“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
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…
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.
But first, a quick look at Leyte and its people:
A little Filipina girl runs alongside us as we pass through her small village:
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.
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:
The pilgrimage continues in Part 2… Please click here.
39 thoughts on “A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Part 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
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.
I hope so too, It’s one of my stops so 🙂
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.
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.
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?
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!!
I agree excellent – what a memorable trip.
It was the most emotional trip I have every been on, Patty…
I can’t even imgaine. I think it is a wonderful thing how you honor your uncle.
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.
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!!
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…
How very nice and understanding of them! Was this ceremony covered in the Leyte newspapers?
A very moving account. I am looking forward to the second part.
Thank you, sir, and for your continued readership.
This is a sensitive, moving post of honor to your family.
Thank you, ma’am. I hope that the memorials are seen as praying to all combatants that were fighting for their lives and respective countries.
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.
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.
Such honor and respect Koji, from all of you. He must have felt your spirits as well—-looking for him.
what an extremely respectful thing to do for your uncle. God bless you all. This is beautiful and I, too, can’t wait to read more..
It was a first-time experience for me…plus it being conducted all in Japanese, I was worried sick I would do something wrong…
Well done. My eyes grew damp as I read this. I do hope I get to Thailand to remember the men who were with my father and did not return.
Not so oddly, Hilary, I did think about your father and the POW horror…He was incredibly driven to have come out of it…
He was also lucky, and he had mates who looked after him.
…and I hope you will make that journey, Hilary… (and I got a weird screen when I clicked on greenwritingroom…)
I hope that was just temporary, it looks OK at my end.
What am I doing wrong???? Help! https://www.flickr.com/gp/p47koji/UXGCyp
The beginnings of a great story. Glad you were able to go. Can’t wait to read about the rest of your experience there.
A beginning must have an end, yes? Gotta get to it.
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~
You are so kind with your words, Cindy, very thoughtful to say the least. Thank you.