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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Allen Hoe

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Allen Hoe

 

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

 

Read the November program guide cover story on Allen Hoe

 

Program

 

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

 

More from Allen Hoe:

 

The Flag

 

Why Polo?

 

Allen Hoe Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

Fifty years prior to General Brown’s statement, the Army sent a special invitation—a draft notice, to the same Allen Hoe, who admits he was a typical local boy of the late 60s, focused only on surfing, hotrods, and girls.  But a ten-month combat tour in a small country in Southeast Asia turned this local boy into a soldier’s soldier.  Vietnam veteran Allen Hoe, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Allen Hoe’s father was from Kalihi on O‘ahu, and his mother was raised in Moloa‘a on Kaua‘i.  He points out his ancestors were all subjects of monarchies—on his father’s side, Chinese and Japanese; his mother, Hawaiian, English, Scottish, German, and Spanish. His father was a World War II veteran, and there’s evidence of warriors serving their country throughout Hoe’s family tree from the Queen’s royal guard in India, to a war lieutenant for King Kamehameha.

 

Now, you were raised a regular local kid?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, that kind of passed you by.

 

Yeah, yeah; that kinda passed us by.

 

Were you in ROTC as a student?

 

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

 

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

 

Oh …

 

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

 

What happened next?

 

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

 

Hotrods.

 

Hotrods—

 

Girls and surfing.

 

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

 

He said: Mr. Hoe, we need you.

 

Had you been dreading a draft call?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why did you train to be a combat medic?

 

Well, Uncle Sam said that’s—

 

You were designated.

 

Designated.

 

Okay.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There were no rules.

 

Forget it.

 

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

 

So, you wore weapons.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, you could have been hit too.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you fire your weapon?

 

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

 

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

 

You feel immortal.

 

Immortal.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

I’ve got a force field around me.

 

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

 

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

 

It’s luck.

 

It is a matter of chance.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

Mutilated limbs and gory stuff.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

You compartmentalized?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Because that helps him—

 

Him, yeah.

 

–help himself.

 

Help himself.

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

How has that affected you?

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

–fatal—

 

Yeah.

 

–grisly year.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, lots of fatalities.

 

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

 

What happened?

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

In the field.

 

Yeah.

 

May; was that Mother’s Day?

 

May, Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You made an effort to go do that?

 

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

 

Do you think you had PTSD after the war?

 

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

 

He did it in such a nice way, too.

 

Yeah; he was just an incredible guy.

 

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

 

Okay; the style of the day was long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

Long hair.

 

–long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

And did you see anti-war protests?

 

Oh, yeah; yeah.  You know …

 

How did you feel about them?

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

That it’s not anger.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

At first look?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah; I was so impressed by your son Nakoa.

 

Ah …

 

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

 

Correct.

 

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

 

Big brother.

 

–his big brother being venerated as a hero.

 

Yeah.

 

And not feeling like: What about me?

 

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

 

It does take courage to kinda—

 

Yeah; to stand in the shadow.

 

To stand in the shadow; right.

 

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

 

So much grace.

 

So much grace.

 

Did you teach him that grace?

 

His mother taught him that grace.

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

 

2005.

 

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

 

For some, it did.

 

Yeah.

 

Many, it did.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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NATURE
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Ironically, every dead elephant with its ivory intact is a reason to celebrate. It means an elephant died of natural causes, not bullets, snares or poison, and a soul was allowed to be celebrated and mourned by its herd. Award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert start with the remains of two bull elephants and through a series of key flashbacks, look at the lives they would have led, the dramas they may have seen, their great migrations for water with their families, and their encounters with lions and hyenas. This film, shot over two years, is an intimate look at elephants through the lens of two great storytellers of natural history.

 

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Rev. Mitsuo “Mits” Aoki, a pioneer of Hawai‘i’s hospice movement and founder of the University of Hawaii School of Religion, passed away in August 2010. This film from 2003 highlights his own transformative near-death experience; his therapeutic work with terminally-ill cancer patients; the death of his wife Evelyn; and thoughts about his own mortality. For over 40 years, Rev. Aoki attempted to take the terror out of dying, and showed others how to experience death as not just the end of life, but as a vital part of life, as well.

 

For inquiries about “Living Your Dying” email the Mits Aoki Legacy Foundation at:
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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puna Dawson

 

Puna Dawson has often found herself in the right place at the right time. Guided by her Hawaiian values and a desire to serve others, she has met extraordinary individuals and lived through significant events. Meet this Kaua‘i-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner and learn about the remarkable people and events that have touched and shaped her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 19, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Puna Dawson:

 

Hawaiʻi Is All People

 

Whatever You Need, You Have

 

A Simple Smile

 

Puna Dawson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Did you have that sense that you were—because your life has been one of service, and you’ve done an astounding number of things, was that an intention?

 

I think it kind of happened.  I’ve been very fortunate to be at places that have opened doors and given me experiences, I mean, from one end of the Earth to the other. I thank my kūpuna, because they planned it, you know, and I’m just walking that path.

 

Puna Dawson often happened to be in the right place, at the right time, meeting remarkable people.  Was it chance, or part of a greater design?  Puna Dawson, 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.  Cecelia Ann Camille Keikilaniwahinealiiopuna Kalama Dawson, better known as Puna, is a Hawai‘i cultural practitioner on Kaua‘i.  She’s the second-oldest and first daughter born into a family of eleven children on O‘ahu. Descended from Hawaiian ali‘i, her parents taught her as she was growing up that like her ancestors, her life purpose must be to serve the people.  While she did not seek to meet prominent and extraordinary individuals, they certainly crossed her path in surprising ways, in surprising places.  Who else can say they were called to give a man a ride on Kaua‘i, and it turned out to be the Dalai Lama?  More on that later.  She lives in Anahola and Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i, but grew up in Kailua on the Windward side of O‘ahu.

 

Kailua was a big place close to the ocean.  I that was what our life was all about. And my family, you know, when I look back at all of my siblings, my parents had playmates for us.  Because they had so many.  And we were poor, but we just didn’t know that we were poor.  Being there in Kailua, it was a rich community of people that really knew one another, that saw each other at church, walking to and from, you know, school.  The people of that time are names that you read about in today’s time, but they were aunties and uncles, and everybody knew everyone.

 

And now, it seems so odd that anyone who describes themselves as poor would live right … you lived behind what is now Buzz’ Steakhouse, and right across from the beach park.   And now, it’s a whole different upscale neighborhood.

 

Oh, it sure is.  But back then, you know, in one of the homes that we lived, my dad grew everything.  And he was a cook.  My mom was a princess.  But he grew everything, and he taught us to respect and appreciate the ocean, because that was our icebox.  Our house was a one-bedroom house.

 

With eleven children.

 

With eleven children.

 

Up to eleven at a time.

 

Eleven children.  My dad was a man of many trades.  And he was able to build us steel bunkbeds.  So, we had three bunkbeds, a daybed for one of the children, and then a crib.  And we all lived in this one bedroom.  I mean, all the children did.  My parents slept in the living room.  He made that bed, too.  And we had a closet that was about this big, and a bathroom, and a hallway kitchen.  I call it a hallway kitchen because that’s exactly what it was; it was a hallway.  Small house, but lot of love.

 

And did you want to go home, or did you feel cramped at home?

 

Oh, no.  I thought everybody lived like that.  And we always had extra people.  My dad, you know, all the people that kinda grew up—Whitey Hawkins, all these uncles and aunties that he knew from the ocean came home; brought ‘em home.  And children.

 

So, when you were a child, your home was full of people who had a range of backgrounds, and came to eat, came to socialize.

 

My dad; yes.

 

Your dad would …

 

My dad and my mom.  You know, because my mother was a hula person, we always had hula people there.  Back then, the Lucky Luck show, you know, we’d go and perform, Auntie Genoa would play music, the Bee Sisters would play music.  My dad, between his fishermen and friends, we lived down the road from Don Ho, we lived, you know, in Waimānalo it’s Uncle Gabby.  But it wasn’t unusual for them to show up at our house and kanikapila in the front yard. And my dad was a boat builder, so he built so many boats.  And last count, he built sixteen boats, and he gave them all away.  And these were big sampan style, you know.  The people who would come to our house would not just play music, but you know, talk story, and talk story.  And so, our life was full and rich.

 

Auntie ‘Iolani Luahine came to your house.  I mean, you’ve seen her dance in person.  You know, she’s no longer with us, and not a lot of pictures even remain of her, especially moving pictures.  But they say it seemed like she was possessed by another presence when she danced.  Did you see that?

 

She was dedicated to hula, and of that time.  You know, when you look and read about the history of that time, I had no idea we were living in that time because she was part of it.  Iolani came on my mother’s birthday and asked if my mother would go and chant for her at the beach.  And so, we went.  And she danced right there at the water’s edge, right at the mouth of Kawai Nui, the river in Kailua.  And she danced there.  And you know, when you say that she’s possessed, it’s like she’s from another time. It was as though she was on top of the water, at the water’s edge, just floating.  Because of her dedication, when she became this other person, it was a real gift to me in my memory, because it helped me understand the histories of past.

 

So, here you are, I mean, treated to this amazing dancer, while also, you’re off to St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Kailua with your long hair down to your ankles.

 

Big bush.

 

Bound up behind your head.

 

A bush.  My dad didn’t want us cutting our hair, so our hair was big.  Anyway, at St. Anthony’s, again, at the right place at the right time.  You know, Hedwig von Trapp was—

 

Okay; stop right there.  Hedwig von Trapp was your teacher.

 

Yes.

 

And who was she?

 

Hedwig von Trapp of the von Trapp family.  She came to school in her dirndl and her kerchief.

 

The Sound of Music family.

 

The Sound of Music.

 

The actual one of the kids.

 

Actual; yeah.

 

Grown up.

 

The actual.  And you know, she was a gift to the school.  My auntie, Melia Meyer’s mother, found this woman, brought her to our school.  They were so involved with education.  And she became our music teacher.  So, you know, Mihana Aluli and all of us going to school there, we learnt from this woman.  Besides, of course, Auntie Irmgard.  But we learnt from this woman about harmony and voice projection.  We didn’t know we were having voice lessons; it was what she demanded of us at the time.  But, you know, I attribute my ability to hear harmony to that woman.  And what a gift.

 

Puna Dawson’s family life revolved around the ocean, whether it was boat building, fishing, or especially canoe paddling.  As much as her mother expected her to follow in her hula footsteps, paddling always came first for her.  Yet, her life experiences, guided by her relationship with her mother and other Hawaiian cultural practitioners, pushed her in another direction.

 

I loved sandboarding at the mouth of the river. That was my favorite sport; and canoeing.  And you know, all our family were canoe paddlers, canoe builders, makers.  And my passion was canoeing.  And I’d show up for hula with my hair wet, and show up there, and I never thought I was going to be a kumu hula of any kind.  In fact, I’m really lazy.  But I never thought, because I believed that my mother was going to live forever.  But not too long after that, my Aunt Maiki Aiu passed away.  She and my mother were two peas in a pod, and were both graduates of Auntie Lokalia Montgomery, and so, they did everything together.  But it was such a shock when Auntie passed away, because it made me realize that that could happen to my mom, too.  And I will say that helped me be more responsible.

 

Because you were the next in line to be kumu hula once your mom passed?

 

No; it was, you know, never appreciating what is right around you.  Never appreciating them.  And that was a real wakeup call.  Because my aunt was surrounded by beautiful people, and you know, and my mom too, and my aunts, my other aunts, that when she passed, it shook us, all of us.  But it shook me enough to say to my mom: I’m ready. I’m ready.

 

You had been the daughter who wasn’t showing interest in hula.

 

Oh, no.  I would say to my mom every time: Oh, there’s a new race, mom; right after this race, I will show up.

 

I see.

 

I promise you, I promise you.

 

It’s not easy; as everyone who ever goes to Kamehameha Schools knows, not easy to make Concert Glee.  You did so. What was that like?  Because it did take you many places.

 

It did.  You know, I’m gonna say this on record; I had the best friends in school, and Robert Cazimero was one of them, Kaohu Mookini.  I mean, you know, all the names that you hear.  Wayne Chang, all of these people were the who’s-who were all part of this group.  And Auntie Nona Beamer was our Hawaiian teacher.

 

You must have thought that was really normal to have all these amazing people around you.

 

Really.  And what happened was, at the right place at the right time.  Kalani Cockett came and he saw the Hawaiian ensemble, our group, and picked the whole group up and, you know, the rest is history.  We became The Hawaiian Expression.  And so, we traveled, but we traveled with our teachers. Mr. Mookini, who taught science, was our musicians, the Bee Sisters.  You know, all of these people that were known musicians of the time were a part.  Barry Yap from Kauai, you know, Beverly Noa, Ed Kenney.

 

Wow.

 

These people were—

 

They traveled with you and worked with you.

 

They traveled.  You know, we’d show up in Belgium, we’d show up in Paris; every place that Pan American flew, we had a show there.  And we were housed in Zurich.  And a group of us, you know, it was like a pod.  And it was wonderful, because we were at places that you only read about, you know.

 

Was Hawaiʻi small enough now that many other people had these experiences, or were they coming to you because your family was so involved in the community?

 

I think it was just timing.  And I say it all the time; it’s just timing.  All the places that I’ve been and continue to go to, in the name of aloha is an expression that my mom used.  What happened was, she saw so many things being written about Hawai‘i, and she totally disagreed with it.  And she became part of the Aloha Council with Auntie Pilahi Paki.  They wanted to push to make sure that that idea and the flavor of Hawaiʻi didn’t disappear.  And so, my mom started to travel.  And she chose the places that we still had agreements of peace—Germany. You know, if you look at Kalākaua and the things that he had made peace agreements—Japan, all of these places, that’s where she wanted to go.

 

What were the original things that your mom heard that were being said incorrectly about Hawaiʻi, that made her want to go on her mission?

 

Oh; hula.  Things about hula that just drove her crazy.  All knowledge is not in one school.  That’s correct.  But what was happening was, things about huna, about lua, and especially about hula was being printed, and printed in all these different languages—Japanese, you know, German, a lot of Swedish and things.  And talking story with Auntie Pilahi, you know, they were: We gotta do something about this.

 

Well, what exactly bothered them?  What was being said?

 

Well, the practice of huna especially.  Huna is in every culture; every culture.  And the expression of unihipili, coming to your center. It’s when you translate something that has no foundation, and you create it.  And that’s what they saw.  You know, in the expression how the word aloha was turned around or expressed without thought, without foundation.  I mean, the words itself in that word aloha, it is so pronounced, because it is characteristics of who we are as a people.  And in reference to hula, hula is not something that you can really learn.  It is there in you.  And different people are able to help to bring it forth.  I believe that that was really what bothered them the most. And my mother said: My grandchildren, great-grandchildren are gonna be reading this and believing it if we don’t speak out against it, if we don’t show the other side of the picture—

 

Correct the record.

 

Right.   Then, you know, we’re at fault.  So, it became a mission of hers in her later years to try to, you know, create that huliau.

 

After high school, Puna Dawson assisted her mother teaching hula in Kailua, while remaining an avid paddler and hoping to build the sport.  She followed her husband, Kalani Dawson, to Kaua‘i when he was assigned a short-term job on the island.  And she was there when Hurricane Iwa hit, which extended her husband’s stay. Commuting back and forth between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i after that, she became part of the Kaua‘i community until moving there permanently.  Then, a second hurricane hit.

 

My husband worked for the telephone company, and he went to install of the PBX in Poipu.  The very following week, Iwa hit.  And then, we were on loan to the island.  And getting ready to come home, and then Iniki hit.

 

’92; that’s a long time.

 

That’s a long time.

 

So, you were there …

 

I was there from ’89, continuously.  But in that time, my friends and family on the island would say: Oh, teach hula; why don’t you teach hula.  I go: Oh, no; too much work.  Plus—

 

I’m leaving anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

Plus, my husband and I were very involved with the canoe club on Kaua‘i.  And he bought me a microwave.  I know. He says: I’m gonna buy you this microwave because I want you to come and be the coach for the women’s crew on Kaua‘i. And so, I said: Oh.  Well, when I went there, when I went there to be the coach, what happened was, you know, coming from O‘ahu, where everything was more systematic, we go to Kaua‘i, and I have people who don’t run, they paddle when they want to paddle.  I mean, they were wonderful, but you know, it was a different lifestyle.  Anyway, he said: We need to help them to become long-distance paddlers.

 

Okay; now, what does this have to do with the microwave?

 

He bought me the microwave because I said: I’m too busy, I can’t do this, you know.  He bought me the microwave, got me the classes, and I became the microwave queen. Anyway, come back to the canoeing. Why I even went on that tangent is, my mom came to visit me a couple of times, and you know, we have friends on island. Everybody knows everybody.  And in the years that I was there, I met different kumu.  And so, when my neighbor said: Oh, can you teach us a song, we’re gonna have this convention.  And I said: Oh, let me send you to my friend.  So, I sent them to Kapu Kinimaka.  Love that girl.  Anyway, sent her.  Well, these were older women.  They were schoolteachers at Kapa‘a School, and just wanted to learn a hula so that they could share.  Well, after about three days, my neighbor comes back; she goes: We can’t dance over there, we cannot do the duck walks.  Kapu was progressive and young.  So, I said: Oh, I have another friend.  So, I called Auntie Beverly Muraoka.  I sent them to Beverly, and Beverly was teaching down at the boats.  The Lurline would come in, and so, her classes were right there in front of the Lurline coming in.  So, here are these schoolteachers who like everything to be exactly right; right?  All learning hula with all these tourists around them.  And so, they come back again three days later: We can’t be down there, we don’t even know the songs, you know.  Well, my mom happened to be home at my house, and she heard me talking to my neighbor again.  And she says: How many times did you send them away?  And I said: Twice.  She goes: This is the third time?  I said: Yes. She goes: No; you’re not sending them away.  She walked out; she said: Come tomorrow, you folks will have hula over here.  And that’s really how I started to teach, is because my mom was there.  You know. Otherwise, I would have probably passed it on forward.

 

Wow; that’s interesting.  Yeah; do you think that was meant to be?

 

I believe so.  Going to Kaua‘i, my husband encouraged me.  So, anything that I wanted to do, he encouraged me to do it. But he loved the fact that I was not only doing the culture, but you know, seeing where it was going, and utilizing the things that I was taught as a young girl.

 

You mentioned that two hurricanes kept you on Kaua‘i, even though you had planned to move back to O‘ahu.  What was your life like?  Iniki really hit Kaua‘i—well, both hit Kaua‘i hard.  What was life like after that on Kaua‘i for you?

 

Oh, my goodness.  You know, I was working at um, Smith’s Flower Shop right at Wailua.  And we had this big funeral.  So, I go to work that morning, and I’m doing all of this stuff for funerals.  And what I noticed is the peacocks in the garden are walking out of the garden in a line. And I’m saying: That is so unusual. And the Iwa birds that you usually see in the mountains were now in the lower areas, where I could see them outside of our flower shop.  And my husband calls and he says: You’ve gotta go home; you know, this hurricane is really gonna come.  Anyway, I’m driving home, and I see on the open plains cows and horses sitting on the ground.  And they only do that when they’re gonna give birth or something; right?  So, I mean, all of these signs were showing that things were different, something was happening.  My husband opens up all the windows and all the doors, and everyone’s saying: Go up to the mountain, go to the school because that’s gonna be the safest place to be.  But he looked at the house, he says: There’s concrete around everything around right here, we have a coconut tree right in front of the house.  Anyway, when Iniki hit, um, it came like a locomotive, the sound. And the wind went right through our house.  And our house was fine; we were perfectly fine.  Then, we hear the noise again.  So, here is Iniki coming, the other half, ‘cause I didn’t realize we were in the eye; other half.  I saw a house that I was at the open house just the week before, falling off the mountain. You know, like the piano just falling off the mountain.

 

Wow.

 

It was at that time that I met my neighbors.  So busy coming and going, I didn’t know my neighbors.  And my neighbors next door, the three girls had really bad asthma.  My brother Kamohai, he sent a generator; I had the first generator in Anahola.

 

Oh, that was so precious.

 

And so, we hooked up these girls, because they needed it for their machines.  I met the neighbor across the street, all the neighbors, and pretty soon we had all the kids at our house.  And you know, we would walk down to the beach to go and swim in the ocean, because we didn’t have running water.  I mean, there were so many things we didn’t have.  In that time, getting to know the neighbors, getting to know the people, I think that Anahola community really came together, and people not only knew one another, but took care of each other.

 

Wow. So, you’ve just described a powerful, destructive hurricane in terms of what good things it did for you.

 

It did.  And it did for the island.  It made everybody appreciate.  Lucky we live Hawai‘i.  But lucky we live Kaua‘i.  It made everybody appreciate what they have.  And we have a lot.  You know, simple is best.

 

Puna Dawson’s experiences of meeting remarkable people in history and living through significant events have all been part of her journey.  Mahalo to Puna Dawson of Anahola and Lihue, Kaua‘i for sharing her stories with us.  And mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Along that theme of you coming in contact with leaders and just really remarkable people, you had an interesting guest in the backseat of your broken down Subaru one day.

 

Yes; I did.  I called him Toptim, ‘cause that’s what my brother said; his name was Toptim.

 

And in fact, he was …

 

He was the Dalai Lama.

 

Dalai Lama.

 

Yeah.

 

And he was sitting in the back of your Subaru.

 

Yes.

 

Holding your pikake plants.

 

Yeah; yes.  He came to the island.  My brother just said: My friend wants to come, and his name is Toptim.  When he came—because I didn’t know who he was, I had no idea, and so, I had all my buckets with the plants and stuff in the backseat.

 

Because you worked in a flower shop.

 

Yeah.  And so, I had to pick up all the flowers.  And so, when he said where he wanted to go, I said: Oh, I’m gonna go there, but we’ve gotta pick the flowers up on the way.

 

What was the Dalai Lama’s reaction to that?

 

Oh, he was game.  He’s a fun-loving guy.  We arrive at the airport, and here he’s sitting with my packages of pīkake, smelling wonderful.  And the girls come out to help me, and they tell me: Auntie, Auntie, that’s The Chosen One.  And I’m going like: Yeah, I guess so.  And so, we proceed going inside.  And the girl comes up and she has a newspaper, and she shows it me like this. And I turned to my brother and I say … he goes: Yeah, Toptim.  Because he couldn’t say the long version of the Dalai Lama’s name.  From that moment, it was like: Oh, my goodness, I just took this gentleman from one end of Kaua‘i to the other end of Kaua‘i picking up flowers.

 

And covered him with plants.

 

And covered him with plants.  I mean, literally, you could only see him here, and everything else was around him.

 

Did he make a comment about it?

 

He said: Oh, this is joyful.  You know, he used that word joyful quite a few times. And he found humor in everything that we were doing.

 

It is pretty funny.

 

Yeah, it is.  All I can say is, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been really blessed.

 

 

 



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