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HIKI NŌ
Episode #811 – Best Writing – Middle School

 

The third in a series of seven 2017 HIKI NŌ Award nominee shows highlights the nominees for Best Writing, Middle School Division. The nominees include:

 

–A story on the inner-workings of their school’s front office by students at Aliamanu Middle School (O‘ahu);

 

–A report on Kaua‘i’s canine search and rescue squad by students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School (Kaua‘i);

 

–The story of a community volunteer group that does laundry for people who don’t have the means to do their own by students at Kapa‘a Middle School (Kaua‘i);

 

–A report on how a community pulled together to air-condition 90-plus degree classrooms by students at Lahaina Intermediate School (Maui);

 

–A story from students at Mililani Middle School (O‘ahu) about a student-staffed restoration of an ancient Hawaiian fishing site in Honolulu’s airport industrial area.

 

Kamehameha Schools – Maui Middle School

 

This episode is hosted by Kukui Raymond from Wai‘anae High School (O‘ahu) and Noah Faumuina from Castle High School (O‘ahu).

 

This program encores Saturday, Feb. 11 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 12 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 



INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Honolulu City Council District 7 / State House District 20

 

In nonpartisan Honolulu City Council District 7 (a sprawling and diverse area of Honolulu with Kalihi at its core), Councilmember Joey Manahan is seeking a second four-year term. His opponent, former state legislative aide Chace Shigemasa, has never held public office and strongly believes incumbents need to be challenged.

 

Then, in State House District 20 (Palolo, Wai‘alae, St. Louis), a longtime incumbent State Representative, former House Speaker Calvin Say (D), is facing his seventh challenge from Republican Julia Allen. She says that with “government literally running off the tracks,” it’s an especially important election, with Republicans very much needed in public office.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

We’ve Moved!

 

New construction is underway, but we are still seeking donations for PBS Hawaii’s NEW HOME.

 

To learn more about our NEW HOME Campaign, click here.

 

We thank you for your interest in supporting Hawaii’s only public television station, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization offering local and national programming. Mahalo!

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Hoala Greevy

 

Original air date: Tues., Feb. 2, 2014

 

On this episode of LONG STORY SHORT, my guest is Hoala Greevy, founder of one of the earliest locally owned email spam and virus filtering companies, Pau Spam. The son of Hawaii community activists, Hoala is intent on his career and dedicated to his business, sometimes working so late he sleeps in his office. Later in life, he intends to be part of the solution in addressing social issues affecting Native Hawaiians. Many Native Hawaiians believe children grow into their name. Hoala’s Hawaiian name, which came to his mother in a dream, means “awakening” or “new beginning.”

 

Hoala Greevy Audio

 

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Transcript

 

The earliest career I wanted was when I was in Kapahulu, and they had the trash day, and those garbage guys were pretty cool. So, taking out the trash, that was the first job I wanted to have. ‘Cause they’d be whistling and running, and the compactor’s coming down, and they’d be throwing stuff right at the right moment. I remember kids would come out, and I wouldn’t be the only kid watching them. So, I guess in a way, that’s what Pau Spam does, is take out people’s garbage.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Hoala Greevy discovered his passion for software development in college, and at age twenty – four created Pau Spam, one of the first locally – owned computer spam and virus filtering companies. Hoala Greevy stays on the forefront of the latest technology while saving some time to pursue other interests. Hoala Greevy, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Hoala Greevy is a successful entrepreneur and businessman. He’s a strong believer in public schools, and a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu. His young life was also shaped by his two parents, Ed Greevy and Haaheo Mansfield, who were community and political activists.

 

Your father was known for being this wonderful behind the scenes photographer who was the only person with a camera, using it well, at really just touching moments in community activism protests. Save Our Surf, for example.

 

Yeah. From what I understand, he made friends with Uncle John Kelly, and he noticed when he was at these meetings and rallies that he was doing all the talking, but no one was taking any pictures. So, that was their bond. He’d take the pictures, Uncle John would do the talking, and then … yeah, my dad just has this knack of disappearing in a crowd. Which I don’t know how he does it with five cameras. [CHUCKLE]

 

But he was always there. It was a labor of love, he was working; he wasn’t just attending a rally.

 

Right; yeah, hobby. He had a day job. A lot of it was Save Our Surf, protecting all these spots from development. And then, out of that, kinda spurring the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. And then, they started helping out these other groups of people. And then, yeah; so, in some circles, my dad is regarded as the documenter of the Hawaiian renaissance of the 70s and 80s.

 

Did your parents tell you much about meeting at the Stop H – 3 rally?

 

No. But there’s a picture in my dad’s book. They went into the Wilson Tunnel, I think in 1975, 76. And they were just cleaning the walls, but of course, there was letters behind it, and so that one of their clever marketing techniques about a rally they were gonna have at the Capitol. Stop H – 3 rally, Capitol, three o’clock; whatever.

 

Oh, they put it right in the tunnel.

 

Yeah; so they were just cleaning off the walls, and …

 

But they didn’t clean some parts of the walls.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

I see. Did your parents explicitly give you life wisdom and rules for life?

 

My dad is an artist; he’s very much an artist. And my mom is very practical, Hawaiian, loving. And they’re both very supportive of whatever I chose to do. Except football; they wouldn’t let me play football.

 

You are one of those people who’ve done very well professionally, having gone to public school all the way.

 

Oh, yeah. I’m a big fan of public schools.

 

Starting with Hokulani School.

 

Yeah. Went to Hokulani, and then Washington, and then McKinley.

 

Washington Intermediate had some town tough guys, and so did McKinley.

 

Yeah, yeah. [CHUCKLE]. So, I learned in college, all you needed to do was ask: You know what is search take? And people who went to private school, for obvious reasons, don’t know what that means.

 

Search take; no.

 

Yeah. So, you’re in the cafeteria, and the bull walks up and he’s like, Eh, I like dollar. And of course, Oh, I no more. And then, the guy: Oh, what, search take? Oh, hold on a second. [CHUCKLE] But I thought that was just normal stuff.

 

How often did that happen to you?

 

Freshman year, quite a bit. And then, it was good to play baseball, I guess, and kinda keep out of that.

 

They didn’t bother athletes?

 

Yeah, ‘cause their friends would be on the football team, or whatever, and like, Eh, no bother that guy, he’s on the baseball team.

 

So, in that sense, athletics was an escape and a passion?

 

Yeah, yeah; I love baseball. So, that was my thing in high school.

 

Did you worry that you wouldn’t get to go to college?

 

No, I figured I was gonna go. My parents were pretty adamant about that. And I was lucky enough to get a scholarship, so that’s why I got away to Portland State in Oregon.

 

Hoala Greevy’s parents encouraged him to pursue his dreams. A gift from his father at a young age turned out to be an inspiration for his future career.

 

How did you begin your journey with computers? When did it start?

 

My dad got me a Commodore when I was kid.

 

How old were you?

 

Ten, I think. And then, so that was cool.

 

Big, hulky thing?

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. Five and a quarter disc. And then, when I got to college, when I first logged in on that, what, ninety – six – hundred baud modem, and I was in some friend’s room, and just connecting on the Internet was just … I just knew it. I was like, Wow, all this information, all these people … wow.

 

So, in college, that’s when it really got sparked as far as what you could possibly do with it.

 

Yeah; I was sitting in a computer science class in Portland State, and they had a job posting board. And someone wanted a small utility app that was almost identical to the homework we just turned in. And I couldn’t believe no one else had called, or maybe they had. So, I followed up as soon as I could, and I don’t know, four or five days later, I met the guy in a Safeway parking lot with a three and a half inch disc. And my friend Andrew Lanning [PHONETIC], he says, You know, in business you can have it good, fast, or cheap. So, he got it good and fast, but it wasn’t cheap. [CHUCKLE] He wasn’t too happy about that, but that was fine.

 

Because you valued your work, and you charged big time?

 

I thought it was; for college, yeah, it was a pretty good crip. And he popped it in his laptop, it worked, he kinda mumbled about signing the check. And then, that was it. So, to me, it was solving a problem and being creative about it. So, that was kinda neat.

 

But that’s so interesting to know that meeting in a Safeway parking lot, you valued your work, and you said, This is what it’s gonna take to get you this.

 

I could tell he was motivated. So, I guess maybe the salesman in me came out.

 

Were you making it up as you went along?

 

Yeah, pretty much. [CHUCKLE]

 

You weren’t quite sure what you were gonna charge?

 

And then, I split it with my buddy back home, ‘cause he had a compiler that I needed. So, I had the code, he had the compiler, and we split the profits. So, it was fun.

 

So, that was the first business transaction.

 

I guess; yeah. And then, just kept doing stuff like that. Staying up late, sleeping at the office, all – nighters, things like that.

 

You’re in college, still, at this point; right?

 

Oh, even out of college, sleep at the office, for sure. I think it’s maybe a subconscious thing that if you’re sleeping at the office, then you must be doing something right. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] You’re ready anyway; right?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

So, whatever it takes, you’re gonna do it. If it takes sleeping over, you’re gonna do it.

Yeah. I remember reading in the late 90s, this reporter was doing a profile on the two Yahoo cofounders. I think it was Jerry Yang. He would routinely sleep under his desk in a sleeping bag, and I just thought that was kinda neat. This was in the late 90s, so when Yahoo was on a tear.

 

How did you get the resources to start business? Did you go seat of the pants at first?

 

Yeah; just bootstrap. Yeah, I don’t know. Just make it happen.

 

You didn’t major in business.

 

No; geography. [CHUCKLE] Hard one; the hard major.

 

And why was that?

 

I just wanted to get out of school. I was a computer science major, and then I figured that was gonna take me about seven years to get out. I was on scholarship. I was like, Nah, let me just take something I like. And then, I just studied in the computer labs, and still pursued computer stuff, but just took something I liked, just to graduate.

 

What excited you about software? Were you trying to do any particular thing, or just go wherever it went?

 

Oh; I just thought it was a way to express yourself and be creative, and solve a problem, and help people. And I still feel like that. I mean, I think it’s just getting started. We’re in the midst of a huge mobile adoption that’s just getting started. And that’s really exciting.

 

What kind of a mind do you need to be a really successful software developer?

 

Naïve. [CHUCKLE]

 

Thinking it can be done, and then having to work.

 

Yeah; forcing it.

 

And sleeping overnight to make it happen.

 

Yeah, I guess so. Shoot; I mean, there’s a lot of different types, I think.

 

Well, what are the problems you wanted to solve, and did, with your development?

 

Well, I worked at an email company in the Bay Area. I moved back home in 2001. I was doing some Linux consulting, which at the time was really hard to explain to people. It still is. It’s an open source operating syste And then, the few clients I had were complaining about the same thing over, and over again, viruses and spam. So, I just sat down and pulled a few all – nighters, and came up with Pau Spam. And then, used that as a subscription – based model to help people out, and restore productivity to business.

 

And how rare was that contribution you made and that business that you created? I mean, because a lot of businesses have fallen by the wayside; but not yours.

 

Oh; yeah, I don’t know. I guess no one’s really put the stamp out on spam. It’s still a huge problem. Probably ninety – four, ninety – five percent of all email on the Internet is rubbish. So, I guess, just got lucky in that regard that it’s still a service that’s needed.

 

Well, you’ve had to keep upgrading and working on opposition, and competition.

 

Yeah; sure. It’s constant cat and mouse, upgrades, features. For sure.

 

Do you like that?

 

Yeah; it’s fun. I mean, it’s always changing, it’s never boring.

 

It sounds like you’ve found an area that will always require work, and so it’s great job security if you can keep up with demand.

 

Yeah. We’re seeing some changes on the landscape the last couple years, so definitely gotta think ahead and plan for what’s next on the horizon. And I see that as mobile. I mean, without a doubt.

 

I just read a stat, and this is 2013 as we’re speaking. But mobile video use exploded by thirty – seven percent last year.

 

Oh, yeah. And I think the amount of Smartphones on the market was one billion last November, projected to be one – point – eight billion this December. And then, five billion by 2015. Seventy – five percent of all mobile usage is a game or a social network. People check their phones every six minutes, or a hundred and fifty times a day. And you’ve got this wild adoption of Smartphones, with no end in sight. I mean, I just don’t see any stop to it. I think it’s super – exciting.

 

And people are saying, I don’t need a personal computer anymore; I can do this on my phone.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you like that, working in a field where it’s just changing all the time, and you’ve really got to be on your game all the time?

 

Yeah; it’s a lot of fun, for sure. I mean, we’re seeing now with apps that people use, it’s impossible to advertise your way to the top. So, what they do is, they create a habit for you. And so, the top apps have actually created habits out of people. So, when you ask someone, What do you when you’re bored?, a lot of Millennials, they’re not gonna say TV or call a friend, they’re gonna say, I’m checking an app on my phone, that’s what I do when I’m bored. What do you do when you need a laugh? There are some huge shifts in human behavior, all within the last four or five years. So, that’s pretty exciting, I think.

 

And are they going to the app store and just looking at whatever there is, or are they looking at some other means to find like the ten best apps? Or do they go word of mouth?

 

Facebook, word of mouth, the viral effect, stuff they see on You Tube. Yeah; it’s pretty interesting right now.

 

You’re very lucky to have found out in college what you wanted to do. It doesn’t happen to very many people. Some people go their whole lives, and don’t know what will really jazz them in terms of a career.

 

Yeah; I did get lucky, I guess. I mean, we have this app called DareShare that we released in June, which is a spinoff company. And it’s an app that gets people to do silly, funny things and share it. And that excites me to no end. I mean, we’re in forty – three countries right now, we’re trying to grow our user base. And to express yourself to all these people out there, and hopefully a lot, lot more. I mean, that’s really fun.

 

It must be hard to talk to non – tech people about what you do, because it is, quote, technical.

 

I think on the general level, people can relate. Especially for what we’re doing now with DareShare and being an app, and something silly and fun and new. I think it transcends boundaries and language, and culture.

 

That’s interesting, that you do one really practical and necessary thing, Pau Spam, and then this is silly. But you could argue it’s necessary to have a joke and to blow off stress.

 

Yeah. To me, mobile, ferality, silly things, photo sharing, those are really big macro trends. And I think DareShare is greatly affected by my interpretation of macro trends going on right now in the world. So, it’s a scientific approach to being funny and silly, is what we’re doing.

 

That sounds kind of just like you.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Scientific approach to being silly. [CHUCKLE]

 

In addition to his passion for developing computer software that will make people laugh and protect people from unwanted email, Hoala Greevy has another side to him, a hobby that probably would have pleased his great – great – grandfather, who was an expert fisherman.

 

Your middle name, I don’t know if there’s an okina, but it can either mean king or fish.

 

Fish.

 

Is it fish?

 

Fish.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Moi; fish.

 

Moi.

 

Yeah.

 

And you have become a fisherman.

 

Yeah; I got into it. Yeah. I enjoy kayak fishing, for sure. Yeah.

 

Oh, I’ve seen some crazy videos on You Tube with people hooking huge things, and being dragged in the kayak.

 

Yeah.

 

Real dangerous, especially getting it onboard.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

With a gaff.

 

That’s the lure, man. That’s who’s hunting who? [CHUCKLE]

 

What kind of fish are you looking for?

 

Oh, well, on a kayak, you can almost catch anything the guys on a boat are catching. But, when I first started, I was like, Man, what’s the biggest, baddest fish in the water? It’s marlin, right? So, I’m like, Okay, I want to get that.

 

Oh!

 

So, I kinda chased that fish for about three years, and I got lucky, and a couple years ago, I caught a couple, and that was exciting.

 

Don’t they have bills? I mean, you know —

 

Yeah.

 

That could just stab you, it could go right through you.

 

It’s the only fish with a weapon of its own, so that was a big, big lure for me to hunt one of ‘em.

 

And they go deep, they try to drag you under; right?

 

Yeah; aerials, turn you in circles, all kinds of stuff.

 

And you don’t have a lot of protection. I mean, you’re in a kayak.

 

Yeah.

 

Out far.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, it just feels kind of primal. I don’t know what you want to call it, but definitely you versus the fish. Yeah; there’s no boat to anchor you down or anything. If it wants to take you, it’s gonna take you.

 

Have you rolled over, or had a real close call?

 

Oh, that still happens. But when I caught those marlin, I got lucky, I didn’t huli. So, just stabilized the best I could. Yeah.

 

And they’re wiggling, they’re flopping around next to you in the kayak?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh! What other things have you caught? What other kind of fish have you caught?

 

I mean, the mahi, ono, the usual stuff.

 

And mahi are strong, too.

 

Yeah; they’re good fighters, and they give you the aerial display, and it’s kinda neat. And then, I got lucky this year. It’s an ugly fish, but I got the State record for the fine scale triggerfish, or hagi most fishermen call it.

 

What does a triggerfish look like?

 

Ugly, trigger, big gross thing. And I just got lucky and … I don’t know. State record, and I submitted it, and it became a world record.

 

Wow!

 

For that particular fish.

 

And how big was it?

 

I think it was about fifteen or sixteen pounds. So, kinda big for that.

 

What was the challenge in getting it in?

 

[CHUCKLE] It was so ugly.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I didn’t know quite what to do with it. [CHUCKLE] Yeah; not a good – looking fish. But I figured, just bring it in and see what happens.

 

Was it good eating?

 

No; no, no. My friends ate it, and they got sick.

 

Oh! But you got a world record.

 

Yeah. So, yeah, I don’t know if it’s any consolation to their stomachs, but yeah, I got the world record.

 

So, it’s obviously dangerous, but nothing has happened to you that scared you out there?

 

No; I mean, it’s humbling, but I haven’t had any close calls yet. We carry radios, our phones, I have an EPIRB emergency locater. So, we try our best.

 

So, what happens to you if you go over?

 

Yeah; you gotta try your best to stay with the kayak and your paddle. But I don’t know; I guess that’s part of the mystique, I guess, is maybe harkening back to olden days, and guys paddling out on their canoes, and stuff.

 

Do you feel something Hawaiian from your Hawaiian side about that?

 

I do. I mean, we have more equipment, sonar, fish finder, bait well, things like that. But, a lot of the spots are the same, the techniques are very the same. A lot of it involves catching opelu, which is, kind of a family fish.

 

That’s really different from what you do for a living.

 

Yeah, I guess so. But to me, the water is an escape, and humbling, playground, vast, infinite. Kinda neat. You feel so small and nothing.

 

In addition to his affinity for fishing and the ocean, Hoala Greevy feels a deep connection to the Hawaiian culture in other ways as well. Many of his Hawa iian values come from his mother.

 

Why is your name Hoala?

 

Well, my mom had a dream, and I don’t know what was in the dream, but they said, Hey, name your kid Hoala.

 

And what does it mean?

 

Awaken, or new beginning. So, it’s either a family member, a dream, or something happening at the time of birth; those are usually the three ways people get their names.

 

Yours is a dream name.

 

Yeah; and I think what I do after business will be the realization of that name. Why would a person like my mom have that dream? And if you’ve ever met my mom, she’s a pretty interesting and special person. Why would she have that dream? How do I go about realizing the meaning of that?

 

But interesting; you don’t think it’s in the tech field, especially.

 

To some degree, but I want to create something that outlives me. So, yeah; I think that’s something special.

 

Let’s talk about being Hawaiian.

 

Okay.

 

What does that mean to you?

 

A vibrant, beautiful past, a troubling present, and an uncertain future. That’s what it means.

 

Do you think tech could help, will help?

 

Yeah. I mean, I think it can help in a lot of ways. But I’m so focused on — yeah, I don’t know. I think that’s down the road.

 

That’s not where your passions run?

 

No; later. Later, I’d like to do stuff. But right now, it’s business and hit that homerun, and then go hit another one. I mean, for sure; business is definitely where it’s at right now, for me.

 

How many hours a week do you work? Do you have any idea?

 

No. Probably not as many as you. [CHUCKLE]

 

I don’t know about that. I’m not sleeping at the office.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah; I don’t if that’s a good thing, still. But, I think there’s a lot of good and a lot of troubling things about being Hawaiian now. And so, I’d like to help out with that. My mom’s a social worker, right? So, you see or you hear about stuff, and there’s a perpetual cycle of poverty, and how is that in Hawaiian culture. And it’s like, you got the self – medicating drug abuse, you got issues at home, not going to college, and it kinda spins upon itself and perpetuates through generations. And I don’t know if I know the answer to that, but you know, I’d like to help out with that at some point. For sure.

 

So many causes.

 

Yeah. I mean, incarceration, diabetes, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol. I mean, I don’t even have to look farther than my own family to see all of that. And I think ninety – eight percent of every Hawaiian out there, if they really think about it, it’s all right in front of them.

 

You have a passion that you’re deferring to better the condition of Hawaiians, if you can.

 

Yeah.

 

What are your thoughts about quality of life today? You keep your business here because of quality of life.

 

Yeah. I mean, I think, shoot, since maybe the recession in 2008, I think a lot of the middleclass has gone down to a notch below that, especially on the Hawaiian side. We see this a lot with other minorities on the mainland. It’s a larger class teetering on the poverty line. So, like the disappearance of the middleclass, I think is a definite reality in a lot of Hawaiian families. And then, we see the wealthy side getting exponentially richer. Which I don’t know if you can fault people for that, but within the last five years, there’s been a big vacuum, I think, in the middleclass.

 

And that’s a cause for concern; right? And also, not having a college degree really affects people’s ability to work in an era where it’s the knowledge era, it’s the information era. And that means tech.

 

Yeah. I’d really like to make an impact on people’s going to college, for sure, once I get some other stuff done. For sure. [CHUCKLE]

 

Competitive business and hardcore fishing now, activism and altruism later. Mahalo to Hoala Greevy, founder of the computer spam and virus filtering system Pau Spam, for sharing his story with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii 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 the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Are you still close to people you went to school with?

 

Yeah; more so my college friends, I guess. But, I still keep in touch. I’m still very, very into McKinley.

 

I know you’ve participated with the McKinley School Foundation, which is just an awesome supportive fundraising arm of McKinley.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Or supportive of McKinley.

 

We created our own Class of 1994 Scholarship. We have a two – year and a four – year category. The amounts aren’t big, but it’s a good start. And I think that our society, college is the equalizer. It’s your ticket out, so the more people we can get in college, I think it just helps society as a whole.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jessie Higa

 

Original air date: Tues., May 14, 2013

 

Jessie Higa is a volunteer historian at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Oahu. A child of parents in the service and now the wife of a military officer, Higa is a civilian who has always had close military ties. She shares her wealth of knowledge about the area that became Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

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Transcript

 

Two years ago, we had one veteran who was ill. He said, Jessie, I won’t make it for the 70th, but if I come back, you’re gonna let me come to Hickam? I said, Oh, absolutely, I’ll give you a tour. Well, his wife calls me after Christmas, and she says, You can pick Fred up at United Cargo. And I was like … United Cargo? It was his casket.

 

Jessie Higa refers to herself as an old soul, and has taken it upon herself to preserve the stories of Hickam Air Force Base. Remembering the past with historian Jessie Higa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Jessie Higa is a military wife and mostly volunteer historian for Hickam Air Force base. She leads historical tours of Hickam, chronicling its role in the 1941 December 7th attack, while highlighting some of the pre-war history and Hawaiian cultural sites of the area. Jessie Higa grew up around the world in mainland communities like San Antonio, Texas and Maryland, and faraway places like Yokota Air Base in Japan, and Tehran in the Country of Iran. She said that as a military child, it was hard to claim one geographical location as home. Both of her parents were born and raised in Hawaii, so during her summers, she would often come and connect with her island roots.

 

So, you have such an interesting history, in that you look like a local girl, and you are Japanese American, Hawaiian, Chinese, and yet, you’ve spent much of your life away from here. And you weren’t born here, either.

 

No. Katonk, I guess, is what my cousins used to call me. And being a military child, it gave me the opportunity to travel the world. And being that my parents were from Hawaii, I still had that cultural background of knowing that I had Hawaiian ancestral roots, Japanese American and Chinese American. So, it’s been great to be able to know that I have a multitude of experiences in my ethnic and military background as a child.

 

How much time did you spend in the islands while you were growing up?

 

Just the summer. It would just be maybe when school got out, the end of May ‘til maybe about August. My mom’s parents live in Pauoa Valley, and Kanealii Avenue. And that was home. Cute little house that was built by Grandpa. We call him Poppy Joe. And the avocado tree, the plumeria, the mango trees. It was literally coming home to what we felt was our grassroots. And it was during that summertime that my grandparents would really teach us Hawaiian lei -making, taking care of the plants. It was like home school, and learning our heritage, and my grandfather speaking his moolelo’s, his stories to us. And then, my dad’s side, we would spend the weekends in Waipahu. And I can still smell the stench of driving up that hill to the sugarcane mill.

 

Oh, and Waipahu Sugar Mill was still going.

 

Correct. And actually, my grandfather and my grandmother were still living in the old plantation areas of Waipahu. And it was great. You talk about nostalgia. You go back there now, you can’t even identify the streets anymore. But those are my fondest memories, to come back to Hawaii during the summertime.

 

When you say coming back, you weren’t born here, so your life in Hawaii was during the summer.

 

Absolutely. And that’s the predicament of being a military child. You don’t know what is home. And even if it’s the base that you’ve been there the most, which would be for me Japan, I still don’t consider myself technically Japanese. And though I’ve lived most of my adult life here in Hawaii, now I can say this is home. But as a child, that was the one challenge, was to really feel a sense of place. And you almost had to make it the best wherever you went. And that’s what my mom taught us as children, to just make home, home where it is, wherever you go.

 

Your parents have not only traveled the world, but they still haven’t come back to Hawaii to live. They left shortly after graduating from University of Hawaii at Manoa together, and off they went.

 

Yes; they are still on their adventure, what I call it. And they deserve it. My parents have been hard workers, they love Hawaii, they always get their time to come home. But I really find that Japan has been an important place in their lives, probably because so much of them, the memories of us as kids are still there. They’ve become unofficial ambassadors at Yokota Air Base, and my mom’s a teacher. And that really fills a void in her heart of us having grown up. She can now invest in these younger kids. And my dad’s also a professor there, associate professor, and they just love where they’re at right now in their lives. And the thought of even retiring … we’ll see. They’re seventy – three. [CHUCKLE]

 

And still going.

 

Still going. When they file their official retirement papers, then I can start planning that they’re coming home. Yeah.

 

But they really did a good job with you, then, of making you feel comfortable and able to take whatever came your way in a new environment.

 

They taught us to know how to be resilient. They taught us how to learn how to make friends easily, no matter where we went. And I watch my mom and my dad, how they interact with people, the generosity, the sincerity. That is what I think I learned the most from my parents, and I’m just so grateful.

 

You have siblings. Who are your siblings?

 

My older sister, four years older, but sometimes even though I’m forty – five, I feel like I’m sixteen around my sister. She’s incredible. She’s always been the independent one, very forthright, and I’ve admired my sister, I still do. My brother, Richard … not too many people know this on Hickam. But I had a younger brother who was a year and a day from me. My birthday is May 19th, his is May 20th. And my mom brought us back to Hawaii, ‘cause my father was serving in Vietnam, so he was born here at Tripler. We’re so close in age. We grew up together, there for one another. We had our sibling rivalries, like most siblings do. But there came a point about two years before his death that we really matured, and we were done with the fighting and the pettiness, and he just grew up to be a great young man. And it was cut short … but I have no regrets. I tell people … to have sixteen years with him is better than nothing. Sorry.

 

He drowned.

 

Yeah, there was a drowning incident, and it was one of the first deaths on our base. But the community just came together, they were there to uplift us and to support us. And I think that’s why in many ways, there are these very strong ties to Yokota, because that’s what I remember. And it’s an honor that he’s buried at Punchbowl.

 

In 1991, Jessie Higa was hired as a park service ranger for the Pearl Harbor December 7th Fiftieth Anniversary Remembrance. She reentered military life when she married Irving Higa, a local boy and Air Force officer. They were stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and then in 2003, the family was transferred to Hickam Air Force Base. Now back in Hawaii, she along with other military wives began to research the history of the base. In 2009, Paul Casey, the former president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines and current CEO of Island Air, requested a Hickam Base tour for his father, a World War II Australian Air Force veteran. Jessie Higa volunteered to lead the tour. In doing so, she gained a mentor.

 

And you’re still in military life, and that’s because you married an officer.

 

Yes. Now here I am in my mom’s footsteps. I tease my husband that unlike my sister, who followed in my dad’s footsteps to be an Air Force officer at UH ROTC, I found the other way to get an ID card. And that was to marry into the military.

 

You wanted to get into the PX, didn’t you?

 

[CHUCKLE] It turned out that way, interesting enough. And my husband says, Okay, we’re married, what do you want to do tomorrow? It’s the day after our honeymoon. Let’s go to Hickam and get my ID card. And it was so wonderful to have that little card back to go into the commissary and the BX, ‘cause I was so accustomed to that.

 

So, you’ve talked about your parents being really important influences in your life. What other formative influences have you had?

 

There’s been so many recently, but in regards to what I’ve been able to do now at Hickam in restoring and preserving the history, is Mr. Paul Casey. He found me at a time when I was most vulnerable, not knowing the direction I was going with being a volunteer historian for the base. And his father was with the Royal Australian Air Force, and he and their friends were coming from Australia to visit Hawaii. And Mr. Casey says, Hey, anyone at Hickam could help out and give my dad a tour? And our veterans that I know if, my friends, were very good friends with the Royal Australian Air Force, so of course, I wanted to meet him. And I’ve heard about Mr. Casey, his background with Hawaiian Airlines, and Hawaii Visitors Bureau, and I thought, what a great opportunity to meet new people. So, I did the tour, and through that came an incredible friendship and trust. I needed mentorship, and that’s what Mr. Casey provided me. Belief in myself, belief in my passion, and to just be able to know where I was going with my goals, and if I had to redirect how to do that.

 

You’re awfully young to be so immersed in history. What is it about you, you think, that calls to you?

 

You’re so nice to say I’m young. But it’s the Asian, I think, it fools people how young I am. It’s because of my heritage. My grandfather told us the stories, I grew up learning the history in college as an intern at Hickam, the base historian was my mentor, and being able to participate in the 50th anniversary in 1991 as a park ranger. It was just the sequence of events that happened early on in my life. But I did take a long sabbatical to get married, be an Air Force wife, have kids, and I’ve now just picked up where I left off. So, it’s been about eight years, nonstop, of work in the history to where I am today. But it’s my life investment, so I’m not done yet.

 

And I think you have a great understanding of relationships, from your travel and from your family. And you use that today in what you do. And you don’t do much of it for pay; much of this is for love as a volunteer historian.

 

Yes. There’s a lot of budget cuts in the military, and it takes volunteers many times to step in and help the military advance, especially in the area of history. Veterans who can’t travel anymore, I need to now find them and travel to them. And I don’t have very many hobbies or expenditures, or expensive habits, so my husband knows if I need to take a flight to go to the 11th Bomb Group reunion in Texas, I’ll do that. And for even the veterans that come back, there’s not much funds to provide leis, coffees, to host them. And it’s amazing that through my friendships at the base, we’re able to do those type of things. To be able to say as volunteers, we will make sure that we can still roll out the red carpet, give them the aloha they remember. Can you imagine when they were here, before the war years, coming to Hawaii on those Matson ships with the lei’s, and the hula dancers, Waikiki, truly the aloha spirit. And that is what we try to do as volunteers, if the Air Force is unable to provide that financially, that we can come in as volunteers and make that all happen.

 

Pearl Harbor is so well known, and kids go on excursions there, and people take visitors there. But Hickam Field is not on the beaten path for many of our local residents. When you go there, it looks like the place that time has stood still since 1941. Tell us about Hickam Field.

 

Indeed. Hickam Field, when you get to the base and you come through the main gate, you’re welcomed by these two beautiful concrete portals that say, Hickam Field in replicas of the original art deco letters, beautiful amber lantern. You really do, when you enter the base, you feel that you’re going back in time. When you find the building, the barracks building where those three thousand two hundred airmen lived, it’s still battle scarred. And children or visitors that come run their hands across it, it really is amazing that you can connect with the the past, a day that will live in infamy. On Hickam, there’s a main street in front of the barracks building called Vickers Avenue. There’s a door that leads out from what was the kitchen, and on the sidewalk is a manhole cover. The story is that a young lieutenant, very brave, skinny, tall, red hair, just managed to muster that steel cover lid off. And as these scared boys were running out of the kitchen, he started to trip each one of them into this manhole. It was when the twelfth young man ended up on the top of the pile that the barracks building was hit, the kitchen got a direct hit, disintegrating the lieutenant. We still don’t know who he was. But one of the veterans who was in the manhole whose life was saved came back, and he told that story. And it was just so poignant, because we drive up and down that street, never realizing how important things like a manhole could be, the door to the kitchen that today is the communications squadron. That is why at Hickam, unless we keep these stories alive, it’ll just be another little hole in the sidewalk.

 

And meanwhile, there were pilots scrambling to get up in the air. Did they?

 

That happened more at Wheeler, where there was also a group of P – 40s that were at Haleiwa Field. Those were the ones that got airborne. For us, we had the big bombers, the B – 18s and the B – 17s. We were able to get three airborne, but that was after the attack. And for us, it was just disbursing to pull apart engines, there were so many fires that were just domino effect down the runway. Because of anti – sabotage measures, they were all parked so close together. So, most of our men were being strafed and killed in the chaos of trying to separate all the aircraft and salvage what they could, and also respond to the many wounded. But what isn’t told a lot, besides just the men that lived in the barracks trying to stay alive, get to the aircraft, help with the wounded, the untold story is what happened in our housing area. The women and children that were commandeering their cars out the base to get to safety, hiding out in the houses, listening to empty artillery shells pinging off the roofs. What happened when some of these Navy shells ended up in the neighborhood, luckily one hit a house, but the child was in the dining room having breakfast instead of her bedroom. So, there was a lot of bedlam, a lot of situations where families could have been killed. And … that’s the story that’s not told. And I have a friend of mine, Paul Coghlin, we are trying to tell stories. That it’s not just the actual veteran that’s a Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field survivor, but so are the women and the children.

 

Another thing that outsiders know, because we really don’t know a lot about Hickam, I think that we need to be educated, is the former water tower, now Freedom Tower, which gets decorated every Christmas, just festooned with lights.

 

Absolutely. It’s the iconic structure of the base, and especially at Christmastime, it is the tallest Christmas tree on all of Oahu. It sits right in front of the Hickam Elementary School, where my children have gone to school, and it’s just a beautiful structure, which my grandfather helped build back in 1938. And it’s grand, it really gives you a perspective of how important architecturally this base was gonna be for Hawaii. Architects and designers that had their hands in it, that truly wanted to make their mark in making sure that Hickam was by far the greatest endeavor in the 1940s to build an Army air corps.

 

Jessie Higa’s family connections to the World War II experience and to Hickam Air Force Base can be traced back to both sides of her family. In one instance, her family suffered a tragedy directly linked to events at Hickam during the December 7th attack.

 

My grandfather had a brother, and he was walking down Fort Street Mall with his child in his arms.

 

In Downtown Honolulu?

 

Downtown Honolulu, Fort Street. And a Navy shell came over. It was friendly fire, and the shrapnel went through him and the child. So, my grandfather had a very difficult time. When I became a historian during the 50th anniversary of the attack, and he says, Oh, the Japanese killed my brother, killed my niece. And it was so challenging to have to sit him down and explain to him that it wasn’t the Japanese, but had they not come, it wouldn’t have happened.

 

Just looking at all the war connections you have, other family members in the war?

 

Yes; my dad’s maternal uncles, both of them served in the 442nd 100th Battalion, and for both of them, Purple Heart. And my Uncle Irving Masumoto, actually was a Silver Star recipient. And it’s ironic that for our family, because we’re Japanese American, they had jobs on Hickam, but they weren’t welcomed back because of their ancestral roots. So, what they ended up doing was, enlisting to prove their loyalty, and also, they felt American and they really were. And thankfully for us, both of them were wounded, so they had Purple Hearts. And my Uncle Irving actually had a bullet that went underneath the helmet, grazed his ear, came out the top. And my great – aunt still kept that helmet. And it’s an honor to realize that through that patriotism, that my dad was inspired to, while at Waipahu High School, become a civil air patrol, and then University of Hawaii ROTC.   And my great – uncles, to know that they had that immense patriotism to want to say, We too will serve.

 

The area surrounding Hickam Air Force Base has a rich Hawaiian history that pre-dates the founding of the base in 1935. Jessie Higa has researched that cultural history and educates the military and the Hawaii community about the ancient Hawaiian burial sites in the Fort Kamehameha area of Hickam.

 

The fact that you’re Native Hawaiian too, you’re sensitized to iwi or bone issues, burials. And there are burials that are still being discovered in the Fort Kamehameha area of Hickam.

 

Yes. Being Native Hawaiian, my grandfather always talked to us about iwi, how he lived on Molokai and would bury his ancestors. When we came to Hickam, I was interested in finding out about this burial crypt, because during many of the military construction projects, we’ve accidentally uncovered Native Hawaiian burials. Through the Grave Repatriation Act, we by law need to report that to the Oahu Burial Council, and an archaeological monitor will come in and will assess what to do. And it’s just beautiful that there at Hickam, we’re able to honor the Hawaiian history that a lot of locals don’t even know about. And for me to speak at a makahiki to the Royal Order of Kamehameha, and to share with them the story of Queen Emma, to share the story of how the kupuna iwi are buried here and that we’re doing our very best to take care of the ancestral bones, it’s amazing that the Air Force is able to bridge that gap, and cultural understanding is always in motion. It’s a process that each person that comes through Hickam their two years has to learn, but it’s just amazing that we’re able to keep a very good relationship and respect to the Hawaiian history that’s there.

 

It must be difficult with so many people moving on. I mean, that’s the way of Hickam, it’s the military way, people who are into their jobs, and they’re focused. But you’re there. You don’t go.

 

I think I’m the continuity. And I’m here to help those commanders and those in leadership positions, that when they leave every two years, I can be here to say, How can I help you? Here’s what I know, here’s the best way to go about this. To be a bit of an advisor. And that’s what I feel my role is too, as a volunteer, to offer them information to where they can now make a judgment call based upon being educated now about the history. ‘Cause it’s not just military; we have to respect what was there before us.

 

As an unofficial liaison to the Hickam Field, Pearl Harbor survivors, Jessie Higa along with other military wives continues to host events, and often receives some very special requests from veterans and their families.

 

So, it never ends. I continue to have families that go, Jessie, I think my grandpa was here. And you just find it coincidental. A former base commander at Hickam, Colonel Barrett, his mom’s first cousin was there, and I was able to help him with that history, and it became a personal interest to him as he sponsored these veterans every year for December 7th. That is where I find everything comes at its … right time. Two years ago, we had one veteran who was ill. He said, Jessie, I won’t make it for the 70th, but if I come back, you’re gonna let me come to Hickam? I said, Oh, absolutely, I’ll give you a tour. Well, his wife calls me after Christmas, and she says, You can pick Fred up at United Cargo. And I was like … United Cargo? It was his casket. And within a day, we worked it out with the base leadership to have his hearse come into Hickam, escorted by security police, and his wife was in my car. And we drove around Hickam flagpole, like he wanted to, and there were eight hundred Hickam personnel … there, standing at attention around the flagpole, saluting the hearse as it went by. And that was his final wish. And that’s what I feel my calling is too, is to make sure that these veterans’ wishes are done, and that I can help the families make that possible. Hickam Field in the December 7th attack brings back such horrific memories. It is still the one place that beckons them, because of all the great experiences they had before the war. And that’s why today, so many of them come back and say, Jessie, I want you to scatter my ashes; Jessie, I’m gonna be buried here in Hawaii. And that’s their final wish, is to truly come home. That’s why I think I’m like an old soul, Leslie. I really feel, with the stories that my grandparents tell me of the 40s and the veterans, I feel like I live in this nostalgic world, that when I’m with them, they tell me I almost make them feel young again. But I am happy that I’m still young yet, that I’ll be around for the 100th anniversary, and in hopes in the next five years finish a book. There’s never been another book on Hickam Field history written since 1991, and there’s so much more to tell.

 

And you’ve already spoken with quite a few of the survivors of World War II.

 

I have.

 

In the attack.

 

Yes. And truly, we are able to still find primary sources. The men still exist, and not everybody in their nineties has dementia and Alzheimer’s. So, it is a race against time to find these veterans now, to get their stories firsthand. And then, the continuum to that is, also give the history now and educate the community, but then at the end of that continuum, it’s to educate the next generation. I need to seed all that I’ve been working so hard to preserve into a generation that will carry on that legacy for me.

 

So, have you answered your own question of, Where do I belong, and exactly where and how do I navigate that?

 

I have. I have my sense of place now. My husband and I haven’t decided where we’re gonna permanently buy a house, but I do know that this is home, Hawaii in general. I know where I am. As far as the history, I’m gonna continue to do this. Again, my life investment is the Hickam history. And I’m happy, I’m content. I don’t feel like I don’t have a home, so to speak. I feel like now I can plant my roots and say, This is where I will be and flourish. To be able to set my roots and say, Ah, won’t be transplanted again, this is where I’m going to stay. I will travel, I’ll do a lot of that with my kids and my husband, but this is where I know I finally have come home.

 

Volunteer historian Jessie Higa, who draws from her diverse family history and her life as a military wife, says she will continue to research, preserve, and inform the community about military heroes, including the women and children of Hickam Field. Jessie Higa continues to volunteer many hours at the base, and also moonlights once a week as a private contractor for the Hickam Historical Tours. Mahalo to Jessie Higa for sharing her story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

But what isn’t told a lot, besides just the men that lived in the barracks trying to stay alive, get to the aircraft, help with the wounded, the untold story is what happened in our housing area. The women and children that were commandeering their cars out the base to get to safety, hiding out in the houses, listening to empty artillery shells pinging off the roofs. What happened when some of these Navy shells ended up in the neighborhood, luckily one hit a house, but the child was in the dining room having breakfast instead of her bedroom.