Feature Stories

WWII Veteran Percy Bailey landed B-17s in the English Channel

WWII Vet Percy Bailey at 17 for Kauai StoriesGrowing up on a farm in upstate New York in the 1920s, Percival “Percy” Bailey, Jr. used to lie on his back in the grass every day, look skyward and watch the mail plane flying overhead. He was smitten. He knew he had to become a pilot.

A handful of years after driving his mother, brother and the family dog across country to California in a Chevrolet at the tender age of 12, Percy made his dreams come true, learning how to fly planes at Los Angeles International Airport, back when “it was nothing but a shack and the whole place was grass.”

Now 96 years old and a Kauai resident, Percy looks back at his years piloting B-17s during World War II as some of the most exhilarating flying he’s ever done.

“I left 13 planes in the English Channel,” he says, explaining that he was shot down a handful of times and also made ocean landings when his plane ran out of fuel. During the war, planes carried the least amount of fuel possible so they could carry more weight in guns and ammunition. 

Opihi Man Keith Alejo

Opihi Man Keith Alejo for Kauai Stories

Watching Keith Alejo pick opihi is like watching the song “Opihi Man” come to life.

At least several mornings per week, Keith can be found dodging waves, hunting for the tiny limpets that cling to the underside of ocean rocks so that he can eat the tasty morsels that reside inside the shells.

Keith, 50, has been picking opihi, a Hawaiian delicacy, since he was 12 years old. “My grandfather took me out picking for the first time,” he says. “He had nine daughters, no sons, so he was happy to show me how when I was old enough.” 

“Uncle Herb” Weatherwax: World War II veteran counts his blessings

Uncle_Herb_Weatherwax_for_Kauai_StoriesWorld War II veteran and Native Hawaiian Herb Weatherwax has been serving as the unofficial ambassador of aloha at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center near the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu for 17 years.

At 97 years young, he is still going strong.

“This is the beginning of my journey until I’m 100 years old,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Three days a week “Uncle Herb” tools into his spot in front of the bookstore and museum on his motorized scooter – his legs gave out on him about 12 years ago, a result of frostbite and other challenges he faced while stationed in Germany during World War II. His family drives him to and from their home in Kailua.

One person always makes a difference

John_Tyler_Cragg_with_Rescue_Tube__Cori__Craig_Beck_for_Kauai_StoriesWhen John Tyler Cragg first hung a Rescue Tube on a Kauai beach in 2008, he was simply a good-hearted individual doing what he thought would save a few people from drowning each year.

What he didn’t anticipate is that more than 70 lives would be saved on Kauai with Rescue Tubes since that day, and probably more because many rescues aren’t reported.

“When I first started we were losing about 12 people per year to drowning at our beaches, so I envisioned that number going down significantly, but I never imagined Rescue Tubes would save so many lives,” says John, clearly elated. “It’s beyond my dreams.” 

Kauai’s Hindu Monastery: Beyond what our eyes can see

Monks of Kauai's Hindu Monastery for Kauai StoriesThe moment you step onto the lushly landscaped grounds of the Hindu monastery tucked away at the end of a residential street in Wailua Homesteads on Kauai’s east side, hundreds of feet above the rushing Wailua River, you are overcome with a feeling that everything you want is possible.

That’s because the nearly two dozen monks who call this monastery home provide us living proof that when we have a vision of what we want, possibilities exist beyond what we can see with our eyes.

From the unlikely purchase of their Kauai property, to obtaining one of the world’s largest uncut crystals for their temple – a crystal that supposedly did not exist – and establishing a worldwide publishing enterprise that connects Hindus around the planet from their headquarters here on Kauai, the monks of this monastery gift to the world the understanding that all of us can accomplish things that on the surface may appear impossible.

Robert Hamada: Beauty in Wood

Robert_Hamada_with_three-armed_bowl_for_Kauai_StoriesRobert M. Hamada can turn a hunk of gnarled tree trunk into an exquisite work of art so beautiful that throughout his 70-year career, his wood turned bowls have been acquired by collectors, art galleries and museums around the world. 

Born and raised on Kauai, at 93 years old, Hamada is well-spoken, sharp-witted and colorful.

Standing in his living room with one hand resting on the snout of an upturned boar’s head that is sitting on his coffee table, Hamada speaks poetically about the beauty he sees in raw pieces of wood. I ask about the boar’s head several times, and once he answers, “I’ll tell you about that guy later,” but I never do hear that story. 

Airline captain's flight to Kauai changed her life

Captain_Linda_Christopherson_for_Kauai_StoriesAs a pilot for U.S. Airways since 1986, Linda Christopherson, has flown and landed planes throughout the United States including Oahu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, Canada and Mexico.

But the first time she saw Kauai, her life changed. It was 2009, she was flying a Boeing 757 with 190 passengers on board.

“We broke out of the clouds at about 1,000 feet and I saw the island for the first time. My hair just stood on end and I had goose bumps,” she says. “I knew in an instant that this is where I was supposed to be.”

Rebirth of Kaneiolouma Hawaiian Village

If you listen with your heart while walking near the ancient Hawaiian village of Kaneiolouma in Poipu on Kauai’s south shore, you will hear the sounds of this thriving Hawaiian community as it was when it was alive: Hawaiians speaking their own language; growing, catching and preparing their own food; pounding tree bark into kapa cloth for clothing; dancing hula; playing competitive sports (makahiki games) and praying to their gods.

Kaneiolouma once spanned from mauka to makai (from the mountains to the ocean) about 600 years ago, a generous swath of land that contained all the resources required for life: waters from the mountains and rivers, land on which to grow food, the ocean abundant with sea life.




Keeping Hula Alive - Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina'ala to perform at Merrie Monarch Festival

2014_Halau_Ka_Lei_Mokihana_O_Leinaala_Merrie_Monarch_wahine for Kauai StoriesBefore Hawaiians had a written language, they shared their histories, genealogies, their honor for kings and queens, their love for the ocean, for the land and for love itself through the chants and dance of hula. 

During the Merrie Monarch Festival, hula’s most prestigious competition held each year in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai’i, the world’s best hula dancers come together to celebrate hula and share their stories with a global audience in this invitation-only event.

This year, Kaua’i’s own hula school Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina’ala, based in Kalaheo and led by Kumu Hula (hula instructor) Leina’ala Pavao Jardin, is the only halau (hula school) representing the Garden Island.

Honoring a Man's Life: Masao Tamura

Masao Tamura by Cindy Ellen Russell for Kauai StoriesHow much more is there to a person than what we can see from the outside? I had the opportunity to try to find out recently while sorting through a few belongings left behind in a house after the owner died and the property was sold.

Masao Tamura was 89 years old when he passed on in January 2013. He lived for decades in a well-kept, spacious Lihue home built in 1949, on the island of Kauai, across Kuhio Highway from Walmart, first with his wife, Mine, then alone after she died in 2004.

He worked for more than 40 years as a bookkeeper with Kauai Veterans Express, a trucking company. Friends who knew him told me he was a very nice man.

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