Listening to Old Man Jack’s wisdom was like cotton candy and a movie. The ones you will remember over time are the movies that get super-glued into the consciousness of the movie-goers in a good way.
A few years ago, I went to see Old Man Jack in the Board Room – his cluttered garage facing my house across our street lined by peppercorn trees. Well, actually, he always wanted me to come over. We’d always have a good chat about this and that or he’d let a demon out from enduring combat in the Pacific during WWII. That day, though, I just wanted to get something off my chest about the wife.
When I started to whine about what the wife did, he stopped me after a few words. Dead in my tracks. He knew what I was going to complain about.
He said, “You poked her. Live with it. Now shut the _uck up.”
Very little outdoes short blurts of wisdom from a World War II combat vet. Nothing fancy-shmancy. No big words. Just good ole salty sailor speak. To the point. He earned that right.
Some of his wisdom will be shared here and there without censorship to honor his generation. You will appreciate that. “If you don’t, I don’t give a shit,” as he would lovingly say.
But there is regret. Regret that I did not video Old Man Jack more often. I have excuses. Many excuses…but they all lead to regret.
A couple of months before he secretly moved away, he was lamenting. Lamenting on apparently losing his long battle with his daughter.
In short, he wanted to live out his life in his home of 58 years. His home across the street from me.
It wasn’t to be. His daughter wanted him to move “up” to Big Bear where she lived. So she could take care of him. That was the battle.
This day, he knew he would be leaving his beloved home. He knew in his heart.
I did have my Droid and managed to turn on the darn contraption in time as we were talking. I sensed an “Old Man Jack-ism” coming. It even recorded and properly saved it. I even uploaded it properly. Amazing. It was meant to be.
He was in his beloved wife’s wheel chair… In his beloved blue plaid shirt with a pocket for his glasses. I thought he was joking about women in general but realized after he moved the significance of what he said that day.
When arguing with women, “A man ain’t got a chance.”
There be gold in my family. Really. Well, the Congressional Gold Medal, that is. And it is made out of gold and honors the “Nisei Soldiers of World War II”. Its on display at the Smithsonian.
In fact, my family was awarded two of them. Two Congressional Gold Medals. Pretty neat, don’t you think? Three if you include a distant relative. Four if Dad had enlisted in the Army five weeks earlier. OK. Enough of that.
It was just a miracle mom and her younger sister Eiko survived the war having lived in the heart of Tokyo where very little was left standing. My grandmother was required to train with a sharpened bamboo spear to repel the invaders that were expected to come. It’s true.
But when war ended in 1945, neither my mother nor my Aunt Eiko could have possibly thought that they – through no grand scheme – would each end up marrying an “invader” and that they would end up living in America. The country that bombed their home into ashes. But it was a brutal war. Just fact.
Even more stunning is that they would be unknowingly dovetailed with the famed US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) for the rest of their lives. (I had briefly reported on the top secret MIS in an earlier short story.)
The first family member bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal is my mother and Aunt Eiko’s cousin, Taro Tanji; he is pictured above in a family portrait taken in Tokyo. He was born in Merced County, CA. Taro, like my father, was imprisoned in the camp called Granada in Colorado for being of Japanese heritage although he didn’t speak one word of Japanese.
In 1944, along with thousands of other young American boys of Japanese heritage, he was drafted out of the camp into the US Army. He was a “Nisei”. He then was assigned to the top secret US Army Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) in Fort Snelling, Minnesota to learn the Japanese language.
After graduating, he was assigned to Tokyo as part of US 8th Army and became part of the Allied Occupation. Once there, he immediately sought the fate of my mother’s family.
Through the resources of the MIS, he miraculously located my grandmother – the same one who was forced to train with a bamboo spear. They had survived but were in dire straits like millions of other survivors.
Exactly as my father did for my cousin Masako in Hiroshima, Taro used whatever pay he had to buy them clothing and essentials from the PX, took them C-rations and of course, American cigarettes for my grandfather. There are many stories of other things Taro did (he was a STRONG man) which I will save for later.
A kind man, Taro became a much loved teacher in the Gardena school system. He recently passed away in Gardena, CA in 2009.
His CGM was posthumously awarded to his wife, Aunt Martha. Amazingly, neither mom nor Aunt Eiko realized Taro was part of the MIS until I told them. I determined that through research of US Army records.
My Aunt Eiko was sickly as a young girl. Indeed, it was a miracle especially for her to have survived. She hates medicine, even to this day. As a funny story, when the US Army began de-licing the surviving Japanese citizens, she ran away as she was terrified she would get sick from the powder. Well, it was DDT so she wasn’t that far off.
In 1966, she met Paul Sakuma, a Hawaiian born Nisei. While Uncle Paul told Aunt Eiko he was also put into camp on the Mainland (the article says that, too), I can find no record of his internment. However, Uncle Paul was at some time in Springfield, Massachusetts after the war started. He was “featured” in this newspaper article. Surely, the title of the article was a sign of the times.
Uncle Paul was also drafted in 1944 and was also sent to the MISLS at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. This is the only photo Aunt Eiko has of Uncle Paul in uniform. I stumbled across it last year. Frankly, Aunt Eiko also knew very little of his Army days but I noticed the building in the background (below) as being the old cavalry barracks at Fort Snelling which sparked my researching again. He was also indeed a member of the famed MIS unbeknownst to Aunt Eiko.
Uncle Paul was also immediately dispatched to Tokyo as part of the Occupation Force. He was assigned to the 720th Military Police Battalion and accompanied patrols where his translation abilities were needed. A couple of good patrol stories – ones that men would likely appreciate. Perhaps some ladies, too. No harm, no foul, as the great Chick Hearn said.
Days before my first marriage, I got a call from Aunt Eiko late at night. She was hysterical. Uncle Paul had died of a massive heart attack in 1980 in Tokyo in the new home he had just finished building for them. He had continued living in Tokyo as a civilian employee of the USAF.
Like Taro, Uncle Paul was posthumously awarded the CGM. I secured the CGM and surprised her with it. Aunt Eiko “cried for happy” as he held the medal for the first time early this year (below). She loves him greatly to this day. She said, “Even today, Paul brings me great happiness.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, well, you’re pretty tough.
As dad volunteered in February 1947, he did not qualify for the CGM. But unbelievably, mom, too, did not know much of what dad did in the Army let alone him being a member of the MIS. Mom said dad never talked much about it except to say he did not enjoy interrogating Japanese soldiers being returned from Russia and Manchuria.
Nevertheless, mom and Aunt Eiko WERE enmeshed with the famed Military Intelligence Service although they didn’t realize it. Fate. They were surrounded by the invaders – secretly. Famous ones at that. A prejudiced opinion, of course.
I am very proud of these Americans. The Congressional Gold Medal is a tremendous honor and finally brings to public light the importance of the intelligence they secretly obtained for our United States of America amidst prejudice and discrimination.
I like to think that these Americans of Japanese heritage weathered the clouds of that time so we could have glorious sunshine today.
Yes, a small percentage of Japanese soldiers were anxious to die for their emperor.
But a vast majority was frightened of having to go to war. My opinion, of course.
Young Japanese boys were drafted from farms and fishing villages – just like we did here in the US of A during that time. Boys from Parsons, Kansas or from a sea coast shrimping town in Louisiana.
And they all had moms.
Like all Americans of my age, we were taught that the Japanese soldiers of WWII were fanatics. That they all were hell-bent to charge into a hail of Allied machine gun fire. To willingly die.
We were also taught that when a US Marine charged well entrenched Japanese soldiers with a satchel charge, he was a hero. Not a fanatic. He was John Wayne or Kirk Douglas. Was Esprit de Corps driving the young Marine to offer his life to save his buddies?
There is no intent to question our American values of valor or honor. Just a quandary.
My Hiroshima cousin Masako mentioned in Hawai’i having seen a photo of Uncle Suetaro and Grandmother. It was taken the day before Uncle shipped out for war (1944). Masako said Grandmother – having suffered a stroke the day before – was propped up by “shiki-futon”, or Japanese bedding for the picture. She felt strongly it was the last picture taken of Uncle Suetaro but doesn’t know what happened to it.
A few weeks ago, my California cousin Janice came across a number of old photos; she had forgotten about them. She said there were some family photos from Hiroshima. Her father – Uncle Suetaro’s and my Dad’s oldest brother – had apparently been able to hold on to them through the decades.
I asked Janice if there were any photos of my Dad’s two youngest siblings, Suetaro and Mieko, or of Michie (Masako’s mother). Janice then described a picture of Uncle Suetaro in a uniform and Grandmother (seen at the beginning of this story).
I was stunned. Topo Giggio meets Godzilla. It was the photo Masako vividly recalled seeing decades ago.
Is there an air of fearfulness…of fright? You can decide. But as we were led to believe, all Japanese soldiers were fanatics…yes?
The kindness continues to flow from Hiroshima. As written in a prior short story, “An Atomic Spark from a 1937 Yearbook“, Ms. Kanetou was credited with locating the last copy of my dad’s 1937 high school yearbook. It was amazing she found that copy as Dad’s cherished high school and the city itself was obliterated on August 6, 1945.
While Dad is suffering from dementia, he cheerfully recalled his high school track days in detail while looking through his yearbook… He went so far as to say he won 1st and 2nd places at track and field events. Needless to say, I was a bit leery given his status.
Well, dumbfounded is the best word in this case. Ms. Kanetou – after learning of Dad’s recollections of his competitions – actually tracked down (yes, a pun) records of the track events from 1936. Such kindness and devotion is just phenomenal. They are below; since I know you all can read Japanese, my Dad’s name is above the red arrows (金本).
Yes, he DID take 1st and 2nd places in the triple-jump, broad jump, 100 meter dash and the 800 meter relay! He did place lower in what I think are more regional competitions but its clear he was quite an athlete.
But when I showed him these reports, his comment was, “5th place? Did I do that bad? I don’t remember that. Pumpkin head!”
In an earlier blog, I praised Old Man Jack for his forgiveness. It is not possible to write about what he did or saw out on the god-forsaken islands in the Pacific during World War II. Only he truly knew what was in his soul.
But in spite of his exposure to combat in that very personal and bitter war, Jack’s practice of forgiveness was his most important contribution to the healing of this world. The world we enjoy today. I truly believe that.
Old man Jack loved my kids – perhaps his warmth and the forgiveness in his heart will shine through.
After she passed, we would go out for weekend breakfasts.
When he wanted to, he would ride in my supercharged ’08 Grabber Orange Mustang. He loved riding in it. He loved listening to it. It was so loud, Jack wouldn’t need his blessed hearing aids – which he often “forgot” to wear. He hated them. Trouble was at breakfast, I’d end up having to yell so he could hear me when he “forgot” to wear them. So could everyone else. The others must have thought, “Man, what an odd pair.”
When I would drive, Old Man Jack – in his trademark blue plaid shirt – would look at me from his passenger seat, flash that boyish Jack grin where the right side of his lip would be higher than his left, press his head back into the seat, then say, “OK! Floor it!” Man, he loved it. My supercharger would be screaming as we rocketed down Studebaker Road. He would say in a (much) higher than normal voice, “Whooo-ee!” after hitting 60 mph in a little over four seconds.
Other times – even at 87 years of age – he would want to drive HIS baby to breakfast…but make me drive mine, too. You guessed it – we’d drag.
On the way to breakfast, we’d pull up to a light early on a Sunday morning and knowing what was going to happen, I prayed with all my might there were no black and whites.
He’d look at me. I’d look at him. He was dead serious but I would never let him see I was grinning from ear to ear. The light would turn green. He’d floor it, chirp his tires and I’d let him get almost through the intersection…when I would nail it. I wasn’t going to let him get that far ahead of me.
I’d blow by him. As I would wait for him at the next stop, he would pull up next to me knowing he got beat (again), flash me that boyish grin one more time – but would always flash me his trademark bird. I just missed it this time. Darn.
By the way… I named my last boy after him… His name is Jack. I couldn’t think of a better name.
Jack, I miss our breakfasts. We should have went more often… but I gun my motor real loud every time I stop by to see you. I know you hate your hearing aids.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima left a spark – a spark which grew into universal forgiveness and kindness. From that unbounded forgiveness and kindness came a 1937 high school yearbook from a school that no longer existed – but its soul survived intact and gloriously
Dad is simply a very quiet man. For every word he spoke, mom must have said a bazillion words. No wonder he was quiet. (You know, it may have been better to write “every word he tried to speak”.)
But this past Sunday, June 10, dad was a songbird in Spring…even though mom was there.
Dad was eighteen again and back in Hiroshima, riding the train to school with his friend Aoki. Carefree. Young. After 75 years, Dad was looking through his high school yearbook he probably never saw.
How I got that yearbook from 1937 for Dad is a story of unbounded kindness and a love for peace – and driven by a unwavering desire to honor those that perished in Hiroshima.
All Dad had said in the past was that he ran track in his high school days and that the school was called “Nichu”. I thought it was a nickname. He wasn’t enthusiastic to share much more.
I was determined to find out more of my Dad’s past he was keeping hidden.
All I had to start with had been a 1930’s photo (above) of a pennant Dad had stashed away in a shoebox and a couple of class photos. After some exploring, I figured out the Japanese symbol on the flag was a melding of “二” and “中”, or “Nichu”, the name Dad mentioned.
Researching in the Japanese language was an endeavor. I finally came across a possible lead and sent a blind e-mail… In spite of considerable odds, I received a reply from a man in Hiroshima.
Mr. Akira Tsukamoto is a survivor.
In the waning days of the war, school children were put to work for their nation’s war effort in factories and fields. That was their destiny. Mr. Tsukamoto was one of those children.
Their teacher was Mr. Sekimoto; they had a nickname for him, “Mr. Pale”, because of his pale complexion. The night before that fateful morning, Mr. Sekimoto had decided that it would be better for the class to tend a field and clear it of weeds. Preparing the field for crops was more important than having class, he determined. They would be in the northwest area of Hiroshima.
Then came the morning and they were in the field while the other classes fatefully went to school. Then they heard the familiar drone of B-29 engines. They all saw what appeared to be three parachutes and a B-29 flying away. One student recalls seeing something black in shape tumbling towards the earth.
There was a terrible blue and yellow flash. A shock wave blew them down. They covered their eyes and mouths as they had been trained. But the heat from the blast was so searing, they could hear their skin and hair burning.
Their faces and bodies were burned on the left sides; in addition to searing pain, their skin slipped off. All they could use was mashed raw potatoes as a salve. It would take two months for their wounds to heal. They say they were spared for a greater cause.
Mr. Tsukamoto’s story – translated into English – can be read here. It is gripping and without malice. Just kindness.
Fast forward 67 years. Mr. Tsukamoto – the child who was pulling weeds in a field – was the one who kindly responded to my blind e-mail. It turns out he graduated after the war from the school that rose out of the ashes of Nichu.
He did not know me but his survivor’s heart – driven now for world peace and in honor of 300+ young classmates that perished – propelled him to our communicating.
After learning of my search for information on my father’s high school years, he found Ms. Tomoko Kanetou. Ms. Kanetou is an administrative manager at Dad’s successor school. Together, they tracked down an actual copy of dad’s yearbook from 1937. It is the last copy in existence. She conscientiously made high resolution scans of the 48 page yearbook and sent a CD to me here in the United States through my cousin Masako.
They did all this without pause. For a complete stranger across the Pacific. An American. Just incredible.
This past weekend, my oldest daughter hosted an early Father’s Day breakfast at her first home. My father went through the yearbook I assembled page by page. Not once. Not twice…but for almost three hours during last Sunday morning.
He remembered the school song. He said he was on their track team and won 1st or 2nd places in the 100m, 200m, broad jump and triple-jump. He was even pictured, front and center, in Nichu’s track team yearbook photo (right).
Other pages struck me with disbelief and astonishment. They gave a glimpse into life during the “pre-war” days in Hiroshima. He talked about the influence of war on schooling. That will be saved for a later story but further explains why his love and remembrances of his youngest brother are buried so deep in his hidden memories.
My ever-quiet father was not quiet that morning. I have never heard him talk so much and for so long… Truly an atomic spark from a 1937 yearbook. All arising from a peace-fueled and unsolicited joint effort by complete strangers, Mr. Tsukamoto and Ms. Kanetou. Perhaps they weren’t complete strangers after all.
In an earlier story, I praised old man Jack for being a giant in forgiving.
“War is no good,” he said as we left the small community movie theater near his assisted living home today; we had just watched the limited release documentary “MIS: Human Secret Weapon”. It was about his highly classified World War II US Army unit. He had silently watched and with a ghostly stillness. But I saw him wipe his eyes twice after gently lifting his glasses. Others openly wept…but I had never, ever seen him shed a tear before today.
I was ignorant. Combat isn’t necessary for the ugliness of war to be buried in a person’s mind. The documentary made it clear that it is also easily dug out. All one needs to do is scratch.
The documentary reveals the conflicted state of mind of the then young Japanese-Americans who made up the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS). About 3,000 of them – including two of my uncles – secretly and faithfully served the red, white and blue, hastening the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri.
Another 3,000 served during the Occupation of Japan. My dad was one and worked out of General Eichelberger’s US 8th Army’s GHQ in Yokohama. That’s when he was able to journey to Hiroshima and see his mother for the first time in ten years…and when a hungry Masako first relished the flavor of Spam.
One Nisei veteran interviewed was Grant Ichikawa. He was gracious enough to not only greet me and my family in 2010 near his home in Rosslyn, VA, he also secretly treated us to lunch. Pun intended. He had lost his wife Millie just months before. She was an even rarer female member of the MIS as well.
He and Terry Shima (also interviewed in the documentary) gave me the jump start in finding out about Dad’s involvement in the MIS. During that all too brief get together, Grant did touch on what he did on the battlefront in a GI uniform. He also said it “got dicey”.
In this documentary, you learn of one such experience. He was told there were Japanese soldiers who had agreed to surrender. Grant said he was the point man. They proceeded to the rendezvous point where he met the Japanese commander; they were in the middle of an open field.
It turns out there were 200 to 250 of them; all their weapons were in good working order he says in the documentary. Grant suddenly realized – out in the middle of this field – that these Japanese soldiers were “toukoutai”, or “suicide corps”. Grant just as quickly and with great consternation realized there were only ten of them… GI’s, that is, armed only with rifles. I’m sure Grant picked his words wisely. He is still alive.
“Dicey” was a definite understatement.
In a lighter moment, Ken Akune described how they were searching a Japanese soldier that had surrendered in the jungle of Burma. They came across one of the American propaganda leaflets promising safe passage for those Japanese soldiers that surrendered. It was neatly folded in a pocket.
Akune asked the Japanese soldier if he believed what the leaflet promised since the MIS Nisei wrote it. The Japanese soldier said no but that it made for good toilet paper. “There was no toilet paper in the jungle of Burma,” said the prisoner.
Thomas Tsubota broke down at the end of his interview. Many did.
Tsubota was one of the top secret MIS members of Merrill’s Marauders.
They had just stumbled across ten Japanese soldiers in a small jungle clearing, he says. “Boom,” he said, in a split second they killed them all. He described how his commander, Colonel Beach, called him over to inspect a photo album taken off one of the now dead Japanese soldiers
They looked through the album. Tsubota told Col. Beach there was nothing of military importance in it but as they came upon the last page of the album, there was a picture of a mother and a daughter.
Tsubota said Colonel Beach’s eyes got red, filled with tears and he said, “Thank you, Tom.”
While crying, Tsubota ended the interview by saying this is why he isn’t enthusiastic about talking about the war. Too painful. He doesn’t want to think about that sad moment. Tsubota is 96 years old. I thought Dad was old.
The documentary intensely yet humanely describes the internal turmoil within these young American GIs of Japanese descent. Quite a few had brothers who were left in Japan when war broke out and were killed as Japanese soldiers. Deep down, many carried guilt that their own secret actions led to the deaths of their own brothers. My Dad’s youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – was one of those casualties.
But these 3,000 young American boys of Japanese heritage did their job as did millions of other young American boys…but in secret. They translated diaries covered with blood or offered cigarettes to Japanese prisoners to extract military intelligence while battles were raging.
They endured years of discrimination and intimidation to boot – both from GI’s fighting alongside them as well as back home. A barber in Chicago wouldn’t cut Dad’s hair because of his race – and he was wearing his perfectly creased US Army uniform with sergeant’s stripes, sleeve highlighted by the proud shoulder patch of the US 8th Army.
The secrecy was officially lifted in 1972 by Executive Order 11652.
Just the two of us, I thought, were going to see this movie and that this may help Dad slow down his growing dementia.
I was wrong.
His quiet tears and with his exiting comment, I am sure Uncle Suetaro was there, too, in Dad’s heart – as if it was 1937 in Hiroshima when he last saw his brother alive.
Over the past two years, I’ve asked, “Dad, tell me about what you worked on in the MIS. What was the one thing you remember the most? A picture? A diary?” Each time, the answer was vague or “I don’t know.” I chalked it up to senility.
He doesn’t want to talk about it…just like Tsubota painfully recalling Col. Beach and the photo of a mother and a daughter taken from a Japanese soldier they had just killed.
Ugly recollections from war wanting to be masked need not come from battlefields, bullets or bombs.