A Father-ly Invasion

Imagine being a Marine. You’re in Afghanistan.  You see your buddies getting blown up by the cowardly enemy’s IED or killed after an ambush. Then, after a bitter, maniacal all-out war, their religious leader capitulates.

Now, suddenly, you are standing out in the desert, outside of Fallujah, waiting to go in as part of the “occupying force”. Your feelings and emotions are going amok – anger coupled with fear of the unknown… You will be surrounded by the enemy who also fought the exact same bitter war against you.

USMC
US 26th Marines marching into Sasebo, Japan – August 1945. Notice the Japanese standing to the left and the general absence of civilians.

Now… imagine you are a young Marine on a troop ship off the Japanese coast. It is August 30, 1945. A few weeks earlier, you became acquainted with the term atomic bomb. The Emperor of Japan just capitulated.

You are to go ashore onto the Japanese homeland.  But in this case, you are not wading ashore to occupy a city. You are wading ashore to occupy an entire country.

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As we now know, the initial “invasion” of Japan by Allied forces ended up being entirely peaceful; no one was killed. Perhaps there was a small incident or two, but I have not read anything to indicate a single shot was fired. How could that be? How could hundreds of thousands of Marines, soldiers and sailors have stormed ashore – under an assault mindset – onto a homeland populated with maniacal military and millions of civilians – and not erupt in combat?

army report 98th

Per a report of the US Army’s 98th Infantry Division dated December 20, 1945:

“The mission assigned the Division was participation in the occupation of Japan; however, due to uncertainty as to the attitude of the people, the real intentions of the Japanese army, and the possibility of treachery or sabotage, the Division was directed to be combat loaded and prepared for any eventuality. Thus planning for the occupation of Japan was based upon an assault landing rather than an administrative movement…”

(Click here to see actual report.)

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There is no single answer. The peaceful invasion was the result of hundreds of contributing influences.

One came from Father Patrick Byrne, a Catholic priest in a country dominated by Buddhism.

patrick byrne
Father Patrick Byrne. He was elevated to Bishop prior to his death.

Father Byrne had been sent to Kyoto in 1935 to set up a mission. As he was respectful of the peoples, he was put under house arrest (confinement) when war broke out. Of course, it was very harsh. His only companions were a cat and a parrot. Food was poor and scarce, just like it was for the unfortunate civilians.

Per “Escape from Manchuria” by Paul K. Maruyama (USAF, Ret.), he emphasizes the importance of the role fulfilled by Father Byrne immediately after the Emperor broadcast his surrender. Although in very poor health, Father Byrne with the aid of a newspaper reporter and a Father Furuya, hurriedly put together a radio broadcast intended for TWO audiences: (1) one for the Japanese homeland and (2) one for the “invading” Allied forces.

As hordes of civilians were escaping to the countryside, getting from Kyoto to Tokyo in the few available trains was hard but after 15 hours, he made it being escorted by police. He then recorded his speech on or about August 20, 1945, which was re-broadcast many times via radio and shortwave…to the Japanese people and to the countless number of Allied occupying forces staging off-shore.

His radio broadcast:

“The war is over. What can I say first of all to the Japanese people whom I have loved and who love me as a brother for more than 10 years? I share their grief when the Emperor spoke to them and told them that they had fought a good fight but now he wanted them to give up the war and turn to peace. I, an American, speak to you Japanese in the name of those soldiers about to enter your land to assure you that you need to have no fear. They are not coming to the shores as invaders, with tanks, bayonets and bullets, but merely as representatives of their country, taking occupation of Japan to help you once more to reconstruct and build on the new foundation of democracy. The eyes of the world are on this occupying army. You may rest assured they come peaceably.

What can I say to you, the soldiers of my native land, regarding these people? Their feelings will naturally be mixed with emotions as you look up on the victors entering their land, where the homes have been destroyed or burned, their sons and fathers of families killed or maimed and wounded. It is only natural that you look with anger, fear, mistrust, and frustration at your arrival. Should you add to their present feelings by any any ruthless attacks upon the women and young people in this land, I am afraid of what the consequences might be. So I urge you to cooperate with me as I assure the Japanese people that you will commit no degradations, that you would have goodwill and charity in trying to realize what these people, the real victims of the war, have suffered and will not do anything to add to the pain they endure.

You are on trial before the eyes of the world. Any violence or immorality, any unjust or criminal act on your part will not only be a stain on your character but on that the nation you represent.

I believe I may assure you people of Japan that the army chaplains would do everything they can to remind our soldiers of their moral responsibility. The Military Police, too, will carefully protect your interests and will arrest anyone found violating the law. If there seems to be any violation of this protection which is your due, I have been assured by the Archbishop of Tokyo that he will appeal to the Holy Father in Rome who in turn will make known to the whole world by radio and the press any form of injustice. Freedom of the press in the United States will cooperate so that such news will not be suppressed.

I am not afraid because I know these Americans and trust them, but I can understand the fears of the Japanese people. Soldiers coming into Japan, I strongly urge you to come with kind hearts and be good friends of these people. You have fought hard and want a victory. I know you want to enjoy it and want to be proud of it, but please try to understand the distress of the Japanese and make your behavior calm and warm as representatives of a great nation. Perhaps after two or three months, they will begin to understand you better, and then I think there will come an intimate friendship between you and them.”

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The Allied Forces – with the words of Father Bryne questioned in many soldiers’ minds as to intent – stormed ashore on August 30, 1945 on many beaches all around Japan. Once ashore, they were largely astonished to learn over the next few hours the truth in Father Byrne’s words.

fig16
A Marine walks past young Japanese women on a routine patrol.  Thousands of vials of poison were distributed to thousands of young girls in preparation for the “invasion”. (USMC Photo)

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According to “Escape from Manchuria”, Father Byrne made a recovery back in the United States after the war and was elevated to Bishop when he was sent to Korea in 1947. In 1950, he was captured by the North Koreans and once again was subjected to horrifying treatment and captivity before being put on the Korean War equivalent of the Bataan Death March.

He fell ill during the march in freezing conditions and when he could not continue, he was taken to a shack. There, on a frozen floor and without any warmth, he passed away on November 20, 1950 at a place called Ha Chang Ri, North Korea.

(Note: Edited Feb. 2, 2014.  For some reason, the photo of Father Patrick Bryne had been removed.)

39 thoughts on “A Father-ly Invasion”

  1. Koji – Thank you for sharing the message of Father Byrne with us. The entire story is a testament to the American Soldiers and the people of Japan. It could have been so different without Father Byrne.

  2. My father Smitty said it was amazing. The 11th A/B, being the first ones in, were also rigged for combat [just in case]. A few Japanese officers gave our officers attitude, but the civilians accepted the words of their Emperor and all went as planned. An amazing people and culture.

    1. Indeed… The first ones in – Atsugi! And if memory is intact, they went in a tad early…like 6:00AM..? and therefore moved up the time schedule by a few hours? Is that right?

      1. There were actually front men from the 11th that went into Japan the day before to be certain the airfield was prepared. It started early morning and they kept going in right behind each other. The 187th was first to set up a perimeter.

      2. It certainly is! I had always loved and respected him, and was amazed by modesty about all this once I was old enough to go thru his scrapbook.

      3. Thanks. My grandmother put it together, so now it is basically falling apart – the reason I started all this in the first place was to get everything on the computer before it’s lost and to honor him and the rest of the 11th. Thank you for always being so interested.

  3. This is a touching a fascinating story, Koji. I so enjoy these kinds of stories that you share on your blog–stories I might not know otherwise. My favorite part of Father Byrnes’ speech was:

    “Perhaps after two or three months, they will begin to understand you better, and then I think there will come an intimate friendship between you and them.”

    It was one of my intended themes in The Red Kimono, that if we’d take the time to get to know one another instead of “judging a book by its cover,” there’d be so much less to be afraid of.

    Thank you for this wonderful story.

  4. Reblogged this on THE RED KIMONO and commented:
    Father Byrne said, “Perhaps after two or three months, they will begin to understand you better, and then I think there will come an intimate friendship between you and them.”

    Understanding is the key.

  5. My mother was one of the young women caught up in the war and frightened by the “long-legged Americans.” She soon learned there was nothing to fear and worked at Johnson Air Base. Many US veterans of the Occupation have told me how safe they felt in Japan, and how nice (and helpful) the Japanese people were. An amazing story of working together to rebuild a nation. Great blog, thankful to Jan Morrill for introducing me to it.

  6. So good to read about Father Byrne. It is impossible to say how many lives his truly thoughtful words saved, and how many young women were spared violence. Thank you for telling us about this quiet hero.

      1. I got the link thanks, finally finished on a writing project – creating a bulletin for a worship service, yikes that was hard but fun. Anyway I am getting caught up on this lazy afternoon and will check it out.

  7. A fascinating story Koji. Thank you. I, too, was moved by Father Byrne. The man should be made a saint. Reading about the vials of poison and imagining what could have happened was chilling. –Curt

    1. I need to ask my aunt about the poison and such but at war’s end, the grandparents had moved the family out of Tokyo (Shimbashi) to Fukui. Although they were shelled by the US Navy, I need to find out about this poison… Father Byrne was a giant of a human being.

  8. There are so many stories of humanity and courage that come from war, and I am always amazed. I have never heard of this incredible man before, and I’m very touched by his strength of character. It’s a shame that school children aren’t taught more of these stories.

    1. Yes, Debra. I feel it us a shame that facts such as this are replaced by chapters on discrimination, sexual orientation and the like…so it is up to us to educate our children… and grandchildren. 🙂

  9. The power behind the use of words, using them to the point where not a single shot was fired. That, is absolutely amazing..!

    What I can’t wrap my head around though, was the vials passed around to civilians before the peaceful invasion, Young innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.

    1. Vials? You mean the poison? A small quantity was distributed but it sounds like a more was distributed? Yes, his broadcasts were possibly one reason why the invasion went so smoothly. I cannot imagine the anger that had brewed in many of our boys making this peaceful success even more unbelievable.

      1. For sure! All that anger and after battle stories coming to a halt, I’m glad it did though, otherwise this world would be a very different place today.

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