Revised January 2020
WAKE ISLAND PHOTOS
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uring parts of 4 months in 1975, the obscure island of Wake became a temporary residence and processing center for tens of thousands of Vietnamese citizens fleeing their country at the end of that tragic war. These pictures, in part, offer testimony to that time. I was a weatherman on that island, possessing cameras and the beginning of a photographic education from the Art Center College of Design, in Los Angeles. Though a flood in my basement in 1979 destroyed nearly all the color slides and negatives from that time, I luckily had the black and white negatives upstairs at the time for the purpose of classifying and cataloguing, and they were spared.
ABOUT WAKE ISLAND
ake is located at 19 degrees, 17 minutes north latitude, and 166 degrees, 39 minutes east longitude in the Pacific Ocean. It consists of three separate islands: Wake, the center one, Wilkes, the westernmost, and Peale, the northernmost. Its land mass is about 2.5 square miles, spread out along a nearly 15 mile coastline. Other than palm trees, Wake has little vegetation and nearly no topsoil.
Its possession since 1945 by the United States has been undisputed in international law, though there is a movement in Hawaii to retake what is called by some "Enenkio" to become a member of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The closest land to Wake is the Marshall Island of Bikini, 500 nautical miles to the south. Prior to World War II, Wake's status was a matter of controversy, and Japan landed there often in the 19th Century to kill, and eventually extinguish, an indigenous bird, the rail, for its decorative feathers. Stories of the stench of rotting rail corpses in the sun reached the U.S., and the government cited the still-obscure Guano Act of 1856 to seize the island in about 1898. It was most prominently used in the 1930s as a landing site for the Pan American World Airways Clippers, which flew between North America and Asia, with frequent fueling and crew change stops. Wake was one of the most important of these, and remnants of the ramp and other elements used by Pan Am remain on the Peale Island beach fronting the lagoon. On December 8, 1941, Imperial Japanese military forces attacked Wake as a part of its strategy best known for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The American forces resisted fiercely and with great heroism, but Japan eventually took the island on December 24, holding it until September 4, 1945, when they surrendered it to American authorities. Its possession by Japan had no significance on the outcome of the war.
Wake's lagoon measures 13 feet at its deepest point, though most depths are in the six-eight foot range. The innermost recesses of the lagoon, south of Flipper Point, could be most charitably described as a brackish marsh. The entire island is protected by a coral reef that secures the calmness of the lagoon's surface. Thanks to incessant easterly Trade Winds, the highest temperature ever recorded on Wake was 91, and it reaches that nearly every summer. The lowest temperature ever recorded was 64. The ocean depth surrounding Wake is profound. Within just a couple hundred feet of the reef, depths are measured in thousands of feet.
IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!
y name is Dennis Lowden. I live with my wife, the former Fengzhu Song (often called Sufei) of Beijing, China. We first became acquainted in August, 2012, both of us having enrolled in eharmony (dot com) earlier in the year. We spent the last four months of 2012 living together in my house in Independence before her tourist visa expired at the end of the year. By that time we knew we had a good relationship and decided to apply for a permanent visa for her so we could marry and live here. After a lot of delay on the part of the U.S. government, she was finally granted the visa and we married in September of 2014. She is an automotive journalist and author for the China Automotive News, in Beijing, and is currently working on a book for her publisher concerning one element of the history of the Chinese automotive industry. My own picaresque life can be pieced together, at least partially, from journals I kept from 1995-2005 and which can be viewed on this site under the link “Books,” on the left. They include the book I wrote concerning my trips to China beginning in 2003, Love is in the air, along with some other Pollutants. Other volumes include The Nail That Sticks Out, my two years teaching in Japan (1995-97), and Nodding Off in the Unemployment Line, the experience of being un- and under-employed in the three years following my return from Japan, 1997-2000. We live in Independence, Missouri, and I have recently retired from teaching Philosophy at the Blue River Campus of MCC -- the Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City. I formerly taught meteorology for the National Weather Service Training Center, in Kansas City, and founded and published the now defunct wine newsletter, Hair of the Dog. Two one-act plays I wrote in the early and mid-1990s, The Man in the Glider, and The Tree, were given staged productions in the 1996 Dramafest, sponsored by Penn Valley Community College, in Kansas City.
ll the photographs on this site were taken between 1974 and 1982, using predominantly Nikon cameras and lenses. In recent years, Nikon has aggressively priced themselves out of my league. Their current "professional" SLR costs 20 times what the Pentax SLR I bought in Japan 10 years ago did. The lenses I used were: 20 mm f:4 Auto-Nikkor, 24 mm f:2.8 Auto-Nikkor, 35 mm f:2 Auto-Nikkor, 50 mm f:1.4 Auto-Nikkor, 55 mm f:3.5 Micro-Nikkor, 85 mm f:1.8 Auto-Nikkor, 105 mm f: 2.5 Auto-Nikkor, 200 mm f:4 Auto-Nikkor, and 500 mm f:8 Reflex-Nikkor. I alternated between 2 Nikon bodies: a Nikkormat EL and an F2S. Other than Nikon equipment, a few rolls were shot using the spiffy Rollei 35 pocket camera with a collapsible f:3.5 lens. I'd still be using it happily had I not dropped it in Swan Creek, in southern Missouri, while canoeing in the summer of 1979.
The Wake Island black and white pictures were shot on Ilford HP4 (ASA 400) film, bulk-loaded from 100 foot rolls, Kodak Tri-X (ASA 400) in 20 or 36 exposure rolls, and an occasional roll of Agfa or Ansco film that I found lying around. Within a few hours of shooting them, I processed the rolls in a photo darkroom on Wake at the rear of the bar known as the Drifter's Reef. Even cold water on Wake is fairly warm and the darkroom had no refrigeration facilities, so the film was developed at about 78-80 degrees F in Kodak Microdol-X developer, diluted 1:3. The bar never ran out of ice for scotch on the rocks, but none of those rocks could dare be used to cool down photographic processes.
In the process of scanning these pictures, mainly the ones from Wake Island, I have noticed that some of the film emulsion has deteriorated alarmingly. The variety in quality of the pictures you see here is mainly the result of film degradation. In general, it seems as if the Ilford film I used has done poorest, with Kodak's Tri-X holding up much better. All the negatives were processed in the same manner and stored under the same conditions, so any observed variation consistent across film type is most likely the quality of the original film stock. Based in these sad results, I would have great difficulty recommending Ilford products to anyone, nor would I recommend my manner of storage, which consisted, for the first ten years, of benign neglect. None of the film, after processing, has ever been stored in a temperature and/or humidity controlled environment.
All the pictures on this site, except as noted, were scanned on Nikon Cool Scan film scanner, set to achieve an output definition of 300 dpi, with an output size of approximately 8×10 inches. Though both scanners I used had the incredible ICE and ICE Cubed technology, both developed by Applied Science Fiction, that technology does not work on silver halide based black and white film, but performs wonders on most color film, as well as the newer black and white film which is based on three dye layers. It is truly extraordinary, especially for older film that has not received optimum care over the years. The jazz photos were treated to ICE technology to eliminate scratches and physical imperfections.
Roll 400-32 was not shot on Wake Island, but at the refugee camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Because of the sudden death of my father, in June 1975, I left Wake Island to attend the funeral and on the way back, stopped at Ft. Chaffee for a surprise visit with the Hoangs, who had been sent there after leaving Wake.
Except for the 1978 shots of Dexter Gordon, Custom Color Corporation, of Kansas City, Missouri, processed all the Kansas City Jazz photographs.
part of the reason for this Web site is for it to act as a continuation of the process of writing a book about my Wake Island experiences. The book will encompass both years, though the 1975 events will take up most of the pages. If, through this site, I can locate any of you who were on the island and whom I photographed, I would love for us to meet again and trade memories. I also encourage you to write down what you remember of your experiences throughout your lives, both in Vietnam and America. My friend Kiemhue, who, with her husband and sister, came through Wake in June and July of 1975, has done that for her daughters and it will provide an important link between her past and their future.
If the CEO of, say, Harper/Collins happens to be surfing the Web in his abundant leisure time, keeping tabs on the state of expression in the English language, I feel I must note that I already have written three books of over 100,000 words each in urgent need of publishing. The first, entitled The Nail That Sticks Out, chronicles my year-and-a-half as a visiting professor at Shoin Women's University, in Kobe, Japan. Sorry, no sex in that one. My wife was with me. Read between the lines there, pal. The most recent is a tale of the frustrated search for love and romance in China via Internet contacts. It's called Love is in the Air, Along with Some Other Pollutants. It is awash in bodily fluids as the previous book is barren of them. After returning to the U.S. and abject unemployment in 1997, I began writing Nodding Off in the Unemployment Line. I completed the book in 2000, simultaneous with my finding full-time employment. Listen to what has been said about it: It sings! It dances! It crawls on its belly like a reptile! And that's just what my mother said. Although she is more accustomed to saying that I, consistent with all other males, crawl on my belly like a reptile.
lease feel free to download any image on this site, remembering that you are restricted from using it for any other than personal uses. That means you can send it to friends and family as e-mail attachments, print it out for a family album, or submit it to a family website. I will be overjoyed if you do these things. But none of these images or words truly belongs to you. I am pleased to lend them to you for your personal pleasure, but they must not make their way into any commercial venture without my permission. And permission requires compensation. And failure to provide compensation implies lawyers and tactical nuclear weapons. If you were on Wake Island you know that I gave you copies of these pictures the day after I took them. I made free prints and distributed them at the time because I knew they might be meaningful to you, personally, in the future. Until this time, I have never been paid a cent for the use of any of these pictures, but that policy ends with the institution of this site. Since, without a greater influx of funds into my coffers I am likely to end my life living under a bridge, I would appreciate your understanding and respecting my need for momentary solvency.
ecause of the advances in Internet technology and server-user interface permeation, I am happy to announce that merely accessing this site has been known to have miraculous effects on certain diseases. In particular, allowing the affected member to operate the mouse, if only for a few nanoseconds, will alleviate the lifelong heartbreak of herpes simplex, inexplicable hickeys, and will automatically erase all porno sites from your browser's bookmarks as well as munching on those cookies in your Temporary Internet Files. But that's not all. It has been especially effective on the maladies known as tennis elbow, Schumann's Hand, water on the knee, Oprah's Butt, tin ear, fickle finger, pork shoulder, and chicken scratchings. Do you think your pets are left out? Not for a moment. Merely permitting kitty to play upon the keyboard while visiting this site will remove all traces of feline distemper as well as the often undiagnosed but potentially deadly Cat Attitude. Poor Rex. I'm sure he needs help, too. Bring that noble doggie over to the keyboard and in a moment you will notice his drooling has stopped, his odor markedly more attractive, and he will have rid himself permanently of that lamentable habit of flatulence when the pastor visits. Many of you, like my pal Bill, keep tropical fish. Either bring the screen close to their tank, or fetch them, briefly, in a transparent bowl, and bring them to the screen. Their appetites will return remarkably, though I must confess that a visit to sushi.com accomplishes the same task more quickly. What other site can make these claims?
EXHIBITIONS AND PRINTS
hanks to the generosity and photographic skills of Luke LeTourneau, 50 custom prints from this site now exist, matted and framed for exhibition. Beginning in the fall of 2004, Luke began making beautiful 13.5 X 20 inch enlargements of frames I selected both for their artistic merit and their ability to present a representative overview of life in the camp. I've kept six or seven of my personal favorites to hang on the walls of our living room. A couple I've sold to friends. And four I've donated to local charity auctions. After more than 25 years of inactivity, my own printmaking chops have totally deteriorated, so I was fortunate to have found someone as talented and personable as Luke to take care of this project.
The first exhibition was held Wednesday evening, April 27, 2005, in the Campus Center of the campus of MCC Blue River. The evening was planned to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of The War. The program included members of the Vietnamese-American Community of Kansas City telling their story of relocation and transition, as well as reading poetry reflecting that experience. The pictures hung on the walls at Blue River through June 17, 2005.
The second exhibition, which included readings of Vietnamese poetry and extended narration by me was concerning the photos, held at The Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri on Sunday afternoon, July 10, 2005 at 4:00 P.M. Only about 20 pictures were shown at The Writers Place, and they remained on its walls through September.
In addition, this Web site was on display at the Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, through a dedicated computer through August 7 of 2005, in conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibition entitled: Vietnam: Journey of the Heart.
In August 2006, Chunying and I motored up to Chicago for a post-honeymoon and to visit the National Vietnam Veteran's Art Museum and donated two prints to them. While I had hoped to sell a few more prints through the 2005 exhibitions to interested parties, that aim was never realized. Instead, I've decided to donate all the remaining prints, other than the ones I have kept for personal reasons, to selected museums and non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving the history and artifacts of the era of the Vietnam War. The two I currently favor are the National Vietnam Veteran's Art Museum in Chicago, mentioned above, and The Vietnam Project housed at the Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The museum in Chicago is preparing an exhibition for traveling, tentatively called "The Children of War" The museum's director, Jerry Kykisz, believes that several of the framed prints from this site will be timely additions to his exhibition. I expect to complete the donation to that museum by the end of 2007.
In addition to the remaining prints not earmarked for Chicago, I would also like to donate all the original negatives from this site to the archives of The Vietnam Project. However, communication with them has been difficult and the process of appraising the negatives has also bogged down. Perhaps by the next site revision, I can provide news of their final disposition...
rom 1973-1975, I lived on Wake Island, a territory in the Pacific completely owned by the United States. Wake consists of 3 islands, roughly in a wishbone shape, forming the rim of an extinct volcano, with an opening pointing to the northwest. Visit www.wakeisland.ws for some stunning aerial photographs of the island. The island has never had an indigenous human population, though thousands of sea-going birds migrate through, nest there and raise their young. In its heyday, from the mid-1930s to mid-1960s, Wake supported as many as 5000 people, providing education, medical care, and entertainment for its residents. When it became possible for long-distance aircraft to fly nonstop from Hawaii, and eventually the mainland of the U.S., to destinations in Asia, Wake's importance decreased precipitously. When I arrived, in September 1973, there were 250 people employed or stationed there. That number was reduced to about 175 the following year when funds for the island's support were cut back. At that time, the island was supervised by the U.S. Air Force.
I was employed as a weather observer by the National Weather Service, which maintained a meteorological observatory on the island. Like many other island residents, I also took on some volunteer assignments, including that of editor of the weekly island paper, The Wake Observer, and hosting evening programs on the island's AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Services) AM station, KEAD.
Prior to April 26, 1975, life on Wake Island was one of tropical boredom. No women were permitted on the island unless they had a job, which meant the island contained a lot of frustrated males. There were, at the most, three unmarried women living on the island (out of 175-250 people, let us remember) at any one time, and no children were permitted under any circumstances. The most common activities were going to the outdoor movies and drinking, sailing on the lagoon and drinking, going to the bowling alley and drinking, visiting the American Legion hall and drinking, sitting outside under palm trees in the fading light of evening and drinking. Do you notice a pattern emerging? The per capita, per diem consumption of alcohol on the island would rival that associated with some St Patrick's Day parades. We drank to forget; we drank to remember what we were forgetting; we drank to our wives; we drank to our sweethearts; we drank to each other's wives and sweethearts; we drank to the contusions and abrasions that resulted from the latter activity; we drank to get to sleep at night; we drank to quell the nightmares our drinking brought on; we drank because wine was less than $5 a gallon but the Air Force wouldn't bring fresh milk onto the island. In our private hells that emerged once everyone else had staggered off to their rooms, we were a forlorn and morose lot, living there because the money was good and the world was at bay.
On April 26, 1975, all that changed dramatically. Though there was no TV on the island at the time and with only the sanitized AFRTS broadcasts to substitute for news, we were aware that the war in Vietnam was winding down and Americans were evacuating. We also became aware that a lot of Vietnamese citizens who had been our allies during the war were also leaving, rather than face the fate that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers might have for them. The original plan was for all Vietnamese to go first to Subic Bay, in the Philippines, and then to a processing center on Guam. Apparently, the U.S. was unprepared for the huge numbers of people who were leaving to come to America, and Wake Island was suddenly useful again as an overflow center. The boarded-up homes and buildings were opened, mobile medical and processing people were flown in to set up field hospitals, and, on April 26, the first planeload of evacuees arrived in the late afternoon. Within a week or so, the population of the island bulged to nearly 8000. Water had to be shipped in (the only normal supply of fresh water on the island is rain water, captured in a catch basin and stored in tanks for the summer dry season), as well as raw ingredients for meals, clothing, plus personal items neglected in the dash to freedom.
For me, the visitors meant two things: women and children. In particular, I believe a community without children is warped, without a sense of innocence, possibility, or optimism. It reminds me of the scene in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is standing guard at night outside the jail in expectation of a white lynch mob from town. They arrive, predictably, and at the height of tension, Finch's children, who had been secretly hiding in the bushes and watching it all, came out and broke the menace and resolve of the mob with their touching directness. If only the world were like that. However, there's something of a lesson in that scene, I believe, and it applied to Wake Island only in a less extreme version. I felt more human around children, and after I shot the first few obligatory rolls of cute girls lying at the beach, I concentrated mainly on children. It may have been a measure of how much I missed my own two children, Kim and Jake, as they stayed in Oklahoma with their mother after our divorce in Los Angeles.To those of you from Vietnam who came through Wake Island: Thank you.
I'm sorry that you have no way of knowing how much you touched my life and my heart. Your courage, vulnerability, and determination remain as constant memories with me. I can hardly remember some of you in these pictures, as I am sure the bearded, curly-headed man behind the camera is also a fading question mark. But some of you are as clear in my mind and my memory as yesterday's sunset. I long to hear from you, long to hear of you, long to know that life in this country has been good to you, long to see pictures of your children and grandchildren, long to grow old with you as my dearest friends. But, sadly, we've lost touch.
So this site is my love letter to you. In it, I am asking you please to come back. I'm asking you to look at us again as we were more than 25 years ago, and then bridge that gap with a letter, or an e-mail. I've lived a full and interesting life since we met, but not as full and interesting as it could have been with you in it. Perhaps I could have added something to yours, as well. The door is unlocked, the light is on, the teapot is ready to boil. All that's missing is you.
KANSAS CITY JAZZ
here were 2 great jazz periods in the history of Kansas City. The first one everybody knows about. It began in the 1920s and continued through the next 25-30 years. It gave the world Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Count Basie. To have lived in Kansas City at that time, going to clubs around 18th and Vine, hearing the great sounds pour out into the street every night, to just be alive with (pardon me, Oscar Hammerstein) the sound of music; that must have been a wonderful era in which to be a jazz lover. But when I moved to Kansas City in June of 1978, I landed in a city that was reaching the end of its second great jazz period. While the first one was fundamentally creative, centered around the inventive souls who made jazz in this city, the second centered around the listener, the lover, the heart that beats in time with those great inventive souls. These pictures come from that second, now-dead, era.
The Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation Department used to sponsor free concerts each summer in the various parks owned by the city. The month after I arrived, still living in a shabby Holiday Inn by the Downtown Airport, I read that Dexter Gordon was playing a free concert in a park in south Kansas City. The spelling was right, so it had to be the same, recently returned from exile Dexter Gordon. It was, and through that concert I began to see what a remarkable city I had unwittingly adopted as my own. Crowds were racially mixed, enthusiastic, and congenial. It was as if we all were brought together by a power higher than any one of us or our private agendas, and for the afternoon we would surrender ourselves to that power: the endorphins of music.
Within a few years, the music budget of Parks and Recreation was slashed, and the great sounds that came from our parks each summer had changed. But those last few years were heavenly. My son Jake and I would go to nearly every concert, and heard such great players as Gary Burton and Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Toshiko Akiyoshi and her big band, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Nat Adderley, Big Joe Turner, the wonderful Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander, the Heath Brothers (at least three of them!), and the crossover group, Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Naturally, many local greats were represented in other free concerts, such as Jay McShann, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Pete Eye, Milt Abel, among others.
Sadly, that era is dead. Not because its participants have moved on, but dead because a political movement hijacked the country in the early 1980s claiming that it was not the place of government to provide for the bodies and souls of its citizens. That movement remains so strong today that many people have grown up thinking that it is an eternal verity, without serious rational rival. With these pictures, I want to pay tribute both to the musicians who played in Kansas City during that time and the idea, still alive somewhere, that a community is better off, and its citizens are better off, when our municipal institutions enrich our lives, not merely butt out.
here are a lot of people who deserve a kind word said about them. Socrates is one, but he had nothing to do with this site. It was put together from the initial dribs and drabs, as well as the final avalanche of material provided him, by my former colleague and great guy, Kevin Gunn. He's not a former great guy, however, he's a current one. He not only did a lot of work for a pittance, he gave me tons of very useful advice and tolerated my own computer-ignorant meddling and suggestions with more equanimity than they deserved. If the site is easy to navigate, comfortable on the eyes, and an enjoyable experience, thank Kevin. If it's none of the above, blame me for saddling him with a lot of impossible demands and incompatible expectations.
Gloria Vando Hickok, pal, poet, publisher of Helicon Nine, co-founder of The Writer's Place in Kansas City, began hearing my Wake Island stories 15 years ago and has always insisted I write a book about them. Thanks to her faith in me and her persistence, I'm heading in that direction with this Web site.
The most bizarre and improbable story leading to this site concerns Clinton Blount. In February of 2001, a strange man left both voicemail and e-mail messages for me at the college. I returned them and found he is an anthropologist working for Albion Environmental, in Santa Cruz, California. We had never met, but he had seen a story about me and my Wake Island pictures in a newspaper in Laredo, Texas. Needless to say, I have never been to Laredo, Texas, all the DNA evidence and scurrilous writings on bathroom walls to the contrary. But on April 30, 2000, the Kansas City Star had run a full-page spread commemorating the 25th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam, and a separate story about these pictures ran well below the fold. That story must have made the Knight-Ridder wire circuit and ended up in Laredo, as well as other places perhaps. Albion had been contracted by the Air Force to write a history of Wake Island post-1945, and the 1975 refugee operation was a blank spot he was trying to fill. After a few phone conversations, he flew out to Kansas City during my Spring Break and we had two full days of an interview. A great deal of my desire to recollect that year in my life came from talking with Clinton and realizing there was something there I experienced that needed to be saved. He is also the person who sicced the Ford Library on me, trying, as they do, to grub freebees for the National Archives. After years of thinking this interview was lost, I discovered it in a long-neglected hard drive. Other than making a few updates in the text, signified by [brackets], I have left it verbatim. I am grateful that Albion Environmental has given permission for its posting on this site. It can be found by following the link on the left side of this page, "Blount (blunt) Interview.
I may have been the only person ever to get Chris Woelk to don a tuxedo of his own free will. It was at my wedding, in 1984, where he was best man. He's been something like best buddy since then, and when I mentioned to him that I needed to make copies of several hundred, if not thousand, black and white negatives this spring, he invited me out to the farm and let me look into the future. Chris is a Vietnam vet who has put together a Web site (www.vietnamsoldier.com) for his outfit, the 25th Artillery Division, and has stories more harrowing than ones of being chased by marauding gangs of hermit crabs at sunset by the lagoon at Wake Island. He also has a Nikon Cool Scan 2900 dpi scanner and an Epson printer, and what he was able to do with them amazed me. We scanned the first 200 negatives that weekend and they are on this site. And it only cost me a stack of CD-ROMs, a meal I prepared in a strange kitchen, and a bottle of 1982 Chateau Gruaud-Larose, most of which I drank, anyway. Sadly, Chris died suddenly in the summer of 2018. It would be impossible to do justice to how much he meant to me personally as well as the site. This site literally would not exist without his help and encouragement. But, beyond all that, he is missed by everyone who ever crossed paths with him. He had no match for a combination of intelligence, persistence, good cheer, and generosity of heart. He was a dear, and is a dearly missed, friend.
About the same time in the summer of 2001 that I began to get serious about creating this site, I received an e-mail from Kiem-Lieu Le. We had never met, to my knowledge, but she had seen a Wake Island posting I had left at another Web site and decided to contact me. In the months since then, our correspondence has been the highlight of every day. While she is a charming and sensitive person, it dawned on me that she was the substitute for all those people I knew on Wake Island that I'm hoping this site will reach. My response to her has been a practice run for the rest of you. Which doesn't mean that I don't appreciate her for her own individuality and uniqueness; after all, because of her I now have another gray hair!
When I finally write the book about these two years, Julian Catalano will receive more thanks than he deserves; it's only fair that he receives less than he deserves in this venue. Julian had been a pal/rival during college in Los Angeles, and when I exiled myself to Wake Island (as he saw it) we began a correspondence. After my first letter, he wrote back, pained and insulted that he could not read my sloppy penmanship. Though Julian's hand would never be mistaken for a medieval manuscript, we decided to exchange audio cassettes instead. Over the next ten years, I sent him 48 cassettes and he sent me about half that number. Amazingly enough, we have remained in contact and have saved the tapes. So, late this spring, we had a long-distance tape exchange and I was able to listen to myself as I was 26 years ago. No matter the embarrassment I feel, I am grateful for Julian's willingness both to save them (he figured I would eventually snap, become an ax murderer, and he could sell them to the tabloids for Big Bucks) and to trade them for his, clearly inferior, ones.
If I was able to remain sane at all on Wake Island, a debatable proposition at best, it was due primarily to my best friend there, and maybe anywhere, Greg Manuel. Greg was a fellow weatherman and questioner of the world. Most of all, we both questioned why the hell we had been so misfortunate as to land on The Rock. One of the few fortunate facts about my stay there was Greg's company and quick eye for B.S. Not quick enough to spot mine, of course, but that's Major League material. Greg was on Wake when I got there, and was still there when I left, but he didn't last much more than another year there. You'll see him in roll #400-27.
Kathleen Henrickson, my colleague at Blue River Community College, was extremely helpful and patient with the disruption to her life my scanning caused. Our school scanner is hooked up to a computer in her office and I invaded that sanctuary regularly in the summer of 2001 without even a complaint. Part of her kind acquiescence may have had to do with the justifiable guilt she felt for having attached the scanner (a Nikon, lest we forget) to some sort of barbaric Macintosh pseudo-computer. It's like trying to work out Fermat's Last Theorem on an abacus. Her knowledge of the Mac was quite useful and she was unstinting in her sharing of it.
I want to mention the Hoang family. I haven't seen them since 1976, in Evansville, Indiana, but they are more important to me than any people other than my own family. They take up an obscene number of frames in my Wake Island photography, and I don't begrudge a one of them. For the month they were on Wake, my life revolved them, was kept afloat by their love and good spirits. Tam, Hanh, Dung, Ti, Xuan Mai: every Christmas I imagine you under my tree. It would make me believe in Santa Claus again.
I wrote that preceding paragraph in the summer of 2001. But in October of 2002, during the week when my wife and I were splitting up and I was moving out, I received an email from Derek (originally Du~ng) Hoang, brother and cousin to those names mentioned above. He had discovered this site and quickly called his sisters and brother. In one wonderful, tearful, overwhelming week, I heard from nearly all of them. Pictures and kind words flowed back and forth across the aether. In a week destined for division and separation, I suddenly became strangely whole again.
One of the KC Jazz photos shows Eddie Baker playing the piano in 1981. At the time, I was single and unaware he was the uncle of Mata Baker, the woman who would become my second wife in 1984, and my second ex-wife in 2003. However, I already knew him by inference, since earlier I had enrolled my reluctant son in the Charlie Parker Memorial Academy, which Eddie had founded and was running. Later in his brief time as a student there, Jake brought home his music theory book and said that "some guy" had come into class that Saturday and talked about music and other "stuff." I looked at his book. It was signed by Dizzy Gillespie. Any man that introduces my son to Diz is a friend for life. Sadly, his life ended during Christmas week, 2001. Eddie Baker: pianist, bandleader, educator, uncle and father, also helped me identify some of the musicians that appear on the Kansas City Jazz pages. Thanks many times over. We miss you!
There is no good impulse in my life that did not originate with the inspiration and example of my father, W. Gordon Lowden. He is truly the greatest man I have ever known.