During my visit to my father’s childhood home in Hiroshima last summer, I was entrusted with hundreds of vintage family photos and mementos. I brought them back here stateside, promising my Hiroshima family I would “restore” them.
Well, after a good start, I developed a painful case “tennis elbow” from using the mouse so much during the retouching process. Sadly, it came to a screeching halt sometime in November last year.
But one very, very special item was entrusted with me – my Uncle Suetaro’s war diary.
Although born an American citizen in Seattle with the rest of his siblings, he was writing this war diary as a sergeant in the Japanese Imperial Army.
The last entry was a farewell letter to his Mother.
The photo above had been secreted away behind another photo that was in Uncle Suetaro’s album. He meticulously kept the album up to the time of war. His oldest brother, my Uncle Yutaka, had conscientiously sent him family photos they had taken in Chicago and Los Angeles before imprisonment. Suetaro complimented the photos with his beautiful Japanese calligraphy, written in a silver, whitish ink.
The photo of Uncle Suetaro and my dad shown at the beginning was so very tiny – but there was something Uncle Suetaro loved about it to keep it. I wish I knew what it was.
Uncle Suetaro was killed as a sergeant major of the Japanese Imperial Army on Leyte apparently near a town called “Villaba”. Below is an actual page from a “war diary”, an official report written and published by the US Army. Villaba is located on the western shore of Leyte but not far from Ormoc Bay, which was a killing field for Japanese ships by US aircraft.
His remains were never recovered. In the family grave are his tiny pieces of his fingernails and a lock of hair. It was custom at that time to leave parts of your earthly body with your family as returning was unlikely.
Not much to bury… but it was better than not returning at all.
In a spiritualistic way, he had never left.
This is his farewell letter to his Mother (my Grandmother).
It is clear it was very hurriedly written.
With the help of my cousin Kiyoshi in Hiroshima and my dad, we’ve typed up Uncle Suetaro’s farewell letter – complete with old Japanese characters and translated as best possible into English. When reading this, please remember these are the words as written as a soldier going off to fight the Americans – but he was once a young American boy born in Seattle, WA.
(Note: Green indicates an edit inserted for clarification purposes.)
His farewell send-off is pictured below. Masako-san believes Suetaro wrote the letter around this time. It was at gatherings such as this when a Japanese soldier was given a “good luck” battle flag – the ones that many WWII combat veterans “removed from the battlefield” as souvenirs. There are many cases now where their sons and daughters – or grandchildren – are making efforts to return such flags to the Japanese families.
Bertrand Russell wrote, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
He is correct.
On a much smaller scale, though, Grandmother Kono was all who was left in that house when war’s end came. Her precious son Suetaro – who she kept from returning to America for the purpose of keeping the Kanemoto name going – was dead. She was now alone. I wonder how she felt.
A mother’s anguished solitude.
(For other related stories:
A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part I
A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part II
26 thoughts on “Dear Mama – A Farewell Letter”
Amazing Mustang Koji thank you for sharing his story.
…as you have Lefty’s… 🙂
Beautiful family, heart-wrenching history. Interesting post.
I am also the keeper of the family photos/documents. I have found discrepancies between what I have been told and what is in the documents.
When we were in Banff, I came upon a memorial, which I will post, about relocation, labor camps during WWI where people of German and other European countries were forcibly “invited” (term on memorial) to work during the war and through winer.
Repeating trends in recent history~
You are so lucky to be the keeper of your family’s history… Indeed, you are. While time consuming, there is a reward that is priceless, in my opinion. And as you wrote, we write about the facts without concern for what may have been then. That is the history that needs to be brought forth.
So much is said between the lines in this historic letter. So sad for the mother left behind.
Thank you, gpcox. We all know through sharing our family experiences here on WordPress that there really are no winners in war. Bertrand Russell was right.
Very true, Koji. No one problem is the cause of war and as you said – no winner.
Koji….I love it most when you write about your family. You honor your family and both of your countries with your respect and truthfulness of the horrors of this war. And how it so horribly impacted your family, in both countries. Please, write more.
LOL… I have one country. 🙂 J/K! J/K! Don’t knog me!
I need to find the time but it is so hard. At times, I can’t find the opportunity to reply to so many kind comments.
Maybe you should take your computer with you to the cigar lounge.
Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking story.
…and a kind thank you as well to you for sharing all of your grandfather’s letters!!
A family’s tragedy, a mother’s grief, and a civil war… from a family perspective. Over and over, I am struck with the thought that there is no glory in war as I read your stories Koji. But there is courage and sacrifice. –Curt
I would agree, Curt. Today, another FB friend sent me a WWII letter to show my dad – to see if he could read/translate it. The letter was reportedly removed from a dead Japanese soldier on Saipan. Quite tragic…but it exposed a side of war-time Japan that I was clueless on.
Oh my, but this is a tender story. Mentioning that your grandmother had a stroke upon realizing her last son was going to die in the service of his country and convictions. Your uncle’s strong identification with Japan, despite being born an American, is really deep and only serves to emphasize what a harrowing point in history we’re recalling here. That he would sacrifice himself to free his brothers. I look at your beautiful family photos and it’s hard to think of so much sadness and disappointment. Your grandmother was a really amazing woman, I think. I’m so glad you found that wonderful photo, Koji.
Thank you, Debra, for your lovely thoughts and words… Indeed, as we all know, war is but tragedy, death and anger… I do not believe any country wins. More like “the last one standing”…
Thank you again.
I could not click “like”, I keep feeling the pain your grandmother must have felt and the sacrifice of your uncle. I like what Curt wrote, “there is no glory in war as I read your stories Koji. But there is courage and sacrifice…” You write beautifully and I am thankful that you shared your uncles words with us. It keeps him alive and a symbol of peace.
Thank you, Patty B., for your kind words. I love our little community here. So much respect and honor for those serving, those that served, and those that did not return home. Maturity as well – that’s needed in sharing moving stories we read…
Your posts are so incredibly deep and thought-inspiring. Your family’s wartime divide is quite unique and these stories shed incredible light on the plight that was set upon American Japanese who were caught between two nations. One that wouldn’t accept them, opting to imprison them. The other compelled their service to fight to the death. Your dad’s story is what is compelling in that he served one in an effort against the other with the knowledge that his own brother, cousins and other relatives could be on the same battlefield.
In my family, I have military opponents (war of 1812) where one side (a Scottish Blackwatch Highlander) actually held the other (American officer) captive as a POW. Following the war, the Scot emigrated to Canada. The American officer also relocated to the same town near present-day Toronto, unwittingly becoming neighbors. The American subsequently wed the eldest daughter of the Scot and the rest is history. A much happier end for my family.
I am blessed to have had the chance to get to “know” you via our communications and interactions. I have learned a great deal from you that would NEVER see the inside of any school (history) textbook. Your family’s American story is both tragic and triumphant and I am glad to learn about it.
Thank you for sharing!!
Shawn, thank you so much for taking the time to read this story… I believe ALL of us that find the time to read each other’s war stories here gain to learn so much… and see how this world today evolved from the sacrifices of our ancestors – from both sides of the Pacific.