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.”
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.
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 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.
There are other giants in this world.
Mr. Tsukamoto, a survivor and Ms. Kanetou.
On behalf of my father, I thank you.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family