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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Allen Hoe

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Allen Hoe

 

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

 

Read the November program guide cover story on Allen Hoe

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Allen Hoe:

 

The Flag

 

Why Polo?

 

Allen Hoe Audio

 

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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.”

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
OHA At-Large

 

INSIGHTS features candidates for the At-Large seats for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This is a statewide race in which six people are vying for three seats. All three incumbents and three challengers advanced through the Primary Election in August to face off in next month’s general election.

 

(Note: this forum is re-scheduled from August 23, when it was cancelled due to Hurricane Lane.)

 

Join us during our live discussion by phoning in, or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also live streamed on pbshawaii.org and Facebook Live.

 

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To see an archive of past INSIGHTS ELECTION 2018 shows, click here.

 

 



 

SEASONING THE SEASONS SPECIAL
Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, Part 2: The Proud Families

SEASONING THE SEASONS SPECIAL - Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, Part 2: The Proud Families

 

The Japanese community in Hawai‘i grew and flourished before WWII, but their lives were turned upside down on December 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. This program looks at the story of people who survived these tempestuous times, continuing to love two different nations and cultures.

 

 

SEASONING THE SEASONS SPECIAL
Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, Part 1: The Women Pioneers

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This program focuses on the Japanese women of Hawai‘i, going back to the time when they first arrived in the Islands to work the sugarcane fields. We also hear stories of the women who supported themselves through the cultivation of the anthurium flowers, and of a hotel passed down from grandmother to grandchildren.

 

 

BREAKING BIG
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

 

Discover how Sen. Gillibrand started out representing a conservative district in upstate New York, then made a name as a politician willing to transcend simple ideology. Learn what drove her unlikely rise and her role as a leading voice for women’s rights.

 

 

A Capitol Fourth

 

Join host John Stamos for an all-star musical extravaganza celebrating our country’s 242nd birthday, from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Featuring performances by Lauren Alaina, The Beach Boys, Joshua Bell, Jimmy Buffett, Luke Combs, Pentatonix, The Temptations, CeCe Winans and more.

 

This program will encore later in the evening Wed., July 4, 9:00 pm.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Senator Daniel Akaka

 

Original air date: Tues., Jul. 29, 2008

 

You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – real aloha.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai’i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka Audio

 

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Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator, Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – not a cheap, smarmy version, but real aloha. Join me in a conversation with Hawai‘i’s junior United States Senator, next …

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate as I speak. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai‘i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate. Our conversation begins at his birth, through a story heard from his older brother, Abe, who would become the Reverend Abraham Akaka of Kawaiaha‘o Church.

 

Well, when I first entered the world, let me tell you about what Brother Abe said. He said that I came before dawn, and that my dad helped to bring me into this world.

 

Was it in your house?

 

At home.

 

Where was home?

 

And home was in Pauoa Valley. And they cleaned me up, according to Brother Abe, and my dad called the family to the parlor, and we had what we called at that time, ‘ohana. And ‘ohana was a devotion. And it was an ‘ohana to celebrate my birth. And when the ‘ohana was finished, according to Brother Abe, Pa named me Daniel. And he said that Daniel will someday be in the lion’s den. And in a sense, that was prophetic. Because when you think of what I’m doing now as a Senator, in a sense, we are in the lion’s den, and that Daniel will prevail, as it is in the Bible.

 

What part of what you do now puts you in the lion’s den?

 

It’s the kind of issues that are raised by members of the Senate, in our case today, and the way in which they try to have people join them in some of the issues, and the way they try to pass it on the floor. And I will tell you, it’s done in a procedural way, but the way it’s done, it’s tough.

 

Whats the most ferocious lion you faced?

 

Well, the most voracious lions are my friends [chuckle] who have issues that are dear to them. And the thing about me and coming from Hawai‘i, I will tell you, I would say would really benefit others who are also in Congress, is that you can still be friends.

 

So the toughest adversaries are your friends?

 

Yes. And that doesn’t sound right, but we are friends. And they’re friends today, and it occurs today with me where, after we’re done with the debate, and the bill is either passed or fails, they will come up to me and shake my hand, you know, which shows that the friendship was still there. And that’s a good way to serve.

 

So there you are, a few minutes old, and your family’s having a devotion, and you’re being named Daniel. And then what happened?

 

Then I then took my place in the family, and I was number eighth.

 

Were you the last?

 

And the baby of the family—and I was the last. But with eight kids—you know, it’s hard for me to imagine supporting eight children.

 

How was your life? What was it like?

 

It was good—I would use that word, although, it was difficult, because of the situation and circumstances. When I tell you that we lived in a two-bedroom home, and we had a lanai that we used too, as an extension.

 

So who slept where in this two-bedroom house?

 

Well, most of the children slept in one bedroom, and some in the parlor, and some in the other bedroom. And Pa and Ma slept in one, and they slept on the floor.

 

No beds?

 

There were beds, but we slept on the beds.

 

And your parents let—

 

Yes.

 

Theyd take the floor.

 

Yes. And we would have ‘ohana twice a day in the family. So early morning, before my dad went to work—

 

And where did he go to work?

 

He was an ironworker. He worked at Honolulu Ironworks.

 

Was that in Kaka‘ako?

 

It was.

 

That was a hardcore place. Lots of industry and—

 

Yes.

 

–tough folks.

 

Well, it’s located right across the present Federal Building, where the restaurants are. And he worked there every day. He was a molder.

 

What does a molder do?

 

He would use sand to make patterns in which they poured the steel to create whether it was a gear, or whatever.

 

Oh, I see.

 

And most of the work was for sugar plantations. So whatever parts that they needed, they made there.

 

And your mom, did she stay home with eight kids?

 

She was a housewife. She was pure Hawaiian, and very, very gracious, loving Hawaiian woman; rotund. And I remember her as such a beautiful lady.

 

Did she speak Hawaiian?

 

Oh, yes; she and my dad spoke Hawaiian.

 

When they didn’t want you to know what they were—

 

Yes, and—

 

–talking about?

 

–unfortunately, in those days when we were little, they would ask us not to speak Hawaiian; to speak English. Learn English as best you can, because that’s the language today.

 

Your dad was also Chinese, right?

 

Yes; he was Chinese, and his dad came from Fook Yuen, China, and married a Hawaiian girl. And they lived in Pauoa.

 

And in fact, his name, and your middle name, both refer to Chinese origins?

 

That’s right; and in Hawaiian, it’s The East.

 

Kahikina?

 

Kahikina.

 

What lessons did you learn from your mom and your dad, and how were they different?

 

My mom and dad, as I said, were very spiritual people. For us and the whole family, you know, the church was so important. And so Sundays for me, as I grew up, it was church day. In the morning, we would—there were times when we walked from Pauoa to Kawaiaha‘o Church. And we’d be there for Sunday school in the morning at nine. And after that, then we went to regular church service, which was done about noon. And then we went home, and we’d have lunch at home. Then we went to another church in Pauoa Valley at two p.m. Then we’d go back home and get ready for church again at Kawaiaha‘o, where we would have Christian endeavor classes, which started at six. And at seven-thirty, the evening service began, and we’d stay for that. And after the service we went home. That was our Sunday. But even with that, there was ‘ohana in the morning and ‘ohana in the evening for the family every day.

 

Devoted and devout. And headed for a life of service. Daniel Akaka would go on to graduate from Kamehameha Schools in 1942 (having witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor from Kapalama Heights).

 

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the War; and become a school teacher and a principal before entering politics. Dan Akaka followed his faith in God and in people who advised and supported him all the way to Capitol Hill.

 

Your brother, Abraham, would grow up to have a very prominent position as pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church. You were the choir director for seventeen years.

 

That’s correct.

 

The family was so spiritual. Did you ever have a crisis of faith?

 

I can’t remember that. I don’t think so.

 

You never said to yourself, Where’s God when I need Him, and—

 

No.

 

–maybe this whole thing I’ve grown up with isn’t really —

 

Well, when we grew up, my mother and dad really—I mean, they talked to us a lot too, you know, and they were sure that we understood that we could trust God. And anytime you need Him, He’s there. And I must tell you that it has helped me all my life, including where I am now.

 

And when you don’t get what you pray for?

 

Well, there’s a reason. I mean—

 

And do you under—

 

–that’s how they—

 

Do you—

 

–taught us.

 

–understand the reason?

 

That’s right. And well, we may not at that time. But later on, when we look back, we say, Oh yeah, we didn’t understand it that time, but things work out.

 

I’ll bet you were under some influence to become a missionary yourself.

 

Yes; yes. And later on, I came to think that, you know, there are different ways of being a missionary. You don’t have to be a preacher, like Brother Abe. And Brother Abe, for me, was doing so well, I thought, Eh, one in the family is enough; and so I would maybe do my work in other ways. And this is why I went into education, as I did, and that was to help people.

 

I presume you jumped on the GI Bill and attended college on that basis.

 

Yes.

 

Would you have gone to college otherwise?

 

No. You know, it was a blessing for me. The GI Bill, you know, helped not only me, but it helped Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga as well, and many others.

 

You went on to get a Master’s in education as well.

 

Yes.

 

Was that also on the GI Bill?

 

Yes; yes. So we really benefited. But when you look at it, what we did during our time really changed the world. And in Hawai‘i, it changed Hawai‘i too, because many of them became leaders in the legislature as well, and leaders of the government. And so my feeling was, we gotta have a GI Bill for our latest veterans. And so I’m so glad we were able to pass it, as we did.

 

In 2006, Time Magazine ran a feature that called you one of The Hill’s five worst legislators.

 

Yeah.

 

It said that you’re living proof that having experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have expertise, and it called you a master of the minor bill—minor resolution on the bill that dies in committee.

 

You know, they were very wrong, really wrong. And my colleagues told me that. They said, What? You know, this is wrong. For instance, one of the big bills that I just passed was the Filipino veterans. Sixty-two years, they haven’t been able to pass it, and I passed it. That’s really big. And there are other bills that I can mention, but these are important bills that I was able to pass. But I passed it, you know, using the Hawaiian method of dealing with my colleagues. And they appreciate it.

 

And I sense that you’re not there because you’re terribly ambitious to succeed in a certain way; you’re there because you enjoy it.

 

Well, it’s not only that, but I’m there because I can help people.

 

Because you—

 

That’s the—

 

–you’ve been effective.

 

–real reason. And I’m not there for Dan Akaka; I’m there for the people of Hawai‘i. And so whatever I do, as a matter of fact, many times, my staff would tell me, Eh, get up front. But I don’t. I would rather stay back a step and …

 

As a matter of fact, if you wanted to retire, you’d be under intense pressure not to leave, because of your seniority.

 

That’s correct. And we’re able to do so much for Hawai‘i, and for our country. And we’re doing it.

 

So you’re—how old are you now?

 

I will be eighty-four.

 

So what do you see in the way of your future? How do you expect the future to play out for you?

 

Well, I look at continuing to have good health, and to continue to do all I can to help the people of Hawai‘i, with my experience, with the way I work with people, and to help this country. And now with a new administration coming forth, you know, we need to transition into a Congress that can really produce and help our country and Hawai‘i. Speaking of producing; there is the Akaka Bill, which has been waiting and waiting and stalled and

stalled.

 

Do you think it’ll pass?

 

It can pass, if we can get it to the floor. Now, I’m saying it that way, because this has been the problem.

 

M-hm.

 

That I’ve not been able to get it to the floor. It passed the House twice; it passed—this Congress. And the reason is that in the Senate, one Senator can hold up a bill. And that’s what happens. And to get it to the floor, we have to use what we call cloture; we have to invoke cloture. And to do that, we need sixty votes, not majority. And so to get the sixty votes, it’s really tough. The last time I did that, I ended up with fifty-six votes, and therefore, couldn’t get it to the floor. But if we can get it to the floor, we’ll pass it.

 

Whats been dubbed the Akaka Bill is legislation to provide federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. In the U.S. Senate, Dan Akaka chairs the Congressional Taskforce on Native Hawaiian Issues and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. On the Hill and at home, his life is about building and keeping relationships. He and his wife of sixty years, Millie, have five children, fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

 

Where does Millie enter the picture? When did she come into your life?

 

She came into my life before I went to the Pacific, into the Army.

 

Where did you meet her?

 

She met me. [chuckle]

 

She wanted to meet you? Is that what you’re saying?

 

That’s right. See, I was with what we called the Junior Hawaiian Civic Club. And to take members, we would have to interview them.

 

M-hm.

 

So I was interviewing members, and she was one I interviewed.

 

Now, was she doing that ‘cause she wanted to meet you?

 

Well, I learned later, was she wanted me to interview her, and she was sure that she came to me. And that was the beginning.

 

You know, after six decades of marriage, your wife still comes to the office every day, and essentially puts in the same day you do and is so supportive of you. And you two seem like you’ve still got this very good thing going, very close.

 

Yes. She takes good care of me. As a matter of fact, she has that responsibility of keeping me healthy. And she comes to work every day. She’s my only unpaid staff. I tell her that.

 

What does she do in the office?

 

Well, she comes in, and she usually meets with guests who come. And many of them from Hawai‘i, or most of them from Hawai‘i. And she’s the type that, as soon as she gets in the office, she takes off her shoes and she walks around bare feet. And so some of the guests, they look down and they say, Ooh [chuckle], she’s bare feet. And I always tell them, Look, you folks are welcome to take off your shoes in my office—

 

[chuckle]

 

–and be comfortable.

 

But you know, she could easily stay home at your condo in DC—

 

Yeah.

 

–or go meet with friends; but she’s always there. Why is that?

Yeah. Well, she loves to do that, because she sees people, and she’s able to talk to people. And I guess it’s better than staying home. But she likes that style. And the other reason, although I’ve never said it, that she helps—we need three passengers in the car.

 

[chuckle] To get into the zipper lane—

 

To use the HOV.

 

–or something? [chuckle]

 

And without her, we don’t have three. [chuckle]

 

Whos the other one? Who’s the third?

 

The other is Jim Sakai, who is my administrative assistant, who picks us up, you know—

 

[chuckle]

 

–in the morning, takes us home at night. And so the three of us use the HOV.

 

You spend most of the year in DC, right?

 

About ten months. Yeah.

 

What do you like about living in DC? And why is it so important to you to continue working, long after a time when many folks would have retired, take it easy?

 

Well, there’s so much to do there, and that’s what I like too. The hours are long. I keep telling the young people; I said, Look, you never stop learning in your life. I said, I thought I was learning a lot when I was in Kamehameha; I thought I was learning a lot when I was at the UH. I said, But here, I’m still learning. I said, Every time there’s a new bill, there’s something new to learn. And my health has been good. And Millie has been very supportive. So that helps me do my job.

 

She’s completely herself.

 

Yeah, oh very.

 

Despite who she’s around, right?

 

Oh, yes. And even my colleagues know that. You know, she’s herself, and she says what she wants to say. And there isn’t a lot of pressure to kind of conform and be a certain way, and be accepted in a certain way?

 

You haven’t—

 

Yes.

 

–felt that?

 

Well, I’ve felt that. But she’s one that does what she wants to do.

 

And — And you support her to—

 

Yes.

 

–being that way.

 

But— Herself.

 

–you know, my colleagues like that. So whenever they see me, even today, they don’t say, Danny, how are you? They say, Danny, how’s Millie? [chuckle]

 

Millie will say what she’s thinking, won’t she?

 

Yeah; oh, very much.

 

Has she ever told anybody off on Capitol Hill?

 

Yes. [chuckle] Yes; but she says it in a way where—that they accept it.

 

M-hm.

 

And you know, if you get hurt—

 

And you do the same thing too, don’t you?

 

What’s that?

 

I mean, don’t—

 

Yeah.

 

Aren’t you able to tell people things in a way that they don’t get offended, even though it’s counter to what they’re thinking or what they want?

 

Yes; that’s what I call the Hawaiian style of communicating. And it works, and I just hope that more people would use that. And people like you for it, and feel that you’re a good friend, and they can trust you. That’s the other word that’s so important up there.

 

Tell me, what’s—give me a course in how to disagree, Hawaiian style.

 

Yes. Well, one is to be sure that your friend, your opponent knows what you’re all about, and where you are. And if you know that what you’re trying to do is what he doesn’t want, and you need to find out what it’s all about. And try to present it in a way that is non-threatening. And that’s a big thing. And to say it in a way where, you know, you’re not yelling or screaming, and you’re telling him in a nice way, or even say, You know, my friend, I disagree with you.

 

But first—

 

You know.

 

–you say you have to understand who they are, and what they want.

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

Let me ask you this. And you’ve seen this in campaigns, you’ve been through it all. When one is nice and kind, that’s often mistaken for softness, weakness, being less than smart. Tell me your experiences—

 

Yes.

 

–in running up against that.

 

When I first went there, many people told me that. They said, Eh, you can’t be like that. And now that I’ve been there all these years, I’ve gotta tell them they’re wrong. That you can be nice, but you’ve gotta be up front. You’ve gotta be sure they know where you are and what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And they appreciate it. And so that’s something I think that more people in elected office need to do, and use that method of dealing with people.

 

You mentioned that, when you came into the world, you were called Daniel because your role would be in the lion’s den.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel that has come to pass?

 

Yes; I feel, definitely, that the story about Daniel, of course, he was cast into the lion’s den, and the reason for that

 

 

was for the lions to devour him. Which they didn’t. And he lived through that, and became a leader after that. And I think, you know, the spiritual background and all of that, you know, helps you to survive.

 

But the difference is, you don’t want to leave the lion’s den.

 

Well, I hope someday we can calm the lion’s den and make it more productive. But that remains to be seen. This fascinates me, because it seems as though the thing to do when one has been very successful on Capitol Hill, is not to aspire to a wonderful retirement and take it easy; it’s essentially to work as long as you’re capable of working, and even die in office.

 

I mean, is that what you foresee?

 

Well, I foresee working as long as I can. [chuckle] You know, and, being in that position I’m in now, you know, it’s a great way of helping our country and the rest of the world.

 

Have you and Millie talked about that?   Does she want to take it easy at all? Or is she completely happy with, this is how it is, well—

 

I wouldn’t say she’s completely happy, but she lives with it, and she—

 

But you’ve told her, This is me, I—

 

Yes.

 

–would like to

 

Yes.

 

–continue on

 

But she’s supported—

 

–Capitol Hill.

 

–me; supported me very well. And that helps me in what I do. Yeah. So I’m so fortunate and feel been blessed too, with Millie and my family.

 

And what a high achieving person, what a high achieving life you’ve had.

 

Yes; and when I look back at my life, there was a reason for all of this, since I was born. And as Daniel, I’m still serving.

 

So you think that it was preordained, it was foreseen that you had this role in your life, and it was up to you to make it happen?

 

I feel that way; yes. Yeah; so when I think back, you know, on when I came to this Earth, I was destined, I guess.

But I didn’t know it. And I’m still on my way.

 

Still on your way.

 

Yeah.

 

An unknown author once wrote, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” The “Hawaiian style of communicating,” as Senator Akaka puts it, will be conducted on Capitol Hill for as long as he’s able to serve. Mahalo to Dan Akaka, and to you, for joining me this week. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawai‘i. A hui hou kakou.

 

The people of Hawai‘i tend to work together so much better than other places. And as a result, they’re able to be more productive. They’re able to do more things and are able to do it in such a way where people enjoy it and not take it as somebody losing something. And I feel that that style is really needed in the Capitol and in the country. And I think the diversity of Hawai‘i, the diversity of people has helped to bring that about. Hawai‘i is Hawai‘i because of its culture, its people, its diversity; and we need to keep that.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
What Do We Need to Know and Understand About Teen Suicide in Hawai‘i?

 

The leading cause of fatal injuries among 15-to-24-year-olds in Hawai‘i is suicide. On the next INSIGHTS, we’ll talk with local professionals who work with teens, their families and schools. We’ll also hear from Paul Gionfrido, CEO of Mental Health America, who calls suicide “a stage-four event in a mental illness.” He explains that it usually takes years for a person to decide to die by suicide. What do we need to know and understand about teen suicide in Hawai‘i?

 

Additional Information

 

Suicide Prevention Lifeline for Teens and Young Adults
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

 

Crisis Text Line
Text ALOHA To 741-741

 

Crisis Line of Hawai`I
Oahu 832-3100
Neighbor Islands Toll Free
1-800-753-6879

 

 

 


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