A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 2

It is believed I occupy a potentially unique position when it comes to looking at history as it pertains to the Pacific Theater in World War II.  I am American first and foremost and have studied WWII history out of curiosity.  As expressed in the description of my blog, my viewpoint is from “one war, two countries, one family”.  However, one potential uniqueness is that I am able to read a bit of Japanese; you may be amazed to read what is written about WWII from the Japanese viewpoint of history. As such, I believe each battle will have in the background two broad, driving and dissimilar viewpoints: one from America and one from Japan.  The attack on Pearl Harbor is one example. But that is but the surface on war’s history – a high altitude view.  One that can be easily manipulated politically. But being on the ground dealing in face to face combat – or interrogation – leaves little to interpretation.  However, the fog of time challenges what is seen in a veteran’s mind.

Many of us here in the US interested in this world-wide cataclysm believe the Japanese soldier was a fanatic… freely willing to give his life for the Emperor.  The banzai charges.  The kamikaze attacks.  Individual soldiers throwing themselves under tanks with an explosive charge strapped onto their backs in a suicide attack. The truth of the matter is… they were farm boys.  City boys.  Just like our boys, they were drafted.  Instead of dying in “banzai attacks”, these “fanatical” Japanese soldiers wanted to go home just like our boys…but they couldn’t for fear of reprisal against their families.  Being a buck private in the Japanese army was brutal.  Perhaps not as brutal as the treatment they gave POWs but brutal nonetheless.  My Uncle warned his brother-in-law of that brutality in his farewell letter written on May 3, 1944.

A Look Into Imperial Japanese Army Morale

Indeed, as early as 1943, morale amongst the Japanese soldiers was very poor per this US Army G-2 intelligence report:

Excerpt from “Intelligence Bulletin, G-2 USAFPOA, Feb 1945”. The translation was performed by a Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service.  The captured Japanese document was dated October 24, 1943.

So perhaps things are not what they seem? I wonder how my Uncle Suetaro felt.


The 41st Regiment, and therefore Uncle Suetaro, was stationed in Pyongyang, Korea in May, 1944 per Mr. Ota’s book.  It had become absorbed by the Imperial Japanese Army’s 30th Division. After sunset on May 8, 1944, the 41st Regiment boarded a steam locomotive bound for Pusan.  After one day’s ride, they arrived in Pusan on May 9 at 4:00 PM. All 5,000 troops soon began to cram onto a ship called the 日昌丸 (Nissho Maru) with a capacity of 3,000 troops…  in addition to supplies and their backpacks.  American intelligence reports indicate temperatures could rise to 120F within the holds.

oni ships1
oni ships2 The Nissho Maru is listed in this WWII era Division of Naval Intelligence report.

Per Mr. Ota’s reconstruction, the Nissho Maru departed Pusan on May 10 as part of a Imperial Japanese Navy fleet convoy. At about 3 PM the next day, the convoy docked in Moji Port in Kyushu, Japan to take on more supplies and hook up with other transports.  During this time, their destination was disclosed: Mindanao.  I am sure thoughts of seeing his mother was enveloping his mind…and heart.

Hiroshima was not far away. In the early dawn hours of May 13, the convoy – now consisting of eleven transports and four destroyer escorts, departed Moji Port.  They were vigilant against US submarines and proceeded at best possible speed.  They docked at Manila during the evening of the 18th.  The troops were already plagued with severe cases of sweat rash.

Soon, the 1st and 2nd Battalions on board the Nissho Maru headed to Cagayan with the 3rd Battalion and headquarters staff headed to Surigao on board the Tamatsu Maru.  Because they were splitting up and therefore would be separated from their regimental colors, the commanding officers boarded the Nissho Maru on the 19th as a send off.  They reached their destinations on the 23rd.  Soon, they were engaging Filipino guerrillas and they were extracting their toll on Uncle Suetaro’s regiment.  Per Mr. Ota, Captain Okamoto, a combat veteran from New Guinea was killed.  On July 10, Captain Ozaki, commanding officer of the 2nd Batallion, was also killed.  Short on officers, Captain Masaoka was appointed commanding officer of the remaining troops, numbering about 1,000.

October 20, 1944 – Invasion of Leyte

By the time of the invasion, General Yamashita had more than 400,000 soldiers stationed about the Philippines.  My Uncle Suetaro’s division, the 30th Division, was stationed on Mindanao to the south.  Yamashita had access to close to 900 planes, about 100 airfields (the largest of which was Tacloban on Leyte), and a naval fleet spearheaded by four carriers and seven battleships.  (However, this paled in comparison to the naval and air forces of the US. For instance, by the time of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the US had 34 carriers at their disposal.) The invasion of Leyte was preceded by the US 6th Ranger Battalion taking three smaller islands to the east of Leyte Gulf on October 17, 1944. The weather was perfect and all hell broke lose on October 20, 1944 (A-Day) when MacArthur unleashed the Sixth Army’s X Corps, XXIV Corps and the 21st Infantry Regiment in three different assaults on three eastward facing beaches (see below):

invasion file
From “Leyte”, US Army publication.

General Yamashita was caught flat-footed.  He had anticipated MacArthur would invade Luzon first.  He had to scramble.  In fact, the invasion’s advance was so rapid that MacArthur made his walk onto the Leyte beach a “Hollywood-esque” event on the first day.  Yes, he actually had several takes done of wading ashore being the media seeker he was but it is true there was gunfire off in the distance. Fortunately for our troops, the Japanese had withdrawn her troops from shoreline defensive posts.  Even though there had been up to four hours of bombardment by the USN of the shore defenses, many fortifications – including pillboxes – were untouched per an A-Day communication to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF from General Kenney.  He concluded there would have been a blood bath similar to Tarawa if the Japanese hadn’t withdrawn.

MacArthur pompously wading ashore on Leyte on October 20, 1944. He would shortly broadcast that speech where he says, “I have returned.” National Archive photo.

The first major coordinated Japanese Army troop movements (i.e., reinforcements) to Leyte involved troop transports, joined by units of Cruiser Division 16 out of Manila.  The objective was to transport about 2,550 soldiers (count per Mr. Ota) of the 41st Regiment from Cagayan, on Mindanao, to Ormoc.  Named Convoy TA 1 by the USN, it included heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Kinu, Uranami, three new T.1-class transports (T.6, T.9, and T.10), and two new T.101-class transports, (T.101 and T.102). They were to be led by Rear Admiral Sakonju Naomasa in the Aoba but she had been torpedoed two days earlier by the USS Bream.  The flag had been transferred to Kinu. This convoy picked up the surviving 1st and 2nd Battalion members of the 30th Division at Cagayan, Mindanao on October 25th and arrived at Ormoc.  Fortunately, the Division had been alerted the day before so they were ready.  Uncle Suetaro had apparently been in the the 3rd Echelon, 1st wave of five transports that disembarked on the 26th in Ormoc.

Source: Reports of General MacArthur.

Per Mr. Ota and under the command of Lt. General Shiro Makino, Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment headed towards Tacloban.  He could not have foreseen what was ahead of him: swamps, jungle, mud, illness, starvation…and the US Sixth Army. …and most poignantly, up against my dad’s US 8th Army’s Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service. To be continued in Part 3. (Note: The Battle of Leyte Gulf took place from October 23 to 26, 1944.  The immense Japanese battleship Yamato was reportedly only a few hours from Ormoc Bay when she inexplicably turned back during this epic sea battle.)

Part 1 is HERE.

Part 3 is HERE.

Part 4 is HERE.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.

63 thoughts on “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 2”

  1. The good part of reading about the war from your perspective is war has many internal contradictions, many moral dilemmas, lots of ambiguities, no end of atrocities in the name of a political process, and your blog doesn’t allow anyone to feel too superior to anyone else. Hubris is a major component of war, and humility can tame that monster flat.

  2. Kinu? Same as Kinugasa?

    Dana Graham – DRE #00877973
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    1. “Kinu” is the cruiser’s name (鬼怒 in Japanese characters). She was launched in 1922. As for “Kinugasa”, I would need to see the Japanese characters. Unfortunately, the Japanese would name various ships with the same phonetic name.

  3. I have to admit, I’m absolutely dumbfounded by the morale of the troops and airmen during the war, in the movie ‘The rising sun’ and in everything I’ve seen the kamikaze pilots seemed so strong and determined.

    General McArthur though, definitely intrigued me as I watched the dvd series by history channel called ‘The world wars’ he was a man who seemed to be able to walk into a battlefield and take command every time, Thank you for sharing these stories and your past posts as well, they are fascinating and I’m learning so much 🙂

    1. The morale of the troops was and still is a closely guarded secret. There is a decent book called “Thunder Gods” put out many years ago; even in that book, I feel, there is truth and fiction. But not all Japanese soldiers, sailors or airmen wanted to deliberately and willingly throw their lives away.

      MacArthur? I’m not a historian but he certainly wanted fame and the spotlights that came with it. But I could offer an opinion: MacArthur went after the Philippines for his glory and spot in history.

      1. MacArthur certainly got that! everywhere I’ve read so far they’ve noted how pompous and gun ho he was whenever he got a chance to get out on the field. 😀

  4. Koji I’m just sitting here waiting to be educated. I appreciate your walking this line. You present facts, and on both sides you know someone who suffers as a result. I admire your steadfastness in this presentation.

    1. I feel sad for everybody that was involved back then. Millions died – some were truly faceless. They were just erased. But then, if you look at Japan and the US, Japan’s Self-Defense Force is right now at Camp Pendleton, training side by side with the same Marine Divisions they fought against in the SWPacific.

  5. You have so much knowledge of this period in history and you do offer a very unique perspective. Thank you for taking the time it takes to make history so personal. I really enjoy hearing about your family. Keep it up!

  6. Excellent information as always, Koji. I so enjoy the the education I receive on the Japanese side of the coin. Only one thing – MacArthur was not actually being pompous in his stride to the beach – he was annoyed. The officer in charge of “directing the traffic” of the landing vessels had become increasingly annoyed with the tie-ups; seeing one simply filled with VIPs just put him over the edge. Mac’s vessel was ordered to get out of the way and wait – hence, Mac had to wade ashore with his entourage..

    1. So one of the few times I try to blame somebody, you catch it! LMAO. I just had to throw in the pompous! 🙂 We well know that Gen. Swift wouldn’t have even thought of having photographers. But Mac’s character was one for Hollywood, I think. Red carpet, spotlights…

      1. Oh – you KNOW you have Mac’s personality down pap. It just so happened I had only just re-read a few more stories of Leyte last week and therefore remembered why he had such an expression as he strode thru the water. Not a happy camper for those first few minutes.

      2. I’ll get you a list, but right now I want to commend you for a job well done with your photography site!!! It’s quite unique – advertise it more.

      3. I believe I have it ___
        1- Costello, John; ‘The Pacific War”, (Rawson, Wade Publishers 1981) page 503 mentions the frustrated beachmaster saying, “Let ’em walk!’ when he brushed Mac’s vessel aside.
        2- Flanagan, Lt. Gen. E.M. Jr., “The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division”, (Presidio Press, 1989)
        3- Marston, Daniel, “The Pacific War Companion”, (Osprey Publishing, 2005)
        4- Steinberg, Rafael, editor; “Return To The Philippines; World War II”, (Time-Life Books, 1978), page 78 also mentions the beachmaster
        5-Toland, John; “The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall Of the Japanese Empire”, (Random House, 1970) starting on page 601 has quite a bit of info from the Japanese point of view.
        6- although this is not a book, I must mention – Matt Underwood, editor of the “Voice of the Angels” newspaper for the 11th A/B Assn. Not only does he supply eye witness stories, but much info during our early email correspondence.

        If you are requesting web sites I’ve used for Leyte – that will take quite a bit longer to compile!! But, that list would include the army history.org; the US Green Books and Fordham Univ. Internet History Sourcebooks.

        I hope I’ve helped you in some small way.

      4. You have a lot, gpcox. Sorry to have you go through the trouble of such a professional reply! I have , I think, three but not the others…especially the two especially about Smitty’s 11th Abn. The newspaper sounds to be a most direct source!

  7. If I may, I would like to say something about the morale factor; I will try to keep it short. The Meiji Restoration did away with the so-called samurai class, but I believe that there soon after evolved a privileged class from which appeared the high commanders of the army and navy in World War II. I believe these privileged families continued to “contribute” their sons from 1928 onward, and these in essence became the mid-level officers and company grade/junior officers during the war. These men may have fancied themselves as adherents to the Bushido Code, but I suspect that actual war was much more difficult than they imagined. Who would prefer to serve in Burma rather than in the company of geishas?

    The Japanese lacked finesse in dealing with limited personnel resources. Who trains pilots, and then orders them into suicide missions? Who spends so much national wealth on a navy and then wastes it away in an unwinnable war? What kind of morale results when seniors intimidate junior officers and the ranks into committing suicide, rather than surrendering to the enemy? I spoke to a former IJA adjutant once, who explained to me that when it was apparent that the enemy would defeat his force, his duty required him to make sure that everyone committed suicide. He told me, “I did my duty, of course … and then surrendered to the Americans.”

    The problem with personnel management continues to exist. My good friend Wakagi-san worked for a Toyota Dealer in Hiroshima. When Wakagi failed to meet his sales quota in the first month of his employment, the owner berated and humiliated him in front of the other sales staff. When he failed to meet his quota in the second month, the manager ordered him to kneel on a bamboo rode, to contemplate his unworthiness. Wakagi-san quit and found another line of work. When was this? 1978.

    It is likely that General Makino realized that the war was lost; I seriously doubt that he actually believed Hirohito to be a god. What he should have done, for the sake of his men, was surrender them to MacArthur. Culturally, of course, he could not because his family had been samurai back to the time of Tokugawa.

    1. I fully agree with your view on the “samurai” influence, sir. And I do believe if the samurai weren’t banned, WWII would not have been. Your observations of the big Japanese business environment back then is true. Berating as well as wonton sexual mistreatment of female staff was rampant. Saw it first hand. Morale, even today, is still suspect. Thank you for your contribution, sir…

  8. I think we Anglos in America tend to believe the war movies showing intense, nasty looks on every Japanese soldier….”KAMAKAZE” is the call of the day, meaning they’ll die for the cause.
    I SO appreciate your input. They’ll die for the cause because SHAME is worse than dying. You’re right…they wanted to GO HOME, to their farms, to their families, to the city jobs!
    My husband was from Germany and I’m a bit of an ‘expert’ on that situation, having read TONS on the “Wiederstand” or German resistance (yes, HUGE resistance)…
    Those boys didn’t want to kill! Sure, there were some wild eyed crazies, and I’m sure there were some Japanese crazies, too, but mostly they were YOUNG MEN WHO WANTED NOT TO DIE AND NOT TO KILL……
    thanks for this beautiful piece…..it’s so important we remember the truth of humanity. And killing for fun isn’t humane in any group of people.

    1. What wonderful thought, geeez. Truly nice and heartfelt. Old Man Jack said it to me directly…and quietly. “You had to hate them. You had to…or else you couldn’t kill them and they’d kill you.” There was tremendous anguish in his voice. I stayed silent. I think he appreciated that while knowing I understood.

      Thank you for stopping by.

  9. Thank you, thank you for making the time to share your knowledge with us. We must say there is so much expressed here that will keep us reading. The history books seem to have lost important details that one can only glean from experiencing the war upfront and in person.

    1. My sincere apologies on this tardy reply and thank you. Your kind thoughts are greatly appreciated. I agree that our history books have been effectively politicized. For example, my own children’s history textbooks never mention one instance of heroism by our young boys who gave their lives (it doesn’t even mention Iwo Jima, for example) yet give two pages of preaching there was prejudice and discrimination in our own homefront. It also concluded with the atomic bombings and lead the children to believe, “Was America wrong?”. Thank you again.

  10. Two sides to every story—but knowing both* doesn’t change any facts, or history.

    * Face it, all we can know is only some of both. (And history is written mostly by the victor …)

    1. Bart Ingraldi recently sent me my new favorite quote…
      My favorite quote from David McCullough says a lot – “Indifference to History isn’t just ignorant, it’s rude. It’s a form of ingratitude.”

      1. Santayana said to the effect that the folks who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. True …

        But all we get for free is what we are fed, the rest we have to ferret out. Thoreau famously muttered along the lines of “… the mass of men are too busy scratching out a living to spare the time for proper thinking”

        Gratitude is given where perceived as earned, or where it is directed. Your own post on Kimmel and Short tells us much in this direction …

      2. Which is why sometimes I may come across as both ignorant and ungrateful. But I’m not indifferent — I just wonder, which is true and which is propaganda?

  11. I wanted to leave a comment on your Fine Art website, but I will leave it here instead. You truly have some outstanding photos there. Being a “Gear Head”, I especially enjoyed the car photos. One of your shots was a fine perspective on the retractable roof Ford Skyliner. A man who lived in the city where I live, Mike Doyle, now deceased, owned one of each year of the Skyliner. My blog post about that is here: https://56packardman.com/2015/07/07/gear-head-tuesday-what-is-in-mikes-garage-part-ii/

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