The Forgiveness of a WWII Sailor


In an earlier blog, I praised Old Man Jack for his forgiveness.  It is not possible to write about what he did or saw out on the god-forsaken islands in the Pacific during World War II.  Only he truly knew what was in his soul.

But in spite of his exposure to combat in that very personal and bitter war, Jack’s practice of forgiveness was his most important contribution to the healing of this world.  The world we enjoy today.  I truly believe that.

Old man Jack loved my kids – perhaps his warmth and the forgiveness in his heart will shine through.

Jack was in the hospital often in the last five years of his life. We went as often as we could to say hi.
When Jack was laid up in the hospital and couldn’t make the block party, my kids wrote him a special 4th of July greeting. They wrote “Big Jack” as my son was known as “Little Jack”. Yes, I named my son after old man Jack.
Old man Jack loved it when my Mustang won at car shows. Here are the “two Jacks” in my life. You can see old man Jack’s trademark grin.
We’d sit outside on our front lawn whenever we could… He’d share his sailor’s wisdom (with appropriate restraint) and my kids would smile.
My kids lead the way to one of our breakfasts. Against my wishes, he’d insist on paying for the kids’ chow as well. I could never win.
He loved it when we’d all visit with him in his home. He loved my kids. Imagine that…
My oldest son loves to work on his muscles – as did old man Jack in his youth.

Old Man Jack, Me and Mustangs


There wasn’t a mean bone in his body – provided you were on his good side.

Old Man Jack was a devoted husband.  His wife Carol was bedridden for the last several years of their life together; without fail, Jack stayed at her side

He would only leave her side to get medicines or their meal in his beloved ’68 Mustang (with a 351 Windsor engine).  And that was one love we shared – Ford Mustangs.

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After she passed, we would go out for weekend breakfasts.

When he wanted to, he would ride in my supercharged ’08 Grabber Orange Mustang.  He loved riding in it.  He loved listening to it.  It was so loud, Jack wouldn’t need his blessed hearing aids – which he often “forgot” to wear.  He hated them.  Trouble was at breakfast, I’d end up having to yell so he could hear me when he “forgot” to wear them.  So could everyone else.  The others must have thought, “Man, what an odd pair.”

That famous boyish grin… I sure miss him.

When I would drive, Old Man Jack –  in his trademark blue plaid shirt – would look at me from his passenger seat, flash that boyish Jack grin where the right side of his lip would be higher than his left, press his head back into the seat, then say, “OK!  Floor it!”  Man, he loved it.  My supercharger would be screaming as we rocketed down Studebaker Road.  He would say in a (much) higher than normal voice, “Whooo-ee!” after hitting 60 mph in a little over four seconds.

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Other times – even at 87 years of age – he would want to drive HIS baby to breakfast…but make me drive mine, too.  You guessed it – we’d drag.

On the way to breakfast, we’d pull up to a light early on a Sunday morning and knowing what was going to happen, I prayed with all my might there were no black and whites.

He’d look at me.  I’d look at him.  He was dead serious but I would never let him see I was grinning from ear to ear.  The light would turn green.  He’d floor it, chirp his tires and I’d let him get almost through the intersection…when I would nail it.  I wasn’t going to let him get that far ahead of me.

I’d blow by him.  As I would wait for him at the next stop, he would pull up next to me knowing he got beat (again), flash me that boyish grin one more time – but would always flash me his trademark bird.  I just missed it this time.  Darn.

After he lost yet another drag race, I just missed photographing Jack flashing his “bird” by a split second…but not his trademark smile.

By the way… I named my last boy after him…  His name is Jack.  I couldn’t think of a better name.

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Jack, I miss our breakfasts.  We should have went more often…  but I gun my motor real loud every time I stop by to see you.  I know you hate your hearing aids.

Resting Place

An Atomic Spark from a 1937 Yearbook


The Atomic Peace Dome, 1,500 yards from Dad’s high school.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima left a spark – a spark which grew into universal forgiveness and kindness.  From that unbounded forgiveness and kindness came a 1937 high school yearbook from a school that no longer existed – but its soul survived intact and gloriously
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Dad is simply a very quiet man.  For every word he spoke, mom must have said a bazillion words.  No wonder he was quiet.  (You know, it may have been better to write “every word he tried to speak”.)

But this past Sunday, June 10, dad was a songbird in Spring…even though mom was there.

Dad was eighteen again and back in Hiroshima, riding the train to school with his friend Aoki.  Carefree.  Young.  After 75 years, Dad was looking through his high school yearbook he probably never saw.

How I got that yearbook from 1937 for Dad is a story of unbounded kindness and a love for peace – and driven by a unwavering desire to honor those that perished in Hiroshima.

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All Dad had said in the past was that he ran track in his high school days and that the school was called “Nichu”.  I thought it was a nickname.  He wasn’t enthusiastic to share much more.

I was determined to find out more of my Dad’s past he was keeping hidden.

In Dad’s shoebox: a Nichu High School Pennant flying for an athletic meet in 1937.

All I had to start with had been a 1930’s photo of a pennant Dad had stashed away in a shoebox and a couple of class photos.  After some exploring, I figured out the Japanese symbol on the flag was a melding of “二” and “中”, or “Nichu”, the name Dad mentioned.

Researching in the Japanese language was an endeavor.   I finally came across a possible lead and sent a blind e-mail…  In spite of considerable odds, I received a reply from a man in Hiroshima.

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Mr. Akira Tsukamoto is a survivor.

In the waning days of the war, school children were put to work for their nation’s war effort in factories and fields.  That was their destiny.  Mr. Tsukamoto was one of those children.

Their teacher was Mr. Sekimoto; they had a nickname for him, “Mr. Pale”, because of his pale complexion.   The night before that fateful morning, Mr. Sekimoto had decided that it would be better for the class to tend a field and clear it of weeds.  Preparing the field for crops was more important than having class, he determined.  They would be in the northwest area of Hiroshima.

My two littlest kids standing in front of the Enola Gay in 2010.  I always viewed her as part of history.  Now I see a personal link.

Then came the morning and they were in the field while the other classes fatefully went to school.  Then they heard the familiar drone of B-29 engines.  They all saw what appeared to be three parachutes and a B-29 flying away.  One student recalls seeing something black in shape tumbling towards the earth.

There was a terrible blue and yellow flash.  A shock wave blew them down.  They covered their eyes and mouths as they had been trained.  But the heat from the blast was so searing, they could hear their skin and hair burning.

Their faces and bodies were burned on the left sides; in addition to searing pain, their skin slipped off.  All they could use was mashed raw potatoes as a salve.  It would take two months for their wounds to heal.  They say they were spared for a greater cause.

Mr. Tsukamoto’s story – translated into English – can be read here.  It is gripping and without malice.  Just kindness.

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Fast forward 67 years.  Mr. Tsukamoto – the child who was pulling weeds in a field – was the one who kindly responded to my blind e-mail.  It turns out he graduated after the war from the school that rose out of the ashes of Nichu.

He did not know me but his survivor’s heart – driven now for world peace and in honor of 300+ young classmates that perished – propelled him to our communicating.

After learning of my search for information on my father’s high school years, he found Ms. Tomoko Kanetou.  Ms. Kanetou is an administrative manager at Dad’s successor school.  Together, they tracked down an actual copy of dad’s yearbook from 1937.  It is the last copy in existence.  She conscientiously made high resolution scans of the 48 page yearbook and sent a CD to me here in the United States through my cousin Masako.

They did all this without pause.  For a complete stranger across the Pacific.  An American.  Just incredible.

In the middle picture is Dad’s track team with him at front row, center. Mr. Sekimoto, the one whose decision saved Mr. Tsukamoto, is in the bottom photo, standing next to the archer on the left.

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This past weekend, my oldest daughter hosted an early Father’s Day breakfast at her first home.  My father went through the yearbook I assembled page by page.  Not once.  Not twice…but for almost three hours during last Sunday morning.

He remembered the school song.  He said he was on their track team and won 1st or 2nd places in the 100m, 200m, broad jump and triple-jump.  He was even pictured, front and center, in Nichu’s track team yearbook photo (right).

Other pages struck me with disbelief and astonishment.  They gave a glimpse into life during the “pre-war” days in Hiroshima.  He talked about the influence of war on schooling.  That will be saved for a later story but further explains why his love and remembrances of his youngest brother are buried so deep in his hidden memories.

My ever-quiet father was not quiet that morning.  I have never heard him talk so much and for so long…  Truly an atomic spark from a 1937 yearbook.  All arising from a peace-fueled and unsolicited joint effort by complete strangers, Mr. Tsukamoto and Ms. Kanetou.  Perhaps they weren’t complete strangers after all.

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At day’s end with the yearbook… A smile the world’s supply of pistachios couldn’t buy.

In an earlier story, I praised old man Jack for being a giant in forgiving.

There are other giants in this world.

Mr. Tsukamoto, a survivor and Ms. Kanetou.

On behalf of my father, I thank you.

“There’s No Toilet Paper in the Jungle of Burma”


Dad and I waiting to go in to watch MIS

Dad broke his silence.

“War is no good,” he said as we left the small community movie theater near his assisted living home today; we had just watched the limited release documentary “MIS: Human Secret Weapon”.  It was about his highly classified World War II US Army unit.  He had silently watched and with a ghostly stillness.  But I saw him wipe his eyes twice after gently lifting his glasses.  Others openly wept…but I had never, ever seen him shed a tear before today.

I was ignorant.  Combat isn’t necessary for the ugliness of war to be buried in a person’s mind.  The documentary made it clear that it is also easily dug out.  All one needs to do is scratch.

Official US Army document certifying his Military Intelligence Service days.

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The documentary reveals the conflicted state of mind of the then young Japanese-Americans who made up the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS).  About 3,000 of them – including two of my uncles – secretly and faithfully served the red, white and blue, hastening the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri.

Another 3,000 served during the Occupation of Japan.  My dad was one and worked out of General Eichelberger’s US 8th Army’s GHQ in Yokohama.  That’s when he was able to journey to Hiroshima and see his mother for the first time in ten years…and when a hungry Masako first relished the flavor of Spam.

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Grant Ichikawa, MIS, CGM and me. 2010

One Nisei veteran interviewed was Grant Ichikawa.  He was gracious enough to not only greet me and my family in 2010 near his home in Rosslyn, VA, he also secretly treated us to lunch.  Pun intended.  He had lost his wife Millie just months before.  She was an even rarer female member of the MIS as well.

He and Terry Shima (also interviewed in the documentary) gave me the jump start in finding out about Dad’s involvement in the MIS.  During that all too brief get together, Grant did touch on what he did on the battlefront in a GI uniform.  He also said it “got dicey”.

In this documentary, you learn of one such experience.  He was told there were Japanese soldiers who had agreed to surrender.  Grant said he was the point man.  They proceeded to the rendezvous point where he met the Japanese commander; they were in the middle of an open field.

It turns out there were 200 to 250 of them; all their weapons were in good working order he says in the documentary.  Grant suddenly realized – out in the middle of this field – that these Japanese soldiers were “toukoutai”, or “suicide corps”.  Grant just as quickly and with great consternation realized there were only ten of them… GI’s, that is, armed only with rifles.  I’m sure Grant picked his words wisely.  He is still alive.

“Dicey” was a definite understatement.

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In a lighter moment, Ken Akune described how they were searching a Japanese soldier that had surrendered in the jungle of Burma.  They came across one of the American propaganda leaflets promising safe passage for those Japanese soldiers that surrendered.  It was neatly folded in a pocket.

Surrender Propaganda Written by MIS Nisei.

Akune asked the Japanese soldier if he believed what the leaflet promised since the MIS Nisei wrote it.  The Japanese soldier said no but that it made for good toilet paper.  “There was no toilet paper in the jungle of Burma,” said the prisoner.

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Thomas Tsubota broke down at the end of his interview.  Many did.

Tsubota was one of the top secret MIS members of Merrill’s Marauders.

They had just stumbled across ten Japanese soldiers in a small jungle clearing, he says.  “Boom,” he said, in a split second they killed them all.  He described how his commander, Colonel Beach, called him over to inspect a photo album taken off one of the now dead Japanese soldiers

They looked through the album.  Tsubota told Col. Beach there was nothing of military importance in it but as they came upon the last page of the album, there was a picture of a mother and a daughter.

Tsubota said Colonel Beach’s eyes got red, filled with tears and he said, “Thank you, Tom.”

While crying, Tsubota ended the interview by saying this is why he isn’t enthusiastic about talking about the war.  Too painful.  He doesn’t want to think about that sad moment.  Tsubota is 96 years old.  I thought Dad was old.

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The documentary intensely yet humanely describes the internal turmoil within these young American GIs of Japanese descent.  Quite a few had brothers who were left in Japan when war broke out and were killed as Japanese soldiers.  Deep down, many carried guilt that their own secret actions led to the deaths of their own brothers.  My Dad’s youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – was one of those casualties.

But these 3,000 young American boys of Japanese heritage did their job as did millions of other young American boys…but in secret.  They translated diaries covered with blood or offered cigarettes to Japanese prisoners to extract military intelligence while battles were raging.

They endured years of discrimination and intimidation to boot – both from GI’s fighting alongside them as well as back home.  A barber in Chicago wouldn’t cut Dad’s hair because of his race – and he was wearing his perfectly creased US Army uniform with sergeant’s stripes, sleeve highlighted by the proud shoulder patch of the US 8th Army.

The secrecy was officially lifted in 1972 by Executive Order 11652.
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Uncle Suetaro on right.

Just the two of us, I thought, were going to see this movie and that this may help Dad slow down his growing dementia.

I was wrong.

His quiet tears and with his exiting comment, I am sure Uncle Suetaro was there, too, in Dad’s heart – as if it was 1937 in Hiroshima when he last saw his brother alive.

Over the past two years, I’ve asked, “Dad, tell me about what you worked on in the MIS.  What was the one thing you remember the most?  A picture?  A diary?”  Each time, the answer was vague or “I don’t know.”  I chalked it up to senility.

He doesn’t want to talk about it…just like Tsubota painfully recalling Col. Beach and the photo of a mother and a daughter taken from a Japanese soldier they had just killed.

Ugly recollections from war wanting to be masked need not come from battlefields, bullets or bombs.