Pearl Harbor attack, Punahou, senior runners, World War II

Incredible Personal History

img_2174-1What do Siegfried Ramler and I have in common?  Well, not a whole lot, besides our both being Hawaii residents and having a passion for running.

Sig has retired from running while I’m still chugging along, doing 5Ks to half-marathons. But, hey, I’m 10 years his junior!  I’ll explain the T-shirts at the end.

Sig has an incredible personal story, dating back to World War II and its aftermath.

In March 1938, as a 14-year-old Austrian Jewish schoolboy, he watched Wehrmacht troops enter Vienna. Through drawn curtains, he observed the coming of the swastika and the jubilation of a multitude of Austrians.

His family was soon thrown out of their home.  Shortly after the infamous Kristallnacht, Sig was sent to London to live with his uncle in north London.

Toward the end of the war, in 1945, Sig signed up with the U.S. Air Force to work as a linguist in Germany.  When he learned of the trial of Nazi leaders, he went AWOL and hitched a ride to Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

There he was recruited to serve as an interpreter.  Within days he found himself sitting in a small room with defendant Hans Frank and a military interrogator.  Without any training, he interpreted the pre-trial interrogations of the man who came to be known as “the Butcher of Warsaw.”

Sig shoved to the background any hate for this man and determined to do a good, accurate job of simultaneous translation. “I was just 22.  I just concentrated on the job,” he told an interviewer for the Guardian.  “I was there to interpret, not to judge.”

Ten times he heard the presiding judge, speak the words “Death by Hanging.”

Marriage to a Hawaiian reporter on the Nuremberg trial staff led Sig to the Islands and a long career at Punahou School as a teacher and administrator and, later, as founding director of the Wo International Center at the East-West Center.

It was in Hawaii that he developed a love for running.  No surprise, he ran with determination and ran well.  I should know!  As 10 years his junior I did many races with him.

Which brings me back to the photo above.  The Over the Hill Gang is a group of octogenarian (or older!) runners and former runners.  The group meets for lunch once a month, in a lovely setting on Oahu’s windward side.

A new production of the T-shirts was distributed at our February meeting, and we immediately donned them, with pride.

Nostalgia, Punahou, Sports

Al Harrington, my JV football teammate — 66 years later

Al Harrington and Moi

The site:  Kincaid’s restaurant, near the waterfront, midway between downtown Honolulu and famed Waikiki Beach and its concentration of resort hotels.

Margie and I were hosting, for dinner, Jonathan Lyau, his wife Kelli, and their two delightful kids, Sierra and Spencer.  Jonathan has been my running coach since 1997 — first in Team in Training, a fundraising program of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  Since then, he has provided me personalized training schedules. This dinner was a token way to say thank you.

As the six of us were leaving the restaurant, Jonathan said he had spotted Al Harrington, at the table next to ours.  Al had achieved national fame as a television actor on Hawaii Five-O.  But I remembered Al vividly as a future football star. We were teammates on the junior varsity team at Punahou School.  Still, I  hadn’t recognized him.  So Margie and I went back in and I introduced myself.  He was good enough to say he had been trying, while we were dining,  to recall who I was.  Once I mentioned our playing together on the Punahou JV team, he stood up and greeted me warmly.  That long-ago connection brought us both joy.

His personal history:  A native of Pago Pago, Al lived there for three years before moving to Honolulu to join his mom, who was working as a nurse.

Back to the Punahou School JV football team:  Al was just a freshman, not eligible to play on the varsity, and I was a junior, not good enough to make the varsity but loving to play.

Even then (1950), it was clear that Al Ta’a, as he was then known, was destined for sports stardom.  In fact, he was the first high-school football All-American to come out of Hawaii.  He went on to play, impressively, for Stanford University.

At this restaurant meeting, I went back in time 66 years. The vivid memory was still there.  Waiting to be remembered — and waiting to be shared.