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Dear Mama – A Farewell Letter

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Uncle Suetaro (L) and my dad (R). Taken from the Hiroshima house with Mt. Suzugamine in background. Circa 1929

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.

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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.

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Actual size

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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.

Page 109
Source: US Army 81st Infantry Division Headquarters / Report of Operations

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.

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Cover. His name is at the bottom.
金本 末太郎
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ママ様
Dear Mama,
御無沙汰致しました。
I am sorry for not writing for a while.
お元気ですか。 自分も相変わらず元気旺盛御奉公致しております故、何卒ご放念く
ださい。
How are you? As usual, I am full of life fulfilling my duty to my country so please feel at ease.
(元気で国のために力を尽くしてるので心配しないでください)
愈(いよいよ)自分も日本男子としてこの世に生を受け、初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます.
More and more, as I realize I was born into this world as a Japanese male, I am overjoyed to be going into my first combat.
勿論(もちろん)生還を期してはいません(生きて帰ることは思ってはいません)。
Of course, I do not expect to come back alive.
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併せ(しかしながら)自分に何事があっても決して驚かないように、また決して力を
落とさないよう平素より力強く暮らしてください。
And for you, Mother, whatever happens, do not be taken by surprise and please fight back with even more energy than you normally would.
24年の長いあいだスネかじりにて非常にご心配をかけ誠にすいませんでした。
I deeply apologize for these 24 years of worry and concern I have caused you.
お赦し下さい(おゆるし下さい)。
Please forgive me.
今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。
At this time, Japan is at the boundary of either winning or perishing.
どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。
We must persevere.
兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます。
I still dream that we can free our older brothers (from forced imprisonment).
自分のことは決して心配せずお体をくれぐれも気をつけて無理をしないよう長生きを
してください。
Please do not worry about me but instead, please take it easy on yourself and live a long life.

(Note: Green indicates an edit inserted for clarification purposes.)

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何事あっても荒槇、小林の方に相談して下さい。
If something comes up, please discuss it with the Kobayashis or Aramakis.
金本家は絶対に倒してはいけないのです。
No matter what, do not allow the Kanemoto name be extinguished.
伴の兄さんもお召の日が必ずあることと思います。
Mikizou-san will also be drafted.
(荒槇幹造さんも必ず徴兵されることと思う)
歳はとっていても軍隊に入れば初年兵です。一年生です。
Although he is much older in age, he will be treated like any other draftee. As a young recruit.
絶対服従を旨とするようよく言って下さい。
Implore upon him to obey every command without question.
近所の皆さん、河野,倉本、白井、武田、永井、正覚寺、梶田、山城、山根、杉本、
辻、河野…、橋本,西本、松本繁人、小林、中本、新宅、武蔵、水入、土井、堀田、住岡、見崎、長尾、加藤、三好、内藤、島本、(Writing continues next page from here) 宮本先生、谷口先生、慶雲寺などの人によろしくよろしくお伝えください。
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ではこれにて失礼します。
With that, I will say farewell.
何時までも何時までもお達者のほどお祈り致しております。
I pray for all eternity for your good health and prosperity.
南無阿弥陀仏の御6文字と共に行きます。
I go blessed with the six realms of Namu Amida Butsu.
サヨウナラ
Sayonara
昭和19年5月3日
May 3, 1944
末太郎より   ママ様へ
From Suetaro To Mama-san

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.

One of the treasures found during our journey to the family home in Hiroshima this month.  Uncle Suetaro is going to war and his death.
Uncle Suetaro (center) is pictured just before going off to war and his death.  You will notice my grandmother is missing from the photo; that is because she suffered her first stroke knowing her last son was going to his death.

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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.

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Grandma and four youngest children at the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle, circa 1926. From clockwise right-front: Suetaro, dad, Mieko, Grandmother Kono and Shizue.

(For other related stories:

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part I

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part II

Were Japanese Soldier’s Frightened?

26 thoughts on “Dear Mama – A Farewell Letter”

  1. 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~

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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…

  6. Koji,

    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!!

    1. 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.

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