FROM HAWAI’I WITH LOVE

Notifying a distant family member of the passing of one of their own in the Aloha State is one of the least favorite tasks of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Honolulu County, Hawai’i.  It’s typically done by telephone; calls are made in the morning local time to account for the time difference back on the mainland.

The script is very simple and to the point.  “This is Betty from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Honolulu, Hawai’i.  Mr. Olcott, I’m very sorry to inform you that your brother has died here in Hawai’i.”

In Edward Olcott’s passing, an additional explanation was necessary.  “Your brother passed away last week.  I apologize for the delay in notifying you but we were unable to identify your brother because he expired on the street and was found without any identification.  We surmise that his wallet was stolen when he died.  We had to send his fingerprints to the FBI and we just got the results back this morning.”

Next are the questions about medical history.  “Did your brother suffer from heart disease?  Did he use drugs?”  These are used to confirm the autopsy results.  In Ed’s case, it was a heart attack.

Finally, the key question.  “How will you be taking care of funeral arrangements?”
Now that involves potential cost to the family member answering the phone.  Bernard Olcott never liked to be left with the bill.  He liked it least of all when stuck with the check from the person he had fought so much over so little.  His own brother.

DEATH IN HONOLULU

There is a good reason why the Bernard Olcott Story, every so once in a while, makes a reference to the Aloha State.

On a late July 1977 morning, a slight man woke up in his modest efficiency apartment near Waikiki, the tourist district of Honolulu.  He was 61 years old, somewhat gaunt, barely five foot seven.  Wrinkles of a hard life lined his face as he switched on the radio after leaving his bed.  The weather forecast came on, as if it were the news.  For Honolulu it isn’t, since the weather is always the same, day in, day out.  Highs will be in the low 80s, lows in the middle 70s.  Winds are “trade.”  Winds are always trade in Hawai’i (unless a cyclone comes to visit, of course.)

The weathered man had lived some thirty years previous at 3169 Alika Avenue in the Nu’uana – Punchbowl neighborhood, an up country residential district.  The previous week, he had decided to travel from his current home in Exeter, New Hampshire to come back here to retrace his steps as a young naval officer and maybe plumb his soul.  It’s about the longest trip you can make in the USA and still remain in the land of the free.

He found himself later that morning on Ala Moana Boulevard wandering alone in the sunshine on Wednesday, the 26th of July in 1977.  As Honolulu is the southern-most metropolis in the nation, at these latitudes, the sun can cause a bad sunburn in as little as 15 minutes.  The fair skin of a new arrival from Northern New England is at particular risk.

The man stopped in his tracks, his pace suddenly unsteady.  As he wiped the sweat off his forehead, the traffic swirled around him and he became disoriented.  It wasn’t the bright sun that had gotten to him, but a sharp pain in his upper chest.  He gripped himself, but could only stagger forward and reach out vainly with his free arm.  When he dropped to the pavement, he cut his face on the sidewalk.  His last sight on this planet was the passing traffic – buses, trucks, cars – from ant level.

As the dying man went down, passersby unknown took advantage of his incapacity, rapidly relieving him of his wallet, cash, and watch.  By the time help arrived, the corpse on the sidewalk could no longer identify himself.

The Honolulu County Medical Examiner later that day fingerprinted “John Doe.”  A match came back the next day – from military records.

The man’s name was