In response to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge of this week: SHINE
In response to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge of this week: SHINE
The above: a front page published one week BEFORE Pearl Harbor.
OK… So the newspaper was published on Hilo.
Well, then, how about a second front page? And from a different island this time – Oahu.
Pearl Harbor is on Oahu.
To continue with “What Did FDR Know?”, let’s go over some once secret stuff, shall we?
And stuff that wasn’t so secret – like the headlines above. These NEWSPAPERS were in newsstands or tossed onto front lawns a WEEK before the attack on Pearl Harbor. How can that be when our textbooks and history tell us our Navy and Army were caught with their pants down?
It may be fascinating and perhaps eye opening for some of you. To some of you old hats in military history, not so eye opening.
This story will be centered on “MAGIC”, the cover name given to the secret diplomatic messages sent between Japanese diplomats and intercepted.(¹)
MAGIC intercepts will be the foundation for this story and subsequent ones.
The Japanese diplomats sent message after message believing their code was secure.
They were wrong.
But first, some background on Pearl Harbor itself. It’s important in your quest to conclude on “What Did FDR Know?”
Before December 7, 1941 and as we read in Part I of this series, did you know the Pacific Fleet was based in San Diego? The powers to be moved the fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. Even the decision to move the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor was suspect at that time. And have you thought about who was commanding at Pearl before the hapless Admiral Husband Kimmel?
Admiral J. O. Richardson was Commander in Chief, CINCPAC as of January 1940. Per the “Final Secret of Pearl Harbor”, Richardson was the foremost expert on Japan and studied ad finitum Pacific naval warfare and mostly, of Japanese naval strategies. He also knew well of Japan’s pattern of secret attacks.
Richardson disagreed with FDR’s opinion that basing the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was indispensable towards protecting American interests. Richardson stoutly disagreed and said, “I came away with the impression that, despite his spoken word, the President was fully determined to put the United States into the war if Great Britain could hold out until he was reelected.”
He asserted that Pearl Harbor would be a “… g_d d_mned mousetrap”. His belief was the fleet should remain on the West Coast in San Diego; out at Pearl Harbor, the fleet would be a strategic target for any Japanese surprise attack which he correctly foresaw. His opinion was because not only did Pearl Harbor lack adequate fuel dumps and repair facilities, the Fleet lacked sufficient personnel and the waters around Pearl were unsuitable for training. The fleet would need to return to San Diego and the like for such purposes.
Those who chose to ignore Richardson’s educated opinion did so by saying Pearl’s shallow harbor would preclude torpedo plane attacks amongst other things.
Richardson asserted too strongly. Although Richardson was highly qualified militarily, FDR removed him from command on January 19, 1941. (Similar events are taking place notionally even today; about 200 top military commanders have been removed or forced out by the current Adminstration.) FDR replaced Richardson with the more amenable Admiral Kimmel. He was far down the list of able commanders but was still selected by FDR to run the Pacific Fleet. While he somewhat shared Richardson’s belief, he was obedient as FDR expected. Kimmel also wrongly assumed he would be “kept in the loop” by FDR insofar as military necessities, including intel. Was he expendable career-wise?
…and that is how Kimmel ended up in command of the Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941.
The Japanese military, just like the US military, had “secret codes” as did diplomats. For the purposes of this blog, we will concentrate on two groups of code: the Imperial Japanese Navy’s code (JN-25) and of the Japanese Foreign Office (code named “Purple”).
Talking about Communications Intelligence, or “COMINT”, would take a number of blogs; indeed, entire books and papers are written about COMINT during this time. For purposes of this blog, allow me to say COMINT is the acronym covering the analysis and usage of an enemy’s radio communications. Codes are when words are replaced by groups of letters or digits and are usually manual. A cipher, however, is the replacement of individual letters or groups of letters according to a plan; it is much more complex and are based on machines.
During this time, US COMINT was somewhat loosely organized, largely due to the rivalry between the US Navy and Army.
However, the cover name “MAGIC” was given to the intelligence obtained by both services involving the Japanese Foreign Ministry radio messages. While at the embassy level, great amounts of military information – and espionage – was disclosed in these secret messages and were therefore at the disposal of the US Government and military.
The US Navy began its covert intelligence gathering in the early ’20s when they actually broke into the Japanese Consulate in NYC and copied the secret Japanese code in use at that time. By 1926, the US Navy had broken the Japanese navy’s “Flag Officer’s Code”. The Imperial Japanese Navy at that time conducted fleet maneuvers about every three years; they would send coded messages throughout the maneuvers. The US Navy, by virtue of having broken the Flag Officer’s Code, easily listened in on them.
Their “listening in” on the Japanese fleet was so extensive that the US Navy knew of the capabilities of the Japanese warships. The US Navy knew the speeds, armaments, designs, etc., of the Japanese warships, so much so that the US Navy made improvements to their own warships to counter them.
During this period, the US Navy established a small group within the Office of Naval Communications called “OP-20-G”. It was formed without extensive knowledge of the US Army as infighting was common. The same was true for the Japanese military. Think of the Army-Navy rivalry in football – just grow it tremendously.
While the Japanese navy changed their code along the way, the OP-20-G had little difficulty breaking those, too… until late in 1940. Knowing they were headed to war with the US, the Japanese navy prudently introduced an entirely new code, the JN-25. It was much, much more complex than its predecessor. It proved difficult to crack but they had made progress when… the Japanese navy once again made amendments to JN-25 immediately before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The US Navy, therefore, was pretty much “blind” intel-wise for pretty much a week before Pearl Harbor. It would not be broken until March 13, 1942.
But there was another group of cryptanalysts… an ace in the hole.
Alongside OP-20-G, the US Army’s cryptanalysis group called “Signal Intelligence Service”, or SIS, focused their energies on the Japanese diplomatic code. The group was headed up by William F. Friedman; he was very successful in designing our own encrypted codes.
Japanese diplomats (NOT military commanders) communicated with each other using an existing code designed in 1932; the US cryptanalysts called this code “Red”.(²) In 1937, the diplomats began using a newer, more complex code; the US referred to this code as “Purple”. In total, there were fourteen codes used by the Japanese diplomats; two of these were of the most value, Purple and “J-19”. Purple was used at the embassy level; J-19 was used at the consular level. Both were machine crypts.
In September 1939, the “unbreakable” Purple code, in the defective thinking of the Japanese, was broken; a key contributor to Friedman breaking Purple was that the Japanese had sent the same message using BOTH Red and Purple codes, a huge blunder in the cryptanalysis arena. In eighteen months, the SIS, headed up by Friedman, cracked the code(³). They even BUILT an analog machine from a blank chalkboard which quickly deciphered the “secret” messages. (The code was so complex that the machine contained 25 connections, which could be arranged 6 pairs of connections, yielding over 70,000,000,000,000 possible arrangements which would determine the method of encryption.) This was an AMAZING feat to have built a deciphering machine since SIS had not even seen the Japanese one. Remember, this was 1938. Nevertheless, these intense eighteen months landed Friedman in the hospital for four months from exhaustion and emotional strain.
With Purple broken, the US was able to immediately decipher all highly secret messages between all top level members of the Japanese diplomats located worldwide… and most importantly, without them knowing. Given the originators of the messages, they had nearly indisputable validity. The reach of MAGIC extended to the European Theater of war as well as briefly mentioned in Part I.
These diplomatic communications also clearly indicated espionage was taking place on the west coast of the United States.
Part 3 and 4 will show the contents of MAGIC intercepts so that you can answer on your own, “What did FDR know?”
I hope you will stay tuned.
Part 3 is here.
(¹) Unbelievably, Secretary of State Stimson was definitely upset when he learned we were intercepting messages. He championed the statement, “Gentlemen, do not read each others mail.” At the same time, consider the Snowden/NSA “scandals” of today.
(²) Ironically, Hitler had loved Baron Oshima so much he allowed Oshima to purchase a commercial version of Nazi Germany’s famous Enigma machine. The machine used for Red was based on this Enigma construct.
(³) While Friedman was the man burdened with the responsibility of deciphering PURPLE, it is acknowledged that a man named Frank B. Rowlett was the man who actually broke the code.
“When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”
– Vernon McLellan
That was Aunt Michie. She gave all of herself and of her life strength to others because her heart knew no other way.
At the moment Aunt Michie watched the ugly mushroom cloud rise from her field that day, her older siblings – my dad, Aunt Shiz and Uncle Yutaka – were all imprisoned in the “war relocation centers” scattered about the United States. These were truly prisons and the popular view is that FDR imprisoned them “for their protection” because they looked like the enemy.(¹)
Life within these “camps” was “sub-standard”. They were forced to live in small, shoddily built wooden barracks covered only with tar paper with little or no privacy. No running water inside their barracks – they had to go wait in line outside, whether it be rain, snow, dust storm or searing desert sun to use public latrines or showers. Food was served in mess halls on pot metal plates at specific times, just like in the military. The food was miserable according to Dad and worse yet, they had to wait in line again. For the first month or so of imprisonment, he said all they had was liver, powdered eggs and potatoes.
But then again, he said it was food.
Aunt Michie and her family were near starving in Hiroshima while dad was imprisoned in the good ol’ US of A.
It is assumed like for the rest of America, Dad and his older siblings heard the news of the atomic bombing but while in the camps on or about August 8th… that one enormous bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. There must have high anxiety and anger as many of the inmates in Dad’s camp (Minidoka) were from Seattle; they had family in Hiroshima as their parents had immigrated from there.
My cousins tell me that sometime after war’s end, Michie’s “American” siblings – my dad, Uncle Yutaka and Aunt Shiz – managed to re-establish contact with Grandmother Kono and Michie. With the Japanese infrastructure destroyed, it was a miracle. And it was no easy task as letters to and from Japan were not only prohibited, it was impossible. There was no telephone in the villages where Grandmother and Michie lived.
But her American siblings somehow managed to send much needed clothing to them. When my father finally reached Hiroshima while a sergeant in the US 8th Army, he carried two duffle bags full of C-rations, candy and Spam. They said it was a feast for them after years of hunger.
Sadako (who savored the white rice Michie made them on the day of the bomb) told me at a farewell dinner two years ago that she fondly remembered my dad taking them to a market of some kind where he bought her a little coin purse. She remembered Dad gave her the money to buy the little purse and was told she could keep the change. She remembers then handing the change – which was a LOT of money back then – to Michie who humbly accepted it. Sadako said she cherished that little coin purse for years.
From exhaustive laboring on her farm… to taking precious sashimi to her brother Suetaro… to walking ten miles with children in tow to care for Grandmother Kono after her stroke… to the pain of learning of her brother being killed in action… to being thrown onto the ground and watching a huge mushroom cloud rise over a small hill… to pulling a wooden cart over a hill… to tirelessly aiding the victims… and most of all, sacrificing her own health for the sake of others…
She never gave up in those thirty years. Would you have? I don’t believe I would have had the fortitude.
But because her soul would not quit, she got everyone to tomorrow… but in doing so, her own tomorrows dwindled.
Michie is still here. The fruit of her sacrifices can be seen today in her six children, all of whom have lived – and are still living – full, joyous lives.
They have their mother, Michie, to thank and they cherish that… and that they were all there at the farmhouse when she looked at each one of them intently one last time before leaving this world.
A most grand mother.
They all love food to this very day.
I wish to deeply thank my Hiroshima cousins for sharing their memories of their life with Michie with us.
Like all Hiroshima citizens I have met, they simply pray for peace.
(¹) There are declassified US intelligence documents which show that a small number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were performing espionage. Intelligence was able to determine this by intercepting and decoding secret Japanese communications. This information was given a cover name of MAGIC and these documents were typed up for FDR and a very small number of trusted officials. However, rounding up the spies would clearly indicate to the Japanese that their code had been cracked. These documents present another view contra to the widespread belief that FDR imprisoned the Japanese and Japanese-Americans from discrimination and war time hysteria. In other words, FDR used that hysteria as a cover story; by doing so, he was able to remove the “spies” from the West Coast without alerting the Japanese. FDR also stated in communications that there would be “repercussions” from such action.
Indeed, the difficult struggle for food in enough quantities and quality continued. Black markets for food flourished, particularly in larger cities.
Housing in the cities, however, was extremely tough. As an example, after many cities were bombed out, millions flocked to Kyoto. MacArthur and other Allied military leaders omitted Kyoto as a target for its ancient cultural richness. Many Japanese had heard of that by war’s end and trekked to Kyoto in hopes of finding a roof over their heads. Unfortunately, all living spaces were occupied. No rooms were available, even at a huge premium.
Even in 1948 – three years after war’s end – Tokyo still had tremendous scars as can be seen in one of my father’s photographs below:
Soon after the bomb was dropped, the hostilities finally ended. However, food and essential goods continued to be largely absent. Amazingly, my cousins who went through that hell choose to reflect on these post-war years positively. That is, reflecting on it as a miserable time will but cause a wound to fester. They had seen enough of festering wounds.
But let us step back a year in Aunt Michie’s life.
One month before the surrender, Grandmother Kono was informed by the remnants of the Japanese military that her son Suetaro was killed on Leyte fighting as an Imperial Japanese soldier. The date of death was recorded as July 15, 1945. The Emperor capitulated just one month later. Of course, we have no record of that communication nor when Grandmother Kono was actually told, but the bomb was dropped just around this time, we believe.
A little more than a year earlier, around March 3, 1944, Suetaro walked to Tomo and Masako’s school. He wrote a farewell note on a chalkboard at Masako’s elementary school to say good bye as he was off to war. Masako remembers he had written to be a good girl and that he was sorry he couldn’t say good bye in person. The family took their last family picture with Suetaro (Part 2); he was flanked by his older sister Michie and Mikizo.
We believe the next day, Aunt Michie went to the train depot to say good bye to Suetaro. She was very fond of him and “his American citizenship”. Everyone loved the fun Suetaro and she apparently talked of him often after his death. But at that farewell, deep down, she knew it would be the last time she would see him. I wonder how she felt watching the train disappear.
Soldiers rarely came back. Per tradition, he had left Grandma Kono some of his nail clippings and some of his hair. That is what is in the family crypt.
For hundreds of thousands, entire bodies would never be found. This was true for America, England, Australia, Russia or Germany.
But at least part of him remains there in Hiroshima.
The cousins tell me Aunt Michie grieved for days after his departure… and that she was torn apart when she learned of his death.
The bomb would fall just days later.
According to the family, even shortly after the bedlam caused by the bomb, Aunt Michie continued to care for her stricken mother by walking to her house five miles away when she could. My dad said the road was “pretty” level but that since it is Japan, there were hills along the way, especially near Ishiuchi, a small village.
In December 1947, Aunt Michie started to have contractions while walking over such a hill. She was able to make it to Grandmother Kono’s house where she gave birth to Kiyoshi, right then and there. No, no doctor…no nurse… and Grandmother Kono could not help due to her stroke. It is said she was very happy that the birth took place at her childhood home. She grew up there along with her American siblings. She had felt safe.
My cousins believe their mother, Aunt Michie, gave all of herself for her children and her family. In spite of malnourishment, she toiled in her farm’s fields, cared for Grandmother Kono, gave her all in the bomb’s aftermath, set the example for her children. She put everyone before her.
But soon after giving birth to Kiyoshi, she developed kidney problems.
They tell me that medical care then was still pretty non-existent so she had no choice but to ride it out. However, she pushed herself back into working the farm too soon to care for her children, her own stricken mother and other household duties. That was Aunt Michie.
Cousin Kiyoshi remembers massaging his mother’s swollen legs after a day’s work. He also fondly remembers perspiring trying to keep up with Aunt Michie on a hot, humid summer day as they walked up a hill overgrown with thick, green wild grass. There was a “石じぞう”, or a stone figure representing Buddha, alongside a ridge overlooking a blue Hiroshima Bay. Kiyoshi will always remember that moment, looking at his mother with perspiration running down her face and the blueness of the bay.
In retrospect, they feel that if Michie had taken some time to rest and more often that she may have regained her health.
On May 29, 1963, she was laying in the same farmhouse in which she nursed the 23 injured people that fateful day. Her kidneys were giving out. She opened her eyes one last time and looked lovingly at each of her children who were gathered about her then closed them. Thirty years after her father gave away her hand in marriage at 19, after 30 years of a life heaped with physical and emotional demands one after another, world changing events and family tragedies… After enduring the pain of survival, Aunt Michie left this world. She was but 48.
Aunt Michie conquered all and gave her life to others so they could get to tomorrow… and she did that with dignity and unconditional love for her children.
An epilogue will follow for Part 7….
Although the violence of World War II was nearing an end, other aspects of the war could continue against Japanese civilians for years to come.
Their infrastructure was gone. Essential assets such as manufacturing plants, machinery, trains, roads, housing, utilities, even fishing boats had been destroyed.
And most of all, food.
And Aunt Michie’s dignity – the entire family’s dignity – will continue to be tested until the late 1940’s.
For eons, Japan has been unable to produce enough rice for their people let alone food. In fact, it was not until about the time Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics that Japan could produce enough rice for themselves.
The war took a terrible toll on regular folks from getting their “rice fix” – they were just not able to eat it. This deprived them savoring it, the mental and biological satisfaction of just eating it. Think of it this way – what if not just bread itself was kept from you but also the sweet smell of the freshly baked bread with the perfect crust..with melting butter? Talk about attacks on your psyche: deprivation. Deprivation for years. Prolonged sensual deprivation makes for huge changes in one’s outlook on life.
Like the photo of the little boy, millions of civilians would acquire a wild form of brown rice (玄米 genmai) and dehusk them as shown. Along with barly, it served as a substitute for the flavorful white rice with the higher calories.
Confronted by not only the absence of medical supplies, Aunt Michie’s house was now filled with 23 men, women and children with varying degrees of burns. I doubt emergency rooms could handle such a sudden load of burn victims… but Michie’s family did. On top of that, her house was damaged by the atomic bomb’s shockwave. It pains me to even see in my mind what they had to do to make the house habitable enough so quickly to nurse the injured.
It was mayhem and Michie personally did not ask for this horrific situation… but now, on top of trying to provide medical care for 23 people, she was confronted with one ominous problem: how to feed them all. There was no food left in the city of Hiroshima and it was just over the hill. And any food left in the village of Tomo was fresh. It would spoil quickly anyways in the heat as there was no refrigeration. No supermarket. No canned goods either.
She did as Aunt Michie only could. She used her precious reserve of rice and only served it to the ailing victims. I am sure she believed that would be the only way to truly help them survive as all of them were malnourished. As a result of rationing the remaining rice to the victims, her own children who weren’t physically injured were delegated to survive on cooked pumpkins, stems, stalks or taro roots for the duration.
A huge, gut wrenching decision for Aunt Michie, I’m sure.
To help this dire situation, the Hiroshima aunt who was not badly injured went about the area with Mikizo’s parents scavenging for wild grass and other vegetation to boil. That, too, became part of their food. Although likely not very nutritious to say the least, there was no other alternative. And it is important to note such wild vegetation they boiled or ate had been subjected to the black rain…
What do you have in your yard?
Perhaps you can somewhat understand why my cousin Masako thought Spam was the most delicious thing she ever ate.
In spite of all Aunt Michie could do, my cousins tell me some of the burn victims’ injuries wouldn’t heal. They had worsened. Their wounds began to fester or decay for lack of a better description. Pus formed. There was nothing they could do.
The odor of the decaying flesh permeated out of the house. They say you could smell it from the dirt road immediately outside.
It became so intense that people would hold their noses to scurry past the house.
None of my cousins who were there tell me they will ever forget that vulgar smell of rotting flesh… or death. Never.
Just like Old Man Jack.
My cousins tell me some didn’t make it.
Others would pass away in the next couple of years from the effects of their injuries or radiation.
Nevertheless, the struggle for food and other essentials would continue…but my Aunt Michie’s immediate family survived. Even Tomiko who was in Hiroshima proper.
And Aunt Michie’s dignity and strength reigned supreme.
They all made it to tomorrow.
The surrender documents were signed by Emperor Hirohito’s representatives aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
Unbelievably, Mikizo also survived the war. Although taken prisoner upon Japan’s surrender as a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army, he was released from Manchuria and allowed to return to his Hiroshima farm in late 1946.
To be continued in Part 6….
The aftermath of the bombing was no different from hell. Not that I’ve seen hell nor that I would want to…
But Aunt Michie and my very young cousins saw it.
They visited hell.
Nearly all doctors and nurses within the city had been killed or seriously wounded on August 6, 1945. If they survived the blast, they were likely to fall ill from radiation poisoning and they themselves would die within days. All remaining medical supplies – which had been nearly non-existent due to the war – had been destroyed as well. Most food – even unpicked fruits or vegetables – were contaminated with radiation as was water(¹). Thousands of corpses plugged the rivers as they would go in to soothe their burns but would soon perish.
It is important to note that food rationing in Japan was much more extreme than what was imposed on the American public. While the rationing in America began in May 1942, it started with just coffee and sugar. In Japan, rationing of a far more extensive reach began in 1939 if not earlier. It extended to nearly all first quality food stuffs. Rice, barley, seafood, meat, soy bean paste and soy sauce, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc. Groups called “tonari-gumi” were established in villages and the like; they monitored and rationed food to the Japanese families based on what work they were doing, e.g., war production, number of family members along with their age and sex. The rationing was so severe that when one family member died, the family did not report it. The average caloric daily intake was cut down to less than 2,000 a day by 1945.
The Japanese civilians were starving, so to speak, and were without question malnourished.
Aunt Michie was no different. She was hungry like everyone else and likely tired easily due to low nutritional intake and daily physical and emotional demands upon her. It is important to have an understanding of her condition at this crucial moment in history.
After the shock and black rain subsided, Aunt Michie’s thoughts immediately went to her treasured family. According to my cousins, she went into her priceless family rice reserves and cooked real rice for the children. Sadako, the second oldest, remembers to this day how she savored that bowl of rice, a definite luxury at that time. While but a child of ten years and filled with anxiety about eating such a fine meal, she saw at that moment her mother’s love and affection for them was unconditional.
Aunt Michie’s thoughts went to the Aramaki family (aunt and uncle’s family) who lived in Hiroshima. She had no way of knowing that day but they had become direct victims of the atomic bombing. They had been burned over most of their bodies and had even been trapped under their destroyed house. They managed to struggle with their searing injuries to Aunt Michie’s house to seek refuge and care. They had realized that only strong family support would allow them to live.
Grotesquely, the path going over the 300 meter high hill which the relatives traveled became littered with scores of dead people. Masako said they were unrecognizable lumps of flesh and died where they crumpled. Many had their clothes burned away. While thousands were killed instantly, other thousands suffered for days before dying from intense burns, radioactive poisoning and other injuries. As radiation poisoning was unheard of amongst them, some were told they had dysentery and the like. Many before dying oozed pus from their ears and blood ran from their noses. You will not read this in any Western textbook. In fact, the gruesome information about the days, months and years after August 6th was suppressed for a couple of decades by both governments.
While the dazed and immensely pained adults struggled to Michie’s farm, there were young children of the family unaccounted for(²). Without hesitation and unbelievably, Aunt Michie – in her weakened state – pulled a two wheel cart over the hill to Hiroshima to look for them.
Over a hill.
Miraculously and while the details are lost, she found some of them and hauled them back to the farm on the cart, now laden with the additional weight of the children… on the same road that was further littered with dead and dying people. Think of the mental anguish Michie had to endure when dying people came up to her and asked for her help… It would be difficult to not look at them. It was more difficult to ignore them, I’m sure.
According to my cousins, a total of 23 people got refuge and care at Aunt Michie’s farm. I understand many were relatives from the Aramaki side of the family.
There were more hurdles for Michie and her children immediately ahead – caring for the injured and dying.
The preceding photographs may show what Michie and the children were faced with. And the children were just that – children.
How old are your children, by the way?
The older cousins recall that they, Michie, Mikizo’s parents and the less injured relatives took on a 24 hour a day field hospital of sorts to treat the injured. It was stifling hot and humid; yet, they had to be given constant attention and there were so many of them. I cannot imagine how exhausting this task could have been, especially when you are hungry and malnourished yourself.
The common injury were burns. Severe burns…and they had no medicine whatsoever.(³) No Bactine. No Motrin. No aloe. All Michie could do was to coat the burns with a type of cooking oil and bandage them with pieces of cloth. She must have endured unlimited anguish in knowing she could not measurably lessen their pain and suffering. There must have been constant crying and unbearable moans of pain.
And on their hands, blood from human beings.
Six year old Namie could never forget what she had to do. Flies were swarming having sensed dying flesh. Namie was tasked with shooing them away with a fan but they wouldn’t stay away. And worse yet – time and time again, she had to remove the maggots that were feeding on dead flesh…with chopsticks. I do not know if I could have done that…but Namie did.
The turmoil that must have stormed inside Aunt Michie to tell her daughters to do what they had to do for the sake of survival…and then to be stern with them and tell them to continue when they wavered or cried… must have been punishing to her as a loving mother. She must have wanted to cry.
Aunt Michie was the point woman.
And she fulfilled that role.
Her goal was to get everyone to tomorrow.
To be continued in Part 5….
(1) Per my 2012 meeting with Mr. Tsukamoto in Hiroshima, water is the main theme of the Cenotaph at the Peace Park. Survivors clamored for water. Where there was well water, many survivors were suffocated as dozens more pressed against them for the precious liquid. Please see “A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima” for further information and links to their personal story.
(2) The number of unaccounted for children is unclear.
(3) Mr. Tsukamoto recounted how they had to constantly mash yams and place them over their burns to temporarily lessen the pain. They did that for over a month, he says.
The Japanese home front had essentially collapsed by 1945. Instead of focusing on food, supplies, building air raid shelters and organizing orderly evacuations of civilians, Japanese military leadership focused on misleading news reports and propaganda. Millions fled the cities into safer rural areas(¹) on their own initiative but once there, supplies of daily sustenance was meager.
In one’s own life, you are tested. A good human being will at times prove oneself to be a good brother or sister, son or daughter, friend or life partner. Some fail. Some pass.
Aunt Michie was one who passed; her heart led her to care for others before herself. It is as if she knew being good to others was the way to have a good life.
As an example, US air and naval forces ruled the skies and the seas. A key staple of the Japanese diet – fish – had been nearly cut off as fishing boats were attacked once out to sea. Yet, when Aunt Michie came across sashimi, she traveled hours with Masako in tow to take a precious portion to her brother Suetaro at his army base in Fukuoka:
“…(Masako) remembers a couple of trips (to see Suetaro). It was not easy travel in war-torn Japan. For one trip, Aunt Michie managed to take sashimi – in this time of little food, it was a tremendous treat and gift. On that trip, Masako remembers her mother stealthily sliding over to Uncle Suetaro the wrapped sashimi. He was being stared at by many of his fellow soldiers – they were not well fed either. She remembers Uncle slowly turning so that the others could not see and quickly devoured the treat.”
Aunt Michie could have eaten the precious sashimi herself…but didn’t.
With her husband taken by the Imperial Japanese Army then dispatched to war in Manchuria, she was burdened with running the farm… still laboring to produce crops only to be taken by the military. She would get up before sunrise, help prepare meals, tend to the family then toil in the fields. And when her mother became partially paralyzed and alone in her own home five miles away, Aunt Michie knew she had to take care of her, too. Michie was the last of her children left in Japan.
While Michie and Grandmother Kono managed to get part-time care, Aunt Michie still took it upon herself to check in on her stricken mother. My cousins tell me their mother Aunt Michie would take them along for the ten mile round trip to her Kanemoto family home.
No car. No bus. No taxi. No trains or bicycles. They had to walk. After all, it was 1944 and fuel was a huge luxury. One memory the youngest happily recollect is that they would take turns riding in some kind of baby stroller that Michie would push to Grandmother Kono’s. Neverthless, it was still a great deal of effort and sacrifice on Michie’s part in any case… and she did this after working in the fields, too.
Masako will eventually end up caring for Grandmother Kono.
After picking herself off the ground, Aunt Michie saw an evil yet mystifying mushroom cloud slowly rising up beyond the 300 meter tall hill separating her village from Hiroshima proper. At that instant, she knew her life had taken a wrenching turn for the worse… as if it could get any worse.
I cannot imagine what was going through her mind and heart watching that mushroom cloud rising. She could not have even dreamed that it was one massive bomb, kilometers away, that could cause this sort of force and devastation. It must have defied belief.
According to Michie and my cousins, the shockwave blew out all the sliding doors, all the tatami mats were flung and the ceiling was shoved up in the house. Try to imagine yourself being inside the house. The same thing happened to Grandmother Kono’s house five miles south (See map in Part 1).
As per their daily air raid drill, they apparently all ran to the air raid shelter in the small hill behind their house. After about half an hour and with the mushroom cloud still rising, a black, syrupy rain began to fall on them. According to the cousins, Michie believed that the Americans were dropping oil from space.
She could not have fathomed it was contaminated with over 200 kinds of radioactive isotopes. We now call it black rain.
Sadako, who was ten years old, clearly remembers their white blouses had turned black from the rain. No one – absolutely no one – knew that other than staining skin, clothing, and buildings, but that ingesting black rain by breathing and by consumption of contaminated food or water, would lead to radiation poisoning. Even flowers would bloom in distorted shapes and forms from the radiation.
With the enormity and the suddenness of the brilliant flash of light followed by a shockwave and the swirling mushroom cloud, Michie deep inside knew her world had forever changed.
Horror was to literally come into hand shortly to enforce that foreboding thought.
To be continued in Part 4….
(1) Albeit late, my mother’s family fled to the Fukui Prefecture in early July 1945 to escape the bombing of Tokyo.