A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

Fortune in War

I believe there is fortune in war.

Before Pearl Harbor, the US was still not recovered from the Great Depression.  With the money printed in great quantity – as a necessity – by the US government, the US war machine rolled into action.  Many executives and businessmen taking part in this frantic and mass expenditure of government money with their companies gained their financial fortunes from this great war as did a large number of Congressmen.

The boots on the ground also had fortune – but it was MISfortune.  Misfortune fell upon the millions of brave young men who were sent to war because world leaders had their own agendas.  Millions were killed like my dad’s favorite brother, my Uncle Suetaro.

Misfortune, unfortunately, also followed home for the rest of their lives those young men who survived combat.   Men like Smitty, Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson.  Horrible nightmares each and every night.  Some succumbed to the immense weight this horrible misfortune had on their minds and ended their own lives after making it home.  Sadly, they are all being forgotten in our children’s history books.

______________________________________

Our little group was afforded a day of sightseeing before leaving for Osaka/Kansai Airport in Japan, once again led by Mr. Yusuke Ota.  Here’s a small collection of sights taken in, some during the week (Clicking on an image will show you its location.):

c-10-551
Mr. Kagimoto hunts for dragonflies at the  golf course we had lunch at. The facility was once for US Army officers.
c-10-553
Shoeless children help their elder sell pineapples at bayside in Tacloban City.
c-10-556
Meeting with beautiful wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, Christina Gonzales, a former actress. Thank goodness for our Carmela in the center: she speaks four languages fluently including Tagalog, English and Japanese.
c-10-560
Villaba’s town center; the beach is off immediately to the left. Our two vans are at the right.
c-10-558
(From left) Masako, Christina Gonzales and Carmela. The other young lady in red in the background is another Filipina actress.

c-10-547

c-10-552
Mr. Ota inspects a clock tower he donated to Tacloban City; he serves as a councilman in Fukuyama City where my uncle’s regimental army base was located during the war.

c-10-549

c-10-548
School boys at Old Kawayan City, Leyte.
c-10-557
At Albuera, Leyte. One of two self-destroyed Japanese howitzers can be seen behind Izumi.
c-10-400
Hard life of a Filipino fisherman.
c-10-550
At the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines. Engineering was provided by the Japanese.

While waiting at the Manila Airport for our connecting flight to Osaka, Mr. Ota took us to the Philippine Air Force Museum where among other items was the Type 99 Arisaka rifle Lt. Onoda kept with him for over 29 years in the Philippine jungle.  He was the last holdout from WWII:

c-10-555____________________________________

Epilogue

A Victory Nonetheless

Seventy years after this most brutal war in the Pacific, the same US Marines and the same Japanese military that sought to kill each other with extreme bitterness are now the closest of allies as shown in the USMC photos below.  Now, they sail together on the same US Navy ships, eat together, train together and assault the beaches here at Camp Pendleton, CA together in joint training exercises.  The same with the US Army.  My gut feeling is one of these gallant young men would die to protect the other if the unfortunate circumstances arose.

Then:

U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Bitter enemies then, U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

Today:

110215-M-0564A-030 U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)
U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. (Three US Marines on the left, two Japanese Self-Defense Forces soldiers on the right.)  DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

Uncle Suetaro lost his life and while Smitty carried the war silently for the rest of his life, they were both victorious because of the above.

It was not in vain.

________________________________

One War.  Two Countries.  One Family.

c-10-561 A
Uncle Yutaka, taken at the Minidoka, ID “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. You can see the sub-standard wooden barracks they lived in; they only had tar paper covering the wood slat walls. Yutaka was the oldest surviving sibling but was imprisoned here during the war. My dad and cousins were also here but no picture of them is available.
337787_250284358426017_1727271546_o
Aunt Shiz and my cousins as they leave the Tule Lake, CA “War Relocation Center”, November 1945. My best guess is she still doesn’t know for certain that her younger brother Suetaro had been taken by the Japanese Imperial Army and killed. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima where her mother Kono and older sister Michie (and her children that went on the pilgrimage) lived just three months earlier.
c-10-93
Dad in his US 8th Army uniform along with Namie (center) who went on the pilgrimage and Sadako, her older sister. Dad had taken them Spam and C-rations plus clothing he bought at the PX in Tokyo.  April 1948, Miyajima, Japan.
c-10-109
Uncle Suetaro’s official death certificate from the remnants of the Japanese military. It was dated October 15, 1947, less than two months before my dad arrived as a US Army sergeant for the Occupation of Japan.

My Thoughts of the Experience

I cannot speak for Masako or my other cousins but what you believe in is almighty.  Hope.  Fear.  Happiness.  Sadness.  I experienced all those during the pilgrimage to Leyte.

While listening to Masako’s tender letter to Uncle Suetaro, a feeling of deep regrets and the dashing of hope experienced by Grandmother Kono buried me.  My heart could see Grandmother’s face in silent torment, resting in Masako’s arms in 1954 as she drew her last breath in the Kanemoto family home.

combo
Grandma Kono at her Seattle barbershop, circa 1917. A forlorn Grandma and Masako, sometime after learning of Suetaro’s death, circa 1948. Grandma would pass away in this very home six years later.

Just like most American mothers, Grandmother must have clung on to a hope – however dim – that her youngest son Suetaro would come home… the one she decided to keep from returning to Seattle in 1940 so that he could carry on the Kanemoto name and inherit the home and land. That was not to be now. It would have been better to have let him go home. Her son would be alive.

But perhaps Uncle Suetaro would have ended up in the same prison camps that my dad, aunts and uncles were in but would still be alive.  Or, he would have answered the call out of camp and volunteered for the US Army as thousands of other Nisei’s did to prove their loyalty, only to die in Italy or France as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.¹

c-10-562
Uncle Suetaro and my dad.

I also thought about my dad often during the trek.  At 96 years of age, this journey would have been physically impossible for him.  More so, I wondered if the stirring up of fond memories of his youngest brother would do more harm than good at this stage in his life.

My 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding the ashes of Suetaro who was killed at 24 years of age.
In 2012, my then 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding Uncle Suetaro’s fingernail clippings and a lock of hair.  Uncle Suetaro was killed also at 24 years of age.

I also felt more deeply the quandary confronting Uncle Suetaro when he was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army.  The decision he had to make to knowingly fight the country your siblings were living in as Americans… and the country he most dearly wanted to return to.  However, he wrote in his farewell letter that he will fight to free his older siblings from the prisons FDR sent them to.

Also in his heart and in that of his mother, both knew this was a one-way trip.  A death sentence.  Japanese soldiers rarely returned from war.  In the case of his IJA’s 41st Regiment, only 20 young men returned home out of 2,550.

I’m sure just like any other American boy, he wanted a life that was worth living, a life filled with feelings, emotions, love and dreams.  That would never happen and it pains me without end.

Before he met his death, was he drowned in futility or solace?  Did he see death up close and come to the stark realization that would be his future perhaps tomorrow?  What did he dream about as he took his last breaths or was he blindly looking up at the stars hoping?  Was he dreaming about his childhood, playing on the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle with my dad?  Was he in great pain or was his death swift and without warning?  Did he see the eyes of the American soldier inches from his own eyes in a hand-to-hand combat to the death?  Was he hungry?  How terrified was he?

IMG_0451
A tiny photo of the two brothers, dad and Suetaro, in Hiroshima, perhaps 1928. It fell out from behind one of the pictures in Uncle Suetaro’s photo album, filled with pictures Uncle Yutaka likely mailed to him from Seattle. Although tiny, it must have been precious to Uncle Suetaro for him to have kept it. I wish I knew why.

The painful mystery of what Uncle Suetaro did, felt or saw in his last days will remain forever so…  That is one agony that will be with me until my own time comes.  Happily, we at least visited him in his unmarked graveyard among the now lusciously green vegetation with the birds endlessly singing Taps for him.

As Izumi passionately said to Uncle Suetaro’s spirit, “Come home with us.”

Indeed, he did.

He is no longer a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

_________________________________

I wish to thank my Hiroshima cousins for making this unforgettable pilgrimage possible and a special thank you to Izumi whose untiring efforts to follow up on Japan-based leads brought comfort to our family.   I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to Akehira and Carmela who made dear Masako’s journey so comfortable and worry-free.  And a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Yusuke Ota whose in-depth knowledge allowed us to see our Uncle Suetaro’s last footsteps on this earth and gave Masako peace in her soul.

Most of all, Uncle, thank you for your sacrifice.  Indeed, you set your older brothers and sister free.

Rest in peace.

南無阿弥陀仏

____________________________

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 – Part 8

Notes

  1.  For a summary of the all Nisei US army regiment during WWII: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/442nd_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29

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

  1. This sojourn has touched me very personally, and very deeply. As Aunt Shiz was posing for that picture, I was being born … at that point, I am amazed that she could smile, but that smile gives me hope for the future. Things today seem bleak, too … maybe Aunt Shiz is telling us that we can conquer the evil in this world sufficiently to maintain our Great Republic. Let me conclude by saying that I admire greatly what you did for your family in this return to Leyte … I am honored to call you my friend.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, sir, and likewise about the friendship. I hope you are right about what Aunt Shiz is telling us. (The oldest boy in that picture is my cousin Hiroshi Tanaka; he ended up being head football coach at Marshall High School. His most famous student player was Andy Reid of the NFL. My cousin Neil was born in Tule Lake in ’43 then was transferred to Minidoka after birth.)

  2. So true Koji…

    I believe there is fortune in war.

    Before Pearl Harbor, the US was still not recovered from the Great Depression. With the money printed in great quantity – as a necessity – by the US government, the US war machine rolled into action. Many executives and businessmen taking part in this frantic and mass expenditure of government money with their companies gained their financial fortunes from this great war as did a large number of Congressmen.

    The boots on the ground also had fortune – but it was MISfortune. Misfortune fell upon the millions of brave young men who were sent to war because world leaders had their own agendas. Millions were killed like my dad’s favorite brother, my Uncle Suetaro.

  3. Fantastic writing! The various conclusions you come to are so right, including the one about “their own agendas” and the fortunes made by executives and businessmen. In Europe, this was particularly true of the Great War. Why should my grandfather, Will, have to spend two years of his life fighting Germans? He had never even seen a German, and if he had seen one, he would have got along with him just fine.

    1. Thank you kindly, sir. And as I mentioned, I grieve for the numerous Filipinos who lost their lives… through intent or accident. Civilians always take the brunt of it…

  4. With any war I feel an angry frustration that so many had to die terrible deaths for the whims of power-hungry leaders. What a waste of life and potential, such pain inflicted on families, why, why, why. Thank you for putting the spotlight on the humanity of both sides in war. I am happy your family found Suetaro’s spirit and a sense of closure and peace.

  5. This has been a truly memorable series and accounting of your family’s history in relationship to the War, and in particular, Uncle Suetaro. You have very successfully helped me see that a family doesn’t really move on when a loved one is lost under such horrific circumstances. And that generations later the questions remain. I think that every member of your family who went on this pilgrimage must have come away changed. I respect you all so much for the way you honored those gone before you. It was a privilege to read these accounts, Koji!

    1. You were very kind to have read them given your schedule: work, your landscaping project, your family and excursions.

      Just like Mrs. Genaust, the wife of Sgt. Genaust who was killed in a cave and his body unrecovered, all mothers I feel who had sons deemed MIA sadly grieved silently for the rest of their lives.

      Thank you again, Debra.

  6. This has been a very moving pilgrimage, even for those of us who are only following from across the world. I love the photo of Masako, Christina and Carmela and I think that the most beautiful of them is Masako.

  7. So many questions from that war unanswered, yet we continue to search. This is a tribute to your uncle the likes of which are rarely seen! Smitty and your father fought on the same side, but I know they both would be willing to shake your uncle’s hand in the end. Young men suffered for the power struggles of their elders.

    1. I see the last time I reviewed always kind comments was in September. Very bad of me… Your thoughts are so much appreciated, gpcox. I can only hope you and your dad’s fallen buddies are smiling…

  8. Truly a well done post – goodness I feel like I have some catching up to do – and will a little at a time I guess – anyhow- chilling to see the photo of your son at 24 with he bow and how uncle S died at 24 –

    1. Thank you, Yvette, and my sincere apologies for my tardy reply. Everyone alive now has some connection to WWII in some way or another but I hope those souls are at rest.

    1. Thank you… and for the prod… I missed a couple of kind comments.

      It is sad to read of his demise, on an island that nearly all Americans hardly knew of just a few years earlier. I hope those tags will touch someone’s heart, knowing they were actually dangling from his neck… a last connection.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s