perseverance

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]

 



INDEPENDENT LENS
Young Men & Fire

 

Wildland tells the story of a single wildland firefighting crew as they struggle with fear, loyalty, love and defeat all over the course of a single fire season. What emerges is a story of a small group of working-class men, their exterior world, their interior lives, and the fire that lies between.

 

 

PERSONAL STATEMENT: America Reframed

 

Follow three low-income teens in Brooklyn who take it upon themselves to make a difference by becoming peer college counselors in their schools. They are high school seniors who are fighting to defy the odds not only for themselves but for every single one of their classmates, becoming the very resource they don’t have themselves.

 

 

Our American Family:
The Furutas

 

Through hard work, the Furutas, a Japanese American family in Wintersburg, CA established a successful goldfish farm, only to have their business devastated and family separated in the wake of WWII. Following years in an Arizona relocation camp, their indomitable spirit prevails as they return home and band together to pursue the American dream a second time.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

 

The conversation with Chief Susan Ballard continues with insights into her almost-33 years with the Honolulu Police Department. She reveals the ways she had to prove herself as a rare woman on the police force and how she is breaking the mold of her predecessors by just being herself.

 

 

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

 

Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there.  We had lunch maybe about a month ago.  And she reminded me, because I had started the process to go into the police department. And she said: Do you remember what you told me?  And this was not when I was living with her, but after I had moved out, but you know obviously, we stayed friends.  She said: You remember what you told me?  And I said: No.  And she says: I’ll never forget that I asked you, How long are you gonna stay in the police department?  ‘Cause she knew it wasn’t anything I really wanted to do.  And I said: Ah, I think I’m gonna stay until I make chief.   And I said: I really said that?  And she said: I will never forget that; and when you made chief, it was just like I was like, holy cow, that really happened.

 

Thirty-two years later.

 

Yup; thirty-two years later.  Exactly.

 

When Susan Ballard joined the police force in 1985, there were few women cops, let alone in high positions.  She didn’t necessarily plan to make a career of being a police officer, but she persevered, and overcame barriers. Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, 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.  Susan Marshall Ballard grew up in the South, raised to be a proper Southern lady.  She moved to Honolulu in the early 80s with no particular plans, other than to look for work at McDonald’s as a manager, a job she’d done before, until she figured out what to do next.  Ballard became friends with police officers at the Central YMCA, and they persuaded her to apply at the Police Department.  Now, there weren’t many women cops at the time, and there were many male officers who felt that women were not up for the job and could put them in harm’s way.

 

I guess I’ve always been a rebel, too.  I mean, you know, even growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, you know, just because you sorta had to, to take care of yourself because of the situation. But when I went into recruit school, we had like about four women.  We started out with like four women in our class, which was a large amount at the time. And unfortunately, I think we only ended up—I’m sorry, started with five, and we graduated with three that continued on, actually all the way through retirement.  Two of ‘em retired already; I’m the only one left.  But you really did have to prove yourself.  I mean, when you went to defensive tactics, it was like, you know, they would try their best to try and, you know, get you to quit, you know, to give up.  You know, I always tell the story that, you know, there was a bunch of men in the class who formed the I Hate Women Club.  You know, because they didn’t think that women should be in the police department.  Well, I didn’t care.  I would jump in the truck with them and say: Well, sorry, I’m going with you regardless. You know, and I think after you kinda push yourself on ‘em enough, and they see that you can, you know, take care of yourself and you weren’t gonna back down, then you know, things became easier. Is it right?  Well, no, it wasn’t, but you know, that’s the way it was going through recruit school.

 

But you didn’t take offense?

 

No; I really didn’t.  You know, it didn’t really faze me.  Maybe because I was just kind of oblivious, or maybe I was in my own world somewhere, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.  I’ll never forget when I first went out on the road, the first case that I went to, you know, the guy who was supposed to be covering me off—and it was a domestic.  So, I went in and I said: Are you coming in?  And he’s standing outside the door of this, and he says: No.  And I was like: Okay.

 

No backup.

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went in, and you know, resolved the situation and stuff.  And then after that, he was okay.  But I had to prove that, you know, you could.  And you know, couple of the other stories, you know, that I tell is that when I was down in Waikīkī, we had a hostage situation, so we had to call out SSD. At that time, it was the SWAT team. And it was my beat, so it was like, whoo, I was all excited because, you know, I was gonna, you know, be there, you know, and you have this case.  And so, the SWAT team came, and the SWAT major was there.  And my lieutenant, you know, bless his heart, Wally Akeo, he was like the best lieutenant ever.  But you know … he came, and I says: Okay.  I said: You know, I’m gonna go ask, you know, what is it that I can do, because it’s my beat, I want to make sure that I do what I can.  So, I went up to the major of the SWAT team and I said: Excuse me, sir. I said: What is it that you want me to do?  He said: Be a good girl and go get us some coffee.  Well, me being the person I am, I was ready to rip—I didn’t care what his rank was, I was ready to rip into him.  God bless my lieutenant; he grabs me by the shirt and just pulls me out.

 

And he tells me: Calm down; go over there, just calm down.  But did you hear what he said to me?  And he says: Just take it easy.  But you know, those are the types of things, you know, that we had to deal with.  Even at the main station … I don’t know, way back when, our director said that women had to wear brassieres.  It was required.  And so, during our lineups, our lieutenants would come behind us like this, the women, and check like this to see if we had a brassiere on.  Yeah.

 

Wow!

 

Yeah.

 

It sounds like the Middle Ages.

 

Exactly.  Well, I mean, uh, even the weight room.  The weight room was behind the men’s locker room.  And so, for us to go workout in the weight room, we had to walk through the men’s locker room.  And so, we were only allowed to go down one side of the locker room, and as we approached the door, we had to yell: Woman coming through, woman coming through! Well, I mean, let’s face it; all that’s gonna do is egg ‘em on.  So, you can imagine.  Man, we got flashed, I mean, anything that you can imagine.  They always told us: You don’t look, you keep your eyes straight ahead.  It didn’t make any difference what they did.  It was: You look straight ahead.  But, yeah.  So, it was an interesting time.

 

And there was a time when an interview board asked you what rank you thought you thought you would want to be, and you said captain.

 

I did.

 

And they said?

 

They laughed.  They said: Oh, there’ll never be a woman captain.  Okay, well … good.  Okay; whatever.  You needed to ask me something, I answered.  I didn’t even know what a captain was at the time, actually.  So, you know, I figured, hey, that sounds high. I’ll just shoot for captain.

 

 

Along the way, I’m sure you made friends and got advice, too.  What kinds of advice helped you along the way as a, at the time, rare woman, and still a rare woman in the police department?

 

You know, I go back that, you know, I was very lucky as I came through, because I had a lot of really good supervisors.  And obviously, they were all men, because at the time, there weren’t that many women supervisors.  But Bill Clark was my major at the training division when I had become sergeant.  And you know, I guess one of the things I always remember about him is that he would just tell us, he says: You guys do whatever it is that you need to do; you go create programs, do whatever.  And that’s kind of what I got from—you know, take risks and stuff.  You know, try it.  If it doesn’t work, it’s okay.  Then I had Steven Watarai, Chief Watarai at the time.  And everybody was just in fear of him.  I mean, it was like when they told me I was gonna go and work for him, I was like: Oh, no.  I said: I’m in trouble now.  But you know what?  He sat me down and he says: You know what?  He says: I trust you, until you show me that you can’t trust you anymore.  And you know what?  And he always … he would support you, he would, you know, go to bat for you.  You know, and he was true to this word.  And as long as you didn’t do anything that caused him not to trust you, he was behind you one hundred percent.  So, I mean, like I say, I was very lucky.  And like Wally Akeo, when I was in Waikīkīwhen I first went down there, you know, because there were very few women, but he always encouraged me to like, take the sergeant’s test.  He would encourage me to go out and do things that, you know, I wouldn’t normally do. And you know, he would basically tell me: You can do whatever it is that you want to do.  And you know, and that was back, you know, in ’88, you know, back when it was unheard of.  So, like I said, I’ve always really been lucky for the most part, always working with some good supervisors who were very supportive.

 

And then, you dismissed the flack, pretty much. You just decided that you weren’t gonna deal with that.

 

Yeah. Yeah.  You know, I gave this talk to my managers.  And one of the things that I said is, you know, I learn a lot from my dogs.  And one of ‘em is, if you can’t play with it, you can’t eat it, pee on it and walk away.

 

And sometimes, you know what?  If something doesn’t serve you, if it’s not working for you, you know what, you just gotta walk away from it.  You can’t pay it any mind.  It’s like it’s not worth you spending time to worry about.  And I think that’s kind of been, you know, my philosophy all along. ‘Cause you can find yourself getting caught up in things and going: Oh, well, this person’s out to get me, and this person.  But you know what, then you’re letting them control your life.  You have to control your own life.  You can’t let people make you upset because they control you. You’ve gotta control the way that you feel.  And it’s a constant reminder.  I mean, even to this day.  But you know, I mean, that’s one of the things.  If you find yourself getting caught up in stuff, you know, it’s like: Okay, stop. You need to control your own destiny. Don’t let other people control what you think, or what you say.

 

And don’t spend one more moment on it; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was running the Police Department when Susan Ballard turned in her retirement papers.  Morale in the Department was low, as the police force watched and waited for the Chief to be indicted in a Federal corruption case. A series of events during this time turned Susan Ballard in a new direction.

 

You’d been through years and years of police being unhappy with chiefs.

 

Kinda interesting.  When I was commander of District 4 out in Kāneohe and Kailua, I had said that, you know, when I hit, I think it was like twenty-eight years, I was gonna retire.  So, I was at twenty-seven, and Chief Kealoha and Deputy Chief McCauley were in power.  And they really started … and for whatever reason, you know, I don’t know what it is, and obviously when you have power like that, you have people who are gonna kowtow to you and do whatever it is that they want, so that they can get ahead. And you know, and I saw that.  And so, one person did that, and they made allegations, you know.  Oh, well, you know, she’s not being a team player, or whatever.  And it’s like without even asking me why I was doing what I was doing, it was like: Okay, well, you’re out of there.  You know, you’re going down to Central Receiving Desk, which was, you know, like the place where you buried people.  It was the bad place to work, you know.  We only send people down there who were you know, not doing well, and all this other stuff.  So that’s what happened.  And instead of retiring, I said: You know what?  I’m gonna stay around, and I’m just gonna be a needle in their side. So, I thanked them for transferring me out of District 4, because if they hadn’t, if they’d let me stay there one more year, I would have been gone.  But they didn’t.  Once again, as I said, everything happens for a reason.  So, I went down to the desk.  And I was quite unhappy when I went to the desk.  It was like, you know, I’m not gonna do anything.  You know, it’s like, you know what, the heck with these people.  But then, after about a week or two, you know, I started meeting the people who were working down there and says: You know what, these people don’t deserve it. And so, you know what?  I made up my mind at that point in time; I says: We are going to make Central Receiving Desk the best place to work in the Department. We are gonna take care of our little corner of the world.  We didn’t care what was happening on the outside.  They can do whatever it is that they were doing, but we were gonna take care of Central Receiving.  And that’s exactly what we did.  And I got a team together, the sergeants, the lieutenants, you know, the officers who were down there.  Awesome group of people.  I mean, all of a sudden, it went from a place where half of ‘em would transfer out. Every time that there was a transfer, the people were putting their names in to come and join us down at Central Receiving Desk.  So, I decided, you know what, it was great.  And I knew that they would never transfer me, because they weren’t gonna put me anywhere.  So, it was like, great; just leave me down here.  I was having a great time, you know, I had a great group of people to work with.  And so, lo and behold, you know, all this started happening.  Well, we kinda knew what was going on, I think, long before, you know, the public. And so, you know, when it came out, and then he finally retired … because the indictment was taking so long, I thought, you know what—I mean, ‘cause it was like, two years, three years, or whatever that it took.  And I thought: You know what, I’m just gonna retire.  I said: You know what, I’ve got thirty-two years in the department, um, you know, I’m not gonna, apply for the position.  But what had happened was that officers, not just the people who were working down at the desk, but the officers would coming in, and they would ask me: Are you putting in for Chief?  And I said: No, I think I’m just gonna retire.  So, it was actually the officers, they said: Please, we’re asking you, please put in to become Chief.  And I said: All right.  And I did. And so, I put in.  But honestly, I never thought that this would happen, because of what was going on, you know, with the Chief, that obviously the public, the commission, everybody thought, you know, we’re gonna go on the outside, we’re gonna pick somebody who’s not in the department, ‘cause everybody in the department is corrupt.

 

But it helped you to be sidelined.

 

It was.

 

You were on the outs.

 

Everything happens for a reason.  It was great. I mean, otherwise, you know what, I probably would have, you know, never been selected because, you know, I would have been tainted, you know, with that administration.

 

On October 25, 2017, the Honolulu Police Commission announced its appointment of Major Susan Ballard to become Honolulu’s eleventh Police Chief, and first woman at the top of the Department.

 

When you’re the police chief, you run on O‘ahu. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it was once the eleventh largest city in America, the whole island.  But essentially, you’re running a mini city.

 

Right.

 

What’s that like every day?  When do you start, what do you do?

 

Well, I mean, I do all my workout in the morning.  Because I know that once my day starts, I’ll lose control.

 

Are you a gym person, or do you do that at home?

 

Actually, I’ve got my weight room at home, and then I do my yoga at, you know, a couple of different yoga studios in town.  And then, you know, I’ll jog on my treadmill like three days a week, or whatever. And then, kinda like do a boot camp type workout.  But it’s all within my house.  I really don’t belong to a formal gym, other than the yoga studios.  Because I’m an early morning person, I mean like, really early.

 

Early; how early?

 

Like, I wake up like, midnight.  I mean, because I have a hard time sleeping.

 

When do you go to sleep?

 

That’s why the nighttime events are so hard sometimes, because I usually try and get to bed by about seven-thirty.  And so, yeah, my sleep … I mean, I had insomnia for quite a while, so now that if I can get four or five hours sleep, I’m like: Yes!

 

And then, you wake up around midnight?

 

Yeah. And so, I usually do my workout, and stretching and then, you know, getting ready, and then go do my workout and stuff.  And that usually takes me ‘til maybe about two o’clock in the morning, two-thirty. And then, that’s when I walk my dogs.

 

Wow …

 

So, everybody in Kailua knows, here’s the crazy chief, she’s walking around.

 

It’s funny, because the newspaper people delivering newspapers, they stop by and say good morning.  You know. And then after that, when I come home, then I usually have time to take like about an hour nap.  And then, I get up and then I go do yoga or whatever usually around five, five-thirty, six o’clock.

 

You’ve had a full day by the time you get to work.

 

I do. And that’s why tell people; I said: You know, your five o’clock in the afternoon is my like, midnight.  Okay?

 

Right, right.

 

Yeah. So, yeah.  And then, I usually get to work, and then you know, try and you know, clear up the email.  But like I said, a lot of times, I just have um, events and, you know, those types of things.  And then, we have what we call chief’s reviews, so I, you know, go out to the different districts and the divisions and, you know, talk to the officers.  And we do a little different.  Before, it was very formal.  Now, I like, you know, the officers just to sit down, and I want ‘em to ask questions.  And they can ask questions about anything.  And I told ‘em; I said: If I can answer ‘em, I’m gonna answer ‘em.  If I can’t, I’m gonna find the answer and get back to you.  And they know, I’m not gonna take offense to anything that you ask.  And I think the officers, you know, are realizing that. If I’m lucky enough to have a block of time free, I’ve been trying actually go out and jump in a car with one of the officers, and then, you know, go patrolling with ‘em.  Because you know, you learn a lot from ‘em, sitting in the car with them, you know, talking.  I was down in Chinatown couple days ago, you know, and I was talking to some of the homeless when we were getting ‘em to move off the sidewalk. So, you know, I try and do that, you know, because at the same time, you know, the officers want to know that you’re there for them as well.  So, I mean, it’s not just the community like I said before, but you know, it’s for the officers as well.

 

It’s true; you have a lot of constituents.

 

You know, one thing that people get upset about more than anything else is like parking, and being stopped.  You know, and and they’re all: Oh, you know, you’re just giving us a parking tag, or you’re just giving us a citation because you need the money.

 

Yeah; you should chase real crime.

 

Right; exactly.  You know. And we tell ‘em, we says: Okay, well, first let me clear up a misconception.  HPD doesn’t get any of the money from the citations.  It all goes to the State; nothing comes to us.  But you know, we tell ‘em.  You know, I mean, one of our biggest complaints—like I had one gentleman at one of the talks, and he was very outspoken, that he felt that it was highway robbery that we were stopping people, you know, for different types of traffic violations, and that we should be out there solving the real crimes. And I told him, I said: Do you know what the number one complaint is from the communities, from almost every single community, besides the homeless—we’ll just leave that out for now. But it’s parking problems, and speeding, and other types of traffic, you know, violations.  I said: So, we’re out there doing what the community is asking us to do.  And you know, I mean, it’s just like DUIs.  You know, you stop someone who’s drunk, and they go: Why you stopping me, I didn’t kill anybody.  Not yet.

 

That guy’s drunker than me.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like people are really watching closely?

 

They do.  You know, and I think more so initially.  Like for example, you know, before, if I went out to dinner or, you know, or I’d meet my friends over at Whole Foods in Kailua, and we’d have, you know, a couple of beers or whatever.  I mean, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t drive my car.  But now, as Chief, I you know, choose not to ever drink in public or have a drink, because people don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not driving. You know, they see me and they think: Oh, well, here she is, having a beer, and you’re talking about drinking and driving.  So you know, I’m very careful about that type of thing.  Um, so that, you know, on the weekends, after I come back from a hot yoga class, I like to have a beer.  So, you know, I’ll have that at home.  But, yeah. So, I mean, that’s something that you know, I force on myself not because, you know, anybody else had said: Oh, well, you can’t do this, or that anybody ever made a comment.  I guess I’m probably my worst enemy.

 

In the more recent past, police chiefs haven’t served all that long.  It hasn’t been a long tenure for them, maybe seven years, five years.  Before, there were long-serving police chiefs.

 

Right.

 

What do you think you’ll do?

 

You know, I’m older than most.  So, you know, like I tell people; I said: You know, we’re just taking it one year at a time. You know, I don’t know, in five years, you know.  And a lot of it is the tenure is shorter because there are just so many issues.  It’s not like before, where it was a more, hate to say, simpler time.  But it was. But now, I mean, I would not want to be an officer out on the road now.  There is so much stuff that they have to deal with and do that, you know, we didn’t have to do coming up.

 

Yeah; I was just thinking about men in the police department over the years, and you know, there is a certain amount of stoicism and, you know, a face that doesn’t show emotion, and sunglasses, and not talking too much.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever feel like, hey, that’s kind of a model, strength; quiet strength model.

 

It is, and it’s still.  And I mean, even you go up to the chief level.  Because, I mean, you know, all the other chiefs have been pretty stoic, and you know, the model that you’re talking about.  And I think that might have been a big difference, big change for people, you know, the officers who are in the department, ‘cause now all of a sudden, you’ve got somebody who is, for lack of a better term, I’m very loquacious.

 

And you know, we laugh and we joke.  I mean, before, if you went up on the fourth floor, which is where the assistant chiefs and our offices are, you could hear a pin drop.  I mean, it was dead silence.  I mean, you know, it was like you went into this—it’s almost quiet as a cemetery.  Now, you go up there, and people laughing and joking, and you know.  I mean, it’s a big change.  And even the officers, it’s like all of a sudden now, they seem to have permission to smile.  It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be happy.  You don’t have to always put up that face.  Unfortunately, we’re still trying to, you know, like with the public, you don’t have to be that robot, that perfect person.  I said: You know, you can come out of your shell. Because, I mean, most of ‘em are very personable people, you know, once you get to know ‘em.  But it seems like, you know, all these years, that is you know, the way that officers are portrayed.  So, we’re trying to break that mold, you know, and trying to move out of that realm.

 

Well, you heard what the Mayor’s representative—I think the Mayor was out of town, but it was Roy Amemiya saying, you know, that you’ve been chosen, and your job is to restore trust in the police.  And it is true that there’ve been a number of scandals and incidents such as domestic violence, and an unwillingness to address that.  And how do you plan to restore that trust?

 

You know, it’s kinda interesting that when I first became Chief, it was during Christmas season, parade season.  And so, I was, you know, walking in some of the parades, and you know, people were, you know, yelling and cheering, and stuff.  And I was just walking down.  It’s like, wow, they’re really excited about their parades.  And one of my deputy chiefs turned to me and said: Chief … you know, I think they’re cheering, they’re yelling because you’re going by. And I’m going: What?  And so, I started going over and shaking people’s hands and stuff, and you know, and basically saying: Thank you.  And it was just so humbling that everything that this department has gone through, you know, in the last several years, that the community—and this was everywhere, was willing to forgive and forget.  I mean, maybe not totally forget, because it’s always gonna be back there.  It wasn’t just the community’s trust that was broken; our department internally, the officers’ trust was completely obliterated.  I mean, to the point where you had retirees that were embarrassed to say that they retired from the Honolulu Police Department, and that they would not say anything.  But you know what?  It’s nice to hear now that, you know, they’re proud of saying that they are, you know, retired from the Honolulu Police Department, ‘cause they see that we are trying to change.  And just like I tell people when we go outside, I said: It’s not gonna happen overnight.  And I’m not gonna tell you that our officers aren’t gonna do anything wrong, because they absolutely will; it’s no different from your children.  They’re gonna make bad decisions, and they’re gonna make bad choices, but we are going to address it.  I tell people even now, the people who get promoted; I said: You know, the higher you go, the more humble you need to be.  Why do you need to flaunt your power?  I mean, yeah, you’ve got it, it’s there.  But why?  I mean, if you have to do that, then obviously, you’re doing something wrong. I said: You know, you should be the most humble person in the world, the higher up that you go.  Because you know, that way people feel comfortable around you, and you can get a lot more things done.

 

At the time of our conversation, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was eight months into her five-year term as Police Chief, and one month shy of her thirty-third year in the Department. Mahalo to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your 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.

 

You know, I always tell people; I said: You know, as long as you do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, then I feel fine.  I mean, you’re never gonna get everybody to agree.  There’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with you. And that’s just the world that we live in.  But as long as you don’t do anything, you know, mean or retaliatory, but you do it for the betterment of the community, the betterment for the officers, then how can you go wrong.  You know. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit, okay, well, we messed up.  Or if a law is passed and says: Oh, well, you can’t do this anymore.  Okay, well, you know, you’ve given me my direction, you know, and we’ll have to move in that direction.  But as long as long as you do it with a good heart, and you’re doing it for the right reason, you know, I can go home and I can sleep at night.

 

 

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