Remembering the most unforgettable character I ever met and the sacrifice at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941! But who was he really?
The death of all those American Service Men at the bombing of Pearl Harbor caused me great anguish for my entire life after 1941. We were taught to hate the Japanese and I learned those lessons easily and well. We were taught to “Remember Pearl Harbor” with loathing and unbridled hatred. However, in 1961 I lost my hate in what can only be described as an epiphany experience. Here is what happened.
Twenty years after the treachery on Dec. 7, 1941, I decided to fly to Hawaii to pay my personal tribute to the Arizona and those heroes still entombed therein. I though that perhaps by being there I could purge the un-Christian hate for the Japanese that still controlled me.
While sailing out to the Arizona Memorial on a navy motor launch my attention was completely on the alabaster memorial perched on the hull of the Arizona. It wasn’t until I got onto the deck of the building that I realized that of the hundreds of persons in the memorial, approximately twelve were Caucasians. All the rest were Japanese. I was immediately enraged that they had the audacity to come to this hallowed spot that they had defied and celebrate the murderous victory they had stolen at this very spot. I was furious and even physically sick at their insensitivity. Had they not even the slightest hint of a conscience? Were they there to atone and say I’m sorry? Their gay laughter, smoking and loud talking belied that redeeming possibility. If I been in their place I would never have come.
If I had thought that there was even a chance that I might finally have peace with the Japanese and closure of the tragic memories by my visit and prayers at the memorial, that disappeared right then and there. Bitter, hostile, resentful, I would remember Pearl Harbor all right, and it would still be spelled revenge.
Little did I know that in twenty-four hours all that would change.
The next day I flew to The Big Island to see the volcanoes. The Kona airport, like those of all the islands, is perched on that narrow band of land that protects the mountain slopes from the sea. The airport building, like all the other island air facilities, had no doors—merely a roof to keep off sun and rain. No, there didn’t seem to be any bugs. My immediate objective was to find my limousine and driver who was to guide my tour of the Island. My travel agent had told me I would be connected with “Jack’s Taxi Service.” Not much of a clue, I thought.
The airport was probably left over from WWII days and was rather dumpy, but a scene of feverish activity—the bright tropical flowers and gaily decorated clothes of the tourists contrasting sharply with the Pullman car beige interior of the shabby building.
A paint peeling sign, hanging from one hinge on the wall, proclaimed “Jack’s.” That’s where I met “Tiger”—all four feet ten inches of him. I was stunned as I realized that he was Japanese. Immediately I looked for someone else. There was no way I was going to ride with a Japanese! But there was no one else. I was stuck, and I wasn’t happy.
Possessed of a leathery face and a Japanese name I couldn’t pronounce, he proudly told me he was 63 years old and a second generation Japanese Hawaiian. His clothes were regular well-worn work clothes, but he sported a flat cap that golfers made famous in the ’20s. On Tiger it looked good.
Short, stocky, weather-beaten Tiger is easily the most unforgettable character I have ever met.
As we made the 175-mile trip from Kona to Hilo through the indescribable desolation of the lava flows and active volcanoes, it was easy to understand how ancient cultures could worship “Pelé,” the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess.
Quite obviously someone or something awesomely powerful lied inside the Hawaiian earth and every once in a while got savagely angry. What a chilling anger it was.
Tiger was a grandfather with two sons, I think, and nine grandchildren. His sons were educated and lived on the mainland. Tiger had been a carpenter during the war and was not interned but allowed to build military structures for our armed forces.
His father had been a field worker, indentured I think, and had to work 11 years before he could afford to bring Tiger’s mother and Tiger from Japan. Tiger was proud that he could speak four languages: English, Japanese, Hawaiian, and Portuguese. However, upon examination his Portuguese proved a bit deficient. He said his language ability made him valuable to the taxi tour company. I sensed that was important to him—being useful to his bosses.
Talking with Tiger was an interesting experience. His vocabulary was good but his sentence structure not so good; the listener had to supply many of the connectives. I think he knew that, so he would repeat himself over and over until I would say “Is that so?” or “I didn’t know that…” Then he would go to his next point.
He was a good man, no doubt about that. He had a good face. Its brown 63-year-old leathered skin crinkled all over when he smiled, particularly around the eyes, and I judged by the depth of the creases on his face that he smiled a lot. But he didn’t laugh. And he respected authority.
How he respected authority—from the police, to the Army, to the head of his taxi company. He knew all the rules and followed them—unhesitatingly and unswervingly.
With one exception.
The friendly Park Ranger had repeatedly forbade him from picking up shiny lava marbles called “Dragon’s Eyes,” saying, “Tiger, you pick the lava, that O.K., but what happen 2-3-4 generations, no more lava?”
I say, “Mr. Ranger, that ‘Pele,’ she roar once more; you me no worry about Future generations. No gonna be more generation.”
I laughed! I obviously liked the story so much that he repeated it many times, and each time his crinkled blue eyes showed how much he enjoyed it.
After the sulphur-spewing volcano came the rain forest and with it, a new insight into Tiger. He took delight in showing me the myriad Hawaiian tropical flowers; amazingly he knew them all. He showed me a little well-worn notebook he had in his hip pocket—personally hand-written in English and Japanese. It had basic facts about the “Big Island”—and many, many answers to questions a tourist might ask. He had done the research on his own at age 60! I learned that he got his nickname “Tiger” because he was a good scrapper in spite of his small size.
But then came the surprise. Instead of being a Buddhist, Tiger was a converted Christian. And he told me why.
(The word Haole means Caucasian in Hawaiian).
He said the “Haole Jesus” had touched his heart.
“Right here,” he said, as he touched his breast. “Jesus, he want me to be good—good in here. You understand? I no, how you say, outlaw. I no outlaw before. But I not good. I not loving everybody. I not kind to everybody. You understand? Some people I hate. The ‘Haole Jesus’, He say that not good. Now, in here I try be good—I no hate anymore! You understand?
I understood—too well!
“You Christian? You got the ‘Haole’ Jesus in here?” He pointed to his chest again, “You understand?”
I said, “Yes Tiger, I’ve got the ‘Haole Jesus’.”
“You know the Bible?”
I said, “Yes, I know the Bible,” and he smiled. Then I quoted some verses from John Fourteen, First Corinthians Thirteen, and the Twenty-Third Psalm.
He listened intently and then said, “You minister, mister, you Haole minister?”
I said, “No, but I am a Deacon.”
His eyes lit up, and he said, “You do know ‘Haole Jesus’.” There was love and reverence in his voice.
At his request in that careening taxi we sang hymns together: “Rock of Ages,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” the “Doxology,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and many more. He knew them well.
He was proud of the fact that even though he was a recent convert to Christianity he had been picked to assist Billy Graham in his Hawaiian Crusade.
Tiger was a proud man…proud of a lot of things…his Buddhist wife, his children and grandchildren, his carpentry ability, his driving ability, his language ability, his scrapping ability. However, I think he was proudest of his “Haole Jesus!”
But I wasn’t proud, I was humbled before the awesome power of God’s love that had captured this man’s life and given it meaning…for him and for me.
Saying goodbye to my “Tiger” wasn’t easy. I knew I would never see him again, but there was a bond between us that would never be broken, regardless of time and distance. I knew he would go on picking “Dragon Eyes” and not worrying about those future generations. The Park Ranger would continue to kindly look the other way…and Tiger’s Pelé would frown and grumble. His wonderful little book would get thicker and his flowers even more precious to him. There would be others in his limo that he would share his “Haole Jesus” with, and God would smile just as I did.
It was time to go. I had no choice. I shook hands and smiled warmly down at him. He looked up and smiled back and said, “Mr. Haole Deacon I soon miss you. You understand? He squeezed my hand. “You understand?” The smile creases around his eyes were the deepest ever.
I just nodded, as I just couldn’t speak. But I understood…too well!
The flight back to Oahu was smooth and on time. As we approached the International Airport I looked down on Pearl Harbor and saw that while the rest of the Island was bathed in a bright late afternoon sun, there was a black squall hovering over the Arizona. The rest of the island was green pineapple and green sugar cane fields as well as deep blue water. That round black squall against that bright sunny background looked to me like God’s own “Dragon’s Eye,” and as I saw the rain falling on the Arizona I knew that those were God’s tears. He was crying for those 2,000 sailors who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country. Then I saw the rainbow. One end was anchored in Pearl Harbor and the other end terminated in the ocean pointed toward Japan—God’s bridge between two cultures. A sacred message for me.
The airplane was now gliding in. The motors were retarded and the cabin very quiet. Quiet enough for me to hear a voice within me saying “Be at peace, the war is over. You understand?”
Through my salty tears and thanks to my dear Japanese “Tiger,” I knew the war for me was really finally over. That’s the Pearl Harbor I will always remember today and every December 7th…not revenge and hate but the promise of God crying, caring and His remembering our sailors with His tears throughout all eternity. That is the closure I was praying for. I will always remember that we must be our brother’s keeper on earth as HE is in heaven. We must forgive the Japanese, for, thanks to the Divine Power of the Holy Spirit, we absolutely do know what we do!
And then in the very last few minutes of the flight I thought of my Tiger. My Japanese friend. Who was he really? I think I know. I said to myself… “Yes, Tiger, I understand.”
In that 70-mile-an-hour swaying limousine, on an island in the remote Pacific Ocean, I think I came awfully close to meeting the “Haole Jesus” face to face. Maybe I did! And I haven’t forgotten that my Japanese “Tiger” was a carpenter, too. Sayonara Tiger! I love you! That’s how “I Remember Pearl Harbor.”
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And The Point is…
“Forgiveness is divine”
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