s hard for me, ‘cause I’m not a dater. You know, I’m really a one guy kinda woman. And I don’t like to date, and I feel very uncomfortable. But I did it. And he also told me: I want you to go on Kailua Beach, and I want you to take these long walks, and I want you to spend a lot of time by yourself, and I want you to think about things. So, I followed his advice. And one of the things I realized is—oh, and the priest also said: I’ve asked both your suitors to stay away from you, and give you space and give you time. And I said: Okay. So, I did; I spent one month totally by myself. Ooh; I lost a lot of weight, ‘cause I was very stressed. Oh, I looked great. One of the things I noticed is that he was honorable, and he stayed away. And my fiancé did not. And I did date for a month, other people. And when that month was over, ring-ring-ring-ring-ring; called him up.

 

And said?

 

KANOE: And said: Let’s get together.

 

So, you were clear.

 

KANOE: I was clear.

 

You were clear at that point.

 

KANOE: And I had to say to my fiancé, it’s finished, and I had to break it off.

 

A year later, in 1979, still facing skepticism and opposition from family and friends about their relationship, John Miller married Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa. Kanoe said that in the early days of their relationship, only one friend and one coworker supported their decision. Without wavering, the couple set out on their dream honeymoon across the U.S. continent, visiting more than thirty states.

 

JOHN: We were both gonna take three months off, and drive around the United States. And I had an old Corvette, and so we decided, let’s do this Route 66 thing.

 

KANOE: Well, we grew up watching Route 66; yeah? In the 60s. And for the two of us, we found out that was like our dream life, to be vagabonds, to be in this open convertible, to travel untraveled roads, or highways or paths that had never been taken. If you look on the map of the United States, it’s all these main highways and other main roads. But then, there’s these blue highways. The blue highways are the path that nobody takes; it’s the ones that go through the back areas. We were quite interested in taking those roads. And that’s what we did for three months.

 

JOHN: So, we planned that. And the wedding came, we took care of all that. And then I shipped my car over to the mainland, and then we headed out.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

Life was good, and the marriage seemed ideal. So much so, that friends would often call them Miss Hawai‘i and Captain Aloha. But life has a way of not going according to plan, and the couple confronted a series of major financial and personal challenges, including the 2008 collapse of John’s employer, Aloha Airlines. However, Kanoe and John say the obstacles they faced made their relationship stronger.

 

KANOE: I thought: I’m marrying an airline pilot, life is grand, I’m going to have children. Someday, he’ll retire at age sixty. We’ll take up golf, we’ll go on cruises. Oh, this is lovely. Right? And lots of things happened along the way that didn’t happen, and we didn’t have children. Lots of things fell apart. But not us. I think one of the turning points in our life was … well, the main thing is when Aloha Airlines went down. Basically, everyone was out of a job, including him. And we had losses. We lost pensions, healthcare. Let’s just say we were living here; everything dropped. The level of our revenue stream went from here to … there. And we didn’t know what we were gonna do. All he knew was to fly; he was an airline pilot. All I was, was a hula dancer. He was about fifty-five years old; he was not at an age where airlines might want to pick him up. Mandatory retirement age at the time was sixty; he was fifty-five. I highly doubt an airline would pick him up. We were faced with who are we, and what do we want to do? And we decided that we were gonna stick together, and we were gonna put our talents together, and we were going to do a business together. And that’s what it is. And the business is that we became a digital entertainment company. And that was hard because, you know, I don’t know anything about business; he doesn’t either. We really had to teach ourselves.

 

JOHN: It’s storytelling. It’s what you do. What she does is with the compositions, the musicians, and through the art of hula. And there is such a wonderful history in Hawai‘i ever since David Kalakaua got interested in the ukulele, up until, you know, Kui Lee wrote I’ll Remember You. There’s just a huge repertoire of storytelling. And it shouldn’t be lost; it should be perpetuated and continued.

 

Lovely hula hands, telling of the rains in the valley, and the swirling winds over the pali. Lovely hula hands.

 

There’s a feeling deep in my heart, stabbing at me just like a dart. It’s a feeling heavenly.

 

KANOE: We created the DVD to preserve that kind of storytelling through hula. So, I had to choose ten of my favorite hulas to dance to from that Golden Era. I have many, but I had to focus it down to ten. So, we created the DVD. And then, the next thing we noticed is that DVD sales several years later started to drop off, and people now wanted downloadable things. Okay?

 

So you have to learn that.

 

KANOE: So, we have to learn that. And that’s where he taught himself, and he also went to all the outreach classes, the Pacific New Media classes at the University of Hawai‘i. He taught himself websites, and he taught himself how to write an app.

 

So, you had to learn about yourselves individually, and then what you could deal with as a couple.

 

KANOE: Yes. We both wear different hats. Sometimes, he wears the creative hat, where he’s doing layouts and editing. And sometimes, I wear the bean-counter hat. You know, I do all the accounting and the bookkeeping. And then, sometimes, we switch; he becomes the CFO, where he thinks about the large picture of our finances and which way we’re going, and I do the creative, which is choreographing dances or writing articles for our magazine. So, we switch all the time. You’re asking: What are the challenges there? To communicate. Constantly. And to share roles, and to, I think, respect what each person brings to the table. That, I think. We don’t do anything, unless we pass it by each other. Emails where we must answer somebody, a business question; we both discuss it first at length, and then he usually composes the email, and then I have to approve it. So, everything we do is done with complete communication.

 

Any tips for people who are about to set off into the unknown land of marriage?

 

KANOE: You’ve gotta really count to ten before you speak.

 

JOHN: If you’re mad at each other.

 

KANOE: If you’re mad at each other. I didn’t do that so much when we first got married. I’ve learned to do that. You know, just take a deep breath and count to ten, leave the room. You want to say something, but you don’t. You just don’t say it. Wait. And it’ll calm down, and then it’ll go away. Respect the person. Very important.

 

JOHN: That’s the most important thing.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: Even if you’re mad, and the person is doing something you don’t like, you still need to back off and remember who it is that you fell in love with.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: And that that’s still there, that person is still there. And that’s more important than you winning your argument.

 

KANOE: Uh-huh.

 

Do you still think of each other the way you used to when you were courting?

 

JOHN: I like more things about her now than I did when I fell in love with her. When you find out that someone also has determination and courage, and stick-to-itiveness, and a bunch of other characteristics that you really weren’t thinking about when you’re like, going on your first couple dates, it’s just a bonus.

 

KANOE: When we have gone through the hard times, which we certainly have, to see his gumption, his positive thinking, his optimism, his drive, is something I really like. Which I didn’t know he had that.

 

As I speak in early 2018, you can still see Kanoe Miller grace the outdoor stage twice a week at Halekulani’s House Without A Key. And Kanoe and John Miller, who have always defied the naysayers, have expanded the reach of their live hula productions with performances in Japan. With digital storytelling, they continue to share the charm and beauty of old Waikiki and Hawai‘i with the world. Mahalo to this dynamic and committed couple, Kanoe and John Miller of Kāne‘ohe, Oahu. And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i. 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.

 

JOHN: When you are confronted with the naysayers or the negative personalities, or people who say you can’t do that, I think that gives us the strength to show them.

 

It’s inspiration.

 

KANOE: It’s inspiration.

 

JOHN: It’s inspiration, you know. You can get beaten down by naysayers, or you can become more strong. And I think that’s all the way through our lives together.

 

 

A Concern About Hawaiians Leaving Hawai‘i

 

CEO Message

A Concern About Hawaiians Leaving Hawai‘i
Left image: Community Advisor Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, left. Right image: Community Advisory Chair Karen Knudsen with fellow member Les Murashige

Left image: Community Advisor Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, left. Right image: Community Advisory Chair Karen Knudsen with fellow member Les Murashige

Community Advisors pictured, from left: Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui (Hawai‘i Island), Les Murashige, Dennis Bunda, Kainoa Horcajo (Maui), Marissa Sandblom (Kaua‘i) and Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni. Not pictured: Chuck Boller, Lei Kihoi (Hawai‘i Island) and Corrina Moefu.

Community Advisors pictured, from left: Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui (Hawai‘i Island), Les Murashige, Dennis Bunda, Kainoa Horcajo (Maui), Marissa Sandblom (Kaua‘i) and Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni. Not pictured: Chuck Boller, Lei Kihoi (Hawai‘i Island) and Corrina Moefu.


Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOBesides our statewide, governing Board of Directors, PBS Hawai‘i has a Community Advisory Board, with all of Hawai‘i’s counties represented, to give us feedback about programming and other community engagement.

 

At a recent meeting, these Community Advisors shared thoughts about the central question of our April 19 KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall: “How do we keep Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i? One theme of the discussion was concern about Native Hawaiians choosing to move out of state.

 

Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni of Honolulu says there are research initiatives to measure the current outflow of Native Hawaiians. “That’s our host culture,” she noted.

 

Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui of North Hawai‘i Island mentioned that community changes are affecting a school which uses a curriculum based on the Hawaiian culture. This curriculum is deemed less relevant to the needs of new students.

 

Maui’s Kainoa Horcajo said that newcomers and visitors are using social media to confer new names on treasured places, resulting in a “homogenization” of Hawai‘i.

 

All of the advisors counseled PBS Hawai‘i staff not to worry if the Town Hall turns dour. They pointed out that change is inevitable, and mindfulness is a positive first step if we want to keep Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i.

 

More to come on this subject…Aloha nui,

 

Leslie signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Rita Palafox

 

Rita Palafox left her sheltered plantation upbringing on Maui to join the Army straight after high school, and serve her country in the Vietnam War. Her 20-year career took her places beyond Hawai‘i – to Guam to recruit, and to the Deep American South, in the heart of Klan country.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 22, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Rita Palafox Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Today, you have women climbing telephone poles, repairing lines, jumping out of aircraft if they want to go airborne, and infantry. So, the doors are wide open now, because we’re integrated. But back when I first joined, jobs were limited, and to get promoted, you had to compete with the men.

 

Rita Palafox joined the Women’s Army Corps at a time when there were very few opportunities for women, whether it was in the Army, or on Maui, where she grew up. She left her plantation community to provide for herself, and became witness to one of the most transformative eras in modern American history. Rita Palafox, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Rita Margarita Palafox served in the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, for twenty years, retiring at the rank of Master Sergeant in 1976. Her military career spanned a time of profound change in America, from her encounter with segregation in the 1950s to working as an Army recruiter at the height of protests against the Vietnam War. Growing up in a small plantation community on the north side of Maui in the 40s and 50s did not prepare her for the culture shock she would later experience, but it did teach her important survival skills.

 

I was born in Spreckelsville on Maui, 1937. Community living was wonderful. I had so many aunties and uncles, as everybody kinda was like one family. We shared problems, went to school together, some from grade school to high school. The thing that I did not appreciate as a youngster was the outside toilet facilities. Hated that. But we learned to cope and live with it. Everybody, I would consider, whether you were Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, the living was hard. The women, some worked in the cane field to help to provide food for family. My father was fortunate to work in the plantation store, but he had a hard job. He had to go to each camp, and there was ten of ‘em, to take orders from the families, and then take it back to the store, and fill those orders, and deliver it again the next day. I was about four or five years old when I used to go with him. He was my babysitter, being the youngest in the family. So, I watched him do this and said: Whoa, what a hard job. But then, Mama-san and Papa-san, and my aunties and all my uncles used to see me in the car and bring things for me, so I kinda benefited from this wonderful trip. But I learned how hard living was. If people didn’t, you know, unite together to survive, it was hard living.

 

He was the plantation store manager, which I don’t think a lot of Filipino guys did in plantation days; right?

 

M-hm. He also loved music. He could go to the store and buy a Glenn Miller, let’s say, one of his favorite songs, and he could write notes for every instrument. And I told him: How did you learn all this? He said: It was a gift. And he started putting together a band. ‘Til this day, he never told us how he managed to get them all dressed in Navy uniform. They rented it, but I don’t think it was ever returned.

 

They used to call it the Old Filipino Glenn Miller Band. It bothered my mom, because she needed his help sometimes, but she knew he loved his music.

 

Your mother was a Vares.

 

Yes.

 

Portuguese stock.

 

Yes.

 

And then, your dad, a Palafox; Filipino.

 

Yes.

 

And tell me about how those ethnic groups affected your upbringing.

 

Well, to be honest with you, you know, our camps, we had Filipino Camps, Japanese Camps.

 

Portuguese Camps.

 

Portuguese Camp, Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian. And the camp we lived in, we always get picked by the other kids, because it’s supposed to be the worst; outside bathrooms, the facilities weren’t as good as the ones in the other camp. They had indoor toilet facilities, little things like that.

 

So, people teased you for having the junkest facilities.

 

Yeah; and you know, like with the low class and stuff like that.

 

Because which camp were you in?

 

I was in Camp 1; they used to call that the …

 

Filipino Camp?

 

Filipino Camp. But you know, later on, as they ran out of home facilities for the other race, like the Japanese, they kind of brought them into our camp, which was good. You know, so we had a mixed plate after a while. But anyway, it was hard. Being Filipino, I’m going be very honest with you, they used to call us book-books.

 

It’s usually the newer immigrant group that gets picked on; right? And Filipinos were newer.

 

Yes. I went to Maui High School, and I always used to tell my brother: We’re only going to school to eat lunch. We were that motivated in the sense that, you know, I love history and I love science. So, those are the two subjects I made sure I paid strict—I was not what you would consider a college-bound student at that time.

 

Just weren’t interested?

 

Just weren’t interested, and knowing my parents could not afford it, anyway. You know. But they did save a lot for the two oldest. They did very well in school. In fact, all three of them went to Catholic school. They pulled them out of the public school, because they were complaining that the teachers were not fair. You know, they favored certain groups.

 

Ethnic groups?

 

Yes.

 

Which ethnic groups?

 

Japanese.

 

In public schools.

 

In public schools. My brother would say: I raise my hand, I had the answer, they called the next person, you know, the other person. So, my mom and dad talked, and says: About time we sacrifice, and pull our kids out of public school and send them to Holy Rosary Catholic.

 

But not you.

 

I lucked out, because, I said I didn’t want to go to a Portuguese school. No; it was a joke in the family.

 

Because Catholic schools are—

 

Most of the Portuguese—

 

Many Catholics are Portuguese.

 

Right. And I said: I went to school with all my friends from the camp, and I want to stay with them. My father said: No, you’re going. I said: No, I’m not. So, I won. I said: Dad, save your money; I’m barely making it through grade school, I can save you a lot of money, Dad.

 

So interesting that you weren’t a motivated student.

 

You know, my friends used say, I’m gonna be a beautician, I’m gonna be this, I’m gonna work in the bank, I’m gonna be a nurse. The only thing that really got my interest was the military, because my father was in the National Guard. He spent twenty-six years there. He was a wonderful sharpshooter.

 

Expert rifleman?

 

Yeah; expert. And he had his own rifle team, and they used to compete with all the other island National Guardsmen and Reserve. And they did pretty good. When I became a sophomore, I start thinking: Hey, you know, you better start thinking what you’re gonna do, ‘cause time is going fast. So, I thought about the military.

 

And what was there for women at that time?

 

Very little; the jobs were scarce. But you know, what motivated me is that they had some technical fields that I had been interested in. And definitely, they had the GI Bill, which is a college degree. So, if I could progress myself and find myself, hopefully in the military as a starter, maybe there’s a possibility I can, you know, find myself.

 

After graduating from Maui High School, Rita Palafox went right into the service, volunteering for the Women’s Army Corps. She was sent to Alabama for basic training, and on the journey there, had her first encounter with segregation.

 

We knew there were some racial problems, but we didn’t know how severe it was until we went by train, and our first stop was Texas. And we had stopover there, and that’s the first time we were exposed by the word Whites Only Bathroom, Colored or Black Bathroom Only. So, you know, we figured with our group, we had eight of us. We had some Filipino gals, a Hawaiian gal, and looking at me, mixed plate, dark, my tan. Well, we were confused and scared. For me, I have to use the word culture shock. It took a while for me to look at that and say: My god, we just raised our right hand and swear under oath that we will support and defend this wonderful country of ours, and this is the best they can do for us?

 

What year was that?

 

This was 1955.

 

And you had to choose what bathroom to go to?

 

Yeah.

 

White, or non-White?

 

Right in Texas. And so, we decided to flip a coin.

 

And we ended up going into the Black side of the house. And they were just as shocked as we were, because, whoa, here’s a group of—some of ‘em thought we were White trash trying to make trouble. So, we told them we were from Hawaiʻi. The minute we said that, boy, the whole world stopped. This one gal held the door open and says: I’ll hold the door. Because you had to pay a dime to use the bathroom. It was not free. So, we apologized; it was sad. And later on, we just told them, I wonder why they don’t have one for beige.

 

Everybody had a laugh about that. What about riding the bus? Anything happen on that score?

 

Yes. Our first pass, which we worked so hard for to go downtown and shop, and hopefully go to a Chinese restaurant and have some hopefully good Chinese food. Well, I was the last to board the bus. And I know there was a little bit confusion, ‘cause I could sit on … our group that went on the bus. I mean, like …

 

Where were they sitting? The ones who already got on the bus; where were they sitting?

 

Well, I don’t know what the bus driver really told them until I thought I heard: Back of the bus. So, my five senses went twenty-four/seven like, bing-bing, the vision got sharper, the hearing. I said to myself: Oh, my god, not on the bus. So, by the time I got to my turn to pay, I looked at the bus driver and I said: Did you say the back of the bus? He said, Well, yeah. Kinda he was just as stunned seeing all this. So, I said: You know, sir, in Hawaiʻi, we fight for the back seat.

 

And that’s so true.

 

And over here, we can go and, we can go to—

 

Now it’s reserved for you.

 

And he said: Hawaiʻi? He served with some folks from Hawaiʻi, and he apologized in the sense he said: You tell them sit anywhere they want. But they were already sitting down by the time I got there. So, I went to the back, and asked this nice gal in the back; I said: Do you mind if I sit with you? She says: Oh, no. So, I sat down. She said: What happened? And I told her. She just touched my hand and said: Thank you.

 

She was a Black woman?

 

Yes. So, I asked permission to sit back there. And I think I did tell her: I wish they had one for beige. And I said this was our first pass, and what a way to go. So, there was a lot of bumps in the road.

 

What a disconnect, after swearing patriotically.

 

Yes; that’s what hurt the most. Right. And how proud my father was when he arrived here. You know. And to be greeted like this, I’m saying: My god, this can’t be America, the land of the free.

 

So, you volunteered for the Women’s Army Corps.

 

Correct.

 

Which many people now don’t really maybe recall that there was a separate division for women, and it was separate, and not equal, because pay, power, very different in the Women’s Army Corps.

 

And you had to compete. When promotions come in, you then have to compete with the guys.

 

Tell me; were there jobs that were earmarked for women, and others for men, or were you competing for the same slots?

 

Well, when I joined, I would say we were lucky as women if we had thirty jobs available.

 

For women?

 

For women. The rest was open for the men. I lucked out, because I got on-the-job training. I guess my typing skills was so good they said: Don’t spend money on her, just send her on to her next assignment as a clerk typist. I knew pretty much what I was getting into. We had a wonderful recruiter. I mean, she let us pretty much know what was going on. Not too much with the problems with segregation and all that good stuff. She touched off a little bit, but not enough. We only took the minimum two-year service to find ourself, for me. And if I could not, you know, in two years realize, you know, what I should do, then I was in trouble. I mean, it was an opportunity, you know.

 

So, in two years, did you find yourself?

 

I sure did. We had a bulletin go out in every WAC detachment, and I used to check that bulletin board like a hawk eye. And when I was stationed in Oakland, my first assignment army terminal, I saw on the board, Okinawa. I said: Oh, wow. But I knew I didn’t have enough service time. You needed a year, unless you waiver your time. So, I only came in for two; I had to have three years. So, I went right to the first sergeant and asked what paperwork I needed to waiver and take that extra year. And she said: Oh, I don’t know, you still, you know, should stay a little longer, Rita. You know. And I said: No, I want to go. So, I lucked out and got Okinawa. So, when I got there, my first sergeant was Charles Los Banos. And that name is for me, legendary. So, I said: Wow. He was very strict with me. He said: Don’t you make trouble or bring shame to us, you know. He just wanted me to make sure, you know, watch what I do. And he was very protective. I told him: Jesus Christ, I left Hawaiʻi to get away from my father, and look at you.

 

So, was he talking about dating?

 

Dating, and be careful because uh, you know, we were young. He used to take me home, and met the family, and pretty much felt very adopted by this wonderful family. What a wonderful soldier, professional. So, I consider him a mentor. So, through his wonderful guidance, he kinda instilled me. I think I pretty much found myself, and I thank him, because I believe in mentors. I think this is why I can honestly sit here and tell you if it wasn’t for all these wonderful people who cared, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today.

 

Did you have a significant other?

 

No. No; at the time when I joined the Women’s Army Corps, once you got married, you had to get out. So, you know, we are—

 

You were marrying the Army.

 

We were married to the Army until the law changed. And it didn’t change until we integrated.

 

Which was when?

 

I would say between ’75, ’76; maybe after that.

 

After her two-year assignment in Okinawa ended, Rita Palafox reenlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. She was next stationed at Fort Ord, California before heading to Fort Lawton, Washington, where she was one of twelve women picked to be a senior missile tracker. Her second three-year term of service was almost over, when yet a new opportunity opened up.

 

Doris Caldwell; she was a young captain at that time. She knew I was thinking about getting out of the service, you know, when I was there in Seattle. So, she kinda sneaky through or politely knew the director of the Women’s Army Corps was coming, and she said: Rita, if you had one job that you’d like, which job would you take in the Army? I said: Recruiting. Knowing the chances of me getting army recruiting in Hawaii was … forget it.

 

Why would you want to recruit? ‘Cause this was during the Vietnam era.

 

Yes.

 

And you know, it was a hard sell in Hawaiʻi, in many cases.

 

Reason; you know, like I said, as you progress through your journeys, you grow up a little bit, you start finding yourself, and you said: Wow, I wonder what I’d be like if, you know, I could share my journey with the people that I really have high respect for, you know, or local kids. I mean, for me, I mean, there’s quality here. I mean, the family, the tradition of the Nisei or the Japanese, the 442nd. I mean, history is here. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t get recruiting.

 

The Vietnam War, of course, became a very unpopular war. Was it unpopular at the time you were recruiting?

 

Pretty much. In fact, Patsy Mink and Abercrombie was doing their thing with the University of Hawaiʻi. I’m not against demonstrating; I think it’s honorable, I think that’s what we fight for, and to have our freedom of speech and stuff. But when they go cross the line, yeah, we have problems in Hawaiʻi, but not as bad as California. Burning of the flags, draft cards, walking around with packages over their head. The part that hurt me the most, our recruiting station was on Halekauwila Street next to the unemployment office. And President Johnson came to visit with Inouye to give a speech at ʻIolani Palace. I went with my commanding officer. And they were so loud and so … oh, I was so embarrassed that these folks, as the President was trying to talk, they were yelling and screaming, and doing whatever with packages over their head. I went up one of ‘em and I said: If you believe so strong against the Vietnam War, take the package off your head. I know they weren’t from Hawaiʻi. Then, you had these kids that, not to be drafted, come in and say: I want to volunteer. There’s the balance. I said: My god, here’s this one guy putting a package over his head, demonstrating against the war, probably will never serve, and here’s the kids still coming in the door saying: I want to go in the Army and volunteer.

 

How did you feel about the Vietnam War at that time?

 

Pretty much, I’m not one for wars. I did a lot of visits to cemeteries. I still have a hard time.

 

But you still volunteered, asked for the recruiting job.

 

Yes.

 

With unsettled feelings about war.

 

Wars. There’s a lot of us feel the same way, even the ones that went there. You know, and some went back for second tour, because in their heart, especially if they lose a comrade at arms, their friend, they felt: Gee, I lived, and he didn’t, I want to go back. And they knew at that time, it was not a fair situation. They did not know a lot of things that was going on, and it was troubling for them, but they went back because they lived, and their friend didn’t. One of the things when I was picked as the recruiter here in Hawaiʻi, I knew I was already in trouble. Because the recruiting station know for you to get in recruiting, you had to be a recruiter. Well, I was brand new, fresh. There were warning signs that if I don’t produce, you know, the door I came in would be open to go out, kinda thing. I saw this recruiter by the name of Joseph Hao, top recruiter in the nation. And I said to myself: Who best can train me than him? He said: You know what; lot of those schools have ROTC. The Cabral brothers was with Kamehameha School, so he knew them. He said: I’m gonna call them, and see what they can do for you. I said: I want to go to Kamehameha School. He said: Forget it; I don’t think the principal gonna let you in. I said: Well, we can try. But the Cabral brothers got me in. And I was greeted by the president; I think her name was Clark. She said: You can talk to them, but they’re all college-bound. I said: Okay, at least I have the opportunity; thank you very much. So, I wore my dress blues, I went up there. I gave my presentation. And I was shocked; after I was done, about five of ‘em came up to me, says: Can we talk to you privately? I said: I’d love to have you guys. So, they came down. The principal wasn’t too choked up. But they came down, and they went in the service. Just to make a long story short; these kids, I know they were good. If you live in a dorm, they had white glove inspection. You know, basic training would be a breeze for them. They went in there, and we got a letter from the director of the Women’s Army Corps. She got a letter from the commandant of the Women’s Army Corps in Alabama, and she said she was so proud that there was a group of young women that came in and broke every record at the training center. American Spirit Award was the top, outstanding training; every category our good old Kamehameha School did it.

 

And that didn’t keep the young women from going to college, either. In fact, they would have their college paid for if they stayed in.

 

In fact, I had feedback from one of ‘em; she thanked me. She said: You know, I saved my parents a lot of money; I got something they could not afford. She was a good student, and thanks to the Army, she got her degree.

 

Did the headmaster let you back in?

 

No problem.

 

After nine years of recruiting in Hawaiʻi, Rita Palafox was proud to be asked to establish a recruiting center on Guam. Three years later, the Guam Legislature acknowledged her for meritorious work. Rita Palafox left recruiting to become a drill sergeant back in Alabama, at the same basic training camp where she started her Army career fifteen years earlier. She had received many commendations by the time she retired in 1976. Moving home to Hawaiʻi, she spent the next twenty-one years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mahalo to Maui girl Rita Palafox, retired and living in Windward Oʻahu at the time of this conversation in 2017, for your service to our county in active duty and civilian roles over a career that saw tremendous change in America. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Don Ho was my best friend. ‘Cause every group that graduated, or day before they finished their basic training, the last song they play before bedtime was the Taps, and I used to do my walk and give them my farewell speech. And I said: I would like for you to meet my best friend. And I turn on my tape recorder, and Don Ho would come on and say: I’d like to dedicate this song to my family, or to the audience, and then he sings I Will Remember You. And as soon as he got through singing, I would say to them: Bring some aloha wherever you go, whatever you do. Show respect, love one another, and spread some aloha throughout this world; we need it.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Billie Gabriel

 

Billie Gabriel’s life was forever changed when her brother James “Kimo” Gabriel Jr. was killed in the Vietnam War. She was only 11 when he died, and the tragedy left its mark. She has dedicated much of her adult life helping to preserve the legacies of the more than 270 Hawai‘i servicemen who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 4, at 4:00 pm.

 

Billie Gabriel Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Everyone gathered around the television to watch the special about Vietnam. And then, they showed … the chopper landing. You could hear bullets flying, so the Vietcong were there. And them jumping out … tying rope on the legs of two American soldiers, and dragging them … to the helicopter. I didn’t know that was my brother, until the announcer said: We have recovered the bodies of. And at that point, my mother … it was a wail; it was a cry that you … never want to hear.

 

Her brother, James Gabriel, Jr., was the first Native Hawaiian soldier killed in action during the Vietnam War. Five decades later, she continues to honor his sacrifice. Billie Gabriel, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Billie Gabriel of Honolulu lost her older brother, James Kimo Gabriel, Jr., to the Vietnam War in 1962. Not only was her brother the first Native Hawaiian soldier to be killed in action, but also one of the first U.S. Special Forces soldiers to make the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. Four years later, Sergeant Barry Sadler released the song, The Ballad of the Green Berets. The original lyrics were written to pay tribute to James Gabriel, Jr. In 2010, Billie Gabriel used her public relations contacts and experience to spearhead the Hawai‘i Call for Photos project. She tracked down photographs of two hundred seventy-six Hawai‘i soldiers who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. The plan is to display photos from across the nation in an education center to be built in Washington, DC. Billie Gabriel read the letters from her late brother, hoping to gain an understanding of his views on Vietnam. What she found brought her closer to the big brother who died when she was just eleven years old.

 

Yes. My mother is pure Hawaiian, and my father is half Hawaiian and half Filipino. So, yes, there’s a lot of kanaka in us. There is; there is. And there were nine of us. And my father was … quite the disciplinarian, very old school. It was his way, or his way.

 

Was he affectionate?

 

He was not. My father was not; he was very stern, hard worker, a perfectionist, and he expected the same out of his children. My father was a voracious reader. He would make me read the dictionary with him. That’s what I had to do; read the dictionary. And every week, I had to randomly choose a word, and I was told that I needed to use that word in conversation with him for the entire week. And my mother, on the other hand; she was a very humble, giving, loving, local girl from Waialua. When she was going to the eighth grade, my tutu pulled her out of school and told her: From now on, your classroom will be our lo‘i, the ocean, and my kitchen.

 

Wow …

 

So, she never went past eighth grade. That became her schooling, and she may not have, like my father, been a voracious reader, or loved words, but her family and her home; that was her life. So, she was the balance in in our home. She filled that part that gave us the softness.

 

Nine kids; that must have been a hard household to support.

 

It was.   And you know, and I grew up in Palama. Proud to say that I’m a product of Mayor Wright Housing. And when I tell people that, either it raises an eyebrow, or they laugh because they can’t imagine; You grew up in the projects? You know. And I thought, Well, back in the 50s, Mayor Wright Housing was not what it—you know, back then, families, they manicured their lawns, they watched the other kids. If you did something wrong, you know, Auntie would come pull your ear and take you home, and then you would get double spankings, you know, for doing something wrong.

 

And your father was working?

 

He was working. My father was with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and he managed all of their engagements, and their travel, and everything. My mother was a homemaker, stay-at-home mom. And she was there for the family. We always, you know, came home; there was always something on the stove. We never knew that we were low-income.

 

Because you felt like you had enough?

 

We had enough, and we were happy.

 

I think you’ve said that your mother … she never yelled, and she never complained. And I find that so hard to believe, having been a mother myself.

 

Me, as well. She never raised her voice. She never did.

 

With nine kids?

 

With nine kids. She didn’t. Because my father ruled with an iron fist.

 

Now, I think you were seven among the nine children.

 

I was the seventh; yes.

 

And what was your brother, Kimo?

 

He was the first. So, there’s a thirteen-year difference between Kimo and myself. So, really, the only thing I remember is … he was the brother who taught me how to spit-shine my shoes. So, whenever I, you know, do that, I think about him. But, you know, he was always in his ROTC uniform. Just looked immaculate. I remember him being happy-go-lucky, always having his ukulele, and singing a lot, joking. Always hugging my mother. Always; Hi, sweetheart. You know, just very loving.

 

But loved the JROTC program at Farrington High School.

 

Yes; yes. And I believe that that’s where, for him, a seed was planted about serving your country, was in the ROTC.

 

Did he talk about joining the military after high school?

 

He talked to my parents about that, you know, and they both said: If that’s what you want, you know, we’ll support you.

 

In 1956, James Kimo Gabriel, Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army right after graduating from Farrington High in Kalihi. He excelled in the Army, and qualified for the elite U.S. Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. In 1961, Kimo was sent to Vietnam as an advisor to train the local civilians who were recruited to serve in the South Vietnamese Army. That meant teaching those villagers to fight North Vietnam’s experienced regular army, as well as the elusive Vietcong Guerillas in the south.

 

He would write to my mother every two weeks. Because I still have her letters, and when I look at the date, every two weeks, he would write to her.

 

What did he write?

 

Well, when he was in basic training, he’d write about, you know, how the boys, the Hawaiian boys, they were just joking, playing jokes on each other, and how they missed the Hawaiian food.

 

To have succeeded in Special Forces, he must have been quite the person. I mean, that’s something most soldiers don’t want to do.

 

Yes.

 

Or aren’t able to do.

 

Aren’t able. He was very focused. So, from my father, I believe, he got those traits. Being focused, setting you mind on doing something almost to perfection. And he really did want to, my mother said, become a Special Forces soldier.

 

Your brother entered the Army before the war began. Had his feelings about the war, about his service changed over that time, I wonder?

 

Once he got to Vietnam?

 

M-hm.

 

I could see the transition in his letters. The earlier letters would talk about, We’re here training, I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I know we’re preparing for something big. But even he didn’t quite know. So, he would talk about things that they were doing. He’d also talk about the jungle, the conditions in the jungle, or the weather, how bad it was there, and that there were these giant ants, and … leeches. And local boys, we don’t know what leeches are; we see slugs on the ground, but you don’t see leeches. And so, he would say, these leeches would attach themselves on you, and they would expand.

 

With blood.

 

Yes, as they suck out your blood. And you can’t hit them off, because you’re in the jungle, and you don’t want the Vietcong to hear you, to see you, any kind of movement. And the last few letters were really about not just the conditions, but … I remember one in particular where he told my mother; he said: When I’m in a quiet place, I ask myself, What am I doing in this hell hole? These people don’t want us here. Sometimes, I wish could trade places and be home; and he says, But then again, I realize I need to be here. Better me than my brothers or others; I’m here to fight for all of you.

 

Close to the time he died, he sent something. He enclosed something in a letter to your mother.

 

M-hm. He enclosed the Green Beret Creed. So, I read the creed. And it’s almost like he knew, or he was preparing himself. He knew that, I may not get out of this.

 

And in the creed, I believe it says, you know, Even if I’m the last, I’ll keep fighting ‘til the end.

 

Yes; yes.

 

That’s my profession, and I’m a consummate professional.

 

Yes; exactly.

 

It probably took you a while to find out what did happen to him in Vietnam.

 

M-hm; m-hm.

 

Are you able to tell that story?

 

Times had a magazine article that was written in 1962, and the title of it is, We Are Overrun. And in that, they chronicle what had happened. But what I read then, and what I just learned about a month ago; two different stories.

 

Okay; tell us the difference.

 

Well, the first story that I’ve been led to believe for … forty years has been that there were four Special Forces that were advisors. And they were among the first Special Forces sent there. And the advisors go there to train the villagers how to fight.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, he was in a platoon of four. And what I read was that their camp was overrun, and that my brother and Sergeant Marchand were the only two who were injured, and that the other two Special Forces soldiers were forced to carry them into the jungle, so that the U.S. troops weren’t gonna come back there and find Vietcong. I was led to believe that they carried them into the jungle, and … they were too heavy, they were slowing them down, so they were told to just leave my brother and Marchand there, and the Vietcong executed them. Tied both their hands behind their backs with their tee-shirts, and shot them in the back of the head. That’s what I have led to believe all these years. And just recently learned that two of the four Special Forces, they were down at the river. So, they had left the camp, went down to the river.

 

This was before the fighting began?

 

Before the fighting began.

 

Okay.

 

They went down to the river to bathe. So, that left Marchand and my brother there, and they heard the sound of these bells, like bamboo bells. So, they sent up flares to see if they could see who was out there in the jungle. They were just ambushed at that time, while the other two were still down the river. So, that left two men fighting about fifty Vietcong guerillas who were coming in. But the signal came from someone in the camp, that these four Special Forces were training. So, what I’ve learned is, they plant villagers in the camp to serve as spies, and they relayed to the Vietcong: Here’s where we are positioned here, we’re gonna be moving here, now’s the time to attack. I had never known that there were only two in that camp when they were killed. Now, I understand why my brother’s last words were: We have run out of ammunition, we’re being overrun. So, they said that he was changing clips. He had already been shot twice; changing clips, shooting, on the phone calling for backup.

 

What do you remember about the day you heard?

 

You know, it is almost like yesterday, when I think about it, and I share the story with people. I was eleven, and this was in 1962. My mother and I, we were in the garage doing chores. She was hanging clothes, and I was, you know, outside doing my chores. And this black bird, this Alala flew into our garage, and just fluttered up in the garage, on the ceiling. And I looked at it, my mother looked at it, and it looked like she was in distress. And my mother told me: ‘A‘ole ho‘opa ‘e manu. Don’t touch the bird. So, I ran in the house, and came out with a bowl of water. When I came out, my mother was sitting on the ground with the bird in her lap. And she was stroking the bird, and the bird died in her lap. And she looked at me and she said: Tomorrow, we will have visitors. I had no idea how connected she was to our ‘aumakua, ho‘ailona. Even I was not exposed to that, at that age yet.

 

So, she knew at that point.

 

She knew, at that point. She felt that this was my brother coming to her to say goodbye. So, the next day, I was at school, and my brother and I were pulled out of class, and told we needed to go home. So, when we got home, parked in front of our home was an unfamiliar car. So, I thought: They must be the visitors my mom talked about.

 

Because she didn’t explain further at that time.

 

Did not.

 

Okay.

 

Did not. So, from there, the ‘Alalā was the ho‘ailona to prepare her.

 

And what does hoailona mean?

 

Ho‘ailona is a sign; it’s a sign. Hawaiian culture, we believe that our ‘aumakua, our spirits, come in different forms, our ancestors. It could be a good sign, it could just be an omen of something to come. So, I knew that she felt that the ‘Alalā was her visitor carrying a message. But I didn’t expect that they came to tell her that he had been killed. I thought maybe to say that he was coming home, or something. And when I walked in, and my mother was just … crying.

 

Did your dad cry?

 

You know, that really is one of the only times I did see my father cry.

 

James Kimo Gabriel, Jr. was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor, and a Purple Heart. At the time of his death, Kimo’s wife, who was living in Okinawa, was expecting their first child. Later, the Gabriel family would welcome her to Hawai‘i, along with James Gabriel, III, the son Kimo never saw. In 1963, Kimo’s remains were recovered from Vietnam, and he was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

 

And his wife, who is Japanese …

 

Japan national?

 

Japan national. Well, he met her in Okinawa. And so, when he passed, she was six months pregnant.

 

Mm …

 

So, she came here. And to prepare for her coming here, my father taught himself to speak Japanese; to prepare for her. Because he wanted to make sure that she was gonna be comfortable coming here.

 

Your father did that?

 

Yes. Fast forward thirty-two years later to 1994, and the memorial that’s down at the State Capitol, Korean-Vietnam Memorial. There was a dedication ceremony, and I was asked to be on the planning committee to represent the families. For the dedication itself, they asked: Would your mother come and lay the wreath to represent all the families? And I said: Absolutely, I’m sure she would. So, I brought my mother. And General Cockett was standing on my left, General Richardson on my right; both Hawaiian generals, very proud that she was standing there with the wreath. So, the Taps played. Then, they did the flyover, the Missing Man formation. So, the three jets, and one flies off.

 

M-hm.

 

So, we were watching that. And as that jet flew off, a black bird flew in its place. And my mother looked at me, but this time with a smile, and she said: Kimo’s here, your brother is here.

 

Billie Gabriel says the hoailona of the black bird also appeared at the dedication ceremony to honor her brother at the Gabriel Memorial Field at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 2010. Also in 2010, Billie Gabriel would become part of the photo project that would make her feel closer to her late brother.

 

Call for Photos is part of a national project that was being launched in Washington, DC. And the gentleman who founded the Vietnam Wall, Jan Scruggs, felt that he wanted to put a face to every name; fifty-eight thousand plus names engraved on the wall. He wanted to put a face and a picture because they were building an education center in Washington. And this education center would be for future generations to learn about the various wars that the United States has been involved. One room would be dedicated to Vietnam, and it would be called The Wall of Faces.

 

How many faces would there be?

 

Fifty-eight thousand, plus. So, Jan’s vision was to put the face and a story to every name.

 

Billie Gabriel spent much of her professional career as a fundraiser who coordinated and publicized events such as the Kapi‘olani Children’s Miracle Network Telethon and the Easter Seals Taste of Honolulu fundraiser. In 2010, she answered the call to spearhead what she considers the most important project of her life: tracking down the photos of two hundred seventy-six Hawaii soldiers who never came home from the Vietnam War. Completing the Hawaii Call for Photos project would take several years.

 

I decided, okay, here’s where the PR skills come in, here’s my networking with friends. So, I contacted the various stations, and Honolulu Star Advertiser. And I went to see the president then, Dennis Francis. And he’s one of those who was accustomed to me knocking on the door for money, and he says: Okay, Gabriel, what do you need this time? And I said: Something very simple. And I put the list on his desk. And he says: Well, what is this? I said: Here’s a list of two hundred and seventy-six men who were killed in Vietnam, they were all from Hawaii, I need to find their pictures. He said: Okay, so what is it that you want me to do? I said: I’d like you to publish their names in paper and state that I am searching for their photos, and if you have a photo to contact me. And I’d like a full-page ad. So, he said: This is about your brother. And I said: You know it’s not just about my brother; he’s one of the two hundred and seventy-six. It’s about all the families and all of these young men, and it’s a project that we need to make sure that we put a face to every name that’s engraved on the wall in Washington.

 

So, you ended up speaking with many of these family members.

 

I did; I did.

 

I can’t imagine the emotion involved in those calls.

 

Heart-wrenching. Yes; yes. One man called me, and just berated me for five minutes on the phone. How dare you, how dare you publish these names of all our men who died in Vietnam, in a stupid war. And then, he said: My nephew was nineteen when he enlisted. So, I thought: Okay, this is a family member, I can understand now why he’s so emotional. And he says: That boy, poho his life; he’s going over there to fight for people he doesn’t even know. Why? So, I told him: Uncle, I know how you feel, because my brother also died in the war, he was the first Hawaiian boy. And his voice changed, and he says: Oh, you local girl? And I said: Yes, I’m from here. And he says: Oh, I saw the article in the paper, I thought I was calling somebody in Washington, DC. I said: Oh, no, no; this project is for here, and I’m trying to find all the pictures so that we can honor them. So, he did send; subsequently, he did send a picture in. But that’s when I understood that this project was bigger than just finding the pictures. I became an ‘umeke, a bowl for many of these families to pour their emotions into. We cried together, we laughed together, you know, and we talked about our respective loved ones. But collectively, we knew that we had to stand by the fact that no matter which side of the fence you stood about the war, how you felt about it, we were here to see that our loved one would be honored for their courage, for the sacrifice they made, and that they would never be forgotten. That was our bond; our bond.

 

And you could come together over that.

 

We could come together on that; yes. They soon became family to me. Some of them called and said: I just want to meet you, just to hug you, to say thank you. But it just allowed so many people to have a voice, and to finally say what they’ve been wanting to say for fifty years.

 

Through the efforts of Billie Gabriel and many others who lost loved ones to the Vietnam War, Hawaii became the eighth state to locate all of the photos for its section of the Call for Photos project. Billie says she’ll continue to honor the memory of her brother, James Kimo Gabriel, Jr., and all the soldiers who are casualties of the Vietnam War. She’s working on new memorial projects with Hawaii high schools. Mahalo to Billie Gabriel of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I was invited to go to Washington, DC for Memorial Day to represent the State in laying the wreath. My mother told me: Whenever you’re on sacred ground, to remove your shoes. Then, President Obama, I had a chance to meet. And he says: I know who you are. He says: As soon as I saw you standing there with bare feet, I knew you were a local girl. And he just started laughing.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Alberta de Jetley

 

Alberta de Jetley’s life has been a winding path, taking her through the island chain. She was born on Moloka‘i, raised on Lana‘i and spent her married life in Hana, Maui. She eventually returned to Lana‘i after the death of her husband, Tony de Jetley. A journalist since 1985, she has served as publisher, editor, photographer and advertising salesperson of her own newspaper, Lanai Today, for the past nine years.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 27, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 31, at 4:00 pm.

 

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Transcript

 

We had horses, we had dogs, we had a whole island right in our backyard to explore. So, the first thing I did is, when I was about seven years old, our neighbor who was one of the last cowboys from the ranch, my Uncle Ernest Richardson, he taught me how to ride. And from then on, I never walked.

 

Alberta de Jetley grew up during the Territorial days of Hawaii. She’s lived almost all of her life in rural and, some might say, idyllic places in the islands. Horseback rider, hotelier, writer, and community newspaper publisher, Alberta de Jetley, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Alberta Sophia Morita de Jetley loves open space, fresh air, and life in small communities. She’s lived on Molokai, Lanai, and in Hana, Maui. She’s the publisher and editor of Lanai Today, a community newspaper she founded in 2008. Alberta de Jetley was born in Kaunakakai, Molokai. At age six, she started school on Lanai, graduating from high school in 1963. Some may think there isn’t much to do on a small island, but she found plenty to do growing up.

 

When I was six years old, my family moved to the Island of Lanai, where my dad became the island’s game warden during the Territorial days.

 

He’s a Morita.

 

He’s the Morita side. His father raised hogs in Kalihi, and my grandmother was actually one of the Japanese brides that came over. When she came over to Hawai‘i, she was sent to someone on the Island of Kauai, and lived there, and had one child with them, my Uncle Harry. Unfortunately, he died, so she came back to Oahu, and she married my grandfather.

 

How did she find him?

 

He was a marriage broker. The story I heard was, my grandfather didn’t want to spend the money to send her back to Japan, because there wasn’t really anything for her to go back to. So, he decided to save the money and married her, himself.

 

So, that’s the Japanese side.

 

Yes. And then, on my mother’s side of the family, my grandmother is pure-blooded Hawaiian. And she married my grandfather, who was pure German. And my grandfather had been previously married, and I don’t know what the circumstances were, but he was no longer married to whoever he had been married. And the story I heard was that—and my grandmother told me this, that he wanted a housekeeper, and one his friends said, Oh, just marry, you know, Grace, because she’s not married, and then you don’t have to pay her.

 

Did you learn Japanese and Hawaiian?

 

No. We came from that period of time, unfortunately, when it wasn’t politically correct or socially acceptable for young Hawaiian families to speak Hawaiian to their children. So, I don’t even have a Hawaiian name. It’s always been a bone of contention for me; I wish I had a Hawaiian name. But my grandmother spoke Hawaiian to her friends whenever they met up. She never spoke Hawaiian at all to us. And on my father’s side of the family, I know my father spoke Japanese in their home, but as we were growing up, we weren’t really exposed to the Japanese side of our family, because they lived on Oahu and we were living on Lanai. So, we didn’t speak Japanese at home, either.

 

Did you make a seamless adjustment to Lanai? When you moved there, you were six years old.

 

When we first moved to Lanai, I remember that it was really, really cold. Every day, the fogs came down and covered the trees. There was fog all the way down to the ground all the time, and it was really cold. Whereas on Molokai, we lived right by the ocean. After living in the town, in Lanai City for a year, our family was moved to Koele, where the old Lanai Ranch was located. And that was a fabulous place to grow up. When I was about seven years old, our neighbor who was one of the last cowboys from the ranch, my Uncle Ernest Richardson, he taught me how to ride. And from then on, I never walked.

 

I always rode.

 

How nice that must be.

 

But I would ride anything. I could ride anything, and everything. They couldn’t keep me away from horses, and many times, it didn’t matter if it wasn’t a horse that I had permission to ride. So, I’ve been called on the carpet several times for riding other people’s horses without permission. I should have been hung.

 

Yeah; horse thief used to be a really bad thing to be.

 

Oh, yeah; I was. My nickname in those days was Alberta the Horse Killer. Or the Horse Thief, depending on who was calling me out.

 

But it sounds like you were an adventurous little girl; you were ready to get up and go.

 

I don’t know how my parents allowed us to do the things that we did. My Uncle Ernest, you know, the day before, he’d say, You fulla. He always called us, You fulla. You fulla want go, you be here four o’clock. And we would be there at four o’clock. He would come out of the house, and we would be there with our horses, waiting for him. And then, we would ride up over the hale with my Uncle Ernest. And I couldn’t have been move than like, ten, eleven years old. And Albert was seven or eight years old. And we did stuff like this all the time.

 

And meanwhile, your parents were having more children, too; right?

 

Yes.

 

Including a certain young girl who became the chair of the Public Utilities.

 

Public Utilities; yes, my sister Mina. When we moved to the Island of Lanai, my parents came with five children. And then, they had my sister Mina. Her real name is Hermina, but everybody called her Mina.

 

And she was a State legislator and the chair of the PUC.

 

So, my sister Mina was hanai’d by the Richardson family, my Uncle Ernest. And then, my sister Trudy, and then my brother Wally. So, he’s the baby of our family. So, we call them the ratoon crop.

 

Right.  Well, explain what that means.

 

It means it’s a last crop, you know, the last harvest. In the pineapple days, usually the first crop is your biggest pineapple, the second harvest is the one that most of us like, and the third crop is the last harvest before the field is plowed under. But then, they experimented, and they found that you could get a really, really sweet sugar crop; so that would be your ratoon crop. So, the last three were the sweetest.

 

So, you’re starting school on Lanai. And how was that?

 

It was difficult. I didn’t quite fit in, in any group. You know, in those days, the population was predominantly Japanese. The Filipino population was just beginning to come in. So, the main push into Lanai was 1947, 48.

 

Okay, but you were a Morita girl; what’s the problem?

 

But we were also, you know, Haole.

 

Hawaiian, Haole.

 

Hawaiian, Haole, Japanese; whatever you want to call it. In those days, they would say, Oh, you’re Cosmopolitan. And it’s okay; it’s kind of fancy to be called Cosmopolitan. But in actuality, you don’t really fit in anywhere.

 

That is so interesting. You know, I’ve heard so many local people who look local and everybody thinks, Okay, local-local. But it depends on your mix and who else is around; right?

 

Yes.

 

There are so many people who don’t feel like they fit, who would seem to.

 

Well, all the Japanese girls in my class were so studious, and they were always so polite, and they did their homework, and they, you know, did everything that was asked of them.

 

Oh, they weren’t stealing horses?

 

No.  They weren’t stealing horses, and I would cut school to go steal horses, too. And it was like it was really boring to be around them. For me, it was really boring to be around them. And then, I had some friends who were part-Hawaiian, you know, mixed, and I played with them too. But they didn’t do things like go out into the forest and build forts, or make tunnels, or you know, just go out and climb trees, and do all kinds of stuff like that. They wanted to come up and play with dolls. And playing with dolls was one of the last things I wanted to do. So, I was always around horses and dogs, and out in the forest playing. After our chores were done, we had this whole island to explore, so why would I want to sit around and visit with people who were playing with dolls. It just wasn’t gonna happen.

 

So, it was more of a temperament, personality disconnect.

 

Yes. And then, at school, I wasn’t very well-liked. I had a few favorite teachers, but I always had difficulties with my teachers because I never paid attention in school.

 

I can see how that would be a problem.

 

It would be a problem. Especially because I would have a book in my lap. The teacher would be out in front of us, and I would have a book in my lap, and my head would be down. And every now and again, I would—Oh. And I would be hiding and reading a book. Well, how do you discipline a child that’s reading a book? It’s almost impossible. You can’t say, You shouldn’t be reading. Because you want children to read. But I would build myself a tent. You know, at recess, I would build myself a tent under a table, and I would sit there and I would read the whole recess. And that was my world. If I wasn’t on a horse and out playing with my dogs, I had a book. One of the things that really made us that way was, of course, it was before television. But my Hawaiian grandmother bought us a World Book Encyclopedia as a present, as a gift. And she bought it on time payments; I think she said that she paid about five dollars a month for thirty months, or something. But my brothers and I read that encyclopedia from back to front, and back to front again. That’s how we grew up; that was our entertainment.

 

After graduating from the public high school on Lanai, Alberta de Jetley left for Oahu to attend the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Or at least, that was the plan. Didn’t last long.

 

After I got out of high school, I was supposed to come down to the University of Hawai‘i. And I had a lot of adult friends who had horses on Oahu. So, as soon as I came down to go to college, they’d call up and say, Hey, what are you doing? We’re gonna go pick up some horses at blah-blah; do you want to go down to Waimānalo, or do you want to go down to ‘Ewa, or do you want to go down with us to go get some horses? And I would be gone; they’d pick me up. So, I had a very short stay at the University.

 

What did you expect your life would be after graduation from high school and starting the University?

 

Well, I knew that I didn’t want to stay on Lanai and work in the pineapple fields. In those days, as soon as you got out of high school, you pretty much left town to go into the military, to go to college, to come down to Oahu to get a job. So, when I was asked to leave the University, I had to go and get a job. And one of the people I interviewed with was Elmer Cravalho, who was in the Hawai‘i State Legislature.

 

As the Speaker.

 

Yes; he was the Speaker.

 

Of the House.

 

And I was offered a job as one of their, you know, aides or whatever you want to call them. But we were the gofers. And I was living with my sister. And she said, You can’t work there, you need to get a real job, because the Legislature is only in session for part of the year, so you have to go and get a real job. So, I became a dental assistant for a dentist. Hated it. I learned a lot. I liked the physical part of working with patients and learning all this stuff, but it was a difficult job for me; it didn’t suit my personality. So then, I became a mail clerk at Theo H. Davies in Downtown Honolulu. And I liked that, because you know, it was a five-story building with one of those old fashioned elevators. So, I’d go up and down, and deliver mail all over the building, and that was kinda cool. But I eventually ended up working in Waikiki for a company that represented hotels and other travel-related businesses on the neighbor island. The best part about my job was walking up and down Waikiki, delivering pamphlets and talking to the people in all of the travel desks. So, I like to tell people that I was a streetwalker in Waikiki. But it was fun days, and that’s how I met my husband.

 

He was in Honolulu?

 

No; he was the general manager of the Royal Lahaina Hotel. It was one of the properties we represented, so I was sent to Maui to look at all these Maui properties, and the first person I met there was my husband.

 

British person who was twenty-two years your senior.

 

Yes.

 

And you were, what, twenty-three?

 

Even younger.

 

Even younger; okay. So … then?

 

It was very difficult. My husband was married. We had to go through the whole process of figuring out what we were doing, what in the hell were we even thinking of. Separated, and then came back together. He was married to a lady who was a citizen of New Zealand. And in those days, the only way that you could get a divorce is if your divorce papers said that you were an adulterer, which—you know, big A on top of your forehead. So, we both had to go back down to New Zealand to be served with papers. And we stayed there a year; we stayed in New Zealand for a year, and we were married in New Zealand on May 31, 1968. Later that year, we moved back to the United States, moved back to Hawai‘i. My husband was offered a job at Hotel Hana Maui, and we moved to Hana, and stayed there until he died.

 

How many years was that?

 

We moved to Hana, I think it was 1969. At Christmas, 1969, and he died on February 1, 1981.

 

And you were helping him with hospitality. I think you did two or three cocktail parties a week.

 

Yeah, that was a different era, a different world. Our guests were mainly a lot of repeat people, guests coming to the hotel. But we had this house right across the Hana Ballpark, which was huge, and we gave three cocktail parties a week. You know, my husband Tony was twenty-two years older than me. So, people couldn’t understand how this Englishman who lived across the world, who traveled and ended up in Hawai‘i, how in the world did we ever get together, because our cultures were so different. So, they were always very curious about us, and would ask questions that really weren’t polite. But they would always ask how we met. And my husband started saying, Oh, I found her under a pineapple plant.  And that would keep things quiet for a little while. But it was fun. It takes a lot of adjustment to be in a May-December type relationship, but we had a very, very loving and good relationship.

 

In some ways, you had it easy. You didn’t have to cook, you didn’t have to clean, you had help with your two boys.

 

Ah … we did not live normally, because we lived on the hotel property, and we had two children. So, the entire time we were at Hana, we had daily maid service, somebody came down and cleaned the house because of all the cocktail parties; right? So, they took care of that. They took care of the flowers. When it was time for a party, they came down and did the setup. And then, we also had nannies while the boys were young who helped to take care of them. So, when my husband died, and we had to move … well, we didn’t have to, but you know, we weren’t gonna be involved with the hotel, my son David was ten years old, my son Tony was five years old. So, we moved to Lanai, where we had to make our own beds, and where we didn’t have daily maid service.

 

And was there a job waiting for you there? How did you support yourself?

 

We did have a job. I had a big job. We had acquired the lease of Hotel Lanai. In 1980, the lease was up, so I applied for it, and we got the lease. And my sister Mina moved over to Lanai and managed the hotel. So, when Tony died, I said, Okay. Mina wanted to go back to her life on Kauai, and I said, Okay, I’ll come over and take care of the hotel myself. So, we moved over to Lanai, and it was like, Oh! We had gone through a very, very sad period in our lives, because my husband had cancer, he was very ill. My boys really needed a lot of time together with me. So, we went horseback riding, we went fishing, we went sailing. The first thing I did is, I bought us dirt bikes. And we just turned into these dirt bike fanatics; we rode all over the island. We took our bikes down onto the ocean, we just went everywhere. And it was really, really fun, but it was also a very bad time economically for the Island of Lanai. I had a five-year lease, but in 1984, I had decided that we really had to bite the bullet, sell the lease, and stop spending money. So, I sold the lease, and we moved back to Maui. We lived in Wailuku. And that’s about the period of time that I became a writer.

 

How did you get to be a writer?

 

I was selling real estate for Carol Ball and Associates in Kahului. Our office is in Kahului. And then, I later decided that I wanted to live more in Hana rather than Kahului. So, I transferred to Cathy Paxton Real Estate. And one of my clients that I was showing property to was a lady named Joan Arnold. She decided that she was gonna have her own four-color magazine, not a newspaper. So, it was called The Mauian. And she said, Do you think you could develop an article for me for the magazine? So, I said I thought I could. And she taught me all kinds of wonderful things. Her son was eighteen years old, fabulous; a genius, really. And he taught me all I know about graphics and layout, and art direction, and photo direction. And that’s how I ended up back on Lanai.

 

The company that owned most of the island, Castle and Cooke, asked Alberta de Jetley to write a newsletter for its one-company town. She accepted the offer, and after moving back yet again to Lanai, it didn’t take long until she met Castle and Cooke’s CEO, David Murdock.

 

I worked in the old Dole administration building. My office was there. So, I was working there, and the phone kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing. I answered the phone, and it was Mr. Murdock’s speechwriter. So, he wanted me to go over to the fax machine, pick up a fax that he was gonna send to Mr. Murdock so he could review the speech he was giving on Oahu. So, I said, yes, I could do that. So, I went up there and I thought, Perfect, Alberta, perfect, perfect, perfect. Because I hadn’t met him yet. I can tell him exactly what I want him to do to my island; right? I’m gonna ask him what he’s gonna do, and then I’m gonna tell him what I would like to see him do. So, I went up and I knocked on the door, and he came to the door and he looked at me, and I said, This is for you. And I gave it to him, and he took it. And I said nothing; I turned around and left. And when I left, I was so mad at myself. I was staying with my parents, and when I walked in, my mother said, Where have you been? This man keeps calling and asking you to go to see David Murdock; he’s sending you some stuff, he wants you to take it back to him. So, I went up to the office, and I went up to the house, and I knocked on the door, and Mr. Murdock came. He took the papers from me and he said, Stay; don’t leave. So, I stayed, and I heard him yelling and screaming the way he does at people on the phone. And then, he came back out to where I was waiting for him in the living room, and he said, Who are you? So, I said, Well, I’m the person who does the newsletter, blah-blah, you know, and my name is Alberta de Jetley, and I’ve been working for you for the last few months. So, after I got through telling him who I was, he said, Well, let’s go to dinner. So, we went down to the Hotel Lanai. I walked in with Mr. Murdock. There’s dead silence. We had the longest, most uncomfortable meal ever. And when we left, he said, What are you doing? I said, I’m just going to go back to work. And he said, No, you’re not, we’re going to go for a drive. And he drove around, and he showed me everything that he was going to do. You know, and it was all up in his brain. You know, it wasn’t anything on paper yet. And I was just fascinated. And that was my first meeting with Mr. Murdock.

 

Did you tell him what you thought he should do to the island?

 

No. Because I liked what he was telling me.

 

So, the man who inspired such fear … gained followers.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

And sold the island, and then there was more fear.

 

Well, it’s a different kind of fear. You know, being afraid of change is normal. People worry about their futures.

 

Especially that kind of control, because it the control of the island.

 

Yeah.

 

And what will the island be like in a few years, do you think?

 

The sad thing I see about the changes occurring now is, we have priced our kama‘aina travelers out of the Lanai market. We still have a lot of vacation rentals, we have bed and breakfasts. There’s other places, smaller places to stay. It still allows our kama‘aina visitors to come back to Lanai. You can come over there from Oahu, which is so crowded, and you can walk up to Koele or you can walk up toward the mountains to the overview, you can go down to one of the beaches and be the only person down there. Five minutes out of town, you’re out in the boonies, and you’ve got all this space to enjoy. It’s just a wonderful feeling to have all this space around you.

 

And cool air.

 

Cool; it’s cool, cool air. And our town is really friendly.

 

At the time of this conversation in Summer of 2017, Alberta de Jetley continues to publish Lanai’s only print newspaper, Lanai Today. The island is still a one-company town, now owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, whom she says she does not know well. She’s an empty-nester, with her older son David living in Maryland, and her younger son Tony making his home in Hana, Maui. Mahalo to Alberta de Jetley of Lanai for sharing your life story with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii 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.

 

I have a community newspaper, and I’ve been doing newspapers since 1990, you know, on my own. And I look at the newspaper as a vehicle to keep people informed of what’s happening in the community, and trying to encourage them to show up for public meetings, to make their feelings known, and to be out there and not just to sit at home. We all live in this community together, and we should all take part in making the community work. So, that’s what I feel that I can do best, is through my newspaper, bring all of these different things together.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Connie Mitchell

 

As Executive Director of The Institute for Human Services, Hawai‘i’s largest homeless services provider, Connie Mitchell has worked ceaselessly to find effective ways to heal and comfort her community – mind, body and soul. Bringing experience from careers in nursing, financial planning, pastoral work and more, she takes a multifaceted and compassionate approach in her stride toward solutions.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 20, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 24, at 4:00 pm.

 

Connie Mitchell Audio

 

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Transcript

 

We’ve had a couple of deaths recently. One lady was in the park, you know, someone that we knew, a homeless person that died. And … sometimes when those things happen, in some ways, it just kinda galvanizes my desire to make things different. And sometimes, people might mistake, you know, my passion for some of that as anger.

 

Connie Mitchell has spent her life serving those in need, especially those who often need the most help. Connie Mitchell, executive director of The Institute for Human Services, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Connie Mitchell runs Hawai‘i’s oldest and largest nonprofit agency dedicated to the problem of homelessness. But for all of her efforts—and she generally gets high marks for her work from a range of community stakeholders, Hawai‘i has one of the highest homeless rates in the nation. She’s known for her positive attitude, in fact, a fiercely positive attitude despite challenges, and she’s known for seeing the homeless population as people, as individuals. Born Constance Kau Yee Fong to immigrant parents from China, Connie Mitchell grew up in the same town neighborhood where The Institute for Human Services is based, and where she leads the agency in serving the homeless and affected communities.

 

I grew up on Vineyard Street. And the duplex that I actually lived in isn’t there anymore. They actually used it as a prop and bombed in Tora! Tora! Tora! Yeah. But anyway, I grew up there, went to school at Kauluwela Elementary School right around the corner there. And I didn’t think I would end up being so close, you know, to where I grew up, but I am now.

 

Does it feel familiar?

 

It does. You know, in some ways, it does and yet, the neighborhood has changed, you know, a little bit. But of course, when I was a child there, there was a really different context, you know, and I might not have noticed, you know, the things. But I ‘m sure there weren’t as many homeless people back then as there are now.

 

Well, what was your life like as a child?

 

Well, I grew up, you know, with an older sister and two younger brothers. And my mom dad are actually immigrants from China.

 

What part?

 

Guangdong. And they came separately, actually. My dad came as a teenager, and then afterward, you know, brought my mom over.

 

How did he know your mom?

 

You know, I asked her that question the other day, and she said, Oh, you know … I think he knew a relative of hers, you know, her mom’s aunt or something. And so, they kinda got together. I always say it was a semi-arranged marriage, ‘cause I think there was, you know, an attraction there. But she didn’t know what she was coming to when she was gonna come to Hawai‘i; right?

 

And they stayed together?

 

They did.

 

Four kids.

 

Four kids. And so, we ended up moving when I was in the fourth grade, I think, or seventh grade, up to Liliha. So, it still wasn’t that far from where I am now, either. But that’s where she lives, still. And we grew up, you know, pretty Spartan lives, but you know, I learned a lot about living simply, but never feeling like I was poor or anything. You know, because we always had what we needed, had our imaginations, had really good friends to play with, you know, and really just enjoyed it. So, I think, you know, I learned a lot from my mom and dad, but didn’t really fully appreciate, I think, the experience of being an immigrant until I was much older.

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

So, my dad had a restaurant in Kapālama.

 

Called?

 

Called Nam Kok Chop Suey. I don’t know if you remember it. But it was, you know, a small Chinese restaurant, and my mom helped him in the restaurant. I even worked there, you know, in summers when I was in high school to wait on tables. And it’s right where the Central Pacific Bank building is, you know, on Dillingham now. You know, it was really the times that I worked was when I saw my mom and dad, because they were working all the time. And I think that’s real typical a lot of times, you know, of people who have family businesses. And … I think it was great, because I could still connect with my Chinese culture, but you know, they weren’t really there so that I explored a lot of other things and really learned a lot from friends, you know, because my parents weren’t around that much. You know, my dad would bring dinner home, and then he would be back at the restaurant afterwards.

 

And you saw this as a positive thing; that you had your parents, but you also had your friends.

 

Yeah. You know, and I didn’t know the difference. I didn’t know how other people were growing, but that’s how I grew up, and I’m just really thankful for it. I think my parents really were … I know they loved us and cared about us, and really wanted to make sure we were safe and were provided for. But you know, when I would watch TV, and you would see those TV shows about families, and I’m thinking: Well, that’s just not how our family is.

 

Did you have an extended network of family at all?

 

We did, and it’s because my dad and my mom would sponsor other relatives to come over. And my uncle on my dad’s side actually worked for him as a cook, also. You know, so we did have family that came. My grandmother came when I was in the seventh grade, I think, and she was a part of our family for a short while, and then she ended up leaving and finding a place of her own. But it was really sometimes challenging, ‘cause you know, like being bicultural, I went to Chinese school like, from first grade to ninth grade. So, for nine years, I went to—

 

Did you learn to speak Cantonese?

 

Yes; uh-huh. And you know, my parents spoke it at home. But you know, it was a way to really hang onto my ethnic culture, you know. But I think all the while it was being shaped, I also had, you know, a lot of influence from the fact that my parents, being really open, said, Why don’t you go to church? You know, and they actually encouraged me to go. And I went to a church on Judd Street for many years. And, you know, that helped shaped my own faith.

 

Was it the same faith church that they believed in?

 

No. You know, they weren’t Christian. And I think there was a woman that went into the neighborhood and was just, you know, looking for children that might want to go to church. And so, I started going to Sunday School, and then ended up really just learning so much about God’s love, you know. And that was like, a little foreign in some ways, you know, from the culture that I was coming from. But I’m thankful for that, and I think that my faith has actually inspired a lot of the choices that I’ve made, you know, throughout my life and work, particularly.

 

And your parents never said one thing to you about, Don’t go there, that’s not what our Chinese family has always done?

 

Right, right. Yeah. So, I kind of like, you know, was embracing the Christian faith, and then at the same time, you know, my parents practiced their own cultural practices and faith. So, … I think it’s in some ways typical, you know, of people who grow up in Hawai‘i. You know, you’re exposed to a different way of thinking. And I’m thankful for the way that Hawai‘i is, you know, that we are able to … no matter how we think or how we believe, that we’re able to get along most of the time.

 

Did you feel that Honolulu was friendly to immigrants?

 

Yes; and I really felt like … I didn’t feel like I stood out or anything like that. You know, a lot of us maybe came from the same kind of background, and I think as a child, you just know. If you’re playing with other people, you’re playing with them, you’re getting along with them, and you don’t think about those other things. But that kind of childhood, growing up in a diverse community very much shapes how you feel when you grow up.

 

As a child, did you see college in your future?

 

I did, ‘cause my parents really valued education.

 

And had they had a college graduate in the family yet?

 

No.

 

So, who was the first?

 

Well, my older sister was. You know, she graduated from the University of Hawai‘i, and then, I did also. She left right after college, you know, and went to San Francisco. And my brother who’s a couple years younger than me, he did also. And they’re both there now. You know, he’s an architect in San Francisco, and my sister was teaching in the Berkeley school district for many years, and just recently retired.

 

And what did you go to college to study?

 

Oh, I became a nurse, and later on went back to get my master’s in psychiatric and mental health nursing. And you know, at first, I wanted to be a pediatric nurse, but I couldn’t deal with the pain of seeing the children, you know, suffering so much. And I thought: Okay, I don’t know if I want to really do this. You know, but … I think I really … have always seemed to gravitate toward serving underserved people. Like, when I was in San Francisco, my first nursing job was at San Francisco General Hospital. And it was a county hospital, so you had people who were prisoners, and people who were on Medicaid, and you know, people who just didn’t have that much. But it was an excellent medical center, and I learned a lot when I was there.

 

Where do you think that comes from, wanting to serve the underserved?

 

I don’t know. I’m always for the underdog, number one. You know, but I also feel like … maybe because I’ve been given so much, and I feel so blessed … that … for one, I think everyone … it’s a basic need, a basic right, you know, to have healthcare. And I really want to make sure that people are afforded that opportunity.

 

So, you’re in San Francisco getting your master’s of science in nursing. And how did you get back here? And I don’t think it was a direct path to IHS.

 

No, it wasn’t. So, actually, I graduated here at the University in nursing, and then I went to San Francisco. I came back. and I worked actually for a doctor and managed his office. You know, an internist. Internal medicine practice, and then kind of saw that a lot of people who were coming in, they seemed to have a lot of mental health issues also, lot of anxiety and stress that were causing a lot of, you know, their illnesses. So, I did a stint, you know, just really after that, going to work on a demonstration project that really addressed the connection between mind and body. You know, so we were actually trying to demonstrate that if you’re provided mental health services, behavioral health services, you could actually reduce the amount of medical utilization, you know, of a person. You know, this holistic medicine, you know.

 

It was just common sense to you.

 

Yeah; really. And you know, I think along the way, I’ve also done a little bit in financial planning. I think I spent about seven or eight years serving as a pastoral associate at a church. And you know, all of these experiences just kinda come together in my work at IHS, you know, because I think it’s given me skills and perspectives, you know, that are very … maybe different, you know, from somebody else who might be coming from just strictly a social work perspective.

 

You also saw acute mentally ill patients in residence at Hawai‘i State Hospital in Kaneohe.

 

Yeah. And so, after I graduated with my master’s in psych mental health nursing, my first clinical position was as a clinical nurse specialist there. And I worked with people who were dually diagnosed with cognitive impairment, as well as mental illness, so they might have been developmentally disabled also. So, it was just really a wonderful learning experience there. We were under a Department of Justice consent decree and was really needing to upgrade, you know, the quality of the care that was there.

 

It had to be sad to see that, you know, the place wasn’t taken care of as it should have been.

 

Oh, yeah. I mean, I think when I first started there, it was really …

 

And it was dangerous for employees too; right?

 

It was. You know, and at one point when I was there even, you know, I had to take out a TRO on someone, because I thought, Okay, I don’t know if this person’s gonna kind of retaliate or anything. But we also had like a car fire that was set, and it was, you know, very much a retaliatory thing from one of the patients, we believe. And the hospital was evolving at that time. I mean, it was facing the fact that it was a forensic hospital. Almost everybody that was coming in the hospital was coming in from a court order, you know, after that. But I think we really need to maintain a sense of the fact that these were also patients. And I think learning to triage and understand, okay, some people have some criminal tendencies that make them dangerous in a different way, and some people have more mental illness and are impaired by their mental illness. That needs to be acknowledged and recognized, because sometimes, if you just say, Okay, well, they’re all mentally ill, and so we need to just, you know, always take the tack that they’re not responsible for their actions, then some people who are responsible for their actions don’t really get the consequences that they really need.

 

After spending most of her career in the field of nursing and healthcare, including fourteen years at the Hawai‘i State Hospital in Kaneohe, which included a tenure as the director of nursing, Connie Mitchell leaped into tackling homelessness in Hawai‘i.

 

Well, a friend of mine knew that they were looking for an executive director. And you know, I had never worked nonprofit before.

 

You had a stake in the State retirement system.

 

Yes; uh-huh. When I was looking for what next, you know, for myself, I really wasn’t sure where it was gonna be. And that’s why I really think it was almost divine providence that, you know, this really came about. Because I heard about it through a friend of mine, and I applied. But I had applied a while ago, and I thought, Oh, well, I guess they found somebody. So, you know, I didn’t think twice. And then, I got a call back, and I went for a second interview, and then was offered the position, you know, shortly after that. And I thought, Well, okay, do I take a break? You know, ‘cause I was just moving out of, you know, my place and had just left the hospital. And I thought, No, I think this is really what I need to do. And even when I was being interviewed, they asked me, Well, how long are you gonna stay? And I said, Well, I don’t know, and all I can tell you is that when you give me a chance to do something, I will give it my all. And I said, You may not like me, you know, so we’ll how it goes. And I think that it’s been a really good match for me in terms of the work.

 

What is your goal? Is it eliminating homelessness?

 

I think as a group, you know, our Partners In Care consortium of homeless service providers and people who are concerned about homelessness, what we’re trying to do is develop a system where we no longer have unsheltered homeless, and anyone who becomes homeless will quickly get into housing. You know, so it’s not about just managing homeless, like let’s just put ‘em in the shelter and leave them in the shelter. We have long left that model behind at IHS. You know, we have been trying to house people as much as possible, you know, and as quickly as possible. And as the system has changed and as funding has become available, we’ve been able to do more and more of that. I think there’s very few people who just absolutely don’t want help.

 

So, I mean, it seems like there are people who, if you offer them a job, they say, Can’t you just give me money? I mean, I’ve met a couple of those.

 

Yeah. You know, I think the people on the street, you know, people who are unsheltered, there’s a really big mix. But remember, the people on the streets unsheltered are a small population compared to everyone who experiences homelessness. Once you hit the streets, you know, a lot of people stay there for quite a while. And what we’re trying to do is like, try to bring them in so that they don’t stay there. ‘Cause once you become homeless for a long time, it’s harder to get people off the street, because they realize, Oh, I can do this, this is fine. You know, and they don’t realize that their lives are changing, their health could be threatened, and when they do get sick, they’re gonna get more sick. You know, ‘cause we see infections that are just ridiculous, you know.

 

Somehow, they get accustomed and prefer it?

 

I think they lose hope. That’s what it is. You know, and they just don’t think that it’s possible. And you know, if you’re using drugs, you probably can’t get a job. If you can’t get a job, you certainly can’t get a place. And if you can’t get a place, then that’s why you’re out there on the street; right?

 

Hawai‘i has a great compassion, doesn’t want to see people on the streets, doesn’t want to see people suffering. And on the other hand, you know, there’s, Hey, are we using our money well? Because aren’t these people just being moved, moved, moved, moved? Is anything really happening?

 

M-hm.

 

What do you say to that?

 

I think that there are a lot of people that are coming off the street, and you know, they are being tired of the movement, you know, of the enforcements that are going on. But I think what I envision is being able to try to convince people that they can be a part of the community again. You know, they don’t feel a part of the community; that’s why they’re out there. You know, they don’t have a place to go, and we have to, as a community, figure out how to do that. I believe that if every one of those people who is capable of working could work if they weren’t using drugs, or you know, their mental health was stabilized.

 

Those are big ifs.

 

Yeah; but we could do it. I believe that it can be done, if we have the will to provide the services, you know, and to walk alongside some of these people so that they can believe also. Because I don’t think they believe it right now; they don’t think that there is a way out. And I’ve seen it happen, that when they start to believe and they actually take a chance on us, they’re able to get out of that situation.

 

The day-to-day challenges of running a large nonprofit organization and navigating the highly politicized issue of homelessness can take its toll on anyone. Connie Mitchell continues to maintain her positivity through her faith, and through the inspiration of the late Father Claude DuTiel, who is beloved for founding The Institute for Human Services through his Peanut Butter Ministry of handing out sandwiches on Downtown streets.

 

You know, Father DuTeil has always been sort of the person that I think of, you know, in terms of his values and his approach to people.

 

Who started IHS.

 

Yes.

 

Or the forerunner of IHS.

 

Right. You know, he did start IHS, and he himself was someone that suffered from both mental illness and alcoholism. And … he just had that kind of heart, you know, that really wanted to give back to the community. And I think that, you know, it’s a person like that who galvanized the community to want to do something that is my inspiration in a lot of ways. And on the other hand, you know, I feel like the heart part comes from that. I think my husband Mark is someone that has really taught me a lot about systems, and how to be willing, you know, to kind of … change things, so that things can be better. And my husband is just awesome; you know, he really understands, because he was in the mental health field as well. I shouldn’t say was; he still is.

 

Okay; now, how did he come into your life?

 

Well, we met at a conference. And then later on, you know, he was doing some consultation, and when he ended up coming over to Hawai‘i, he was the CEO at Kahi Mohala, you know, for a number of years. And then he retired again, and then he ended up not retiring and going back to work for the State at the Department of Public Safety. So, you know, he’s very well versed in systems issues, you know, with mental health, with developmental disabilities, with health in general. And so, we had a lot in common, you know, and really, I look to him for a lot of wisdom sometimes, you know, about how to proceed. But he also has a lot of experience that he is able to share with me that I’ve learned a lot from, I think. So, emotionally, intellectually, you know, I’m really grateful for a lot of the friends that I have had. You know, a good friend of mine, her brother had committed suicide, and this was when I was in college in nursing school. And I just thought, Wow, you know. I mean, that impacted me. And then, I had another friend who committed suicide later on who was in my Bible study group. And mental health seemed to be a theme in my life.

 

As of this conversation in June of 2017, Connie Mitchell has grown The Institute for Human Services from its original two shelters in Iwilei to eight facilities, including locations in Sand Island and Kalihi Valley. A believer in servant leadership, Mitchell remains passionate about the job, overseeing one hundred and fifty employees.

 

So, one of your staffers, Kimo Carvalho, says he really likes working with you because of course, you’re serious, but you’re also silly. What does that mean?

 

Oh … I can be … pretty silly in terms of, you know, when we get together and we do like little office parties and stuff like that. You know, I will sometimes surprise people, you know, when I would dress up at Halloween, or something like that. But, you know, it’s like I’m just like anybody else, and I’ve always felt like being a leader doesn’t mean you put yourself above. You know, it really means that you’re willing to do whatever anybody else is doing, and you’re working alongside them, you know.

 

So, servant leadership?

 

Yeah. It’s gotta be about that. You know, I think it’s really trying to bring out the best in other people, you know, and really helping them to really blossom and find their voice, and find their strengths.

 

You have so many. How do you spend your time?

 

Well, um …

 

And you’ve got to talk to lawmakers.

 

Absolutely.

 

You got to talk to funders, you’ve got to talk to homeless people, and supervisors, and community leaders, and business owners.

 

So, there’s no … usual day at IHS. Everything is urgent. And you know, you’re right; you know, we really look at the community as a major stakeholder. You know, we serve not only the people who are homeless, but we serve our community. You know, and as a part of that community, we have people who are policymakers, we have people who are funders, people who are just the public. You know, we really want to help people understand better what homelessness is about in Hawai‘i, and we want them to understand how we all can help them better.

 

I think it’s so wonderful that after—is it eleven years on the job now?

 

Yeah.

 

Eleven years on the job, you’re very positive, you continue to work at a very high performance rate. What keeps you going?

 

That’s a good question. I think it’s really seeing people turn their lives around when we are able to help them. And it happens quite often, I have to tell you. So, I think just, you know, being able to … do some new things, find some new solutions, partner with new people who have similar passion and, you know, just really want to make a difference; that’s really exciting to me, to see so many people like that.

 

Connie Mitchell, executive director of The Institute for Human Services, is a hard worker and a respected leader, and Hawai‘i still has a high homeless population per capita. She says we’re making headway in slowing down the rate at which homelessness grows. And she says that if different parts of our government would just agree to work together at important junctures, such as when inmates are released from prison, we could do better. Mahalo to Connie Mitchell of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Daniel Martinez

 

As Chief Historian at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Daniel Martinez has heard the stories from the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and shares those stories with Park visitors.  In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, you’ll hear how his connection with that infamous event goes deeper than his role as an historian.

 

Daniel Martinez Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When we were on these trips back East, with my dad being in the space industry, we stopped at Gettysburg. And this park ranger came out with his Smokey the Bear hat. This park ranger gave a talk, and then he went in and he got in a Civil War uniform and came out with a musket, and fired it. And I said, That’s for me.

 

So, you truly intended to do that when you grew up?

 

I just said, That’s for me, but I didn’t know how I was gonna get there. But that whole idea of working in a national park like Gettysburg, it was just like, How do I do this?

 

Daniel Marinez has been captivated by military history since childhood, and he followed his passion. Today, he’s Chief Historian at the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, which preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific war, including the events at Pearl Harbor. Daniel Martinez, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Daniel Martinez has been the Chief Historian at Pearl Harbor since 1989, where he keeps history alive for the many visitors from around the world who come to see where World War II began for America. History has always been an important part of Daniel’s life, starting from his youth growing up in California. His German and Mexican grandparents shared stories of their lives, which started him on the path that would later lead him to become an historian.

 

Oh; without a doubt, my grandfather. My grandfather taught me how to fish, and I found out he was at Pearl Harbor, and he had this interest in the American West, and he was a miner. On my grandfather and grandmother’s side, in particular on my grandmother’s side, they grew up in Boise, Idaho, they were first immigrants to come in the late 1870s, became gold miners. And then later, one was a sheriff. And so, we had all of that. So, on both sides of the family. My father’s was more humble. My grandfather came from Mexico, from the area of Guadalajara, and emigrated here legally through the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was one of the workers. And that’s how my dad ended up being born in Lone Pine, California, one of nine children. And my love for railroad and that history, especially I’m a big Southern Pacific fan, came from that. And then, my dad was in the Navy, and my dad served in the Korean War. My Aunt Jo was the first one on my mother’s side to take me to a library when I was five years old, and picked up my first book, which was Custer’s Last Stand. There were always these influences on reading and going to places where events happened.

 

When you say, you know, history really imbued your family, you had a sense of that, did you say that to yourself? You know, history is important to me. Or was that not a known specialization or concept?

 

If my mom was alive, she’d probably have more of a description of it. Because when I was little, I had toy soldiers, and I would recreate battles. I would read books, I would be actively involved in watching films on history. I think it was just something that was instinctively there, and thank God my family endorsed it, and not only that, took me to a number of historic places that were like these deviations off the road. And so, I don’t know; I think my rudder was fixed, and I was headed that way.

 

You know, you’re cross-cultural; Mexican, German.

 

Yeah; and know, the difficult part was that I didn’t realize this, because even I grew up in a world that was not as judgmental. And here in Hawai‘i, even less. But it was called interracial marriage. And that’s what my parents’ marriage was, and they ran off and got married.

 

Because their family wouldn’t support the match?

 

Oh, no; on both sides. You know, my grandfather on the Mexican side was hoping that my dad was gonna marry a Mexican girl, and I know for a fact on my mother’s side, they wished the same. But love overcomes a lot, and they ran off and got married. And then, when I came along, all was forgiven, and the families were joined. And so, my grandfather, who was so opposed to this on my mom’s side, became so close to my dad that he was like a second father.

 

Did you ever have the sensation of having to pick one, you know, racial background over the other?

 

You know, I didn’t have a choice; the last name was Martinez. And I went to a Catholic high school and I went through a little bit of hazing of that. And I had a cousin named Paul Gomez, who was a scholar and a great guy, and he just said, Hey, just roll with it. Just roll with it; don’t be upset over it, just be proud of it. And I always have been. And when I came to Hawai‘i, one of the things that touched me a great deal was the acceptance of peoples here.

 

People always want to know what you are, even if they’re not prejudiced against you.

 

Right.

 

They want to know.

 

I tell them I’m sort of—

 

You’re hapa.

 

Hapa; you know, and then they get that. And so, I’m very proud of our German-English background, especially what my uh, grandparents on that side did.

 

When your grandfather moved to Hawai‘i, why? He was a miner.

 

Yeah; the thing was that there was a company, a big company, and everybody knew it at the time, called Morrison-Knudsen. And it was located in Boise, Idaho. And they were rounding up all of these miners and construction workers. They had been given contracts to build military bases throughout the Pacific; Wake Island, Midway, all over. My grandfather was in his thirties at the time, so he was relatively mature. And he had just remarried, and he saw this opportunity, so they wanted this work. They needed tunnelers, they needed people that knew how to work with dynamite; my grandfather.

What they were going to build was twenty of these that are basically twenty stories deep as well. And I forget the circumference, but it’s close to seventy-five yards in circumference. And these tanks were gonna be literally blasted out of the lava rock on Red Hill, and then they would use like an iron basket around it, and then gunnite that, and then use cement and build it. Now, they built these things, you know, kind of bottom up, and many men fell. And when you fall in there, even despite there’s water, it doesn’t come out well when you’re falling eight or nine stories. you know, over two hundred feet. And so, my grandfather worked on that, and then my mother came over in ’41, early ’41, went to school, living the dream as I say. That’s what I often say, living the dream here in Hawai‘i. And then, you know, went to school.

 

Wait a minute. Going back to those storage tanks. So, your father is working with people who are dying.

 

Yes; this whole thing that they were doing was secret. They tried to keep it as secret as possible. I don’t know how they did that, but they just didn’t want people talking about it.

 

But there was dynamite going off in Red Hill.

 

Yeah; but it was like a rumble, ‘cause it’s underneath the ground. And they were taking all the tailings, and they were not pulling them out of there; they were spilling them into the valley there. And you can still see some of those tailings where cement factory is now today.

 

So, he would go back, and he couldn’t even tell your grandmother.

 

He’d just say they were doing tunneling.

 

Was he there throughout the entire twenty tanks?

 

Yes, he was. Yeah.

 

How long did that take?

 

It took almost ‘til 1944. And you see, my family, my mom and her sisters, a baby and my Aunt Janelle [PHONETIC], who went to Roosevelt High School, they were sent back on, I think, the Mariposa, and went back to San Francisco. From there, they went back to Boise and waited, and then my grandfather returned and he needed to find work, and he knew that the war effort needed talc, and he knew where talc was. And so, he went there, and he established his family there, and opened a talc mine in the White Mountains. And my mom went to Lone Pine High School, and met one Rudy Martinez.

 

For the next six years after he graduated from college, Daniel Martinez taught high school in the winter, and during the summer he worked for the National Parks Service as a seasonal ranger at the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Parks Service offered him a fulltime position at the USS Arizona Memorial, which he readily accepted. Although his grandparents had told him stories about living in Hawai‘i during the war, he was unprepared for what awaited him.

 

Although I lived in California, my friends used to go to Hawai‘i in the summers, I never did. And I came here for the first time, you know, in 1985 with fourteen boxes and my girlfriend. And we were there at the airport, and we didn’t know what we were in for. But it was quite an experience adjusting to Hawai‘i. Because there wasn’t a lot of stores that we have now, and it was expensive, and I was very low grade. So, we worked some little second jobs, and things like that, to make it, make my way through.

 

Where did you live when you first arrived?

 

I lived in Aiea. And I lived right above the high school, and I didn’t have a car then, so I walked to work, and then later got established, and life changed and evolved. And I was adopted, ‘cause my girlfriend couldn’t hack it; she went home. I came home, and I had like a Dear John letter. And the family that I stayed with, I lived on the lower end of of a home. So, it was like a little ohana. And they were just really, you know, shocked that I had a Dear John, and they were so consoling. But I couldn’t afford it anymore, so Clinton Kane, who was a park ranger at the memorial, said, Come with me. And he took care of me, and I ended up living in Waimanalo with another Japanese American fellow who worked for Hawaiian Tel. And I learned to be Hawaiian. I ate food that I thought I could never eat, did things that I never thought I could do. I learned how to body board at Makapuu. And that was … thrilling. [CHUCKLE]

 

And the food teaches you a lot about history of the islands, too.

 

It does. I never quite caught onto opihi, but I gave it a good attempt. But I started to fall in love with some of the Hawaiian foods. And if I can digress, a simple story of this kind of generosity and culture here that was unknown to me was that, where we lived, we lived close to the mountain in Waimanalo. So, when it rained, the roof was metal, and it was just a racket. But you get used to it. And then, when we would go fishing or anything, the fish that we got, we would drop off to some of the neighbors who had their farms there. And the next day, there would be vegetables or fruits left there. And it just the kind of warmth and generosity that … didn’t see that in Los Angeles.

 

When you said your girlfriend couldn’t hack it, did you consider saying, Okay, this is really complex for me and I don’t think I’m gonna do it?

 

No; ‘cause I had fallen in love with the story of the USS Arizona Memorial, and the fact that both sides of my family were at Pearl Harbor. And I had fallen in love with the ethics of the National Parks Service. There was just no turning back for me. And I was told that if I wanted to be a permanent ranger, because I had come here for that reason, that I needed to go to the law enforcement academy. And I did so; I left here, I went to Santa Rosa, California and went to the sheriff’s academy there and became a law enforcement ranger for the National Parks Service. And on the day of graduation, I got a call from the chief ranger, and he hired me. And that was the beginning of that career, and it was one of those magical moments that I had arrived.

 

You know, most times, when people do go into history, it’s with the idea of teaching it. Getting advanced degrees so they can teach it at the college or higher ed level.

 

Right.

 

But that was not your course, and you remained employed in it continuously.

 

Yeah. You know, the bottom line is that we that engage in this, whether we work in a museum or work for the National Parks or State Parks, we’re public historians that have a history field, and we deal with the public. And that in itself defines that we are educators almost at every moment. Because when people come to the national parks, or like to our site, they’re there to experience it, and we’re there to inform and illustrate why the site is important, and how it fit into the national past.

 

And at a place like Pearl Harbor, you get more material that you can vet from listening to people.

 

Right. And we have a story beyond the tragic events of December 7th. Now, we’re a World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It includes all of the Pacific war.

 

You know, one of the things I used to love about going to Pearl Harbor, even when I was a young adult, was getting to talk to people, volunteers, who had actually been at Pearl Harbor when the bombing occurred.

 

Yeah.

 

Men who had experienced it. Are there any volunteers now who do that? They must be in their nineties.

 

Yeah, there are. There’s one who was a young man. I believe his name is Robert Lee. He lived right in in at Halawa Landing. His home was on the edge of Pearl Harbor, right there in that kind of Aiea Bay right there, and he watched the attack from his second story, on Battleship Row.

 

Wow.

 

But we’re talking about individuals in their nineties, and that is our fading resource.

 

Because before, the survivors would walk you around briskly.

 

I know; don’t you miss those days?

 

And tell you this, and tell you that. But they must have more limited circumference these days.

 

Well, I was a volunteer and the parks coordinator in 1987, 88. And I had over twenty-five Pearl Harbor survivors that volunteered through the week. And it’s just amazing that we have seen since that time, you know, the passing of a generation. There’s also the other group that’s right here, the civilian eyewitnesses, and those that worked at Pearl Harbor or the airfields, or at home. The biggest connection we made with the civilian community here, and I’m very proud of it because it was a movement to make sure all of the casualties recorded, were the civilian casualties. And at the time, to get those records was very difficult, because they were held by the Health Department here. Mayor Fasi, God bless him, he paved the way for us to get their records. They didn’t want to release them to us. We got all the civilian records, death records.

 

Of the civilians who were killed, I think it came out later that much of that was from friendly fire.

 

Right.

 

Honolulu was defending itself.

 

We found out two things, that it was actually forty-eight civilians. Later, we’d find one more, forty-nine civilians were killed in the attack. Most of them, almost eighty-five, eighty-six percent killed by friendly fire, and the definition of friendly fire, which is a strange term for it, was that as we were firing up at the planes, the shells were either not being fused properly, or faulty, and they were landing all over Honolulu, Waikiki area. And when that happened, many of the people believed they were being bombed. Remember, the planes were still flying over. That’s what my mother remembers; the houses being bombed and it was friendly fire coming down.

 

You know, there are so many myths about Pearl Harbor, including some I grew up with. Some of them were dispelled after I attended school in Hawai‘i. And I know of them was, you know, the Japanese planes didn’t come through Kolekole Pass to get to Pearl Harbor.

 

I know.

 

I thought that for years, and I’d drive by those mountains and think, Oh, that’s right where the planes came in.

 

Yeah.

 

No.

 

That myth had some truth to it. And that’s one of the things I found out in doing some of the research about, was eyewitnesses watching the attack, in particular on Wheeler and Schofield, in that area, saw the planes. But the planes were turning at the base of the mountains, not flying through it. And the Japanese were always kind of, when I interviewed them, Why do they think we would do that? Because the main strike force flew down from Kaena Point, all the way, and turned over Makakilo, and then broke up in their attacks at Hickam and Pearl Harbor, and Ewa. One group came down the center of the island over Haleiwa, and moved up and attacked Wheeler Field, but they circled around. And so, film kind of endorsed that; the book and film From Here to Eternity somewhat endorsed that myth. Then tour guides caught onto it, and then it became part of the story, and they took people out there to Kolekole Pass. Now, the pass itself is historic, but the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, you see them flying right through the pass. So, Hollywood in many, many ways instills and certifies, and embosses some of our myths.

 

So, something that happened all those decades ago is still a moving target in terms of learning about it and memorializing it.

 

I’ll tell you, Leslie; the more you know, the less you know. And that’s been my case. You know, everybody says, Oh, you’re one of the experts on Pearl Harbor. And you know, I think what I could say safely is, I know where to find it, but it’s just an evolution still occurring. So, long after I leave my position, there’ll be someone that will find more history and more angles of that. And that’s been my case. Every time I go to work, there’s going to be something that’s new.

 

Teaching visitors about history is an important part of Daniel Martinez’s job. But there are other aspects of his work that go beyond uncovering new facts and correcting misconceptions. There is the ongoing story of the consequences and the lessons of that even today continue to inform us and affect our lives.

 

One of the things that I’ve been blessed with is, I’m the interment officer for what takes place on the Arizona. To see how the Navy, or in the case if it’s a Marine, how they honor and work with us on that ceremony, and when the families come there, and I take the urn down, and the family members are with me, and then I turn that urn over to the family member that’s appointed by the rest to do that, and then that person gives it to the diver … that is a moment.

 

You’ve gotten to meet so many of the survivors of Pearl Harbor attack. And you know, many have come over the years, some have volunteered here, some have moved here. And you’ve conducted oral history interviews with a lot of them. So, I just wonder; for those who went through those horrific times, I mean, they saw their fellow soldiers and other professionals, they saw such terrible carnage. What were their lives like after surviving this?

 

After the war, no matter what horrific circumstance they went through, whether they witnessed people being killed, or wounded themselves, or nearly killed themselves, they wanted to move on with their lives. Think about it; many of them were young. I did my first oral history with my grandfather, and he agreed to do it, but he wasn’t wild about it. And I couldn’t understand it. So, I started the interview and I had a little recording machine, you know, and microphone. And I get into the whole Pearl Harbor stuff, and he gets up in the interview and walks away. And he said, That’s it, that’s it; that’s all. And my grandmother, you can hear in the background saying, No, no, go back. You know. He got up, I think, three times and walked away. It wasn’t ‘til I started doing oral history interviews on my own in the late 80s that I understood what I was dealing with. He had never told anybody about it. And he had seen a young Hawaiian boy that worked on his crew wounded. He had to dive for cover, because he was in the area of Merry Point Landing. That was ground zero for the torpedo attack; they flew right up that channel. And so, he was seeing things and remembering things that he had not talked about. And as a result, he was reliving it.

 

I see.

 

And I didn’t know that. And so, I couldn’t understand at that time, and it took several years for me to get from the university here that I was going into an area of his remembrance that was extremely difficult, and he was reliving it. And he remembered the Arizona exploding, but he didn’t know it was the Arizona; he just saw a ship explode and the concussion rocked them there. And he remembered that he stayed there as a Navy federal worker, pulling bodies out of Aiea Bay and placing them on the landing in Aiea for identification, and never got over how young the faces were. And he remembered going through a darkened and panicked Downtown Honolulu, and seeing people and behavior that he never had seen before. People were frightened, and they were scared, and they were running lights, and they were driving up to the sidewalks. And he just said it was crazy. And nobody remembers or really talks about that, but it indeed happened. And so, when he got home late at night, we were now under martial law and it was blackout. And they huddled in their home in Kaimuki, like so many others did, not knowing what the next day would bring, sensing there would be Japanese soldiers in their front yard. And that was just the beginning of the martial law experience in Hawai‘i that, fortunately for my family, they were lucky enough to leave, although sadly, and be in a place where there was a lot more freedom. So, for the people of Hawai‘i, I mean, they’re often not really congratulated for their own sustainability and courage and effort in the war effort, just sustaining themselves under martial law. And so, the one thing that my grandfather witnessed that he couldn’t believe also was, and I tell the story now to a lot of visitors, is that after the attack, suddenly the workers that were of Japanese ancestry were being attacked and called names by local people that worked on the project. Which just seems crazy. But it was crazy. And so, it got to such a point there were fights, and the inability for crews to work together, and ethnic groups from Hawai‘i now even that had been their friends were no longer their friends. So, the crews were segregated; there was a Japanese American crew. This went on for several months, and then as feeling subsided—

 

Yeah; fear is a terrible thing. It drives bad behavior.

 

We see it. Yeah; and it drove some bad behavior. But it was one of those untold stories that he mentions on his interview, and in doing so, gave me glimpse of the kind of fear, as you say, sustained itself in the weeks and months after Pearl Harbor.

 

We learn the human experience of history and war through the testimonies of witnesses and survivors. Daniel Martinez’s passion for gathering and perpetuating these stories keeps them alive, so we can heal from the emotional wounds of the past and understand history. Mahalo to Daniel Martinez of Kapolei for teaching us through stories. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. 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 the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I remember we were making a film about Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001. We were in Washington, D.C., not more than fifteen miles away from the Pentagon. And these suits come in, and he leans over and said, We just got Pearl Harbored in New York. And that’s going on while we’re having …

 

While you are remembering Pearl Harbor.

 

While we’re remembering Pearl Harbor. We were ushered out; we could see the smoke coming up from the Pentagon.

 

Did you stay in the building?

 

They kept us there, and they moved us into the cafeteria lobby area, and we watched the second plane go in. It was profound, because we were scheduled to fly that day on Flight 77, the plane that went into the Pentagon. But the reservation was changed. It’s never been lost on me that I had a second chance in life, and … so, September 11th is, I guess, my touch with a Pearl Harbor-like event.

 

[END]

 

 

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]

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, 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 PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

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