mission

NHK SPECIAL
Rescuing the Lost Battalion: The Story Behind the “Heroes”

NHK SPECIAL: Rescuing the Lost Battalion: The Story Behind the “Heroes”

 

Through interviews, reenactments and archival material, this documentary recounts the story behind the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese American soldiers who rescued a battalion of fellow US troops surrounded by German forces in France during the latter part of World War II. These Nisei soldiers became instant heroes – but at a steep cost.

 

Preview

 

 

 


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, Nov. 18, 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.

 

 

Allen Hoe
A Soldier’s Soldier by Emilie Howlett

ALLEN HOE: A Soldier's Story by Emilie Howlett

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Allen Hoe and the courageous men he had served with.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Courage in Captivity: Three POWs’ Stories Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Former State Land Director William Paty, retired Hawai‘i Supreme Court Associate Justice Frank Padgett, and retired U.S. Navy Captain Jerry Coffee all survived ordeals as prisoners of war. On this compilation edition of Long Story Short, we look back at these previous Long Story Short guests and see how they never really stopped believing that they would come home alive. Courage in Captivity, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. While prisoners of war may be valuable commodities to their captors, that does not mean they’ll be well treated or survive. Sir Winston Churchill observed that courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality which guarantees all others. This can mostly certainly be said about three Long Story Short guests. We begin with William Woods Paty, Jr., better known as Bill. In 1945, he left college to join the Army and become a paratrooper. He soon found himself on the ground in Normandy, France on D-Day, fighting in one of the most famous battles of World War II.

 

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

 

What happened when you landed?

 

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

 

Have a date with a German regiment.

 

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

 

What were conditions like for you as a POW?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You tried to get away.

 

Yeah.

 

What’d you try?

 

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

 

They didn’t discipline you?

 

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

 

What happened the second time you tried to get away?

 

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

 

And what had you been treated for?

 

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

 

Were you cut up by the barbed wire?

 

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

 

So far, that Punahou French …

 

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

 

But solitary was the worst of it?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That was a sign that there was a friendly person.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Come show yourself.

 

Okay; okay.

 

Did you hear Tipperary, and not respond?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Well, in a Kempeitai jail, yes.

 

You’re always on alert.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Kind of a dark humor?

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

But I think that might be resilience, too.

 

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

 

That was your excursion; right?

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s right; to a tree. Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It was.

 

It was an untreated broken arm.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

An infection could have killed you.

 

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

 

The toilet was a bucket without a cover.

 

A bucket right there; yeah.

 

In this very small space.

 

Right; right.

 

And you exercised in that tiny little space.

 

Right.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Veritable luxury.

 

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

 

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

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 



NATURE
Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants

 

What does it take to relocate a herd of wild giraffes in Africa? One man, his family, and a band of enthusiastic helpers are about to find out. Their journey will take them across the wild heart of Uganda, crossing the mighty Nile River. The importance of this operation cannot be underestimated, because these are Rothschild’s giraffes, the world’s rarest. Any mistake could be costly, not only for the giraffes being moved but also for an entire species.

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Under a Jarvis Moon

 

This film tells the story of 130 young men from Hawaii who, from the late 1930s through the early years of World War II, were part of a clandestine mission by the U.S. federal government to occupy desert islands in the middle of the Pacific. The first wave of these colonists was a group of Hawaiian high school students, chosen because government officials assumed Pacific Islanders could best survive the harsh conditions present on the tiny, isolated islands. For the young men, who were unaware of the true purpose of their role as colonists, what ensued is a tale of intrigue, courage, and ultimately, tragedy.

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode # 915: Girls Got Grit and other stories

 

TOP STORY

 

Students from Sacred Hearts Academy, an all-girl school in the Kaimuki district of O‘ahu, tell the story of their school’s professional mentoring program called Girls Got Grit. The program places Sacred Hearts students in professional work places where they are mentored by female staffers. The story follows Sacred Hearts junior Shelby Mattos, who is interning at Hawaii News Now through Girls Got Grit. “Being in Girls Got Grit allows students to enter a professional business environment, and doing that kind of sets a level of expectations for when we enter the workforce,” says Mattos. Other Girls Got Grit internships include Castle Medical Center and Alexander & Baldwin. The program’s director Shelly Kramer says, “I want these girls to come out strong, empowered and feeling that they have a network that they can touch.”

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

–Students from Hilo Intermediate School on Hawai‘i Island show us how to make a refreshing AND healthy snack: a yogurt parfait.

 

–Students from Mililani Middle School in Central O‘ahu feature Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking, a nonprofit with a mission of addressing gender inequity in the film and media industry.

 

–Students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School on Kaua‘i tell the story of a young woman who designs and builds a wheelchair for her disabled dog.

 

–Students from Seabury Hall Middle School in upcountry Maui explore the integral role of mules at Haleakala National Park.

 

–Students from Kapa‘a Middle School on Kaua‘i feature a young woman in the traditionally male role of a Samoan fire knife dancer.

 

–Students from King Intermediate School in Windward O‘ahu tell the story of a female student who fell in love with DJ-ing.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by students at President William McKinley High School in Honolulu.

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Voyage of the Hōkūle‘a

 

Witness Hōkūle‘a’s inaugural 1976 journey from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, the preparations leading up to it, and the behind-the-scenes turmoil that threatened to derail the voyage. Rifts are seen among leadership, between leadership and the crew, and among crewmembers. The film by Dale Bell was co-produced by the National Geographic Society and WQED Pittsburgh.

 

The Farthest – Voyager in Space

 

With participation from more than 20 of the original and current mission scientists, engineers and team members, this program tells captivating tales of one of humanity’s greatest achievements in space exploration. From supermarket aluminum foil added at the last minute to protect the craft from radiation, to the near disasters at launch, to the emergency maneuvers to fix a crucial frozen instrument platform, viewers get a sense of how difficult – and rewarding – space exploration can be. NASA’s epic Voyager missions, launched in 1977, revolutionized our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their dazzling moons and rings. In 2012, Voyager 1 left our solar system and ushered humanity into the interstellar age.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Livingston “Jack” Wong

 

Livingston “Jack” Wong is Chief Executive Officer of Kamehameha Schools, overseeing its significant endowment and educational mission. Kamehameha Schools serves more than 48,000 students across three K-12 campuses, 30 preschools and many community education and scholarship programs. Wong is a graduate of Punahou School – the Kamehameha CEO has said he sometimes gets teased about this. He goes by “Jack” to distinguish himself from his father, a pioneering transplant surgeon in the Islands. Though both of his parents were in medicine, Wong pursued law instead. He joined Kamehameha Schools as its senior legal counsel in 1997.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 19, at 4:00 pm.

 

Livingston “Jack” Wong Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, I think we learn our best lessons from failure.

 

What have you failed at?

 

Well, organic chemistry, for sure.

 

You actually failed?

 

You know, I think I got a D, if I remember correctly. But I had to take it again. And so, the second time, I’m like: I don’t really want to take it again, I’m gonna try something different. There’s been a lot of little failures along the way, but that’s really the one that for me, turned direction and helped me see something different.

 

A son of two doctors, Livingston Jack Wong never questioned that he would be anything other than a doctor when he grew up. But barely making it through organic chemistry in college was life-changing. Today, he’s the chief executive officer of Kamehameha Schools. Livingston Jack Wong, 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. Livingston See Mung Wong, Jr., who’s best known as Jack, was born into a family of medical doctors. His legendary father, Dr. Livingston Wong, is a retired pioneer in the field of organ transplantation in Hawai‘i. Jack Wong’s sister, Dr. Linda Wong, is blazing her own trail in transplant surgery. His later mother, Dr. Rose Wong, was an internist in private practice. Although Jack Wong grew up with the expectation that he would become a doctor, he ended up going in a different direction, but he stayed close to the values of his childhood. Family, education, and service to others remain precious to him. And these values help guide him in his job as chief executive officer of Kamehameha Schools.

 

Jack Wong was born in Boston, where his Hawai‘i parents had moved to do their medical residencies. He was named Livingston after his father, and no one could tell him for sure how he picked up the nickname Jack.

 

I’ve heard lots of stories, but the one that I think I really remember was my mom telling me that when they were living in Boston, it was probably about six months or so after the shooting of JFK that I was born. And since John F. Kennedy’s nickname was Jack, they named me Jack, after John F. Kennedy. And I was also Junior, so you can’t call me Junior all the time, so Jack kinda came from there, from Boston

 

It makes sense; Jack, Boston timeline.

 

Yeah. I think so. So, you know, we had a simple kinda childhood. But it’s interesting; you know, both my parents are doctors, and they worked.

 

How many kids?

 

So, we had five kids. And I have three older sisters, and they’re all very nice to me. And I have a younger brother.

 

He’s not nice to you? [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, he’s nice. I’m nice to him.

 

Oh; gotcha.

 

Yeah. There are five of us, and we, you know, had a great childhood. But we worked; you know, we did a lot of following our parents around in their careers, and supporting what they did.

 

What does that mean? Does that mean you spent a lot of time in their offices doing your homework?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] We spent a lot of time in their offices, we waited in the car. But we also spent time, you know, with my mom in her office, helping her with her medical practice. And so, we would answer phones, we would file. We would do all the support things around the side to make sure the practice was good. So, like a family business, and mostly for my mom.

 

What about food? Could you eat in the cafeteria?

 

So, you know, it was interesting, because you know, most of our childhood, we actually grew up at my grandma’s house. And so, my Popo, who was living in Nuuanu at the time, she used to own a Chinese restaurant long time ago. And so, she ran her house like a Chinese restaurant. So, we’d come there for dinner every night, come there for lunch, and all my cousins would come. There was probably like twenty of us would eat dinner together every night. And so, while my parents would work, we’d just go my grandma’s house and eat with our cousins, and our uncles and aunts. And so, she cooked for us every night, like we were at a Chinese restaurant.

 

That’s a very different vision of family.

 

Yeah.

 

A family that was close in many ways, but not conventionally. What about the personalities of your parents and how they influenced you?

 

You know, it was interesting. You know, I think my dad was—you know, he had a really visionary side to him, and he liked innovation, he liked taking chances. And I hope I got some of that from him. You know, his work in transplant surgery, his work with the emergency medical services, and understanding people and systems.

 

He did the very first kidney and bone marrow transplants in Hawai‘i. That’s a risk.

 

Yeah. So, I think he was a risk-taker, he could see innovation, he had a really good vision for the future. And I think he really brought that. Whereas my mom was very much, you know, in the background. She had a lot of humility to what she was doing. And I think hopefully, that part, I got from her, too. But I think the common thread—and maybe because they were doctors, the common thread was always the human element; being with the patient. You know, we talked about a lot of things, but it was always about patient care, and about how each patient really mattered, and not letting down a single patient. And I think, you know, as we approach our work, whether it’s education, or it’s medicine, or if you’re doing, you know, accounting, you know, each person matters. And I think that’s what we got from my mom; every single patient mattered. She didn’t have a lot of patients, but every patient. You know, we all knew her patients. You know, we talked to them on the phone when they called, we knew who they were, we knew their families.

 

Jack Wong remembers being a little awkward as a kid, accidentally breaking objects, and coming under the watchful eye of his older sisters, including one he considered scary.

 

You said you have three older sisters. So, did the sisters become the de facto mom when neither parent was present?

 

They all had their own mothering ways. But my second to the oldest sister, Linda, she was the boss. Right; she was the one who would crack down on the rules, make sure I studied. And you know, I remember at the end of every school year, you know, when everybody else, you know, runs off to summer and they would do things, she would head to the bookstore and she’d make us buy workbooks. Because we’d do math workbooks, and English workbooks. And all summer long, you know, she’d be testing us. She pushed us really hard.

 

And that was her decision to do that?

 

I think it was her decision. I think she enjoyed torturing me.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know, she had a very high sense, you know, of achievement.

 

And you would listen.

 

And we would listen.

 

All the kids would listen?

 

All the kids would listen.

 

Was there pressure on your to become a medical doctor?

 

There was a lot of pressure. And so, you know, it was interesting, ‘cause you know, growing up, you know, a lot of times families would be asking the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? And in our family, it wasn’t: What do you want to be when you grow up? It was: What kind of doctor do you want to be, Jack? And you know, I remember when I was really young, I’m like, I want to be a surgeon, just like my dad. And you know, my dad was pushing me to be a surgeon, and then he realized, you know, like, I had no hand skills.

 

Well, you were breaking a lot of things.

 

I was breaking a lot of things.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I was a little clumsy, and I couldn’t tie my shoe. And I don’t know if this is a test for surgery, but apparently, I could not tie my shoe. And even now, you know, I joke around with my family that I use the bunny ears, ‘cause I don’t—

 

People with bunny ears. I barely remember; there was a rhyme, right, about how to tie your shoes.

 

I don’t know if there’s a rhyme. I just know, like, when you make two loops and you just tie it together, as opposed to the one loop and you tie it around. And it took me such a long time to tie my shoe. And I think that’s when my dad realized: Maybe surgery is not for you.

 

So, you headed off to UCLA after Punahou.

 

M-hm.

 

And you know, most undergraduates don’t start off knowing what they want to do. Did you?

 

Yeah. So, I spent two years doing a science background in chemistry. And then, I kinda got stuck on organic chemistry. And then, I switched, tried a number of different things, and landed in economics. And found a different path, and understood I like numbers, I like the the analysis that goes with, you know, finances and economics.

 

And you were an outstanding economics grad, I read.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, I liked the field, and law school seemed to come naturally. And you know, in our family, it was expected after you graduate from college, that you do more schooling. So, it was really like: What do I do next?

 

How did you break it to your father and mother that you weren’t going to medical school?

 

I think they found out. I don’t remember them finding out, but I remember when I graduated from law school, my dad was saying: Okay, good job, you know, but it’s not too late to go to medical school. I said: You know, let me just try being a lawyer for a little while, and just see how that works out.

 

And what about your sister Linda, who did become a doctor, and I know she was very influential with you and what you studied. What did she say?

 

You know, it’s interesting. I think she understood that she didn’t want to see me fail at it, or be miserable doing it. So, she was very supportive. I mean, she really understood, I think, that it’s better to succeed and be good at what you want to do than fail at something that, you know, you don’t really like.

 

Well, it sounds like you weren’t really accustomed to failure, anyway.

 

Failure is hard; failure is hard. But you know, I think we learn our best lessons from failure.

 

What have you failed at?

 

Well, organic chemistry, for sure.

 

You actually failed?

 

You know, I think I got a D, if I remember correctly. But I had to take it again. And so, the second time, I’m like: I don’t really want to take it again, I’m gonna try something different.

 

And you went into economics, and then … law isn’t exactly, you know, a logical next step.

 

I don’t know. You know, it was interesting. Maybe in our family, it might just be a little bit of, you can be a doctor or you can be a lawyer. So, if you’re not gonna be a doctor, I guess you’re gonna be a lawyer. And maybe there was a little bit of that.

 

After graduating from the UCLA School of Law, Jack Wong worked in corporate law in Los Angeles. When he decided it was time to move home with his wife, he joined a Honolulu law firm. In 1997, Jack Wong accepted a job at Bishop Estate as senior counsel, specializing in commercial real estate.

 

In 1997, a year of great tumult, tumultuous year at what was then the Bishop Estate, you joined the team at Bishop Estate. And just offhand, I can recall that was the year that the Broken Trust essay was published in the Honolulu Star Bulletin, written by respected community members saying the trust is misgoverning. At what point did you walk into this?

 

So, I walked in, I think, fairly early in that process. You know, I remember I started, and you know, it was like a snowball starting to roll down a hill. And I remember hearing, you know, a few stories, you know, before I started.

 

And what made you want to go to then Bishop Estate?

 

It’s interesting, you know. I came to do corporate work and real estate work. And to me, you know, in a lot of ways, you know, our landholdings at Kamehameha Schools and our corporate work and our investments, there’s so much to do. There’s so much to operate, so much to run. And that was my background. And so, I found it fascinating from a legal background, from a financial background, and knowing we had a mission behind us was amazing. You know, I didn’t think much, you know, going there about the governance issues, ‘cause it really was not in the area I was working. But then, as time went by after I got there, you could kind of feel the energy change in the place, and you knew that this was something, you know, more than just a press story.

 

I mean, the headlines didn’t go away after. It was front page every day. And there was a lot of just feelings of betrayal, and anger, and you just wondered if the whole place was gonna implode sometimes.

 

Right; right, right. I think we all had a feeling, all of us who were there at the time had a feeling, had that exact feeling. You know, it seemed like you were on such shaky ground. Yet, you know, for all the things that were going on at the governance level, a lot of our work on the staff level was, you know, how do we maintain our operations, how do we maintain the lands, how do we make sure we keep doing good work. Because that work needed to continue. And I think our teachers and our class felt the same way; we still gotta serve, you know, our kids every single day.

 

Once Bishop Estate became Kamehameha Schools, and there were new decisions to be made, and you know, speaking of broken trust … they say when something’s broken, at least it lets the light in, you know. What changes had to be made, and were made?

 

I think, you know, what’s amazing is that we had some amazing leaders who really understood the changes we had to make. And so, I give so much credit to Dee Jay Mailer, you know, who came before me. She really understood, you know, that you first have to heal the organization and people. And she did a great job of making sure we healed, and then we came together. And we understood, you know, our relationships with our alumni, our teachers, our community, our lands. And so, her bringing all that together had allowed us to kinda launch from where she left us at a great place. But it took time, took time to heal the organization.

 

How many years later were you appointed interim CEO?

 

So, it wasn’t until 2014, I think, that I was appointed. And it had been a long journey.

 

And this year marks twenty years. You’ve been CEO for more than three.

 

More than three; yes. But it has been an interesting journey, and I think along the way, I had to progressively understand a lot. I got to progressively understand the organization at a deeper level. And I think that’s really what made, you know, my appointment as interim CEO really special. ‘Cause I think at that time, I understood the organization a lot better. I came in understanding the real estate, our investments, and our finances, but I had an opportunity along the way to work on our John Doe case in 2003.

 

Admission case.

 

Admissions case; and I think that was meaningful for the organization. We got to understand kind of our mission and purpose.

 

That’s right. So, you brought economics and law, and a love of education. I think I remember when you were appointed interim CEO, the endowment was at 10.1 billion, or at least that’s what was reported. What is it now in 2017?

 

You know, right now, it’s about 11.7. But you know, it changes every day. And one thing, you know, we work hard in the organization is to understand that, you know, the size of our endowment and how we manage it has to be long-term. And you know, the markets change so frequently, and if you kinda react to it every day, and you react to it every year, we have to take the long view of how our endowment grows over long periods of time. So, it is something we look at carefully.

 

Is that the first thing you look at when you walk in? Ping.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How much is it today?

 

I try not to.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I do watch the markets, so I understand what’s happening. But it’s interesting. As you watch the markets, you have to watch the political landscape and the global landscape, because those things impact the markets. But you know, for us, it’s great because, you know, that’s what impacts education, too. You know, understanding the global impacts of what’s going on politically impacts our markets, impacts our lands, and it’s what our kids should be thinking about, ‘cause that’s world they’re walking into. So, we spend a lot of time thinking about what are the global events, and what’s going on.

 

I know Kamehameha has worked, with your leadership, on a strategic plan, and I don’t know how you can see that far ahead, but it goes way far. How far ahead?

 

So, we have a strategic vision that’s a twenty-five-year vision. So, it’s supposed to be one generation. Our strategic plan is five years. And so, we do it in chunks. And our first five-year plan is ‘til 2020, and our long-term vision goes out to 2040. And I think an organization like ours has the benefit of seeing long-term, but you also need a sense of urgency. And so, the long-term vision is really to give us that long-term vision of where we’re going, and how do we see in one generation change in our community. The five-year plan gives it a sense of urgency so that your work every day is towards shorter goals. And so for us, you have to have a combination of both.

 

Because the Princess left such a large legacy to Kamehameha, I know people are always saying: Well, let Kamehameha do it, they got all the money. Is that true? I mean, should you be doing more?

 

Well, it’s interesting. What we’re really learning in our strategic planning process is, you know, our vision is really to have every Native Hawaiian succeeding in education.

 

Every Native Hawaiian?

 

Every Native Hawaiian succeed in education. And by every Native Hawaiian, we also mean every child in the State should be succeeding in education. But this is not something even we can do alone. And the realization that you have a long-term vision that you can’t do alone really requires you to reexamine how you approach your strategies. And for us, it’s about partnering, it’s about working with other organizations that are already doing great work, and really supporting them.

 

Managing partnerships is difficult, I mean, as we see in marriage. Has it been difficult to find good partners, or you know, how do you pick a partner?

 

So, I think, you know, there are so many people doing wonderful work in education that we’ve not had any problem at all finding great partners doing great work. I think, you know, my question is: How do we support them best, and how do we make sure they succeed? And I think that’s always a great conversation to have, but you know, everything we do, whether it’s partnerships or by ourselves, is always about choices; right? Because there are so many great things we can do. How do we choose as a community, what’s the right path for education. And that’s not something we can do alone. You know, we at Kamehameha Schools can’t do it alone; we need partners, and partners need to work together.

 

So, these are education partners.

 

There’s not only partners in education, there’s partners in social service. We certainly have our alii trusts that we need to be working together better, and making sure we can all move the lahui together successfully. So, you know, we absolutely have to work together with all those partners. And I think we’re not the only organization; I think a lot of organizations are looking on how to better partner in this community.

 

There are some things that have been really difficult to get a handle on. I mean, somebody was here the other day and saying, you know, one of the big elephants in any room is Hawaiian sovereignty. And also, what’s happening on Maunakea. You know, is it really a clash between Western science and Hawaiian culture? I mean, is that how it should be posited, and what can Kamehameha do to bring some light here?

 

It’s interesting. You know, I think, you know, for us, our role is education, and our role is to make sure our keiki, you know, are well-educated, make good choices, understand their community, understand how to lead their community. And from that, I believe great things will happen. And whether they are on the left side of an issue, or the right side of an issue, or right in the middle of an issue, I want our keiki to engage. Because when our community is engaged, we will move forward; right? Our fear should be a lack of engagement, when we’re not hearing noise, when we don’t hear from our communities, and our keiki, and our youth. That’s when we should worry. When we hear noise and we hear people engaging, we should smile.

 

So, Kamehameha doesn’t want to be in the position of making decisions; it wants to promote education and—

 

That’s where we start.

 

–engagement, and … go for it with training.

 

Our start is, we put our keiki in the center. We start with that premise. And we’re saying: What do our keiki need to succeed as adults? You know, if they need to know how to engage civilly with their community, they know how to articulate an issue and participate in the process, and if they know how to have their voice be heard, then we’re doing our work. And that’s the vision for our future.

 

Would you lay out in numbers the breadth of Kamehameha? You know, the real estate and students.

 

So, let’s see if I can get the numbers. Right now, we have about fifty-four hundred kids in our K through 12. We have three campuses. We have about five thousand four hundred students, and we graduate about seven hundred every year on our Maui campus, our Hilo campus, and our Hawaiiana campus. We have thirty preschools, and we have about sixteen hundred keiki in our preschools. And we have scholarships that educate another eighteen hundred in our preschools, and another five hundred in K through 12, and another two thousand in post-high. And then, we have community education programs that if you count how they reach our keiki and our families, probably have another fifteen thousand Native Hawaiians. And so, kinda by the numbers, that’s our reach. We also have about three hundred sixty-three thousand acres of land that we manage, about half in agriculture, and we have commercial lands in about fifteen different areas that we focus on.

 

It’s a tremendous kuleana.

 

It is.

 

So, could you maybe share some leadership tips about how you maintain every day? It’s just huge.

 

I try to draw from my parents. And you know, I think if I draw from my dad, I understand that we have to understand how systems work, we have to know how to innovate and how to lead, and have it work from a vision. And so, I think that’s always important in what we do. But I also know from, you know, my mom, we have to make sure, and I have to make sure we have a sense of humility and know how to help others succeed.

 

Is it always possible to just know what is in the best interest of the keiki?

 

No. You know, I think that’s why we have to work with partners, and we need a lot of voices, we have a great board, we have executives, we have teachers and administrators. All the voices have to help understand that, ‘cause it cannot just be my voice, it cannot just be the voice of a few. And you know, that’s the challenge in education, is that everybody’s working, and everybody has great ideas, yet we all have to figure out how to best serve each child.

 

And you have to be an optimist too; right?

 

You have to be an optimist. You have to see the positive and the growth. And so, a lot of times, you know, our biggest thing is, we have to see the good things in what we’re going. And that’s our encouragement, understanding the really, really good things we do.

 

You know, I’m trying to imagine sitting at your desk, and you have so many constituencies to address. I mean not, quote, just the financials and the legalities. I mean, there are so many people affected in so many different ways by the school and the investments. And you know, some have felt betrayed, some have very different ideas than others. How do you manage that?

 

There’s many ways to manage. My dad or my mom would look to something, where you know, when we talked about their work, and things were stressful, you know, it was always the patient was in the center of everything they did; patient care, taking care of their families. And I think the same for us.

 

So, you’re saying put the keiki in the middle.

 

We put the keiki in the center of everything we do, and we make better decisions. And I pause, and I think about that a lot. That, and we think about, you know, our roots and our history, and our ancestry, and Princess Pauahi. And you know, we make decisions based on our history and our values.

 

It used to be that people felt like they had to choose between their culture and a, quote, good education. Now, I think you’re addressing that; right?

 

Absolutely.

 

How have you addressed it?

 

You don’t have to choose between culture and academics; you can have both. And when we’re really strong in what we do, understand our culture, and our kids understand their identity and their background and their ancestry, they will find academic success, because of that strength. And so, how do we treat our culture as a competitive advantage, and how do you grow from that strength. And absolutely, what you’re saying is true.

 

That if you’re grounded in the Hawaiian culture, it can make you much better in anything you do.

 

Right. And that will become your competitive advantage in the classroom, in the workplace, out in our community. And that’s something we believe as an organization; we’ve always believed that. But we have to feel like we can say it out loud.

 

You know, you talked about your family growing up. What’s your family like?

 

Oh, my family’s wonderful. It’s interesting. You know, I have my wife. We met at UCLA, and we have three wonderful kids.

 

And do you expect them to be lawyers, like you were expected to be a doctor?

 

Yeah. You know, it’s funny; it’s funny. We had a discussion when our kids were young. You know, and I’m very careful not to tell my kids what they should be doing. And I think one thing I just don’t know is, I don’t know what great areas go to into now. I mean, I think kids have to figure that out and see what the future’s gonna bring to them. And so, I have one daughter who lives in Los Angeles, and she’s in finance. I have a second daughter who’s in New York, and she’s doing communications. I heard that’s a good field.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, you’ve gotta communicate.

 

And I have a son who’s in ninth grade. So, we have a wonderful family. And you know, I think kinda like, you know, my own family, I think we try to stay, you know, quiet and do our work, and everybody tries to work hard. And try to stay in the background when we can.

 

And is the family business Kamehameha?

 

Right now, yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Our conversation took place in the Fall of 2017. Mahalo to Livingston Jack Wong of Honolulu, the CEO of Kamehameha Schools, for sharing his story with us. And mahalo to 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.

 

 

You are a lifer at Punahou.

 

M-hm.

 

You’re of Chinese ancestry, and you are sitting in the CEO spot at Kamehameha Schools, primarily for the Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture. Does that get difficult for you at some points?

 

I don’t think so. You know, it’s never about me; it’s always about those we serve. And I’ll let the rest fall as it falls. So, I don’t think about that. I know what I’m here to do, and I’m gonna do my best, and I’m gonna put a hundred and ten percent into it. And I believe in our mission, and I believe in what we’re doing. And I think it’s a calling, and you know, I’ll do my best every single day. And then at some point, somebody will say: Okay, you’re done. And maybe that’s okay, too.

 

[END]

 

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