Our Sweet Leilani
Leilani…devoted wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and great grandmother, quit school at age 12 to take a job as a waitress to help support the family and the 7 brothers and sisters still living at home with grandma and grandpa. It was 1936, it was the Great Depression, and it was Hilo, Hawaii.
In 1937, the song Sweet Leilani, written by Harry Owens for his newborn daughter, won the Academy Award for Best Song. It also became a favorite of young Marcus Klein, who, at the time, worked at Annis Furs in Detroit. On October 1, 1940, Marcus enlisted in the Navy to fight the Germans in Europe. His plan was foiled by the Navy. Upon his graduation from Boot Camp and various schools at the Training Center in Chicago, he received orders to report to the USS Medusa (AR-1), based in Pearl Harbor, as a Blacksmith Striker.
In the early part of 1941, the USS Medusa (AR-1) left Pearl Harbor for a short trip to Hilo. It was on that trip, and the first Liberty Call, that Marcus, a twenty three year old Jewish sailor boy from Detroit, met and fell hopelessly and hopefully in love with sweet, seventeen year old Leilani Julia Maka.
Leilani’s parents lived in Honolulu. As fate might have it…when the Medusa headed back to Pearl, Leilani also headed to Honolulu to live with her parents, who, at the time, lived in Damon Tract, close to what is now the Honolulu International Airport.
Mom was a bit indifferent to Pop, she liked him, what was not to like? Pop pursued and with the permission of Grandpa Maka…on June 28, 1941, unbeknownst to Pop’s parents in Detroit, he and Leilani were married by a Justice of the Peace in Honolulu…just a few months after their first meeting in Hilo.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the newlyweds were living in Navy Housing, a few blocks from the main gate of Pearl Harbor. At first Marcus thought it was a drill, but a look out the window told him otherwise. He joined the other sailors running to Pearl Harbor to man their battle stations.
Marcus’s battle station, the forward crow’s nest, was the only part of Medusa that was destroyed by the attack. By virtue of the fact that Mom and Pop were married, Pop’s life was saved, and we were told often growing up how Mom saved Dad’s life. Had Marcus been single on December 7, he would have been berthed onboard Medusa, and not in Navy Housing. He would have manned his battle station, which was destroyed by friendly fire after the attack began. Marcus and Leilani did not see one another for four days.
After the initial shock of Pearl Harbor Day, and the return to what was then, for the next 4 years, the new “normal,” World War II, Marcus volunteered for the Submarine Force. He traveled with his young bride (who had never left Hawaii) to New London, Connecticut and Sub School. At the completion of Sub School, Pop joined the Commissioning Crew of Balao (SS 285) as a Plank Owner. Upon Commissioning, Balao headed to Brisbane Australia and the War in the Pacific and Mom, off to Detroit to spend some time with Dad’s parents, Granny and Dee Dee.
Their Generation, the Greatest Generation, went on to fight and win World War II.
Marcus and Leilani were married for 63 years before Marcus’s passing in 2005. Marcus retired after 30 years of Naval Service in 1970, and went to work immediately at J.C. Penney for another 10 years.
Together, Mom and Pop spent 20 wonderful years in retirement. They were one hundred percent involved in the RV life and getting together with their friends from the Hui. Retirement meant new friends and new adventures. They also enjoyed the time they spent in Palm Springs.
During their marriage and Pop’s naval career, there were tours of duty in San Diego and Pearl Harbor a number of times, and a single, three year tour in Norfolk, Virginia (1961 – 1964). There were deployments and long separations, and there was, on a few of Pop’s tours of duty, the Basketball Team. The last team Pop coached won the All Navy basketball Championship in 1964.
Together, Mom and Pop sang and danced their way through a wonderful life. Dad played the ukulele and sang and our beautiful mother danced a graceful hula. Mom also taught hula to many young navy wives over the years.
Mom was the epitome of a Navy Wife. As a Navy Family, we were a family always in transition, and Mom was the rock. She provided the consistency and strength that allowed our family, together and as individuals, to adapt to ever changing physical and social environments at critical points in our lives…and often she guided with a passive hand (and sometimes not 🙂
Our mother was always there for each of us, in our own way, when we needed her. And she was always there for Pop, as he for her. She was truly, the Sweet Leilani he dreamed of as a young man in Detroit, waiting to meet his destiny, when he heard for the first time back in 1937…
Sweet Leilani, Heavenly Flower, I dreamed a paradise for two.
You are my paradise completed. You are my dream come true.
Mom was certainly all of that, and so much more.
Leilani is survived by her 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and many more “Calabash” relatives.
No one could crochet like Mom. She could crochet an afghan and 6 sets of booties in an afternoon!
Services will be held at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on September 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to:
Hui o Hawaii of San Diego
P.O. Box 1668
Spring Valley, CA 91979
In Memory of Leilani and Marcus Klein