As we made our descent into Leyte’s Tacloban Airport, I vacated my port-side preferred aisle seat and moved towards the window then buckled in. Visibly condensed, chilled and misted air flowed out of the specialized air conditioning system above us, very necessary in the Southwest Pacific. Our final approach was north to south.
The tarmac filled my window and thought to myself, My god. We are actually going to land on the island where my uncle was killed. It is finally happening. Our plane touched down at 4:40 pm.
I wonder what my cousin Masako felt at that very same instant. Besides my 96 year old father, she is the last person on this earth that truly remembers Uncle Suetaro.¹ I had been imagining many things of my uncle’s resting place. I solemnly realized that I had been grieving over what we know happened to him as well as how my father silently grieved for decades… but now, I feared about what we may discover about what truly happened to Uncle Suetaro. His suffering. His death.
I slung my orange backpack weighed down with my cameras and lenses over my shoulder then exited from the rear of the air conditioned jet. It would be six days before I would once again sit in such air conditioned luxury. The impact of the tropical heat and humidity was immediate on this southern California body. I began to perspire faster than Hillary could tell a lie. It reminded me of the climate inside the house when I lived with my last ex – ugly.
After being greeted by Akehira and Calimera, husband and wife owners of the limo service, we quickly exited the heat and humidity into two cooled vans.
Along the way to our hotel, we made our first stop: White Beach. Code named White Beach (see below) by the American invasion forces, it lays just south of the airport. There were two Imperial Japanese Army pillboxes left pretty intact for historical purposes.
On A-Day, the US Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment assaulted White Beach.
Per Cannon’s book, “…Both squadrons landed on schedule, with only slight opposition, and immediately began to execute their assignments. The 2d Squadron, within fifteen minutes after landing, knocked out two pillboxes on the beach, killing eight Japanese in one and five in the other.”
“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?“
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 PacificParatrooperto 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:
While countless atrocities were committed, I strongly believe that especially in the latter stages of the war, say late 1943-on, not all Japanese soldiers and sailors were crazed devils. Professional military personnel had been whittled away by the thousands by that time. Replacements were replacements: they were drafted like millions of our boys: grocery clerks, farmhands, carpenters, etc., but not as well trained as our military were.
I do feel that these young Japanese soldiers and sailors were much like our boys under the stress of combat. They griped about the monotonous chow (or absence thereof) like Old Man Jack. The heat and humidity in the harsh jungle environments wore them down just like ours – likely worse due to lack of supplies – and took its toll on morale.
I stress again I am not condoning the inhuman acts. I just wish to present a possibly different view on our Japanese adversaries during WWII… that they were not all willing to commit suicide and die on behalf of their Emperor. Yes, they hated the enemy with all their might and would lay down their lives for their buddies just like ours… but all of them DID want to go home.
While avoiding any political endorsement of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he did lead England to victory over Hitler’s Germany during World War II.
It was a grave time for England¹. While I am certainly not a military historian, his famous speeches – with his distinctive speech and delivery which helped keep the British morale bolstered – always intrigued me. They were always stirring. Why is that, I thought.
As an example, an excerpt of one of his more famous WWII speeches follows, broadcast to the free world at the end of the Battle of Britain¹. He pays homage to the brave, young RAF pilots who flew countless of sorties in defense of their homeland against numerically superior Nazi warplanes. The radio broadcast recording is set to start moments before his famous words of “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“:
But there IS something in his speeches that captivated the common English layman of war-ravaged England…and me. He captured the populace with his radio broadcasts, from chimney sweeps to the most learned elite. This in a time when Nazi Germany laid siege to the island nation, eventually bombing London itself (which was part of a key tactical blunder²).
Nevertheless, his tone is generally reserved during his speeches; yet, it is stirring. It certainly is not animated as that of his psychotic foe, Hitler; it is said Churchill would merely sit behind the microphone on a desk while his faithful cigar burned at his side while broadcasting his speech. (Hitler is one of the most animated, dynamic speakers I have watched even though he was inhuman.)
Then, a couple of years ago, I had stumbled across an article about his speeches. I think I was researching in support of one of my son’s school projects when I came across it. But it finally laid bare his secret to me for his successful speeches: it was the simplicity of his words.
His speeches not only excluded complex words, like perpendicularity or discombobulation for the most part, his ultimate secret was the number of syllables in a word.
It was rare he used any word with more than three syllables. Yes, three syllables. Amazing, isn’t it?
In an excerpt from his speech on June 4, 1940 below, you can see his perfect choice of words. There are only three words with more than three syllables (bold italics). Simplicity was his preference and key to his success:
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Anyways, I just thought it was fascinating to finally learn one key to Sir Winston Churchill’s successful and historic speeches. After he carried England through the war, I am sad he was voted out as Prime Minister in Britain’s first elections after Germany’s surrender. He passed away in 1965 at the age of 90.
But one thing is for certain. My Little Cake Boss Diva has instinctively mastered Churchill’s speech skills.
“Papa… Why do you do it that way? Do it this way!”
See? All three syllables or less… She must be captivating although she is a bit more animated than Churchill was.
Someone help me.
By the way, my text above has twelve words that have more than three syllables. 🙂
For a collection of Sir Winston Churchill’s speeches, please click here.
1. It is but my belief that England’s situation in 1939 while dire was not as gloomy as history presents it to be. Nevertheless, it was a most dangerous time to be a Londoner.
2. Perhaps in the future, I will write about this “blunder” by Hitler and most of all, Goering. One unbelievable tactical error was ordering his Me-109’s – arguably a better fighter plane than the British Spitfire – to fly alongside his bombers in a defensive move.
“Tell me the truth about death. I don’t know what it is. We have them, then they are gone but they stay in our minds. Their stories are part of us as long as we live and as long as we tell them or write them down.”
The Pain of Hope
I opened this series trying to describe the anguish a mother must have suffered – no matter what her country – knowing her son was missing in action in a battlefront so far away…
When we closed Part 5 of this series, no Imperial Japanese soldier came down off Mt. Canguipot on August 15, 1945, the day Japan officially surrendered to the Allies.¹ The US Navy and Army had also effectively sealed off any chance of retreating to other islands.
Uncle Suetaro was still on Leyte.
The date when Grandmother Kono and Aunt Michie learned of Japan’s surrender is unknown. After all, Japan and especially Hiroshima was in shambles from the fire and atomic bombings but I’m sure they learned fast enough.
But with war over and just like ANY stateside mother, Grandmother Kono waited for her son to come home… her precious son born in Seattle who was to carry on the family name in Japan.
As days passed then months, deep in her heart, she must have come to the realization Uncle Suetaro may not be coming home…but the hope was still burning inside, I’m sure.
Hope is powerful. Hoping, you believe, will change destiny. But on or about October 15, 1947, Grandmother Kono will learn that such hope can magnify anguish.
She learned her son was declared dead.
Japanese War Records
In January of this year and through the urging of Mr. Ota, my cousin Masako and her daughter Izumi journeyed to the Hiroshima Prefectural Office in hopes of retrieving some official military record or declaration of his death. Not knowing was eating them, too.
Because of the strictness of Japanese society, they were unsure the government would release Uncle Suetaro’s military record (if any) to his niece, Masako. I understand in anticipation of this, Masako had a “song and dance” prepared. She wanted to know that badly as to what happened to him.
She took along the precious, brittle 72 year old notebook with her… the notebook in which Uncle Suetaro hurriedly wrote his good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in May 1944. She told the government worker stories of her Uncle Suetaro from 75 years ago – that he was always happy-go-lucky and was the peacekeeper with his kind heart.
Perhaps the song and dance was unnecessary but she was successful. As sad as it was, she was given Uncle Suetaro’s certified death notification. She was also given a copy of a handwritten IJA service record that abruptly ended in 1943 – when the tide of war turned against Japan.
In Masako’s heart and mind, she then accepted Uncle Suetaro’s fate and resting place.
Uncle Suetaro’s Spirit Calls Out
But with the recent discoveries and stirring of beautiful memories, the spirit of Uncle Suetaro dominated her thoughts my cousin Masako said. His spirit beckoned her mightily…so much so that even with her failing legs, she determined to go “visit him”.
At eighty years of age and with ailing legs, Masako and her filial daughter Izumi journeyed to 備後護国神社, or “Bingo Gokoku Jinjya” on February 2, 2015. It is a military shrine in which resides the god-like spirits of those men who gave their young lives in defense of Japan.
Izumi wrote that she escorted Masako to offer her prayers to Uncle Suetaro at the first altar (below), believing that was a far as she could go.
Then Masako, in a stunning revelation, said, “I am going to climb to the top… Suetaro is calling for me.”
Izumi was beyond belief. Stunned.
Her mother was going to walk up the numerous steps that reached upwards towards the brave spirits. No cane. No assistance. By herself.
Masako climbed the steps, one by one. Determinedly.
Izumi wrote to me that upon reaching the top, Masako said in her Hiroshima dialect (translated by me), “Whew..! I made it! I climbed the stairs! You know, I feel Suetaro was nudging me from behind, all the time.” (「まあ～ あがれたわ～ 末太郎さんが後ろからおしてくれたんじゃろ～か？？？」)
Here is a link to a video from youtube of the shrine and stairs. It is so peaceful, you can hear Uncle Suetaro whispering. No wonder Masako had to climb those stairs:
From that day, Izumi says, Masako had renewed her life energy, all due to the call from Uncle Suetaro’s spirit.
But she did voice in reflection, “Suetaro was starving… When I think about that, dieting is nothing (meaning she can do it).”
Or, “Suetaro must be so lonely… When I think of that, I feel that we must go to Leyte to visit him and offer our prayers so he won’t be lonely anymore.”
…then, “Now I’ve got to go to the pool to strengthen my legs… so that I can walk on Leyte.”
And she means that.
She is likely going to Leyte this year.
And it looks as if Izumi and I will be going, too.
Uncle Suetaro’s Soul and Resting Place
Uncle Suetaro’s dreams of life in America died with him…shared only by him. But his spirit lives on.
Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, he 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?
While I cannot speak to how my Hiroshima cousins feel, to me, the hard evidence tells me Uncle Suetaro did make it to Leyte as a soldier in the IJA’s 41st Regiment. With the good help from Mr. Ota, his official military records document that.
But truthfully, I don’t know if he was in the troop convoy that disembarked on October 26th in Ormoc. Records indicate that only two of three battalions of the 41st Regiment landed there; the third battalion remained on Mindanao for a short period. Yet, it appears that even that last battalion headed to Leyte in short order.
Due to Mr. Ota’s notes and as corroborated by official US Army combat records, Uncle’s 41st Regiment did fiercely engage Colonel Newman’s 34th Infantry at the end of October and that one of Suetaro’s lieutenants was killed during that violent combat.
Combat records of the US 12th Cavalry Regiment document that once again Uncle Suetaro’s unit was engaged in combat. The presence of the 41st Regiment was confirmed by dog tags, having been removed from Japanese bodies then translated by Nisei’s in the US 8th Army’s 166th Language Detachment – the same unit my dad was assigned to in 1947.
There is second hand testimony that a few survivors had assembled on Mt. Canguipot from January 1945… and “mopping up” actions by the US Army units continued. Indeed, it was far from a “mopping up” situation.
Those of you versed in WWII will know of how enemy corpses were handled – down to the use of lye – so there is no need for elaboration. If you are not familiar with how death is handled in a WWII battlefield, the only thing you need to know is it is odious.
Therefore, how he met his death will never be known…nor his place of rest uncovered with his identification intact. Perhaps there was a picture of him and his siblings in his pocket that has long since dissolved away. But dedicated Japanese citizens visit these battlegrounds in search of Japanese remains to cremate them. Maybe Uncle Suetaro has been given such an honor.
I can only hope death had a heart…that he did not suffer for so long only to endure an agonizing death in a lonely confine… but statistically, over 60% of the 2,875,000 Japanese war deaths was attributed to starvation or illness (including those arising from wounds and lack of medical care).
Indeed, Uncle Suetaro is a soul lost in a faraway jungle.
Mr. Ota, on behalf of my family here in the US, I thank you for your help in our search for Uncle Suetaro.
Yes, some holdouts continued to fight the Allies after war’s official end and more lives were lost on both sides. And indeed, there were two notable soldiers who held out for many, many years. Sgt. Onoda was the longest holdout, living for 29 years in a Philippine jungle until his former commanding officer flew to the Philippines then personally rescinded his order to stay and fight but this is atypical.
When we left Part 4, at least one of Uncle Suetaro’s officers – 1st Lt. Shioduka – was killed during this battle per Mr. Ota’s book. If so – and if Uncle Suetaro himself survived – he would possibly left in charge of his 37mm anti-tank gun platoon being a Master Sergeant.
After retreating, Mr. Ota understands that around 2:20 pm, the surviving troops of the 41st Regiment tried to dig in along the banks of the Ginagon River and wait for the US troops to advance into their sights. However, after doing so, a deluge flooded the river and they were forced to move. Nevertheless, defensive positions were established just north of Jaro.
Per Cannon’s Leyte: Return to the Philippines:
At 8 am on 30 October, Colonel Newman ordered the 3d Battalion of the 34th Infantry to start for Carigara down the highway. As the battalion left the outskirts of Jaro, with Company L in the lead, it came under fire from Japanese who were dug in under shacks along the road. Upon a call from the commanding officer of Company L, the tanks came up in a column, fired under the shacks, and then retired. The leading platoon was drawn back so that artillery fire might be placed on the Japanese, but the enemy could not be located precisely enough to use the artillery. Colonel Newman then ordered a cautious movement forward without artillery support, a squad placed on each side of the road and two tanks in the center. The squads had advanced only fifty yards when Japanese fire again pinned them down.
When Colonel Newman came forward and discovered why the advance was held up he declared, “I’ll get the men going okay.” Upon hearing that the regimental commander was to lead them, the men started to move forward. The Japanese at once opened fire with artillery and mortars, and Colonel Newman was hit in the stomach. Although badly wounded he tried to devise some means of clearing the situation. After sending a runner back with orders to have Colonel Postlethwait fire on the Japanese position, he said, “Leave me here and get mortar fire on that enemy position.” As soon as possible Colonel Newman was put on a poncho and dragged back to safety.¹
At this point in battle, Mr. Ota reports, a M4 Sherman was proceeding up the left side of the highway when it came under fire. As the gunner was in the process of reloading (i.e., the breech was open), a 37mm anti-tank round directly entered the M4 Sherman’s 75mm barrel, passed through and carried through the radio before detonating. While all three tank crew members were wounded, the results would have been more disastrous if a round was chambered. Uncle Suetaro manned 37mm anti-tank guns.
Around Jaro and Tunga, fierce and intense see-saw battles took place. Continuing on with Leyte: Return to the Philippines, it reports:
Company E pushed down the left side of the road but was halted by fire from an enemy pillbox on a knoll. A self-propelled 105-mm. howitzer was brought up, and fire from this weapon completely disorganized the Japanese and forced them to desert their position. When the howitzer had exhausted its ammunition, another was brought up to replace it. By this time, however, the enemy’s artillery was registering on the spot and the second was disabled before it could fire a shot.
Elements of the 41st Infantry Regiment, protected by artillery, gathered in front of Company E and emplaced machine guns in a position from which they could enfilade the company. Thereupon Company E committed its reserve platoon to its left flank but shortly afterward received orders to protectthe disabled howitzer and dig in for the night. A tank was sent up to cover the establishment of the night perimeter. Company G received orders to fall back and dig in for the night, and upon its withdrawal the Japanese concentrated their fire on Company E. Although badly shaken, Company E held on and protected (a damaged) howitzer…. Company E then disengaged and fell back through Company F, as Company G had done.
Under the protective cover of night, the 41st Infantry Regiment retreated.
Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment, along with troops that had landed at Ormoc during the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, had succeeded for the moment to stall the advance of the US 34th Infantry. But fighting would continue.
On November 1, General Suzuki determined defending Carigara was untenable. As such, and during the night following, General Suzuki withdrew his troops from Carigara. He ordered his remaining troops – now low on food, ammunition, overwhelmed with dying wounded and no hope for adequate re-supply – to establish strong defensive positions in the mountains southwest of the town in the vicinity of Limon. By “clever deception as to his strength and intentions,” the enemy completely deluded the Americans into believing that his major force was still in Carigara per the Sixth Army’s Operations Report, Leyte.
Of significant note, a massive typhoon hit the Philippines on November 8, 1944. Trees were felled and the slow pace of resupply nearly ceased. Trails were washed away with flooding at the lower elevations. This affected both the IJA and US forces, likely the Japanese the hardest.
I wonder what Uncle Suetaro was feeling as the intense rain from the typhoon pummeled him in the jungle while being surrounded by the US Army. He could not light a fire even if it were safe to do so. I wonder how cold he was or if he was shivering while laying in the thick mud. I wonder what he was eating just to stay alive let alone fight for his life.
Breakneck Ridge: Second Phase
Per Leyte: Return to the Philippines, the 41st Regiment is documented again:
On 9 November the Japanese 26th Division arrived at Ormoc in three large transports with a destroyer escort. The troops landed without their equipment and ammunition, since aircraft from the Fifth Air Force bombed the convoy and forced it to depart before the unloading was completed. During the convoy’s return, some of the Japanese vessels were destroyed by the American aircraft.
The arrival of these (Japanese) troops was in accord with a plan embodied in the order which had been taken from the dead Japanese officer on the previous day.² This plan envisaged a grand offensive which was to start in the middle of November. The 41st Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division and the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions of the 102d Division were to secure a line that ran from a hill 3,500 yards northwest of Jaro to a point just south of Pinamopoan and protect the movement of the 1st Division to this line. With the arrival of the 1st Division on this defensive line, a coordinated attack was to be launched–the 1st Division seizing the Carigara area and the 41st Infantry Regiment and the 26th Division attacking the Mt. Mamban area about ten miles southeast of Limon. The way would then be open for a drive into Leyte Valley.
Battle Against the US 12th Cavalry Regiment
Per a US 1st Cavalry Division website (http://www.first-team.us/tableaux/chapt_02/) and with the research performed by Mr. Ota, the 41st Regiment was positively identified as being present on “Hill 2348” and fighting against the US 12th Cavalry Regiment (a subset of the 1st Cavalry Division) :
On 20 November, the rest of the 12th Cavalry became heavily engaged around Mt. Cabungaan, about three miles south of Hill 2348. The enemy had dug in on the reverse side of sharp slopes. Individual troopers were again faced with the task of searching out and destroying positions in the fog. Throughout the night of 21 – 22 November the 271st Field Artillery kept the Japanese on the northwest side of Mt. Catabaran awake by heavy concentrations of fire. Before the day was over, patrols from the 12th Cavalry had established observation posts within 150 yards of Cananga on Highway 2 in the Ormoc Valley.
Mr. Ota uncovered a 12th Cavalry report on microfiche in a Japanese governmental archive, dated November 26, 1944. It states in part, “Dog tags from Hill 2348 confirmed elements of the 41st Regiment there.”² In it, it states fog and the muddy terrain made for extreme conditions but they used 81mm mortars to eliminate Japanese positions.
The website continues:
On 26 November, both the 12th and 112th Cavalry Regiments launched attacks against their immediate opposition. The enemy positions that had given heavy resistance to the 112th Cavalry on the two previous days were seized in the afternoon after a pulverizing barrage from the 82nd and 99th Field Artillery Battalions. On 28 November the 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry launched another successful attack on Hill 2348 which took the form of a double envelopment. The 1st Squadron renewed their attack on positions on Mt. Cabungaan but sharp ridges held up their advance, The 112th Cavalry continued to move toward its objective…
On 01 December the 112th Cavalry engaged the enemy at the ridge south of Limon. On the night of 02 December, the battle for Hill 2348 reached its climax. The 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry suffered heavy casualties from the heavy machine gun fire, mortars, and waves of Japanese troops in suicidal attacks. On 04 December, the 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry attacked and overcame a position to its front with the enemy fleeing in the confusion. “A” Troop, of the 112th, in a drive to the northwest, made contact with the left flank elements of the 32nd Division. Thus the drive became an unremitting continuous line against the Japanese and enemy elements that were caught behind the line were trapped.
Throughout 07 and 08 December, patrols of the 5th and 12 Cavalry continued mop up operations. The 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry moved out to locate and cut supply lines of the enemy who were still holding up the advance of the 2nd Squadron. On 09 December, heavy rains brought tactical operations to a near standstill and limited activity to patrol missions…
…The Division continued the attack west toward the coast over swamps against scattered resistance. By 29 December the 7th Cavalry had reached the Visayan Sea and initiated action to take the coastal barrio of Villaba. On 31 December after four “Banzai” attacks, each preceded by bugle calls, the small barrio fell.
Attempts to Leave Leyte
By January 1945, Japanese command was in shambles. However, some planned effort was made by the IJA to retreat (evacuate) to other islands. Certain departure points were selected south of Villaba, east of the island of Cebu.
The Japanese only had 40 seaworthy landing craft available to evacuate survivors. (A record exists which estimated 268 soldiers of the 41st Regiment were left out of the 2,550 that landed at Ormoc on October 26, 1944.) The US ruled the seas and the skies making any large scale evacuation impossible.
The Reports of General MacArthur states only about 200 soldiers were able to board the landing crafts; however, only 35 made it to Cebu. Once MacArthur figured out this was an evacuation attempt, the Villaba coastline came under intense attack. Evacuation hopes ended for Uncle Suetaro.
Lt. General Makino attempted as best possible to assemble any IJA survivors in the Mt. Canguipot area, just a couple of miles east of Villaba.
By April, 1945, only a small number of tattered, hungry and ill soldiers were believed to still be alive. In a Japanese book called Rising Sun, it was reported up to 100 Japanese soldiers were dying each day during this time from starvation and/or illness.³
If Uncle Suetaro was still alive, I passionately wonder what intense emotions were raging through him. Perhaps he thought of his mother or of his remaining siblings in America. I am here fighting to free my brothers and sister from the American concentration camps.
He must have known his young life would be ending on that island – on that hill to become another soul lost in a faraway jungle.
I can but hope his fear was overcome by tranquility.
The war ended four months later, on August 15, 1945.
No one walked down off Mt. Canguipot that day… in particular, my Uncle Suetaro.
An epilogue will follow and will close this series.
1. Although Aubrey “Red” Newman would survive his grievous stomach wound, he would not return to battle before war’s end. However, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his command actions and retired a Major General. He passed away in 1994 at 90 years of age.
2. It is just my opinion but only one of the 120 US 8th Army Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service on Leyte could have translated this key document in less than a day.
3. I am not convinced of this information’s authenticity.
Short Stories about World War II. One war. Two Countries. One Family