Category Archives: World War II

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4


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Grandmother Kono, flanked by my dad on the left and his younger brother Suetaro on the right.

As we readied for Day 3 of our pilgrimage, the fate of my Seattle-born Uncle Suetaro became even more haunting.  From my study of the Battle of Leyte and from now standing on its very soil, the enormity of doom that hovered unbeknownst over Uncle Suetaro became very clear.

Vastly outnumbered by the Allied invasion forces and out-supplied, only 20 young men out of the 2,550 in his Hiroshima-based 41st Infantry Regiment would ever leave Leyte.  The remains of the 2,530 soldiers are still there.

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After the first memorial service and just north of Jaro, off to the west of the road that runs up to Carigara Bay. The low lying hills behind us is from where Col. Newman’s column came under fire from my uncle’s IJA’s 41st Regiment on November 1, 1944.

Day 3 – The Morning

The same torch-like sun greeted us once again in the morning as we gathered for Day 3 of our pilgrimage.  Today promised to hold the biggest emotional impact of our journey: we will be actually tracing the footsteps of our Uncle Suetaro.

While our young drivers expertly dodged two-cycle motorcycles, pedicabs and colorful small buses with passengers holding on to dear life on the back bumpers, we headed up to the once standing and vital steel bridge at Cavite… and my Uncle’s destiny.¹

c-10-466 Due to high costs, I was unable to use my smartphone’s GPS nor Google maps to track our movements nor mark our coordinates; as such, we came upon the bridge without notice…but we had indeed arrived.

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The remnants of the Mainit River Bridge of 1944.

As we got out of the vans, it firmly struck me that we were in audience of my uncle’s past footsteps… The footsteps of the uncle I never had the chance to meet because of war.  Our paths had finally crossed.

In 1944, it was referred to as the Mainit River Bridge; its remnant was right in front of us.  We stood on its replacement bridge about 50 yards away, with heavy traffic rushing by, barely passing us on the narrow walkway.  The original steel bridge spanned from right to left in the above picture.

A dark weight bore down on me as I stared at the single concrete column.  Like on some of the walls and fences at Normandy, it was pot-marked with bullet holes and artillery damage from that day.  I could hear the gunfire, the artillery, the whump of mortar rounds hitting their targets and the desperate screams of young men dying.  My skin – even in 90F weather and covered with sweat – got goosebumps and my eyes teared up. This is where I believe my uncle met his likely death… on the left side of the river and above centerline in the picture.  According to Mr. Ota’s book, my uncle’s lieutenant in charge of the 37mm anti-tank guns, Lt. Shiduoka, was killed; in addition, over 1,000 Japanese soldiers died between October 30th and November 1st.

Although the bridge was rigged with explosive charges but sadly for the Japanese Army, the combat engineer was killed before he could set off them off.  The bridge was left intact.  On the other hand, it was good for our US Army as essential Sherman tanks and self-propelled howitzers could now traverse the muddy river to engage the enemy.  I can “feel” both sides of the battle.  Victory and defeat.  Perhaps that is a curse.

I offered gassho, the Buddhist way of prayer, to all those young men – especially to Uncle Suetaro – while on that bridge, quivering with the weight of the traffic lumbering over it.  Anguish filled my chest as tears filled my eyes.

I wonder how my dad or grandmother would have reacted if they had seen it.

The First Memorial Service

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Entering Jaro, Leyte.

If Uncle Suetaro had survived the combat, we followed the road towards the west (see map above); it was the same road they would have retreated on – albeit dirt or mud the evening of October 30, 1944.  We then entered the town of Jaro.

We then turned north towards Carigara Bay but stopped after about a kilometer.  (See red arrow in battle map above.)  I didn’t know why until we started to get out.  We were to conduct our first official memorial service of this pilgrimage at this spot.  Believe me that the memorial service in and of itself worried me as I am not Japanese.  I am American.  Japanese pay attention to minute actions; acting in one way may be harmonious, another way very rude and unacceptable.

And it is true: a Japanese man can come to America and become American… but an American can go and live out the rest of his life in Japan and never become Japanese.  Although I was born in Japan, the latter is me.

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This US Army photo was indicated as taken at Jaro, Leyte. This could very well be close to where we stopped but regardless, it should give you an idea of what our US soldiers saw – very heavy forestation in stifling humidity.

We had stopped on a narrow two lane street, across from a small dwelling filled with a number of children.  As we left the coolness of the van, the sweltering heat greeted us once again.  Mr. Ota explained that just beyond our view from the road was the low-lying hills on which the 41st Regiment had hidden themselves and fired upon the tanks and Col. Newman on November 1.¹  And he was right: Col. Newman would not have been able to see the low-lying hills, especially since the vegetation would have been much thicker on November 1, 1944 (see photo above).  The Japanese Army selected their defensive position well.

Our party assembled their articles to be carried to the memorial service location: photographs, food, cigarette packs, water, incense and osake.  Things that a young Japanese soldier longed for out on the battlefield.  Mr. Ota’s young, tall son Daichi lugged along a small side table for us in this heat.

My guess is we walked inland about a quarter of a mile from the dwelling.  We stopped at the base of the low-lying hill, now clearly visible in front of us.

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Mr. Ota explaining to us about the low hills not visible from the road and from which a Japanese 37mm anti-tank round entered through the barrel of an American Sherman M4 tank. Uncle Suetaro was a sergeant in command of a 37mm anti-tank gun crew.

Palm fronds were swaying in a consistent but warm breeze and ground cover would crackle as we stepped upon them.  But in drastic contrast to explosions caused by US 105mm howitzer shells exploding or the sound of Japanese Nambu machine guns blasting away 71 years ago, some birds were joyously singing about us.  Perhaps they knew why we were there – for peace and remembrance.

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Masako offering her gassho and incense.

While many tried to shield themselves from the searing sun by standing in the little shade that was available, the folks meticulously placed their offerings and remembrances of family.

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The memorial table still in the midst of preparation. Mr. Ota had the blue cloth designed for the memorial; there is a map of Leyte along with main battle sites. The wooden boards are called TOHBA (塔婆) I believe; some will have five notches designating five-tiered pagodas. Some believe them to function as antennae, a way of calling the souls back.

There was a first time for everything.  This service was going to be definitely mystifying for me.  And I could see Mr. Ota went though a lot of trouble so that we would have a memorable service filled with honor, release of grief and closure.  He did the planning and preparation on his own; we didn’t have to ask him.

The service would last about 20 minutes.  The program entailed:

  1. Singing of the Japan’s hymm
  2. A minute of silence
  3. Sutra chanting by Mr. Kagimoto
  4. Incense offering and gassho
  5. Reading of letters
  6. Singing of the 41st Infantry Regiment regimental song

My very amateurishly shortened and edited video is below, including a portion of Masako reading her poignant yet touching letter to her Uncle Suetaro who, for us, was still somewhere in the low lying hills in front of us.

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As Masako stared at the framed photo of Uncle Suetaro in his Imperial Japanese Army uniform, taken before he left Japan, she began to  tenderly read her letter to him.  Masako said in essence:

“Dear Uncle Suetaro, we finally get to meet again.  After you were drafted, I remember being taken twice to see you at your army base in Fukuyama.  My mother took me the first time; we took you some makizushi which you very discreetly kept out of sight and ate very quickly.  Then my father took me to see you the second time.  You said to him many times, “Please look after my mother…

You had sent me postcards from your station in the Far East, showing pictures of the local children.  They are still forever etched in my heart.

On this land upon which I stand now, Uncle, you fought courageously though you were so very hungry and exhausted.

After the war ended, your oldest brother Yutaka² came back from America and officially adopted me into the Kanemoto family.  On February 8, 1954, your mother Kono took her last breath while her head was resting in my arms.

I have raised two children and as if destiny, I have resolutely carried on the family name on your behalf.

Uncle Suetaro, please sleep in peace.”

There wasn’t a dry eye.  I think even the birds were crying.

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The second service in Part 5

NOTES:

  1. On October 30, 1944, both Japanese and American battle records show my uncle’s 41st Infantry Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army and the US Army’s 34th Infantry met in fierce violence at the bridge, ending in indescribably horrific hand-to-hand fighting to the death.  For my story combining both American and Japanese records on this battle, please click here.  (Ms. Teraoka’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura, was also engaged in this combat as Communications Officer but survived the battle.)
  2. Uncle Yutaka became the head of the family after the war.  He, like my dad Koso and Suetaro’s older sister Shizue, were imprisoned in Tule Lake, CA with their families after the outbreak of war although all were American citizens.  For clarification purposes only:
FAMILY ORG CHART WORDPRESS
Family chart

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3


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The “pilgrims”. Clockwise from left: Mr. Yusuke Ota, Ms. Setsu Teraoka, Tomiko, Mr. Bungo Kagimoto, Izumi, Kiyoshi, Masako and Namie.

Experiencing this heat and humidity was one of my personal goals for this pilgrimage.  No history book on the Battle for Leyte could ever truly convey the endurance each soldier – American or Japanese – put up in order to stay alive given the climate, kill the enemy and go back home.

It was all out war… A war that fumbling politicians caused or created with their own personal agendas .  Even though failing, Roosevelt, Tojo, Hitler and Churchill didn’t have to go to Leyte to potentially lose their own lives.  They sent young, vibrant boys and men in their stead to fight and die in this climate unsuited for violent life and death struggles.

Millions of other people died, too.

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Day 2

(Note: by clicking on most of the images, you can see the location on a map.)

Although early in the morning, the sun was already unforgiving.  In reacting to the humidity, your body begins to perspire just standing there in the open-air lobby.  Once you step out of the shade, rays come down on you so searingly that you wouldn’t need a microwave to zap popcorn.  Just leave the Orville Redenbacher bag out on the sidewalk for a few minutes.  I’m not kidding – and I live in LA.

I thought I was a whiz kid by bringing along one of those microfiber drying cloths you use when wiping off your car after washing it.  You know it can soak up Lake Michigan and not drip one drop.  Well, it was useless in this heat.  It also wasn’t anti-odor. 🙂

As we awaited our vans, I also noticed the ladies were all wearing long sleeve over-shirts.  In this heat?  Odd.  So I asked my cousin Masako why she put on additional shirts given it was so hot.

She said that it was because they didn’t want to get dark.

Oh well.

(They put on gloves, too.)

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MacArthur Landing Memorial Park

c-10-440Our first official stop was MacArthur Landing Memorial Park; it is in Palo and was codenamed “Red Beach” for the invasion of Leyte on October 20, 1944.  This is where MacArthur waded ashore then broadcast his speech to the Filipinos of, “I have returned.”

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My cousins are in the background viewing the memorial.
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Cousins Tomiko and Masako taking in the sight.

Well, actually, he had returned at least three times by the time he made his broadcast.  You see, he waded ashore at least three times (not sure of actual count but at least three) to ensure he got the best possible photo and news coverage.

To his credit, though, there still was small arms fire around the area.

Proof of at least one other wading attempt by MacArthur:

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National Archives.

Notice Philippines President Osmena (in the jungle hat) is to the left of MacArthur in the above image; yet, in the memorial, he is on MacArthur’s right.

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Hill 522

Our next stop was “Hill 522 (see notes)”.¹  Essentially, this high ground was critical to saving US lives as it commanded a sweeping view of the landing beaches and ground inland.  It was called Hill 522 as it was 522′ high.

Leyte’s temperatures do not vary extensively during the year; on this day, my cell phone said it was 89F.   If it were this hot on October 20, 1944, the US soldiers and Filipino guerrillas faced a daunting task slogging up that hill with full packs, weapons and ammunition…  Never mind they were being shot at.  The same for the Japanese soldiers scrambling up to reinforce their positions.

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This is how Hill 522 looks like today from street level; you cannot see the peak from here. The stairs up to the top begin between the blue and beige structures. Akehira is to the right with his back to us and a towel wrapped around his neck. One of the vans we rode in is on his right.

c-10-446We walked past a little village girl; the journey up the hill begins:

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Gotta hand it to my cousin Masako; she’s in the striped shirt with a backpack.

Just half a year earlier, Masako had tremendous difficulty just walking… but after visiting the shrine, she felt that Uncle Suetaro was calling her to visit him on Leyte and began to strengthen her legs with exercise.  This would be her first true test.

It leveled off for about 30 yards before climbing once again.  We passed some homes:

Distinctive odors signaled the absence of an established sewage system.  I now had a first hand idea of what Old Man Jack always said about the islands he fought on during WWII.

After some more climbing, we came to a clearing.  With my t-shirt soaking up the world’s supply of Sparkletts water, I thought, “Dang, that wasn’t a tough climb at all!”  Wrong.

c-10-447It was a rest stop.  Duh.  My guess is that it was about 200′ up the hill.  The crest of Hill 522 was straight ahead in the picture above but you still can’t see it.  And Masako was still hanging in there.  What a driven lady she was.

Well, she and her sister Tomiko made it to about the 300′ mark before they had to retire.  What an effort, especially with her bad legs, the heat and humidity.

This is where I ran into four village children who were trailing us part of the way up the hill:

c-10-463As for me and the hop, skip and a jump to the top?  Well, this southern Californian began to fall behind, slowly but surely.  I blame it on the 100 pounds of camera equipment and the eight gallons of water I was lugging in my backpack…not.

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Where I petered out… You cans see my cousins are still climbing.

I petered out at around the 400′ mark (Just trying to make me look good.) as the heat and humidity got to me.  So I’m a wuss.  To tell you the truth, I got a bit dizzy.  In that heat, I did think of the soldiers fighting for their lives on his hill 71 years ago.  Do we even know their names?

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The view from where I petered out, looking generally south. I left the telephone line in for reference. The hill which intersects it is Catmon Hill, another vital piece of high ground that needed capture as quickly as possible. It would not be under control for several days.

Well, my older cousins Namie and Kiyoshi – along with the rest of the group – made it to the top where a large cross has been erected.  Incredible, yes?  And Namie survived the atomic bombing.  They said it afforded a commanding view of the surroundings, a testament to the combat need to take this hill.

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Hill 120

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A recreation of Lt. Mills hoisting the first flag is visible. Although hidden by the vegetation, there is also a radioman at the base of the palm tree.

After a much needed lunch and rest stop, our next destination was Hill 120². Hill 120 is still a sacred place to the Filipinos; it was here that the US flag was first hoisted above Leyte by US Army Lt. Clifford Mills.

As with many other places on Leyte, this hill was severely pummeled by the 200 mph+ winds of Typhoon Yolanda, felling several trees and ripped apart the memorial.  Given that, I was amazed at the growth that had sprung up since then.  (I also understand that before the typhoon, this memorial was in excellent shape with the landscape being pruned and structures maintained.  Leyte is still in process of bringing this site to its previous state.)

While “only” 120′ high, Masako again took on the challenge.  Because of the damage from the typhoon, some of the footing was precarious but she ambled up.  A lot of the footing was not clearly visible due to the growth.  It swallowed up your feet and legs.

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Given this vegetation is what has grown back since the typhoon, it still amazed me with its height and thickness. Grasses were chest high in some spots; walking through the vegetation left tiny thistle-like things stuck in your shoes and socks. You definitely felt the coarseness rub on your legs as you made your way through.  It was impossible to walk through it silently.  If you were a soldier, the rustling must have sounded like a fog horn.

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Hill 120 during battle. I believe we parked on the same road running diagonally through this photo.  Signal Corps photo.
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This memorial sign was recently rebuilt and put up by the Filipinos; its predecessor had been blown away and down the backside of the hill by Typhoon Yolanda.

There is one stump (below) that I could see remaining from the actual battle on October 20, 1944, pot-marked with bullet holes; my cousin Kiyoshi is walking past it:

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When compared to the previous B&W photo taken on A-Day, 1944, the ocean is somewhat in the same direction. The road we traveled is the same as in the B&W photo.

After descending back down, we walked around to the side of the hill; it was dotted with a number of privately erected memorials.  One was for the US soldiers; it was flanked by unexploded bomb casings.

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It reads, “In grateful memory of the unknown American soldiers who with untold magnanimity and valiance fought and paid the the supreme sacrifice on this foreign shore to liberate a people foreign to them.”

Several others were for Japanese soldiers, all privately erected.  This is when Masako truly began to feel the relevance of why she just had to come.

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Namie and Tomiko offer “gassho”, or prayer, in reflection of those who perished and long since forgotten.

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Namie and Tomiko offer their gassho at yet another memorial.
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Mr. Ota photographs another memorial, erected in 1977.

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My five cousins. Masako, Tomiko and Namie on the left survived the atomic bombing. Izumi is Masako’s filial daughter with Kiyoshi next to her. Kiyoshi was born immediately after war’s end; the moment came in the Kanemoto home quite suddenly.

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At Hill 120 and while looking at the number of memorials, Masako said to me, “All these memorials…  It is terrible knowing they lost their lives and have since been forgotten.”

We all felt the same, I’m sure.  I did.

…and this is a feeling you will never find in a textbook.

You had to be there.

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Day 3 to follow…  Masako and I read our letters to Uncle Suetaro and pacificparatrooper’s father Smitty at the actual battle sites on Leyte.  Short videos will be included for those interested.

Part 4 is here.

BATTLE NOTES:

  1.  Per Cannon’s book: While the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, was proceeding cautiously forward the 1st Battalion was working toward Hill 522. This hill, which rose directly from the river’s edge north of Palo, overlooked the landing beaches and its upward trails were steep and winding. Hill 522 presented the most significant terrain feature which would have to be overcome before the American forces could push into the interior from Palo and it constituted one of the chief objectives for A Day. Three months earlier General Makino had started to fortify it, impressing nearly all of the male population of Palo for the work. By A Day they had constructed five well-camouflaged pillboxes of rocks, planking, and logs, covered with earth. Numerous tunnels honeycombed the hill; the communications trenches were seven feet deep.During the preliminary bombardments the Navy had delivered some of its heaviest blows on the hill, and the bombardment was continued by Battery B of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion and Battery A of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion. The 1st Battalion of the 19th Infantry sent reconnaissance parties to locate a northern route to the hill. The plan had been to move inland from the extreme south of the beachhead, but that area was still in Japanese hands. At 1430, when scouts reported finding a covered route on the northern side of the hill, the 1st Battalion immediately moved out in a column of companies. The column had barely started when Company A, in the lead, was held up by enemy fire from the five pillboxes. The remainder of the battalion moved north around Company A, and, skirting the woods, attacked Hill 522 from the northeast, with Company C on the right and Company B on the left.The men, although tired from the day’s activity and strain, made steady progress up the slope. As the troops moved upward, American mortars started to shell the crest of the hill. It was thought that this was artillery fire and a request was made that it be lifted. It came, however, from the chemical mortars. After a short delay the firing ceased. At dusk Company B reached the first crest of the hill and was halted by fire from two enemy bunkers. The company thereupon dug in.At the same time scouts from Company C reached the central and highest crest of the hill and espied about two platoons of Japanese coming up the other side. They shouted for the remainder of the company to hurry. Company C got to the top of the hill barely ahead of the Japanese, and a sharp engagement took place in which about fifty Japanese were killed. Company C held the highest crest of the hill. During this attack, 1st Lt. Dallas Dick was struck in the leg and his carbine was shot from his hands, but he continued to command his unit until his evacuation forty-eight hours later.During the night the Japanese made frequent but unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate the company area and in the darkness they carried away their dead and wounded. During the action to secure Hill 522, fourteen men of the 1st Battalion were killed and ninety-five wounded; thirty of the latter eventually rejoined their units. General Irving, who had assumed command of the 24th Division ashore at 1420, later said that if Hill 522 had not been secured when it was, the Americans might have suffered a thousand casualties in the assault.By the end of A Day, the division had crossed Highway 1 and established physical contact with the 1st Cavalry Division on its right flank. In spite of strong opposition on its left flank, the 24th Division had secured Hill 522, which dominated the route into the interior and overlooked the town of Palo, the entrance point into Leyte Valley. Furthermore, the X Corps had now secured a firm beachhead area averaging a mile in depth and extending over five miles from the tip of the Cataisan Peninsula to the vicinity of Palo, and had captured the important Tacloban airstrip on the Cataisan Peninsula.
  2. Per Cannon’s book, the amphibian tractors carrying the 3d Battalion, 382d Infantry, were held up by the tank barriers of coconut logs and debris on the beach, and the troops were forced to debark at the water’s edge. Several hundred yards off the beach this battalion began to receive heavy fire from Hill 120, which was about 600 yards from the beach. The hill dominated the regimental beach area and was the A Day objective for the battalion. The fire pinned down the battalion, which thereupon called for mortar support and naval gunfire. The resulting barrage forced the Japanese out of their positions, and at 1040 the battalion advanced and captured Hill 120.

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 2


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My 81 year old cousin Masako is the first to offer “gassho” to our fallen Uncle Suetaro. She is the last one alive to truly remember him aside from my father (96).

Leyte Pilgrimage – Day One

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.

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Touchdown. Tacloban, Leyte.

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.

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A smiling Masako after retrieving her luggage at the uncultivated Tacloban Airport. I wonder what she felt deep inside at that moment.
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Also accompanying us was Ms. S. Teraoka; she is carrying wooden boards on which is charcoal ink calligraphy written by her temple’s reverend. Her uncle was a lieutenant who also killed on Leyte.
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Mr. B. Kagimoto, a news reporter from RCC Broadcasting Co. in Hiroshima, was also part of our little pilgrimage.

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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.

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Calimera and Akehira, Leyte residents. Their home was also significantly damaged by Typhoon Yolanda. No one was exempt.

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.

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White Beach on October 20, 1944. Source: Leyte, Return to the Philippines by M. Hamlin Cannon.

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.”

These are those two pillboxes.

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One of the two Japanese pillboxes taken out by the US Army’s  7th Cavalry on October 20, 1944.
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(R to L) Mr. Ota, Tomiko, Masako, Namie and Akehira gaze upon a pillbox at White Beach.
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I took Masako down to see the interior. The mosquitoes were very happy in there, awaiting tasty humans like me.
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Masako determinedly climbing back up the stairs after looking inside the pillbox.
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A gleeful Masako, Izumi and Tomiko resting upon the remnants of the second pillbox. I didn’t have the heart to inform Masako either five or eight Japanese soldiers died inside that pillbox via rifle fire, hand grenade or flame thrower as the exterior was intact.

Day Two to follow.

That’s when the crying really begins.

Part 3 is here.

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NOTES

  1.  The only other person with active memories of Uncle Suetaro was the reverend of the Buddhist temple adjacent to our Hiroshima home.  I talked with him three years ago when he was about 90 years old but with a sharp as a tack memory.  He passed away last year per Masako.

A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Part 1


iroshima

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On a sweltering, humid day, the family poses in front of Breakneck Ridge after the second of four memorial services. The one with the belly is me. Leyte, Philippines. July 22, 2015.
“Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, Uncle Suetaro glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.
He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle, Masako and Spam Musubi

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Cousins Namie and Tomiko negotiate an incline on Leyte.  They are all in their late 70’s.

A Pilgrimage to Leyte Begins

At 33,000 feet, the Philippine Airline’s pressurized cabin was cool and comfortable.  An hour into our three and a half hour flight to Tacloban, Leyte, it began to fill with the wonderful, pleasant scent of lunch.

The attractive Filipina flight attendant handed us our meals.  As I took the gold foil cover off the chicken lunch, I turned to my cousin Kiyoshi seated next to me in 46H on my left and said, “末太郎さん、腹へっていたでしょう、” or “Uncle Suetaro must have been so hungry.”

My eyes began to tear up once again.  It would happen many times during our Hiroshima family’s pilgrimage to Leyte…

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The wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, the former actress Cristina Gonzales, was kind enough to greet our group.

In the epilogue of my story, “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle”, my 81 year old cousin Masako climbed a long flight of stone stairs to the top of a military shrine in Hiroshima.  She said our deceased Uncle Suetaro called out to her.  With that, we knew we would be headed to Leyte.  It was just a question of when.

“When” was last week.  July 19, 2015.

My four Hiroshima cousins and Masako’s daughter went on a six-day/five-night pilgrimage to Leyte, spearheaded by the author of the book “Eternal 41st”, Mr. Yusuke Ota.  With us was another lady whose uncle was verified as being killed on Leyte near the end.  Also with us was a news reporter from a Hiroshima newspaper.

We went to honor not just our uncle who was killed as a Japanese soldier but for all souls who never returned from that island during WWII.

I also took with me a letter as well as photographs from blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper to be read to her father “Smitty”.  Smitty was a paratrooper with the US 11th Airborne and fought for his own life on Leyte against the Imperial Japanese Army – of which my uncle was one.  My uncle arrived on Leyte October 26, 1945; Smitty on November 18, 1945.  Smitty returned home; my Uncle Suetaro did not.

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The memorial tabletop, Japanese-style. You can see Smitty’s photos on the right alongside the photos of my Uncle Suetaro. Perhaps their paths crossed but ultimately, their sacrifices 70 years ago led to the US/Japan harmony we have today. Indeed, I like to think they were both victorious.

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Leyte

But first, a quick look at Leyte and its people:

A little Filipina girl runs alongside us as we pass through her small village:

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Filipina children we encountered climbing Hill 522 near the invasion beaches of 1944.
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A typical transit bus, taken through our van’s window.
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Local people almost always watched our memorial services including this young mother and daughter. She is clutching some of the food we distributed after the services.
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Vegetable peddler, Tacloban City.
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Curious locals watching us near Limon River which turned blood red during the battle in 1944 per interviews.
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Family selling bananas at street side. Bananas grow everywhere on Leyte.

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.

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Tacloban City and the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

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:

http://kkochan.com/

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The pilgrimage continues in Part 2… Please click here.

Old Man Jack-ism #9 – Respect


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My supercharged Grabber Orange Mustang lived outside 24/7 for her first five years. Old Man Jack’s driveway is to the very left; he would on occasion call me over to his garage to chat.

I was out front one morning, enjoying a gorgeous holiday weekend.  While pointing in my general direction, Old Man Jack said to me from across the street, “Koji, she needs to come in at night.”  My car was in between Jack and me.  He loved my car…almost as much as his F4U Corsair.

Why would he tell me to put my Grabber Orange Mustang into the garage?  He knows it’s parked outside 24/7 because the aggravating ex took away my garage space without saying a word.

“Say what, Jack?” asked I…

I was humbled shortly thereafter by this exceptional and aging WWII combat vet who went to war as a young boy.

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Indeed, I had to park my supercharged, car show winning Grabber Orange Mustang at curbside 24/7.  Blistering sun, rain, ashes from wildfires, toxic sea gull poop and dog pee on my chrome wheels, I tell ya.  The sea gull poop was the worst: unless you got if off before the desert-like sun microwaved it, it would leave the vinyl graphics underneath stained.  Crap.

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Sea gull bomb.
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Aftermath of sea gull bomb – the stain.

But I had to park it outside on the street, as I mentioned, as my darned ex decided to secretly take over my man-cave just months before I got the Mustang GT.

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After the divorce and after throwing a lot of the stuff she didn’t take, this is what the garage looked like. The illegally built room took up about 75% of the space. She even had a door, lights and curtains installed. Definitely no room for a car… Well, maybe a Smart car…but that isn’t a car. 🙂

If you thought Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack, the ex’s takeover of my man-cave was a blitzkrieg.  Let’s just say it was a helluva shock to come home from work one day to find an illegal alien well on his way into putting up walls in the garage.  She was building a “massage room”.  Well, in the end, it was used for much more, unfortunately.

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The cleared out space after I paid my AMERICAN citizen buddy to tear it down and haul it away. My car now has a home.  Notice the door and the window with curtains she had installed. It’s going to cost a pretty penny to have them torn out and filled in. Oh… Look at the bottom right corner… Six feet of my driveway is missing. That is another ex story.

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But back to Old Man Jack telling me that “she needs to come in at night”…

“Jack, I can’t put the car in the garage.  You know that,” I said.

“No, not the car, you dumb shit.  The flag!” he said with his boyish trademark grin and with great fondness.

“Huh?  The flag?” I asked.

“Shit, didn’t they teach you anything in school?  You gotta put a light on her if she’s staying out at night,” he said.

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Old Man Jack with his happy face on and me. He would pass away about a year later.

I then realized he had pointed to the flag behind me and not my car.  Duh.  I had put the red, white and blue out for the holidays as always and had simply left it out – and yes, for convenience.  He must have seen it left out the night before.  But then again, he must have been biting his tongue for years as I had left it out before.

As Popeye, the Sailor Man would say, “How embarrassinks.”

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Well, Old Man Jack was right; there has to be a light shining on the flag at night.  And yes, I had learned that exact flag etiquette as a youngster in school but just plain forgot with time.  Heck, me and this other kid had the honor to take down the school’s flag at the end of the day on a regular basis then properly fold her up while in the 6th grade.  I can still hear the clamps clanking on the metal flag pole as we lowered her.

Anyways, I had remembered that story with today being Memorial Day.  I had the flag out in reverence to our fallen.  I even caught the tail end of a flight of four WWII T-6 Texans just north of us in a missing man formation.

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It is now dark outside and yes, I brought her in.  Can’t upset Old Man Jack, you know.

But it ate my heart out to see it draped over his casket just about three years later.

I was alone with Old Man Jack during visitation.  It was good as I was able to say good-bye in private... The mortuary didn't invest in good quality Kleenex, though.

Thanks for reading and revere our fallen.

Old Man Jack-ism #8


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After recovering from a flood of memories, Old Man Jack stares at the other girl in his life: the F4U Corsair. Planes of Fame, March 3, 2003. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

“….The son-of-a-bitch had no legs…” said Old Man Jack from his wife’s blue wheelchair.  His arms were making like windmills.  Well, windmills as fast as his 88 year old arms could go.  He had a comical yet strained look on his face, his bushy white eyebrows still prominent.

But you could see the pain behind those eyes…and in his deadened voice.

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Several months have passed since I visited with Old Man Jack at his grave.  With Memorial Day around the corner, May 17th was a beautiful day to visit him.  A recent rainstorm had just passed and the blue skies were painted with thin, wispy clouds.

I could see no one had stopped by since my last visit; at least no one that left flowers for his wife Carol and him.  The hole for flowers was covered up and grass had crept up onto his gravestone.

I had brought along something for Jack this time; something I thought he would enjoy.  So after cleaning up his resting place, it was placed atop his gravestone – his beloved F4U Corsair:

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He loved the F4U Corsair. He reflected on seeing the entire patrol return to base at wave top, do a victory roll then peel off with a tear in his eyes.

I’m hoping he was beaming.  He couldn’t possibly be happier, being with the two most beautiful ladies in his life.

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But back to his story.

A few months before he was taken away from his home, we had been sitting in his cluttered garage, talking about this and that; I just can’t recall what.  But something in our talk triggered an ugly war flashback from his tormented and mightily buried subconscious.  By that day in 2011, I could tell when he was enduring one, having sat in his garage with him for ten years.

He began as he did before.  He would suddenly stop then gaze down at his hands for a couple of seconds.  His left ring finger would begin to rhythmically pick under his right thumbnail.  His white, bushy eyebrows now made thin with time would partly obscure his eyes from me when he lowered his head.

While I am unable to recall his exact words, he slowly allowed an ugly event to surface:

Old Man Jack began, “We were ordered to go on a patrol.  We were issued rifles and hoped to God we wouldn’t come across any Japs,” he said in a remorseful way.¹  “Then, we came to these rice paddies… We could see hills around us… but that also meant the Japs could see us.”²

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Perhaps it was this rice paddy in Okinawa. Archival image.
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…Or this rice paddy. US Army photo.

“We just followed the guy in front of us like cattle,” he said.  “We were making it through the rice paddies when a couple of shells came in.  Man, I hit the ground real quick.

Then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose.  Rounds were coming in like crazy all around me.  They had this area zeroed in real good.”

He continued.  “I ain’t ashamed to say it.  I was scared real bad.  Then we all started to scram.  I got up and started to run.  I dumped my rifle and ran like crazy.”   While in that blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife Carol, Old Man Jack made like he was running, much like Popeye in this clip:

He then took his gaze away from his hands.  “Then I saw this guy flying through the air with his arms making like he was still running… but the son-of-a-bitch had no legs!”  He pointed his finger and made an arc like a rainbow, then swung his arms like a windmill.  Apparently, an enemy round had hit his comrade, severing his upper torso from his legs then throwing him into the air.  Although the comrade met a violent end, Old Man Jack was describing how he saw his arms flailing.

He stopped.  His eyes returned to his hands.  I still cannot imagine the torment he was enduring, even after 70 years.

I never will.  I just hope he didn’t take it to his grave with him.

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While Old Man Jack was fortunate to have survived combat unlike my Uncle Suetaro or Sgt. Bill Genaust, it was but a physical survival.

Combat tormented him forever.

Let us remember this Memorial Day our fellow Americans who perished so young for the sake of their families and friends, no matter which conflict… and also firmly support those in uniform as I write.  They, too, are being forgotten by many, even as they fight – and die – for us in godforsaken faraway places.

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My friend’s first husband, Sgt. Robert W. Harsock, US Army, Viet Nam, posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor. National Medal of Honor Memorial, Riverside National Cemetery. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

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NOTES:

1. I would like to remind my readers that Old Man Jack had no hatred to me or my family when he uttered the word “Jap”.  He is digressing to a most vile period in his life in which he could be killed the very next moment.  If you are offended, it is suggested you participate in an all-out war; perhaps you will understand why.

2. At his funeral, the minister read off the islands he fought on.  Based solely on his description of the large rice paddy and hills combined with what the minister said, I firmly believe this was Okinawa 1945.  Oddly, while Old Man Jack mentioned Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Bougainville and Green Island, he never mentioned Okinawa.

The Magic of Churchill’s Speeches


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Sir Winston Churchill and his cigar. From http://www.express.co.uk/news/

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.)

An archival image of Sir Winston Churchill broadcasting to the English population, 1942.

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?

With his cigar going, Sir Winston Churchill visits Hitler’s destroyed Chancellery in July 1945. Archival photograph.

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.”

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Sir Winston Churchill, with cigar going, visits British troops in France six days after D-Day. Archival photo.

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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.  🙂

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For a collection of Sir Winston Churchill’s speeches, please click here.

NOTES:

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.