retired

Still Dreaming

Still Dreaming

 

A group of retired actors, dancers and musicians at the Lillian Booth Actors Home, an assisted living facility just outside New York City, perform a unique take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As the rehearsal process unfolds, the actors find themselves experiencing the pain and exhilaration of re-immersion in their life’s work, amidst the difficulties of old age.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Leahey

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Jim Leahey

 

As the most recognized sports voice in Hawai‘i, Jim Leahey did more than call plays; he was a masterful storyteller who informed as well as entertained. After lending his voice to thousands University of Hawai‘i and other athletics games, and a career of more than 60 years, he retired from sportscasting in June of 2018.

 
Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 3, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Jim Leahey Audio

 

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Transcript

 

People that come up to me and said: You know, I’m gonna do my first game.  I said: Well, you have to know the players, you have to study the statistics, you have to know the trends that are going to happen.  You have to study the language, you have to read, read, read.  And you don’t have to read sports all the time; you read other words that you can compare and contrast for the theater of the mind, the people that listen, the people that you’re providing the picture for.

 

Jim Leahey is an iconic name in the world of Hawai‘i sports broadcasting. For thousands of games, his voice brought University of Hawai‘i athletics into our living rooms.  And he’s one-third of a local sports dynasty; his father was legendary sportscaster Chuck Leahey, and the ball is now in the hands of Jim’s son Kanoa.  Jim Leahey, 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.  James Charles Leahey, sometimes called Kimo, but better known as Jim, retired in June 2018 from a career that spanned more than sixty years in sports broadcasting. He started out teaching school, which he calls his first love.  After he changed careers, he became the most recognized sports voice in Hawai‘i, announcing games and hosting sports talk shows on radio and television for decades. His first radio announcing job came unexpectedly in his teens, when his sportscaster father, Chuck Leahey, fell ill. Chuck Leahey had gotten his start in Hawai‘i as a U.S. Navy reporter during World War II.

 

He was at the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was on the destroyer tender Dobbin, seven hundred yards from the Arizona when it blew up.  For one month, his job was to pick up dead bodies and body parts. Okay?  And that really affected him.  He was also at Midway, he was also at Tarawa, he was at Iwo Jima, but he never talked about them.  So, later on, I said: Dad, they’re having the anniversary for Pearl Harbor, and all of these people, you know, they wear the hats, survivor.  How come you never joined that?  He says: Let me tell you something.  And he looks … Let me tell you something.  That was the greatest defeat in the history of the United States Navy; it has affected me greatly.  I’m not going out wearing a celebratory hat.  And so, that’s the kind of person he was.  I mean, he really loved his children, he really loved his family, but he knew as a chief petty officer, a journalist chief petty officer in the Navy, which he stayed in after World War II, and he married my mother a month after the attack, he needed something else.  So, he went into play-by-play; he went into radio.  He refereed basketball games.  He did that kind of thing.  And because of that, he would have to take us along, because he had these kids.  He had to take me along.

 

How many kids?

 

Well, he had a total of five.  One is deceased now.  My brother Robby was blown up in that ammunition firecracker incident.

 

In Waikele.

 

In Waikele; yeah.

 

I’m sorry.

 

So, the thing was that we sat there, and we absorbed, we absorbed, we absorbed.  And we were all sportscasters.  I mean, we were all sportscasters.  And even when my brother lived in Mililani, had a little pool, we used to play games, and we used to announce the games.  And you had to come up there as a new guy with a new bat, and a new way of doing things, and describe what was going on.  So, he was able to make a living at it, and he was able to, you know, push it out.  And then, he went into Armed Forces Radio in Los Angeles, and we went with him, then we came back.  And the first time that I had done it, or I did it, was a boxing tournament in Schofield Barracks at Conroy Bowl.  He had pleurisy; he said I can’t do it.  Pleurisy, liquid in the lungs.  And he—This is your pass to get in.

 

How old were you?

 

I was fifteen.  I was a sophomore at St. Louis.  Okay?  So, he says: This is your ticket to get in, this is your ticket to get into the arena. This is the equipment; you plug in this, there’ll be a radio thing down there, you plug in that, and then you’ll hear the engineer, and then you talk to him again.  I did it.  I went, I got in, I went there.  And you know, it sounded fifteen-ish.  You know, it was like: There’s a hard right to the body, there’s a hit to the head, the referee.  Oh, he may be down.  You know, yeah.

 

But you were accurate the whole way?

 

I was pretty accurate.  You know, I was pretty accurate.  I could tell who won.

And uh, then, you know.

 

Fifteen; you went there on your own without a buddy or—

 

Nope; just me.

 

–chaperone, or anything?

 

Just me.

 

Wow.

 

So, that started it off.

 

But that’s live.  You sink or swim in live.

 

Live.

 

Yeah; no retakes.

 

No.  Yeah; that’s right.  And people that come up to me and said: You know, I’m gonna do my first game.  I said: Well, you have to know the players, you have to study the statistics, you have to know the trends that are going to happen.  You have to study the language, you have to read, read, read.  And you don’t have to read sports all the time; you read other words that you can compare and contrast for the theater of the mind, the people that listen, the people that you’re providing the picture for.  So, I said: That’s what you have to do.  And usually, they get right through the opening, the lineups, everything is good.  Tipoff; now, all of that is gone.  All of that research is gone, and it’s your mind and your talent.  And I’ve always believed in three things.  One is, always be yourself.  Always be yourself.  You’ve been given this talent.  Don’t imitate anybody else.  Two, never tell a lie.  Never tell a lie when you’re in play-by-play.  And three—and you’ll get this; never, ever trust broadcast management.

 

Never trust them.

 

Never trust myself; no.

 

Never trust them; yes.

 

No, no; of course not.

 

And it’s not their fault; it’s not their fault. They look at the broadcast, they look at games in a different way.  How many people will listen, how many sponsors will we get, how much do we have to pay the announcer, how much do we have to, you know, pay for the rights, and all kinds of stuff.  So, theirs is different.

 

Different parameters.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But don’t trust ‘em.  Don’t come buddy-buddy with ‘em.  No.

 

Okay; you say that.  But when you’re asked who are the people who’ve influenced you most, two of them are from broadcast management: Bob Sevey and Rick Blangiardi.

 

Absolutely; absolutely.  Bob Sevey; let me tell you the story of Bob Sevey.  Bob Sevey was my idol, Bob Sevey was my mentor, Bob Sevey was—well, you worked for him too.

 

And you did trust him, apparently.  He was the news director.

 

Well, he was the news director, but he also had to present the news every day.  And he had to say things like: I want three sources on this story before we put it on the air; I’m not gonna go with this, I want three sources.  So, he had the best crew in Hawai‘i, and you were one of them, that supplied that for him.  For me, he says: Don’t say U-nited Airlines, it’s United Airlines.  I said: What’s the difference?  He goes: You can tell the difference if you’re a pro.  I go: Well, I gotta be a pro.  You know.  I was teaching school at Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach.  He came to see me.  So, he came in, and he came into my classroom and he sat down, and he said: Can I talk to you?  And I go: Sure; how you doing?  You know.

 

 

So, he looks at me and he says: Joe Moore is leaving for Channel 2 to do the news; we want you to do the sports at six and at ten. And I told him: No.  He says: What?  What?  He says: How much do you make?  I say: Seventeen thousand dollars a year teaching school, and I like it.  And he says: I’ll double it.  Now, it’s up to thirty-four thousand.  And he says: I’ll double it.  I say: No, I don’t want that.  I’ve been in this part-time, and I don’t like it, it’s kind of a phony business.  You know.  And he’s looking at me kind of funny, he’s looking at me kind of funny. And I said: Look, I live in this community, I ride my bicycle to school every day.

 

Okay; but Channel 9 was the biggest station of its time.

 

Oh, it was.  It was.

 

But still, were you negotiating at this point?

 

No, no, no, no.  There was no negotiation here.  No, no.  What I was trying to say is that I liked my job, I liked where I was, and I liked what I was doing as a teacher.  He says he’ll double it.  I say: No, because I like it.  He says–and this is what got me, this is what got me: When are you going to think of your own children instead of everybody else’s?  Uh … uh … uh … and I knew that this offer was not gonna be there, because this is Friday, and he wants me to be there on Monday.

 

And lots of other people wanted the job.

 

That’s right; that’s right.  So, he said: And I’ll triple it.  So, I said: Well, I’ll take a sabbatical one year, see how it is. And I never went back.

 

Jim Leahey’s sportscasting career took off as he informed and entertained.  And in live sporting events for the University of Hawai‘i, he did more than call plays; he was a masterful storyteller. But he was no master of his emotions. He wore his heart on his UH sleeve.

 

He loses the ball!  Rainbows have it!  *  How sweet it is!  How sweet it is!

 

This is delicious!

 

Here comes Muhammad.  Muhammad step on the plate, he’s safe.  The Rainbows have defeated UCLA.  I don’t believe it!  I don’t believe it!

 

Jim Leahey made the job look easier than it was.  While some of it came naturally to him, he also did a great deal of homework, prepping for a game.

 

It’s a tremendous thing, and what you had to do, and the amount of hours.  Oh, I should have brought in my scorebooks, where I had to handwrite all the updated statistics for the next game.

 

You just immerse yourself in all the information.

 

And it takes hours, and hours, and hours.  And then, you know, you go and do the best you can in describing—

 

And then, how did you come up with some of the expressions you’ve used on the air? I imagine you thought about them ahead of time.  I mean, when you said at the Brigham Young game that Hawai‘i won, you know: This is better than statehood.  That was perfect.

 

You know, that just came.  That just came into my mind, because that’s how I felt.

 

Yeah.

 

That’s how I felt.

 

And the enthusiasm in your voice is just palpable.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you consciously build enthusiasm in games, or is that natural?

 

I think that you … in order to present the theater of the mind—I keep going back to that, especially in radio.  In radio, you have to describe everything.  And when you do, people have different ways of looking at it.  They have different ways of looking at the stadium, different ways of looking at the grass in the stadium, different ways of where the baseball players are playing defensively.  How does the batter look, what kind of bat does he have, what kind of stance does he use, what kind of pitch is going to come his way.  All of that have to be conveyed.  Now, on television, everyone sees the same picture.  But you still have to enhance it.  You have to enhance who these people are, what kind of record does the pitcher have.

 

With a few words, too.

 

And the words that you use come from reading, reading, reading, reading, reading.  And it doesn’t have to be sports; it can be anything else.  Because then you can compare and contrast.  That ball is aloha.  Homerun; that ball is aloha.  No one in the other forty-nine states is going to say: What?  What is that?  But the people here do.  So, you have to be very concerned with your audience, too.  You have to really be concerned with that.

 

Now, Bob Sevey was probably better known than most governors.

 

Yes.  He was a tremendous guy, and I owe a lot to him.  Really.

 

And yet, it wasn’t smooth sailing all the time.

 

No.

 

Because he was broadcast management, so you had your tiffs with him.  In fact, one time I said–I think we called you Kimo.

 

Yeah.

 

Kimo Leahi at the time.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s Kimo angry about?  And he goes: I don’t know.

 

There were a lot of guys in that newsroom that were the same.

 

Always angry about something.  And they reported the news, I think, the best that it could be reported.  But for me, working on that particular crew—and then you have Blangiardi coming in, and his idea about taking the events of the University of Hawai‘i football team, basketball team, volleyball team, and to televise it to the Hawaiian Islands was amazing.  And he had a man who worked very, very hard at it, and that was Stan Sheriff.  And Stan Sheriff built already a big arena at Northern Iowa when he was there, before he came as the athletic director at the University of Hawai‘i.  And he fought with the politicians all the time, because the politicians were saying: We don’t need a big arena; the only good team we have is volleyball, we only need four thousand seats.  And he says: No, we—

 

Think big.

 

Think big.  Because we need fifteen thousand, because then we can have regionals, then we can have—you know, it would be national; it would be national.  That’s what he was looking for.  He was so dedicated to what he did, it killed him. Because one night after coming back from the mainland, he went to pick up his baggage and died, right there. And so, that was really a tragedy. But we kept working at it, and Blangiardi kept working at it.  And so, Blangiardi, even though he was management, he was my color man.  He was my color man in what I consider the greatest game, which was in 1989 when the Bows finally beat Brigham Young after ten years.

 

Farmer at the forty.  Farmer at the forty-five.  Farmer at the forty.  in front of it.  The thirty, the twenty, the fifteen, the ten, the five!  Touchdown!

 

I’m not sure. They say no!  And they put it on the three-yard line!  No way!  No way!

 

He has it at the fifteen.  He will score!

 

Final seconds will tick away.  And so, if you ask yourself: Is this the year?  Is this the year?  You better believe this is the year!

 

I remember the time watching that clip.  Rick Blangiardi sat at Jim Leahey’s side, providing color commentary during many live sports events.  Once the broadcast was over, though, Blangiardi’s role went back to being the boss at the TV station.

 

And he fired me twice.  And his method of firing, I mean, it was Broadway show. Get out, you’ll never work in this town again.

 

 

I chase him down the stairs to his car, make sure he leaves.  And I go: Boy, I don’t want to get fired like that.  And yet, I was.  One night, he’s gonna show the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I went … No, no; you don’t want to watch this.  I did the sports lead-in to the movie.  I said: You don’t want to watch this.  Tomorrow night, we have a better, it’s better for the kids, we have a better movie.

 

So, you were an employee of the station telling people not to watch the station.

 

Absolutely.

 

Right; okay.

 

That’s the first thing he said to me when I came in the next day.  And then following that is: You’re done, you’re finished, you’ll never work in this town again.  So, I drive home, I drive home and I tell my wife: Toni, I’m sorry, but I got fired today; I got fired by Blangiardi.  And she, being the Catholic school girl that she was, said: What did you do now?

 

Okay?  So, I said: Chainsaw Massacre.  Ring; the phone rings.  It’s Blangiardi.  Eh, this is Blangiardi.  You know.

 

And he says: We had a good one today; yeah?  And I go: Yeah, you fired me.  Ah, don’t worry about that, come back tomorrow.

 

But see, he’s like nobody else.

 

Some chances you don’t get more than once.

 

No.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.  But the thing is, I think that now that I’ve retired, I find it very difficult.

 

Okay. This is really the nub of it. You’ve just retired from sportscasting, after more than sixty years.  Sportscasting has defined your life; you’ve loved it.  Other people have a love-hate relationship with their job, or they really lost interest a while back.  But you have always been all in, all love it.  You know, whatever you’ve had to put up with to do it, you’ve loved. So, now what?

 

Ooh; that’s a good question, isn’t it?

 

You’re supposed to think about it before you retire.

 

Yeah.  I … I did think about it, but it was like on and off, on and off, on and off.  And then, when I had my last tiff with the management of the radio station that carried University of Hawai‘i basketball—

 

Oh, that’s right.

 

I mean, baseball.

 

You’ve probably been fired from other places too; right?

 

Yeah, yeah.  I’ve been fired from other places, too.

 

So, this one, the manager says: Well, it was only a two-year deal.  I said: two-year, I never signed anything.  Where is it; show me the paper.  So, I’m telling them: Look, I can do it one more year; I know I can do it one more year.  And he goes: Well, you know, I don’t know, in one or two years, the new guys that’s coming in, they actually work here, and… And I go: Well.  And he says: Well, call me.  I hang up.  My wife is across the room, and she’s giving me the what-for.  I mean, her eyes are like, neeeee.  She says: Don’t you ever do that again.  And I said: What?  Beg people for a job.  Do you know the kinda people they are, compared to you?  What are all these awards?  What are all these; you haven’t done anything?  You’re just coming up, just starting?  No, you don’t even need ‘em.  Now’s the time for you to step away.  That’s what she tells me; now’s the time for you to step away.  Now, we have been married fifty-two years.  And when her eyes get big, I tend to take that as a signal that I’d better maybe start to think in a different way.

 

Jim Leahey’s home life was in many ways a reflection of his life as a sports fan, enjoying the give-and-take and the back-and-forth opinions, even relishing the disagreement and not wanting to give an inch.  He credits his wife Toni and their three children for opening him up to new perspectives, and making him a better person.  Those real-life spirited discussions around the kitchen table became the format for Leahey & Leahey, a show he co-hosted with his son Kanoa Leahey for nine years here on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

I would love to have been at your family’s dinner table over years, because I know it was vociferous debate many times.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

We saw it when you and Kanoa were doing the show here together.  You would take positions, and you would advocated mightily. And both of you were so articulate in doing so.  And it could get very …

 

Yes, it could.

 

So, I think you’re comfortable with conflict.

 

Yes.

 

And I think …

 

Because in conflict, if you have the right conflict, if you have the kind of conflict where you leave and you don’t like the person anymore, you know.  But if you leave with respect, you can converse, you know, all the time.

 

It’s true that you don’t solve anything unless you work it out.

 

That’s right.

 

So, what were your dinner table conversations like as a family?

 

Oh, when we disagreed with each other, it was: How can you possibly be saying that, when you called yourself a human being? You know.

 

Ooh, that sounds a little personal.

 

Well, yeah.  I mean, but the other ones were: No, no, no, that’s not right.  Because especially when they got into high school, then they could argue back, then they could really make a case.  Then they could say: Yeah, well, you don’t know anything; you don’t know anything about this.  And I didn’t like that, because … they were right; I didn’t know anything about that.

 

But did you admit it?

 

No; not then.

 

No, of course not.

 

But later on; you know, later on, you do. No; the family dinner is something that is very special.  The family dinner is something that, what happened during that day, you discuss it. And sometimes, you agree, sometimes you don’t agree, sometimes you leave it unsaid, or solutions un—

 

Is any conversation forbidden, any subject forbidden?

 

No; absolutely not.  And I think my wife watches that pretty good.  She goes: Don’t say that.  You know, that kinda stuff.

 

And everybody listens to her.

 

Yes.  I mean, she’s the one that sets the standard.  My wife and I set the standards.  Fifty-two years; fifty-two years of the greatest arguments that you will ever hear.

 

Who wins?  Who wins your arguments?

 

— vocabulary, I may say.

 

Oh, I bet.

 

Yeah.

 

She’s a teacher, and you’re a word guy.

 

I’ll tell you what.  When we go to sleep, we’re solving it.  So, when the lights go out, about a half hour after that … Sorry, I said [INDISTINCT].  And I think that’s the best way.  You can disagree, but then there’s also that it’s not permanent.  It’s not permanent.

 

And you learn something from every argument?  Is that what you think?

 

You learn most of it; you learn most of it in there.  But I wouldn’t trade her.

 

Right now, people are so polarized, and we have a hard time talking to each other about our differences.  And you feel really comfortable doing that.  It’s had some negative effects, but it’s really healthy to talk when you don’t agree.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Yes.  That’s the only way that you really make progress.  If you’re afraid not to state your views, if you’re afraid to say that what I believe … I really don’t, I really don’t think it’ll work.  You gotta go in there with some certainty.  You gotta go in there and say: Yeah, that’s a good point, and I’ll give you that, but.  And then you challenge, you challenge, you know, whatever they have to say.

 

Have you ever regretted that you spoke up or disagreed?

 

Sure.  Sure.

 

Why?

 

Oh, I think that I … emotionally, I leapt emotionally before I leapt intellectually.  And at the end, I think I hurt the person a little bit too much. Lady.  So, I called her up and said: If that’s an example of me, I was not up to standard.  You know. But you have to have respect for the person.  You have to have.  You know, what they say to you, you learn from that.

 

Do you think it made your kids stronger, that you’re such a strong personality, and outspoken?  And obviously, Toni is very much a part, and probably quieter and more definitive when it’s over.  But you know, your kids hear a lot from you.  Do you think it’s made them stronger?

 

I think it’s made me stronger.  I think it’s made me stronger.  Because when I talk to them on the phone or something like that and they have a point, they go boom-boom-boom-boom.  You know.  Yeah. That’s right; that’s right.  Yeah, yeah, okay.  Yeah, okay.  Yeah, that’s okay.  All right. Let me look into that.  You know, that kind of made me stronger.  At times, you know, I think it’s helped them with their problems.  Everybody has problems.  But I just think, you know, you’re Leaheys, and we have a pride, we have a way of doing things, and what you’ve said has made me stronger.  I finally understand where you’re coming from; finally understand.

 

You know what I noticed about you when you were doing a show here?  ‘Cause I got to observe you.  If a guest didn’t show, if for some reason a featured guest was not available for the taping, it didn’t concern you whatsoever.  You and Kanoa knew you could put on a half-hour program.

 

Sure; yeah.

 

Adlib it, and it would be a really good show.  And it was not necessary, even though it would have been welcome.

 

It would have been better.

 

That would be so daunting to almost anybody else.

 

No; because see, that’s who we are.  That’s who we are.  We deal with ideas, we deal with viewpoints.  We deal with things that happen.  And maybe our viewpoint is a little bit off, a little bit different, but we’re going to explain it to you.  You know, we’re going to show you.

 

What do you think about Kanoa?  When you listen to him call sports, do you hear yourself, and then do you hear things that you wouldn’t say?

 

I hear myself; I hear the same things that I’ve said in the past.  But I also hear something that … is really good.  It’s really original.  But I can still hold my own.  I can still hold my own in basketball, or have good games in baseball.  I think I’m a little bit better than he is in baseball. But don’t tell anybody.

 

Jim’s son, Kanoa Leahey, has taken his place in the Leahey dynasty as a consummate sportscaster very skilled at handling live coverage, and a sports talk show host.  Mahalo to Jim Leahey of East Honolulu 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.

 

A horse walks into a bar.  Tell me the joke.

 

A horse walks into a bar.  The bartender looks up and says: Hey, big fella; why the long face?

 

That’s it; that’s the joke.  She got it.

 

That was perfect.

 

That was flawless delivery.

 

How many years; how many years did it take for you to remember that joke?  ‘Cause I used to tell it every day for about three months, and you never got it right. The bartender wasn’t right, the horse didn’t have a long neck.

 

Twenty-five to thirty years?

 

It was about that.  Yeah, it was about that.

 

 

 

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]

 



REMEMBER ME
Part 3 of 3

 

Michael Palin portrays pensioner Tom Parfitt, who stages a fall in his eerie Yorkshire home in order to escape into residential care, leading to a chilling and macabre mystery.

 

Part 3 of 3
Find out what happened to Isha and Dorothea and why the police are questioning Tom.

 

REMEMBER ME
Part 2 of 3

 

Michael Palin portrays pensioner Tom Parfitt, who stages a fall in his eerie Yorkshire home in order to escape into residential care, leading to a chilling and macabre mystery.

 

Part 2 of 3
See how Hannah’s nightmares about water and drowning foreshadow events, including the appearance of Isha, an Indian woman in a red sari.

 

REMEMBER ME
Part 1 of 3

 

Michael Palin portrays pensioner Tom Parfitt, who stages a fall in his eerie Yorkshire home in order to escape into residential care, leading to a chilling and macabre mystery.

 

Part 1 of 3
Learn what happens after Tom (Michael Palin) enters assisted living and a social worker falls to her death. Traumatized, Tom is taken to hospital.

 

HIKI NŌ
Hawaiian Value: Ha’aha’a

 

This episode is the third in a series of six shows in which each episode focuses on a specific Hawaiian value. The Hawaiian value for this show is ha’aha’a, which means humbleness and humility. Each of the following stories reflects this theme:

 

The top story comes from the students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School on Kauai. They feature a Kauai resident named Moses Hamilton who learned humbleness and humility when he had to start all over again after a tragic car accident that left him a quadraplegic. While undergoing re-hab, Moses took up mouth painting (painting by holding and manipulating the paint brush in one’s mouth), and is a now a successful artist who sells his paintings at a shopping mall in Hanalei, Kauai.

 

Also featured are student-created stories from the following schools:

 

Ka Waihona o Ka Naauao (Oahu): Uncle George, a native Hawaiian stand-up paddle board instructor in West Oahu, exemplifies humbleness by giving away something of great value – paddle board lessons – for free.

 

Roosevelt High School (Oahu): A Roosevelt High School student uses his experience growing up in poverty-stricken countries to instill a sense of humility in his fellow students.

 

Lahaina Intermediate School (Maui): A retiree-turned-elementary-school crossing guard proves that a humbleness of spirit comes in handy when dedicating your life to the safety of young children in your community.

 

Mililani Middle School (Oahu): After years in the spotlight as star quarterback for the UH football team, Garrett Gabriel choses the much more humble profession of counseling.

 

Iolani School (Oahu): The value of ha’aha’a, or humbleness, teaches us that we are neither indestructible nor immortal. This realization may have saved the life of a coach at Iolani School.
Waianae High School (Oahu): This story explores how a family in West Oahu deals with a very humbling experience: the onset of dementia in the family matriarch.

 

This episode is hosted by Aiea High School in Honolulu.

 

This program encores Saturday, Aug. 20 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 21 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, PBSHawaii.org/hikino.