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A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 8

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In our pilgrimage from the photo above was then baby Kiyoshi (held by their mother Michie), Masako on the far right in a kimono and Namie standing next to her. Taken by my father in 1948 in front of the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima. The house was still not repaired from the damage caused by the atomic bomb.

“Uncle, Let’s Go Home…”

Uncle, let’s go home…  Those were the words that devotedly flowed with compassion from Masako’s daughter, Izumi, during our fourth and last memorial service on Leyte.  “Leyte Fuji” stood before her, covered in greenery that had likely been destroyed 70 years earlier.  Her voice was draped in unchained anguish and power.  Her unbridled emotions from her 心 – her heart – were felt by everyone; tears and restrained sobs were in abundance.

Me included.

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There are readers who had their fathers or other loved ones killed or imprisoned by the Japanese.  There are readers whose loved ones learned to forgive after fighting a bitter war.  There are readers who will forever despise what the Japanese did.  I certainly accept that.

While these services may be foreign in appearance, they are to honor those killed in a field of combat.  If you live in America, place yourself on the sacred grounds of Arlington…  Then you glimpse a caisson pulled past the crosses with the flag draped over a casket or taps being played with the folded flag presented to the deceased loved one with thanks given by a comrade on bended knee.

That is what these services are in substance, at least in my opinion.

Just no cemetery.

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The difference is my uncle is not in any cemetery. (US Army cemetery under construction, Leyte. US Army photo.)

Day 4 – Last Service

After the long climb down the path Japanese soldiers took in December 1944 from the town of Catagbacan, we briefly rested in a small, humble cluster of family dwellings.

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A dwelling at the foot of the path down from the mountain.  A couple of villagers climbed palm trees like the one in the center to cut down coconuts.

In an effort to help in their sustenance, Mr. Ota paid the village folks to climb up palm trees to cut down what appeared to be coconuts.  They chopped open the narrow end at an angle with a machete and we sampled it.

Soon, we retreated to the air conditioned vans, taking two villagers (including the guide with the machete) to where a motorcycle would take them back up the long, winding dirt road and home (Catagbacan).  While I was near death, these two young men weren’t winded at all.  My older cousins had also recovered nicely.  Hmm…. Am I old?

We headed to a quick outdoor lunch before continuing on to our last memorial stop: “Leyte Fuji”.

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Last Memorial Service – and the Most Emotional

As we neared the end of our journey, I had come to realize we have been reading our kind thoughts to our family members, both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura, both of whom were killed in war and left on this island.   What made it doleful is that it would have been much, much better to say these kind words to them while they were living.

But there was one anguished tone among all the letters, excepting Masako’s: we all apologized in one way, shape or form to our departed uncles for not knowing of them or even they had died in war… That we were enjoying life.  And we all shared remorse for all the young men who died here under these gruesome conditions – Japanese or American.  They took their last breaths fighting for what they believed in, smothered by depression and futility, death, disease, in unwashed and bloodied uniforms.

Indeed, what Old Man Jack told me years before and after a Father’s Day dinner became more forlorn: “If you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”

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Approximate location of “Leyte Fuji”, or Mt. Calbugos.

“Leyte Fuji” is the nickname given to Mt. Calbugos (aka Calbukos, 11.2541,124.4539) by the Japanese over the decades.  Many deaths occurred around this hilly range with the one prominent peak; while large numbers were of Japanese, American soldiers also perished as did many Filipinos.

Leyte Fuji was in clear view from the spot picked by Mr. Ota; it was at the end of a short road, in from a narrow highway.  There were some very basic dwellings and a small village store.  There were children about as there was an open air schoolroom adjacent to where we parked; it was an unpaved and decaying homemade basketball court.  Palm tree stumps were used to hold the rickety backboards made out of scrap pieces of wood.

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The outdoor classroom filled with children can be seen.

An occasional two-cycle engine’d motorcycle would putt by and the loud voices of young school children at play showed their interest was understandably elsewhere.

The sun was not bashful; the sunshine was blazing and the air sweltering.  The group did their best to setup the memorial table for the last time but a constant and mischievous hot breeze kept the photos fluttering and softly toppled the other items.

The two best “readings” were from these two fantastic ladies.  The best for last, as they say.   Every heartbreak, every torment, every regret, every loss and the feeling of shame flowed forcefully – shame that we all knew very little of these men who died.  Some did not know them at all until recently – like me and Setsu.

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Setsu wrote her letter with traditional brush and charcoal ink. Such writing can show the emotions of those writing them. Think of them as art.

While Izumi read her letter first, I choose to describe now Setsu’s passionate reading to her uncle, Lt. Nakamura.  She had chosen to write her letter on a traditional Japanese notebook with brush and charcoal ink, writing daily and filling it with her deep and unrestrained feelings.

She bowed at her uncle’s picture on the memorial table.  Leyte Fuji was dominant before her.  She began by introducing herself as his niece.  She understandably broke down a number of times.  There is no shame in that.

In one passage, she said a nurse had stopped by her grandmother’s house after war’s end.  The nurse said she had went with Lt. Nakamura to dockside to send him off… and that he told this nurse he should be on the next ship and coming home soon.  Even after she received official notification after war’s end that he was declared dead on July 15, 1945, she probably continued to believe he would still come home… just like my Grandmother Kono.

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The peak of Leyte Fuji.  Many people died on this now green land.  Just realizing there are unburied bones humbled me incredibly.

In another passage, she talked about her father (Nakamura’s brother) that when he went off to war, he knew in his heart Lt. Nakamura would never be coming home.  She felt tremendous anguish knowing her father suffered such a burden for so many years.

A much shortened video of Setsu’s letter:

Setsu’s letter was very eloquently read in spite of overflowing emotions.  It simply brought many to tears; Masako had to sit down, apparently overcome with the sadness and heat.

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Of my Hiroshima cousins, I have communicated with Izumi the most.  The only daughter of Masako, she looks after Masako in spite of working six days a week as a pre-school teacher and raising her beautiful daughter, Yuu-chan.  She is a most caring person and feels for others.

It is with Izumi this trek for Uncle Suetaro’s hidden life and death began in 2010.  My then seven year old daughter Brooke was snooping in my dad’s closet at his assisted living apartment when she stumbled across my dad’s small box.  She had opened it up and brought out a photo of a Japanese soldier.  I thought, “Gee, that’s odd,” as I knew my dad was US Army.  So I showed my then 91 year old dad the picture of the Japanese soldier and asked him, “Who’s this?”

He quickly replied, “Sue-boh (pronounced SUE – e – boh).”

“Sue-boh?  Who’s that?” I asked.

“My brother.  He was killed.”

And so the journey began, culminating in Izumi’s passionate reading of her letter to Uncle Suetaro below.

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Screenshots of video I took of Izumi emotionally reading her letter to Uncle Suetaro. Her video will be kept private.
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How the scene appeared on July 22, 2015.  You can see the makeshift basketball hoop in the background. We all freely broke down.

Preceded by a short, softly spoken message from Namie, trying to summarize Izumi’s well-written letter afire with emotions by using words is not possible; yet, I will try to summarize her words here and how it was delivered:

“Dear Uncle Suetaro,

We have come together at last…  I have come to take you home…”

Five years of pent up emotions burst forth. Her emotions overcame her and sadness showed itself through her broken voice and tears.  Indeed, after we all heard her say “take you home” to our forgotten uncle, the flood gates opened for everyone.

“You still have family in America…  When Koji asked me about you, I was so ashamed as I knew nothing…  Since then, you have become deeply entrenched in my heart and soul, day in and day out…  You are forever in my mind…”

She paused to try and collect herself.  She was only partially successful; it was clear that for her, this was a cleansing, a purging of sorrow, regret and happiness that had amassed over the last five years.

“With the unending patience from Mr. Ota, I learned of your hardships…  Of how you arrived here for war… Your battles and final days.

After learning of your sacrifice for your (American) family as well as Japan, I said to Koji, Masako and my aunts, ‘We must go to Leyte’… and now, we are finally here with you…  I have now heard your voice, was touched by your heavenly soul and heard of how kind and gentle of a young man you were…”

She paused again to collect herself and continued with her magnificent reading.

“Last year, my mother was hardly able to walk.  After memories of you from 70 years ago were stirred up, my mother said you beckoned her here… and she is now here, dismissing her bad legs and all from her mind, to be with you here and to honor you on this land…

And to all of your fellow 41st Regiment soldiers who died, you had to do your duty seven decades ago and you did that with tremendous fortitude and courage…  Your bravery has seeped into me…

To the souls of the 41st Regiment and Uncle Suetaro, let’s go home together…

Love, Izumi”

Nobody had Puffs…  Even then, several boxes would have been required.

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Our group with the memorial table before us and Fuji Leyte behind. Yes, brave and young men were killed on this very ground.
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Masako and Izumi, their pilgrimage to seek out Uncle Suetaro ending in front of Leyte Fuji.
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Indeed, Izumi’s thoughts were righteous.

We did take him home – some took him home to Japan.

I took him back to America where he was born and where his two older brothers and sister lived as he died.

Epilogue to follow.

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Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Epilogues

32 thoughts on “A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 8”

  1. I hope some of my readers will one day find your story about your uncle, and enjoy the rest of your blog Koji.

    1. Thank you very much. I hope to convey that all families who had family members not return but never knew how or where is world-wide… and that no statement is being made of which “side” was right.

    1. Paulette, thank you. Reading of someone else’s (long) family history is not the most interesting stuff but unless I write these stories, the history will become lost within my own family… I don’t even know how many read them! 😉

  2. i am deeply moved. koji, you brought back the soldier in me. this brought back memories of the destruction, the deaths, the poignant lessons in life i have had to endure. My ranger company had stints there in Carigara, then later in Silago to Hilongos, southern Leyte. Not as dedly as the big war in the 40s. But perhaps it is time to visit and honor those who were left behind.

      1. no need to be sorry, koji. some memories may have been painful, but by and large, they have made me a stronger, wiser and better person. and those experiences have been a big factor in making me what i am today.

  3. The words spoken and the prayers made to those who fought for all our freedoms will echo across the many more generations to come, through traditions and stories of bravery like these, Thank you for sharing with us this journey that truly opened our hearts and more importantly? our eyes.

  4. I look forward to Uncle Suetaro’s eulogy Koji. I wish your dad could have participated. I know how important this is to him. You do your father and uncle and family such great honor.

    1. Yes, his brother’s memory is pretty much all that’s left in his mind now. It would have been nice if dad were younger and had his wits about him; he could have tagged along. But it was best he remained home as the environment and terrain would not have been good for him.

  5. Such a beautiful and heartbreaking pilgrimage. Thank you for sharing these scenes so that we, too, can feel the spirits of all those young men who died there and remember their sacrifice for their countries. War is hell.

  6. Yes, you are right that “there are readers who will forever despise what the Japanese did”, but that does not prevent us from better, more acceptable emotions, namely “remorse for all the young men who died”. Thanks for this series of blog posts. They are very good indeed.

    1. Sir, my apologies for this very belated thank you. War is fought by the soldiers and civilians who perished because their country’s leaders failed in their responsibilities in way or another.

  7. For an American who lost someone serving with the 8th Air Force in England, the closest they can come to sharing your experience is to visit the American Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

  8. This is so beautiful in the family’s respect for their dead, even having died so many years ago….it’s very touching.
    And a beautiful testament to the fact that it really doesn’t matter who was right, who was wrong; who won, who lost; All are soldiers doing what they were told to do.
    Near Normandy, the French gave a beautiful cemetery to the Germans (believe it or not, they took French graves out and let the Germans move in with their lost)….over the gates the Germans have a sign that reads “Here lie German soldiers, many of whom did not pick the cause or the fight”. Amen to that.

    Thanks, Koji-San…God bless you and your family.
    (and I want some of that Shepherd’s Pie in your other post….so good!)

    1. As above, Geeez, I deeply apologize for this very belated thank you. I seem to do a very good job of missing comments. Your note of the German inscription was very touching and appropriate… and you are welcome to come on down for Shepherd’s pie anytime!

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