Tag Archives: 原爆

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part I


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Uncle Yutaka and darling little Aunt Michie in Hiroshima. Circa 1918.

Life in Hiroshima was uncertain and grueling in 1945 – especially for women and children.  It is a fact that nearly all the men up to the age of 35 had been taken by the Japanese military.  For many, it was truly day to day.

Little food, clothing and medical care.  It all went to the military…and then there were the B-29’s and the bombings.  Devils associated with being on the losing side of war.

But at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, my Aunt Michie’s already tough life would be cast into wretchedness to test her mortal soul.  She was in her farm’s field clearing old crops on that hot summer morning.  There was an intense flash of light then the atomic bomb’s shockwave traveling close to the speed of sound slammed into her.  She was catapulted and hit the ground.

At the same instant, her oldest daughter and my cousin Masako – who was eleven and in her classroom nearby – was hurled across the classroom by the same shockwave.  The schoolgirls that were standing in front of her were pierced by shards of glass and debris.

Below is an eye opening re-enactment supplemented by computer simulation of the atomic blast in 1945.  Perhaps you can put yourself into Aunt Michie’s or Masako’s shoes on that morning and experience what they did:

After years of a most grueling life, Aunt Michie and her children would now face the searing pain of surviving.

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Even while giving shaves at my Grandfather’s barbershop in Seattle, Grandma Kono was busy in her early years of marriage.  She gave birth to Yutaka (1910), Hisao (1912) then Michie in 1914.  Other children followed: Shizue (1917), Dad (1919), Suetaro (c. 1921) and Mieko (c. 1924).  A total of seven.

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(L to R) Yutaka, Dad, Suetaro, MICHIE, Shizue, Great Grandmother Kame, Mieko and Grandmother Kono. Circa 1928, Hiroshima.

All seven of the siblings were born in Seattle…  All except for Michie who was born in Hiroshima.

My cousins tell me their mother Michie told them she would wistfully ask her family, “Why couldn’t I have been born in America like everyone else?!”  Lovingly, of course.

Aunt Michie never did get a chance to visit America.

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Dad’s siblings came to Hiroshima and half of them were able to return to Seattle to continue their lives as Americans before war with America.  But Michie lived her entire life in Japan.  She was the oldest sister to the siblings and helped Grandma Kono raise them.

Michie’s father (my Grandfather Hisakichi) was a devout Buddhist.  He required the family to chant Buddhist mantras daily; it was not “praying” but a way through which a follower “energized” himself to the teachings of Buddha.  Dad’s Hiroshima home to this day has the altar in the main room where they chanted; it is unchanged in nearly a hundred years having survived the shockwave from the atomic blast.

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My father’s family home is at “A”; Aunt Michie’s home in the village of Tomo is at “B”.  About five miles separates the two homes.  The atomic bomb’s hypocenter is towards the bottom right where rivers split up.

According to well accepted family lore, a man from a village called Tomo came to the house one fateful day apparently to seek one of his daughter’s hand in marriage.  His name was Mikizo Aramaki.  He immediately went to the altar and chanted.  Grandfather Hisakichi was so impressed by his devotion to the Buddhist way of life that he immediately gave his daughter away in marriage…but apparently, Grandather gave away the wrong daughter – Aunt Michie.  It is said Mikizo had come seeking the hand of my Aunt Shiz.  (Aunt Shiz was the prize of the village according to my cousin Masako.)

Being of farming heritage, Mikizo had acreage and a home.  After Aunt Michie was told she was to marry Mikizo, she was, to say the least, not very happy.  I guess that is a slight understatement if I say so myself.  She argued – pleaded – with my Grandfather that she didn’t want to marry him and that she was not raised to be a farmer…but to no avail.

Aunt Michie was given away in marriage.  Done deal.

They wed in 1933.  She was nineteen years old.

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To be continued in Part II

Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part IV


Just two months after Old Man Jack passed away, so did the young boy who stood in the US Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Louisiana in 1942.

The man who told me funerals don’t do a damn for him anymore.

Mr. Johnson was gone.

The cremated remains of Mr. Johnson

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The neighborhood was in shock.  I had waved to Mr. Johnson just three days earlier while he and Marge gingerly got out of their car.  I said in a louder than normal voice from across the street: “We’re still on for breakfast on Saturday, right Mr. Johnson?”  We were to go have breakfast and chat about Old Man Jack – and perhaps learn more of Mr. Johnson.  Instead, he died suddenly just three days later.  Three days.

After 66-1/2 years of marriage, Marge was now a widow.  A sudden illness took his last breath away when bombs could not 70 years earlier.  He was 89 years old.

Marge surprised me when she asked if I would video Mr. Johnson’s funeral.  I told her it would be my privilege.  I was elated to be of some service to her.

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After Old Man Jack’s funeral, Mr. Johnson invited me over after I got home from work that night.  That was when he volunteered that story about how “he got suckered into becoming a Marine”.  Lovingly, of course.  You could tell he had esprit de corps in his blood to that day.  He was proud of not having BEEN a Marine, but of BEING a Marine.  He had all the right to be.

He also talked about how he met Marge.  What a wonderful story it was.  I will try to capture the essence of what he told me.

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By early 1944, Mr. Johnson (now a sergeant) had been taken off the front lines to recover from his grave wounds.  He was “pretty messed up,” as he put it.  Didn’t say much more.  He was put in charge of the motor pool at Camp Pendleton during convalescence.

The base commander’s wife, a proper lady, he said, had come to the motor pool to get her car fixed up.  Mr. Johnson said it was a beat up Chevy especially on the inside but it was better than most for those times.

After she commented on the car’s condition, Mr. Johnson said he’ll do his best to make it more presentable.

He had come to know an upholsterer in Oceanside so Mr. Johnson arranged for the interior to get tidied up some.  He also had it painted.  She was elated.

I wish I had jotted down the commander’s name.  Darn.

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Sometime towards the latter part of ’44, he said, there was some scuttlebutt about a big operation that was brewing.

But then, the base commander called Mr. Johnson into his office.

“Johnnie,” he said, looking through his file, “you’re pretty used up.  I’m sending you to rehabilitation.”

So off he went.  While Mr. Johnson used “a hospital out in San Bernardino” as a description, the hospital was likely somewhere near the mountains because he mentioned Lake Arrowhead.

As I write this, there is a good probability it was Naval Hospital, Norco, as it was officially called back then.

Naval Hospital, Corona

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During rehabilitation, he ventured to a USO dance being held at the hospital.  The USO was such a morale booster for these young men.  Mr. Johnson was no exception.

There, against the wall, he said, was this pretty young thing.  It was Marge.  She was studying to become a nurse…which she did.

…and if I understood him correctly, they got married the day after he got discharged from the Corps in 1945.  It sounded like if Marge just didn’t want a husband that would go off to war, let alone as a Marine.  She got her way, of course:

Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in 1945.

Don’t you think they are a gorgeous couple?  A gift of chance… and war.

(As a historical note, the “scuttlebutt” ended up to be… Iwo Jima.  Part of the 3rd Marine Division, Mr. Johnson said that in a way, he was glad he didn’t go…  Not that he DIDN’T want to go but because of what the Marines horribly found out after the first waves landed ashore.  He learned from the Marines that made it back that all vehicles that went ashore in the first couple of days were sitting ducks for enemy artillery.  This was made worse by all the volcanic ash being spewed up by the artillery rounds, just choking off the engines just minutes later because it would clog up the air filters.  Some of boys were burned alive, he was told, after their vehicles got hit…in the same vehicles he was in charge of at Camp Pendleton.)

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One reason why I was never able to find any military record on Mr. Johnson became obvious on his funeral day; that’s when I – and the other neighbors – found out his name wasn’t Johnnie, but Doreston.

“Doreston”

I was partially successful in videotaping Mr. Johnson’s funeral.  It wasn’t as smooth as I wanted it to be for Marge’s sake.  There was a bit of disorganization and miscommunication, too.  Many of us following the hearse were just waiting in our cars wondering what to do next…when I saw the Marine burial detail getting ready to escort Mr. Johnson’s urn to a covered area.  Time for a mad dash.

A couple of notes about the video below if you wish to watch…

  1. I’m not much an editor but I managed to insert the “Marine’s Hymm” from my all-time Marine Corps classic, “Sands of Iwo Jima”.  Gives me goose bumps every time.  It starts a bit after the 1:00 mark.
  2. There is some footage at the National Medal of Honor Memorial; Mr. Johnson would be interred just yards away.  Sgt. Hartsock is my friend’s first husband who was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor.  You will also see the names of some of the 22 Nisei’s who were also bestowed the Medal of Honor during WWII.
  3. The bugler you see is a long-time friend of Mr. Johnson.  I understand he is also in his 80’s and volunteers his services everyday.  A very fitting and personal tribute.
  4. This was also the first 21-gun salute I was ever able to have the honor to witness in person.  I am glad it was for Mr. Johnson:

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During this time, and now armed with his true first name, I was pretty determined to uncover some of his unspoken valor during the Solomon Islands Campaign and the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands…and I was partially successful.

These are two pages from CINCPAC’s official, confidential after battle report.  They were called “War Diaries” and are daily operational journals created by various naval commands throughout the Navy during WWII (The Marine Corps is an arm of the US Navy).  I was only able to find this single battle report for the Solomon Islands Campaign:

War Diary, Cover Page
Specific page recognizing Mr. Johnson’s valor under fire.

I do NOT know for sure if Mr. Johnson fought on the islands but Old Man Jack never mentioned anything except him serving on the Big E…

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As for Mr. Johnson’s wounds, Old Man Jack muttered once “Johnnie was hit twice.  The last time was pretty bad.”  He didn’t say more.

But Mr. Johnson collapsed at his house in 2011.  Marge called me over to help while waiting for the ambulance.  Mr. Johnson was on his side, left hand gripping the bed sheets and right arm pinned in under his body.  He was too big for me to lift him off the floor by myself.  So I yelled, “C’mon, Marine!  Get your sorry ass off this floor!”  Seriously.  With that, he grunted, grabbed the bed sheets one more time, and together, we got his upper body onto his bed…

But in the process, I saw his chest.

His first fall in the house. Marge’s shadow is the one on the left. My little house can be seen beyond the ambulance’s cab. (Edit)

My god.

The scars.

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Tears of Remembrance and Closing

Two days after the funeral, I had finished putting the video together for Marge.  We watched it together on my laptop as she didn’t have a DVD player that worked.  Dry eyes had to take a back seat.  She was so grateful.

But she called me at work a couple of days later.  She asked if I could stop by after work again…and show her the video one more time.  I was so surprised by her request…but so happy.  She must have liked it.

When I played it for her – and when the “Marine’s Hymm” from the John Wayne iconic classic “Sands of Iwo Jima” began playing, her left hand began to rhythmically and softly beat to the theme song… ever so softly. Then her head bobbed along with the beat. That broke me.

Tears of Remembrance – Marge, now a widow after 66-1/2 years of marriage

She asked me again to explain the page from the Solomon Islands Battle Report which clearly states how he valiantly fought and incurred his wounds… Then when the 21-gun salute played on the screen, that was it…   She broke down.  I cannot imagine how large those floodgates may have been for her emotionally.

She thanked me immensely…

But it was so humbling as it was me who wanted to thank her and her husband… the same young boy in that Louisiana recruiting station who did what he had to do… and had enough humanity left in him to forgive.

The Greatest Generation…  May they go in peace.

正覚寺


正覚寺。

Catchy title?

In the past several years, as his dementia progresses, Dad is repeating many times how he broke his elbow as a young boy…  “Many times” like as in every four minutes.  No…every two.

I thought, “He doesn’t remember he ate like a horse ten minutes ago…  How can he remember something that happened 80+ years ago?”

Well, I just HAD to find out about his story…  and I did.

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The story (which never varies) is/was he was playing “oninga”, or tag, with the neighborhood kids.  “There was nothing else to do then,” he would tell me.  They would end up in the yard of 正覚寺 – pronounced “Shoukakuji” – the Buddhist temple which is a hop, skip and a jump from his home.  No wonder he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.

You can see a tiled roof on the tallest structure to the right of him.  That is 正覚寺.

The tiled roof of “Shoukakuji” can be seen behind and to the right of Dad in this 1948 photo.  He is standing alongside his childhood home.

For those who like visuals:

Satellite view of home and Shoukakuji, 2012.

He would tell me (over and over) that while playing tag, “…I tried to get away so I jumped on this big round stone then leaped up to a branch on big a pine tree in front of 正覚寺.”

Now that I know he did the broad jump at Nichu, I thought this jumping thing was therefore plausible.  (Did I mention I’m a writer for “Mythbusters”?)

“Trouble is, I jumped too far so my hands couldn’t grab onto the branch.  I slipped off the branch then broke my elbow when I hit the ground”.

OK.  So now, after “An Atomic Spark From a 1937 Yearbook“, I also know he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.  Plausible.  (See…  More proof I am a writer for “Mythbusters”.)

To this day, he cannot completely straighten out his right arm.  It’s crooked.  He now tells this story to my youngest kids, Jack and Brooke…  Every four minutes.

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On September 7, 2012, I had to know.  Off to 正覚時…  But unlike my agile father of the 1920’s, I was walking very gingerly.  There were four humongous blisters on my toes from walking in Japan and (from being tricked into) climbing Mt. Misen on Miyajima.

The sign at the entry gate, or “mon”.  Shoukakuji’s middle character is written with an old Japanese character.

Indeed, there was a Japanese pine tree, or “matsu”.  A huge one.  You couldn’t miss it as you walk through the “mon”, or gate.  It was so huge, the temple had steel braces installed to help hold these majestic branches up.

Steel posts and braces were installed to help hold up these ancient branches.

Off the to right, was the base of the tree.  A puny trunk in relation to the Goliath branches…  It was hard to believe at first this small trunk was the heart for this proud tree.

Then…  at the base…  was a large round stone.  Could it possibly be?  Plausible as we don’t know how long the stone was there…  Am I tough?

Masako and my son Takeshi stand next to the large round stone and pine tree made famous by my father some eighty-plus years ago.

But where’s the branch my father jumped for?  Myth: Busted!…  or so I thought.

Then we saw it.  Above my son Takeshi in the picture.  The base of a broken branch.  It was at the right height!  OK…  Myth: Plausible.

Here is the branch that Dad supposedly leaped for 80+ years ago…but fell and broke his elbow.

But conclusive proof was just beyond reach.  There was no evidence as to age of the tree or how long the stone was there…

Then, as if Aunt Shiz summoned him, the reverend of 正覚寺 came out…with his wife.  He was about 90 years old.  Almost as old as my dad but he still had his wits about him.  Thank goodness.

He told us he didn’t know my father personally…but that he played with Suetaro and Mieko, Dad’s youngest brother and sister!  He knew Suetaro well, he said.  He listened to Suetaro blow on his flute from the house in the evenings.

My Japanese wasn’t good enough so Masako stepped in…  She explained to the elderly reverend how my dad (her uncle) had jumped from a large round stone at the base of a pine tree here 80+ years ago and broke his elbow.

Masako is mimicking my father’s broken right elbow and his story while my son Takeshi and cousin Kiyoshi watch. Kiyoshi was pointing to the stone to supplement the story.

Unbelievably, the reverend said with pride, “The pine tree is about 400 years old…and that stone has been there for as long as I can remember.  It hasn’t been moved, either.”

Then the wife said that a number of years ago, the branch had broken off but it was very long.  Then after it broke off, “…a swarm of bees made a home inside.  We had to seal the crack unfortunately,” to account for the mortar on the branch.

Was his story a myth?  Busted?  Plausible?  Confirmed?

Myth: Confirmed.

Dad wasn’t imagining ANYTHING.  His memory is intact from that time.

Mission accomplished.

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But to end this fun story, we had my Aunt Shiz’s interment the next morning.

The reverend’s son was the officiant.  Glorious.  The circle of generations continues.  And he brought along one more piece of treasure to the interment:

The reverend’s son brought this gift for Masako and my Dad.

A photo of the majestic Japanese pine tree covered in snow.

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There are souls in this tree, too.

Oh…  I was kidding about Mythbusters.

Souls of Wood


They walked on it.  They posed for family portraits on it.  They passed away on it.  It felt as if their souls were infused in it.

Although my ancestors have come and gone through that house for about a hundred years, the old sakura wood shared their souls with me.

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Then:

The Kanemoto’s sat on the cherry wood walkway for a portrait. Notice the glass paneling at the center-rear.  My father (second from left) is sadly all who remains from that generation. Circa 1928, Hiroshima, Japan.

Now:

Although aged and weathered, the sakura (Japanese cherry) wood upon which my ancestors sat upon for family portraits is unchanged. Even the glass paneling in the background is the same.

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While I am certainly not in the construction industry, my father’s family home is based on the Edo design era.  Generally speaking, they are built on stone foundations, with supporting square timbers and a raised floor.  “Tatami” mats were used for flooring.

My father, while now 93 and suffering from dementia, fondly recalled the floor plan of the Kanemoto house…especially of the main room seen the family portrait.  He said it had a “tokonoma”, or a small alcove alongside the altar, or “butsudan”.  He also clearly recalled the floor space measured by the number of tatami mats used; in this case, “hachijyou” or eight mats.

This is the room in which my cousin Masako “saw” Aunt Shiz a few days before she passed away.

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The house was indeed damaged from the atomic bomb’s shock wave.  This same shock wave shook the Enola Gay violently even while trying to escape the blast at about 30,000 feet altitude.  She was 11-1/2 miles away.

The house is about 4-1/2 miles away by way the crow flies.  Almost due west of the hypocenter.  Masako was knocked down by the hard-hitting shock wave while in her classroom.

A low lying hill called Mt. Suzugamine served somewhat as a barrier, deflecting the shock wave.  Still, nearly all of the sliding door panels were knocked down and the ceiling was sucked up more than a foot per Masako.  Roof tiling was also blown away from the force.

Masako is trying to show how the atomic bomb’s shock wave lifted the ceiling up over a foot. It is repaired now but was left as-is for decades.
Masako in the process of trying to show how far the ceiling was lifted by the blast on August 6, 1945.

My Uncle Suetaro took one of his last photos in front of this house in May 1944.  My grandmother already had her stroke and is not in this photo but his sister, Michie, is standing to his right.

One of the family treasures found during our journey to the family home in Hiroshima this month. Uncle Suetaro is going to war and his death.

Grandmother Kono’s funeral in 1954; my father can be seen in the lighter suit to the left standing next to Michie and Masako (hidden by the flowers):

Grandmother Kono’s funeral at the house.  1954

The home does have spirits within.  It’s not cornball.  It is an incredible sensation.  We were called to those souls in the wood this month.  Seriously.

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When I saw my son in front of the home, I saw that I’m in the last half of my journey in life… but I came back to myself on that old sakura wood.

Early family picture in front of the house.  The entry is on the right.
My son Takeshi standing next to the Kanemoto name in front of the house just this month.  The entry can be seen behind him.

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.

“Old Man Jack-ism” #4


“Koji, don’t let anyone tell you different.  War makes good boys do crazy things.”

That was the first time Old Man Jack shared something with me about the war in a voice of unfeigned remorse.  In turn, it was one of my first journeys in his time machine in which he allowed me to ride along.

Front row seats.  Free of charge.

It was in 2002 to the best of my recollection.  It was just before my littlest firecracker was born.

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KA-BAR.  If you are a World War II US Marine who served on “those stinkin’ islands”, there is no explanation necessary.

My friend’s KA-BAR. He stated it was his grandfather’s who had served in the Pacific Theater. He allowed me to hold it. Its mass will stun you.

A KA-BAR was a Marine’s most prized personal possession.  It was always at their side.

They opened their C-rations with it.  Dug foxholes with it.  Chopped coconut logs with it.  Hammered nails with it.  Indestructible.

Most importantly, for killing.  Designed for slashing and stabbing.  Desperate hand-to-hand combat.  To the death.

The KA-BAR served them so well that many Marines who survived passed it down to their children.

Old Man Jack said several times, “I’ll tell ya – us white caps always tussled with the Marines ‘cuz they thought they were better than us…but there wasn’t anyone better at protecting your sorry asses with theirs when it came time.”

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(If you are prone to nausea, you should not continue to read this Old Man Jack story.)

I did not know this free ride was coming.  It was unexpected and spontaneous.  I recall that clearly.

That afternoon, he began describing something vile he witnessed during the war.  Today, I fully realize he was trying to vomit demons out from his soul.

He needed to.

Jack visiting at my house on Sept. 23, 2006. He would fall gravely ill about a year later.

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He didn’t tell me what island; that would be his pattern up until his death.  If he was talking about something a young man should never have witnessed, he would never say what island he was on.  However, my educated guess as to the year would be late 1943 or early 1944.

Old Man Jack said to the best of my recollection that “…the Japs broke through our perimeter”.

“When the fighting broke out, most of us (the ground crew servicing Marine Corsairs) dove straight into the nearest foxholes.  I only had a .45 and I kept my head down except for a dumb ass split second or two…”  He tried to mimic what he did by extending his neck a bit and flicking his head left and right.

“All hell was breaking loose.  Men were screaming all over the place.  You could tell which rounds were from us and which ones were theirs.”

It was all over in a couple of minutes, Jack said.  “I did hear moaning then a CRACK from a .45 or a M1…”  A Marine apparently dispensed a wounded enemy soldier.

“I got up.  There was still a little yelling going on.  And I ain’t ashamed to say I started shaking real bad.  Then I see this kid (i.e., a Marine) dragging this wounded Jap; he was hit pretty bad but I could tell he was still alive.  The Marine grabbed his KA-BAR and sliced open that son-of-a-bitch’s mouth.  I could see the Jap was flinching.  The kid was trying to gouge out gold (from his teeth).”

Another Marine came over and shot the Jap dead with his .45.  The kid yelled, ‘Hey!  Why’d you have to go do that for?!’

The other Marine just looked at him for a split second and walked away.  I stopped looking.”

Jack then just slowly shook his head.

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I remember Old Man Jack was looking down when he finished.  He had on a grey sweatshirt as winter was coming on.

Front row seats in his time machine of nightmares.  He just forgot to mention it was on his roller coaster he kept hidden inside.

He had other free tickets for me in the years that followed.

Dad Was in the Newspaper Yesterday


The main Hiroshima newspaper yesterday ran a story on my Dad and his yearbook – and of international kindness.  Fittingly, it was the anniversary of the atomic bombing.

The main newspaper in Hiroshima (Chugoku Shimbun) ran an article on my father and his 1937 yearbook. (A) Mr. Tsukamoto 塚本, the man who kindly helped locate my father’s yearbook, (B) me 金本光司, (C) my father Koso 康三,
and (D) my father’s beloved Nichuu High School 広島二中.  (Since you all can read Japanese, in this case, it is read top/down, right to left.)

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Hiroshima conducts an annual, somber peace ceremony each year on August 6th.  A peace ceremony.  That’s the message.  Peace.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Just peace.

They are not calling attention to themselves seeking pity or repentance.  While there are still many who feel the Japanese brought this on to themselves, the citizens of Hiroshima have moved beyond forgiveness and are simply seeking to spread a strong global message for peace.

This year, the grandson of President Truman (below) was in attendance.  Ari Beser was there, too.  His grandfather was Jacob Beser – Enola Gay’s bombardier.  Wonderful.

Clifton Truman Daniel (center) lays a wreath during the peace ceremony in Hiroshima. His grandfather was President Truman.

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In my short story, “An Atomic Spark and a 1937 Yearbook“, it tells of how two complete strangers from Hiroshima – without hesitation – sought out my father’s yearbook from 1937.  They miraculously found one, made a digital copy and mailed it to me through my cousin, Masako, who still lives in my father’s childhood home in Hiroshima.  I printed it out and showed it to him a week before Father’s Day this year.

Dad – who is suffering from progressing dementia at 93 years of age – was overjoyed.  He recalled so many things from the most happiest years of his life…including being a track star.  Riding on the train to get to school with his friend Aoki…  The school song.  Dementia was put on the back seat for that morning.

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In a small expression of thanks, I had sent to Mr. Tsukamoto a flask etched with “Nichuu High School, August 6, 1945”.  I also asked he offer a prayer to the students of Dad’s high school on August 6th.  Dad’s beloved high school was but 1,500 yards from the bomb’s hypocenter.

Think about it.  1,500 yards from the hypocenter.  A Marine Corps sniper armed with a Barrett .50 caliber rifle can take out a target over 2,000 yards away.  The school ceased to exist.

As part of the peace ceremonies yesterday in Hiroshima, Mr. Tsukamoto visited the school’s memorial wall.  You can see the stainless steel flask on the black center stone in front of a praying Mr. Tsukamoto.

Mr. Tsukamoto offering a prayer for world-wide peace and in memory of my father’s high school’s students who died that morning in 1945. The flask can be seen directly in front of him.

In this photo, Mr. Tsukamoto is offering a symbolic toast with water from the flask.

Mr. Tsukamoto offers a symbolic toast at the school’s memorial wall during the annual Peace Ceremony.  It was unbelievably hot that day as well.  The newspaper’s white building can be seen in the background.

I will be showing the article to my father this next weekend.

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I wish to thank Mr. Tsukamoto, Ms. Kanetou and Ms. Michiko Tanaka, the reporter who authored this article on international kindness, forgiveness and peace.

To say it is incredible falls short.  1,500 yards short.

塚本様、金籐様、田中様、日本語で完璧に書くことは出来ませんがとても感謝、感動しました。お礼を申し上げる上、世界に平和あるように祈りました。本当に有難う御座いました。金本光司