July 10, 2017

Former Handy Writers Colony member, author and playwright Shirota funds Lowney Turner Handy scholarship

Author and playwright Jon Shirota, the last member of the Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Ill., has given the Marshall High School Foundation $5,000 to fund the Lowney Turner Handy Creative Writing Scholarship for the next 10 years to give $500 annually to the best writer at the high school. 
          “If I live to be 100,” Shirota, now almost 90, said and laughed, “I’ll give another $5,000 to continue it for another 10 years.
          The Japanese-American who was born and raised on Maui and lives in Southern California is the author of Lucky Come Hawaii, written at the colony in the early 1960s, Pineapple White, Chronicles of Ojii-Chan and several other stories and the following plays: Lucky Come Hawaii (adapted from the novel), Leilani’s Hibiscus and Voices From Okinawa. All three plays were published in Voices from Okinawa and have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan. 
          When Lucky Come Hawaii was adapted into a play, it was awarded a production grant from the John F. Kennedy Center for New Plays and led to other plays and other playwriting awards for Shirota. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American College Theater Festival, the Los Angeles Actors Theater Festival of One Acts, the Los Angeles County Cultural Affairs Department, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. 
          Shirota wanted to fund the scholarship to honor Lowney Handy for nurturing him and helping him become a writer, without whom he doubts he’d ever have come to be a writer. He was working as an Internal Revenue Service representative in Los Angeles when Handy invited him to the colony in 1963. He resigned immediately, loaded up and drove the 2,000 miles to Marshall.
          “She showed me the way,” Shirota said. “And I have the signed picture of her that she gave me on the wall of my office that I look up to each day as I sit down to write. She inspires me. My contribution to the writing scholarship is my way of honoring what she did for me.” 
          On the occasional trips back from his California home for James Jones Literary Society symposia, Shirota visits Handy’s grave in Marshall and leaves a bouquet of flowers after standing quietly before her grave in quiet contemplation. 
          After hearing of Shirota’s contribution, another former colony member who has contributed to the fund for the annual $10,000 James Jones First Novel Fellowship Award, Robinson, Ill., native Don Sackrider said, “It seems the Handy Colony lives on. How nice.” 
          While the Lowney Handy Writing Award has existed for many years, and a certificate is presented to the winning student each year by Dr. Jim Turner, Lowney’s nephew, it has never had a cash award to go with it. 
          “This is certainly a great tribute to Lowney and to Marshall,” said Alyson Thompson, director of the Marshall Public Library who has been instrumental in helping Shirota set up the financial contribution and is working with him and the Marshall High School Foundation to get the award in place for the next academic year. “It is not only an attribute to her, but to the community as well. And for that we are all thankful.” 
          The $500 annual scholarship will be given to student who completes an application, holds a GPA of 2.5 or higher—Shirota likes the lower GPA because he never graduated from high school and joined the American Army as soon as he could and was stationed at Schofield Barracks where Jones was stationed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor—and be a graduating Marshall High School Senior. 
          Included with the application is a Creative Writing Essay as outlined by MHS Senior English teacher Amy Gard or her successor. Marshall High School students also compete for an essay-writing award, initiated by the James Jones Literary Society, based on Jones’ short story, “The Valentine.”
Another former colony member, Edwin “Sonny” Cole, a Marshall native who wrote two novels, Some Must Watch and A Legacy of Love, before turning to teaching at Menlo Park, Calif., becoming head of the lower school and then becoming headmaster where he stayed until retirement, also remembered Marshall by leaving $100,000 to the Marshal Public Library after he died in 2015. 
          The library has all the books written by members of The Handy Writers Colony. Besides Shirota, Jones, Sackrider and Daly, other writers from the colony who published books include John Bowers, Tom Chamales, Jere Peacock and Charles Wright.
          Contributions will be accepted for the Lowney Turner Handy Creative Scholarship by the Marshall High School Foundation at 806 N. Sixth St., Marshall, IL 62441, to help fund the scholarship for years to come to honor Handy who mentored many writers at the colony and was the guiding force in From Here To Eternity author James Jones’ initial success.

June 23, 2017

Impasse, Arrogance and Responsibilities in Springfield

I returned not long ago from a tour of Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Iwo Jima where I went with Military Historical Tours and the Iwo Jima Association of American to attend the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima and the annual Reunion of Honor where the United States and Japan, once bitter enemies in combat, come together as comrades in peace to commemorate the battle that took the lives of 6,821 Americans, another 19,000 causalities and the lives of 21,000 Japanese. That war preserved our freedom.
         Unfortunately, however, we citizens in the state of Illinois don’t enjoy the freedom we should because of the puerile manifestations of partisan politics in Springfield reminiscent of school-yard bullies for which Gov Bruce Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan are the principal players in the resulting lack of a budget, people and businesses leaving the state in droves, college students going to universities out of state, school systems throughout the state cutting programs and faculty, ad infinitum.
         There was a saying in the Marine Corps for people like them: “Lead, follow or get (there were stronger words when it was as critical a situation as it is now) out of the way.”
         The Iwo Jima veterans on Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima now in their late 80s and early 90s were able to follow that directive at the ages of 17, 18, 19 and 20 and on up without acting as these two politicians both do in their esteemed positions of responsibility. Where would this country be had all those men and women fighting in World War II behaved in the deplorable manner both the governor and the speaker are now?      
         Another adopted Marine Corps mantra and directive that has been quite successful is to “improvise, adapt and overcome.” The Marine Corps and the other military services and the civilian working men and women who keep the country moving smoothly follow that concept. The part of society that rarely practices that concept and leave people behind, as Marines and others in the military and all good citizens never do, is many politicians like Rauner and Madigan.
         Their arrogance amazes me. I first met Madigan briefly in 1986 on an elevator in the state Capitol when I was raising money and doing publicity for the Illinois Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That was just after a couple of us had gone to Rep. Zeke Giorgi, a World War II veteran, and got a $500,000 rider attached to the Veterans’ Bill so we could order the marble and get the memorial dedicated before year’s end.
         On the elevator, Madigan was surrounded by his minions and had the arrogant and pitiful look of superiority and desire for power that the state has come to know so well from him. He looked prime for a blanket party, even then—in Marine boot camp when one of the recruits failed to measure up to his responsibilities, the other recruits threw a blanket over his head after lights out and delivered a few punches for inspiration. Of course that is not PC now, but once was all it took to help get the recruit squared away.
         Madigan’s personality and behavior remind me of the comment usually attributed to Sir John Dalberg-Acton, the 8th Baronet, who was an English Catholic historian, politician and writer: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
         That is not to say that the governor is any different. He’s got the power corruption thing, too. He just smiles more and tries to dress more like the common man. And he’s filthy rich, much like our current president, and just as arrogant as either Madigan or Trump. I’ve met Rauner a couple of times. Once at the dedication of the Chez Family Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education at the University of Illinois and once at the celebration of designating Champaign County as the “Birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen March 1941” with signs to be posted on local highways. Rauner was jovial and wearing his campaign and political face in both instances. Neither of them are impressive in their actions and the condition in which they have the state of Illinois.

         ’Nough sed. While this is mainly cathartic, I hope they both can do the right thing and sit down with members of both parties and settle this impasse. They owe it to those who fought and died for our freedom and to those living here in Illinois and depending upon their leadership, not their power struggle.

May 13, 2017

More thoughts about those who can't shoot straight

Before heading out Iwo Jima to commemorate the annual “Reunion of Honor” between former enemies of different ethnic groups, religions, cultures and beliefs but now good friends, for the 72nd anniversary of the World War II battle that killed 6,821 Americans, wounded another 19,000 and killed about 21,000 Japanese, I want to respond to the comments I received about a recent Voices column: “Remedy for gangs that can’t shoot straight?” 
      Somebody asked me if I was serious about putting gang members—or anybody who can’t hit their intended target and instead kill children and other innocent people—in the military and teaching them to shoot straight, to learn discipline and to fight with enemies who shoot back with equal skill. See http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2017-03-05/ray-elliottvoices-remedy-gangs-cant-shoot-straight.html for the specifics. 
      Well yes, I was serious. But then no, I wasn’t serious because I know it’d never happen. Would it have an effect? Of course, it would. When Japan and Germany surrendered at the end of WWII after both sides had attacked each other without mercy, the United States and the Allied countries helped rebuild the economies of their former enemies and established a lasting friendship that has continued for more than 70 years. 
      The people killing innocent children and others here in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago and around the United States are not all gang members and are mostly all citizens of this country, not members of a foreign country with which we are at war. These people are at war with each other, with many of the same ethnic groups, religions, cultures and beliefs or family members who resort to senseless violence that take the lives of innocent people and their own as well. 
      But to the reactions I received to my proposal of putting these people who can’t shoot straight into the military to teach them how to shoot, drill them with well-trained forces of men and women and then send them to trouble spots around the world where our military is deployed and let them shoot at people who shoot back to help remedy the situation. 
      The first response I got was from a man I consider to be one of the wisest, most reasonable and considerate in the area. “You have an interesting concept in today’s News-Gazette,” he said. 
      While I wasn’t sure of his meaning, others followed with similarly ambiguous points of view. Which sort of surprised me, initially. I’d tried to make the column a satire but didn’t manage. My thoughts were along the lines of some words in a Kris Kristofferson song: “partly truth and partly fiction.” Partly truth and partly satire, I guess. 
      Then I received an email from Arnold Shapiro, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning director and producer of the effective Scared Straight series that took juvenile offenders into maximum-security prison to meet with hardcore inmates who gave the youths a sample of what they could expect if they came to prison—a sort of Marine Corps boot camp with the inmates to help the youths go straight as the drill instructors did with recruits to make Marines out of them. 
      Shapiro, who wrote the words for the “Reunion of Honor” monument on Iwo Jima, raised the money for it and produced three documentaries about the battle—the last (From Combat to Comrades) which aired on the PBS last fall—emailed, “A very thoughtful, interesting and substantive article that should be discussed with those who make laws and deal with wayward youth.” 
      The words Shapiro wrote for the Iwo Jima monument that was dedicated on the 40th anniversary of the battle in 1985 gives the hope of peace between those who were once enemies: 
      “On the 40th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, American and Japanese veterans meet again on these same sands, this time in peace and friendship. We commemorate our comrades, living and dead, who fought here with bravery and honor, and we pray together that our sacrifices on Iwo Jima will always be remembered and never be repeated.” 
      These few words are inscribed on both sides of the monument just above the landing beaches, one in each language; the English side faces the ocean where the Americans landed, the Japanese side faces inland.
      Of course, it’s not that simple. But if it’s possible for enemies who take the lives of many more innocent people and combatants in our wars through the centuries to join together in peace and friendship, maybe it’s not such a stretch to believe that it’s possible to stop all the killing by these “wayward youths” by teaching them discipline and how to shoot straight. 

March 8, 2017

Remedy for gangs who can’t shoot straight?

CHICAGO  (AP)—Police say the two young girls who were critically wounded in separate weekend shootings in Chicago’s South Side were not the intended victims.
      Department spokesman Anthony Guglielumi said in an email Monday that the girls, ages 12 and 13, were shot in the head Saturday night in areas with heavy gang activity by people who were aiming at someone else.

      Who would have thought that? Aren’t there a lot of young girls and other seemingly innocent people out on the street in cities and towns across the country, and particularly in Chicago, but here in Champaign-Urbana, too, where people get hit and killed while they are walking down the street?
       Well, of course. These young and innocent people are killed by people who have had no training of any kind with guns. They just somehow pick up pistols, stick them in their pockets and pull them out when they see something they don’t like and fire off a few rounds. They’re worse than The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, the name of a 1969 novel by Jimmy Breslin that was a funny story made into a movie in 1971.
       These gangs are two warring Mafia families in New York. One of them, considered weaker than the other, uses a dang old lion to blackmail the other gang’s “clients.” It’s the story of Papa Baccala, a Brooklyn Mafia boss, and Kid Sally Palumbo, a would-be capo who “couldn't run a gas station at a profit even if he stole the customers' cars.”
       Sounds like some of the people running around shooting people today.
       But enough of that. These young gang members and others who carry guns like this is the wild west need to learn to shoot straight and hit the people they want to hit instead of young and innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and are on the bad end of people who can’t shoot straight.
       So what to do with them? Obviously they go to prison with other criminals, if and when they are caught, are charged and maybe convicted. Which doesn’t always happen. And if they do go to prison, they’re back on the street before you know it to pick up a gun and shoot at somebody again. You read about that every day.
       Rather than prison for these gun-happy people who can’t shoot straight, we, as a society, have a responsibility to teach them to shoot straight so they will hit their intended targets and not young girls or anybody just walking down the street.
       When these people are caught and convicted, rather than send them to prison, send them to the military for the term they would have gone to prison. I’m partial to the Marine Corps myself. Let these trigger-happy dudes step off the bus and into the yellow footprints each recruit does when they get to Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island or San Diego and go through boot camp with a drill instructor screaming in their faces from early morning to late at night.
       By the time they get to the rifle range, they might have had an attitude adjustment. Maybe not, but they could learn about rifles and how to shoot straight by snapping in for a couple of weeks—that’s without live ammunition, dry firing. No live ammunition until they can be trusted. That may not ever happen, although you can be sure that they will learn safety protocol. I recall one day on the live-fire range when we (recruits) had been told if we had a jam to keep the rifle pointed down range and hold up our hand.
       One recruit not far from me held up his hand but pointed the rifle down the firing line with everybody in line. The rifle coach came running down behind the firing line, grabbed the rifle with one hand and knocked the recruit down with the other. Needless to say, that was the last time anybody failed to point the rifle down range.
       After boot camp, these people can go off to recon outfits, jump school or special forces in the Army, SEAL training in the Navy or another elite outfit where they will be surrounded by tough, well-trained men and women who know how to treat bad guys.
       Then give them live rounds and send them off to some troubled area where people shoot back. If they can’t shoot straight by then and haven’t had an attitude adjustment, they can still go to prison. And when they finally do get back on the street, at least they can hit their targets and little girls and innocent people will be a bit safer.

January 22, 2017

Iwo Jima memorial service planned for Camp Pendleton

The Iwo Jima Association of America of Quantico, Va., and the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee of San Diego, Calif., are joining together Feb. 15-19 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
      Both organizations have met separately in February for many years to remember one of the bloodiest and most brutal campaigns in the most costly war in history. For 36 days, more than 70,000 United States Marines and sailors, aided by tens of thousands of airmen in the air and sailors at sea, fought tooth and nail, inch by inch against 22,000 Japanese defenders led by LtGen Tadamichi Kuribayashi.
      The battle for the island was critical because of its location between the U.S. airbase in the Mariana Islands and the Japanese mainland. The radar that warned the mainland of pending U.S. air raids needed to be disabled so the bombers could fly undetected all the way to Japan, and any U.S. planes damaged in the raids would have a place to land on the return flight of nearly 1,500 miles rather than being lost at sea.
      Nearly 6,000 Marines gave their lives of the total 6,821 Americans killed on the island of 8 square miles of volcanic soil 650 miles from Tokyo. Another 19,000 Americans were wounded, and nearly all of the 22,000 Japanese died in the battle. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded on Iwo Jima, 22 of them to Marines of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, which was more than a quarter of the MOHs awarded to Marines during World War II.
      So the spirit of those who fought so gallantly for the principles of our nation and to preserve democracy and free those oppressed by tyranny won’t be forgotten, these two groups are committed to perpetuating that spirit and ensuring that future generations remember the battle long after the last Iwo Jima veteran is gone.
      The Iwo Jima Memorial Service begins at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Camp Pendleton on the westerly side of the Pacific View Events Center near where Laura Dietz, founder of Iwo Jima Monument West, is leading the initiative to erect a Marine Corps War Memorial much like the Joe Rosenthal photo of the iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi that sculptor Felix de Weldon used as a model for the memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
      A wreath will be laid at the current Iwo Jima Memorial in Camp Pendleton that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The program will close with a 21-gun salute and Taps for the men who died on Iwo Jima.
      After the ceremony, a World War II memorabilia display will be open in the rear of the banquet hall. At 5:30 p.m. there will be a concert by the First Marine Division Band, followed by a call to order, the Presentation of Colors and a program that will include an invocation, welcome remarks and a keynote speech by distinguished guests, the Empty Chair Tribute, an Iwo Jima flag-raising tableau, closing remarks and dinner.
Prior to the Memorial Service, IJAA (
www.iwojimaassociation.org) will host a symposium at the Grand Pacific Palisades Hotel in Carlsbad that will include several distinguished speakers who will address the historical events leading up to WWII and Iwo Jima, the actual battle and the aftermath to current times. Also expected at the symposium will be the Joe Rosenthal Chapter of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association.
      Rosenthal’s photo is arguably the most reproduced photo in history and is a recognized symbol of Iwo Jima and the Marine Corps. In addition to bringing the history and significance of the photo to younger generations and teaching them about the Marines, Iwo Jima and the sacrifices of WWII veterans, the group has begun a petition drive in hopes of having a U.S. Navy warship named after Rosenthal. Members of the public can sign the petition online at www.USSJoe.org.
      Both IJAA and the IJCC will tour Camp Pendleton on Thursday and visit the Stu Segall Strategic Operations Studio on Friday and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Lunch at a base mess hall will be included each day.
      Additionally, Military Historical Tours (www.miltours.com) of Woodbridge, Va., will host a trip to Guam March 20-27 and on to Iwo Jima for the annual Reunion of Honor that is held in conjunction with a delegation from Japan that includes Yoshitaka Shindo, the grandson of Gen Kuribayshi.
      Funds are currently being raised to send seven Iwo Jima veterans on the annual “Reunion of Honor” tour in March. Two have been financed to date. Tax-deductible contributions of any amount may be sent to “IJAA,” P.O. Box 680, Quantico, VA 22134.