My little cake boss is now 17 years old but has had a devil of a time the past four months.
But since she moved in with me full time after school started in September last year, we had talked about getting another family member.
Well, it was time… Meet Jasper, a Corgi, now four months old.
It was not easy finding a Corgi pup – especially a “rescue”. There just weren’t any. Who would turn in an adorable Corgi pup anyways? So the search widened to a good kennel; indeed, there are quite a few scam sites preying on lonely people looking for four legged companionship as well. She had come across an “available” puppy but her instincts told her to ask her old man (me!) for advice. Indeed, it was a scammer.¹
Worse than scammers are the puppy mills.
But no pups were to be found within 500 miles of us – not a single one… but we finally came across a nice, family run kennel in Iowa. It was then I found out puppies can be shipped. I still don’t like the idea but there was no other choice.
…So the deal was struck.
The Cold, Bumpy Journey
His cold journey began at 8:30 am in Iowa on January 23, 2020. He was checked onto a Delta flight out of Des Moines which landed a couple of hours later at the Atlanta hub after a noon takeoff.
However, the flight tracker shows a number of altitude changes on the long leg to LAX – which to me means the flight crew was trying to escape chop. Imagine being a pup – it doesn’t even know what this large, cold machine is let along being artificially off the ground and being tossed around by chop.
The Arrival at Delta Cargo
My oldest daughter who lives miles away kindly offered to pick my Little Cake Boss and me up in Long Beach, CA. We got there just as Brooke’s new boy was deplaned and taken to Delta Cargo’s LAX facility.
Everyone was anxious.
It was like driving to the hospital for the birth of a first child. 🙂
The Delta team brought him up to the counter very quickly! But we could tell the poor thing was scared out of his wits from the flight.
He was quite damp and shied away from us humans. Of course, after spending his first four months of life on an isolated farmland and kennel in Iowa, the constant rambling of noisy big rigs and trucks just ten yards behind us didn’t help much, I’m sure.
My oldest daughter Robyn was a big help too, being the consummate dog lover since getting her first Golden Retriever at five years of age. Her soothing “doggie voice” helped soothe the poor thing… plus the portable dog carrier wouldn’t have fit into my Ford Mustang’s trunk.
Adjusting and a Surprise
Brooke wrapped Jasper in my old airline blankets and held him all the way home. He was still so scared – or so we thought.
After we first walked into our home, he tried to hide in dark spaces or corners. “What’s wrong, Jasper?” she would ask in dog speak – but he wouldn’t answer. He also wouldn’t eat much or drink.
Well, a couple of days later, Brooke looked at the papers from the kennel. As it turns out, Jasper was given a rabies vaccination right before being put on the flight. I recalled our other small dog; she hid under the bed for two days after getting one… So I figure his suppressed mood was from a one-two punch: the bumpy flight and the ill effects of the rabies shot.
Happily, its been five days since Brooke’s new boy joined our family… and he is doing super! His other ear is now beginning to stand up, He’s eating, drinking and follows his new mama wherever she goes. He sleeps right next to her; I’m sure it is very comforting. Jasper even sits on my lap!
Some scammer tipoffs include, but is not limited to, absence of a phone number, absence of a verified physical address, communication by email only, and much lower than normal pricing. They will also demand an upfront, non-refundable “deposit”.
My bud, Chef Cathy Thomas of Orange County, CA (link here), had posted on her website a marvelous, yummy looking dessert called “Florentine Bars”. They are a creation of one of her culinary associates, Chef Wonyee Tom, who serves them up by the dozens at her establishment in Huntington Beach, CA called “Tomgirl Baking Co.”
The topping of dried cranberries and apricots plus sliced almonds in a cream and honey based homemade caramel mixture rests upon a wonderful buttery crust… and like all of Chef Cathy’s recipes, the recipe was detailed and easy to follow.
Even I could follow them!
To make these, the ingredients are listed below but if you home chefs want to throw together this easy recipe, I’d encourage you to visit her webpage; there’s even a video! (You know how men are visually minded.)
Born in Seattle in 1919 of (legal) immigrants who came across the Pacific from Hiroshima, he is the last of his family. He was the fifth of seven kids. All his siblings left in Japan at the outbreak of WWII died early in their lives while his siblings who were fortunate to have returned to the States before Pearl Harbor survived into their 90’s.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? My son Takeshi took THREE 1st Place awards, including an “Overall” trophy at L.A.’s “Ironman Naturally” competition today. I’m really proud of him. He really put his heart and soul into it. I’m sure he had the jitters as this was his first competition.
Just a pictorial of his accomplishments today. His “first” 1st Place in Physique Class A:
His “second” 1st Place in Physique Class B:
And his Overall 1st Place for Physique Class A/B:
Some shots from on stage; the guy in the center took the trophy for this mixed class:
And after the competition – a chance for a photo-op with the champ!
And yes, for those who are wondering, my physique surpasses that of my son. I’m just being modest and hiding my ripped body with my Green Bay Packers sweatshirt – which is too big now with all the weight I had lost.
And some of his friends and supporters were there, of course.
My oldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter Emi were also there for the morning half of the competition. You should have seen the winding line of thousands who were trying to get in when the doors opened!
The kid done good, yes?! Congratulations, Takeshi!
(Oh… A qualification. All of these photos had to be taken with my cellphone as they disallowed cameras. 😦 )
Those dreaded words once again echoed in my kitchen.
“Papa, can you make something different for dinner?” asked my soon-to-be-dreaded-teenager, the Little Cake Boss Diva.
Ugh… Which reminds me I am overdue for another “She’s Killing Me” story… Actually, I have tons but you will be spared.
Usually, there is no dinner menu for the kids when they are with me… primarily due to my Little Cake Boss Diva. Her forte is executing her plans – a minute after she changes it.
Even then, she is late. Always. You can set your clock to it. Kinda.
As my old-time buddy had come over as we planned from days ahead, I fretted over what to make that was new. Then I recalled Stater Bros. had a sale on fresh salmon fillets so that was my first step. I went to my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated, and found this recipe for “Glazed Salmon”. After scanning the ingredients, I decided this would be it as it had soy sauce. My son Jack will eat (almost) anything if it had soy sauce and Brooke (usually) eats what I make.
So after talking about old times with my buddy, I dashed off to the supermarket; I only needed a couple of items – like the salmon! Unfortunately, the fillets were a tad thin; also, they weren’t of the same thickness but they had to make do (Having them the same thickness ensures the fillets cook at the same rate.).
1 – teaspoon light brown sugar
½ – teaspoon kosher salt
¼ – teaspoon cornstarch
* * * * * *
4 – center-cut skin-on salmon fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each
Ground black pepper
1 – teaspoon vegetable oil
3 – tablespoons light brown sugar
2 – tablespoons soy sauce
2 – tablespoons mirin (see note)
1 – tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 – tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 – tablespoon water
1 – teaspoon cornstarch
⅛ – teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 300F.
After I rinsed off the salmon and cut off the real thin parts, I placed them skin side down on paper towels and patted them dry. I sprinkled them flesh side up with ground black pepper then applied the rub. (Sorry, these are all cellphone pics.)
The glaze was next. After mixing the ingredients together in a small sauce pot, I quickly brought it to a boil. It quickly thickens; remove from heat and cover. Set aside.
Heat a non-stick skillet and oil until very hot. Place salmon flesh side down first and brown for one minute. Flip and brown the skin side also for one minute, then transfer carefully to a baking sheet, skin side down. (I have the wonderful Breville Smart Convection Oven, perfect for the small meals – and desserts – I make.)
Spoon the still warm glaze mixture liberally over the salmon, then bake in oven for 7-10 minutes. Cook’s Illustrated says bake until an instant read thermometer reads 125F for you scientific cooks. I did turn on the convection fan for the last three minutes. The salmon came out wonderfully glazed and moist.
Plate and serve!
Note: Ever notice the white stuff that oozes out from your salmon at times? It’s from using too high a heat. It also indicates moisture has been squeezed out of the fish.
I also transferred the browned salmon to a baking sheet as my non-sticks are not oven safe. If you have one that is oven safe, you can just throw the skillet right into the oven.
But now, I’ve come to the realization that diet is a four letter word.
In fact, I found the first three letters in diet is die. 🙂
In 2012, my oldest son Takeshi (who is now pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy) and I ventured to Japan, mostly to vacation but also to take the ashes of our Aunt Shiz back home to Hiroshima. During our stay with our cousins, Masako always patted my stomach in fondness – implying I was Santa Claus. Yes, for only being 5’6″ tall, I was the jolliest in all of skinny Japan. I tipped the scales at 187 pounds. Japanese people were taking bets if I could squeeze through the train doors.
My son, however, could probably lift the whole bullet train – with one arm. You should have seen the girls stare at him… Well, they were really staring at my belly.
…But to be fair to myself, this is me below when I was about 20…
Two years ago, my great doctor – with whom I’ve been under his wonderful care since 1990 – asked me, “Do you exercise, Koji?”
“Um, no. Whyyyy..?”
“When you first came to me, you weighed 130 pounds… You weighed 183 today. You need to lose 50 pounds…”
I don’t think I heard him… Men suffer from bad hearing, you know.
Long story short, about four weeks ago, my buddy invited me over to his beautiful home in Newport Beach for what I thought would be a cigar gig… Instead, there were nothing but lovely ladies there… There to learn about a dieting system. They described it as a way of life.
Egads… Never did have that cigar.
Well, two days later, I signed up for a 30-day plan with a goal of losing ten pounds. I was already down to 161 pounds – solely from cutting out breakfast burritos and enchiladas at lunch. I also lost some pounds from being on Leyte for six days in July.
I started the 30-day plan on October 21st. It was a strict plan. Basically, only chicken, fish, turkey, green veggies, tofu, protein shakes and a potion that reminded me of Robitussin syrup of years ago.
Yes, it disallowed everything I loved: salami, mayo, beef, pork, Parmesan Reggiano, chili tamales, fettuccine Alfredo… 😢 I realized determination was key… like resisting the two Pringles leftover in your kid’s lunchbox.
My oldest daughter Robyn invited me over for Halloween, coinciding with her birthday. There were cheeseburgers, homemade tamales… and a chocolate mousse birthday cake. OMFG. But I resisted. I distanced myself from the deliciously smelling food by sitting against the walls. I even resisted the bite-size Milky Way bar my little granddaughter Emi was waving in my face as I took her trick or treating. Luckily, she dropped it somewhere along the way.
I took my Little Cake Boss with her friend to In-n-Out on the fourth or fifth day of my diet. They both had Double-Doubles and those famous, wonderfully smelling, fresh French fries… but I didn’t even lick the wrappers. I wanted to but she told me I’d be embarrassing her in front of her friend if I did.
And the toughest times were when the kids were with me; I had to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for them. I didn’t even TASTE TEST the food before I plated it up because of my diet. It must have been OK since they ate my beef stroganoff, spaghetti al Limone, breakfast sandwiches before school, my famous pancakes from scratch smothered in real Grade A dark amber maple syrup with perfectly crisp BACON… I even baked a classic pound cake from scratch for Brooke to take to school.
The results after three weeks?
It is November 11 as I write. Here’s my weight record from my doctor’s records although I haven’t seen him since April; started at 161 pounds on October 21st:
And here’s a pic of my fancy-schmancy scale today (notice my Green Bay Packers socks) – it’s 147-ish, about a 9% drop:
I guess it’s an OK result.
BTW, can you see that belt in the picture with my schoolmates in Japan?
I still wear that belt and it is on the first notch once again! Don’t worry. I won’t gross you out by posting a picture of my belt with my belly as a backdrop.
Moral to story: Son, you have competition… but first, I’m hitting Tommy’s Burgers.
If I can do it, so can you.
It’s a mindset and with a little encouragement, you can attain your goals.
“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”
– John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
Yogi, my oldest daughter Robyn’s lovable three-legged corgi, left us last week.
Yogi was such a happy dog. Her loving nicknames for Yogi included “Yogs” or “Yo-Yo”.
Yogs made me grin when he would run…if you can call it running. Indeed, it was like watching a huge log of Jimmy Dean sausage on steroids with four Vienna sausages¹ as legs chugging through the grass.
Man, he loved to play with a ball. You’d toss a tennis ball or a toy and he would just instantly turn his back on you and bound away with his tailless butt the only thing you could see… just like how the famous Willie Mays did after hearing the the crack of the bat. After he chased it down, he’d bring it back near your feet. He’d then stare at the now motionless ball… And if Yogi thought you were ignoring him, he’d use his long, skinny nose to nudge it closer to you if you didn’t pick it up. “Again! Again!” he was saying. The simple joy he must have had.
The only time he wasn’t happy was when fireworks went off. He would cower behind Robyn’s toilet, shaking in fear, with his two shivering rear legs protruding out from behind the toilet. He was such a lovable wuse.
And he always wanted to be alongside somebody. “Hey! Me! Me! Look at me!” he was saying in dog-speak.
Yogs loved everyone – at least everyone who loved dogs. He was always so happy to see you. And he also knew who loved him. He took in my dad and Old Man Jack very quickly on Father’s day in 2011.
When Robyn would bring Yogi to my house, I’m sure he sensed in her car with his doggy nose, “Ooo! Ooo! We’re near grandpa’s house… The house that I can jump onto comfy sofas all I want and leave my hair all over them…and mama can’t say no! Woof!”
And one of Yogi’s most favorite spots to sit was on my lap as I sat on my sofa; it was a silent doggy signal… His stubby little Vienna Sausage legs would propel him right onto my lap as soon as I sat down. No invite was necessary. Then, he would would lovingly lay his head on my nice round belly.
Once he made it to my lap, he didn’t have to say one bark; his face said, “Pet me, you dumb human, while I leave tons of my hair as souvenirs!”
Well, perhaps I was stretching it a bit. Yogs didn’t really care whose lap it was… It would become HIS spot. No matter what you were sitting on. No matter how little space there was… It was all his space.
But make no mistake about it. He knew who his mama was. When Robyn would bring him over to my home to look after him for part of the day and then grew tired of all the attention I was giving him (How rude!), he would patiently wait at the door for his mama to come home.
And of course, his “Feed me some of that human food!” face.
“Huh? I don’t care if it has preservatives! …What??? Mama said no??? Well, if you don’t tell her, I won’t!”²
It was right before Christmas last year; her usual happy boy Yogi was then not only limping, he would yelp after I patted him on the usual spot: his side near his shoulder. After a few persistent visits with different vets, Robyn tragically found out why her beloved son was limping.
Yogi had cancer. He was only eight.
She was devastated. We all were but I felt most badly for Robyn and I knew exactly how she felt. Yogi was a big part of her life and he provided much happiness. But just as if Yogs was her boy, she opted for surgery… but in order to remove the tumor, her beloved Corgi had to lose his leg.
He returned home the day after Christmas last year. Robyn was so happy Yo-Yo was back home.
We went to visit Robyn on August 23rd. Even with all my failings, Yogs would always greet me with great happiness at the door with his stocky Jimmy Dean Sausage body nearly bowling me over. But this time, he barely made it over to me as we walked in. I said, “Yogiiii… What’s wrong?” I secretly feared for the worst. I knew in my heart something was very wrong with Yogi.
She took Yogi to the vet on August 30th. Inoperable cancer had now spread to his spine; he was in great pain. She called me over that night to say goodbye as did many other family and friends. There was great sadness. But there was a happy moment. She said I could give Yogi some of my human food deli sandwich. I think we all gave Yogi some. He must’ve been so happy.
Yogi left us the next day, August 31st, while being lovingly held by my daughter and son-in-law, just like Masako held my grandma in her arms as she passed away, Yogi was blessed with having such an adoring mom and dad.
I know he is in doggy heaven. More precisely, the “Dogs That Brought the Most Happiness to Mom and Dad” wing of doggy heaven. While very, very sad, I know Robyn’s heart is at peace knowing her beloved Yogi is now free of pain.
I will dearly miss you, Yogs.
For those who don’t know what a Vienna Sausage is:
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Nobody had Puffs… Even then, several boxes would have been required.
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.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:
My LA cousins held a third anniversary Buddhist memorial service for our Aunt Shiz today (August 15, 2015), ironically the day 70 years ago that Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his citizens that Japan was surrendering.
I was reporting in person to my LA cousins of our pilgrimage to Leyte as well. Bessie, my cousin and Aunt Shiz’s only daughter, shared with me something about her mom that echoed of the reason for the pilgrimage.
She told me Aunt Shiz used to watch “Victory at Sea” on the TV for years. “Mom, why do you always watch it?” she asked.
Aunt Shiz replied, “Because I may get a glimpse of Sue-boh…”
Think of the irony. Aunt Shiz was watching a US Navy-backed documentary series of our WWII victory over Japan… in hopes of seeing her youngest brother captured on some US movie footage.
Indeed… One war. Two countries. One family.
Day 3 – Evening / Break Neck Ridge
After the memorial service during which I read my letters, we went up a winding road. The road had a few stetches where it had given way and slid down the side of the hill. Sure kept my attention but our drivers were excellent.
We then made a stop near the crest of a hill: we were at the actual Break Neck Ridge battle site.¹
There was a flight of uneven concrete and dirt stairs to the top; a hand rail was on one side only yet our firmly driven Masako-san unhesitatingly took on the challenge and strongly made the climb.
Once on top of the hill, you could not help but notice you were surrounded by the sounds of insects hidden in the tall grass and birds singing as the sun once again played hide and seek. Standing at the crest gave you a sweeping view of the terrain. Indeed, the Japanese defenders had the advantage, costing many American casualties.
My July 2015 photo from about a similar location:
According to Mr. Ota and US battle reports, the US would continually shell the hillsides to soften up Japanese defensive positions. However, when the shelling or bombing would begin, the Japanese soldiers would temporarily abandon their weapons and via established and well camouflaged foot trails or tunnels, run to the backside of the hill. There, they were shielded against the shelling. Once the barrage or bombing would lift, they would scamper back to their defensive positions and await the US soldiers advancing up the hill.
There was also another short climb off to the right. The vegetation was thicker, chest high in some places and the grass’ sharp edges irritated your exposed legs as you walked through. To give you a small sense of the surroundings, Mr. Ota is speaking of the defensive advantage and Mr. Kagimoto is coming back down the smaller hill, flanked by the vegetation. The height of the grasses can be easily judged; they’re having a slight drought, by the way:
While American memorials were absent, there were a number of Japanese ones:
We said some prayers for those who are still on this island and made our way back down.
Ormoc City and Port
We then headed south nearly the entire length of Leyte, down the two lane Pan-Philippine Highway towards Ormoc City and its dock. Uncle Suetaro disembarked from his Japanese troop transport on this very dock on October 26, 1944.
The dock reaches into Ormoc Bay, the sight of tremendous life and death struggles between US airpower and Japanese shipping. Although the Allies commanded the air, MacArthur was slow to catch on that the Japanese were unloading thousands of reinforcements (including Uncle Suetaro) and supplies. Once MacArthur caught on, it was a certain violent end to a number of troops still at sea. Tons of critical supplies were also sent to the bottom, thereby ensuring the defeat of Japanese troops on Leyte.²
Two palm tree stumps across the street from the hotel are left from the war; dozens of bullet holes pepper the two trunks. The yellow steel fencing can also be seen in the lower right of my photo above to help give a sense of where these tree trunks are.
After all took very quick and much needed showers, we enjoyed an informal dinner outdoors, ordering local grilled items from a mother-daughter food stand. It was still quite warm and therefore steamy but a jovial mood took over after a long day. I didn’t quite know what everything was but my cousins – who had very little food for years – happily dined on whatever was brought out.
After talking about the events of the day and on our way back to the hotel, Carmela encouraged all five ladies to experience a group ride on a “tricycle”, which is a 125cc motorcycle with an ungainly but colorfully decorated side car. The only time I’ve seen girls more giddy was when I took my Little Cake Boss and friends mall shopping – twice.
Remember how lots of college kids would pile into on phone booth? Well, those college kids would have been proud. All five ladies piled in!
While we all had a wonderful, relaxing evening alongside Ormoc Bay, I am sure each realized that both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura had begun their march to their deaths from these very grounds on October 26, 1944.
The final memorial services for our graveless souls in Part 7.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:
For those interested, this link will take you to an actual WWII “Military Intelligence Bulletin”. Dated April 1945, there is a section of the battle including descriptions of the tactics and dangers of fighting on that series of ridges. Interestingly, the publication was issued by G-2, Military Intelligence. My dad was part of G-2 albeit postwar. Please click here.
The critical Gulf of Leyte sea battle took place between October 23 and October 26, 1944, when Uncle Suetaro was en route to Ormoc Bay. Through critical US ship identification errors by the then superior Imperial Japanese Navy force (including the battleship Yamato), they engaged Taffy 3, a small defensive US naval force. Although the battle had been won tactically by the Japanese, they inexplicably turned back. A CGI recap is here on youtube.
“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”
— Herbert Hoover
As we left the Mainit River bridge and our first memorial service behind, a deep somber prevailed. We had been walking over a solemn graveyard, one without gravestones or markers. There was no honored archway signaling you are entering a resting place for brave soldiers who were once farm boys, clerks or musicians before clashing with the ghastly violence caused by failed leaders. Indeed, this graveyard had no boundary but it was timeless.
All these young men – American or Japanese – were forced to fight one another. Perhaps many fought those in front of them out of bred hatred but I believe all fought for what was behind them: their respective countries and families… some who would never know of their names let alone died.
I was one of them until five years ago.
A bugler played taps in my heart.
We were their funeral procession.
Day 3 – Afternoon
With the first somber memorial service experience behind us, we headed back to the parked vans. As we approached the dwelling, we handed the food and cigarettes to the awaiting families.
The drivers were kind enough to have started the engines back up and had turned the air conditioning going. Being a southern California boy, I had wilted in the heat and humidity. Even the Wicked Witch of the West would have melted from all the perspiration that had soaked my t-shirt. Heck, Dorothy would have been spared.
We headed north up towards Carigara Bay but a short distance later, we stopped in front of an elementary school in Tunga.
It turns out, the 41st Regiment had set up a field CP here. And Uncle Suetaro did double-time it past this location on his southward march to Jaro from Carigara to engage the US Army.
Its principal came out to greet us and say hi. She was a cheerful lady although having survived the typhoon. She indicated the school had been literally blown away. Fortunately, a Taiwan church foundation supplied the funds to rebuild most of it.
Before reaching the vast playground, we came across this.
We got back into our two white Toyota vans; their black limo tint was a necessity but it made for hard picture taking, especially from a moving van.
Soon, we came upon Carigara Bay; its blueness quickly greeted us as we drove in and out of sunlight due to some cloud cover that was developing. It was a signal as you will read later.
We veered off the main road at some point and into a village of rice farmers. Living conditions were very basic, down to the dirt and gravel road.
We stopped in front of a dwelling; in my imperfect Japanese, I understood a village elder lived there and that Mr. Ota knew him. It was then I found out it was the site of our second memorial service…and my time up to the podium.
As we prepared for the ceremony, some dark clouds had reappeared beyond Breakneck Ridge in our background allowing the hot sun to play hide and seek. Yet in comparison to 71 years ago, the scene was entirely absent of death and violence – combat that took many lives over two weeks.
As earlier that morning, our group began to set up the memorial table as before, adorned with photographs, food, incense and osake:
At the right front, next to the photographs of my Uncle Suetaro are pictures of “Smitty”, the father of blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper on WordPress. An established blogger, gpcox and I have a special kinship that began soon after I began to blog myself as her father – a member of the famed 11th Airborne – arrived on Leyte just a couple weeks after my Uncle Suetaro did. While he first fought his counterpart Japanese paratroopers at Burauen – and while the chances are remote that he and my Uncle faced each other in battle – they were not far from each other on this small island in the sweltering Southwest Pacific had my Uncle survived Jaro.
She was gracious enough to write a letter to Smitty for me to read during the memorial service. Yes, I had the honor to read two letters… both in each soldier’s memory, honor and peace. I feel it unbelievable that gpcox and I are friends considering Smitty and my Uncle were fighting each other in a most bitter war.¹
A very warm but moist wind began to swirl about us as our second service began with Hill 517 in front of us but beyond the green rice seedlings. The photographs of our fallen family seemed to do a joyful ballet in the breeze. I think they were speaking to us.
Mr. Kagimoto once again led our chanting and did a marvelous job.
It became time for me to read my letters. I was hoping to not insult any of my Japanese family and friends but I determined just to do what I believed to be proper.
I bowed to my group and said in my poor Japanese to please indulge me while I read two letters: one from Smitty’s daughter and one from myself to Uncle Suetaro. I explained Smitty was a US paratrooper and that he had fought the same Imperial Japanese Army that Uncle was in on this now peaceful island. However, after hostilities ended, he respected the Japanese and the Nisei and never said a negative word… that in fact, he had praise for my father’s US 8th Army unit comprised of Nisei’s.¹
Everyday, you feel anger, happiness, frustration… but they all paled compared to what was being conjured up inside me at that moment.
Reading each letter was tough; I didn’t take Puffs with me to the Philippines although I had considered it. It took me five minutes to read the two short letters. My voice trembled and cracked in between the constant sniffling – especially when gpcox wrote in her letter that she wished her father and the rest of the 11th Airborne would receive this letter and spend their next lives in eternal peace.
At the same time, I felt so peculiar reading the letters in English to my uncle, who wrote in his farewell letter to my grandmother that he would fight as a Japanese soldier to free my dad from the US prisons. I think only Izumi understood part of what I said.
I did open it with a couple of sentences in Japanese, saying how blessed I was to have been able to receive a wonderfully smelling lunch on the plane, knowing he had so very little to eat… that I was embarrassed to have not known of him until 2010. It was very hard to say to Suetaro that even up to last year my dad would ask me, “… and how is Sue-boh?”, as he fondly nicknamed him. Each time, I would tell Dad you were still here on Leyte…and his face and especially his eyes would become very sad. But Dad would then again ask me five minutes later, “How is Sue-boh?”
That was the toughest part of reading my letter to Uncle Suetaro. Dad’s bond with him was so deep that his mind won’t accept that his favorite brother fought and died on Leyte to free them.
The Heavens Heard
Soon after my reading was completed, the clouds that had collected over Hill 517 began to thunder… Low but discernible rumbles.
But there is a deep meaning to that thunder for the Japanese as I was to find out. As we concluded the ceremony, Izumi asked me in Japanese, “Koji-san, did you hear the thunder?” to which I replied yes.
“That means the heavens had heard you… and that Suetaro did, too.”
I believe her. Both our eyes watered with happiness.
1 Everett “Smitty” Smith survived the combat and was the first unit to go onto the Japanese homeland on August 30, 1945 for the Occupation of Japan. I believe his unit actually jumped the gun a bit but he was there at the Atsugi Airbase when MacArthur and his corn cob pipe first landed as conquerer a few hours later. I hope gpcox won’t mind but to show you Smitty’s character, an excerpt from one of her blogs:
“Upon returning home from Japan, my father and several other troopers from the 11th A/B, including two Nisei, went to a saloon to celebrate their return to San Francisco and the good ole U.S. of A. The drinks were put up on the bar, free of charge for returning veterans, and Smitty began to distribute them. He said he stopped laughing and talking just long enough to realize that he was two drinks shy of what he ordered. He knew right off what it was all about, but he tried to control that infamous temper of his, and said something to the effect of “Hey, I think you forgot a couple over here.” The reply came back in a growl, “We don’t serve their kind in here.” Dad said he was not sorry that lost control, he told me, “I began to rant things like, ‘don’t you know what they’ve been through?’ and ‘what the hell’s wrong with you?’”
By this time, the other troopers had heard Smitty yelling and it did not take them long to figure out the scenario between my father and the bartender. No explanation was necessary. In fact, dad said the entire situation blew apart like spontaneous combustion. The drinks hit the floor and all hell broke loose. When there was not much left in the bar to destroy, they quieted down and left the established (such as it was). The men finished their celebration elsewhere. Smitty said he never knew what, if anything ever came out of the incident. He never heard of charges being filed or men reprimanded. (I’ve wondered if Norman Kihuta, who was discharged on the same date as Smitty, was there on the scene.)
For the record, a barber wouldn’t cut my Dad’s hair either – even while wearing his sergeant’s uniform emblazoned with the patch of the US 8th Army.