Tag Archives: 兵隊

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 4


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 3


Jaro
Current Google map of Leyte battle area, inserted for ease of viewing and geographical orientation.

Battle Situation Overview

Even before my Uncle Suetaro and his 41st Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army landed in Ormoc at dawn on October 26, 1944, the US Sixth Army’s X Corps fought through four miles of beach between the Palo River and the Tacloban airstrip.  XXIV Corps further south also made significant progress, overcoming the Japanese resistance.  However, incredibly swampy terrain was more their enemy than the Japanese at times.

By the end of A-Day, the 1st Cavalry Division had secured the Tacloban airstrip.  Most critically, Lt. General Makino, commanding Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment and the 16th Division, was forced to evacuate his Command Headquarters in Dulag (below) to a village called Dagami.

dulag airfield leyte
The inevitable violence of war.  Dead Japanese soldiers lay next to a knocked out Type 95 Japanese tank at Dulag Airfield. Dulag was the location of Lt. General Makino’s headquarters. October 20, 1944. National Archives.

First: Irony

In closing Part 2 of this series, the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was mentioned.  During the war in the Pacific, nearly all MIS soldiers were Japanese-Americans.  Caucasians were primarily officers although a few NCOs were assigned.

Although Uncle Suetaro’s older siblings (my dad, Uncle Yutaka, Aunt Shiz and their families) remained imprisoned in the US concentration camps for people of Japanese blood until war’s end, my dad did volunteer for service in the US Army in February 1947.

After prodding, my dad told me and my cousin Neil (Yutaka’s son) he volunteered because by doing so, he’d get three chevrons on his sleeve; but, if they drafted him, he’d be a lowly buck private.  “More pay,” he told us.

The story I choose to believe, however, is that Uncle Yutaka –  then living in Chicago and now the leader of the entire family – implored or directed my dad to join up solely to check up on their mother and remaining sister, Michie, in Hiroshima.  Of course, the anguish of not knowing what happened to their youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – played a deep, silent role.  This is a belief that I have not shared with others.

Well, Dad got his chevrons and sergeant’s pay.  He became part of the famed MIS, post-hostilities.

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

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Five MIS Nisei pose with Colonel Rasmussen after receiving their jump wings. Do you think it odd to see Japanese-Americans in US Army paratrooper uniforms?  They were assigned to the famed 11th Airborne Division which eventually fought on Leyte and Luzon.  From Pg. 127 of Nisei Linguists.

As my Uncle Suetaro fought for Japan and his life on Leyte, the MIS was diligently doing their patriotic duty as US Army soldiers to end his life.  Dr. James C. McNaughton writes in his authoritative book, Nisei Linguists:

On 20 October the Nisei language teams went ashore with the assault elements of four divisions and two corps. Maj. George Aurell led the Sixth Army team.  His team sergeant, S.Sgt. Kazuo Kozaki, recalled: “We were kept busy all day and immediately. There were loads and loads of captured documents, although no prisoners were taken yet. I had to virtually wade through a pile of papers—operation orders, operation maps, manuals, magazines, books, paybooks, saving books, notebooks and diaries, handwritten or printed, official or private — to find out if there was any valuable information for our immediate use.”

Some Nisei saw direct combat. When the Japanese counterattacked the 7th Infantry Division, the Nisei “were a little bit heroic,” a Caucasian sergeant recalled. “They would climb on board a Japanese tank going by, knock on the
things, converse in Japanese, and as soon as the door popped open, they’d drop a hand grenade — boom!”

On 25 October two more Sixth Army language detachments arrived on board a landing ship, tank…”

One hundred and twenty Nisei’s and Kibei’s served on Leyte.¹

The unspoken irony for my father is here, hidden in this secret behind-the-scenes world.  If you note the highlighted print in this once top-secret US 8th Army report, it states, “Preliminary Interrogation ATIS Information Section.  Analysis made from 166 Det, 8 Army HQ”.

166thHere is the pertinent section of my dad’s discharge papers:

166th detHe served with the same G-2 166th Language Detachment that did their best to kill Japanese soldiers on Leyte – including Uncle Suetaro.  While the Nisei’s were on Leyte since the invasion began Oct. 20, 1944, they were reorganized into the 166th Language Detachment on 20 June 1945 per US Army records.

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Picture of sign taken by my dad outside his office door in the US 8th Army HQ Building in Yokohama, Japan. Circa 1947.

I am darned sure he translated some documents captured on Leyte… where his favorite brother died.  How this must have plagued him for the rest of his life – to this very day.

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catmon hill archives
The view from atop Catmon Hill after being taken by the US Army, October 1944. The Japanese observed the US invasion forces from this hilltop position as they landed and directed artillery fire. National Archives.

Back to the War on Leyte and Uncle Suetaro…

Per Mr. Ota’s book, The Eternal 41st, the composition of the 2,550 troops that disembarked at Ormoc was:

  • Regimental HQ staff
  • A rifle company (under Sasaki)
  • An artillery squadron (under Fukunishi)
  • A signals squadron (under Nakamura)
  • 1st Battalion (under Nishida)
  • 2nd Battalion (under Masaoka)
  • An attachment of combat engineers
  • A platoon of litter bearers from a medical regiment

However, their potential effectiveness had already been negated.  It was their fate.  Per his book, it appears the troops – including Uncle Suetaro – were forced to quickly ship out of Cagayan with but a day’s notice and with only what they could essentially carry on their backs or reasonably transport: ammunition, food, lighter artillery pieces like the 37mm anti-tank gun, etc.¹  This would be the proverbial nail in their coffin as the USN and USAAF would in short order obliterate their supply chain.

{His information above is corroborated by the information in the Reports of General MacArthur as follows:

Thirty-fifth Army took immediate action to move reinforcements to Leyte in accordance with the Suzu No. 2 Operation plan, which had already been activated on 19 October. Orders were issued during the 20th directing the following units to advance immediately to Leyte, where they were to come under 16th Division command:

1. 41st Infantry Regiment (less one battalion) of the 30th Division (Army reserve from Mindanao)

2. 169th Infantry Battalion of the I02d Division from the Visayas sector.

3. One infantry battalion of the 57th Independent Mixed Brigade, from Cebu.)}

USS Portland (CA-33)
Part of Leyte invasion fleet with US Army troops assaulting Leyte beach. You can see Uncle Suetaro never had a chance.  Taken from a USN reconnaissance plane from the USS Portland. National Archives.
battle_philippines archives
US soldiers on Leyte, October 20, 1944. National Archives

After landing in Ormoc at dawn, they became attached to the 16th Division under Lt. General Makino…but communication had been completely disrupted.  Makino’s HQ had been located in the coastal town of Dulag but it had been taken by the US 7th Infantry Division on the first day of the invasion.  Makino was in the process of moving his HQ ten miles inland to a town called Dagami five days before Uncle Suetaro landed.  Sadly, per the Reports of General MacArthur, orders had been issued by Japanese General Suzuki prior to their landing and were based on faulty intelligence:

Upon receipt of this dispatch, Lt. Gen. Suzuki and his staff began formulating a new operational plan covering the deployment of forces on Leyte. This plan, completed within the next few days, was essentially as follows ²:

1. Operational policy:

a. The Army will act immediately in cooperation with the decisive operations of the naval and air forces.

b. Reinforcements will be concentrated on the plain near Carigara.

c. Enemy troops which have landed near Tacloban and in the Dulag area will be destroyed.

d. The direction of the initial main effort will be against the enemy in the Dulag area.

e. The general attack will begin on or about 10 November.

2. Allocation of missions:

a. The 16th Div. will hold the Dulag area, Catmon Hill, and the heights west of Tacloban in order to cover the concentration of the main forces of the Thirty-fifth Army.

b. The following units, after landing at the ports indicated, will concentrate on the Carigara plain:

1st Div.-Carigara (Uncle Suetaro)

26th Div.-Carigara

102d Div. (Hq. and three battalions)-Ormoc

c. After the concentration of the Army’s main forces on the Carigara plain and adjacent areas to the southeast, operations will begin with the objective of destroying the enemy in the Dulag and then the Tacloban area.

Per Mr. Ota’s book, they slogged north to Carigara; they did make camp to rest one night in Kananga, a half-way point.  However, the US-supported guerrillas were constantly pestering the advancing Japanese force by destroying bridges and roads.  This wrecked havoc with vehicles and heavy rolling stock.  This obviously wore down artillery crews exacerbated by the rain, humidity, and limited food and medical supplies.  They still were unable to establish communication with Lt. General Makino; they were essentially going into combat pretty blind.

On or about October 28, 1944, the 41st Infantry Regiment moved from Carigara to the southeast section of Jaro.  They were to secure a bridge at a three fork highway junction.  {In corroboration, a US report states General Suzuki planned to have these troops move north along the Ormoc-Limon road (Highway 2) through Ormoc Valley, from which they were to diverge in three columns and capture the Carigara-Jaro road.³}  I believe this was the Mainit River bridge.

Unfortunately, they would soon clash violently with the US Army’s 34th Infantry, with dwindling provisions and weather combining into an insurmountable force against their staying alive.

To be continued in Part 4.

1. “Nisei” were the children of the first generation Japanese to immigrate legally to the US.  Being born here, they were American citizens.  A “Kibei” is a subset of Nisei; these Nisei children were rotated back to Japan for a period of time to learn the Japanese language with the understanding they would return to the US.  My dad is a Kibei.  KIbei’s were absolutely fluent in Japanese and formed the heart of the MIS.  In fact, some Kibei’s used to rib the Nisei “translators” because many spoke in a feminine way having learned it from their first generation mothers.
2. ULTRA intercepts reported the approach of this shipping, but MacArthur’s staff at first thought they indicated the beginning of an enemy evacuation. The necessary diversion of Third Fleet and Seventh Fleet aircraft for operations against surviving Japanese fleet units and the incomplete buildup of the U.S. Fifth Air Force on Leyte itself also weakened Allied reconnaissance and offensive capabilities in the immediate vicinity of the battle. Not until the first week in November did MacArthur’s staff realize that an enemy reinforcement was under way. Thereafter, American forces inflicted severe damage on local Japanese merchant shipping, sinking twenty-four transports bound for Leyte and another twenty-two elsewhere in the Philippines, as well as several warships and smaller vessels. By 11 December, however, the Japanese had succeeded in moving to Leyte more than 34,000 troops and over 10,000 tons of materiel, most of it through the port of Ormoc on the west coast. – Per Dai Sanjugo Gun Hatsuchaku Bunsho Utsushi (Document Files, Thirty-fifth Army headquarters) Oct-Dec 44, pp. 21-2, 25, cited in Reports of General MacArthur.
3. Leyte: Return to the Philippines, M. Hamlin Cannon. 1953

Hamburgers and a ’63 Merc


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Marilyn Monroe eating an old-fashioned hamburger at a drive-in hamburger stand. Photo by Philippe Halsman.

Nearly all Americans would agree that hamburgers are the All-American icon.  A simple grilled ground beef patty, salted and peppered, slathered with mayo, mustard and ketchup then sandwiched in a plain bun.

At least that’s how I know them.  Oh, hold the pickles, please.

Now, us kids that grew up watching “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” have given birth to a generation that has taken a simple thing and made them into $15 gourmet, fancied-up, mushroom-covered (expensive) cuisine.  Do you think I like Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden?  Drool…

But I don’t know if I like the “change”.

Back to this in a minute, folks.

The fancy hamburgers – not the drool.

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Dad had always owned Fords when he could finally afford getting a car.  I guess that’s where I get my Ford passion from.

July 5, 1955
Aunt Eiko holding me in front of my dad’s Ford Consul automobile. If you are reading my past stories about WWII, you will know that only the occupying Americans could afford to buy a car. Her husband was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  Occupied Japan, Tokyo, July 5, 1955.
Enoshima Beach, Tokyo - April 1957
My dad’s ’57 Ford Fairlane parked on Enoshima Beach, Tokyo. I’m thinking it was a dark green. April 1957.

After leaving Japan for the last time  in the late ‘50’s after the Occupation ended, my pop bought his first new car stateside in 1963 – he was 44 years old.  It was a two door Cascade Blue 1963 Mercury Meteor custom hardtop; a king of obscurity to say the least, but to a kid of about ten, it was Flash Gordon’s rocket ship.  Unlike Hillary, it was easy to love this car.

1964 or 1965 / Dad's new 1963 Mercury Meteor
On a road trip to Chicago in 1964. I’m still holding onto my Fujipet camera with dad’s 1963 Mercury Meteor behind us. This may have been in Utah.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wouldn’t get a choice spot if valet parked.  I say wouldn’t as my old man couldn’t afford valet, let alone a family dinner out.  But to me, the rocket ship had a chrome finish AM push-button radio – turn the dial on the right, find a station, pull out a button, then push it back in to set it.  Trouble is I did it a dozen times each time I got into the car.  But all I cared about was KFI 640 AM, the Dodgers’ station.  The golden voice of Vin Scully… and Fairly, Gilliam, Wills and I forget who played third.  They were World Series champs that year.

Six adults could get into this rocket ship with room to spare – eight of us little Japanese folks and a dog.  The cargo hold in back swallowed up my Sears JC Higgins bike in one gulp with enough space leftover for Frank Howard.  (I saw him hit the scoreboard in right field with a home run.)

Unless my aging grey matter is dissolving at warp speed (maybe it is), there were ash trays with shiny covers in each armrest…and this was for the back seats.  It was a favorite depository for my Bazooka chewing gum but I kept the wax covered cartoon that came with it.

Pop kept it for quite some time.  I passed my driver’s license test in it on my 16th birthday.  I got a 96 only because she claimed I never looked in the rear view mirror.  Poppy cock.  I always look in the rear view mirror for cops.  Even back then.

And as it was the only car we had back then, I also drove my date to one of my senior proms in it (I went to two.).  And the answer is, “No,” if anyone was wondering…but I’m sure she was disappointed.  Well, maybe not.

The four-wheel drum brakes were spectacular…not.  Instead of rubber meets the road, it was like rubber met the world’s supply of Vaseline while fighting the pull to the left… and this was at 25 mph.  Steering?  An oil tanker’s captain would do well.  Turn the wheel a lot; see the slight change in direction a few seconds later.  Pat Brady and Nellybelle turned better – and that was out in the desert on sand.

meteor engine
The Mercury Meteor’s 260 cid V-8.

I overhauled the epoch 164 hp 260 cid V8 sometime around 1976 in our garage.  At 13 years of age, she had become an old girl.  She had become a V6, meaning it had lost compression in two cylinders.  I remember setting zero lash, then three-quarters turn of the ratchet for the hydraulic lifters during the overhaul.  The distributor was the biggest headache, of all things.  It was like extracting an impacted molar and only after using copious amounts of Liquid Wrench in place of laughing gas did it finally come out.  “Older” Blue Oval guys know what I’m describing.

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Back to today’s elegant hamburgers and change.

Instead of the push-pull AM radio, my youngest son – who was seven when I bought it – similarly discovered my ’08 Mustang GT had a “My Color” dashboard light feature.  Now I know how my pop felt as my son forced me to experience every color of the rainbow while driving at night – every time.  It was like being at an all-night disco club.

Bazooka bubble gum and ashtrays are no more but treasure hunters will be pleased after exploring the map pockets.  No disappointments there.  I promise… especially after my little Cake Boss had sat in the back.  Latex gloves are highly recommended before exploring.

Overhaul it?  After all, my GT’s got a 281 V8, only twenty-one more cubes than my pop’s…but it pumps out a magnificent 505 hp thanks to her Roush supercharger and Carmen pulley.  Hell, I’m afraid to change spark plugs.  Who would imagine in 1963 there would be a TSB on just how to R&R spark plugs?

roush blower
My Roush supercharger and gizmos.

And unlike my pop’s ’63 Merc which ran on simple mechanical principles (but threw physics principles out the window for the so-called braking), the computing power in my Mustang would cause Einstein to strike a pose like Captain Morgan.

And today’s stunning braking power is the true reason for seat belts – it compassionately keeps your head from being continually used to redesign the windshield.  The aftermarket Wilwood six-piston disc brakes I installed with slotted and cross-drilled rotors exacerbates the stop-on-a-dime tendencies… which is a good thing.

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The Wilwood Six Piston disc brakes on my Mustang.

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So it appears the delicious, basic hamburger of the 1960’s has been brought into the 21st Century.  Kids that watched Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden fooled with the wonderfully simple ground beef and bread formula to give us today’s foodie gourmet burger…and we can still listen to Vinny’s golden voice, to boot.  Glorious.

And well, with 505 hp at the crank instead of 164 hp, it’s hard to complain.  Neither do my kids when they hear the whine of my Roush supercharger.  They like to scream.  But it’s a shame my pop’s ’63 Mercury Meteor won’t be swept into anyone’s museum.

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I guess technology has its benefits.

I’ll take a gourmet burger in the end after all.

Pass the Heinz ketchup, please.

At least that hasn’t changed.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 2


Taken in 1945 after a B-29 bombing attack on Tokyo. There is little left of the city and many, many families were without food and homes. Sadly, there were thousands of orphans as well, many of whom would perish.

Human dignity is as crucial to an earnest life as is air, water and food.

Aunt Michie drew upon that dignity inside her to help her family and others survive the day to day ruthlessness of life during war and ultimately, the atomic bombing.

While her dignity was larger than life, Michie would ultimately sacrifice her health and well-being to ensure her family and others would survive…and survive strongly.

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obaachan
Japanese high school girls being drilled on how to use bamboo spears to ultimately repel “the invaders”. Notice the presence of the Imperial Japanese Army in the background observing.  Tokyo 1944.

By 1945, Japan had already lost the war.  While the Japanese military leaders controlled the country and its path to ultimate destruction, the civilians took the brunt of war.  Many cities had been destroyed by US bombing raids leaving millions of families homeless.  There was not enough food to go around.  Many starved to death, especially orphaned children, if not from neglect as others would shut their eyes to them.

However, Hiroshima was largely spared from aerial attack.  The US did carry out bombing raids in March and April 1945 against military targets in Hiroshima but it was not frequent…but it was frequent enough to require air raid drills  The naval port of Kure though, where the battleship Yamato was built, was essentially destroyed in June 1945 by US Army and Navy bombing attacks.

HiroshimaBombingMap
A hand drawn map showing targets and damage to Hiroshima by US bombing raids including the atomic bombing. For a zoomable map, please copy and paste this link into your search bar: http://www.digital.archives.go.jp/DAS/meta/DGDetail_en_0000000611
Source: National Archives of Japan

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After her marriage in 1933, Michie was tasked to arduous farm labor at the Aramaki farm.  Their primary crop was rice.  She also gave birth to five children before war’s end: Masako (1933), Sadako (1936), Namie (1939), Tomiko (1942) and Masataka (1944).  Kiyoshi would follow in 1947.  She loved them unconditionally.

Michie image1
A happy Aunt Michie and likely Tomiko. Tomiko would soon be adopted by another family in the actual city of Hiroshima.  Undated but perhaps 1943.

On the farm lived Mikizo, his parents and Michie.  The four of them – and eventually three of her oldest daughters (a total of seven family members) – would work the land from a little before sunrise to sunset.  It was hard, arduous labor.  Back breaking work.  They did not have John Deere tractors or combines to aid them but had an ox to plow the fields with.  This was 24/7.

After all that hard labor, nearly the entire crop was taken by the Japanese military for the war.  They were allowed to retain a small portion of the crop for their own use.  As a result, rice was even further rationed for family consumption.  They had no choice.  On top of that, there was little else to eat.  They lived a meager life per my cousins.

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As the war dragged on, Japan was descending into the abyss…and it kept getting more and more darker.

In the story “Dear Mama”, Michie’s youngest brother Suetaro (my uncle) hurriedly wrote a somber good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in his war diary.  He was being sent off to war and certain death.

Farewell
Farewell sendoff for Suetaro who was heading to certain death. Michie is to his left and holding Masataka; Mikizo to his right. It is only an educated guess but the older man to the right of Mikizo is his father.  May 3, 1944.

I wonder how she really felt, knowing that Suetaro was going to fight to his death against the country in which his two older brothers and sister were imprisoned.  They were her brothers and sister, too.  An ugly internal conflict.

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The area around Tomo was nearly barren of younger, physically capable men.  All the men up to 35 years of age were taken by the army, regardless of their family status.  Mikizo was no exception.

In late 1944, at 35 years of age, he was taken by the Imperial Japanese Army.  Suetaro foresaw that happening in his farewell letter; he warned Mikizo to fully cooperate with the officers and to do exactly as he was ordered.  This was because it was brutal even within the non-commissioned ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army; the training officers routinely beat recruits into submission.  These recruits were largely the men who were ordered to their deaths in “banzai charges” by the thousands.  They greatly outnumbered the “hard core” Japanese officers.

banzai killed
Aftermath of a banzai charge.

Aunt Michie’s family who tended to the back breaking labor on the farm was now lessened by one.  As with her brother Suetaro, she foresaw never seeing Mikizo again.

To make matters worse, her mother (my Grandmother Kono) suffered a cerebral infarction the day she learned Suetaro was being sent off to war.  She became paralyzed on her left side.  To get about the now empty house, she would have to pull herself around with her right arm.

On top of everything else – tending to the crops, the house and the children – Aunt Michie now had to care for her disabled mother.

Michie’s daily life was now further strained with even more stress…  Life must have appeared darker to Aunt Michie.

Michie’s willpower and dignity will now be on trial and severely tested.

But the struggles she will endure will have purpose.

She would not let her family down.

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To be continued in Part 3….

The Spirit of Aunt Shiz and Kharma


Although my Aunt Shiz passed away ten days before my son and I were to travel to her childhood home in Hiroshima, I believe it was her caring soul that made our journey eerily complete.

Time for heebie-jeebies.

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L to R: Uncle Yutaka, Dad, Uncle Suetaro, Aunt Michie, Aunt Shiz, Great Grandmother Kame, Aunt Mieko and Grandmother Kono at the Hiroshima home. Circa 1928.

Like all but one of the siblings, Aunt Shiz was born in Seattle in 1916.  My grandparents operated a barbershop as mentioned in “Masako and Spam Musubi“, the first story in this blog.  In the picture below likely taken early in 1918, she is standing in front of her mother Kono at their barbershop in Hotel Fujii near King and Maynard in downtown Seattle.  Grandma Kono is smiling while looking on; she appears to be holding a straight razor.  My relatives tell me Grandma was great with the customers and gave excellent shaves. (If it is a straight edge razor, she’s holding it in her left hand. We have a number of lefties in our family. Hmmm.) Notice the wooden sidewalk:

Aunt Shiz standing out in front of the barbershop; her mother (my grandmother) Kono smiles while looking on. Kono is holding a straight razor; she apparently gave great shaves and the customers enjoyed her friendliness.

In this photo taken about five or six years later, the wooden sidewalk has been replaced with concrete.  Aunt Shiz shows her friendly character while dancing on the left.  You can make out “Fujii” on the sign hanging overhead in the background:

A happy and smiling Aunt Shiz dancing on the left. The barbershop’s poles can be seen behind her. Circa 1923 in downtown Seattle.

Masako tells me Aunt Shiz was the village “hottie” as she grew up back in those days.  It made us laugh but it was true.  Surely, she broke a lot of the young boys’ hearts in the village.

She returned to Seattle on April 7, 1935, a vibrant young lady.  Amazingly (well, really not), her granddaughter looks very much like her at that age.  Genes.

She married and had three boys and one girl.  All but one were imprisoned during World War II.  They had the dehumanizing horror of having to first stay in vacated horse stalls at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Los Angeles before being transported under armed guard in blacked out trains to Manzanar where they stayed until war’s end.  They were American citizens.  Incredible, isn’t it?

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Aunt Shiz, who was my dad’s older sister and last lving sibling, was a true “Kanemoto” as the saying goes.  They were much alike…especially when they talked in their “Hiroshima dialect”.  Funny they aren’t able to remember when their birthdays are but they sure remember their happy days as children in that Hiroshima home.  Both loved to eat.  And eat they did.  Most of all, they loved sweets.  Don’t ask why.

When I see Dad now, I always take him Japanese treats – mainly “manjyu” and “youkan”.

Typical Japanese sweet treat called “manjyu”. Aunt Shiz and Dad love them.
Sweet Japanese treat made out of sweet beans, or “yokan”.

Last October, shortly after her 95th birthday, I took Dad to visit with Aunt Shiz.  It is a long drive to and from.  While Dad had great difficulty remembering why he was in my car – not just once but several times – there was no hesitation by either of them when they first got a glimpse of each other at Aunt Shiz’s senior home:

Yes, I took a bag of yokan.  Its on the front right in the video in a cellophane bag.  There were three different flavors, too.  They ate them ALL.  Really.

But they couldn’t remember who was older.  Absolutely precious to our family.

At her funeral service in Los Angeles, her grandson described her perfectly as a very warm person.  She loved to hug and give her young relatives a peck on the cheek.  That was Aunt Shiz.

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But back to the story…  Some heebie-jeebie stuff.  You know…  Stuff that gives you a year’s supply of chicken skin.

Our journey to Hiroshima was planned for months.  My decision to do so was made after I met with Masako and the others in Hawaii in May and returned home…or so I thought I made that decision.  It was as if something took over my thoughts and actions.  It was kharma.  I was also going to take my oldest son Takeshi (24 years old – very important.  Remember that.) who had NEVER been out of the country.

As the time neared, our Hiroshima family was excited my son and I were going.  Although those of us here in the States were unaware, in the extreme heat and humidity of Japan, my cousin Toshiro went deep into a 100 year old wooden shed which still exists in a last ditch effort to uncover past family information.  He found it…about a thousand pictures from the late 1800’s through shortly after war’s end.  That is where the photos of Aunt Shiz and the barbershop emerged from although all were damaged by mildew and insects.  They were extremely elated and flabbergasted to have found these vintage family treasures still existing.  They began to go through them in the main family room where their “butsudan”, or family altar was.  The altar is also about a hundred years old.

A few days after they looked over the treasure, Aunt Shiz passed away quietly…  She had fallen asleep in her wheelchair like she frequently did but this time, just didn’t wake up.  Oddly, her daughter and my cousin Bessie, who diligently and energetically cared for her for many years, said “…she said she wasn’t that hungry that evening then just passed away”.  Not having an appetitite is NOT Kanemoto.  I will have to remember that.

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Bessie immediately notified the family in Hiroshima at which time Masako immediately said, “I saw Shiz in the room while we were looking at the pictures.  She passed through the house.”  We all got chicken skin when we heard that.  Masako does not make things up and is as sharp as a tack at 78 years of age.  She has all her wits about her.  (That last trait is NOT typical Kanemoto, by the way.)  We don’t doubt her.

Bessie suddenly requested I take some of her ashes back with me to the family home for interment.  I was honored.

After my son and I arrived at the family home with Aunt Shiz, my cousin Toshiro immediately placed her ashes on the 100 year old altar…in the same room where Masako saw Aunt Shiz.  Again, Masako said to us she saw Aunt Shiz in that room before she passed through the house.  Creepies.

Toshiro placed Aunt Shiz’s ashes on the family altar. The room is basically the same as it was when Aunt Shiz lived here about 80 years earlier.

Shortly thereafter, my Hiroshima family surprised my son and I with the many, many vintage photos.  Then to add to the heebie-jeebies, Toshiro remarked, “We know Masako saw Aunt Shiz’s spirit in this room shortly before she died while we were looking over our ancestors’ pictures.  Aunt Shiz could have passed away two months ago or next year.  But she knew you were coming and in her soul, she wanted to come home now with you.  She arranged for all this to happen at this time.  She is happy now.”

Wow.  I felt like if a day’s worth of chicken skin out of Foster Farms was thrown on my arms.  Really creepie-crawly.

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Not over yet…  We had her official interment into the family crypt a few days later.  My other cousin Kiyoshi – another kind hearted person and the man who invented the first EDM device – came with us to the family burial plot, or “ohaka”.  The stone ohaka holds the ashes of my grandparents and their deceased children – including my Uncle Suetaro who was killed on Leyte in the Philippines during World War II as a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Army.

As my son was cleaning the ohaka prior to the interment, Kiyoshi said to my son and I, “Suetaro was 24 years old when he was killed.  Now, your son is meeting Suetaro for the first time.  Your son is 24 years old.  It was all planned for by Aunt Shiz.  She picked this time to come home and for Takeshi to be here and to meet Suetaro.  It was meant to be this way.  To help strengthen our ancestral family bonds although an ocean separates us.”

My 24 year old son bows deeply and reverently in front of the family crypt holding the ashes of Suetaro who was killed at 24 years of age.  The ashes of Aunt Shiz can be seen in the small white box on top of the white cloth.

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He was right.  Masako and Toshiro are right.  Aunt Shiz picked this time to come home.  She knew we were going.  She decided Takeshi was to come.  She made everything happen as they did.  My son was very moved and affected by this coming together of family…so much so he cried at our farewell dinner.

Do I believe in spirits and kharma?

Yes.