A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

iroshima

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On a sweltering, humid day, the family poses in front of Breakneck Ridge after the second of four memorial services. The one with the belly is me. Leyte, Philippines. July 22, 2015.
“Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, Uncle Suetaro glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.
He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle, Masako and Spam Musubi

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Cousins Namie and Tomiko negotiate an incline on Leyte.  They are all in their late 70’s.

A Pilgrimage to Leyte Begins

At 33,000 feet, the Philippine Airline’s pressurized cabin was cool and comfortable.  An hour into our three and a half hour flight to Tacloban, Leyte, it began to fill with the wonderful, pleasant scent of lunch.

The attractive Filipina flight attendant handed us our meals.  As I took the gold foil cover off the chicken lunch, I turned to my cousin Kiyoshi seated next to me in 46H on my left and said, “末太郎さん、腹へっていたでしょう、” or “Uncle Suetaro must have been so hungry.”

My eyes began to tear up once again.  It would happen many times during our Hiroshima family’s pilgrimage to Leyte…

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The wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, the former actress Cristina Gonzales, was kind enough to greet our group.

In the epilogue of my story, “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle”, my 81 year old cousin Masako climbed a long flight of stone stairs to the top of a military shrine in Hiroshima.  She said our deceased Uncle Suetaro called out to her.  With that, we knew we would be headed to Leyte.  It was just a question of when.

“When” was last week.  July 19, 2015.

My four Hiroshima cousins and Masako’s daughter went on a six-day/five-night pilgrimage to Leyte, spearheaded by the author of the book “Eternal 41st”, Mr. Yusuke Ota.  With us was another lady whose uncle was verified as being killed on Leyte near the end.  Also with us was a news reporter from a Hiroshima newspaper.

We went to honor not just our uncle who was killed as a Japanese soldier but for all souls who never returned from that island during WWII.

I also took with me a letter as well as photographs from blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper to be read to her father “Smitty”.  Smitty was a paratrooper with the US 11th Airborne and fought for his own life on Leyte against the Imperial Japanese Army – of which my uncle was one.  My uncle arrived on Leyte October 26, 1945; Smitty on November 18, 1945.  Smitty returned home; my Uncle Suetaro did not.

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The memorial tabletop, Japanese-style. You can see Smitty’s photos on the right alongside the photos of my Uncle Suetaro. Perhaps their paths crossed but ultimately, their sacrifices 70 years ago led to the US/Japan harmony we have today. Indeed, I like to think they were both victorious.

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Leyte

But first, a quick look at Leyte and its people:

A little Filipina girl runs alongside us as we pass through her small village:

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Filipina children we encountered climbing Hill 522 near the invasion beaches of 1944.
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A typical transit bus, taken through our van’s window.
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Local people almost always watched our memorial services including this young mother and daughter. She is clutching some of the food we distributed after the services.
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Vegetable peddler, Tacloban City.
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Curious locals watching us near Limon River which turned blood red during the battle in 1944 per interviews.
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Family selling bananas at street side. Bananas grow everywhere on Leyte.

The entire island is in various stages of reconstruction after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda less than two years ago.  Death toll estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

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Tacloban City and the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Mr. Ota is very active in the noble Tacloban City/Fukuyama Sister City relations.  If you would like to contribute to their recovery efforts, please contact Mr. Ota directly through his blog:

http://kkochan.com/

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The pilgrimage continues in Part 2… Please click here.

38 thoughts on “A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Part 1”

  1. I will be visiting Leyte when I visit Philippines come June, on that trip I will be visiting the historic sites as well, to pay respect for those who fought to earn us our freedom, the photo of tacloban though, there’s just no words to describe what everyone went through when the Typhoon hit :O

    1. The entire island is struggling to rebuild. Their people are strong and hopefully, progress will be steady. I hope living conditions will be greatly improved by the time you visit.

  2. Nice post… Thank you for sharing!
    Had two uncles that were on Leyte around that (1944- 45) time frame, one with army air corps, other was infantry.
    The infantry one, (mom’s oldest brother) came back with Malaria, shrapnel wounds, and a Silver Star. I guess the fighting was really bad, he said he would go Canada if we had another war. Smoking cut him down in the 1970’s, he’s buried probably not far from where you live, in California.

    1. I am sorry about the early loss of your uncle. Leyte in 1944-45 was indeed a very “crowded” battle zone but all in all, with the gallant efforts of men like your uncles, the US Army came out victorious. I hope they both adjusted back to civilian life as best they could.

      1. Koji-san, Just to clarify, they both made it safely home, but thanks.
        (one saw action, the other’s time was quite uneventful, as far as I know)
        Looking forward to reading your upcoming posts on Guadalcanal and the Solomon’s! When is that trip planned?

  3. I don’t have words, Koji. You not only did an outstanding homage to your uncle and my father, but put together an extraordinary post – Thank You!!

    1. I hope I read your letter to your liking, gpcox. You get kinda choked up reading such things. Have I mentioned Japanese men don’t cry? 😉 But then, why do I use so many Puffs? Oh yes. Darn allergies.

      1. You did a great job, Koji. I was wondering through the entire ceremony, how you were able to continue talking at all – I would not have. We’d better share that case of Puffs!!

      2. Believe me, I stopped a number of times reading your letter followed by my letter to my uncle. I explained to my pilgrimage group our connection and they wholeheartedly accepted the reading. They even helped arrange Smitty’s photos for theemorial. They were happy to hear of Smitty’s post-war feelings…

  4. Koji, what an experience. I admire you and your relatives determination to honor your uncle. And to pay respects to all who suffered, perished and persevered there. Thank you for another incredibly emotional post.

    1. My cousin Masako was a real trooper. At 81 years of age and with a cane, she walked and walked, climbed and climbed on those unsure legs…driven by Suetaro’s spirits.

  5. Oh my, this gives me unending goosebumps. So beautifully written. So moving. The photography is, of course, stunning. You are creating such important historical records, but also including such powerful human elements. Bravo my friend~

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