Category Archives: Uncle Suetaro

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 8


18173444665_68dc70200e_o
In our pilgrimage from the photo above was then baby Kiyoshi (held by their mother Michie), Masako on the far right in a kimono and Namie standing next to her. Taken by my father in 1948 in front of the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima. The house was still not repaired from the damage caused by the atomic bomb.

“Uncle, Let’s Go Home…”

Uncle, let’s go home…  Those were the words that devotedly flowed with compassion from Masako’s daughter, Izumi, during our fourth and last memorial service on Leyte.  “Leyte Fuji” stood before her, covered in greenery that had likely been destroyed 70 years earlier.  Her voice was draped in unchained anguish and power.  Her unbridled emotions from her 心 – her heart – were felt by everyone; tears and restrained sobs were in abundance.

Me included.

___________________________________________

There are readers who had their fathers or other loved ones killed or imprisoned by the Japanese.  There are readers whose loved ones learned to forgive after fighting a bitter war.  There are readers who will forever despise what the Japanese did.  I certainly accept that.

While these services may be foreign in appearance, they are to honor those killed in a field of combat.  If you live in America, place yourself on the sacred grounds of Arlington…  Then you glimpse a caisson pulled past the crosses with the flag draped over a casket or taps being played with the folded flag presented to the deceased loved one with thanks given by a comrade on bended knee.

That is what these services are in substance, at least in my opinion.

Just no cemetery.

leyte_cemetery
The difference is my uncle is not in any cemetery. (US Army cemetery under construction, Leyte. US Army photo.)

Day 4 – Last Service

After the long climb down the path Japanese soldiers took in December 1944 from the town of Catagbacan, we briefly rested in a small, humble cluster of family dwellings.

c-10-521
A dwelling at the foot of the path down from the mountain.  A couple of villagers climbed palm trees like the one in the center to cut down coconuts.

In an effort to help in their sustenance, Mr. Ota paid the village folks to climb up palm trees to cut down what appeared to be coconuts.  They chopped open the narrow end at an angle with a machete and we sampled it.

Soon, we retreated to the air conditioned vans, taking two villagers (including the guide with the machete) to where a motorcycle would take them back up the long, winding dirt road and home (Catagbacan).  While I was near death, these two young men weren’t winded at all.  My older cousins had also recovered nicely.  Hmm…. Am I old?

We headed to a quick outdoor lunch before continuing on to our last memorial stop: “Leyte Fuji”.

_________________________________________________

Last Memorial Service – and the Most Emotional

As we neared the end of our journey, I had come to realize we have been reading our kind thoughts to our family members, both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura, both of whom were killed in war and left on this island.   What made it doleful is that it would have been much, much better to say these kind words to them while they were living.

But there was one anguished tone among all the letters, excepting Masako’s: we all apologized in one way, shape or form to our departed uncles for not knowing of them or even they had died in war… That we were enjoying life.  And we all shared remorse for all the young men who died here under these gruesome conditions – Japanese or American.  They took their last breaths fighting for what they believed in, smothered by depression and futility, death, disease, in unwashed and bloodied uniforms.

Indeed, what Old Man Jack told me years before and after a Father’s Day dinner became more forlorn: “If you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”

_________________________________________

Screenshot (46)
Approximate location of “Leyte Fuji”, or Mt. Calbugos.

“Leyte Fuji” is the nickname given to Mt. Calbugos (aka Calbukos, 11.2541,124.4539) by the Japanese over the decades.  Many deaths occurred around this hilly range with the one prominent peak; while large numbers were of Japanese, American soldiers also perished as did many Filipinos.

Leyte Fuji was in clear view from the spot picked by Mr. Ota; it was at the end of a short road, in from a narrow highway.  There were some very basic dwellings and a small village store.  There were children about as there was an open air schoolroom adjacent to where we parked; it was an unpaved and decaying homemade basketball court.  Palm tree stumps were used to hold the rickety backboards made out of scrap pieces of wood.

c-10-529
The outdoor classroom filled with children can be seen.

An occasional two-cycle engine’d motorcycle would putt by and the loud voices of young school children at play showed their interest was understandably elsewhere.

The sun was not bashful; the sunshine was blazing and the air sweltering.  The group did their best to setup the memorial table for the last time but a constant and mischievous hot breeze kept the photos fluttering and softly toppled the other items.

The two best “readings” were from these two fantastic ladies.  The best for last, as they say.   Every heartbreak, every torment, every regret, every loss and the feeling of shame flowed forcefully – shame that we all knew very little of these men who died.  Some did not know them at all until recently – like me and Setsu.

c-10-523
Setsu wrote her letter with traditional brush and charcoal ink. Such writing can show the emotions of those writing them. Think of them as art.

While Izumi read her letter first, I choose to describe now Setsu’s passionate reading to her uncle, Lt. Nakamura.  She had chosen to write her letter on a traditional Japanese notebook with brush and charcoal ink, writing daily and filling it with her deep and unrestrained feelings.

She bowed at her uncle’s picture on the memorial table.  Leyte Fuji was dominant before her.  She began by introducing herself as his niece.  She understandably broke down a number of times.  There is no shame in that.

In one passage, she said a nurse had stopped by her grandmother’s house after war’s end.  The nurse said she had went with Lt. Nakamura to dockside to send him off… and that he told this nurse he should be on the next ship and coming home soon.  Even after she received official notification after war’s end that he was declared dead on July 15, 1945, she probably continued to believe he would still come home… just like my Grandmother Kono.

c-10-525
The peak of Leyte Fuji.  Many people died on this now green land.  Just realizing there are unburied bones humbled me incredibly.

In another passage, she talked about her father (Nakamura’s brother) that when he went off to war, he knew in his heart Lt. Nakamura would never be coming home.  She felt tremendous anguish knowing her father suffered such a burden for so many years.

A much shortened video of Setsu’s letter:

Setsu’s letter was very eloquently read in spite of overflowing emotions.  It simply brought many to tears; Masako had to sit down, apparently overcome with the sadness and heat.

_________________________________________

Of my Hiroshima cousins, I have communicated with Izumi the most.  The only daughter of Masako, she looks after Masako in spite of working six days a week as a pre-school teacher and raising her beautiful daughter, Yuu-chan.  She is a most caring person and feels for others.

It is with Izumi this trek for Uncle Suetaro’s hidden life and death began in 2010.  My then seven year old daughter Brooke was snooping in my dad’s closet at his assisted living apartment when she stumbled across my dad’s small box.  She had opened it up and brought out a photo of a Japanese soldier.  I thought, “Gee, that’s odd,” as I knew my dad was US Army.  So I showed my then 91 year old dad the picture of the Japanese soldier and asked him, “Who’s this?”

He quickly replied, “Sue-boh (pronounced SUE – e – boh).”

“Sue-boh?  Who’s that?” I asked.

“My brother.  He was killed.”

And so the journey began, culminating in Izumi’s passionate reading of her letter to Uncle Suetaro below.

__________________________________________

c-10-526

c-10-527
Screenshots of video I took of Izumi emotionally reading her letter to Uncle Suetaro. Her video will be kept private.
c-10-524
How the scene appeared on July 22, 2015.  You can see the makeshift basketball hoop in the background. We all freely broke down.

Preceded by a short, softly spoken message from Namie, trying to summarize Izumi’s well-written letter afire with emotions by using words is not possible; yet, I will try to summarize her words here and how it was delivered:

“Dear Uncle Suetaro,

We have come together at last…  I have come to take you home…”

Five years of pent up emotions burst forth. Her emotions overcame her and sadness showed itself through her broken voice and tears.  Indeed, after we all heard her say “take you home” to our forgotten uncle, the flood gates opened for everyone.

“You still have family in America…  When Koji asked me about you, I was so ashamed as I knew nothing…  Since then, you have become deeply entrenched in my heart and soul, day in and day out…  You are forever in my mind…”

She paused to try and collect herself.  She was only partially successful; it was clear that for her, this was a cleansing, a purging of sorrow, regret and happiness that had amassed over the last five years.

“With the unending patience from Mr. Ota, I learned of your hardships…  Of how you arrived here for war… Your battles and final days.

After learning of your sacrifice for your (American) family as well as Japan, I said to Koji, Masako and my aunts, ‘We must go to Leyte’… and now, we are finally here with you…  I have now heard your voice, was touched by your heavenly soul and heard of how kind and gentle of a young man you were…”

She paused again to collect herself and continued with her magnificent reading.

“Last year, my mother was hardly able to walk.  After memories of you from 70 years ago were stirred up, my mother said you beckoned her here… and she is now here, dismissing her bad legs and all from her mind, to be with you here and to honor you on this land…

And to all of your fellow 41st Regiment soldiers who died, you had to do your duty seven decades ago and you did that with tremendous fortitude and courage…  Your bravery has seeped into me…

To the souls of the 41st Regiment and Uncle Suetaro, let’s go home together…

Love, Izumi”

Nobody had Puffs…  Even then, several boxes would have been required.

c-10-528
Our group with the memorial table before us and Fuji Leyte behind. Yes, brave and young men were killed on this very ground.
c-10-522
Masako and Izumi, their pilgrimage to seek out Uncle Suetaro ending in front of Leyte Fuji.

_________________________________________________________

Indeed, Izumi’s thoughts were righteous.

We did take him home – some took him home to Japan.

I took him back to America where he was born and where his two older brothers and sister lived as he died.

Epilogue to follow.

__________________________________

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

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 – Epilogues

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6


VictoryAtSeatitle
Title screen for “Victory at Sea”, a National Broadcasting Company’s TV documentary series produced with cooperation from the US Navy. Its first of 26 episodes began airing in 1952.

My LA cousins held a third anniversary Buddhist memorial service for our Aunt Shiz today (August 15, 2015), ironically the day 70 years ago that Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his citizens that Japan was surrendering.

I was reporting in person to my LA cousins of our pilgrimage to Leyte as well.  Bessie, my cousin and Aunt Shiz’s only daughter, shared with me something about her mom that echoed of the reason for the pilgrimage.

c-10-492
Taken in Seattle, circa 1925. From top right, clockwise: Grandma Kono, Aunt Shiz with hands on Uncle Suetaro, Dad, and Aunt Mieko.

She told me Aunt Shiz used to watch “Victory at Sea” on the TV for years.  “Mom, why do you always watch it?” she asked.

Aunt Shiz replied, “Because I may get a glimpse of Sue-boh…”

Think of the irony.  Aunt Shiz was watching a US Navy-backed documentary series of our WWII victory over Japan… in hopes of seeing her youngest brother captured on some US movie footage.

Indeed… One war.  Two countries.  One family.

_________________________________________________

Day 3 – Evening / Break Neck Ridge

After the memorial service during which I read my letters, we went up a winding road.  The road had a few stetches where it had given way and slid down the side of the hill.  Sure kept my attention but our drivers were excellent.

We then made a stop near the crest of a hill: we were at the actual Break Neck Ridge battle site.¹

c-10-475There was a flight of uneven concrete and dirt stairs to the top; a hand rail was on one side only yet our firmly driven Masako-san unhesitatingly took on the challenge and strongly made the climb.

Once on top of the hill, you could not help but notice you were surrounded by the sounds of insects hidden in the tall grass and birds singing as the sun once again played hide and seek.  Standing at the crest gave you a sweeping view of the terrain.  Indeed, the Japanese defenders had the advantage, costing many American casualties.

c-10-486
Post-battle view down from Break Neck Ridge.  Note the absence of palm trees in the near foreground. The hillsides had been nearly denuded of palm trees and other larger plants from the extensive shelling.  US Army photo.

My July 2015 photo from about a similar location:

c-10-487
A photo I took from atop Break Neck Ridge on July 21, 2015.  A number of palm trees can now be easily seen having 70 years to grow back, hiding once again the death filled terrain below.

According to Mr. Ota and US battle reports, the US would continually shell the hillsides to soften up Japanese defensive positions.  However, when the shelling or bombing would begin, the Japanese soldiers would temporarily abandon their weapons and via established and well camouflaged foot trails or tunnels, run to the backside of the hill.  There, they were shielded against the shelling.  Once the barrage or bombing would lift, they would scamper back to their defensive positions and await the US soldiers advancing up the hill.

c-10-397
Masako’s daughter Izumi with Mr. Ota’s backside on the left.  Some of the grass to the right is taller than her.

There was also another short climb off to the right.  The vegetation was thicker, chest high in some places and the grass’ sharp edges irritated your exposed legs as you walked through.  To give you a small sense of the surroundings, Mr. Ota is speaking of the defensive advantage and Mr. Kagimoto is coming back down the smaller hill, flanked by the vegetation.  The height of the grasses can be easily judged; they’re having a slight drought, by the way:

While American memorials were absent, there were a number of Japanese ones:

c-10-489
The memorial on the right simply states, “Eternal love. Eternal peace.”
c-10-488
Masako-san offers up a prayer atop Break Neck Ridge.

We said some prayers for those who are still on this island and made our way back down.

________________________________________________

Ormoc City and Port

ormoc 2 nov 44
Japanese destroyer escort explodes after a US bomb hit in Ormoc Bay. November 1944.

We then headed south nearly the entire length of Leyte, down the two lane Pan-Philippine Highway towards Ormoc City and its dock.  Uncle Suetaro disembarked from his Japanese troop transport on this very dock on October 26, 1944.

The dock reaches into Ormoc Bay, the sight of tremendous life and death struggles between US airpower and Japanese shipping. Although the Allies commanded the air, MacArthur was slow to catch on that the Japanese were unloading thousands of reinforcements (including Uncle Suetaro) and supplies.  Once MacArthur caught on, it was a certain violent end to a number of troops still at sea.  Tons of critical supplies were also sent to the bottom, thereby ensuring the defeat of Japanese troops on Leyte.²

ormoc usarmy
Ormoc City and dock onto which Uncle Suetaro disembarked, circa 1945. The hotel in which we stayed was built atop the 1945 hotel location. National Archives.
c-10-490
Docks at Ormoc Bay today. The Japanese ship that exploded is still sunken in the bay beyond as are many troopships. This was the view from our third story hotel balcony.

Two palm tree stumps across the street from the hotel are left from the war; dozens of bullet holes pepper the two trunks.  The yellow steel fencing can also be seen in the lower right of my photo above to help give a sense of where these tree trunks are.

c-10-491After all took very quick and much needed showers, we enjoyed an informal dinner outdoors, ordering local grilled items from a mother-daughter food stand.  It was still quite warm and therefore steamy but a jovial mood took over after a long day.  I didn’t quite know what everything was but my cousins – who had very little food for years – happily dined on whatever was brought out.

c-10-494
The first (silly) question of the night: Who wants beer?!

After talking about the events of the day and on our way back to the hotel, Carmela encouraged all five ladies to experience a group ride on a “tricycle”, which is a 125cc motorcycle with an ungainly but colorfully decorated side car.  The only time I’ve seen girls more giddy was when I took my Little Cake Boss and friends mall shopping – twice.

c-10-493Remember how lots of college kids would pile into on phone booth?  Well, those college kids would have been proud.  All five ladies piled in!

c-10-495
Five giddy ladies piled into one tricycle. You would think it was the beer.

While we all had a wonderful, relaxing evening alongside Ormoc Bay, I am sure each realized that both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura had begun their march to their deaths from these very grounds on October 26, 1944.

The final memorial services for our graveless souls in Part 7.

__________________________________________

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

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 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

NOTES:

  1. For those interested, this link will take you to an actual WWII “Military Intelligence Bulletin”.  Dated April 1945, there is a section of the battle including descriptions of the tactics and dangers of fighting on that series of ridges.  Interestingly, the publication was issued by G-2, Military Intelligence.  My dad was part of G-2 albeit postwar.  Please click here.
  2. The critical Gulf of Leyte sea battle took place between October 23 and October 26, 1944, when Uncle Suetaro was en route to Ormoc Bay.  Through critical US ship identification errors by the then superior Imperial Japanese Navy force (including the battleship Yamato), they engaged Taffy 3, a small defensive US naval force.  Although the battle had been won tactically by the Japanese, they inexplicably turned back.  A CGI recap is here on youtube.

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5


image0-8
Masako and my dad in his US Army uniform at Miyajima, Hiroshima. 1947.

“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”

— Herbert Hoover

As we left the Mainit River bridge and our first memorial service behind, a deep somber prevailed.  We had been walking over a solemn graveyard, one without gravestones or markers.  There was no honored archway signaling you are entering a resting place for brave soldiers who were once farm boys, clerks or musicians before clashing with the ghastly violence caused by failed leaders.  Indeed, this graveyard had no boundary but it was timeless.

All these young men – American or Japanese – were forced to fight one another.  Perhaps many fought those in front of them out of bred hatred but I believe all fought for what was behind them: their respective countries and families… some who would never know of their names let alone died.

I was one of them until five years ago.

A bugler played taps in my heart.

We were their funeral procession.

______________________________________________

Day 3 – Afternoon

With the first somber memorial service experience behind us, we headed back to the parked vans.  As we approached the dwelling, we handed the food and cigarettes to the awaiting families.

The drivers were kind enough to have started the engines back up and had turned the air conditioning going.  Being a southern California boy, I had wilted in the heat and humidity.  Even the Wicked Witch of the West would have melted from all the perspiration that had soaked my t-shirt.  Heck, Dorothy would have been spared.

We headed north up towards Carigara Bay but a short distance later, we stopped in front of an elementary school in Tunga.

c-10-479
Tunga Elementary School

It turns out, the 41st Regiment had set up a field CP here.  And Uncle Suetaro did double-time it past this location on his southward march to Jaro from Carigara to engage the US Army.

Its principal came out to greet us and say hi.  She was a cheerful lady although having survived the typhoon.  She indicated the school had been literally blown away.  Fortunately, a Taiwan church foundation supplied the funds to rebuild most of it.

Before reaching the vast playground, we came across this.

c-10-480
Fuse end of an unexploded American bomb, possibly a 250 pounder as Akehira looks on while wiping perspiration off his face. The school now uses it as a gong. Man, it was loud.

We got back into our two white Toyota vans; their black limo tint was a necessity but it made for hard picture taking, especially from a moving van.

Soon, we came upon Carigara Bay; its blueness quickly greeted us as we drove in and out of sunlight due to some cloud cover that was developing.  It was a signal as you will read later.

We veered off the main road at some point and into a village of rice farmers.  Living conditions were very basic, down to the dirt and gravel road.

We stopped in front of a dwelling; in my imperfect Japanese, I understood a village elder lived there and that Mr. Ota knew him.  It was then I found out it was the site of our second memorial service…and my time up to the podium.

__________________________________________________

We were at Hill 517, part of the savage Breakneck Ridge battle.

jaro map-001 517
A map provided by Mr. Ota to our pilgrimage group. Also published on his blog here.

As we prepared for the ceremony, some dark clouds had reappeared beyond Breakneck Ridge in our background allowing the hot sun to play hide and seek.  Yet in comparison to 71 years ago, the scene was entirely absent of death and violence – combat that took many lives over two weeks.

c-10-469
The crest of Hill 517 can be seen, veiled by darkening clouds. Such a beautiful landscape…

As earlier that morning, our group began to set up the memorial table as before, adorned with photographs, food, incense and osake:

c-10-472At the right front, next to the photographs of my Uncle Suetaro are pictures of “Smitty”, the father of blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper on WordPress.  An established blogger, gpcox and I have a special kinship that began soon after I began to blog myself as her father – a member of the famed 11th Airborne – arrived on Leyte just a couple weeks after my Uncle Suetaro did.  While he first fought his counterpart Japanese paratroopers at Burauen – and while the chances are remote that he and my Uncle faced each other in battle – they were not far from each other on this small island in the sweltering Southwest Pacific had my Uncle survived Jaro.

c-10-485She was gracious enough to write a letter to Smitty for me to read during the memorial service.  Yes, I had the honor to read two letters… both in each soldier’s memory, honor and peace.  I feel it unbelievable that gpcox and I are friends considering Smitty and my Uncle were fighting each other in a most bitter war.¹

____________________________________________________

A very warm but moist wind began to swirl about us as our second service began with Hill 517 in front of us but beyond the green rice seedlings.  The photographs of our fallen family seemed to do a joyful ballet in the breeze.  I think they were speaking to us.

Mr. Kagimoto once again led our chanting and did a marvelous job.

c-10-482
Ms. Teraoka’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura, is also on the memorial table. He survived for months only to be killed in action towards the end with the tattered regimental flag tied around his waist.
c-10-473
Cousin Tomiko offers gassho and incense to the fallen soldiers. At the time of the atomic blast, she was inside her home which toppled above her.

It became time for me to read my letters.  I was hoping to not insult any of my Japanese family and friends but I determined just to do what I believed to be proper.

c-10-470
So peaceful, so beautiful.

I bowed to my group and said in my poor Japanese to please indulge me while I read two letters: one from Smitty’s daughter and one from myself to Uncle Suetaro.  I explained Smitty was a US paratrooper and that he had fought the same Imperial Japanese Army that Uncle was in on this now peaceful island.  However, after hostilities ended, he respected the Japanese and the Nisei and never said a negative word… that in fact, he had praise for my father’s US 8th Army unit comprised of Nisei’s.¹

c-10-483
A screenshot from a video Masako’s daughter Izumi was kind enough to take. As it cannot be edited, I’ve only shared it with gpcox.

Everyday, you feel anger, happiness, frustration… but they all paled compared to what was being conjured up inside me at that moment.

Reading each letter was tough; I didn’t take Puffs with me to the Philippines although I had considered it.  It took me five minutes to read the two short letters.  My voice trembled and cracked in between the constant sniffling – especially when gpcox wrote in her letter that she wished her father and the rest of the 11th Airborne would receive this letter and spend their next lives in eternal peace.

image0-15
Dad sitting in front of MacArthur’s GHQ in Tokyo 1947. Judging by the date, the remnants of the Japanese military had officially just informed his mother in October 1947 that Suetaro would not be coming home.

At the same time, I felt so peculiar reading the letters in English to my uncle, who wrote in his farewell letter to my grandmother that he would fight as a Japanese soldier to free my dad from the US prisons.  I think only Izumi understood part of what I said.

I did open it with a couple of sentences in Japanese, saying how blessed I was to have been able to receive a wonderfully smelling lunch on the plane, knowing he had so very little to eat… that I was embarrassed to have not known of him until 2010.  It was very hard to say to Suetaro that even up to last year my dad would ask me, “… and how is Sue-boh?”, as he fondly nicknamed him.  Each time, I would tell Dad you were still here on Leyte…and his face and especially his eyes would become very sad.  But Dad would then again ask me five minutes later, “How is Sue-boh?”

That was the toughest part of reading my letter to Uncle Suetaro.  Dad’s bond with him was so deep that his mind won’t accept that his favorite brother fought and died on Leyte to free them.

_______________________________________________

The Heavens Heard

Soon after my reading was completed, the clouds that had collected over Hill 517 began to thunder…  Low but discernible rumbles.

But there is a deep meaning to that thunder for the Japanese as I was to find out.  As we concluded the ceremony, Izumi asked me in Japanese, “Koji-san, did you hear the thunder?” to which I replied yes.

“That means the heavens had heard you… and that Suetaro did, too.”

I believe her.  Both our eyes watered with happiness.

c-10-363
A group shot after our ceremony near Hill 517. The clouds that had released the thunder are now also leaving us, another signal the heavens heard us.

Part 6 is HERE.

__________________________________________

Other chapters are listed 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 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

NOTES:

1     Everett “Smitty” Smith survived the combat and was the first unit to go onto the Japanese homeland on August 30, 1945 for the Occupation of Japan.  I believe his unit actually jumped the gun a bit but he was there at the Atsugi Airbase when MacArthur and his corn cob pipe first landed as conquerer a few hours later.  I hope gpcox won’t mind but to show you Smitty’s character, an excerpt from one of her blogs:

“Upon returning home from Japan, my father and several other troopers from the 11th A/B, including two Nisei, went to a saloon to celebrate their return to San Francisco and the good ole U.S. of A. The drinks were put up on the bar, free of charge for returning veterans, and Smitty began to distribute them. He said he stopped laughing and talking just long enough to realize that he was two drinks shy of what he ordered. He knew right off what it was all about, but he tried to control that infamous temper of his, and said something to the effect of “Hey, I think you forgot a couple over here.” The reply came back in a growl, “We don’t serve their kind in here.” Dad said he was not sorry that lost control, he told me, “I began to rant things like, ‘don’t you know what they’ve been through?’ and ‘what the hell’s wrong with you?’”

By this time, the other troopers had heard Smitty yelling and it did not take them long to figure out the scenario between my father and the bartender. No explanation was necessary. In fact, dad said the entire situation blew apart like spontaneous combustion. The drinks hit the floor and all hell broke loose. When there was not much left in the bar to destroy, they quieted down and left the established (such as it was). The men finished their celebration elsewhere. Smitty said he never knew what, if anything ever came out of the incident. He never heard of charges being filed or men reprimanded. (I’ve wondered if Norman Kihuta, who was discharged on the same date as Smitty, was there on the scene.)

For the record, a barber wouldn’t cut my Dad’s hair either – even while wearing his sergeant’s uniform emblazoned with the patch of the US 8th Army.

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4


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

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

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

c-10-465
After the first memorial service and just north of Jaro, off to the west of the road that runs up to Carigara Bay. The low lying hills behind us is from where Col. Newman’s column came under fire from my uncle’s IJA’s 41st Regiment on November 1, 1944.

Day 3 – The Morning

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

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

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

c-10-360
The remnants of the Mainit River Bridge of 1944.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Memorial Service

c-10-362
Entering Jaro, Leyte.

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

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

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

_____________________________________________

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

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

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

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

c-10-467
Mr. Ota explaining to us about the low hills not visible from the road and from which a Japanese 37mm anti-tank round entered through the barrel of an American Sherman M4 tank. Uncle Suetaro was a sergeant in command of a 37mm anti-tank gun crew.

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

c-10-388
Masako offering her gassho and incense.

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

c-10-468
The memorial table still in the midst of preparation. Mr. Ota had the blue cloth designed for the memorial; there is a map of Leyte along with main battle sites. The wooden boards are called TOHBA (塔婆) I believe; some will have five notches designating five-tiered pagodas. Some believe them to function as antennae, a way of calling the souls back.

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

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

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

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

_______________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Suetaro, please sleep in peace.”

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

_________________________________________

The second service in Part 5

NOTES:

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

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3


c-10-437
The “pilgrims”. Clockwise from left: Mr. Yusuke Ota, Ms. Setsu Teraoka, Tomiko, Mr. Bungo Kagimoto, Izumi, Kiyoshi, Masako and Namie.

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

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

Millions of other people died, too.

_____________________________________________

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

(They put on gloves, too.)

_____________________________________________

MacArthur Landing Memorial Park

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

c-10-439
My cousins are in the background viewing the memorial.
c-10-438
Cousins Tomiko and Masako taking in the sight.

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

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

Proof of at least one other wading attempt by MacArthur:

MacArthurLanding
National Archives.

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

_______________________________________________

Hill 522

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

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

c-10-442
This is how Hill 522 looks like today from street level; you cannot see the peak from here. The stairs up to the top begin between the blue and beige structures. Akehira is to the right with his back to us and a towel wrapped around his neck. One of the vans we rode in is on his right.

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

c-10-443

c-10-444
Gotta hand it to my cousin Masako; she’s in the striped shirt with a backpack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c-10-448
Where I petered out… You cans see my cousins are still climbing.

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

c-10-445
The view from where I petered out, looking generally south. I left the telephone line in for reference. The hill which intersects it is Catmon Hill, another vital piece of high ground that needed capture as quickly as possible. It would not be under control for several days.

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

________________________________________________

Hill 120

c-10-449
A recreation of Lt. Mills hoisting the first flag is visible. Although hidden by the vegetation, there is also a radioman at the base of the palm tree.

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

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

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

c-10-450c-10-451c-10-452

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

USA-P-Return-p75
Hill 120 during battle. I believe we parked on the same road running diagonally through this photo.  Signal Corps photo.
c-10-453
This memorial sign was recently rebuilt and put up by the Filipinos; its predecessor had been blown away and down the backside of the hill by Typhoon Yolanda.

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

c-10-454
When compared to the previous B&W photo taken on A-Day, 1944, the ocean is somewhat in the same direction. The road we traveled is the same as in the B&W photo.

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

c-10-455
It reads, “In grateful memory of the unknown American soldiers who with untold magnanimity and valiance fought and paid the the supreme sacrifice on this foreign shore to liberate a people foreign to them.”

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

c-10-462
Namie and Tomiko offer “gassho”, or prayer, in reflection of those who perished and long since forgotten.

c-10-457

c-10-459
Namie and Tomiko offer their gassho at yet another memorial.
c-10-461
Mr. Ota photographs another memorial, erected in 1977.

c-10-460

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

___________________________________________

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

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

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

You had to be there.

__________________________________________

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

Part 4 is here.

BATTLE NOTES:

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

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 2


c-10-388
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.

c-10-422
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.

c-10-421
A smiling Masako after retrieving her luggage at the uncultivated Tacloban Airport. I wonder what she felt deep inside at that moment.
c-10-403
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.
c-10-424
Mr. B. Kagimoto, a news reporter from RCC Broadcasting Co. in Hiroshima, was also part of our little pilgrimage.

_____________________________________________

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.

c-10-385
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.

20048503510_de2739e726_o
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.

c-10-405
One of the two Japanese pillboxes taken out by the US Army’s  7th Cavalry on October 20, 1944.
c-10-406
(R to L) Mr. Ota, Tomiko, Masako, Namie and Akehira gaze upon a pillbox at White Beach.
c-10-407
I took Masako down to see the interior. The mosquitoes were very happy in there, awaiting tasty humans like me.
c-10-408
Masako determinedly climbing back up the stairs after looking inside the pillbox.
c-10-409
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.

______________________________________________

NOTES

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

A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Part 1


iroshima

c-10-363
On a sweltering, humid day, the family poses in front of Breakneck Ridge after the second of four memorial services. The one with the belly is me. Leyte, Philippines. July 22, 2015.
“Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, Uncle Suetaro glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.
He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?

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

___________________________________

c-10-364
Cousins Namie and Tomiko negotiate an incline on Leyte.  They are all in their late 70’s.

A Pilgrimage to Leyte Begins

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

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

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

______________________________________

c-10-367
The wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, the former actress Cristina Gonzales, was kind enough to greet our group.

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

“When” was last week.  July 19, 2015.

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

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

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

c-10-369
The memorial tabletop, Japanese-style. You can see Smitty’s photos on the right alongside the photos of my Uncle Suetaro. Perhaps their paths crossed but ultimately, their sacrifices 70 years ago led to the US/Japan harmony we have today. Indeed, I like to think they were both victorious.

__________________________________________

Leyte

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

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

c-10-366
Filipina children we encountered climbing Hill 522 near the invasion beaches of 1944.
c-10-368
A typical transit bus, taken through our van’s window.
c-10-365
Local people almost always watched our memorial services including this young mother and daughter. She is clutching some of the food we distributed after the services.
c-10-371
Vegetable peddler, Tacloban City.
c-10-370
Curious locals watching us near Limon River which turned blood red during the battle in 1944 per interviews.
c-10-372
Family selling bananas at street side. Bananas grow everywhere on Leyte.

The entire island is in various stages of reconstruction after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda less than two years ago.  Death toll estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

typhoon
Tacloban City and the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Mr. Ota is very active in the noble Tacloban City/Fukuyama Sister City relations.  If you would like to contribute to their recovery efforts, please contact Mr. Ota directly through his blog:

http://kkochan.com/

__________________________________________

The pilgrimage continues in Part 2… Please click here.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 6/Epilogue


kono collage
A portrait of my grandmother taken by my father in their Hiroshima home. She is flanked by my father (left) and Uncle Suetaro (right), both in their respective country’s uniforms. April 1948.

“Tell me the truth about death. I don’t know what it is. We have them, then they are gone but they stay in our minds. Their stories are part of us as long as we live and as long as we tell them or write them down.”

ELLEN GILCHRIST

________________

The Pain of Hope

I opened this series trying to describe the anguish a mother must have suffered – no matter what her country – knowing her son was missing in action in a battlefront so far away…

When we closed Part 5 of this series, no Imperial Japanese soldier came down off Mt. Canguipot on August 15, 1945, the day Japan officially surrendered to the Allies.¹ The US Navy and Army had also effectively sealed off any chance of retreating to other islands.

Uncle Suetaro was still on Leyte.

______________________________

The date when Grandmother Kono and Aunt Michie learned of Japan’s surrender is unknown. After all, Japan and especially Hiroshima was in shambles from the fire and atomic bombings but I’m sure they learned fast enough.

But with war over and just like ANY stateside mother, Grandmother Kono waited for her son to come home… her precious son born in Seattle who was to carry on the family name in Japan.

As days passed then months, deep in her heart, she must have come to the realization Uncle Suetaro may not be coming home…but the hope was still burning inside, I’m sure.

Hope is powerful. Hoping, you believe, will change destiny. But on or about October 15, 1947, Grandmother Kono will learn that such hope can magnify anguish.

She learned her son was declared dead.

_______________________________________

Japanese War Records

In January of this year and through the urging of Mr. Ota, my cousin Masako and her daughter Izumi journeyed to the Hiroshima Prefectural Office in hopes of retrieving some official military record or declaration of his death. Not knowing was eating them, too.

Because of the strictness of Japanese society, they were unsure the government would release Uncle Suetaro’s military record (if any) to his niece, Masako. I understand in anticipation of this, Masako had a “song and dance” prepared. She wanted to know that badly as to what happened to him.

Suetaro's farewell letter. It starts with
Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama”.

She took along the precious, brittle 72 year old notebook with her… the notebook in which Uncle Suetaro hurriedly wrote his good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in May 1944. She told the government worker stories of her Uncle Suetaro from 75 years ago – that he was always happy-go-lucky and was the peacekeeper with his kind heart.

Perhaps the song and dance was unnecessary but she was successful. As sad as it was, she was given Uncle Suetaro’s certified death notification. She was also given a copy of a handwritten IJA service record that abruptly ended in 1943 – when the tide of war turned against Japan.

c-10-109
Excerpt from the certified military death certificate obtained by Masako. It states his place of death was 20 km north of Villaba, Leyte.
c-10-111
Copy of Uncle Suetaro’s handwritten military record. Sadly, my father and Uncle Yutaka are listed as next of kin. All three were American citizens.

In Masako’s heart and mind, she then accepted Uncle Suetaro’s fate and resting place.

__________________________________

Uncle Suetaro’s Spirit Calls Out

But with the recent discoveries and stirring of beautiful memories, the spirit of Uncle Suetaro dominated her thoughts my cousin Masako said. His spirit beckoned her mightily…so much so that even with her failing legs, she determined to go “visit him”.

At eighty years of age and with ailing legs, Masako and her filial daughter Izumi journeyed to 備後護国神社, or “Bingo Gokoku Jinjya” on February 2, 2015. It is a military shrine in which resides the god-like spirits of those men who gave their young lives in defense of Japan.

Izumi wrote that she escorted Masako to offer her prayers to Uncle Suetaro at the first altar (below), believing that was a far as she could go.

c-10-112
Main entrance to Bingo Shrine and first altar. Photo by Izumi K.

Then Masako, in a stunning revelation, said, “I am going to climb to the top… Suetaro is calling for me.”

No joke.

bingo steps
The steps Masako climbed – with her bad legs and knees – to get to the main shrine at the top…on her own… Without help from her filial daughter, Izumi. She said Uncle Suetaro was watching over her. (Photo source unknown.)

Izumi was beyond belief. Stunned.

Her mother was going to walk up the numerous steps that reached upwards towards the brave spirits. No cane. No assistance. By herself.

Masako climbed the steps, one by one. Determinedly.

Izumi wrote to me that upon reaching the top, Masako said in her Hiroshima dialect (translated by me), “Whew..! I made it! I climbed the stairs! You know, I feel Suetaro was nudging me from behind, all the time.” (「まあ~ あがれたわ~ 末太郎さんが後ろからおしてくれたんじゃろ~か???」)

Here is a link to a video from youtube of the shrine and stairs. It is so peaceful, you can hear Uncle Suetaro whispering. No wonder Masako had to climb those stairs:

From that day, Izumi says, Masako had renewed her life energy, all due to the call from Uncle Suetaro’s spirit.

But she did voice in reflection, “Suetaro was starving… When I think about that, dieting is nothing (meaning she can do it).”

Or, “Suetaro must be so lonely… When I think of that, I feel that we must go to Leyte to visit him and offer our prayers so he won’t be lonely anymore.”

…then, “Now I’ve got to go to the pool to strengthen my legs… so that I can walk on Leyte.”

And she means that.

She is likely going to Leyte this year.

And it looks as if Izumi and I will be going, too.

________________________________________

Epilogue

hone2
I believe this young man is called Noguchi but am not positive. He journeyed to Leyte to cremate any Japanese soldier’s remains he finds as in the above. He is in one of the hundreds of caves on Leyte. His Japanese website is here: http://www.noguchi-ken.com/M/2008/10/51133019.html

Uncle Suetaro’s Soul and Resting Place

Uncle Suetaro’s dreams of life in America died with him…shared only by him. But his spirit lives on.

Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, he glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.

He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?

While I cannot speak to how my Hiroshima cousins feel, to me, the hard evidence tells me Uncle Suetaro did make it to Leyte as a soldier in the IJA’s 41st Regiment. With the good help from Mr. Ota, his official military records document that.

But truthfully, I don’t know if he was in the troop convoy that disembarked on October 26th in Ormoc. Records indicate that only two of three battalions of the 41st Regiment landed there; the third battalion remained on Mindanao for a short period. Yet, it appears that even that last battalion headed to Leyte in short order.

Due to Mr. Ota’s notes and as corroborated by official US Army combat records, Uncle’s 41st Regiment did fiercely engage Colonel Newman’s 34th Infantry at the end of October and that one of Suetaro’s lieutenants was killed during that violent combat.

Combat records of the US 12th Cavalry Regiment document that once again Uncle Suetaro’s unit was engaged in combat. The presence of the 41st Regiment was confirmed by dog tags, having been removed from Japanese bodies then translated by Nisei’s in the US 8th Army’s 166th Language Detachment – the same unit my dad was assigned to in 1947.

There is second hand testimony that a few survivors had assembled on Mt. Canguipot from January 1945… and “mopping up” actions by the US Army units continued. Indeed, it was far from a “mopping up” situation.

Those of you versed in WWII will know of how enemy corpses were handled – down to the use of lye – so there is no need for elaboration. If you are not familiar with how death is handled in a WWII battlefield, the only thing you need to know is it is odious.

Therefore, how he met his death will never be known…nor his place of rest uncovered with his identification intact. Perhaps there was a picture of him and his siblings in his pocket that has long since dissolved away. But dedicated Japanese citizens visit these battlegrounds in search of Japanese remains to cremate them. Maybe Uncle Suetaro has been given such an honor.

I can only hope death had a heart…that he did not suffer for so long only to endure an agonizing death in a lonely confine… but statistically, over 60% of the 2,875,000 Japanese war deaths was attributed to starvation or illness (including those arising from wounds and lack of medical care).

Indeed, Uncle Suetaro is a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

yasukuni collage
My oldest son and I visited Tokyo in August, 2012. One stop was at the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s equivalent of our Arlington National Cemetery in a way. We left a prayer for Uncle Suetaro. May your soul be at peace, Uncle.

___________________

Mr. Ota, on behalf of my family here in the US, I thank you for your help in our search for Uncle Suetaro.

大田様、大変お世話様でした。米国におる金本ファミリーは感謝しております。お礼を申し上げます。

正子さん、いずみさん、淳さん, 俊郎さん、有難う御座いました。末太郎さんは大喜びでしょう。。。

__________________________________________

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Part 5 is here.

NOTES:

  1. Yes, some holdouts continued to fight the Allies after war’s official end and more lives were lost on both sides. And indeed, there were two notable soldiers who held out for many, many years. Sgt. Onoda was the longest holdout, living for 29 years in a Philippine jungle until his former commanding officer flew to the Philippines then personally rescinded his order to stay and fight but this is atypical.

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 4


15846903294_50f8d8c3f9_o
From left: Dad, Uncle Yutaka, Uncle Suetaro, Grandmother Kono, Aunt Mieko, Grandfather Hisakichi and Aunt Shiz.  Circa 1925 in Seattle, WA.

My father will be 96 years old later this month in February.  He is the only one left out of the above family picture taken in Seattle.

Yet, even last year, he fondly recalls his younger brother Suetaro (standing in front of my Grandmother above) while growing up in Hiroshima before the war.  That’s all he remembers now – his fun childhood years in Hiroshima.  He has memory issues.  Quite a bit now.  He calls me Suetaro or asks me how he is doing.

One story he told me was they would walk to the train station together in the morning to get to school; they would take turns slowly pedaling the only bike they had, riding alongside the other brother who was walking.  They would simply leave it by a merchant next to the train station and hop on the train.  However, when school got out, whoever got to the bicycle first would get to ride it home, leaving the other brother in the dust – or rain.

_____________________________________

Dulag, where Lt. Gen. Makino's HQs were moved from.  Oct. 29, 1944.Used with permission from my flickr friend, John T.  By clicking on the image, you can see other archival photographs in his collection.
Dulag village, where Lt. Gen. Makino’s HQs was moved from. Taken Oct. 29, 1944.  Utter destruction.  Used with permission from my flickr friend, John T. By clicking on the image, you can see other archival photographs in his collection.

Combat – Mainit River

When we left Part 3, Uncle Suetaro – now a Sergeant (軍曹) in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) – was to be headed towards Jaro and the Mainit River bridge at dawn.  The orders for his 41st Regiment was to defend it against the fast-advancing US Army, specifically the 34th Infantry.

According to Mr. Ota and if my translating is correct, the town of Jaro is situated by a river which runs along the base of a mountain.  At that time, elements of the IJA 33rd Regiment had set up some defensive positions around the bridge.  Per Leyte 1944: the Soldiers’ Battle, these defensive positions included earthen pillboxes covered with grass and spider holes; they also had an ammo dump.

c-10-98
Uncle Suetaro during mandatory high school military training, May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds” in the Hiroshima Prefecture. My father had returned to Seattle two years earlier. Suetaro, too, was due to return to Seattle soon hereafter…but did not.

Regimental commander Iwatani intended on ambushing the US Army soldiers and prepared as best possible on the road approaching the bridge (Highway 2).  During the night, he decided the 2nd Echelon (5th Company plus Communications Officer Nakamura) to move from Carigara to the defensive position to bolster its strength.  The remnants of the 33rd Regiment from the 16th were also assigned (they took heavy losses fighting the US Army at Palo and had retreated to this area).

Ordered to leave their knapsacks behind to lighten their load (perhaps the commander knew it would be a one way trip), the group left early on the 28th for the six kilometer march to Jaro.  They double-timed from about the half-way point on the relatively level road to Jaro.   They reached the outskirts of Jaro and began to deploy as ordered.

15971775964_6af3065bf6_o
Mainit Bridge is at the 4 o’clock position, just outside the circle formed by the broken lines. From the Reports of General MacArthur. (Note: If you are accustomed to viewing US battle maps, the colors are switched since this is based on post-war Japanese sources. Black is the Imperial Japanese Army, red the US Army.)

In his book, he reports that the 41st Regiment was dispersed; one company and one platoon consisting of two machine gun crews were deployed on the east in addition to one platoon manning two 37mm anti-tank guns.  The tattered battalion of riflemen from the 16th Division, 33rd Regiment were deployed to the west.  They were ready to ambush the approaching Americans in Iwatani’s mind but their intelligence was very flawed.  Most of all, these troops did not know the Imperial Japanese Navy had lost the major sea battles surrounding Leyte.

On October 30th, Lt. Col. Thomas E. Clifford, Jr., the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, advanced through the town of Alangalang a mile and a half south of the Mainit River bridge.

Per Leyte: Return to the Philippines:

“As Company C reached the Mainit River, it made contact with the (Japanese), who had dug in on both steeply sloping banks of the river at the steel bridge crossing. The company suffered five casualties. It was opposed by the remaining elements of the 33d Infantry, which had been considerably mauled by the Americans. Company C withdrew 300 yards as Companies B and A pressed forward on the left side of the road under continuous rifle fire.  Colonel Pearsall’s 2nd Battalion had followed the 1st Battalion, and both units were to make an assault against the 41st Infantry Regiment, which had arrived in the area. Three batteries of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion shelled the enemy positions for a depth of 300 yards on the eastern side of the river and 100 yards on the western side.”

At this time, per Mr. Ota’s book, it is believed the 41st Regiment was stretched out and pretty much decentralized with respect to command.  As such and to their benefit, it is reported that the effect of the artillery barrage was minimized.  This is not directly mentioned in the US battle reports.

jaro us soldier
A US soldier seeks cover behind a US 37mm anti-tank gun near Jaro. National Archives.

Leyte: Return to the Philippines continues:

“After the artillery concentration was over, the two battalions were to move out to the attack – the 1st on the left and the 2nd on the right. The regimental commander ordered the 1st Battalion to attack, destroy the enemy resistance, and secure the eastern bank of the river. Five tanks were to follow in the rear of the assault companies and fire at targets of opportunity. Five hundred yards away, to the right of the 1st Battalion, Companies E and F of Pearsall’s battalion were to cross the river, destroy enemy resistance on the western side, and then go south on Highway 2 to contact the enemy at the bridge.”

The Japanese defenses were well thought out; the Japanese excelled at defense.  However, the grasses in front of the earthen pillboxes used as camouflage began to smolder as the Japanese fired their weapons, becoming a smoke signal for American artillery fire.  They were quickly eliminated and most violently.

The 1st Battalion moved to the water’s edge, where it was pinned down by enemy fire. Companies E and F of the 2nd Battalion, however, were able to push north 500 yards through the heavy brush, and amid a driving rain they managed to ford the river unobserved. Once on the other side they charged the entrenchments of the 41st Infantry Regiment on the river, with Company F in the lead. As Company F neared the bridge it overran three mortar positions without stopping but was finally halted by heavy machine gun fire. After the company’s 60-mm. mortar had knocked out the machine gun, the unit continued to advance and passed the bridgehead before it ran out of ammunition. Company E then relieved Company F, while the latter set up heavy machine guns to silence enemy machine guns in the woods to the west. By 1500 the bridge was in American hands. The Japanese had placed a demolition charge on the bridge, but the American advance had been so swift that the enemy never had an opportunity to set off the charge.”

There was gruesome close quarters combat.  In reference to Company F above, led by Captain Austin, the 2nd Battalion, 34th Infantry charged the Japanese defenders with bayonets and eliminated them.

れいて
Found this image through using Japanese search terms. No source was indicated but it said Japanese troops were not prepared for the Leyte jungle ecosystem.

During this battle, 1st Lt. Shioduka, in command of the 37mm anti-tank guns my Uncle Suetaro was apparently manning, was killed in action per Mr. Ota.

The surviving remnants of this Japanese defensive force retreated through Jaro.  By 5 pm, the 34th Infantry successfully occupied Jaro.

Per Mr. Ota’s research, it appears that although the demolition charges had been set, the combat engineer who was in charge of the detail was killed.  As such, no order to blow the bridge was issued and because of this strategic failure, Sherman M4 tanks and heavy artillery pieces were able to continue on to Carigara.

While I do not believe this film compilation to be an official US Army release, it may provide you with a possible glimpse into that war.  However, no movie can ever transmit to you, the reader, the immensity of the fear that was being experienced by both the American and Japanese soldiers.

Both sides.

Every minute.

Every hour.

Every Day.

Also note combat film from that period had no sound; all sound you hear has been edited in.  It is set to start at the 2:15 mark:

To be continued in Part 5.

________________________

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.