Okinawa-Part 2

The return journey from the caves to the compound and my squad proved uneventful. It did not take long to figure the truck out, and I passed my first test behind the wheels. A week went by, and my Sargent instructed me to build an outdoor warehouse for equipment found in the fields and separate what might be repaired and stored from the stuff they were dumping in the ocean. He added that I pick up a few prisoners to use as laborers to do the heavy lifting.

On my trip to the compound, I saw the same three that came out of the cave and whom I drove (a harrowing journey, to be sure) to the compound. We recognized each other, and all of us smiled. I’m sure that reaction was all about survival—but even so, I arranged to have them brought to the location where the warehouse was to be built. How could I know then we were to become close and caring, and yes, the best of friends?

There was Yamamoto, in his late thirties and a former bank executive from Hiroshima, Ohara in his late twenties, a former streetcar conductor in Tokyo who was tall and muscular, and Kato, a small guy who was a former actor in Tokyo. I was nineteen, the youngest and least experienced. This was the original team that eventually built the best and largest outdoor warehouse on Okinawa with forklifts, cherry-pickers, a crane, and three trucks. The staff soon grew to a dozen.

Using Life Magazine, we taught each other our languages. My Japanese and their English became good enough so that we communicated, laughed a bundle, and got things done. My trust in the three of them was total. I never questioned any of their decisions, and whatever equipment was requested (radios, field telephones, etc.) was handled smoothly and effectively. For all we achieved, they always made sure I got credit for the results. They taught me leadership.

A story of caring: A PW ran away, apparently heading for a cave. I grabbed my carbine and headed off to find him. Ohara and Kato tackled me and held me down, explaining that Yamamoto went for the runaway. I immediately thought I lost two prisoners! Ohara and Kato tried hard to assure me that all would be well, and Yamamoto would return with the runaway. An hour or so later, he did just that. Yamamoto then lined our workers up with me in the front and spoke harshly to the prisoner. After which, he slapped him across the face… then, we all went back to work.


Okinawa-Part 1

Humans need each other. To begin with, we could not exist without others bringing us into this world. Of course, we understand this and why our parents are so vital to us. What takes place beyond our conception and the nurturing that parents provide is that as we grow, so does our need for others. I have shared the story below many times because it so strongly emphasizes that our need for each other as humans never goes away. And, when we meet and serve each other’s needs, our regard for each other grows more important.

On Okinawa, the war was over, but many Japanese Soldiers remained alive and well while living in very elaborate caves. The potential for danger was a problem that had to be resolved, and while doing so, I met three Japanese soldiers who became my “best friends.” I was part of a squad that drove into the hills near Naha, the largest city in Okinawa. We had two prisoners with us that we would send into caves to convince anyone inside that the war was over and that the best thing they should do was lay down their arms and come out. They would be safe and cared for—proof of which was provided by the two sent into the cave.

If they did not come out, we would proceed to blow up the entrance to the cave. But in this case, three soldiers came out with the two we sent in. From the looks on their faces, it was clear the three thought they would be killed. At that moment, the Sargent yelled out, “Ogulnick! Take the prisoners to the compound.” We had arrived in a ½ ton truck, so it meant he wanted me to drive and take them to the compound. I had never driven anything before, but boy did I want to. I had no intention of telling the Sargent that “I could not drive.” If I faced a typhoon and other life-threatening experiences, then I could drive a truck, no problem.

I got into the driver’s side and immediately began to read the metal instruction plate placed on the dash. The three prisoners and guard climbed into the back of the truck. I got the motor turned on, and with pure fear and excitement, I began the task of heading downhill in one of the many gears. The truck responded in a series of jerks, and the four in the back immediately fell to the floor, holding on for dear life. All this while I began my first ever experience as a driver of a vehicle. (Story continues next week.) Sy

Was it Now… Or Forever?

I keep writing that experiences have the potential to teach us something about ourselves, others, and life in general. It only demands that we be present at the moment and be open to what is taking place. It sounds simple but is not, only because most people are not in the present. Instead, they are distracted… living in yesterdays and tomorrows. A common mistake made in living one’s life.

When I worked with kids and staff from the late forties to the 70s, I had no choice except to be as present as possible. I needed to be in the moment, ready to answer the needs and problems of those I was responsible for as they arose. People and events kept me present, not because I disciplined myself to be present, but my responsibilities demanded that I be present, ready, and able for others. This meant that any unusual happening or call to action captured my full attention. Following is an actual experience. What took place could not have happened, and yet it did…

It was a beautiful Sunday in July, mid-1950s, and for some strange reason, I decided to drive to our Day Camp, “Purple Sage,” located in Malibu Canyon, and go for a horseback ride. It was a rare desire since I frequently rode a horse around camp, checking on the kids and activities when it was in session. In any case, I felt compelled to go to camp and take a Sunday ride. When I arrived at the corral, a horse I had never ridden came over and nuzzled me as if to say, “I’ve been waiting for you; let’s go for a ride.” It was Strawberry (A Strawberry Rhone) with a gentle reputation, round back, an easy ride. She decided for me, and in any event, the horse I usually rode paid no attention to me, so Strawberry was my ride. Her round back made it easy for me to ride her bareback with only a hackamore around her nose—no bridle or saddle. How much sweeter a ride can there be?

We crossed into fields owned by Bob Hope and began a gentle ride which soon became a full-out run, and suddenly in that exact moment, it was not me, and it was not 1950. In that instant, I became a warrior attacking a village in the steppes of Asia. At full speed, we hit a gopher hole, and Strawberry and I tumbled forward. When I got up, Strawberry knelt, waiting for me to mount. Slowly and in deep thought, we headed back to the corral. Crazy as it seems, I was sure it happened, and I was equally sure the horse felt it too.

I am in the now———-Maybe not but possible———Is real always real?

Learning From Experience

Experience does not force learning upon us. Yet every event and experience has the potential to teach us if we are receptive. Still, even in the best of well-planned events, the outcomes are never guaranteed. This is why I stress that the more present we are, the more each event/experience is potentially loaded with meaningful lessons from which we may benefit. The point to make here is that if we are not present in the moments of an experience, we may miss its lessons. Allow me to share a profound experience and what I learned about myself.

Those of you that read my book know that in September of 1945, I was on an LST in the middle of the Pacific heading for Okinawa. An LST is a small vessel that displaces only about 10 feet of water and is built to land on shore with tanks and trucks. As fortune would have it, we were heading directly into a large Typhoon. Due to the storm’s size and the type of ship we were on, the only course of action was to deal with the storm, which meant heading directly into it.

The ship was loaded top to bottom, and everything was tied down, including all hatches leading to the deck. As we drew closer to the storm, the captain announced over the” bitch box” that prayer services were being conducted in the mess hall and directed that all crew head into the bowels of the ship. I decided to witness the typhoon, and if we went under, I would be witness to that too.

The space between the hatch and the deck was roped, so there was no getting out on the deck, but I could get outside the hatch and stand between the rope and hatch. Through the hatch window, I was full witness to what was to take place. It was the most awesome experience I have had. Briefly: Cigar-shaped clouds began to rush towards me; waves began to grow until they were totally above my head. I was looking at all water, watching the waves and water disappear as we were lifted to the very top of a mountain of ocean.

We were a cork, riding on the crest of each wave or bobbing in its valley. I am sure I fell asleep for brief periods being overwhelmed by the experience, but I witnessed a power of nature beyond anything before and since. As the storm grew in intensity, I began to feel no fear of death. In fact, I felt a certain strength that I do not remember having before this event. It was a sense that whatever life threw at me, I would be able to handle.


Making Differences Work

In numerous ways, we are different from each other. Sometimes our differences are glaring and, as such, may even be threatening to our own beliefs. We see this in religious, political, or in lifestyles beliefs. Or the differences may be minuscule, in which case we view what others say and do as insignificant behavior. In any event, we may prefer to be with people who have similar beliefs to our own. Yet, there is a benefit to seeking out those whose ideations are different. My life has introduced me to a wide variety of people and beliefs, and I find that I have grown and benefitted hugely from our differences and what they have given to me. Without question, I prefer to be with people that are different from me. In fact, I owe much of what I am to them.


This is particularly true when differences are authentic. That is, when being oneself is not an act but real and powerful. As I have said repeatedly, the more real a leader is, the more their followers become real, and real means different, and differences are the most sincere gifts we give to each other.

As a teacher, I essentially taught that people should be present, understand what they heard, and be candid in response. Meaning that they should share thoughts and feelings as they are, not what one thinks the other wants to hear. This did more to bring growth than the typical silence or false agreements. Growth was demonstrated by the differences people began to express when being completely candid. Finally, in most work situations, expressed differences made work safer than homes, where dialogue became our method of communication. Our differences became gifts that do not go away. Our use of dialogue as opposed to monologue was our equalizer.


We are not the same——-But who wants to be the other? ——Not either of us.