December 20, 2009

At long last, writer Jon Shirota receives well-deserved accolades

Jon Shirota currently lives in
California with his wife.
Jon Shirota's family immigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa early in the 20th century. He was still in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As soon as he was old enough, Jon joined the American Army and served in occupied Japan after the war. James Jones' blockbuster novel, From Here to Eternity, about pre-war Hawaii, the peacetime Army and the attack on Pearl Harbor influenced Jon's desire to become a writer.
Finally, after three years of corresponding with Jones' mentor, Lowney Handy, Jon became the last member of The Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Ill., where he wrote Lucky Come Hawaii, an account of the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the response of those of Japanese ancestry. It's a worthy novel.
Since its publication, Jon has written other novels and several plays which have been produced both in the U.S. and in Okinawa. Now in his 80s, Jon continues to write and travel to Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan, where his books and plays have been produced and re-issued in both English and Japanese. A longtime member of the James Jones Literary Society, Jon and his wife, Barbara, who spent part of her youth in an internment camp during World War II, gave the first James Jones Lecture at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., that is being presented annually while money is being raised for the endowment for The James Jones Chair in World War II Studies.
I'm posting the following brief essay so you may know a bit more about about a writer and playwright who is now beginning to receive the accolades he so richly deserves.


A barefoot boy of Japanese descent

invited to speak at a university that wouldn't accept him
"How ironic for one to be invited as a guest speaker at a university where one could not be accepted as a student.
"Jon Shirota was kicked out of high school and did not finish his junior year. He received his high school diploma after studying and passing a high school graduate's examination in the Army.
"He wanted to attend the University of Hawaii, but did not submit an application knowing that his atrocious high school grades would automatically disqualify him. Through family connections, however, he was accepted at Brigham Young University in Utah and finished in three years under the GI Bill of Rights.
"During his last year in college, he read the sensational novel, From Here To Eternity, by James Jones. It would have a tremendous effect on his life. He had been stationed at Schofield Barracks where most of Eternity took place; in fact, in the same quadrangle where Jones was stationed, and it sparked an ambitious goal.
"Jon was so enthralled and captivated by Eternity that he vowed he would one day write a novel that also takes place in Hawaii. If a haole white man from Southern Illinois can write a novel that takes places in Hawaii, why can’t he who was born and raised there?
"Of course, it’s easier said than done.
"After years of corresponding with Lowney Handy, the teacher at the Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Ill., he quit his job as an IRS agent in Hollywood, and drove over to Marshall. He finished his first novel, Lucky Come Hawaii, at the colony, which was accepted for publication.
"The novel was eventually adapted into a play and was awarded the John F. Kennedy Center for New Plays. It was an event that led to other plays and other playwrighting awards.
"Recently, the University of Hawaii invited Jheeh University of Hawaii wanted to publish three of his plays, Lucky Come Hawaii, Leilani’s Hibiscus and Voices From Okinawa. Also, to come out with the fourth re-edited version of the novel, Lucky Come Hawaii.
"Voices From Okinawa played in Honolulu in November and December of 2009 and was extended for extra performances by popular demand. Voices is now scheduled to open in Maui, Jon’s hometown, in January of 2010. Jon has been invited to speak at high schools there, including Baldwin High, from where he was kicked out, and at the community centers. The books Voices From Okinawa and Lucky From Hawaii will be sold at the theater and at book stores.
"University of Hawaii could not accept Jon as a student, but accepted him on a grandeur scale, guest speaker at its conference.
"And the barefoot boy will be going back to Maui, not barefoot, but with a brand new pair of shoes."

December 17, 2009

Jessica's letter on Kaylie Jones' blog

Jessica's freshman school picture, age 15
For another blog, check out Kaylie Jones' website. She has posted my daughter Jessica's letter, written after reading Kaylie's recently published memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, for her freshman English class. Jessica's letter to Kaylie is powerful, I think, and will hopefully provide some insight for her to go forward with her life. The letter follows:

"Dear Kaylie Jones,
"In today’s world, there are so many setbacks and obstacles in life that it is difficult to maintain the feeling that 'it’ll all work out in the end.' There are many things that make me doubt that I am strong enough to deal with the curve balls thrown at me and to cope with the cards I am dealt.
"The challenges that we are faced with, or rather, the manner in which we deal with them, is what shapes our character and defines what sort of people we are. As I reflect on your memoir, I see the reckless and defiant girl who began drinking early in life profoundly changed by the end of the book after she has stayed sober for nearly twenty years and has had a child to be responsible for. The challenge you had to overcome was alcoholism. Mine is diabetes.
"I have had this disease since I was ten years old, and my father has always told me that I haven’t fully accepted it, to which I have always answered him, 'Of course I have; that’s crazy.' Only, I didn’t admit that it was a problem. No, everything was just fine – I thought it was no big deal to skip medicine here and there, or not check my blood sugars because I didn’t feel like it at the moment. But whether I admitted it or not, my poor control of my diabetes was affecting me – blurry vision, sick days, etc. But all along, my frame of mind was, 'Well, I’m still alive, so it isn’t really a problem. …'
"Something had to change, or things would get even worse. However, as I realized while reading your memoir, you cannot deal with a problem until you have accepted that there is one. As that famous Alcoholics Anonymous prayer says: 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'
"I don’t truly know who I am yet. My life is just beginning, brand new and full of potential and possibility. I cannot control diabetes – I don’t know why I got it, and I can’t get rid of it. But I can control my diabetes. I can take the medicine. I can check the blood sugars. I can make healthier choices. Just as the young woman realizes in your memoir, I don’t want to leave this world with any regrets about not making a different choice … a better one. I want to lead a life that anyone could look back on with pride and satisfaction.
"Because of your book, I underwent a process. I have accepted that I cannot change the fact that I have an illness; but I will maintain the courage to keep fighting it every day. The effect it has on me can change. Reading your memoir has given me hope and the wisdom to know that I can control how to become the kind of person I want to be.
-Jessica Elliott"

December 16, 2009

Closing Guantanamo doesn't solve the problem

From all media reports, it looks as though President Obama is in the process of making good on one of his campaign promises: to close the Guantanamo Bay prison that has housed detainees since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the ensuing threat of terrorism and continued combat in the Middle East.
Sounds as if it'll take awhile before Guantanamo is actually closed, but a deal seems to have been made between the federal government and the state of Illinois to turn the virtually empty Thomson Correctional Center in rural northwestern Illinois into Guantanamo North to make good on the campaign promise and spur economic development in an area with a reported 11.1 percent rate of unemployment.
The Guantanamo Bay prison is located in the southernmost region of Cuba
It ain't a done deal yet, but even if it is it doesn't look to be more than political spin — a prison is a prison is a prison. The detainees will still be in virtual lock-down, regardless of where they are incarcerated. For security reasons, that won't change. And at Guantanamo Bay, they are isolated from the citizens of this country.
How much economic development will result from bringing a mere 100 detainees from Cuba to the prison? Not much, I would think. Currently, media reports indicate there are 200 minimum-security inmates with 82 staff members in the prison with 1,600 cells.

How many more jobs will be created to supervise the 100 detainees? Not many. Even with another 100 staff members added for a one-to-one ratio and a few jobs created in the community as a result of the transfer of detainees, it's a far cry from the 3,000 jobs the federal and state officials say the change will bring. And there's still another 200 detainees still at Guantanamo. What about them?
Despite the cries that Guantanamo Bay is a recruiting tool for terrorists and alienates our allies, the function of Guantanamo will be carried out wherever the detainees go. Seems to me that it would be much better to leave them where they are and figure out what to do with them, morally and legally. Which is also something that is going to have to be done some time along the way.






December 15, 2009

With all the noise out there, reader beware

Why would anyone write a blog?  As my old friend Chip might say were he asked that question today, that's a corking good question. Blogs, tweets, e-mails and any number of other innovations in the day of instant communications attract all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons.
In my case, I used to write a daily newspaper column and miss writing daily and the immediacy of reaching people with what's on my mind. Writing books, editing newsletters or other writing I do doesn't quite give me the satisfaction I felt from writing every day. While nobody may ever read this blog, there's a certain cathartic effect to putting the words on paper — it was the English novelist D.H. Lawrence who said, "One sheds one's sickness in the novel." So there's that aspect of writing.
And then there are all the half-truths and outright lies you find in your in-basket daily that you want to respond to the masses. Today, for example, I received a story with the following headline: "VERY QUIETLY OBAMA'S CITIZENSHIP CASE REACHES THE SUPREME COURT." The story purported to be an AP-datelined account from Washington about a non-existent group called  "Americans for Freedom of Information" that had released copies of President Obama's college transcripts from Occidental College, indicating that the president attended under the name Barry Soetoro and "received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia. ,,," Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly announced that the Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear arguments concerning Obama's legal eligibility to serve as president in a case brought by Leo Donofrio of New Jersey." Sounds ominous and foreboding, huh?
And questionable, too. So I checked Snopes, which indicates the story was false and originally filed with an AP deadline on April 1, 2009, April Fool's Day. For the rest of the story and the details, click here.
Snopes is touted as "the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation." Quite a claim, but one that has a ring of truth to it, and that site is one place to check to see whether the tall tales sent out over the Internet are true or false. Next time you receive an e-mail that sounds phony, chances are it is. Check it out.

December 14, 2009

New wing unveiled at the National Museum of the Pacific War

The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX
Just got home recently from Fredericksburg, Texas, and the new museum expansion of the National Museum of the Pacific War that took place with events on Dec. 5-7. World War II aviator and President George H.W. Bush was the special guest of honor for the ribbon cutting to open the 32,500-square-foot exhibition in his name. It's a spectacular exhibition that starts with the China-United States relations prior to our entry in the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, by the Japanese through the dropping of the atomic bomb — a very impressive museum with a great historical perspective of World War II.
Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the 33rd Commandant of the Marine Corps and a native of Fredericksburg, is the president and CEO of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. He acted as master of ceremonies for the event. (Chester W. Nimitz is also a native of Fredericksburg, population slightly less than 10,000, and the museum is located in and around his grandfather's hotel, Hotel Nimitz.)
"The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance."
-Inscription near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery
Gen. James T. Conway, 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, was the keynote speaker to a crowd
for some 3,000 veterans, their families and others with an interest in World War II, for the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. Other speakers included Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Congressman Michael Conaway. But the real special guests were survivors of Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Corregidor, Wake Island and other iconic battles of World War II.
One man I spoke with, Navy veteran James Bargesley, was a radioman on duty and copied the message to start looking for men in the water after the USS Indianapolis had been sunk after delivering the atomic bomb, "Little Boy," to Tinian to be dropped later on Hiroshima.
In his brief remarks, President Bush said, "This museum honors those who served and those who gave their lives. They fought for a world of peace, not war, where children's dreams speak more loudly than the brashest tyrant's guns. Because of those brave men and women, this museum shall pass on lessons for future generations."
He also pointed out the inscription on a bench near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery that reads, "'The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance.' And that's what makes days like today (Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day) and places like this Nimitz Museum so vitally important. It is right and it is important that we honor the genuine valor of the men and women who throughout our history have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country to the cause of freedom and perhaps, most of all, for each other. Those who survived the war are always haunted by the memory of those they lost, the friends who never came home.
"So we're also right to pause and thank the living for the honor and commitment to service they have shown and continue to show to preserve this, the greatest nation on the face of the earth. At the same time, we have a solemn obligation to pass forward to future generations the abject horror of war. Ask anyone who has been there, and they'll tell you war is never to be relished and only rarely to be celebrated. Most of all, it is documented and remembered and used as a lesson, as an example of what happens when mankind falls short of his highest aspirations. It is in the act of telling the full story of war, the heroism, the moral justice of a cause, as well as the great suffering that makes this remarkable museum such a special place."
And it is a special place. I was only able to take a brief tour of the museum, where you could spend a couple of days to take it all in, before I had to head for Austin and home to beat the weather spreading havoc across the country. I barely made it before the flight delays stranded people in the airports across the country. But I hope to return some day to spend the time worthy of the history that is documented in the museum and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the Pacific War.
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