Category Archives: Japan

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue


Fortune in War

I believe there is fortune in war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epilogue

A Victory Nonetheless

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

Then:

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

Today:

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

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

It was not in vain.

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One War.  Two Countries.  One Family.

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

My Thoughts of the Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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Uncle Suetaro and my dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, he did.

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

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

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

Rest in peace.

南無阿弥陀仏

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

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

Notes

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

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 7


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A Marine protecting Vietnamese children. This may be an AP photo.

I have a number of good friends who went to Viet Nam, another ugly war.  Without going into politics, my thoughts while on Leyte also went to these friends who fought on or were stationed in Viet Nam.

Unlike a certain former president, my buds did not evade the draft… or avoid, whichever term you prefer.  My friends did their duty.  When they got drafted, they reported for duty as any American man should have.

But while I certainly appreciate their sacrifices, nothing in what I’ve read gave a hint about the climate THEY in Viet Nam had to fight and survive in.  Having been on Leyte, I can now more fully sense it was indescribably WORSE than what was written, if any.

Just like for Uncle Suetaro and Smitty, their days were grueling and a throwback to the times of cavemen.  Nightfall brought very little relief in temperature or humidity.  If my friends were at a fire base in the Vietnamese jungles, they went on for days without showers or even toilets.  New, laundered dungarees?  Dry feet during the monsoons?  No.

When I got back to LA and got over my jet lag, I called several of them to thank them even more and explained I more fully appreciate their sacrifices of their youth for the rotten conditions under which they faithfully fulfilled their duties.  One also had a father who was gunner on a Liberator in the sweltering SWP as well.  (There are a number of bloggers I know that I did not call but you know who you are.  Thank you.)

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Masako and Namie during a lighter moment. Clouds gave us a brief relief from the oppressive heat – but not the humidity.

Day 4 – Villaba

After chowing down in the morning, we piled into our well-driven vans once again.  We headed north towards Villaba on the same road that Uncle Suetaro marched up in October 1944 to Carigara but back then, it was mostly dirt – or mud.  They also had use of undetermined vehicles but the road offered no protection from US airpower from which rained bombs and strafing runs.  US planes dominated the skies.

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A muddy road on Leyte; the mud would become much worse. USMC photo.

In addition, their march north was hampered by attacks from US-supplied Filipino guerrillas.  They would blow up parts of the road that were at most merely passable.  In addition to slippery, oozing mud (see above), the Japanese were forced to go off the main road to bypass the destroyed sections.  This implies, for example, that since Uncle Suetaro’s platoon was hauling their 37mm cannons, they would be forced to break down the artillery pieces into the two wheels and cannon barrel sections to carry it over blown up section of road… in addition to lugging their shells and ammunition.

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On our way north towards Cananga, Mr. Ota spotted a “Jack Fruit” at roadside; we had never seen a fruit this big before.  Have you?  It must be the Fat Albert of the fruit world.

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The enormity of the Jack Fruit is apparent with Setsu standing next to it.

Passerbys were equally bewildered by our “touristy-ness”, it seems.  We definitely caught their attention.

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I believe this little motorcycle is powered by a 125cc two-cycle engine. Scenes like this were commonplace on Leyte.

Third Memorial Service

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Detailed road maps of this area of Leyte are hard to find nor would my GPS work; as such, all locations indicated are approximate.

After veering off from a town called Cananga, we headed northwest.  We stopped at an older memorial (indicated by #3 above) erected by a Japanese citizen many years ago.  It had not been maintained but amazingly rested in between two dwellings.  Unfortunately, it was erected just yards away from the street.

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Busy preparing for the service. The incense is already going.
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Tribute to Uncle Suetaro along with food offerings. The origami cranes (folded paper art) are from the Hiroshima Peace Park.
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Tribute to Setsu’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura. He was one of the last 268 survivors before they met their deaths near here.

At this service, my cousin Kiyoshi read his letter to Uncle Suetaro.

Dripping in perspiration, Kiyoshi was incredibly strong emotionally reading his letter to his uncle that he was never able to meet.  In his letter, Kiyoshi introduced himself to his Uncle Suetaro and that they were finally able to meet here.  Kiyoshi hoped that Uncle Suetaro was not lonely as no one had come to see him in these past 70 years and to please forgive us.  He explained he was the last child of Suetaro’s older sister Michie and that it is said he was born in Suetaro’s place after his death.  Because of Michie’s strength and devotion, all of her children are living long lives.  He closed by saying we will always remember his life and sacrifices then bowed reverently.

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Kiyoshi bows reverently while perspiration runs down his face.

After closing the ceremony, we once again handed out the food to the local children and families who were very grateful and friendly.

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This is where the young mother and daughter were photographed and shown in Part 1.

Again, like the low decibel thunder we heard after I read my letters, we soon saw a sign that Uncle Suetaro heard Kiyoshi and Namie: a rainbow appeared overhead, spotted by Izumi.  It was very fulfilling for us to see.

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It’s a badly exposed cell phone pic; sorry.
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The young man at the upper right is Mr. Ota’s teen-aged son, Daichi.

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We then headed towards the Mt. Canguipot area, a smaller hill just east of the town of Villaba (see map above).  It is said many Japanese soldiers closed their eyes for the last time while looking at Mt. Canguipot.  I understand Ms. Setsu Teraoka’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura, died here in its shadow, possibly during the last “banzai” charges against the US 1st Cavalry on December 31, 1944.

Our drivers, under Mr. Ota’s accurate GPS-assisted directions, wormed their way up a hidden dirt road – a very uneven and narrow hidden dirt road.  My belly was wider than the road.  Frankly, I don’t know how Mr. Ota even remembered where this road was except it was slightly south of the actual seaside town of Villaba.  This is where we saw the adorable little village girl running alongside us.

After bumping and thumping up the road in the vans engineered for city driving, we ended up at a very small clearing found at the crest in a small town called Catagbacan (marked by “school” in the map above).  We disembarked with all the village folk staring at us; there were a number of poor, scraggly dogs roaming about, their skin badly infected from incessant scratching of their numerous mosquito bites.  My two daughters would have been devastated if they had seen them.

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Mr. Ota leads us down the dirt and stone path towards the dark clouds which signify the gods overlooking Mt. Canguipot.

Mr. Ota led our party down a dirt path; after a distance, the peak of Mt. Canguipot veiled in dark clouds assembled by the Japanese gods began to peer down on our little pilgrimage.  Perhaps they were beckoning us.

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The peak of Mt. Canguipot.  Mr. Ota is at left, explaining to our group the last days of the 41st Regiment.

Nearing the end of the trail, Mr. Ota explained to us what happened around Mt. Canguipot, which included Lt. Nakamura.  He had collected this detailed information through many years of dedicated research including interviews of a couple of survivors.  Their last coordinated attacks were recorded to be on December 31, 1944. (See US battle notes below.)

After offering our Buddhist prayers to the souls, we headed back up the incline.  Masako doggedly kept up with us.

c-10-512We crossed through Catagbacan’s center and into their small elementary school, partially rebuilt after Typhoon Yolanda.  It was a large spread, with its natural sprawling beauty.  Mr. Ota explained that the last remaining rag tag survivors of the 41st Regiment had assembled in this spot along with others.  (One report said there were 268 in total.)

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Masako and I catch up to our party awaiting us at the Catagbacan Elementary School.

The Path

Mr. Ota had explained that every single night, a couple of the most capable men would walk down the hill under the cover of darkness to the shoreline in Balite.  They had heard rumors that the Japanese Navy was arranging for their evacuation.  The boats never came and therefore, they were never rescued. (For details of their hopes on being evacuated yet tragic and ultimate futility, please see my A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle.)

I was then duped into taking a “short” trek down to the shore area from this peak by Masako’s daughter, Izumi.  (She and my son did the same thing to me in Japan, tricking me into climbing Mt. Misen in Hiroshima.  I will get even!) She said, “Koji-san, let’s go (to your death is what I thought)!”

While Masako, escorted by Carmela, wisely made the decision to return to the nice air conditioned van, Mr. Ota had hired a young man to lead us down the path taken by the Japanese soldiers in December, 1944.  Hint of the things to come: he had a machete to cut through the growth, not a Black & Decker portable trimmer with rechargeable lithium batteries.  We exited through the backside of the school, never to be seen by humanity again.  Just kidding.

The trek down the path was through abundant natural growth and sweltering humidity.  Passing through shaded areas provided no relief; in fact, in some spots, the humidity had become entrapped by the vegetation.  Nothing better than natural saunas.

Yes, I was the straggler but my excuse was I was lugging my back pack laden with 100 pounds of camera equipment.  Just kidding; I’m just a SoCal wuse.  Even Namie and Tomiko were ahead of me as we neared the shoreline.  Notice the guide had made them walking sticks out of branches he cut down along the way.

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Namie in front negotiating the incline aided by the walking stick cut by the guide with his machete.

I had wilted once again on this trek; Mr. Ota said it was about 2-3 kilometers.  (I shall get even, Izumi-san!)  But seriously, what I thought about was how emaciated and very thirsty soldiers – without medical provisions either – did this night after night for a couple of weeks in hopes of spotting Japanese Navy rescue boats.  I understand a vast number of these “boats” were actually commandeered Filipino hollowed-out canoes with pontoons.

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“Jungle rot”

For those soldiers in December of 1944, it was desperation to survive and return home; I have never experienced this.  In fact, after being abandoned on this island by their own military, it would have been easy to be overcome by hopelessness and depression.  However, in a testament to their fortitude and determination, I was (plenty) fed, had bottled mineral water and dry shoes, socks and feet; yet, I was still pretty beat up.  They likely were infected with jungle rot, dysentery, malaria, infected wounds…  This went for all military on that island, Japanese or US (who likely had access to medical care however basic).

Remember: not only did they climb down, they had to climb back up before dawn in their emaciated condition.  Still, the thick growth effectively covered their movements during the day offering some protection against US airpower.  They could also easily duck into the bush if need be to avoid being detected.

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A dwelling near the shoreline.

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By this time in December 1944, death was the rule which governed their existence; surviving until this time was the exception. Yet, in spite of starvation, thirst, illness and depression, these last few soldiers survived, only to perish here due to their inability to surrender.

Two powerful letters and emotion-laden deliveries by Izumi and Setsu will mark the last service.

You will definitely shed a tear or two.

To be continued in Part 8.

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

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

US BATTLE NOTES (from Leyte: The Return to the Philippines by M. Hamlin Cannon):

The US 1st Cavalry Division

With the clearing of Highway 2 and the junction of the X and XXIV Corps at a point just south of Kananga, the 1st Cavalry Division was in readiness to push toward the west coast in conjunction with assaults by the 77th Division on its left and the 32d Division on its right. The troops were on a 2,500-yard front along Highway 2 between Kananga and Lonoy.

On the morning of 23 December the assault units of the 1st Cavalry Division moved out from the highway and started west. None encountered any resistance. The 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry, established a night perimeter on a ridge about 1,400 yards slightly northwest of Kananga. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, set up a night perimeter 1,000 yards north of that of the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry, while the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, dug in for the night on a line with the other two squadrons.

This first day’s march set the pattern for the next several days. The regiments pushed steadily forward, meeting only scattered resistance. The chief obstacles were waist-deep swamps in the zone of the 12th Cavalry. These were waded on 24 December. The tangled vegetation and sharp, precipitous ridges that were henceforward encountered also made the passage slow and difficult.

On 28 December, the foremost elements of the 5th and 12th Cavalry Regiments broke out of the mountains and reached the barrio of Tibur on the west coast, about 2,800 yards north of Abijao. By nightfall on the following day, the 7th Cavalry was also on the west coast but farther north. In its advance it had encountered and destroyed many small, scattered groups of the enemy, most of whom showed little desire to fight. The regiment arrived at Villaba, two and one-half miles north of Tibur, at dusk, and in securing the town killed thirty-five Japanese.

During the early morning hours of 31 December, the Japanese launched four counterattacks against the forces at Villaba. Each started with a bugle call, the first attack beginning at 0230 and the final one at dawn. An estimated 500 of the enemy, armed with mortars, machine guns, and rifles, participated in the assaults, but the American artillery stopped the Japanese and their forces scattered. On 31 December, the 77th Division began to relieve the elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, which moved back to Kananga.

On the morning of the 30th of December, the 7th Cavalry had made physical contact northeast of Villaba with the 127th Infantry, 32d Division, which had been driving to the west coast north of the 1st Cavalry Division.

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 Humble Hero on Iwo Jima


While on the sands of Iwo Jima last month for the 70th Anniversary, this former P-51 fighter pilot (Jerry Yellin) spoke so eloquently and humbly about WWII that it brought tears to my eyes.

Now 91 years old, he flew off Iwo Jima in the very last mission of WWII, escorting B-29s on their bombing mission.  During this very last mission, his wingman was killed.

Yet, he talks nobly about the nightmares of war and about his own family which now includes a Japanese daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

I hope you will watch and listen to this gentleman.

A cover’s tip to Mustang_USMC.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 5


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Road conditions between Jaro and Carigara at time of battle. Conditions get much worse. American battle reports state the rain would be so intense that you could not see past several yards. Traversing hilly, slick and muddy jungle terrain was beyond description. US Army photo.

Leyte – November 1, 1944

US version of battle, October 30 – November 1, 1944. Return to Leyte.

When we left Part 4, at least one of Uncle Suetaro’s officers – 1st Lt. Shioduka –  was killed during this battle per Mr. Ota’s book.  If so – and if Uncle Suetaro himself survived – he would possibly left in charge of his 37mm anti-tank gun platoon being a Master Sergeant.

After retreating, Mr. Ota understands that around 2:20 pm, the surviving troops of the 41st Regiment tried to dig in along the banks of the Ginagon River and wait for the US troops to advance into their sights.  However, after doing so, a deluge flooded the river and they were forced to move.  Nevertheless, defensive positions were established just north of Jaro.

Per Cannon’s Leyte: Return to the Philippines:

At 8 am on 30 October, Colonel Newman ordered the 3d Battalion of the 34th Infantry to start for Carigara down the highway. As the battalion left the outskirts of Jaro, with Company L in the lead, it came under fire from Japanese who were dug in under shacks along the road. Upon a call from the commanding officer of Company L, the tanks came up in a column, fired under the shacks, and then retired. The leading platoon was drawn back so that artillery fire might be placed on the Japanese, but the enemy could not be located precisely enough to use the artillery. Colonel Newman then ordered a cautious movement forward without artillery support, a squad placed on each side of the road and two tanks in the center. The squads had advanced only fifty yards when Japanese fire again pinned them down.

When Colonel Newman came forward and discovered why the advance was held up he declared, “I’ll get the men going okay.” Upon hearing that the regimental commander was to lead them, the men started to move forward. The Japanese at once opened fire with artillery and mortars, and Colonel Newman was hit in the stomach. Although badly wounded he tried to devise some means of clearing the situation. After sending a runner back with orders to have Colonel Postlethwait fire on the Japanese position, he said, “Leave me here and get mortar fire on that enemy position.” As soon as possible Colonel Newman was put on a poncho and dragged back to safety.¹

At this point in battle, Mr. Ota reports, a M4 Sherman was proceeding up the left side of the highway when it came under fire.  As the gunner was in the process of reloading (i.e., the breech was open), a 37mm anti-tank round directly entered the M4 Sherman’s 75mm barrel, passed through and carried through the radio before detonating.  While all three tank crew members were wounded, the results would have been more disastrous if a round was chambered.  Uncle Suetaro manned 37mm anti-tank guns.

Around Jaro and Tunga, fierce and intense see-saw battles took place.  Continuing on with Leyte: Return to the Philippines, it reports:

Company E pushed down the left side of the road but was halted by fire from an enemy pillbox on a knoll. A self-propelled 105-mm. howitzer was brought up, and fire from this weapon completely disorganized the Japanese and forced them to desert their position. When the howitzer had exhausted its ammunition, another was brought up to replace it. By this time, however, the enemy’s artillery was registering on the spot and the second was disabled before it could fire a shot.

Elements of the 41st Infantry Regiment, protected by artillery, gathered in front of Company E and emplaced machine guns in a position from which they could enfilade the company. Thereupon Company E committed its reserve platoon to its left flank but shortly afterward received orders to protect the disabled howitzer and dig in for the night. A tank was sent up to cover the establishment of the night perimeter. Company G received orders to fall back and dig in for the night, and upon its withdrawal the Japanese concentrated their fire on Company E.  Although badly shaken, Company E held on and protected (a damaged) howitzer…. Company E then disengaged and fell back through Company F, as Company G had done.

Under the protective cover of night, the 41st Infantry Regiment retreated.

Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment, along with troops that had landed at Ormoc during the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, had succeeded for the moment to stall the advance of the US 34th Infantry.  But fighting would continue.

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Situational summary of what happened after the fight for Mainit Bridge. You can enlarge the view by clicking on the image. From Reports of General MacArthur.

On November 1, General Suzuki determined defending Carigara was untenable.  As such, and during the night following, General Suzuki withdrew his troops from Carigara.  He ordered his remaining troops – now low on food, ammunition, overwhelmed with dying wounded and no hope for adequate re-supply – to establish strong defensive positions in the mountains southwest of the town in the vicinity of Limon.  By “clever deception as to his strength and intentions,” the enemy completely deluded the Americans into believing that his major force was still in Carigara per the Sixth Army’s Operations Report, Leyte.

Of significant note, a massive typhoon hit the Philippines on November 8, 1944.  Trees were felled and the slow pace of resupply nearly ceased.  Trails were washed away with flooding at the lower elevations.  This affected both the IJA and US forces, likely the Japanese the hardest.

I wonder what Uncle Suetaro was feeling as the intense rain from the typhoon pummeled him in the jungle while being surrounded by the US Army.  He could not light a fire even if it were safe to do so.  I wonder how cold he was or if he was shivering while laying in the thick mud.  I wonder what he was eating just to stay alive let alone fight for his life.

Breakneck Ridge: Second Phase

Per Leyte: Return to the Philippines, the 41st Regiment is documented again:

On 9 November the Japanese 26th Division arrived at Ormoc in three large transports with a destroyer escort. The troops landed without their equipment and ammunition, since aircraft from the Fifth Air Force bombed the convoy and forced it to depart before the unloading was completed. During the convoy’s return, some of the Japanese vessels were destroyed by the American aircraft.

The arrival of these (Japanese) troops was in accord with a plan embodied in the order which had been taken from the dead Japanese officer on the previous day.² This plan envisaged a grand offensive which was to start in the middle of November. The 41st Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division and the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions of the 102d Division were to secure a line that ran from a hill 3,500 yards northwest of Jaro to a point just south of Pinamopoan and protect the movement of the 1st Division to this line. With the arrival of the 1st Division on this defensive line, a coordinated attack was to be launched–the 1st Division seizing the Carigara area and the 41st Infantry Regiment and the 26th Division attacking the Mt. Mamban area about ten miles southeast of Limon. The way would then be open for a drive into Leyte Valley.

Battle Against the US 12th Cavalry Regiment

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Situational overview. Blue is US; red is IJA. Villaba and 1st Div are highlighted in green.

Per a US 1st Cavalry Division website (http://www.first-team.us/tableaux/chapt_02/) and with the research performed by Mr. Ota, the 41st Regiment was positively identified as being present on “Hill 2348” and fighting against the US 12th Cavalry Regiment (a subset of the 1st Cavalry Division) :

On 20 November, the rest of the 12th Cavalry became heavily engaged around Mt. Cabungaan, about three miles south of Hill 2348. The enemy had dug in on the reverse side of sharp slopes. Individual troopers were again faced with the task of searching out and destroying positions in the fog. Throughout the night of 21 – 22 November the 271st Field Artillery kept the Japanese on the northwest side of Mt. Catabaran awake by heavy concentrations of fire. Before the day was over, patrols from the 12th Cavalry had established observation posts within 150 yards of Cananga on Highway 2 in the Ormoc Valley.

Mr. Ota uncovered a 12th Cavalry report on microfiche in a Japanese governmental archive, dated November 26, 1944.  It states in part, “Dog tags from Hill 2348 confirmed elements of the 41st Regiment there.”²  In it, it states fog and the muddy terrain made for extreme conditions but they used 81mm mortars to eliminate Japanese positions.

The website continues:

On 26 November, both the 12th and 112th Cavalry Regiments launched attacks against their immediate opposition. The enemy positions that had given heavy resistance to the 112th Cavalry on the two previous days were seized in the afternoon after a pulverizing barrage from the 82nd and 99th Field Artillery Battalions. On 28 November the 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry launched another successful attack on Hill 2348 which took the form of a double envelopment. The 1st Squadron renewed their attack on positions on Mt. Cabungaan but sharp ridges held up their advance, The 112th Cavalry continued to move toward its objective…

On 01 December the 112th Cavalry engaged the enemy at the ridge south of Limon. On the night of 02 December, the battle for Hill 2348 reached its climax. The 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry suffered heavy casualties from the heavy machine gun fire, mortars, and waves of Japanese troops in suicidal attacks. On 04 December, the 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry attacked and overcame a position to its front with the enemy fleeing in the confusion. “A” Troop, of the 112th, in a drive to the northwest, made contact with the left flank elements of the 32nd Division. Thus the drive became an unremitting continuous line against the Japanese and enemy elements that were caught behind the line were trapped.

Throughout 07 and 08 December, patrols of the 5th and 12 Cavalry continued mop up operations. The 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry moved out to locate and cut supply lines of the enemy who were still holding up the advance of the 2nd Squadron. On 09 December, heavy rains brought tactical operations to a near standstill and limited activity to patrol missions…

…The Division continued the attack west toward the coast over swamps against scattered resistance. By 29 December the 7th Cavalry had reached the Visayan Sea and initiated action to take the coastal barrio of Villaba. On 31 December after four “Banzai” attacks, each preceded by bugle calls, the small barrio fell.

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A view from offshore looking east towards the town of Villaba. Mt. Canguipot – where the survivors of my Uncle’s IJA regiment reportedly retreated – is at center.

Attempts to Leave Leyte

By January 1945, Japanese command was in shambles.  However, some planned effort was made by the IJA to retreat (evacuate) to other islands.  Certain departure points were selected south of Villaba, east of the island of Cebu.

The Japanese only had 40 seaworthy landing craft available to evacuate survivors.  (A record exists which estimated 268 soldiers of the 41st Regiment were left out of the 2,550 that landed at Ormoc on October 26, 1944.)  The US ruled the seas and the skies making any large scale evacuation impossible.

The Reports of General MacArthur states only about 200 soldiers were able to board the landing crafts; however, only 35 made it to Cebu.  Once MacArthur figured out this was an evacuation attempt, the Villaba coastline came under intense attack.  Evacuation hopes ended for Uncle Suetaro.

Lt. General Makino attempted as best possible to assemble any IJA survivors in the Mt. Canguipot area, just a couple of miles east of Villaba.

By April, 1945, only a small number of tattered, hungry and ill soldiers were believed to still be alive.  In a Japanese book called Rising Sun, it was reported up to 100 Japanese soldiers were dying each day during this time from starvation and/or illness.³

If Uncle Suetaro was still alive, I passionately wonder what intense emotions were raging through him.  Perhaps he thought of his mother or of his remaining siblings in America.  I am here fighting to free my brothers and sister from the American concentration camps.

He must have known his young life would be ending on that island – on that hill to become another soul lost in a faraway jungle.

I can but hope his fear was overcome by tranquility.

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The war ended four months later, on August 15, 1945.

No one walked down off Mt. Canguipot that day… in particular, my Uncle Suetaro.

An epilogue will follow and will close this series.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Part 6/Epilogue is here.

NOTES:

1. Although Aubrey “Red” Newman would survive his grievous stomach wound, he would not return to battle before war’s end.  However, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his command actions and retired a Major General.  He passed away in 1994 at 90 years of age.

2. It is just my opinion but only one of the 120 US 8th Army Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service on Leyte could have translated this key document in less than a day.
3. I am not convinced of this information’s authenticity.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 3


Jaro
Current Google map of Leyte battle area, inserted for ease of viewing and geographical orientation.

Battle Situation Overview

Even before my Uncle Suetaro and his 41st Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army landed in Ormoc at dawn on October 26, 1944, the US Sixth Army’s X Corps fought through four miles of beach between the Palo River and the Tacloban airstrip.  XXIV Corps further south also made significant progress, overcoming the Japanese resistance.  However, incredibly swampy terrain was more their enemy than the Japanese at times.

By the end of A-Day, the 1st Cavalry Division had secured the Tacloban airstrip.  Most critically, Lt. General Makino, commanding Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment and the 16th Division, was forced to evacuate his Command Headquarters in Dulag (below) to a village called Dagami.

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The inevitable violence of war.  Dead Japanese soldiers lay next to a knocked out Type 95 Japanese tank at Dulag Airfield. Dulag was the location of Lt. General Makino’s headquarters. October 20, 1944. National Archives.

First: Irony

In closing Part 2 of this series, the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was mentioned.  During the war in the Pacific, nearly all MIS soldiers were Japanese-Americans.  Caucasians were primarily officers although a few NCOs were assigned.

Although Uncle Suetaro’s older siblings (my dad, Uncle Yutaka, Aunt Shiz and their families) remained imprisoned in the US concentration camps for people of Japanese blood until war’s end, my dad did volunteer for service in the US Army in February 1947.

After prodding, my dad told me and my cousin Neil (Yutaka’s son) he volunteered because by doing so, he’d get three chevrons on his sleeve; but, if they drafted him, he’d be a lowly buck private.  “More pay,” he told us.

The story I choose to believe, however, is that Uncle Yutaka –  then living in Chicago and now the leader of the entire family – implored or directed my dad to join up solely to check up on their mother and remaining sister, Michie, in Hiroshima.  Of course, the anguish of not knowing what happened to their youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – played a deep, silent role.  This is a belief that I have not shared with others.

Well, Dad got his chevrons and sergeant’s pay.  He became part of the famed MIS, post-hostilities.

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Photo of Dad translating a document. Taken at US 8th Army HQs in Yokohama, Japan. April 1948.

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Five MIS Nisei pose with Colonel Rasmussen after receiving their jump wings. Do you think it odd to see Japanese-Americans in US Army paratrooper uniforms?  They were assigned to the famed 11th Airborne Division which eventually fought on Leyte and Luzon.  From Pg. 127 of Nisei Linguists.

As my Uncle Suetaro fought for Japan and his life on Leyte, the MIS was diligently doing their patriotic duty as US Army soldiers to end his life.  Dr. James C. McNaughton writes in his authoritative book, Nisei Linguists:

On 20 October the Nisei language teams went ashore with the assault elements of four divisions and two corps. Maj. George Aurell led the Sixth Army team.  His team sergeant, S.Sgt. Kazuo Kozaki, recalled: “We were kept busy all day and immediately. There were loads and loads of captured documents, although no prisoners were taken yet. I had to virtually wade through a pile of papers—operation orders, operation maps, manuals, magazines, books, paybooks, saving books, notebooks and diaries, handwritten or printed, official or private — to find out if there was any valuable information for our immediate use.”

Some Nisei saw direct combat. When the Japanese counterattacked the 7th Infantry Division, the Nisei “were a little bit heroic,” a Caucasian sergeant recalled. “They would climb on board a Japanese tank going by, knock on the
things, converse in Japanese, and as soon as the door popped open, they’d drop a hand grenade — boom!”

On 25 October two more Sixth Army language detachments arrived on board a landing ship, tank…”

One hundred and twenty Nisei’s and Kibei’s served on Leyte.¹

The unspoken irony for my father is here, hidden in this secret behind-the-scenes world.  If you note the highlighted print in this once top-secret US 8th Army report, it states, “Preliminary Interrogation ATIS Information Section.  Analysis made from 166 Det, 8 Army HQ”.

166thHere is the pertinent section of my dad’s discharge papers:

166th detHe served with the same G-2 166th Language Detachment that did their best to kill Japanese soldiers on Leyte – including Uncle Suetaro.  While the Nisei’s were on Leyte since the invasion began Oct. 20, 1944, they were reorganized into the 166th Language Detachment on 20 June 1945 per US Army records.

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Picture of sign taken by my dad outside his office door in the US 8th Army HQ Building in Yokohama, Japan. Circa 1947.

I am darned sure he translated some documents captured on Leyte… where his favorite brother died.  How this must have plagued him for the rest of his life – to this very day.

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catmon hill archives
The view from atop Catmon Hill after being taken by the US Army, October 1944. The Japanese observed the US invasion forces from this hilltop position as they landed and directed artillery fire. National Archives.

Back to the War on Leyte and Uncle Suetaro…

Per Mr. Ota’s book, The Eternal 41st, the composition of the 2,550 troops that disembarked at Ormoc was:

  • Regimental HQ staff
  • A rifle company (under Sasaki)
  • An artillery squadron (under Fukunishi)
  • A signals squadron (under Nakamura)
  • 1st Battalion (under Nishida)
  • 2nd Battalion (under Masaoka)
  • An attachment of combat engineers
  • A platoon of litter bearers from a medical regiment

However, their potential effectiveness had already been negated.  It was their fate.  Per his book, it appears the troops – including Uncle Suetaro – were forced to quickly ship out of Cagayan with but a day’s notice and with only what they could essentially carry on their backs or reasonably transport: ammunition, food, lighter artillery pieces like the 37mm anti-tank gun, etc.¹  This would be the proverbial nail in their coffin as the USN and USAAF would in short order obliterate their supply chain.

{His information above is corroborated by the information in the Reports of General MacArthur as follows:

Thirty-fifth Army took immediate action to move reinforcements to Leyte in accordance with the Suzu No. 2 Operation plan, which had already been activated on 19 October. Orders were issued during the 20th directing the following units to advance immediately to Leyte, where they were to come under 16th Division command:

1. 41st Infantry Regiment (less one battalion) of the 30th Division (Army reserve from Mindanao)

2. 169th Infantry Battalion of the I02d Division from the Visayas sector.

3. One infantry battalion of the 57th Independent Mixed Brigade, from Cebu.)}

USS Portland (CA-33)
Part of Leyte invasion fleet with US Army troops assaulting Leyte beach. You can see Uncle Suetaro never had a chance.  Taken from a USN reconnaissance plane from the USS Portland. National Archives.
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US soldiers on Leyte, October 20, 1944. National Archives

After landing in Ormoc at dawn, they became attached to the 16th Division under Lt. General Makino…but communication had been completely disrupted.  Makino’s HQ had been located in the coastal town of Dulag but it had been taken by the US 7th Infantry Division on the first day of the invasion.  Makino was in the process of moving his HQ ten miles inland to a town called Dagami five days before Uncle Suetaro landed.  Sadly, per the Reports of General MacArthur, orders had been issued by Japanese General Suzuki prior to their landing and were based on faulty intelligence:

Upon receipt of this dispatch, Lt. Gen. Suzuki and his staff began formulating a new operational plan covering the deployment of forces on Leyte. This plan, completed within the next few days, was essentially as follows ²:

1. Operational policy:

a. The Army will act immediately in cooperation with the decisive operations of the naval and air forces.

b. Reinforcements will be concentrated on the plain near Carigara.

c. Enemy troops which have landed near Tacloban and in the Dulag area will be destroyed.

d. The direction of the initial main effort will be against the enemy in the Dulag area.

e. The general attack will begin on or about 10 November.

2. Allocation of missions:

a. The 16th Div. will hold the Dulag area, Catmon Hill, and the heights west of Tacloban in order to cover the concentration of the main forces of the Thirty-fifth Army.

b. The following units, after landing at the ports indicated, will concentrate on the Carigara plain:

1st Div.-Carigara (Uncle Suetaro)

26th Div.-Carigara

102d Div. (Hq. and three battalions)-Ormoc

c. After the concentration of the Army’s main forces on the Carigara plain and adjacent areas to the southeast, operations will begin with the objective of destroying the enemy in the Dulag and then the Tacloban area.

Per Mr. Ota’s book, they slogged north to Carigara; they did make camp to rest one night in Kananga, a half-way point.  However, the US-supported guerrillas were constantly pestering the advancing Japanese force by destroying bridges and roads.  This wrecked havoc with vehicles and heavy rolling stock.  This obviously wore down artillery crews exacerbated by the rain, humidity, and limited food and medical supplies.  They still were unable to establish communication with Lt. General Makino; they were essentially going into combat pretty blind.

On or about October 28, 1944, the 41st Infantry Regiment moved from Carigara to the southeast section of Jaro.  They were to secure a bridge at a three fork highway junction.  {In corroboration, a US report states General Suzuki planned to have these troops move north along the Ormoc-Limon road (Highway 2) through Ormoc Valley, from which they were to diverge in three columns and capture the Carigara-Jaro road.³}  I believe this was the Mainit River bridge.

Unfortunately, they would soon clash violently with the US Army’s 34th Infantry, with dwindling provisions and weather combining into an insurmountable force against their staying alive.

To be continued in Part 4.

1. “Nisei” were the children of the first generation Japanese to immigrate legally to the US.  Being born here, they were American citizens.  A “Kibei” is a subset of Nisei; these Nisei children were rotated back to Japan for a period of time to learn the Japanese language with the understanding they would return to the US.  My dad is a Kibei.  KIbei’s were absolutely fluent in Japanese and formed the heart of the MIS.  In fact, some Kibei’s used to rib the Nisei “translators” because many spoke in a feminine way having learned it from their first generation mothers.
2. ULTRA intercepts reported the approach of this shipping, but MacArthur’s staff at first thought they indicated the beginning of an enemy evacuation. The necessary diversion of Third Fleet and Seventh Fleet aircraft for operations against surviving Japanese fleet units and the incomplete buildup of the U.S. Fifth Air Force on Leyte itself also weakened Allied reconnaissance and offensive capabilities in the immediate vicinity of the battle. Not until the first week in November did MacArthur’s staff realize that an enemy reinforcement was under way. Thereafter, American forces inflicted severe damage on local Japanese merchant shipping, sinking twenty-four transports bound for Leyte and another twenty-two elsewhere in the Philippines, as well as several warships and smaller vessels. By 11 December, however, the Japanese had succeeded in moving to Leyte more than 34,000 troops and over 10,000 tons of materiel, most of it through the port of Ormoc on the west coast. – Per Dai Sanjugo Gun Hatsuchaku Bunsho Utsushi (Document Files, Thirty-fifth Army headquarters) Oct-Dec 44, pp. 21-2, 25, cited in Reports of General MacArthur.
3. Leyte: Return to the Philippines, M. Hamlin Cannon. 1953

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue


YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Lt. Gen. Burton Field, United States Forces Japan commander and 5th Air Force commander, gives Tomo Ishikawa, Gakushuin Women’s College student, a hug after she presented him 1,000 origami cranes March 16, 2012. The students made a total of 4,000 origami cranes and gave 1,000 to a member of each service. This was in appreciation for all the help given by the 5th Air Force to the Japanese citizens stranded by the tsunami.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad C. Strohmeyer)

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

War is hell.

Vile.

Scars are left on those who had to endure the horror…

Those who witnessed it…

Those who fought in it…

But then hopefully there is a healing.

Perhaps it will take a generation or two.

But it will happen.

Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.
Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.

Perhaps one will never forget… but one can forgive.

Perhaps is it wrong of me – a person who never endured war – to say it so simply.  Forgive.

But I have witnessed forgiving with Old Man Jack… Mr. Johnson…

Warriors have forgiven and tried to move on with their life in spite of nightmares for the rest of their lives.

Civilians, too.

The result is endearing friendship.  The same USAF that bombed Japan assisted thousands of stranded Japanese civilians after the tsunami.  The world has benefited but at the cost of the sanity of single souls so many decades ago.

Captain Ray B. Smisek

On Sept. 2, 1945, Captain Ray Smisek once again made a round trip flight to Tokyo.

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A glimpse at a formation of B-29s flying over the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. Perhaps Capt. Smisek’s B-29 is pictured. National Archives.

This time, it was as a member of one of the great air armadas ever assembled in history.  Over 300 carrier based Navy planes and hundreds of B-29s.  MacArthur rightfully wanted to make an impression upon the Japanese people by ordering a huge flyover Tokyo Bay and the USS Missouri, where the formal surrender documents were signed.  (They were to fly over at the moment of the signing but were late, upwards of ten minutes.  MacArthur apparently whispered to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF something to the effect of, “Now would be a good time, Hap,” with respect to his missing armada.)

It was the crew’s 21st mission.  They were going home.

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Official Mission List, retained by Capt. Smisek’s bombadier, Capt. Alfonso Escalante. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

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In Part 1, son S. Smisek said of his father that he hated to kill anything – even bugs.  That was his character.

Capt. Ray Smisek returned home to his parents after the war and tried his hand in the Los Angeles real estate market; he also worked as a cook in a restaurant.  He must have made one heckuva Sauerkraut, one of his favorites.

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Capt. Ray Smisek with his parents after returning home. They must have been proud. Photo courtesy of S. Smisek (Copyright).

But…  Ray Smisek had met a young woman while he and a back-seater were on a cross-country training flight in 1942.  They were flying from Greenville, Mississippi when the BT-13 trainer developed engine trouble.  To make matters worse, there was a bad storm.  Not swell conditions when you’re training to be a pilot.  Fortunately, the clouds miraculously parted and a small town below was bathed in forgiving sunlight.  He said he did a barrel roll and dove through the break in the clouds.  It turned out to be a rural airport in Springfield, MO (now known at the Springfield-Branson National Airport).

On the USAAF’s dime, he was put up in a posh hotel.  After noticing “this sweet thing walk by” per his son, Ray Smisek asked a desk clerk if he knew who she was.  Seeing the twinkle in his eye, the clerk contacted the gal’s father who agreed to let him meet his daughter…but under the father’s mindful eye.  She apparently “had a guy”, so to speak, but they still ended up becoming pen pals.  Those letters must have been so important to a young man off in a faraway place facing death at any time.  It may have been fate but her beau tragically perished in a B-24 Liberator accident in England.
She was a singer in the “big bands” era of the 40’s and traveled extensively.  Remembering there was no internet, Ray finally tracked her down in 1947.  She was in Houston for a gig.  His son tells me he drove for two days straight to get to where she was performing.  Ray had a note he had written and asked a waiter to hand it to her.  It said, “Let me take you home and love you forever.  Ray!”  The note is a precious heirloom; the family still has it.
After getting married, Ray re-enlisted in the newly organized USAF (It was separated from the US Army.).  He flew for 16 more years in service of our country and retired from the USAF as a Colonel in 1963.  Along the way, they had five children; one was born at each station at which he was assigned.  Talk about the hardships of a military family.
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Family picture taken in the 1980’s, with Ray (plaid shirt) and his wife (red blouse), five children and the grandparents to the right of center. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

S. Smisek explained to me that his father rarely, if ever, talked about his time at war while he was growing up.  That was very typical, you see.  His son wrote very eloquently:

When I was growing up, he never spoke much of his time during the war. When asked about those times, I could see a sullenness come over his face, then he would most often ask me another question just to change the subject. In those rare exchanges when he would answer, he made it very clear that he desired no recognition for what he had done. He desired no contact with his fellow comrades, felt no honor for the devastation he had helped cause, and amazingly to me, felt no affection whatsoever for the incredible aircraft which had brought he and his crew back safely from so many missions over so many horrible places.

He, along with the rest of these brave young men, was an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so that countless others would have the freedom to accomplish theirs.

Raymond B. Smisek was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in 1989 and passed away at home, surrounded by his family, in August 1990.  He was just 70 years old.  His son believes his father also suffered from another cancer – one related to unhealed scars from war.  His son said they were cancers of the soul and spirit, much more damaging than those of the body.  His wife – the singer in the big bands of the ’40s – passed away in 2001.

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Please visit his son’s tribute to the men of the 330th Bombardment Group at www.330th.org.  For the sake of the families of the WWII airmen, S. Smisek has researched and brought many of the pieces together of what it was like for their fathers at war.  Through his website and in a sterling triumph several years ago, S. Smisek played a key role in coordinating the meeting of a Japanese gentleman living in Canada with a B-29 pilot from his father’s squadron. Seventy years earlier, the Japanese gentleman was in Kumagaya Japan as an eight year old, running from the bombs being dropped from the pilot’s aircraft.  The two finally met and it was moving and emotional moment per S. Smisek.  For an article of the meeting, please click here.

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Aunt Eiko

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Dad took this picture of the Tokyo Station in 1947. His G-2 HQ was to his left in front of the Palace. The station was being rebuilt, courtesy of the US. Notice the rickshaws lined up in front; the Japanese had no cars until the late 50’s. Also note the trees; they are burned.

There was no escaping bombardment for Aunt Eiko, even after moving to Fukui slightly inland from the Japan Sea; the US Navy shelled their farming neighborhood heavily.  She also vividly remembers a small group of high school aged Japanese soldiers relaxing at the nearby beach and still cries inside knowing their fate.

Preceded by my mother, Aunt Eiko and grandma returned to Tokyo sometime in mid-September to find it in shambles.  People were living in lean-to’s, she said, and running water still had not yet been re-established in devastated areas.  Food was a tremendous daily hurdle.  She cannot recall when but she remembers it was such a relief when MacArthur began rationing out beans and drinkable water…but it was American beans.  Still, the beans were appreciated.

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PFC Taro Tanji seated in center flanked by (from left) mom, grandparents and Aunt Eiko. You can make out Taro’s US 8th Army emblem. Taken in Tokyo, December 8, 1946.
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Aunt Eiko got a job at the Tokyo PX, working out of the Matsuzakaya Department Store in the Ginza. You can see “Tokyo PX” on her badge. 1947, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

But their greatest savior surviving the first few months after war’s end was another relative – an American.  An American of Japanese descent that is.  Taro Tanji was born in Livingston, CA but was drafted out of the Amache War Relocation Center in Colorado by the US Army.  He became a member of the famed Military Intelligence Service.

He arrived in Tokyo at war’s end as part of the US 8th Army’s Occupation Force.  Through his intelligence connections, he was able to track down Aunt Eiko and family in a suburb called “Toritsu Daigaku”.  Some of it had miraculously escaped burning.

Driving up in his US Army jeep, he stayed at their house every weekend.  Each time, he would bring a duffle bag filled with C-rations, instant coffee and American cigarettes for my Grandfather (which he reluctantly accepted – funny story).  Yes, Aunt Eiko ate the Spam and deviled ham.  Taro managed to get in a good word and found both Aunt Eiko and my mother jobs at the PX.

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Aunt Eiko and her love in her life, Puri. Circa 1952, Toritsu Gakuen, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

Things were tough until the early 50’s.  Dogs as pets were still rare as they also needed to be fed…but Aunt Eiko wanted dearly to achieve one of her dreams – to have a dog.

And so she did… She named him “Prince”, or “Puri” when you shorten “Pu-ri-un-su” pronounced in Japanese.  She loved him until he passed away in 1968.  She was devastated, of course.  I think Puri was an escape from the war’s ugliness for her.

She met Paul Sakuma sometime in the late 60’s; he was a Hawaiian born Sansei who was also drafted by the US Army into the Military Intelligence Service by the US Army.  He was attached to the 720th MP Battalion to serve as a translator.  He told a funny story to Aunt Eiko where the MPs frequently raided certain types of “houses”…  You know…  GI’s were prohibited from “fraternizing with the enemy” so they would raid them.  One time, there was a fellow MIS Nisei caught inside.  He made sure the “howlies” couldn’t escape…but held the door open for the Nisei.  After being discharged, he decided to stay in Tokyo to live and worked for the USAF as a civilian employee, using his knowledge of Japanese as a go-between.

Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling's top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945.  The old barracks is seen in the background.
Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling’s top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945. The old barracks is seen in the background.

They married but had no children – but a week before my first marriage in 1980, I got a phone call from Aunt Eiko in Tokyo.  She was sobbing uncontrollably.

Uncle Paul had gone upstairs in their beautiful home he just had built for them after washing her car.  He screamed, “Eiko!”  It would be his last word; he suffered a massive heart attack and died, right there at the top of the stairs in his brand new home.

Soon after his death, Aunt Eiko immigrated to the US along with my grandmother.  She became an US citizen about a dozen years ago.

In an irony, the country that bombed her city to ashes in 1945 bestowed upon her beloved husband Uncle Paul (as well as to Uncle Taro) the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for their service to the country.  While both had passed away before the award, Aunt Eiko cried for happy when I surprised her with the medal.  She said, “Even after all these years, Paul still brings me happiness.”

Holding Uncle Paul's Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy.  Incidentally, she became an American citizen about ten years ago.
Holding Uncle Paul’s Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy. Incidentally, she became an American citizen about a dozen years ago. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.
With her best friend - August 1963
Aunt Eiko with her childhood friend – the one who was burned during a firebombing. August 1963, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

As for her childhood friends, she is all who remains now at 88 years of age, just like Old Man Jack.  Her friend who was burned during the firebombings was one of the last to pass away.  She was the tall girl standing behind Aunt Eiko atop the Asahi Newspaper Building on October 30, 1937 and shown here in 1963.

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A most sincere thank you to S. Smisek without whom this series would not have been possible.  I wish him continued fortune with his 330th Bomb Group’s website, helping those descendants piece together their father’s contribution in World War II.

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My two youngest kids standing beneath the Enola Gay in 2010, the most famous B-29. Her single bomb destroyed my father’s Hiroshima high school and damaged my grandmother’s home as well. Read the story by clicking on the photo.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

Previous parts can be found by clicking on the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4