This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
An Interview by Kenneth Pratt with Duke’s brother, Sargent Kahanamoku
October 31, 1984
This is an interview with Sargent Kahanamoku (SK), the youngest member of the Kahanamoku family. Duke was the oldest of the Kahanamoku family of six boys and three girls. He attended Waikiki Grammar School, Kaahumanu School, Kamehameha and McKinley High Schools. This interview is being conducted on October 31, 1984 in the Board Room of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The interviewer is Ken Pratt (KP).
KP: Sarge, your brother Duke died on January 22nd, 1968 at the age of 77 and is not here to speak for himself. I thought that you, who knew him well, might care to answer a few questions for the record.
SK: Yes, Ken Pratt. But before I answer your questions I want to say Aloha. This is very nice of you and I think it is about time this was done. I will answer all your questions if I can.
KP: That’s great. So what was the date of his birth?
SK: The date of his birth was August 24th, 1890.
KP: And where did this birth take place?
SK: The family used to say that he was born at “Haleakala”, in what used to be the Bernice Pauahi Bishop home on the corner of King and Bishop Streets.
KP: That was the old estate, wasn’t it?
SK: Yes, the old estate.
KP: Just as an aside – the Bank of Hawaii bought that location in the early 1920s and actually located there from 1927 to 1967 when they moved into the new Financial Plaza. Now, Sarge, your Dad was a member of the Honolulu Police Force. Can you tell us something about him?
SK: Yes, Ken. I can remember my father – not too well because he died when I was seven years old. I remember that he was such a big man, a handsome looking man. The old folks used to tell me that when he had on his police uniform, the women used to go for him and my Mother used to get jealous. I’ll never forget my father. He used to take us swimming. We used to go down by the old Pier Point. The Pier Point was a bridge that extended out from where the old Niumalu used to be where Hawaiian Village is today. It extended out about 100 yards and at the very end, you’d go down a stairway. All of my brothers and sisters used to hit the water and Sam used to swim way out. Since I was the baby, I used to sit and try to get on my father’s shoulders. He’d finally get me on his shoulders and then he’d duck and when he ducked I’d be in the water, splashing and screaming and crying and I’d swallow half the Pacific Ocean. Then he’d get so mad he’d pick me up and throw me towards the pier. I kept on thrashing, splashing and drinking water until I finally got to the pier. That’s how I learned to swim – on my own. But from that day to this, I thank him for it.
KP: You were born in 1910. Is that right?
SK: Yes, I was born on March 5th, 1910.
KP: So there was a 20-year spread between you and Duke.
SK: Between my brother Duke and me – that is right.
KP: That’s great. Now, do you know how you got the name, Sargent?
SK: Yes, Ken that’s interesting. After all the other sons in the family, they had a Duke, but they didn’t have a colonel. When I came along, my father was in the Police Department. I was born on the day he was promoted to Sergeant. So the family said, “Let’s call the baby Sargent.” So that’s how I got the name. It was originally pronounced Sergeant – but I took one e out and inserted an a and it became SARGENT.
KP: Sarge, I’ve always puzzled as to how Duke got his name, and I looked it up and this is the information I got. Actually, your dad’s name was Duke Halapu Kahanamoku – and Mrs. Bernice Pauahi Bishop had suggested that name be given to your dad because at that time royalty had arrived in the Islands – this was way back in 1869.
SK: That’s right.
KP: The Duke of Edinburgh was the second son of Queen Victoria of England. One of Her Majesty’s ships had brought the Duke Alfred to Honolulu in the same year that your father was born and your father was named in honor of the visiting royalty, so that’s actually how the name Duke came about.
SK: That’s right.
KP: And your brother inherited that name.
SK: That’s right, Ken. My father was given that name; instead of being a junior they named their first son Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
KP: Let’s get into Duke’s swimming prowess. I also read in a history book that around 1909 or 1910, the Duke used to swim quite a bit in Waikiki and one day he saw some swimmers from Australia and he saw a different swim stroke than most Americans were using. It was called, later on, the Australian crawl. He sort of followed this stroke and improved his swimming tremendously. Can you tell us a little about that?
SK: When my brother, Duke, was in Australia, he saw the way the boys were swimming there and he said, “Gee, that’s all right”…so he started to swim that way and he said, “I’m going to call it the Australian crawl.” Of course, he changed it a little because he’d raise his body way up out of the water. He looked like a power boat cutting through the water with its prow up.
KP: Yes, I understand he did improve it.
SK: Ken, I think the other way he improved it was because he had such big hands and big feet.
KP: Sarge, Duke was a great swimmer without a coach, but did he also have a coach about that time?
SK: Well, as I recall. Ken, in the olden days, when my brother and my father used to go swimming, my brother Duke used to swim way out beyond the reef. He’d swim out beyond the reef by himself in shark-infested waters. I got this story from the old boys and I said, “I don’t believe it,” but I was told he did. Then this haole man, Sill Rawlins, a wonderful man, took brother under his wing and he said, “OK Duke, you get it, you got it – let’s see if you can really swim.” I think that was the beginning, Ken, of Duke’s career as a world champion – he set a record for 100 yards in 1911 at Pier 2 down at Honolulu harbor.
KP: So he was breaking records by 1911.
SK: He was setting local records – then when he went to the Olympics for the first time in 1912, that’s when he established new world records, and he went on from 1912. Rawlins was with him for quite some time. Then Dad Center came along.
KP: Actually in 1911 and 1912, Dad Canter was swimming against Duke, eh?
SK: That’s right. They were about the same age. And Rawlins was still coaching Duke at that time. Then in 1912, Duke went to the Olympic Games, did well and came home to a big welcome aloha, with leis and everything. Rawlins went to work for the Territory then and he gave Duke a home – it was at 1847 Ala Moana Road.
KP: Rawlins gave him a home there?
SK: Yes, he gave the land and the home to brother Duke, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
KP: I see, I see, Now it would be interesting to know – did they eventually sell to the Hawaiian Village or whoever purchased there?
SK: No, no, Ken. According to brother Duke’s will, nobody can sell it. It goes to heirs, but because he married he left it to his wife, Nadine. The place is leased by this used car rental place. But it is not sold. It was never sold – this piece of land down by Hawaiian Village near Kalia Road.
KP: Is it fairly close to the water?
SK: No, no, It’s up the street from the Tahitian Lanai. That’s where it is.
KP: I see. Gee, that’s interesting.
SK: And if Nadine passes away, it might come to the rest of the family. There are only four- of us left. There’s three besides me – my sister Bernice who is 86, brother Bill is 84, my brother Louis is 76 and I am 74.
KP: Now, Louis lives in Hilo….
SK: Kona, Kona.
KP: Kona side. I haven’t seen Louis for a long time. Louis was at Punahou about the same time I was. He was a little younger I think, but he was quite a football player for a while.
SK: Yes, he was. He played for Punahou and the Town Team – he was quite a football player.
KP: Now, let’s get back to Duke again, and about now would be a good time to talk about the old surfboard water polo. I know you used to play.
SK: Surfboard polo, Ken. That’s right. Surfboard polo.
KP: I’d love to hear about that.
SK: Yeah, that was quite a sport. It all happened this way. One day, this governess and a little girl were on the beach by the Moana Hotel. It was in 1926 or early part of 1927. Somehow the little plastic ball got away from the little girl, and she was going out to retrieve it. Brother Sam happened to be out there with his surfboard. So brother Sam kept it away from the little girl. He dribbled it in the water. Louis saw that and I saw it too, so we got into the water with our surfboards while the governess and the little girl waited. We told them to wait for us to bring the ball back but before we knew it we had a team of seven on one side and seven on the other side. Somebody threw the ball up in the middle and we went for it. We made up our own rules and we made up our own course. The course was the Pacific Ocean, let’s say. The guy who passed to the last man, he’d go right for the Moana pier, hit any part of the pier and that was a goal. Then at the end towards the Royal Hawaiian, going towards the Outrigger where the stream used to come out, there used to be a groin there. Anytime you passed the last man and got to a groin, that was a goal. So that’s how surfboard polo started, and it was interesting because we finally got the sport started and Outrigger came in, which was good.
We were doing it for the tourists. At that time, tourists came in by boat and it cost them a lot of money. They didn’t come by airplanes then. Today, you come for three days or a week, and go home. But in those days, they stayed a long time. Rooms weren’t too expensive, boat fares weren’t too expensive and they’d have seven days out at sea and that’s a long time. So the tourists came to Hawaii by boat. Hiram Anahu was one of the instigators of surfboard polo. He said, “Let’s get this game going” and we played out in front of the Royal Hawaiian. We had a course 50 yards long by 40 yards wide, and at the two ends for the goals were these big nets – big, big nets – and you’d put your surfboard and a goalkeeper in front and he was supposed to block the ball as it came in, naturally. On my team, I had Tommy Kiakona for center forward, I was right forward, brother Sam was left and on the back center was Louis or Fred Steere, Louis or Fred Steere on the right and my cousin Fred Parse on the left or right back. The goalkeeper was John D. Kaupiko.
KP: Oh, he was a dynamite guy.
SK: John D. used to get mad because all he did was sit by the goal and nobody could get past Sam and me with the ball. We used to spin on the surfboards. My hands were good, too. I used to do backhand with my right and backhand with my left, too. So, this game got started and we put on quite a show. People from the town would come out if they had five cents to ride the streetcar. They’d come out to the beach. It was interesting because it was all free and it was something to see. It was a tough sport, really tough. You had to be in condition and I was in condition. So anyway, we played and we played and we played. Outrigger had good teams then. They had the two Crabbe brothers and they used to do funny tricks. They used to come out and they had surfboards with broken fronts, all chewed up. There was no nose – it was all chewed up. I said, “What are you guys trying to do? Stab us with that?” But they never had a chance to use it because we’d keep them away. We used to kick and keep those boards away from us.
Well, anyway this went on and one day they brought brother Duke in. I think Duke had just gotten back from the mainland and it was the first time he was going to play with us. So Sam looked at me and we winked at each other and we thought, “Let’s get the big boy.” We’d let brother Duke have the ball and he’d try to paddle out to our goal and shoot and make a point, but what Sam or I would do was put our hands around his surfboard underwater so he couldn’t get away. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t move and he’d get so mad. But, I made one big mistake, Ken – when I had my hands under his surfboard, I happened to be in the wrong spot – right where he put his big feet…and I mean big feet.. .and they hit me right in the nose. Lucky he didn’t smash my nose, I said, “Hey, brother, cut it out.” I could have done the same thing to him but he was my older brother and I respected him. But he never got the ball away from us. We used to have lots of fun. People used to bet on the teams, and after it was all over, to show their appreciation, the hotels used to have free lunch for the boys and that was nice. We used to put on a game every Sunday. Every Sunday we’d have this surfboard water polo, and I tell you it was tough. I was trying to start it up again here at the Outrigger with Billy Morris, Beaumont, the Philpotts brothers, and ‘Mongoose’. We tried to start it, but there wasn’t anyone to challenge us. I remember playing one game at the Natatorium – I think it was with Outrigger but we had lots of fun. What a game and a show we put on for the people. And that, Ken, was how it all started. I sure would like to see that sport come back again. But today the kids are paddling around on little ten pounder boards, right?
KP: Yes. Right.
SK: You understand what I’m shooting at?
SK: In those days, we had big boards, heavy boards. My board weighed 120 pounds. And the guys were solid – right? Now those are the kind of boards I’d like to see these kids use today for surfboard water polo. I think the kids would love it.
KP: It would build them up more, too. (Laugh), Do you remember the uniforms we used to have?
SK: Oh, yeah. We had scarlet…we had black borders. Of course, we had red and white.
KP: Yes, right.
SK: And we had the hat…..
KP: And Hui Nalu was black and gold.
SK: You had to wear the proper attire. Your bathing suit had to be just right – but no top. Oh, that was something.
KP: Now you said Duke had just come back from the mainland. He’d been up in Hollywood doing pictures prior to that.
SK: Yeah. Duke was on the mainland. In 1912, the Olympics came along and on his way home, Duke stopped in L.A. and he stayed up there trying to make a living for 15 years – and he didn’t come home for 15 years. He came home when they opened up the Natatorium in 1927. That’s when he came back. Now that was in 1927 and he dedicated the pool.
KP: He was a great man.
SK: I think I could have been a great swimmer in the same class as my brother because I trained with Buddy Crabbe, under old man Grabble (Edward). When I swam in the Natatorium, I did it in 58-59 seconds. Now the record was 57 seconds, set by Johnny Weismuller. But Buddy (Edward Jr.) Crabbe and I just played around. We didn’t care about setting records – we gave up too soon. As two swimmers, we could have been good – but we played around too much.
KP: That was Buddy’s trouble, I remember.
SK: But brother Duke was the real champion. I remember when he swam at the Natatorium, the old-timers told me, “Watch your brother Duke. When he swims, he makes waves.” I thought – what the hell do they mean ‘makes waves’? “Watch him. Watch him,” they said. Now I never saw him swim in a meet before. So that night, he jumps in the water and these guys keep saying, “Watch him.” So I watch. He hits the middle of that tank and starts down the middle. He goes down about 20 yards and the waves come and hit the sides of the tank. “See what we mean?” the guys said. I am still looking – and those waves came and I mean they were big – so big that I could take a 120 pound surfboard and ride them. That’s how big they were. Nobody else, not even Johnny Weismuller could get in the middle of a pool and make waves like that. Geez, that man was powerful.
KP: Tell me something about his build, Sarge.
SK: He was six foot – I was six two, the tallest of the family.
KP: Uh-uh. He had big arms?
SK: Big arms and big hands. He had the biggest hands, the biggest feet… oh, boy…bar none. I’ll never forget when I was a young boy and he slapped me – that was enough to know not to do something anymore. When his hand came out – whoosh…..
KP: No foolin’ around, eh?
SK: No foolin’ around. But Duke was the greatest of all swimmers. I say that, Ken, because he had the heart. He had the warmth. He loved people and he never tried to boast about himself.
KP: He was a modest man, He was one of the finest men I ever met in my life.
SK: The best. He was really the best. One time Duke saved seven people when a fishing boat capsized beyond the reef down in Long Beach. Duke was on the beach and he was watching this boat and he had a feeling it was going to capsize because the boat was right in the big waves. The waves hit the boat broadside and the thing kind of rocked and it turned over sideways. So Duke grabbed his surfboard and went out. He got one in, went out again, he got two, went out again and again – he saved seven men that day. There was one all tangled in a net, and he hated to leave him but he couldn’t save him.
KP: How far did he go to the boat?
SK: I’d say about the distance from the Natatorium – from Queen’s Beach just outside the breakers in to the blue water.
KP: That’s a good long way.
SK: That’s a long way, but Duke used to surf quite a lot back there. Then, when he had these men up on the beach, he left. He didn’t wait around to be thanked or to get his picture taken or anything. That’s the way he was. He was there at the right time, he saved some people and that was his reward. He was happy. We used to say, “Mehape a ale wala’au” and that means, “Don’t talk – keep it in your heart.” And that’s what he did.
KP: They had a hard time…finding cut who he was.
SK: That’s it, exactly.
KP: Later on he was given honors and a medal for that.
SK: That came later – on a “This is Your Life” program.
KP: That’s right. That’s right. Sarge, do you remember the old Ripley “Believe it or Not” cartoon deal – he would picturize amazing events. Can you recall the one about Duke?
SK: The.one about Duke had to do with the longest surfboard ride by any human being. When the waves were big, we used to call them the steamer-lane breakers. The ships had to come in beyond those break¬ers. The waves used to break three or four miles outside the reef in front of where the new Outrigger Club is today down towards the Moana Hotel – down the shoreline. And Duke used to go way out there to surf. So one day he went out there and the waves were huge. He caught this big wave and he was just like a little ink spot coming in. He slid left all the way – all the way from Diamond Head of where the Outrigger Club now stands, and he cut left and he kept on cutting left and he went all the way to the beach in front of the Moana Hotel. Yes, that was the longest surfboard ride ever. Now I wanted to do it too. Now you know when you go surfing, you don’t tell where you’re going. When you go fishing, you don’t tell where you’re going. If you go shoot birds, you don’t tell where you’re going. But if you’ve got a gun you’re certainly not going to play golf. So we just say “Good luck.” Well, one morning the waves were breaking way out and they were really big. It was about seven o’clock in the morning and I said to myself, “Darn it, I’m going to side one of those waves as long and as big as my brother Duke. I hope I can do it.” Standing alongside of me was Fred Steere, as I recall. So Fred and I don’t say a word. We just go and get our bathing suits on. He put a white bandana around his head and I did likewise. He got on his surfboard. I got on my surfboard, and we paddled out. Now there is a little channel between the Moana and the Royal. Hawaiian Hotel. We had to take the channel to get out. We were hoping to go straight out but the waves were so big that we had to zig and zag. Fred and I, we don’t say a word to each other. We just paddle. We gain ten yards – we lost a hundred yards….But we were in condition in those days. We both had the same thing in mind – to get out in that blue water and catch that wave. Well, when we got out to the waves, we couldn’t even see the mountains and the waves were breaking, breaking, breaking. Finally we see this huge wave coming. It seemed like it broke about a thousand miles out. But when you’re in the water and the waves are so high, it’s hard to judge distance. Anyway this wave came in and I figured by the time it got to me, it would have no power. I made a mistake. That wave had a lot of power still. I thought ¬the heck with the surfboard – forget it. The foam must have been 15 feet high or more – and it was pretty wide too. I knew I had to get down out of that turmoil. I had to go down, way down. I looked up and I could see light – the sky and the sun – so I decided it was time to go up. I was out of breath and I swallowed a lot of water on my way up. No sooner did I get up than another wave came and I went down again. And when I came up, no wave. Fred looked at me and he didn’t say a word. We had to swim home – no boards. There’s a point at the Outrigger that protrudes out aways. The con¬tour of the shoreline goes out and cuts right back in towards the Natatorium so it gives you an undertow. So when we lost our boards, we figured, don’t worry. We walked out where the Natatorium is and we walked all the way down in front of the Moana. We finally found our boards by the Halekulani near Fort DeRussy. We called those big waves that morning ‘Hawaiian Snow’ because the whole ocean was covered with foam, ‘Hawaiian Snow’ ….From Diamond Head to Barber’s Paint. We were lucky, I guess. At least we got back in one piece. I never did get to ride a wave like my brother Duke. I always wanted to but I never made it.
KP: Getting back to the Duke – can you recall the various boards he had over the years?
SK: Yes. I think Duke had around three surfboards, but he finally ended up with the longest. It was about 18 feet long. It was made out of redwood and the middle of it was hollow to give it buoyancy. With a balsa bottom. That board at the midships was about six or seven inches thick.
KP: Oh, boy, that’s heavy.
SK: Yes, and it tapered right down to the bow and then right back. He had a special place where he stored it – as you entered the old Club through the Hau Terrace, he’d put it on the rack there, a special rack for him. Now my brother Duke was very particular. You couldn’t touch anything of his – you couldn’t drive his car or use his things. But I wanted to ride his board, and so I said to myself, “OK, here goes. If he catches me he’ll lick me, but he’ll have to catch me in the water. So I picked up the board. Chick Daniels saw me and he looked at me but I said, “Chick, don’t you tell on me.” So I picked up that board – and it was really a big one – and I finally got that thing out in the water, and headed out towards the big surf. When I got out there, I said to the gang, “Look out, you guys, when I come in, because I won’t be able to stop this big board.” I called it the Oriskany because it was like a big carrier. The first time I caught a wave, I think I took half a stroke and I kicked with my feet and then when I stood up I had to stand way back so that bow wouldn’t go down. I stood way back to bring the nose up so I wouldn’t pearl dive. I took two waves and I almost got into the beach in front of the Royal Hawaiian. I was so happy. So I took the board back and put it away, and felt good because I actually rode that big surfboard. But when Duke came for lunch and a swim as he always did, he just looked at me once and said, “Kid, don’t ever do that again.” And I never touched his board again. That board is out at Bishop Museum today. It’s a different type of board.
KP: Was that what was called a cigar board?
SK: No, no. A cigar board was what the royalty used to make. They just carved a long board and rounded it, but the Duke had his made like a big boat. It was different and it was a good-looking board.
KP: Beautiful riding….
SK: Beautiful. Beautiful riding. I’d like to be able to catch the Blow Hole with that board. Anyway I think it’s a board that everyone should see. Take a look. I think it’s still at Bishop Museum.
KP: Well, I’ll make a point of going out there to look at it. You know, there’s another thing interesting that I remember about Duke. Do you remember his remedy for the common cold? Back in the old Club he used to get out on a sundeck somewhere where it was hot with a big pitcher of water and a glass and he’d drink glass after glass of water and with all, that hot sun and all the water he drank, he’d sweat it out.
SK: I don’t recall that Ken, but I think that was a pretty good idea. You know, another thing about Duke that was interesting. He was like all the great athletes, like Jack Dempsey, Jim Thorpe and Joe Louis. They all liked to sleep, sleep, sleep. Until it was time for their events, they’d just sleep. Before he’d go box, Joe Louis would sleep. Jack Dempsey the same. He’d sleep until it was time to go box. Brother Duke would sleep until time to swim or surf. One time, at the Olympics, they couldn’t find him. They kept asking, “Where is the Duke from the Sandwich Islands?” They looked all over in the hotel room, everywhere. Finally someone found him asleep under the bleachers. They woke him up – he got up, shook his head, got up to the starting line, got wet, boom, finished the race. How he loved to sleep. That was my brother Duke – he was really something.
KP: Let’s see, Sarge, if we can put this together going year to year. Now, 1912 was the first Olympics for Duke, right? And he won the gold medal for the 50, the 100…
SK: He was a sprinter, Ken. Yes, he competed in 1912 and every four years, except when World War I came along.
KP: So no 1916.
SK: Right. But he went back in ’20, ’24, ’28, and ’32. In L.A. in 1932 he was too old to compete in swimming so he played water polo. That was the end of his swimming career that year.
KP: He was still making first place in 1920, though, I think.
SK: Oh, sure, he was there. You must remember that was a hell of a long time from 1912 to 1932. There’s been no other athlete that has lasted that long. If he had turned professional in 1912 like some of the rest of them, he’d have been a millionaire. He would have earned millions – with Duke Kahanamoku bathing suits, and this and that. But he didn’t. He stayed as an amateur all that long, long span of time. Johnny Weismuller beat him in 1924 and in ’28, then he turned professional. He was through with competitive swimming. But Duke, he just stayed. He was happy. He didn’t care about the publicity. Many of brother Duke’s cups and medals are over in Waimea, Hawaii. Richard Smart set up a museum there to hold brother Duke’s trophies. The museum has his medals, and even the bed that he was born in. There are lots of pictures, showing him as a Shriner, and showing with Ripley, etc. I mean it’s quite a collection.
KP: Speaking of the Shrine. I was at a meeting recently, a Hawaii 21 meeting, and his widow brought some of his medals and they were going to be sent to the Hawaii Blue Lodge Museum. It was a nice meeting. Duke was very active in the Lodge. He went all the way up to the 32nd – the Scottish Rite. Say, Sarge – in about the mid-fifties, Ralph Edwards did a show with Duke Kahanamoku as the main person. Could you tell us a little about that?
SK: That was the Ralph Edwards show, “This Is Your Life, Duke Kahanamoku.” It was done in Hollywood if you recall in those days, this was a good series where famous people were interviewed. So Duke was in¬vited back as a guest. Also the family and friends that he knew. Somehow the film company found out who was who and what was what. So, my brother Louis, my two sisters, David, Sam, me and Nadine, Duke’s wife and Dad Center, we were all invited hark there. There were a few others too. When we got there, there was an audience already in the theatre and in the audience was John Ford, the great director, Tom O’Brien, the actor, George Harris and John Monte and a few others. There were quite a lot of people there and we didn’t know who they all were. Now we were backstage, but there were monitors there so we could see what was going on. Duke was out there on the stage sort of looking around and he couldn’t see too well because the lights were on him. Then Ralph Edwards came along and said, “What are you doing here?” Duke says, “I don’t know.. I was told to be here.” We’re sitting backstage and we start laughing because there was Duke looking around as if he wanted to get off the stage. So Ralph cut it short and said, “Well, Duke Kahanamoku, This Is Your Life.” Brother Duke kind of giggled a little and grinned. We watched from backstage and we said, “That was beautiful.” Now brother knows what it’s all about. So Ralph Edwards, he talks and talks about Duke and what he has done during his life. Then he calls each one by name to come out. He said, “You know, Duke, I think we have someone here you know. Your wife, Nadine.” So she goes out and he is surprised. “And next your sister, Bernice.” She’s the eldest. So Bernice went out and kissed him, and hugged him. “And your sister, Kapiolani.” And she went out. Then brother David. Then Sam, Louis, brother Bill and then me, the crazy kid brother. Now I’m so busy watching the monitor and everybody else go out that I forgot myself. So Ralph kept saying, “and Sargent, too,” And I’m still there watching the monitor. It didn’t dawn on me that he was calling me – it was really funny. Now, on the stage they had a catamaran, a double-hulled boat. And I finally headed out to the stage but I didn’t go out the way the rest of the family went. I went all the way around the other end. So brother Duke said from the corner of his mouth, “What’s the matter, kid, this is not your show.” Well, brother. Duke listened to all of this, and then Ralph Edwards said, “Duke Kahanamoku did something great.” And he told about how the fishing boat capsized and Duke had saved all those fishermen. Then he said, “I don’t think you’ve formally met these gentlemen, but here are two of the men you saved that day.” And these two men came out. Duke was so surprised. After all these years. And one of the men said “Well, Duke, we didn’t know how to find you.” And that kind of hit us…didn’t know where to find you. But that’s the way Duke was – he didn’t wait around to be thanked that day, so they couldn’t find him. They wanted to thank him in person. “Thank you very much. It’s been a long time, but thank you.” They couldn’t pronounce his last name properly – but Duke had his same old way, always smiling, like saying ‘ish kabibble – forget it – we’re together and you’re safe. That’s all that matters’. Duke went on like that.
To me, Ken, that was one of the greatest “This Is Your Life” programs. Ralph Edwards said so, too. And everybody who saw it thought so, too. It was sentimental especially when you haven’t seen somebody far a long time and there they are in front of you. But nobody cried. It was beautiful. We all kissed and hugged Duke but nobody cried. John Ford, the great director, said it was a great show. He said it was too bad we didn’t get a tape of it. Maybe they do have one somewhere. I think Duke got a copy, and they gave him a camera and a reel of the program. Maybe Nadine still has that reel. It was a beautiful night because the whole family honored our oldest brother, you know. Johnny Weismuller was on the program and Johnny said to Ralph Edwards, “This is the greatest man I’ve ever met and why? Because when we were going to compete with one another in the Olympics, Duke said to me, “Son, it doesn’t matter who wins. Let’s just keep that flag flying up there.” You could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. Johnny stopped there. Johnny was just like a brother to Duke. Too bad he’s gone now. But they did keep the flag flying. Nobody beat them.
KP: That was real team spirit.
SK: Yeah, that’s right. Duke loved this country and he wanted to keep that flag flying. After the program, all of us went to the Roosevelt banquet room and we had a ball there. Oh, we had a ball. The “This Is Your Life” program took care of all the transportation. They flew us up and back, Pan American, and they put us up at the Roosevelt in Hollywood. They put Duke up at the Town House in L.A. That’s quite a distance apart. We were told to stay put before the program, not to go out in the street and not to be seen. But, anyway, Sam and Louis and I sneaked out, and we went up the street to buy a present for our sister, Kapiolani. While we were window shopping a car stops and this guy gets out end runs up and hits brother Sam in the back, and he calls out, “Sam”. Well, Sam had met this guy in Lodi, California so Sam knew the guy. Sam said to him, “How did you recognize me?” And the guy said, “I recognized the Kahanamoku head.” I said, “Look, let’s get into this store and get what we’re supposed to get and get out of here.” I went into the store because I was always doing the buying – those rascals always got the young kid stuck with it. While I was shopping, this elderly gentleman waited on me. He looked at me and kept on looking at me. Then he said, “Are you the great swimmer?” I said, “No, I’m not.” “Well you sure look like him.” “No, sir, I’m not related at all.” I had to keep quiet because we couldn’t spoil the surprise of the program. When Louis came in, I said, “I got it, I got it. Now, let’s get the hell out of here and get back to the hotel, quick.” I had a sweater for sister, and we got out of there and got back to the hotel fast. When we told the family the story, they said for us to stay in the hotel after that. Louis went to L.A. first with Mr. Lang who used to be an assistant to brother Duke, when he was Sheriff. So they went on ahead of us. When Louis got to L.A. he got the rooms all straightened out and decided who was to sleep where. So Louis picked out the best room for himself – it was like a suite – and I was to bunk with him. They put Dad Center and brother Sam together, and brother Bill and brother David together. And my two sisters together. Brother Bill used to call brother David ‘Juke Box’ because all night long he talked like a juke box. We had a lot of fun before the program.
The day after the program, brother Duke said for us to have breakfast with him and we said, “Fine, we’d love to.” So we had to get from the Roosevelt Hotel to the Town House in L.A. We had a car loaned to us and I was to be the driver. It was a station wagon. Now there were six generals in the car and only one buck private, me. Everybody was telling me to go right when I wanted to go to the left. I was trying to get the directions to the hotel but David was saying, “Turn right.” I said, “OK, I’ll listen to you but you are making a big mistake. We should be going left.” You know where we landed, Ken? Right at the Pacific Ocean. They wouldn’t listen to me. Meantime, Duke is waiting and waiting at the hotel. He figured that we were lost. When we finally got there, he laughed and said, “Come on and let’s have breakfast.” So we all had breakfast. While we were at breakfast, I asked my elder brother, “Do you mean to tell me that last night is the first time you’ve seen those two guys since you saved them?” He said, “Yeah.” Now, how could they find these men. I just couldn’t understand how they found them after all those years. But they did find them and brother Duke was very happy to see them.
KP: Well, Duke was in the papers quite often in those days and maybe one of those guys saw his picture.
SK: Maybe so, but it was Ralph Edwards’ department that had to go and scrounge around and look for them, you know. That was a great program, Ken.
KR: Well, we here at the Outrigger owe you a vote of thanks for thinking back and telling us about your brother, Duke, because there’s not an awful lot written about him. The Duke himself was an extremely quiet man. You couldn’t get much out of him.
SK: That’s true. I could reminisce on and on about his life and what I know about him. But let me tell you one more interesting thing that I’ll never forget. It was the day we took brother Duke’s ashes out to sea, The beach was just packed with people, even the balconies of the hotels were packed. Kalakaua Avenue was jammed. You’ve never seen so many canoes in a flotilla before. Usually, when the boys go out to bury someone at sea, they go beyond the reef and the canoes make a circle around the main canoe which is carrying the ashes. And after the service is over, the boys break up the circle and race back to shore screaming and laughing. After the services for brother Duke were held on the promenade of the Royal Hawaiian we all got into the canoes assigned and paddled out. I was steersman for the lead canoe, the one carrying brother Duke’s ashes. We were followed by the Outrigger canoe steered by Tommy Arnott and all the other canoes. The canoes went out two abreast – and I planned to go out beyond the reef where we would form our circle. But this is the part, Ken that I will never forgot, however, we could not make that circle. It just seemed like we had hit a wall. All the canoes came to a dead stop in the water. As I looked to the right and looked to the left, the canoes were all lined up in a straight line. Brother Bill and I were amazed. Every man in the canoes was trying to paddle forward, but the canoes were not moving. I said to brother Bill, “I guess this is the spot where he wants to be.” Reverend Akaka said his prayers right there where we were, and that’s where brother Duke was laid to rest. And it was interesting, Ken, that when we turned to paddle to shore, there was no racing. no yelling and screaming. It was like everyone felt respect for the man we had left behind. Our canoe came back very slowly and we were the last ones to come ashore. Later on, I saw a picture, it was in the newspaper, I think, taken by a cameraman aboard one of the cabin cruisers that was there that day – and believe it or not, he had a picture of a shark’s fin cutting through the water near where brother Duke was dropped. Ken, Bill and I have often thought beck to that day. Duke was never afraid of the blue water. Could this shark be an aumakua for brother Duke – and be there to guide him “home”?
KP: That’s a very interesting story, Sarge.
SK: Yes, it’s a day I will never forget.
KP: Well, again I want to thank you, Sarge, for coming here to talk about your brother, Duke.
SK: I’d like to thank you, Ken, for asking me to come. I know it’s getting late and I’m getting hungry – so I’ll close by just saying ALOHA.
Excerpts from “DUKE OF HAWAII”
By Joe Brennan
And that wasn’t easy, either, for the Hawaiians never had a written language until the missionaries devised one for them in the 1800’s. Throughout the centuries they passed along the history of their race by word of mouth. They used meles (pronounced may-lays), or chants, to convey the record of historic events or happenings. So much history was lost entirely, and much was distorted or twisted in the transmission.
The men who tried their hand at dredging up Duke’s genealogy didn’t have much luck with his parents, for they were too modest to make any claims of alii lineage. They, like their son, were wholly content to be accepted as just plain poi-and-fish Polynesians. It was Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop, the last of the Kamehamehas, who was of great aid to the inquiring genealogists.
She didn’t hesitate to inform them that both Duke’s father and his mother, Julia Paakonia Lonokahikini Paoa Kahanamoku, were full descendants of the first Kamehameha. Mrs. Bishop documented this truth through care¬fully traced genealogical lines. She explained that tradi¬tions reliably passed down by word of mouth through the Paoa-Piikoi-Kahanamoku families made it clear that Duke Paoa Kahanarnoku’s paternal grandfather or grandmother -or both-were related to herself, and through her, to Kamehameha. I. She pointed out that the Kahanamoku ancestors lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, where their paternal grandparents, Kahanamoku and Kahoeha, were born.
Digging further into the young swimming sensation’s genealogy uncovered data that the name of his people was given to the Kahanamoku (Kanaiaupuni) clan by Kamehameha or one of his aliis, early in the nineteenth century, in commemoration of “the putting together of the Islands of Hawaii to form the kingdom.” This had been part of their reward for serving blood-relative King Kamehameha I so mightily during his reign.
Additional careful checks were made with the former lady-in-waiting to Queen Liliuokalani—the late Elizabeth Lahilahi Rogers Webb—and she explained that Grand¬mother Ka-ho-elna and Grandfather Kahanamoku of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku were kahus—retainers–of Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop. She made it clear that to be a kahu of an alii was to be a close intimate friend of the chiefess and, invariably, a blood-relative or kahu-alii. Mrs. Webb defined it further by saying, “Queen Liliuokalani often remarked, ‘When royalty is born, those who work for them—kahus—are born, too.’ ”
Little of this relationship was known to the haoles, so Mrs. Webb explained that Hawaiian youngsters had always been disciplined against discussing family ties and other family matters. And it was particularly true that no kahus, or retainers, would speak of their relationship to their chiefess. In short, this uncommunicative custom of the Hawaiians tended to keep a cloak of secrecy around family histories.
But one thing was certain: the seekers of information on Duke’s family tree were positive that there never had been a full-blooded Hawaiian of more kingly form and hospitality than the subject of their search. They wanted to satisfy readers’ curiosity about him, so they ransacked the records of the Archives Building and the library. They sought out old kamaaina and Hawaiian families, and combed their minds and records for data on the Kahanamoku family.
One of the best sources of authentic information on Duke and his ancestry was his first cousin, Maria Kanehaikana Piikoi. “Auntie” Maria, she was called by those who knew and loved her best. She generously filled in the newsmen on Duke’s genealogy. Her version of the family history paralleled that of another helpful lady informant-the late Emma Ahuena Taylor. The latter lady explained that Duke’s ancestors through his mother, Julia Paakonia Lonokahikini Paoa, contributed much to her son’s alii ancestry.
It was pointed out that one of Duke’s great-grandfathers (on the maternal side) was Paoa Hoolae of the Big Island of Hawaii. The wife’s name was Hiikaalani, and their son Paoa–Duke’s grandfather—assumed the family name of Paoa in lieu of Hoolae. Paoa’s wife (Duke’s grandmother) was named Mele Uilama. It explained how Duke got his middle name. It also explained how the name Paoa (not Hoolae) appears in the Great Mahele (Division) of 1848 for ownership of acreage in Kalia of Waikiki.
Duke’s cousin Maria traced through the Paoa family and showed that he is a descendant of Kinau (Premier, kuhina nui or regent) of the Kamehameha blood. Too, she pointed out that Duke’s mother, Ka-ho-eha, was the granddaughter of Makue and Halapu (Duke’s father’s middle name), who were descended from the ancient Alapainui line. The Alapai family strain was kept alive as a middle name for Duke’s brother, Samuel. All these family and ancestral facts were painstakingly dug up and presented to the public–Duke Kahanamoku’s enchanted public—and it made, for them, colorful, romantic reading.
When word was widely disseminated that Duke was definitely a full-blooded Polynesian of Hawaii with royal blood coursing through his veins, people became even more enthralled with the young man. A world-renowned athlete—scintillating, spectacular—and with kingly blood! That was all the public needed to know; their enthusiasm knew no bounds. Thenceforth the very sight of his powerful, symmetrical body would remind everyone that the blood of brave ancestors flowed there. Those ancient men had sailed away from the southeast Mainland of Asia and had become masters of the sea. They were peerless water craftsmen in every sense–canoers, surfers, divers, swimmers.
Duke had suddenly become a symbol of all that was good and fine in Hawaii and Hawaiians. He got the message through the adulation paid him wherever he went. And now he knew he would have to live up to the image which people were holding close to their hearts and minds.
Their image of him was a challenge indeed. He was now supposed to be a fully matured man with no juvenile tendencies, no erratic behavior, and with one big foot in the door of success. In short, the beachboy had been replaced by the man. Duke told himself he would try to live up to the image, bolster it, enlarge upon it.
Yet, in a moment of sheer love for swimming, he did a thing that almost wrecked the very image he wanted to preserve. At the end of the continental barnstorming, he was aboard the old slow-moving steamer New York, en route from Europe to America. In mid-Atlantic the big vessel developed engine trouble and was momentarily stalled in a choppy sea. The ship was not equipped with a swimming pool; consequently, Duke had not had a taste of swimming in quite some time. His thirst for it had become a monstrous thing. So, while the steamer was stalled during mechanical repairs, he donned his bathing suit and, to the astonishment of the passengers and crew alike, dove over the side.
Not until Duke had swum well away from the vast hull did he have any idea of how fast the vessel was drifting away from him. In addition to that, the instant he was actually in the water, he got a true appreciation of how choppy the sea really was. It was a far cry from the flat and calm water he was in the habit of swimming in.
The first faint darts of worry began to pierce him. He turned toward the ship and made no progress. The yells of delight from passengers lining the rails now turned into . . .