A web site that shares the emotional and spiritual experiences of the Vietnam War through poetry, stories, and photos by combat veterans.
Hosted by Vietnam Veteran Bill McDonald
The day after I graduated from Sunnyvale High School, I was off to find my place in the sun - I packed my bags and headed off to the Hawaiian Islands. The plan was for me to purchase a one-way ticket and just let my life unfolded each day. I was very naive about a lot of things in life and this dream of finding my fortune and fame in Hawaii, was one of those innocent adventures in which I followed my heart and dreams.
I was able to buy a ticket on an airlines called USOA, United States Overseas Airlines. The ticket cost me $ 68. You could only buy a one way ticket. The airplane was old and had four engines. It was a propeller driven type of aircraft, that you can see in the old black and white movies. In other words, this was an old airplane even by 1964 standards.
My family did not give me any money. They had made the point of telling me that I was on my own when I left home. The plane departed from Oakland Airport where several of my best friends, came along with my mom and step-dad to see me off at the departure gate. I was leaving with no set return date. At that time, I was not sure if I was ever coming back again. I only had $40 cash on me, and one suite case of clothing. I had the address of a friend's cousin, and my little sister's boy friend's grandfather. That was all I took with me, other then own wit and courage.
My mom had told me that if I got into trouble, I was not to call her, because they had no money and would not help me out. My step-dad looked at her in disbelief. I, myself, could hardly believe that she had said that to me. However, when she went over to the flight insurance machine and purchased life insurance on me, I was ready to leave and never return. I felt my mom was buying a Loto ticket on me. She would make lots of money, if I got killed in a crash. I hated to think that she would get rich off my death - it was just so totally cold. I put on a brave face, and smiled, as I departed. When I sat down inside the plane, I wanted to cry and had to stop myself. I felt so alone. I was heading off to Hawaii - my dream adventure, and it was such a very unpleasant way to begin the journey.
The flight took over eight hours. When we landed, they rolled out a ramp, so we could deplane. Some FAA Officials had met the plane and put locks on the wheels. It seemed that they took over the ownership of the aircraft. The Airline never did fly again. That was their last official flight, before being shut down by the FAA.
I got out of the Honolulu Airport and caught a bus for Waikiki Beach. I had little idea of where I was in relationship to anywhere else on the island. I met some guy about my age, on the airplane. I paid him ten dollars to sleep on the floor of his hotel room for a couple of nights. It was just a few blocks from the beach. I went out for a walk that first night on the beach. It was already late at night, but the water was the warmest I had ever felt in my life. I waded and walked about four miles down the beach, drinking in all the sights and sounds of the beach and the people.
There were several fires and groups of young people singing and laughing all along the beach that night. I felt like I was home. I could not understand why, but it felt so much like home to me. I felt I belonged to that island. Inside myself, I was alive with energy and joy at just being there.
My money couldn't be wasted on things like food, so I began a fast. I also knew that with only $30 left, that I had better come up with a plan of action very soon. I decided to look up this grandfather who I had an address for.. I thought that perhaps, he could direct me to someplace to stay, or knew of some job that I could put in an application for. I took his address out and went down the street. The first person I asked about his address, told me to look up at the street sign. It seems that he lived on the same street as the hotel that I had been staying at. His apartment was less then half a block away from there. My luck seemed to be working, as always, but by now, I had come to realize that it was God who was really taking care of my needs.
I knocked on his apartment door and was met by an old Hawaiian Kahuna. He was the real thing. His name was David Kaonohiokala Bray. I had never met an initiated priest of the old Kahuna Religion of Hawaii before, but this man certainly looked like he was what I thought one should look like. This man was a local god and folk hero to the people on this island. He had written many books on the history and religion of the Hawaiian Islands and its people. He was dark skinned and short. His stomach hung over his belt like a fat "Buddha". His hair was like sea salt. When he opened the door, he was to open a whole new world to my young self. He looked at me with eyes that seemed to be ten thousand years old. There was a long moments silence. We both just stared at each other. It was like we already knew each other. I introduced myself and told him briefly about my circumstances.
He invited me into his apartment. Inside it was like some strange new age
church. On one wall was a large painting of the Hawaiian god Pele
coming out of a volcano. There were objects around the apartment that were
different from anything I had seen before in my young life. We sat down and
talked. It was like we knew each other from a past life.
David K. Bray both attracted me and repelled me at the same time. He had both the ancestral, as well as the training, to be recognized as belonging to the priestly orders of Papa Kahuna Pule, those who were equal to the ancient, highest ruling chiefs: Papa Kaula, those who spoke as prophets; and Kahuna Lapa'au, those who practiced the healing arts. He was also recognized as a chanter of the old hymns of blessings, and was the foremost expert in Hawaiian folk lore.
That first night we talked forever. He listened to my thoughts on life and God. I told him about some of my feelings and dreams. He was the first person who really seemed to understand me. I felt like I had found a long lost piece of the puzzle of my inner life. This man seemed to know things about me that no one else ever did. He stated his desire to have me follow his path. He went on to tell me that he had been waiting for me to come to him for many years. For some reason, he stated that I was much stronger then he was with supernatural abilities. I was unsure of why he was telling me this, but my youthful ego was flattered. I really did not know, or even care if he was right – it just sounded good to have someone believe in my abilities.
He made the offer for me to stay there for a few weeks. I had no other place to go that, or any other night, so I accepted his welcomed offer. Living at his place was most interesting. All kinds of people would come by for prayers and blessings at all hours of the day, or night. The movie "In Harm's Way", with John Wayne and a cast of all kinds of famous people, was being filmed in Honolulu then. At night, most of the cast and the directors came by the place to see and spend time with David. He was also paid big bucks by other film companies to bless the surf for movies like "Ride The Wild Surf", with Fabian and Frankie Avalon. The native workers on the island would not begin any construction projects on state, or private buildings, unless he blessed the work site first. He got paid $300 dollars for blessing the surf for one movie.
He began giving me information about his life and about his religion. He told me that he was one of the keepers of the Sacred teachings. It was only certain Kuhunas, of these teachings, who could utter the Sacred Name of god of the Hawaiians. He told me that this name could never be uttered except by one priest in any given generation on each of the major Hawaiian Islands. This knowledge was never to shared with the common people. This was one major area of disagreement between us, as I felt all truth should be made available to real truth seeking souls everywhere. My example was how Kiyra Yoga, was made available to the followers of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda.
I saw him do many strange, and some times, wonderful things with his power, but he also had an evil side. He practiced, on rare occasion, this dark side of his powers. He did have supernatural powers, which he activated by chanting, or by prayers. I believed that this power could also become his source of his own downfall. I could see that his power was slowly becoming corrupted by ego and the power of darkness. He had made a choice between the light and the dark side. It seems that he chose darkness and its evil - over the goodness of the light. It is hard to explain all that happened over several months time in dealing with him. There was a lot of good still in the man's soul. I tried to open that path up for him. I was also tested, in that vast amounts of his power and knowledge, could have been given over to me. I did not want that kind of power and told him so. (Little did I know, or even realize, at this time, that my mother would form a relationship with him a few years later. I assume that some information and knowledge was passed on to her. I did not learn that she was in contact with him until many years after her death, when my little sister, Marsha told me some stories about it.)
He did get me a couple of jobs on the island. The first one was on the other side of the island in Kailua, which is by the Marine Corps Base, at Kaneohe. I was living at small cabin on the beach, and working at a restaurant near by. While working in the kitchen one day, I was asked to move a very large pot of boiling rice from the stove. The pot was at least 2 feet tall. I managed to lift it up and walk a few feet, when somehow I spilled a large amount of the hot rice on my stomach and chest. My reaction was to drop the whole pot. The only problem with that solution was that it spilled all over my clothing and tennis shoes. It burned me and stuck to me. I had to strip off all my clothing and shoes to stop the hot rice from burning my skin. I ran over and put cold water on the burns. Big blisters were already evident all over my legs and chest. My body looked terrible and it hurt greatly. I was unable to wear anything except a swim suit for the next several weeks afterwards. I was still unable to wear shoes for several months. The skin on my legs was burned so badly that all the hair on my legs never grew back except on my knees. I was in a great deal of pain until they healed. I did not go to any doctor. I suffered for weeks with large fluid filled blisters all over my body.
The next job I got was after a long period of unemployment in which I had to fast to save my money. I was hired as a custodian for a school and also did some work at the Air Force Base. I was paid $1.25 per hour and worked full time. I was able to save enough to buy an airline ticket for San Francisco when the time came to leave the islands.
I spent a lot of time just walking around and being there. I had no real money to do anything except survive there, but it was my first real adventure away from home. I was determined to make it work . I was also determined not to ask any one for any assistance. I had some strange other worldly experiences while I lived there. However, I cannot share them for many reasons. I did feel that my life was being directed somehow. I felt that certain things had happened to me, were some kind of testing process, to teach me some needed lessons in my life.
I used to go to the beach late at night and swim out 3 or 4 miles from shore. These swims would take my mind away from everything. Sometimes, I would look back at the shoreline and realize that the lights were fading away in the distance. I was never afraid of swimming in the ocean alone. The thought of sharks never entered my mind, until I woke up one day and read the newspaper account of a shark attack in the same waters that I swam in each night. I went out any way, but some of the fun was out of it.
When my time came to leave, David took me to the airport. He gave me that look again and told me a few things about what would happen in the future. I think he believed we were long lost friends from these islands, from a past life. I left Hawaii that day, but a part of me is always on those islands. I always felt that island was my real home. I could not afford to stay there any longer both financially, or spiritually and I knew it.
When I got on the airplane I had a big send off from David and some Hawaiian girls. I had several garlands of flowers draped around my neck, as I entered the plane. I was going back on a United Airlines flight to San Francisco, unlike the cheap flight over. I wore my suit and had the flowers over my jacket. I also had no shoes, or socks on. It was rather interesting in that years later my look would remind others of the way The Beatles dressed on the"Abbey Road' album with the bare feet and the suit.
I was the last person to get off the airplane. When I did emerge I saw a large crowd. It seemed that my friends were sensitive to how I felt when I left for Hawaii, so they took it upon themselves to be there to welcome me back home. They cheered me when I got off the airplane and soon other people came over to see if I was some famous person, or a rock star. Soon there was a small mob of people - many of them strangers just trying to get a look at who I was. I was loving it all. I rode home with my friends. I felt like I had been successful on my trip and was now ready for even bigger adventures.
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