Ha! you thought there was none on Molokai, right, ever since the Molokai Drive Inn became defunct. Well, how wrong you would be! Nobody knows how this started, but start it did about the time LBJ's last term was coming to an end and various groups on Oahu with access to parachutes decided to make a mass jump onto the island of Molokai and spend the weekend. Word quickly spread and at dawn all of these various and uncoordinated groups were taking off from Hickam, Barber's Point, Kaneohe, Honolulu International... We did not realize it, but the natives of The Friendly Isle, seeing Army, Navy, USAF, USMC and civilian parachutes descending upon them must have thought war of some sort had been declared. Many were really freaking out. Somebody shot a deer and we were roasting it as well as helping ourselves to a gunnysack of pineapples some thoughtful soul had removed from the clutches of the Dole Pineapple Company. Many cases of beer also somehow arrived. "Stolen water is sweet, food eaten in secret is delicious" so Solomon tells us through the millennia.
Well, the beer had not been stolen, but the pineapples and deer certainly were. The police, patient up to this point, realized that The Molokai Invasion was there to stay over Sunday, with a lot more jumps to come. The Police Chief (probably the entire force) drove up in a fit of rage and ordered us off "his" island by dawn on Sunday. Here was one man, confronting forty or fifty young males, many of them armed, more than a few of whom were drunken Marines, bothering nobody, and telling them to get the h--- out. Talk about guts. We cogitated: "So what is he gonna do?" Well, of course, nothing. What could he do? Sunday night we left, policing up the area and leaving it better than it had been before. Also minus about twenty thousand puncture weeds, sticking to my chute alone. No telling how many millions of those cursed things took root on Oahu in the next weeks each time somebody's ripcord was pulled.
In my young and carefree days I occasionally would fly tourists into the Kalaupapa Leper Colony, either directly or into the airport at Kaunakakai, depending what sort of trip they wanted. If the latter, we had to ride mules down the 2000 foot cliff into the colony itself. Boyd Bond, one of my Algebra students at Iolani, was the chief mule-skinner. It was Boyd who presented our math room with the ultimate Christmas decoration. It was a stump of wood, with a hole bored to accept a small branch, with a 30-'06 attached to a leafless smaller branch. "So what is this?" I said. "It's a cartridge in a bare tree!" he said. So every Christmas season, to get into the spirit of things, I displayed this token of love and appreciation from Boyd.
To make an interminable story simply long, my tourists, after an hour plus or so riding mules down the steepest trail in the world, would be getting hungry. I would introduce them to one of the lepers, our tour guide in the colony. He was so outgoing and affable! He always was! Happy to see us! All gnarled and humped over, with missing tips of digits and ears! He had a wicked sense of humor too. He would present my clients with the most gorgeous platter of sandwiches! Really good ones...French sourdough bread, exotic cheeses and cold cuts..."We just made these this morning, especially for you!" Well, you never saw such backtracking and hemming and hawing in your life! "Well, er, thank you so much but I'm really not hungry just now...etc etc." After a minute or so of this I would tell them that they had been made at a bakery on Maui for them just that morning and no leper had touched them. They were all tightly wrapped in cellophane. Hey, lepers have to have their fun, too!
I used to fly over to Kalaupapa with my friend Jim to deliver their newspapers. Jim was a good-old-boy from rural Georgia and had pulled an old Aeronca Defender out from a cane field. It had been shot down by the Japanese on December 7. It was completely illegal to fly with only one good magneto, no fuel gauge and no altimeter. Jim also had not gotten the wings back on right and it would flip over on its back in tight left turns. I discovered this myself, trying to get a good view of a whale. "Hey Jim! Your plane flipped me upside down in a left turn!" "Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about that." Jim would embarrass even me when he would beg alms from the lepers. It now hangs from the ceiling at the Pearl Harbor Museum on Ford Island.
There are no really, really old lepers anymore. The sulfa drugs they take to help arrest the disease and ease the pain and "dry up" their affliction will also cause kidney failure eventually. But that is so much better than the alternative. The Chinese were especially vulnerable to leprosy, as were the native Hawaiians. Haoles? Hardly ever. The answer to that probably lies somewhere in the human genome. So why allow visitors? Hansen's Disease, as it is known, is the least infectious infectious disease known to man. And you have to be exposed very early in life...nobody under sixteen years of age was allowed to visit there. Nowadays modern pharmacology will cure it entirely if caught early enough.