experience

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

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Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, 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. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, 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 PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
The Hawaiian Room

 

The Hawaiian Room, located in the famed Lexington Hotel, was an oasis of Hawaiian culture and entertainment in the heart of New York City. Between 1937 and 1966, hundreds of dancers, singers and musicians from Hawai‘i were recruited to perform at the entertainment venue. In this documentary, filmmaker Ann Marie Kirk shares interviews with over 20 former performers who speak candidly and fondly of their experience at the historic nightclub, and the culture shock of going from Hawai‘i to New York City.

 

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In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, this three-part, six-hour documentary tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American code talkers and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.

 

Part 1 of 3
Explore America’s tortured, nearly three-year journey to war. Reports of German atrocities and submarine attacks on American ships erode neutrality, finally leading to President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Great War, Part 2 of 3

 

In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, this three-part, six-hour documentary tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American code talkers and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.

 

Part 2 of 3
Follow America’s entry into the war as patriotism sweeps the nation, stifling free speech and dissent. A diverse group of men becomes the country’s first mass-conscripted army, while women continue to demand the vote.

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Great War, Part 3 of 3

 

In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, this three-part, six-hour documentary tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American code talkers and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.

 

Part 3 of 3
Discover how the violent and bloody conflict transformed the nation forever, as America steps onto the world stage for the first time. But while many heralded the peace, others worried about democracy at home.

 

JOSEPH ROSENDO’S TRAVELSCOPE
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During Joseph’s visit to Rarotonga and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, he visits attractions that choose to educate visitors as well as entertain them. Joseph discovers that by offering the visitor authentic experiences in their beautiful land, the Cook Islanders are able to better protect their heritage from commercial exploitation and perpetuate their culture.

 

JOSEPH ROSENDO’S TRAVELSCOPE
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Joseph ships out on a Peruvian Amazon journey from the jungle town of Iquitos, and makes his way down one of the world’s wonders. One-fifth of the world’s water and oxygen are produced in the Amazon Rainforest and thousands of species of birds, fish, reptiles, mammals and plants as well as hundreds of thousands of people thrive there.

 

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

 

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

 

Jimmy Lee was only 11 years old on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Watching from his family’s farm as the bombs dropped, Jimmy couldn’t begin to imagine how his world would change, or what his simple childhood would become after Hawai‘i declared martial law.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4:00 pm.

 

Jimmy Lee Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We had no radios or TV, and things like that; we didn’t. But let me tell you; from that moment on, when we were told that this was war, that’s it. My life, I thought, I changed. It was not fun anymore. And I think this is when I got to be a little bit—I think I grew up overnight. And because there was fear; from then on, it was fear. And so, you know, this is really something, you know, for a young kid just changing like that with all this. Never experienced, and it was not fun anymore.

 

Jimmy Lee was eleven years old on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was outside, feeding his family’s pigs, when he heard the planes overhead. He watched from less than a mile away, as they dropped their bombs on ships in Pearl Harbor. Jimmy Lee, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. James Hoy Sau Lee, better known as Jimmy, was raised on a farm in an area known as Kalauao. Just upland of Pearl Harbor’s east loch, Kalauao was famous in ancient times for its freshwater springs and fishponds. Today, the name is gone, and the land is covered with buildings and roadways, but in 1930 when Jimmy was born, the stream still flowed and supported the family farms in the area.

 

You know, my parents were born here, but their parents were born in China. And of course, my father at the younger age went back to China, and lived there for a short while. But anyway, they came back here and they were rice farmers, long time ago. And then, they gave up rice and got a farm; pigs and cattle, chickens, ducks and things. It’s really not for commercial type, it was just for home use. Well, anyway, that’s what we had there in the little place called Kalauao.

 

Which is where?

 

It’s located between Aiea and Pearl City right now. And I must say it’s no longer on the map anymore.

 

What’s there now?

 

Well, right now, it’s all full of warehouses, apartment buildings, and stores, and commercial area. The whole area has been filled. Even the fishpond that was there before; it’s all filled up, it’s all warehouses there now.

 

So, this is on the Pearl Harbor side of Kamehameha Highway in Aiea side?

 

That’s correct. Yes; that’s right.

 

Oh …

 

And you could never recognize the place before, because it was so rural, our neighbors were not just next door. I mean, they were maybe about half mile away. We were all friends, but you know, that’s what it is; just local rural area.

 

So, your farm was for subsistence.

 

Yes, for subsistence; yes. M-hm.

 

And where did you go to school?

 

I was going to school in Aiea, maybe about mile or two away up on the hillside.

 

You had many siblings.

 

Oh, yes. Well, you see, my father was married to this woman. And of course, she had four kids. And then, when one of the older brothers was born, she died. Through some way, you know, they met my mother, and they got married. And of course, she cared for the four kids like her own, and then, of course, she had six. I’m number six in that family.

 

Birth order is important; right? What does that mean your responsibilities were?

 

Well, me and my brothers, you know, we had to take care of more or less the animals. The rough stuff. You know, and of course, the sisters were there to help my mother, you know, whatever. But we had to take care of the hard stuff, like the cows, milking the cows and feeding the pigs, and picking up garbage, and walking in the pond, catching ducks and chickens, and things like that. My parents were very strict. You had to stay home and do your work; feed the pigs, and you know. And that took up lot of our time during the day. Yes, we had other neighbors. They may have had some pigs or some chickens, but not like we did. And of course, they mind their own business. We were never enemies, but we were all friends, but you know, they had their own little thing. But again, you know, they were not right next door. But we did get together once in a while, more than just to say hello.

 

And what was your personality like as a boy?

 

You know, my older sister told me that I was a rascal little kid, full of mischief.

 

And you know nothing about this; right?

 

And I know nothing. And, you know, but we’re just playing. I mean, whenever we had spare time, we would do that. And, you know, we had our pigs, and you know, our pigs were our pets. You know, we would jump in and play with the pigs, and things like that, because you know, that was what it was. But we were a bunch of rascals and did a lot of things. When I was eight years old, I broke my leg. And I was in the hospital, in Shriner’s Hospital for six months. Because I would just play, run through the fields, the cane fields, running all over the place, playing with the dog or playing with the cows, you know. Running, running, just running all over the place.

 

Lots of energy.

 

Lots of energy.

 

So, your idea of mischief is just really having tons of energy and running around.

 

That’s right. And again, typical country boy.

 

Did you see a lot of activity at Pearl Harbor? You know, you must have watched the ships. Oh, no, you were a mile away, so you couldn’t see it.

 

Oh, no; no.

 

You could see it?

 

Oh, in the inner side of the harbor, there were so many ships. So many ships anchored in there. And of course, this was closer to my home. As I mentioned, about a mile away, but this was maybe a quarter or half a mile, all anchored there, from what I could remember. There were a lot of ships.

 

On December 7, 1941, Jimmy Lee started the day the same way he began every other morning of his young life, doing chores. It was the last time his life would be so uncomplicated.

 

Your life changed one day when you were just eleven.

 

Oh, yes. Well, I can say it really changed. Well, not for that very moment. Because it was so exciting when everything was happening that it was fun. I never saw anything like that in my life. And although I was feeding the pigs that morning, when I saw all of these things happening, wow, what is it?

 

What did you see?

 

Well, feeding the pigs, and all of a sudden, all at treetop level, here come these planes. I could hear the roar of the planes, with gunfire, canon fire, and looking up, and I saw the bombs on the plane and the big red circle. And so low that you could see the pilot. But as I looked, wow, there were planes all over the place. And curious as I was, I ran down to the railroad track and boy, I tell you, I never saw so much.

 

You ran to the action, rather than away from it.

 

Yes. Down the railroad track, and sat on the railroad track just like sitting on the front row of a theater to watch a show.

 

And didn’t think of calling anybody.

 

Didn’t call; my parents didn’t know where in the world I was. I could see all the way in Wahiawa, over the airport, which is, I could say, at least ten miles. Planes all over the place. And you know, for a youngster, I’d never seen anything like that. All the sounds, the explosions, the planes coming in, the gunfire, the smoke, the fire; it was really a sight. And was I scared? No. I don’t remember ever being scared.

 

Did any of the bombs come close to you?

 

The bombs didn’t come close at all. And in close to our home, there were many ships in the harbor that day. But none of them were being even harmed. But way out there, what I saw near the island, that’s where all the fire and smoke was. But you know, what’s happening to this? Everything was there, not in front of me. And so, you know, there was not a shot or anything like that fired my way. I didn’t feel in danger at all. So, I was just seeing all of those things, the torpedo planes being blown out of the sky, the explosions. I didn’t know that was the Arizona at that time, but you know, the explosions, something I’ll never forget. And yet at the same time, up in the sky, the planes are flying, all the gunfire, none of the planes are shot down. But none of those shrapnel, those shells ever fell on us, either. And that was really a show. And then, the other most exciting, as I mentioned, was the Nevada. I didn’t know that was the Nevada, but that was a ship coming in, burning and smoking. And seeing the dive bombers coming in, dropping the bombs, blowing up on the ship. And the ship don’t sink. And then, here comes the planes coming by strafing, and the ship still don’t sink. It just keeps moving, and it’s burning and smoking, and it finally disappears.

 

Oh …

 

You know what happened. And then, you know, finally … you know, time went by so fast. But it was finally announced that, Hey, we’re at war. Through loudspeakers or something; We’re at war, we’re being bombed by the Japanese, the Japanese troops have landed. And let me tell you, when that happened, that’s when fear came in. Oh, it was not fun anymore. We were so scared. So scared, didn’t know what to do. My parents finally found me, and we got on the jalopy, took off into the hills up in the valley.

 

Just to while time?

 

Just to get away. Yes.

 

Okay.

 

And to hide out in the caves over there. And you know, they had banana fields, and you know, we’re in the caves, we could see the planes up here, we could hear the bombs, we could hear the firing, but we could not see the attack. And then, it was over after a while. A very short while, it was over. There wasn’t any more planes in the sky anymore. So, we went home to get more supplies and everything. We went there, no more planes, the attack was over. But at the same time, all the fire, the flames, the boats. And I think one of the most, I guess, sights that was very sickening to me was seeing the boats going around and around. You know, fireboats, you know, trying to put out the flames. But later, we learned that they were picking up dead bodies and survivors.

 

Oh, I see.

 

You know, seeing something like that, and it’s something that you’ll always remember. And of course, all of that, the explosions going by. You know, when I saw one of the ships on the other side of the island, the first one to get hit; wow, what is this? But again, always thought it was a game. But it looked so real. And I can tell you honestly, I watched these torpedo planes come in, dropping their torpedoes, and of course, not knowing what it was. It was the Oklahoma that was being hit. But what was most exciting was when the planes came in and was hit by gunfire, seeing the flames coming out, the smoke, and it blows up in the sky. I was cheering. I remember jumping up and down. Wow, they shot down another plane. Not knowing what it was. But it was impressive, you know, for a young kid. But let me tell you, from that moment on, when we were told that this was war, that’s it. My life, I thought, I changed. It was not fun anymore.

 

On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the Territorial Government of Hawaiʻi surrendered its authority to the U.S. military. The new military governor issued laws that severely restricted the freedom of residents of Hawaiʻi, instituting blackouts, curfews, and food and gas rationing. Soldiers enforced the restrictions.

 

When we came back down, there were soldiers all over the place. And this is when, later on we came under martial law, when the military was under control. And that’s where they told us, You folks will obey, you will follow our rules. And so, this is what it is, so we were scared of them. You know, these young soldiers, things like that. And I, for one, was scared of the military. But at the same time, we were very happy; we felt safe with them. You know, I can tell you that military really shaped me up. Because, you know, I was arrested so many times for doing things wrong, which to me, I mean, it’s nothing wrong at all, because I’ve been doing this all the time. Like going into the water, catching crabs, catching fish, and digging clams. Because that’s our food. But when martial law came, you could not step into the water.

 

Pearl Harbor.

 

That’s right; Pearl Harbor. And for myself, I know, I’ve been in there, I got arrested many, many times for violating, for trespassing. But because I was a little youngster, they let me go. But don’t do it again. Yes, okay. So, they turned their back. We were in there, we had to eat. That’s it. But martial law was very strict, and we lived in fear. You know, it was about three years that we had that. But I’m gonna tell you, I think the one that scared the daylights out of me, and I still remember this. You know, my job was to milk the cows in the morning. Hey, you know, we had to eat, so we had to milk the cows. And we had curfews. And cows don’t believe in curfews.

 

You know, I remember taking the cow out of the bushes that one morning before curfew time, and you know, you’re walking through the bushes and you hear a noise. And you know, a soldier met me with a bayonet.

 

Wow.

 

Sticking at my throat. Boy, I tell you. A tall soldier, and I think I was maybe only two or three feet high, with a cow, with a rope. And a soldier to meet you with a rifle, with a bayonet sticking at your throat. That young soldier told me he was so scared; he didn’t know whether I was friend or foe. And I looked different. You know. And he was so scared. And at the same time, he said, you know, with all the talk about the Japanese troops, and he thought I was one of them.

 

M-hm. So, he was sort of apologizing to you.

 

Well, yes, in a way. And I said, but you know, they’re small, but they’re not that small.

 

You said that, as a kid?

 

That’s right. I tell you, I remember saying that. And you know, maybe not exactly, you know, but basically that’s what it is. But I was so scared. But you know, he got to be our friends. And you know, because you know, their camp was right next to our property. But later on, when we got to know him and, you know, as the war progressed, they kinda looked the other way. You know. But that was very interesting. But that’s something I will never forget. You know, as an eleven-year-old kid, with a bayonet sticking at his throat.

 

Wow.

 

But you know, with the soldiers over there, we felt safe. And then at the same time, you know, they kinda let us into the camp. They knew who we were, and they could trust us. They knew we were not enemies or anything. So, they kinda bend backwards a little bit for us. And you know, for myself, I really liked the soldiers after a while. You know, and they were real nice to us.   And you know, that’s what it amounts to.

 

They just happened to be camping right next to you, too.

 

Yes; right next. You see, at one time, they used to have what we call barrage balloons, you know, up in the sky with cables dangling on it to prevent, to deter Japanese planes from diving, you know, from dive bombing. And the whole perimeter of Pearl Harbor used to have that. But that’s what it amounts to.

 

Right.

 

You know, and so this were the little detachments they had. And you know, I can say one of the things that they had was that we used to go out there and dig clams, and crab, and we taught them how to eat. And we had rationing. And they used to have lot of chickens and steaks. You know, and boy, we would kinda envy them. But at the same time, because of our pigs, they let us pick up the garbage from them. And you know, many times in the garbage, we had steak and chickens, wrapped up pretty well.

 

Oh …

 

And boy, I tell you, we ate ‘em. We ate lot of steak and chicken. They couldn’t give it to us outright. I think they hid it in the garbage. But we ate lot of chicken and lot of steak. But we were friends. We were friends.

 

Were they friends with everybody in the area?

 

They were; they were, in the area. And again, one of the things I do want to mention, though. You know, our neighbors were a little far apart, but when we had martial law, everybody came together to help each other. I didn’t realize we could even do that, but you know, we had to dig bomb shelters. They were out there to help us dig bomb shelters. They made sure that everybody was being cared for. You know, we shared things. I tell you, the community came together and really helped out. And the soldiers were there. And again, they were there as protectors, but then at the same time, you know, they were friends. You know. And so, that’s one of the big things, one of the changes that really got me, is how the community got together. You know, the Hawaiians, the Puerto Ricans one side; the Hawaiians, the Filipinos on this side. They were just great.

 

Jimmy Lee’s boundless energy continued to get him into trouble with the law. His parents came up with a solution.

 

My parents always said that I needed to have discipline. And because I was getting arrested and getting into problems all the time, you know, they sent me to ʻIolani School.

 

That was your prison?

 

Yes.

 

Oh, my goodness.

 

Because it was an all-boys school. You know, all boys.

 

But it was far away.

 

It was far away; yes.

 

And transportation was probably an issue; right?

 

Yeah; it was transportation. But you see, my sister married an alumni from ʻIolani. And through some maybe pull or recommendation, I was able to go to ʻIolani.

 

And did you live in town?

 

Yes; she lived in town, in the Chinatown area. You see.

 

And your parents paid the freight for you to go to ʻIolani?

 

Well, I think because my brother-in-law, you know, he was a photographer. And his father was a minister. I think they footed everything, because my father could not do that.

 

Did they knock that rascal spirit right out of you?

 

It sure did. It sure did, because again I say, martial law was still there. And this is where the teachers—you know, during the years at ʻIolani, it was all boys, and they were strict. You know, and the families that we hadi, the kids were not like me. They were not like me. They were you know, I think little more refined, I think, where I had to behave.

 

They probably never had taken care of pigs or anything.

 

That’s right; they never did.

 

I wonder if your parents, after having seen you arrested by the military, and you would go back and do the same thing again, even though it wasn’t a terrible crime, they probably were afraid that you’d really run afoul of the military.

 

Oh, yes. And you see, when they first sent me out there, my aunt lived next to Oahu Prison. And they were always saying, We’re keeping you close to the prison because you’re gonna end up in there.

 

And yet, when you think about it, you know, your crimes were not terribly serious.

 

That’s right; they were not.

 

Even though martial law ended three years later, Jimmy Lee stayed at ʻIolani, where he graduated and went on to the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. He was drafted into the Army, and eventually made the civilian branch of the military his career. Throughout much of Jimmy’s life, there was a mystery that he kept trying to solve. On the day of the attack, his best boyhood friend, Toshi Yamamoto, had disappeared.

 

When I came back that morning, December 7th, you know, this was around midday already. And I went and ran out by the plum tree, yelling out, Toshi, Toshi, where are you? There was no answer. I ran under the house where we played Hide-and-Seek. Toshi, where are you? None. I ran up to the house, where I used to sleep. The house was empty. From that day on, December 7th again, never saw him. During all those years when I was in school, even when I was in the military, I used to write little notes. You know, Where are you? Hoping that someday, you know, he would come back, and maybe an old man like me would come up and say, Hey, I’m Toshi. But that never did happen. And when I spoke about him over the radio on December 7, 2012, that’s when his son called and said, You’re talking about my dad. Oh, I tell you, that really struck me. I could not even say a word anymore; I was speechless. When I finally met his son, that’s when the son told me a little bit more about his father. And that they were at gunpoint forced to leave, they lost everything, but they were never imprisoned, and never threatened. You know, and he was allowed to work, and things like that. But you know, one of the things about this for myself, you know, when it started like that, it was not only you know, the feeling, of witnessing the attack, but I lost my friend, my best friend. I asked him, Where is your father? Buried in Kaneohe. So, on December 14th, I went out searching for the grave, and I finally did, sure enough. But I tell you, one of the things I had to do was just that I had to stand over the grave, and that was him. And I tell you, you know, it was raining. I don’t know whether it was rain coming in my eyes or not, but as far as I’m concerned, I had tears in my eyes. Well, I finally had to say, Toshi, after seventy-one years, I finally found you. You know, and so long, and goodbye.

 

At the time of our conversation just before the seventy-fifty anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Jimmy Lee was getting ready to mark his eighty-sixth birthday. Mahalo to Jimmy, a Kaneʻohe resident, for sharing stories that we hope will live on in commemoration of many lives; lives that were lost, and lives that continued but were changed forever. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi 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.

 

His son tell me that his dad worked hard. And one of the most remarkable thing about this is that the son, he’s with the community college in Ewa right now, and he’s never gone back to the old house before. So, on December 20th, I took him and all the grandkids, and sat them down, and told them the story. And the kids, ages nine to fourteen, all wanted to hear the story about what it is. And sitting on the seawall, I was able to point out where their grandpa and I played, in the trap where we used to catch fish. That’s where we used to go out in the mudflats, you know, digging clams and things. And with that, I tell you, I was very, very happy to be doing this.
[END]

 

 


MUSIC VOYAGER
Antigua and Barbuda

 

The beautiful Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda tell a story of hospitality and culture, with music and journalist Mirissa Neff as the guide. She follows the trail across the islands to find the heartbeat of the country through its rhythms, and along the way she sample some of the amazing cuisine, experiences the vibrant countryside and the stunning oceans all around. From the sounds of calypso to the carnival celebrations, the pulse of Antigua and Barbuda is calling.

 

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