Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mystic Chords of Memory: Scholey Pitcher and Yoko Akiba

They never knew each other, but they were connected. Scholey Pitcher was a publisher at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; Yoko Akiba was a wizard with maps, a librarian, who worked in the Public Documents and Maps Department at Duke University's Perkins Library. For a few years in my twenties, I worked at both places and came to know them both.

When I knew him, Scholey (whose muted first name was Charles) was often smoking one of his beloved tobacco pipes and talking in a courtly manner. He was from Charleston, South Carolina, had been a stock broker. I remember one of his stories about World War II. He was an R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officer's Training School) cadet at The Citadel in Charleston at the time of Pearl Harbor, just shy of age eighteen. With the US hurled into the war, The Citadel accelerated graduation, turning out second lieutenants for military service. As a neophyte lieutenant, Scholey was quickly trained and sent to the War in the Pacific. He vividly remembered being crammed into an amphibious assault vehicle heading for the shoreline, under fire from Japanese defenders. The images and feelings had stuck with him like it was yesterday. If I remember right (and it's quite possible that I am mis-remembering this detail of his story), Scholey was with a company of Marines and the battle he described was Tarawa, November 1943, when he was just shy of age twenty. 

Not only was Yoko Akiba a master of the maps, she was also edgy and often cracked me up with her quips. Two of her favorites: "Never tell" and "I'm sick of their faces." The first meant she was going to make a pithy or catty observation, which she herself would proceed to repeat along and down the line, selectively. The second statement was usually aimed at any dull-minded or overly bureaucratic person that annoyed her sense of fairness. She was very much about social fairness and had been a socialist in Japan. Yoko was just shy of six years old at the time of Pearl Harbor, and nine and a half years old when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She remembered them well, and the widespread firebombings beforehand. Late in the war, she and hundreds of thousands of other children were evacuated to the countryside. If I remember right, Akiba was placed in an area near Hiroshima. As a little kid, she had to learn to quickly identify incoming American planes, high-flying bombers and low-flying fighters: B-29s, Wildcats, Hellcats, P-38s, P-51 Mustangs and others as they bombed, strafed, scouted or escorted.  

Scholey Pitcher and Yoko Akiba both experienced the nightmare hell of the War in the Pacific. As adults, both were really cool people who carried a certain sadness with them, masked in part by their playful sense of humor. Scholey died 1998 at the age of seventy-four. Yoko died early in 2004 just shy of age sixty-nine. 

I will always think of Scholey smoking a fine pipe and of Yoko carefully arranging her beautiful maps.  Before she died, Yoko went on to work at the Library of Congress, her field of dreams, which is where she still roams in mine. 

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

the power of such war experiences must be overwhelming.