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.

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December 7, 1941, marathons, Pearl Harbor attack, running, senior runners, World War II

75 Years after the Start of World War II

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Here I stand, 82 years old.  It’s Dec. 7, 2016 — 75 years to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other sites on Oahu.  I’m smiling, just happy to be alive and strong enough to still be running.  (Note I’m wearing a finisher’s shirt for the 2014 Honolulu Marathon.)  And I’m standing at Kahala beach on the property where my family lived on that day.

I still have vivid memories of Dec. 7, 1941, when I was 7 years old. My older brother Dick and I were barred from running down to this beach to see what we could see.  I expect we would have seen nothing from this low-lying vantage point, with Diamond Head lying between us and Pearl Harbor.  Later in the day, I remember listening with my mother and Dick to the radio and catching, as best a seven-year-old can, the import and sober nature of the news.  The advice I remember most was to boil water for drinking.

My mom must have been very worried about my dad, but being a stiff-upper-lipped New Englander, born and reared in Connecticut, she didn’t betray it.  When my dad did arrive home — I’m not sure of the hour but it was before our bedtime — he was carrying a pistol that had been issued to him.  That impressed me!

I’m not sure how long we kept observing blackouts during the evening. We taped light-blocking paper over the two windows in an upstairs bedroom and that became our evening gathering place as a family.  I remember my dad reading the Christmas Story to me in that room one evening.  Christmas day, of course, fell just 18 says after Pearl Harbor.

Back to today.  My brother, sadly, died a little over a year ago.  As for technology, the picture above was taken using Margie’s iPhone 6+.  I expect the technologies that exist 75 years from now will include some not even dreamed of today.  May technologies focus on peaceful pursuits and not on weapons of war!

Oh, and about running.  I have promised Margie that I will limit my distances henceforth to half-marathons.  So I won’t get any finishers shirt for the 2016 Honolulu Marathon.   But I’m convinced that far from shortening life, running lengthens it.

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December 7, 1941, Nostalgia, Pearl Harbor attack, World War II, Writing

The Day Our World Changed

Book Cover

Dec. 7 is coming up in several weeks and it will mark the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Obviously, it will stir the strongest memories among people who were living in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 — including me.

As a then 7-year-old boy, I still have vivid memories, of course. They were stirred recently as I came across a yellowed handwritten letter from Vincent J. Repaci, who fought in World War II as an Army enlisted man.  I had written him and he responded.

Vincent was among a group of a dozen or so soldiers bivouacked in a small temporary barracks on our large leasehold property on Kahala Avenue.  A “pillbox,” with machine guns, had been installed on the beach.

As I recall, Vincent had helped my dad cut down an unwanted tree, between our home and the beach, and I had befriended him.  Soon afterward, Vincent was shipped off to fight in the Pacific Islands.

As recorded in a previous blog, I liked to send and receive letters from folks up to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vincent Repaci’s ultimate commander in chief.  So why not Vincent?

Here, much abbreviated, are thoughts he recorded in his letter.  (The letter also had certain sections snipped out, I assume by a censor.)

“I received your letter when I first reached the place where we were going. And we have been fighting ever since. . . . This is the first time I got a chance to write a letter.

“Tom is okay and so is Mac. . . . I hope you are not mad at me for not writing sooner . . . I hope you can read my writing, I am in a hurry.

“Tell Mr. and Mrs. Smith I said hello.”

“I will try to get you some Japanese money to send to you and your brother and mother and dad. . . Tell everybody I said hello.”

        “Your pal, 

                 Vincent J. Repaci.

Statistics show that almost 42,000 Army ground forces died in the Pacific theater in World War II.  We’ve always assumed that was Vincent’s fate.  May, he and all of the others, rest in peace.  They are all heroes.

(About the book cover pictured above:  More than a decade ago, a Punahou School friend, Johnny Bowles, solicited from classmates their recollections of December 7.  The result is a book called “The Day Our World Changed,” published by Ice Cube Press, North Liberty, Iowa.  It has received excellent reviews.)

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