Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Collective Wisdom of Reading Nelson Mandela

by Bill Doughty
Reading "Conversations With Myself" by Nelson Mandela (with a foreword by President Barack Obama) is like being invited to rummage through the great South African leader's desk: seeing his notes, letters, appointments and reading list -- everything from the mundane to the sublime.

The book is a terrific compendium to "Long Walk to Freedom" and helps the reader comprehend the tragedy Mandela endured away from his family.

While in prison in 1968, Mandela lost his mother.  Within months his son Madiba Thembekile ("Thembi") was killed. Nelson Mandela expresses a deep sense of loss in his correspondence during that time:  "The crop of miseries we have harvested..."

He writes to friends and enemies, but the deepest and most powerful letters are to family, especially his wife Winnie and children, including daughter Zindzi Mandela, a published poet who wrote, "Black As I Am."

Zindzi's poem "A Tree Was Chopped Down" is included in "Conversations," and Nelson Mandela explores the analogies, metaphors and memories the poem evokes.  "I was clearly fascinated by the symbolism of contradiction that clearly looms from the lines," Mandela writes.  "It is perhaps this type of contradiction that is inherent in almost every aspect of life.  In nature and society these contradictions are in the centre of every phenomenon and can stimulate the urge for serious thinking and real progress."

Nelson Mandela describes the tree he sees in Zindzi's work:
"It seems to have been struck by lightning during the stone age and its sap to have been drained by a thousand vampires.  It inanimate objects could ever become ghosts, that tree would easily have been one.  Age or disease have destroyed it.  It can no longer trap the energy of sunlight nor draw the vital water supplies from the soul below.  Its branches and its leaves, its beauty and dignity that once caught the eye of nature lovers and game of all kinds have disappeared.  The tree is no more than firewood on roots.  It is barren as an iron-stone and few people will easily believe that at some [time] in the course of its history it could bear fruit."
Yet, Mandela pivots to hope and meaning, with memories of a "loving peach tree" and rebirth, including the birth of his children.

He writes to Zindzi, "... a good pen can also remind us of the happiest moments in our lives, bring noble ideas into our dens, our blood and our souls.  It can turn tragedy into hope and victory."

In "Conversations With Myself" we see Mandela's introspection, resilience and reconciliation during 27 years in prison.

He discusses books, authors and literature throughout the book -- from Xhosa and Sotho African literature to Sophocles, Shakespeare, Clausewitz and Tolstoy.
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama visits Mandela in Johannesburg, June 21, 2011.
Other books Mandela mentioned in "Conversations" include "Red Star Over China" by Edgar Snow, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown, and "The Revolt" by Menachem Begin.

In a letter to his son Makgatho dated July 28, 1969 Mandela puts the moon landing in context, advising his son "to work hard and systematically in your studies."
"Remember that we live in a new age of scientific achievement, the most staggering of which is the recent landing of man on the moon.  That is a sensational event that will enrich man's knowledge of the universe and that may even result in a change of modification of many fundamental assumptions in many fields of knowledge.  The younger generation must train and prepare themselves so that they can easily grasp the far-reaching repercussions of developments in the realm of space."
Mandela saw a future of technological and social advances based on freedom, equality and democracy.  In a  letter to Senator Douglas Lukhele in Swaziland, dated Aug. 1, 1970, Mandela writes:
"I am influenced more than ever before by the conviction that social equality is the only basis of human happiness ... It is around these issues that my thoughts revolve.  They are centred on humans, the ideas for which they strive; on the new world that is emerging; the new generation that declares total war against all forms of cruelty, against any social order that upholds economic privilege for a minority and that condemns the mass of the population to poverty and disease, illiteracy and the host of evils that accompany a stratified society."
A "found haiku" in that same letter:
the anchor of all
my dreams is the collective
wisdom of mankind

Mandela valued reading, study and introspection.  He dedicated his life to social justice.  Before his passing, the Nelson Mandela Foundation was created so his legacy would live on, like seedlings from a tree, part of a collective wisdom for all time.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, right, hands Mandela the five-volume report produced by his Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Oct. 29, 1998.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Witnessing Start & End of War in Pacific

by Bill Doughty

Speaking with Pearl Harbor Survivors is a rare privilege.  They survived Imperial Japan's attack on Oahu in 1941, and most of them fought to defeat Japan in the war across the Pacific.  Today, nearly all are in their 90s.

On Dec. 7, 1941 they were teenagers, young men serving aboard ships or ashore at Pearl Harbor.  Today, these extremely humble men genuinely appreciate the respect and interest younger generations have for them and their shipmates.

Delton Walling was one of several dozen Survivors who came to Pearl Harbor earlier this month for the 72nd anniversary commemoration ceremony.  He said, "In the twilight of our years it's really appreciated."

Events of the Second World War were a lifetime ago.

Gil Meyer. (photo illustration by T. Verceluz)
In his Texas drawl Pearl Harbor Survivor Gil Meyer confided with a grin, "It's been so long since I was in the Navy it seems like I never was."  The former Chief Boilerman started in the Navy as a Watertender, taking care of fires and boilers in the ship's engine room. In today's Navy he would be called a Machinist's Mate.

As it was for Walling, Ray Emory and other World War II veterans, time for reading was devoted mostly to manuals and job-related texts.

"I loved to read," Meyer said, "but during the war it was mainly technical books ... electrical engineering."  He developed a lifelong interest in HAM radio and so enjoyed reading about amateur radio, too.

Well before the war Meyer discovered literature and books about history.

"As a boy my favorite book was 'Don Quijote' (by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)," Meyer said.  "I liked it because I was learning Spanish and I was interested in history," Meyer said.

The novel about the Man from La Mancha is over 400 years old (published in 1604) and has been translated numerous times.

Meyer dropped out of high school at 17 to join the Navy.

His ship USS Utah (BB 31/AG 16), now USS Utah Memorial, is one of two battleships still in Pearl Harbor.  The other ship still in the harbor on the opposite side of Ford Island is USS Arizona (BB 39), now USS Arizona Memorial.

At the surrender, USS Detroit (CL-8) is in the right distance. (NHHC)
Throughout the war Meyer served on USS Detroit (CL 8).  He was aboard Detroit in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2, 1945 for the official end of the war in the Pacific, when instruments of surrender were signed aboard USS Missouri (BB 63).

"It was, indeed, a wonderful feeling standing on the deck of Detroit, in Tokyo Bay, as we witnessed the formal surrender of Imperial Japan," Meyer wrote in an article in the region/base newspaper, Ho'okele, published last September.

"After suffering through nearly three years and nine months of WWII, by destroying the Imperial Japanese war machine and military industrial complex, at last we finally avenged the horrible deaths inflicted upon many of our shipmates and countrymen. After our visit to firebombed downtown Tokyo and meeting many of the pitiful inhabitants … we suddenly felt a limited sense of compassion for these same hapless wartime victims."

After his service in the Navy, Meyer went back to school  He eventually taught electronics in Key West, Florida and returned to reading books about electronics, amateur radio and history, especially of WWII.

"My favorite was Admiral Layton's 'And I was There,'" Meyer said.  "I'm one of those that feel that [Admiral] Kimmel got a raw deal."

Layton's book is a first-hand background account filled with the tension and turmoil leading up to the attack and recounting events during and after the war.

Elliot Carlson's "Joe Rochefort's War," a newer, tighter recounting of events behind-the-scenes, is built on Layton's foundation and showcases how success was achieved in the Battle of Midway.  Carlson's work was reviewed last year on Navy Reads.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Kids Learn of Sacrifices of WWII

by Bill Doughty

Louise Borden's "Across the Blue Pacific: A World War II Story," illustrated by WWII-era Army-Air Force veteran and artist Robert Andrew Parker, is the story of how duty, sacrifice and loss can affect a nation, a neighborhood and a child. The effects can last a lifetime.

Borden's story is told with a child's innocence and is based on true events.  It recounts the story of the author's uncle Theodore "Ted" Walker who graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1941, served aboard the light cruiser USS Memphis (CL-13) in the South Atlantic, and then served fatefully as executive officer in the submarine USS Albacore (SS-218), deployed from Midway to the western Pacific.  

Ted Walker and his submarine crew never came home.

The National Park Service and Pacific Historic Parks -- partnering with the Department of Education, YMCA, and other groups -- are conducting a read aloud program for 135 schools across Hawaii to tell the story and ensure history is preserved and understood by all generations.

According to a press release from NPS and PHP:

"The story, 'Across the Blue Pacific: A World War II Story,' follows fourth grader Molly Crenshaw who is given a classroom assignment of writing a letter to servicemen overseas.  Molly immediately knows who she will write to -- her next door neighbor Ted Walker, who is stationed aboard the USS Albacore.  The story talks about the importance of appreciating the sacrifices made by the military.  

As part of this year’s program, students will write letters to military personnel, which will then be delivered to active duty military through the U.S. Navy."

Pearl Harbor Survivor Delton "Wally" Walling shared his story at a Dec. 6 Read Aloud at Pauoa Elementary with 4th and 5th graders as NPS ranger Falynn Medeiros read and showed the book.  Walling couldn't enlist in the Navy because of a disfigured finger so he had his finger surgically removed in order to join.  He gave a firsthand account to students about the commitment, courage and consequences of the War in the Pacific.

The National Park Service has posted "several real life letters written during World War II by civilians and military personnel for parents to read to their children."  For access and to learn more about the read aloud program go to  

"The National Park Service, with funding from Pacific Historic Parks, also offers a year-round distance learning program for students and teachers from around the world," according to an NPS release. "Witness To History is a free program that utilizes videoconferencing technology to take students where visitors cannot go, bringing the sites and stories of Pearl Harbor to children and adults unable to visit Oahu.  The program includes a Pearl Harbor Survivor Series where participants can see and hear Pearl Harbor Survivors share their personal testimonies of what they experienced on that fateful day.  The Interpretive Ranger Series shows a video of a USS Arizona underwater dive while a National Park Ranger provides a voice-over interpretive lesson.  The program ends with a student and educator question-and-answer session.  (For more information or to schedule a free Witness To History videoconference, contact 808-954-8744 or 808-4428.)"

131207-N-ZK021-017 - PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (Dec. 7, 2013) - From the USS Arizona Memorial, symbol of the war's beginning on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Survivor Delton "Wally" Walling and Joan Bohl look out at the Battleship Missouri Memorial, symbol of the end of World War II in the Pacific. This year's historic commemoration, "Sound the Alarm," examines how thousands of Americans answered the call to duty in the wake of the attack. From Pearl Harbor and Midway the U.S. Navy moved across the Pacific until instruments of surrender were signed aboard USS Missouri (BB 63) Sept. 2, 1945. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nardel Gervacio/Released)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

'Out of the Ordinary' Way to Pearl Harbor

by Bill Doughty

Though at 90 he doesn't read much anymore, World War II Navy veteran Ewalt Shatz remembers enjoying books as a young man in the 1940s.

"I used to read love stories, westerns, books about history and especially anything out of the ordinary, strange things that get you wondering about things -- anything out of the ordinary."

Ewalt Shatz welcomed in Hawaii.
People are reading about Ewalt Shatz this week.

Bumped from a flight to Hawaii Wednesday, the Pearl Harbor Survivor was rerouted to another carrier: Hawaiian Airlines, where he says he got world-class, first-class treatment.

"I got to Maui (for a connection to Oahu) and I didn't know where to go.  A girl came along and helped me, and someone was calling my name on the loudspeaker.  They treated me like gangbusters," he said earlier today at the 72nd anniversary commemoration ceremony of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Shatz said an attendant flew with him from Maui to Honolulu, where he was met by dozens of military service member supporters, most in uniform, at nearly midnight.  He said he didn't have a chance to say "thank you" to the Hawaiian Airlines attendant.

While serving aboard ships in the 1940s Ewalt found time enjoy books.  Today he says he suffers from macular degeneration, so he can't read the way he once could.

"I used to go to the mess decks to read books cause there was better lighting," he said, "and I went through quite a few."

He was one of about 50-60 WWII veterans and more than 2,500 other guests who attended today's ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

131207-N-FF306-053 PEARL HARBOR (Dec. 07, 2013) Pearl Harbor survivors attend the 72nd Anniversary Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration. More than 2,500 guests, including Pearl Harbor survivors and other veterans, attended the National Park Service and U.S. Navy-hosted joint memorial ceremony at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This year's theme was "Sound the Alarm," examining how thousands of Americans answered their nation's call after the attack and how the nation was united behind a common purpose throughout the war. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Rose Forest/Released)  Note: Ewalt Shatz is sitting center in black shoes and socks.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Max Cleland's 'Heart of a Patriot'

Review by Bill Doughty

"Heart of a Patriot" by Max Cleland with Ben Raines is a deeply personal and fearless account of a life of towering summits and dark valleys.

The former Army Airborne captain and decorated Vietnam combat veteran lost both legs and most of his right arm during the Battle of Khe Sanh in a grenade explosion.

In the book's foreword, "An Open Letter to America's Veterans," Cleland speaks candidly about his post-traumatic stress disorder and "a journey to the dark places of life -- terror, fear, death, wounding, loss, grief, despair and hopelessness."  

He writes for fellow veterans trapped in "a misery of memories" and offers light and hope.  "Recovery is possible," he writes.  "There are people who can help."
Max Cleland

Publisher SimonandShuster writes, "Max Cleland describes with love the ties America's soldiers forge with one another, along with the disillusionment many of them experience when they come home.  He spares no one his humiliations and setbacks in this gut-wrenching account of his life in the hope it will keep even one veteran from descending into darkness.  'Heart of a Patriot' is a story about the joy of serving the country you love, no matter the cost -- and how to recover from the deepest wounds of war."
Max Cleland is the keynote speaker at this year's Navy and National Park Service 72nd Pearl Harbor Day Ceremony, Dec. 7, 2013 near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Cleland's father joined the Navy and shipped out to Pearl Harbor after war was declared.  His dad returned home Dec. 8, 1945 when Max was three and a half.

Cleland was inspired to public service and to join the military by President John F. Kennedy, especially in the wake of JFK's assassination 50 years ago.
In bed at Walter Reed in 1968, Cleland reads Arthur Schlesinger's
"A Thousand Days" about President John F. Kennedy.
After his promising future was "blown to bits" Capt. Cleland made a slow recovery at Walter Reed and then through the Veteran's Administration, getting a first-hand look at the institution he would run one day.

Later, after serving for more than a decade in state politics in Georgia he received an appointment as head of the VA by former Georgia Governor and newly elected President Jimmy Carter, a Navy veteran.

Cleland created VA centers to help millions of veterans, including returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan.  "Their creation is one of the things I am most proud of," he writes.

Elected to the U.S. Senate, Cleland became chairman of the armed services subcommittee on personnel.  His colleagues, mentors and friends in the Senate included fellow combat veterans Chuck Hagel, Dan Inouye, John Kerry and "my Vietnam veteran brother" John McCain.  He describes the pride of wearing his dad's WWII Navy peacoat as a U.S. Senator during a presidential inauguration.

After the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 Cleland was appointed to the 9/11 Commission but said he was frustrated by a lack of access to key intelligence information leading up to the attacks.

In the chapter, "An Infamous Commission," he links aspects of the 9/11 Commission with the Warren Commission that investigated the JFK assassination.  He also compared the 9/11 lack of transparency with the investigation after the Pearl Harbor attack.
"Within the first week after that tragedy, Roosevelt had set up a commission to investigate it and all its ramifications.  Just 10 days after the attack, he relieved both the naval commander at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, and the army commander, General Walter Short, of their jobs based on the commission findings.  Every aspect of the government's inner workings, from diplomacy to military readiness and intelligence, was laid bare for the commission to examine. And in the end, Roosevelt got his man: Within three years, he had personally given the order to shoot down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the Harvard-educated enemy warrior who planned the attack."
The book describes in painful detail the bouts of depression that Max Cleland endured during his life of public service.  Poignantly, Cleland, who "grew up in the golden era of rock," describes a moment alone listening to the Beatles and Paul McCartney's "Yesterday," feeling like "half the man I used to be."

"Heart of a Patriot" concludes with another message directly for veterans, especially for those suffering from polytrauma. He imagines and then creates a better future.  Through faith and hope and the help of others, there is "something to stand on" and a way to fly out of the darkness, he writes.

Max Cleland is set to speak to the Greatest Generation and "the greatest of our generation" at Saturday's Pearl Harbor Day commemoration.  Max Cleland, a self-described "war baby" was born August 24, 1942.  Do the math, and he was conceived just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

President Barak Obama appointed Cleland as Secretary of American Battle Monuments Commission in June 2009.

Max Cleland, Secretary American Battle Monuments Commission, gives remarks, Nov. 11, 2012, during a Veterans Day ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)