Saturday, October 27, 2001

Treason trial shadowed
ex-soldier’s life


Peggie Silverman Ehlke / 1920-2001


By Lisa Asato

After World War II, Army Sgt. John David Provoo faced another yearslong, but bloodless, battle for freedom.

Accusing Provoo of "giving comfort" to his Japanese captors after Corregidor fell in 1942, the government spent $1 million prosecuting his case. In 1953, a jury found him guilty of four acts of treason, including contributing to the death of an American officer.

He was sentenced to life in prison; the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction, saying he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Provoo, who also was known as Nichijo Shaka, died Aug. 28 at Hilo Medical Center. He was 84.

In 1968, Provoo told a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter that life after the trial "was like towing a shipwreck after you."

"It was extremely difficult living with it and there was no living without it," said Provoo, then a 52-year-old ordained Buddhist priest in Nuuanu.

Before the war Provoo worked at a federal bank in San Francisco, the city of his birth in 1917. He had a "literal adherence to Buddhist principle," after becoming interested in the religion as a teen, said his brother George Provoo of Los Alamitos, Calif.

"I can remember as a child watching him stand at the kitchen sink fishing ants out of it with his finger so they wouldn't drown," he said. "He believed in the sanctity of all forms of life."

His brother didn't often talk about his legal battles, said George, who is John's sole surviving relative. "He seemed to want to put it behind him and get on with his life."

During the trial, the defense admitted Provoo broadcast propaganda for the Japanese, but said he did so under duress. Testimony also revealed that a Japanese firing squad executed Capt. Burton Thomson after Provoo told them the captain was "uncooperative" and anti-Japanese.

After the high court's ruling, Provoo studied Nichiren Buddhism in Japan. He came to Hawaii around 1966, he said, to fill a need for Buddhist teachers competent in English.

Provoo led an independent Nichiren Buddhism sect on Oahu and later on the Big Island, said friend Richard Peterson. Provoo also set up the nonprofit Buddhist School of America.

Peterson said Provoo enlisted in the service when the war broke out. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1946 and was arrested in 1949 when he was discharged from a postwar enlistment.

Peterson said his friend had a "magnetic personality" and could be "extremely brilliant at times but had some failings," including a fondness for alcohol.

His life was "quite a spectrum," said Peterson, an emeritus professor at the University of Hawaii College of Business Administration.

In the 1968 interview, Provoo told the Star-Bulletin: "I was disenchanted with the jury that convicted me of treason, but I never gave up faith in America. I never had any idea of changing my allegiance to my country."

Provoo was inurned Oct. 8 at Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 2.

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