Category Archives: Nisei

The Passing of Dad


Dad was born nearly a century ago.

It’s amazing when you think of it that way.

February 25, 1919 in Seattle, WA to be exact.  Over 99 years ago.

The fifth of seven siblings born to Hisakichi and Kono Kanemoto, both legal immigrants from Hiroshima.

…but Dad passed away quietly at 99 years of age on Good Friday, March 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA – at the same facility where his older sister, my Aunt Shizue, passed away just a few years earlier at 95.

Just an eulogy in photographs of Dad:

1920a
Dad on left, somewhere in Seattle with his father Hisakichi and older sister Shizue. Circa 1920.
1920
Circa1921, King and Maynard Streets, Seattle, WA
Dad at right with Grandpa Hisakichi and Aunt Shiz near their barbershop on King and Maynard, Seattle, WA. Circa 1922.

 

1923
Dad at far right. Grandfather holding Suetaro with Shiz holding a precious doll. Circa 1923, Seattle, WA.

 

1924
Dad second from left holding what appears to be a rice ball in front of their Seattle barbershop. Far left is Suetaro; to his right is Aunt Shiz. Circa 1924.

 

1924b
From left clockwise: Grandmother Kono, Suetaro climbing on chair, Dad with cap, Shiz, Mrs. Fujii and her son (?) and the youngest Kanemoto, baby Mieko who would pass away at 15 years of age in Hiroshima.  Circa 1925, corner of Maynard and King Streets, Seattle, WA.

 

1927a
My guess is circa 1925; the youngest sister Mieko appears to be about two years old. Dad on left, Uncle Suetaro is the boy in the center (KIA as a sergeant of the Japanese Imperial Army on Leyte October 1944). By 1927, all but the oldest boy (Uncle Yutaka seated on the left) would be living in Hiroshima. Only two would return to the United States before the outbreak of war. Of those left in Japan, only my Grandma will be alive by war’s end.
This was taken in Seattle. The finish was heavily soiled by oils left by those who handled it decades earlier and could not be smoothly removed.

 

1928a
This is the first and oldest known photograph taken of my father’s Hiroshima home, still owned today by the Kanemoto family, circa 1928. Dad is the third from the left. The photo includes all of my dad’s siblings except for his oldest brother who had returned to Seattle and another brother who died at two years of age in Seattle.
The house was damaged by the atomic blast.

 

Dad on right next to his favorite brother, Suetaro. It is a tiny picture, about the size of a quarter, and it fell out from behind a larger picture glued in place in Granmother Kono’s photo album. Taken in front of family home in Hiroshima. My guess is 1928.

 

Dad is second from left, fourth row back in a lighter uniform, in a class photo at his Hiroshima high school, Nichu. It was totally destroyed by the atomic bomb. Sadly, the odds are tremendous all of his classmates were killed or wounded in the war as was his brother.  Up to a few years ago, he still remembered perhaps six of his classmates pictured. Dad was the last to pass away. Likely 1936.

 

I think of all the pictures of Dad spanning 99 years, this is the happiest I’ve seen him (right), posing at his Hiroshima home with his two younger siblings. Both siblings would pass away before the end of WWII. Circa 1936 is a guess.

 

Dad on his high school track team. He was a track star! Dad is in first row center, in white cap.

 

A page out of his Hiroshima high school’s yearbook: Dad in his senior high school portrait, bottom right. As verified by his predecessor high school administrative staff, he was the last one still living as of three years ago. He would return to Seattle after this. 1937.

 

Dad showing off his pride in his varsity sweater in front of his brother Yutaka’s home on Fir St. in Seattle. Likely taken between 1937 and Pearl Harbor.

 

Dad (standing) with his sister-in-law and my Aunt Haru and his oldest brother Yutaka holding his first son Seiichi Robert. Robert would die at six years of age at the Minidoka prison camp in 1944. All would be imprisoned three years later by President FDR, a Democrat. Taken in Seattle 1938.

 

Dad’s draft card that classified him as an Enemy Alien (4c). Ironically, he had to carry it around in his wallet at all times while imprisoned at the Tule Lake and Minidoka prison camps – therefore the crease. 1943.

 

Dad preparing to ship out to Japan with the rest of his US 8th Army Military Intelligence Service buddies. He was one of the first graduates of the now US Army’s Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. Presidio of Monterey, November 1947.

 

Dad somewhere in Occupied Japan, March 1948.

 

Dad on his fateful day. Poor guy. I never heard him talk back to mom… ever. Tokyo February 1951.

 

When Dad (at right) took mom to meet his Hiroshima relatives – including my Grandma (circa 1951). I can sense the tension between aristocrat Mom and coubtry woman Grandma Kono! LOL His mom would pass away in 1954, his oldest sister Michie (center) in 1963. All were survivors of the atomic bomb.

 

Likely taken soon after their wedding in 1951. Dad, mom, Aunt Eiko, Grandma and Grandpa. Notice the heavy metal 16mm Bell & Howell movie projector. I remember using it in Los Angeles as a kid. Tokyo.

 

Dad of left with mom and Grandpa.  I’m the kid.  May 1956 – Tamagawa Park, Tokyo.

 

Dad with mom and me. Dad will decide to leave for America for good the next year. April 7, 1957 – Enoshima Beach, Tokyo

 

Dad watching over me trying to ride my first bike, a Sears Outlet J.C. Higgins. His beat up 1955 Ford Victoria Custom’s fender can be seen at left. Taken at home on Oakford Drive in East Los Angeles. Circa 1962

 

Dad in yellow sweater with some of mom’s Nisei friends. My guess is circa 1969. My guess also is that they have all passed away. East Los Angeles.

 

Dad still wearing that yellow sweater! His first new car (now eight years old in the picture) – a 1963 Mercury Meteor Custom – behind us at LAX, picking up Aunt Eiko and Uncle Paul (also a US 8th Army MIS veteran) who flew in from Tokyo. May 1971.

 

Dad with his older brother Yutaka and oldeer sister Shizue. Best guess is 1985, location unknown.

 

Dad (R) returned to Hiroshima for a vacation in 1997; Masako is in the center. This was taken at his family home. Notice the stepping stone; it is the same one Masako stood next to in a picture taken in 1948. Sadly, this would be his last time in his beloved Hiroshima.

 

Dad actually “died” on his birthday in 2010 when he slumped over just before eating lunch. My oldest daughter Robyn (back to camera) saved the day by jumping in then shaking him until his heart started beating again. What was funny was after starting to breathe again after about a minute, he had no idea anything happened. Paramedics tend to him. Irvine, 2010.

 

Dad in 2012 deciphering the names written on a captured Japanese battle flag from WWII. Some of the people who came across my WWII blogs contacted me about such souvenirs their grandfather’s brought back from the Pacific; they were hopeful Dad would be able to read the key names and village from where the deceased Japanese soldier came from in their attempts to return the flags.  I thought it good for him, just to keep his mind active.  Truthfully, there aren’t many left who can read these old characters.  Not even my mom or aunt could read them. Dad reads them like he was 18 years old.

 

 

This will be the last time Dad and his older sister Aunt Shizue would see each other. She would pass away quietly a short time later at the age of 95. Dad would pass away at the same facility.

 

A cell phone portrait of Dad several years ago at his assisted living facility. After eating, the dining room servers would tell me Dad would sometimes come back a short time later, sit down, and begin to order breakfast again.  The server would say, “Koso, you just ate!” and he would say, “”Oh, yeah?  Pumpkin head.”

 

Dad in center at my oldest daughter’s wedding, January 2013. Photo courtesy of Toyo Miyatake Studios.

 

Although 96 years of age, Dad meets his only great-grandchild Emi. I think everyone was scared he was going to drop her. 2014.

 

My last picture of Dad, flanked by my two youngest kids, taken on his 99th birthday last month. Yes, he is smiling because he got to eat his favorite sweet, “Odango”. February 2018, Los Angeles.

 

And my last video of Dad:

Dad, I wish I were a much better son…  but I know you are joyfully back playing “oninga” or jump-frog in front of your Hiroshima home with your favorite brother Suetaro.  I hope you have all the odango you can eat now.  You will be forever young.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 5


hwy 2 carigara
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.

2015-02-22 10.48.21
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

16625205006_276938a5a8_o
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.

can
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.

______________________________________

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.

dulag airfield leyte
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.

c-10-94
Photo of Dad translating a document. Taken at US 8th Army HQs in Yokohama, Japan. April 1948.

________________________________________

11th ab
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.

c-10-92
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.

____________________________________

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.
battle_philippines archives
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

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 2


It is believed I occupy a potentially unique position when it comes to looking at history as it pertains to the Pacific Theater in World War II.  I am American first and foremost and have studied WWII history out of curiosity.  As expressed in the description of my blog, my viewpoint is from “one war, two countries, one family”.  However, one potential uniqueness is that I am able to read a bit of Japanese; you may be amazed to read what is written about WWII from the Japanese viewpoint of history. As such, I believe each battle will have in the background two broad, driving and dissimilar viewpoints: one from America and one from Japan.  The attack on Pearl Harbor is one example. But that is but the surface on war’s history – a high altitude view.  One that can be easily manipulated politically. But being on the ground dealing in face to face combat – or interrogation – leaves little to interpretation.  However, the fog of time challenges what is seen in a veteran’s mind.

Many of us here in the US interested in this world-wide cataclysm believe the Japanese soldier was a fanatic… freely willing to give his life for the Emperor.  The banzai charges.  The kamikaze attacks.  Individual soldiers throwing themselves under tanks with an explosive charge strapped onto their backs in a suicide attack. The truth of the matter is… they were farm boys.  City boys.  Just like our boys, they were drafted.  Instead of dying in “banzai attacks”, these “fanatical” Japanese soldiers wanted to go home just like our boys…but they couldn’t for fear of reprisal against their families.  Being a buck private in the Japanese army was brutal.  Perhaps not as brutal as the treatment they gave POWs but brutal nonetheless.  My Uncle warned his brother-in-law of that brutality in his farewell letter written on May 3, 1944.

A Look Into Imperial Japanese Army Morale

Indeed, as early as 1943, morale amongst the Japanese soldiers was very poor per this US Army G-2 intelligence report:

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Excerpt from “Intelligence Bulletin, G-2 USAFPOA, Feb 1945”. The translation was performed by a Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service.  The captured Japanese document was dated October 24, 1943.

So perhaps things are not what they seem? I wonder how my Uncle Suetaro felt.

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The 41st Regiment, and therefore Uncle Suetaro, was stationed in Pyongyang, Korea in May, 1944 per Mr. Ota’s book.  It had become absorbed by the Imperial Japanese Army’s 30th Division. After sunset on May 8, 1944, the 41st Regiment boarded a steam locomotive bound for Pusan.  After one day’s ride, they arrived in Pusan on May 9 at 4:00 PM. All 5,000 troops soon began to cram onto a ship called the 日昌丸 (Nissho Maru) with a capacity of 3,000 troops…  in addition to supplies and their backpacks.  American intelligence reports indicate temperatures could rise to 120F within the holds.

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oni ships2 The Nissho Maru is listed in this WWII era Division of Naval Intelligence report.

Per Mr. Ota’s reconstruction, the Nissho Maru departed Pusan on May 10 as part of a Imperial Japanese Navy fleet convoy. At about 3 PM the next day, the convoy docked in Moji Port in Kyushu, Japan to take on more supplies and hook up with other transports.  During this time, their destination was disclosed: Mindanao.  I am sure thoughts of seeing his mother was enveloping his mind…and heart.

Hiroshima was not far away. In the early dawn hours of May 13, the convoy – now consisting of eleven transports and four destroyer escorts, departed Moji Port.  They were vigilant against US submarines and proceeded at best possible speed.  They docked at Manila during the evening of the 18th.  The troops were already plagued with severe cases of sweat rash.

Soon, the 1st and 2nd Battalions on board the Nissho Maru headed to Cagayan with the 3rd Battalion and headquarters staff headed to Surigao on board the Tamatsu Maru.  Because they were splitting up and therefore would be separated from their regimental colors, the commanding officers boarded the Nissho Maru on the 19th as a send off.  They reached their destinations on the 23rd.  Soon, they were engaging Filipino guerrillas and they were extracting their toll on Uncle Suetaro’s regiment.  Per Mr. Ota, Captain Okamoto, a combat veteran from New Guinea was killed.  On July 10, Captain Ozaki, commanding officer of the 2nd Batallion, was also killed.  Short on officers, Captain Masaoka was appointed commanding officer of the remaining troops, numbering about 1,000.

October 20, 1944 – Invasion of Leyte

By the time of the invasion, General Yamashita had more than 400,000 soldiers stationed about the Philippines.  My Uncle Suetaro’s division, the 30th Division, was stationed on Mindanao to the south.  Yamashita had access to close to 900 planes, about 100 airfields (the largest of which was Tacloban on Leyte), and a naval fleet spearheaded by four carriers and seven battleships.  (However, this paled in comparison to the naval and air forces of the US. For instance, by the time of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the US had 34 carriers at their disposal.) The invasion of Leyte was preceded by the US 6th Ranger Battalion taking three smaller islands to the east of Leyte Gulf on October 17, 1944. The weather was perfect and all hell broke lose on October 20, 1944 (A-Day) when MacArthur unleashed the Sixth Army’s X Corps, XXIV Corps and the 21st Infantry Regiment in three different assaults on three eastward facing beaches (see below):

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From “Leyte”, US Army publication.

General Yamashita was caught flat-footed.  He had anticipated MacArthur would invade Luzon first.  He had to scramble.  In fact, the invasion’s advance was so rapid that MacArthur made his walk onto the Leyte beach a “Hollywood-esque” event on the first day.  Yes, he actually had several takes done of wading ashore being the media seeker he was but it is true there was gunfire off in the distance. Fortunately for our troops, the Japanese had withdrawn her troops from shoreline defensive posts.  Even though there had been up to four hours of bombardment by the USN of the shore defenses, many fortifications – including pillboxes – were untouched per an A-Day communication to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF from General Kenney.  He concluded there would have been a blood bath similar to Tarawa if the Japanese hadn’t withdrawn.

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MacArthur pompously wading ashore on Leyte on October 20, 1944. He would shortly broadcast that speech where he says, “I have returned.” National Archive photo.

The first major coordinated Japanese Army troop movements (i.e., reinforcements) to Leyte involved troop transports, joined by units of Cruiser Division 16 out of Manila.  The objective was to transport about 2,550 soldiers (count per Mr. Ota) of the 41st Regiment from Cagayan, on Mindanao, to Ormoc.  Named Convoy TA 1 by the USN, it included heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Kinu, Uranami, three new T.1-class transports (T.6, T.9, and T.10), and two new T.101-class transports, (T.101 and T.102). They were to be led by Rear Admiral Sakonju Naomasa in the Aoba but she had been torpedoed two days earlier by the USS Bream.  The flag had been transferred to Kinu. This convoy picked up the surviving 1st and 2nd Battalion members of the 30th Division at Cagayan, Mindanao on October 25th and arrived at Ormoc.  Fortunately, the Division had been alerted the day before so they were ready.  Uncle Suetaro had apparently been in the the 3rd Echelon, 1st wave of five transports that disembarked on the 26th in Ormoc.

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Source: Reports of General MacArthur.

Per Mr. Ota and under the command of Lt. General Shiro Makino, Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment headed towards Tacloban.  He could not have foreseen what was ahead of him: swamps, jungle, mud, illness, starvation…and the US Sixth Army. …and most poignantly, up against my dad’s US 8th Army’s Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service. To be continued in Part 3. (Note: The Battle of Leyte Gulf took place from October 23 to 26, 1944.  The immense Japanese battleship Yamato was reportedly only a few hours from Ormoc Bay when she inexplicably turned back during this epic sea battle.)

Part 1 is HERE.

Part 3 is HERE.

Part 4 is HERE.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.

A Draft Card and Immigration


In my seemingly never-ending drive to uncover lost details of family history – both here in America and in Hiroshima – many surprises have popped up.  Stuff I could have not even imagined.

For instance, finding out my grandfather went camping – complete with a Coleman stove from that time (circa 1915).  It’s odd even for me to see Japanese immigrants camping let alone in shirts and ties:

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Grandfather Hisakichi on the right with the Coleman stove next to him. Mr. Fujii is in the center.  His importance will be noted in another story. Circa 1915.

Or that Grandmother Kono – also from a small farming village in Hiroshima as my grandfather – would pose for a picture on the running board of a brand new 1918 (c) Chevrolet Touring happily holding my Aunt Shiz:

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Grandma Kono and Aunt Shiz, July 1918. The car is owned by Mr. Fujii, the owner of Hotel Fujii and shows up clearly in another photo. Seattle, WA.

I don’t think even she could have ever dreamed she would be sitting on the running board of an American icon from the poverty she had lived in before coming to Seattle as a picture bride.

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On other subjects, I’ve developed unprovable conclusions based on detailed inspection of such photos… but I guess there’s no harm in believing them.

For instance, there are quite a few lefties in my dad’s side of the family.  I’ve always wondered from whom that trait came from.

Well, in the few photographs remaining of Grandfather Hisakichi, I see some glaring patterns:

Here he is on the right, holding a cigarette in his left hand:

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A motley crew indeed.  Grandfather Hisakichi on right, holding cigarette in his left hand. I know when I (ahem) smoke a cigar, it is in my right hand. I am right-handed.

In July 1922, he is photographed here holding his hat in his left hand; however, as in his other photos in a suit, his gold chain (perhaps a watch) leads to a left vest pocket.  I am unsure of which direction a watch would have been pocketed:

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(L to R) Dad, Grandfather Hisakichi holding his hat in his left hand, Aunt Shiz. Unidentified park, July 1922.

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But there is one undeniable fact.  While I cannot find the actual US Immigration manifest, the 1930 Census discloses Grandfather Hisakichi (legally) immigrated here in 1898 when he was just 17 years old.

But because he was a documented immigrant, the government knew he was here.  He had to register for the draft in 1918!  WWI was raging then.  He was 38 years old.

WWI Draft Registration Card________________________________________

So there is a benefit to illegally immigrating to the US.

“They” wouldn’t know you’re here.

…All in jest, of course.

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.

TouritsuDaigaku - Summer 1952
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

What Did FDR Know? – Part 5


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My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Yutaka, in the back row, center. He is posing with the Block kitchen crew at the Minidoka, Idaho “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. Notice their living quarters behind them.  They lived in plywood barracks covered only with tar paper.  There was no plumbing nor toilets installed.  Photo courtesy of my stateside cousin, Janice (Kanemoto) Hew.

So you likely see from reading Parts 1 through 4 of “What Did FDR Know” that Japan really never had a chance…  A chance to win WWII.

Their chances were nearly nil largely due to the US breaking two key Japanese codes.  One was JN-25, the code used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The other, as we’ve read, was “Purple”, the secret cipher used by the Japanese diplomats.  Simply put, we knew exactly what they were doing as well as what they were going to do in all aspects.

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 A Family Example of What Happened

My father’s draft card before Pearl Harbor, postmarked December 13, 1940.  As a US citizen, he was eligible for the draft and classified 1(A):

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My dad’s revised draft card mailed to him while imprisoned at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”, postmarked January 19, 1943.  This is now official notice he was now classified 4(C) – Enemy Alien.  The address bears his address (block number) at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”:

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Interestingly, the cards are creased as he was required to carry it in his wallet at all times.  All American males of draft age were…even if they were imprisoned in a dusty, barren dry lake bed in California stripped of all rights.

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Armed guard at the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. My father, uncle, aunt and cousins were there so he was guarding them. US Army Signal Corps, May 23, 1943.

Ironic, isn’t it?

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But what did FDR know about “suspect” activities by people of Japanese descent living in the US on the West Coast before Pearl Harbor?  Most importantly, of the extent and magnitude of their “suspect” activities?  We’re talking espionage.  What could have prompted his ordering the “evacuation” of such people from the west coast of America?

But don’t get me wrong; it was not just the Japanese.  People of German descent loyal to Nazi Germany also did spy…as did people of Italian descent.  Some were loyal to their homeland, not the US.  But certainly it was not ALL of them.  Let’s not forget the famous East Coast docks were run by the Italians, too.  Certainly, if one wished to “spy” and report on ship movements, there could not have been a better way.  Being dock workers, they know what supply ship left when…and with what.  After all, they loaded them.  A number were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic by the waiting U-boats.

Let’s explore this a bit further.

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Since we are addressing “suspect” activities, here’s an interesting sidebar to this story.

Did you know that eight German saboteurs were caught on American soil whose combined cases were brought before a special session of the Supreme Court on July 29, 1942?  Did you know they came ashore from submarines in mid-June with greenbacks worth over $2 million today, explosives and even James Bond-like devices?  The case was referred to as the Ex parte Quirin.  It was named as such because of the lead saboteur, Richard Quirin. Quirin had lived in the US for a dozen years and became the first spy “trainee” of this group once he returned to Germany.

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In short, six of the eight got to sit in the electric chair just about ten days later…  On top of that, a one saboteur (Herbert Haupt) actually went to live with his father in Chicago.  The father also helped him apply for a job and get a car.  Another saboteur, Werner Thiel, actually handed some of the money over to his once room mate and business partner, Anthony Cramer; they owned a deli but it had failed.  But it is interesting to note that in spite of this event, there was not a mass imprisonment of German nationals or their American-born offspring from this incident which made the US Supreme Court.

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The MAGIC Intercepts Distribution Process

Because the US had broken the ultra-complex “Purple” code in 1939 used by the Japanese diplomats, FDR was able to at least see exactly what the Japanese diplomatic corps was doing before Pearl Harbor.

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Lt. Cmdr. Arthur McCollum. US Navy Photo

ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) had established a secret delivery system for the intercepted Japanese military and diplomatic intelligence (MAGIC) for FDR in the winter of 1940. Lt. Com. Arthur H. McCollum of ONI, and the author of the “McCollum Memo”, was the distribution officer; his name was on 151 USN routing slips in the National Archives.(¹) These routing slips provided a trail to a large collection of Army and Navy MAGIC ultra secret deciphers from monitoring Japanese communications; these were presented to FDR, the top military chiefs and several key members of the Administration between February 1940 and December 7, 1941. Sometimes, when McCollum deemed he had a “hot” item, he would personally deliver the message to FDR; otherwise the President’s naval aide made the delivery as per below.

According to Stinnett (1):

The Japanese intercepts destined for FDR were placed in special folders.  Captain Callaghan (Naval Aide to FDR) was responsible for the safety of the documents. Roosevelt read the original copy but did not retain any of the intercepts. Each original was eventually returned to the folder and stored in McCollum’s safe at Station US in Washington. There they remained, available for White House review. Shortly after December 7, when Congressional critics began to question the administration’s failure to prevent the Hawaii attack, all records involving the Japanese radio intercept program—including the White House route logs and their secret content—were locked away in vaults controlled by Navy communications officials.

These intercepts would include those related to Japanese espionage efforts.  This twenty-two month monitoring program prior to Pearl Harbor also allowed FDR and key staff to anticipate and analyze Japan’s reaction to the provocations advocated in the McCollum Memo.(²)

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So what did some of the MAGIC intercepts and other investigative reports include before Pearl Harbor and up to the imprisonment of about 117,000 people of Japanese descent against their will?  We already know per “What Did FDR Know – Part 3” that Tokyo instructed its American-based diplomats to covertly begin putting together an espionage network.  In fact, because we had broken the Japanese codes, the US “listened in” on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in February 1941; he clued in Captain Kanji Ogawa, Japan’s top intelligence officer, of the intentions of attacking Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto wanted to give Ogawa enough time to put together his own military-based network in the event of war.

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ONI memo generated for FDR, dated February 12, 1941. This was based upon the Purple deciphers, with Tokyo instructing American-based diplomats to set up their espionage nets. Source: “Magic” by David D. Lowman.

Prior to the message instructing diplomats to energetically strengthen their espionage efforts, there were already Japanese spies living on the west coast.  Under the disguise of language students, Japanese military agents (primarily IJN) had already established their network including a small number of Issei and Nisei, militaristic Japanese organizations, Japanese clubs and business fronts.  This facet was led by Lt. Cmdr. Itaru Tachibana of the IJN.  In June 1941, however, this ring was smashed.  Tachibana, and unbelievably a former chauffeur and business secretary to Charlie Chaplin named Toraichi Kono, had tried to recruit a former US Navy seaman (Al Blake) but Blake turned him in.  While Tachibana and his lieutenants were deported, detailed searches of their living quarters provided detailed records of their espionage network.  This detail included names of residents of Japanese descent as well as a number of organizations.

While not a historian, the following is a summary of what I deem to be key MAGIC intercepts in addition to other information gathered by other entities such as the FBI.  In addition to information contained in the previous four parts, the thirst for intelligence by the Japanese was high:

  1. February 5, 1941 – Tokyo instructed the diplomats to come up with a contingency plan in the event something were to happen (i.e., war).  To always exercise due care and to look at Central/South America for continuing intelligence efforts.
  2. February 15, 1941 – Tokyo directly asked for intelligence on materiel movement (especially planes and ships), non-military cargo vessels, troop movements, production of planes and arms, military training activities, etc.
  3. April 24, 1941 – This intercept disclosed that Tokyo wanted a status update of its previous orders in regards to: (1) keying in on intelligence instead of propaganda, (2) recruiting of agents for the ring, and (3) established standards for reporting such information.
  4. May 9, 1941 – The Los Angeles office reported that they “…have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials…”  Further, they shall “…maintain close connections with the Japanese Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers.”
  5. May 19, 1941 – the Japanese Embassy in Washington requested $500,000 more cash to further their recruiting for intelligence gathering purposes, i.e., entertainment, bribery, etc.
  6. June 10, 1941 – To prevent an international scandal, this intercept recommended that it be made to look as if Kono’s friends were supporting him financially for his defense and to keep the IJN out of further suspicion on the arrest of Tachibana.  It was recommended $25,000 be offered as a bribe to Kono; the memo stated  in part “…in view of the danger that he might give evidence unsatisfactory  to TACHIBANA.”
  7. October 4, 1941 – specifically asked for intelligence on any change in sea or air patrols or warship movements and the immediate reporting thereof.
  8. October 28, 1941 – in one of many transmissions reporting naval ship movements, the Seattle diplomats reported in detail the sailing of fifteen Coast Guard vessels.  They also reported their four-inch guns were upgraded to five-inch guns.
  9. November 29, 1941 – Tokyo ordered the San Francisco diplomats to report in detail all arrivals, departure dates and destinations of ALL commercial and war ships in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. (Note: this was not transcribed until December 4, 1941.)
  10. December 6, 1941 – Seattle diplomats reported the departure of the carrier USS Saratoga from Bremerton, WA.

japanese espionage

Please note there were hundreds of these types of transmissions, both from and to Tokyo.  In addition, there were quite a few official FBI reports detailing espionage activities.  These reports also included names and businesses that were involved.  The FBI was not privy to MAGIC intercepts.

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FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which had the effect of forcibly relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry – both citizens and aliens – out of the west coast’s Pacific military zone and into War Relocation Centers. The much later publicized objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had bitter anti-Japanese attitudes.

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Dad in his US Army duds, Tokyo 1947. The Emperor’s Palace is behind him to his left. MacArthur’s GHQ is off to the right (Dai-Ichi Sei Mei Building).

So what is the point of this story, the last installment of “What Did FDR Know?”

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of their race.  In other words, they were discriminated against, pure and simple.³

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because “FDR wanted to protect the Japanese from hate crimes”.  After all, my grandmother was egged while she lived in Seattle.  Some Japanese girls were taunted or worse, molested, assaulted or raped.  Indeed, there was hysteria.

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of the espionage activities.  And from the above, we do see some were taking part in espionage activities.  In other words, the US wanted to ensure we won the war in the Pacific with the fewest amount of lost lives as possible and espionage was certainly a risk.  But if that were the case, how would the US go about removing Japanese suspected of espionage?  Just knock on specific homes and businesses and arrest specific men…but leave the others to go about their daily lives?

If they did that, wouldn’t Tokyo suspect their “secret” transmissions were being intercepted?  How else would the US have known who to arrest?  And if Tokyo did suspect that, what if they changed their codes?  We’d be in the dark again intel-wise.  More of our military would therefore possibly lose their lives.  (NOTE: It is true not one person of Japanese descent was tried and convicted of espionage.  However, it is my amateur opinion that they were NOT tried to maintain secrecy about the broken codes.  Case in point: the Supreme Court above.  Certainly, the fact we listened in on their espionage activities would have become public knowledge from testimony.)

So what do you think?  How does this compare to what you were taught?

(ADDENDUM – July 23, 2014

As a good fellow mentioned, the third paragraph immediately above can be read to imply my dad was suspected of espionage activities.  He was not.)

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In my opinion, our breaking of the Japanese codes was America’s greatest secret weapon.

It was not the atomic bomb.

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NOTES:

(1) Per “Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor” by Robert Stinnett.

(2) There was a brief period in 1941 when FDR himself was removed from the MAGIC distribution list.

(3) In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act.  The Act approved paying each surviving Japanese or Japanese-American $20,000 each for being unlawfully stripped of their rights for no reason other than race.  (My dad, four uncles, four aunts and seven cousins each did receive payment as did other more distant relatives.)