Life can be fulfilling, emotional, filled with awe…and eerie. All at once. In ten short days. In a country far away.
But life and its generations help you live it backwards and forward.
Ten great days were spent in Tokyo and Hiroshima with my oldest son, Takeshi. He is 24 years old. We had never been on vacation together. My loss. I admit to being worried he was not going to enjoy himself.
There is so much to write about for family and friends but jet lag affects more than sleep. There is a cavernous disconnect between my (normally minimally functioning) brain and my fingers.
But during this trip…
My son enjoyed his time with my dad’s side of the family immensely – so much so he shed a few tears at a farewell dinner they threw for us. He even found a new drinking buddy – my cousin’s intelligent and beautiful granddaughter, Yuu-chan:
With my cousin Toshio Nakano, we saw my father’s station he served in as part of the 8th US Army’s G-2, Military Intelligence Service in Yokohama; because I carried some photos of him in uniform inside, the Public Relations Officer escorted us to a view from the (unrestricted) roof:
Was able to meet my cousin Masako (78) once again and the family – and we were royally treated:
Took the cremated remains of my Aunt Shiz (95) for internment; she was my dad’s last living sibling. He is now the last one:
Saw the most beautiful parts of Japan:
A most EMOTIONAL meeting with those responsible for finding my dad’s 1937 high school yearbook:
And the most STARTLING and tear-jerking finds of generations past – including those of my father’s younger brother who was KIA as part of the Japanese Imperial Army:
I hope you’ll stay tuned until this old mind functions again. Not that it ever did. Thought it best to say that before someone did.
The main Hiroshima newspaper yesterday ran a story on my Dad and his yearbook – and of international kindness. Fittingly, it was the anniversary of the atomic bombing.
Hiroshima conducts an annual, somber peace ceremony each year on August 6th. A peace ceremony. That’s the message. Peace. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just peace.
They are not calling attention to themselves seeking pity or repentance. While there are still many who feel the Japanese brought this on to themselves, the citizens of Hiroshima have moved beyond forgiveness and are simply seeking to spread a strong global message for peace.
This year, the grandson of President Truman (below) was in attendance. Ari Beser was there, too. His grandfather was Jacob Beser – Enola Gay’s bombardier. Wonderful.
In my short story, “An Atomic Spark and a 1937 Yearbook“, it tells of how two complete strangers from Hiroshima – without hesitation – sought out my father’s yearbook from 1937. They miraculously found one, made a digital copy and mailed it to me through my cousin, Masako, who still lives in my father’s childhood home in Hiroshima. I printed it out and showed it to him a week before Father’s Day this year.
Dad – who is suffering from progressing dementia at 93 years of age – was overjoyed. He recalled so many things from the most happiest years of his life…including being a track star. Riding on the train to get to school with his friend Aoki… The school song. Dementia was put on the back seat for that morning.
In a small expression of thanks, I had sent to Mr. Tsukamoto a flask etched with “Nichuu High School, August 6, 1945”. I also asked he offer a prayer to the students of Dad’s high school on August 6th. Dad’s beloved high school was but 1,500 yards from the bomb’s hypocenter.
Think about it. 1,500 yards from the hypocenter. A Marine Corps sniper armed with a Barrett .50 caliber rifle can take out a target over 2,000 yards away. The school ceased to exist.
As part of the peace ceremonies yesterday in Hiroshima, Mr. Tsukamoto visited the school’s memorial wall. You can see the stainless steel flask on the black center stone in front of a praying Mr. Tsukamoto.
In this photo, Mr. Tsukamoto is offering a symbolic toast with water from the flask.
I will be showing the article to my father this next weekend.
I wish to thank Mr. Tsukamoto, Ms. Kanetou and Ms. Michiko Tanaka, the reporter who authored this article on international kindness, forgiveness and peace.
To say it is incredible falls short. 1,500 yards short.
After a war’s end, the war for food continues for a losing country. Japan was no exception.
In “There Be Gold in My Family,” Taro was mentioned. He was miraculously able to track down my mother and Aunt Eiko in what remained of Tokyo after Japan’s surrender in WWII. He was part of the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service and had brought them much needed food, clothing and cigarettes.
After being discharged from the Army in early 1947, he returned to his family’s farming roots in Livingston, CA. With his meager income, he still managed to buy clothing and shipped them to my mother and Aunt Eiko. He was a kind and generous man. To this day, they are indebted to Taro.
One ensemble Aunt Eiko received was a blue dress, shoes, and handbag. More later.
When war ended and the Allies began their Occupation of Japan, the population was in rags. Many had no homes.
Everyday people suffered from poverty, filthy conditions, hunger, and food shortages. In order to help distribute food, Japanese people were given assigned rations by the Allies. This was put into motion quickly thanks to the Supreme Commander, Gen. MacArthur. He ensured the most humane treatment possible under those wretched conditions.
In reality, living just on the rationed food often did not provide adequate nourishment, and a thriving black market developed amidst the constant food shortages. Civilians lined up, waiting for their rations of beans as even rice was not available to them at that time. (The last point is critical to this story.) They also carried receptacles to carry clean water which was also rationed. As many young Japanese men were killed, a majority of those lining up were the elderly, women and children.
Of course, Americans were issued food ration stamps as part of our war effort back home and textbooks show many photos of starving and tortured American prisoners.
Back to Aunt Eiko’s blue dress ensemble.
She recalls how “Western” they looked. Especially since the outfit was a BRIGHT blue. Very American. Very NOT Japanese. Madonna-esque. You can tell by looking at the clothing the women were wearing in the food line picture.
Aunt Eiko was so happy though. She wanted to show off her dress but was fearful of the ridicule or demeaning comments she may receive from passerbys. You see, even in 1947, only a small minority “had”… The vast majority were “have nots”. Neighbors would turn their backs on those that appeared to have received favors from the conquering Americans.
Nevertheless, she was too happy and wore the ensemble through the still decimated Ginza. She caught a photographer’s eye. She was asked to model. So she did.
The photo series ended up in a magazine, a rarity as paper was still in short supply and very expensive. Another case of have versus have nots.
Although the magazine now is extremely fragile (the paper quality was very poor), it is one of Aunt Eiko’s prized possessions. I was so worried the pages would fall apart if I opened up the magazine to scan the pages. Its odor was typical of old newsprint. But somehow, the pages stayed together.
This is the original B&W of the cover shot:
Inside the cover:
Orginal B&Ws of this page:
Aunt Eiko cannot recall why the actual magazine took about a year to be issued.
But what is the connection between a blue dress, food and post-war Japan?
The photographer paid her with “ohagi”. Out of his food ration. Made out of precious rice and beans.
One of the few times Old Man Jack would tell me what island something happened on, it would be humorous – as humorous as he could make it.
He HAD to laugh off some of the horror. He needed to survive being under attack by his own thoughts.
On January 16, 2011, eleven months before he passed away, we decided to go to Denny’s for breakfast. He hated that place – except for their (gawd awful) coffee. He loved their coffee. And he complained about the coffee on the islands. Imagine that. Denny’s coffee couldn’t have tasted that much different. Denny’s uses ocean water, too, you know, for their distinctive flavor. Perhaps that is why he liked their coffee.
“Green Island” was Jack’s last combat station when he earned enough points to be rotated back home. He told me when they yelled out his name, he just ran straight onto this makeshift pier where a PBy was starting up. He jumped in wearing only his shorts and boots. They took off. He was on his way home.
(Click here if you wish to see official US Navy photos of Green Island when Old Man Jack was stationed there.)
In my internet research, I did come across some detailed battle history of Green Island. I printed it out and not knowing how he would react (even after 11 years of friendship), I presented it to him before the (gawd awful) coffee came. I didn’t want him to be TOO alert in case things didn’t go well. 🙂
Well, you can see his reaction. He was “tickled and pickled” I went through the trouble.
During breakfast, he told me about one detail he was assigned to on Green Island – the digging of new holes for latrines. Never mind my eggs were over-easy. But he’s gone through hell whereas I was spared. This was everyday fare for him.
He told me he picked out two “dumb new guys” who thought they knew everything for the detail. They went out where the other “used up” latrines were. He ordered them to start digging new holes in this hard coral-like stuff not too far from the other “used up” holes while he “supervised”.
I knew I would get his goat if I interrupted him. That was part of the fun.
So I interrupted him. For fun.
“Jack…dig? Why didn’t you just have them make a small hole then throw in a grenade?”
Well, I asked for it… in Denny’s… on a busy Saturday morning.
“You dumb shit,” he declared with that boyish grin. “YOU could have been one of the dumb new guys. YOU would have fit right in. We didn’t need any more craters! We had LOTS of craters – all around us! So we dug holes like we were ordered to. So shut up and listen!”
Whooo-ee. That was fun… in Denny’s… on a busy Saturday morning.
I never asked him if he read the history on Green Island. Later on, though, Old Man Jack said he had wanted to go back to those “stinkin’ islands” just to see. It felt as if he wanted to let some demons out.
He never made it back.
Perhaps he’s there now saluting his young buddies he had to leave behind.
World War II Military Intelligence techniques are still important and in use today – but for entirely different reasons.
During the war in the Pacific, US military personnel were forbidden to keep notes or diaries in the event they were captured. Nothing more disillusioning to be captured or killed, then have the enemy read about the ammo dump you just left from. Especially for your buddies still stationed there.
On the other hand, Japanese soldiers were allowed to keep notes or diaries. Apparently, the Japanese military saw the diaries similar to “water cooler gossip” at the office.
That was their downfall as Americans like my father translated such documents. The Military Intelligence Service. It was from these diaries that the Allies first began to see that the enemy were not the samurai of lore.
They had gripes of their commander – even by name. They complained of starving, no ammunition, no water. They also had uncensored letters from home – their families were starving, sick or had no home left for the soldier to come back to.
A mortar crewman wrote of how terrified they were to launch a mortar shell at the Marines as for every round they fired, the Marines would send ten back their way.
The MIS did their job faithfully back then on those hell hole islands. Their job was to help kill the enemy.
Today, albeit in a roundabout way, MIS veterans like my father are still doing their job.
Last week, a representative of the “Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA.org)” contacted me again to enlist the help of my father. As mentioned in an earlier short story, Dad was a “kibei“, or an American of Japanese descent who got schooling in Japan. He was fluent. More so, he still is fluent in reading the pre-war Japanese writing. There really aren’t that many left with this ability. Dad is 93.
Unfortunately, Dad had a bad fall the day the request came in. He fell flat on his face and shattered his glasses in the process.
Apparently, a gentleman had in his family’s possession a captured Japanese flag. Presumably, someone in his family brought it back as a souvenir. Of course, if an Allied soldier brought one home, it may have been removed from a corpse. In the best case scenario, it was taken from a prisoner. You just didn’t find them laying around on the battlefield.
According to the request, the owner of the flag stated he wanted to return it if possible to the family. Not an easy task – even for “I Dream of Jeannie”. These flags were created at the farewell party of a soldier who was going to be dispatched to the war and certain death. There is usually the name of the person for whom the flag was presented. If you are lucky, the flag may have a city or town written. I’m sure my Uncle Suetaro received one.
Even for Dad, the complicating factor is not knowing how to read a Japanese character. It is HOW it was written. These were all signed by brush and charcoal ink. The ink lasts forever since it is carbon. But have you ever tried reading signatures? Try your hand at this one:
You get the picture.
Anyways, Dad – and while his glasses were shattered in the fall – was able to say the person for which the flag was signed was likely for a Mr. Tokio Miyake. Unfortunately, there was no true town or city named specifically. Nevertheless, we were able to make out what appears to be “Kurayoshi Mayor”, or the mayor of “Kurayoshi”.
Last night, I did a little reserch and almost unbelievably did find a town named Kurayoshi. I tracked down the town’s website and sent a blind email (in my broken Japanese) to the mayor’s office and asked if there was a mayor named “Furuya” during the war.
While my Dad did not participate in the hostilities, his Nisei unit did their job and greatly shortened the war according to General MacArthur. The Nisei’s job was a true secret weapon.
Hopefully, this no longer secret weapon can serve some peacetime good and bring two families to peace.
Oh. That was Johnny Depp’s signature. Thought you ladies may like that.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family