My grandfather, Hisakichi Kanemoto, immigrated from Hiroshima in 1898 with my grandmother Kono coming in 1908 to become his picture bride. They had seven children of which my dad is the last surviving sibling at 96 years of age. Five of those children called “Hotel Fujii” their home at King and Maynard in Seattle, WA. Sadly, Hotel Fujii is no longer standing.
My two littlest kids and I took a short vacation trip to Seattle the week of June 22, 2015. One project I tasked myself was to attempt putting together “then and now” recreations of family photos taken about 100 years ago. Well, mostly 90 years ago but 100 sounded better. Yet, I was only partially successful; it was luck for the most part:
This “then and now” project was only partially successful as I did not consider many things:
Other very successful “then and now” recreations by professionals primarily had one thing in their backgrounds that I did not: a building. I overlooked that fact. The Fujii Hotel was torn down with only a park left in its place, e.g., there were no windows or doors to line up the old photos with. For the most part, that made for difficulty in guessing/placing from where the photos from the mid-1910s to the 1920s were taken.
I did not consider the fact that the buildings on this street 100 years ago were built on a hill, i.e., all were built upon a concrete base that was taller at the west end compared to the east end.
Because of the number of cars parked curbside, I had to resort to wide angle shots. By doing so, perspective in comparison to the original would not be correct.
There were a few homeless at the park who clearly did not want their picture taken. As my two kids were with me, that became a hurdle.
I did not take into account the time of day (shade).
I did not anticipate the construction nor the large trucks, garbage cans and trees blocking the view.
I misjudged the position from where I took the photographs, affecting perspective and angle. I should have been ten more yards east for a few of the images. Too late now.
I also realized that there were no pictures of Uncle Yutaka nor Aunt Michie at the Hotel Fujii. Uncle Yutaka had likely already been in Japan (1913) by the time these old family photos were taken. Aunt Michie, of course, was the only sibling not born in Seattle but rather in Hiroshima.
A lot was learned.
I only wish I had gained the experience before undertaking this family project. I do hope my cousins and children will still find these images interesting if not to merely appreciate our family photos from “100 years ago”.
1. Grandfather (back to camera in center) camping on Mt. Rainier and Mr. Fujii’s 1913 Chevrolet Six:
2. King and Maynard today:
3. The northeast corner of King and Maynard, taken June 25, 2015. The building still stands as it was 100 years ago.
“War is no good,” he said as we left the small community movie theater near his assisted living home today; we had just watched the limited release documentary “MIS: Human Secret Weapon”. It was about his highly classified World War II US Army unit. He had silently watched and with a ghostly stillness. But I saw him wipe his eyes twice after gently lifting his glasses. Others openly wept…but I had never, ever seen him shed a tear before today.
I was ignorant. Combat isn’t necessary for the ugliness of war to be buried in a person’s mind. The documentary made it clear that it is also easily dug out. All one needs to do is scratch.
The documentary reveals the conflicted state of mind of the then young Japanese-Americans who made up the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS). About 3,000 of them – including two of my uncles – secretly and faithfully served the red, white and blue, hastening the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri.
Another 3,000 served during the Occupation of Japan. My dad was one and worked out of General Eichelberger’s US 8th Army’s GHQ in Yokohama. That’s when he was able to journey to Hiroshima and see his mother for the first time in ten years…and when a hungry Masako first relished the flavor of Spam.
One Nisei veteran interviewed was Grant Ichikawa. He was gracious enough to not only greet me and my family in 2010 near his home in Rosslyn, VA, he also secretly treated us to lunch. Pun intended. He had lost his wife Millie just months before. She was an even rarer female member of the MIS as well.
He and Terry Shima (also interviewed in the documentary) gave me the jump start in finding out about Dad’s involvement in the MIS. During that all too brief get together, Grant did touch on what he did on the battlefront in a GI uniform. He also said it “got dicey”.
In this documentary, you learn of one such experience. He was told there were Japanese soldiers who had agreed to surrender. Grant said he was the point man. They proceeded to the rendezvous point where he met the Japanese commander; they were in the middle of an open field.
It turns out there were 200 to 250 of them; all their weapons were in good working order he says in the documentary. Grant suddenly realized – out in the middle of this field – that these Japanese soldiers were “toukoutai”, or “suicide corps”. Grant just as quickly and with great consternation realized there were only ten of them… GI’s, that is, armed only with rifles. I’m sure Grant picked his words wisely. He is still alive.
“Dicey” was a definite understatement.
In a lighter moment, Ken Akune described how they were searching a Japanese soldier that had surrendered in the jungle of Burma. They came across one of the American propaganda leaflets promising safe passage for those Japanese soldiers that surrendered. It was neatly folded in a pocket.
Akune asked the Japanese soldier if he believed what the leaflet promised since the MIS Nisei wrote it. The Japanese soldier said no but that it made for good toilet paper. “There was no toilet paper in the jungle of Burma,” said the prisoner.
Thomas Tsubota broke down at the end of his interview. Many did.
Tsubota was one of the top secret MIS members of Merrill’s Marauders.
They had just stumbled across ten Japanese soldiers in a small jungle clearing, he says. “Boom,” he said, in a split second they killed them all. He described how his commander, Colonel Beach, called him over to inspect a photo album taken off one of the now dead Japanese soldiers
They looked through the album. Tsubota told Col. Beach there was nothing of military importance in it but as they came upon the last page of the album, there was a picture of a mother and a daughter.
Tsubota said Colonel Beach’s eyes got red, filled with tears and he said, “Thank you, Tom.”
While crying, Tsubota ended the interview by saying this is why he isn’t enthusiastic about talking about the war. Too painful. He doesn’t want to think about that sad moment. Tsubota is 96 years old. I thought Dad was old.
The documentary intensely yet humanely describes the internal turmoil within these young American GIs of Japanese descent. Quite a few had brothers who were left in Japan when war broke out and were killed as Japanese soldiers. Deep down, many carried guilt that their own secret actions led to the deaths of their own brothers. My Dad’s youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – was one of those casualties.
But these 3,000 young American boys of Japanese heritage did their job as did millions of other young American boys…but in secret. They translated diaries covered with blood or offered cigarettes to Japanese prisoners to extract military intelligence while battles were raging.
They endured years of discrimination and intimidation to boot – both from GI’s fighting alongside them as well as back home. A barber in Chicago wouldn’t cut Dad’s hair because of his race – and he was wearing his perfectly creased US Army uniform with sergeant’s stripes, sleeve highlighted by the proud shoulder patch of the US 8th Army.
The secrecy was officially lifted in 1972 by Executive Order 11652.
Just the two of us, I thought, were going to see this movie and that this may help Dad slow down his growing dementia.
I was wrong.
His quiet tears and with his exiting comment, I am sure Uncle Suetaro was there, too, in Dad’s heart – as if it was 1937 in Hiroshima when he last saw his brother alive.
Over the past two years, I’ve asked, “Dad, tell me about what you worked on in the MIS. What was the one thing you remember the most? A picture? A diary?” Each time, the answer was vague or “I don’t know.” I chalked it up to senility.
He doesn’t want to talk about it…just like Tsubota painfully recalling Col. Beach and the photo of a mother and a daughter taken from a Japanese soldier they had just killed.
Ugly recollections from war wanting to be masked need not come from battlefields, bullets or bombs.
It was Monday, Valentines’ Day 2001. My wife was five months pregnant at the time we moved into this wonderful neighborhood smothered in US Naval glory. After I came back from work the next day, she told me a kind old man stopped her as she was wheeling out the trash bin. She said he hobbled from across our quiet street lined with peppercorn trees then kindly wheeled them out for her.
I found out the “old man” was a World War II combat vet. Worse yet, he was a sailor in the Pacific – he fought the Japanese in World War II.
“Holy crap,” flashed through my mind, “What if he finds out we’re Japanese?”
Twelve years later, I was honored to have been a pallbearer at his funeral.
I was so far off base about my first thoughts on Old Man Jack that even George Burns could have picked me off without being called for a balk…and this while he was in his grave.
I felt so ashamed.
“Young man, get over here and plant your butt in that chair,” barked old man Jack from his cluttered garage across the street. Having lived in that house since 1953, it was filled with his life history.
“But I have my stogie going, Jack,” said I.
“Well, I can see it and I sure as hell can smell it. Now shut up and sit down. I want to tell you something.”
That was Old Man Jack, my dear neighbor who lived across the street. I like to think we were close.
He was 87 years old by that summer’s day in 2010 when he called me over. While he had become feeble, his barrel chest was still prominent. He was a rabble-rouser in his youth. He was always “mixing it up” throughout his young years… Well, he was mixing it up even while working at Northrup in the 50’s. That makes me grin.
His handshake was always firm and warm; you didn’t need to be psychic to sense his insight and outlook on life. He always spoke his mind. He earned that right having been shot at, strafed, and bombed on “those stinkin’ islands” as he so often said during a most bitter war.
I had invited Jack to Father’s Day dinner that summer just two years ago; my Dad who was 91 was coming as well.
Jack knew my dad was US Army but I fretted over what they would say to each other when they first met. Or how they would react to one another. It was more than just a concern over the centuries old rivalry between Army and Navy. It was the bitter war.
Dad was in the front room when Jack rang the bell – right on time as always. Jack had on his favorite blue plaid shirt; he wore it often as it had a pocket for his glasses. I often wondered how often he washed it, though. Jack and Dad are shown here on Father’s Day 2010.
“Dad,” I said, “This is Jack, US Navy, Aviation Machinist’s Mate, First Class, the Pacific.”
“Jack, this is my Dad. US 8th Army, sergeant, Military Intelligence Service.”
Although not as agile as they once were, they immediately saluted each other.
You didn’t need a sound system to hear them. Dad and Jack are both hard of hearing.
It was easy to hear Jack ask Dad what he did in the Army. During the Occupation of Japan, Dad said he went into a room once a week that reeked of dry cleaning to retrieve a crate. (The crates contained documents, photos and other personal items such as war diaries written by Japanese soldiers. They were removed from a WWII battlefield – read on.) He would then translate the contents for military intelligence (below).
I had to tend to cooking so I lost track of the conversation. It was regretful I didn’t keep tuned in.
So back to being called over by Jack. He was sitting in his favorite blue wheelchair. He didn’t need it but it belonged to his beloved wife Carol who passed away ten years before. They married during the waning days of the war. They had been married for 55 strong years.
“So what did you want to tell me, Jack?” I asked.
He then went into his trance – one signaling evident anguish and wretched remembrances. When he went into these trances, he always started by staring at his hands while picking at his right thumbnail with his left ring finger. He would lift his once thick eyebrows then begin talking in a slow, deliberate pace, never taking his eyes off his hands.
“I went on ID patrol…” Jack whispered while ever so slightly drawing out his words.
“ID patrol? What is that?” I asked.
“They would issue six of us white caps M1’s with bayonets… Then we’d follow two Marines on a patrol into the jungle.”
“Patrol? You? You were ground crew, Jack,” I remarked.
“Ain’t enough of them (Marines) to go around on those stinkin’ islands so we got picked,” he said, still speaking in a lifeless yet pained monotone. He added, “If you got killed, you rotted real quick in that jungle heat. And if you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”
His stare doesn’t change. His eyes have glassed over. He is in a different world now – one of 70 years ago in a stifling jungle, his youthful, sweaty hands trying to grip onto his rifle while wearing a smelly steel helmet… Listening in terror for any sound that may signal a Japanese soldier concealed in ambush knowing that the enemy was just there shortly before. A world that only combat veterans understand. Thankfully, you and I never will. Never.
“The Marines had two bags – one small one and a big one. When we found one, the two Marines would stand guard. We’d hold the rifle by the butt end and use the fixed bayonet to fish out the tags.”
I then realized what he was painfully regurgitating. They were going back into the jungle to locate the dead Marines they had to leave behind after a “tussle” with the enemy as Jack liked to say – a life or death firefight. Jack was only 20 years old. The Marines were likely younger. Ponder that thought.
“We weren’t allowed to touch the dead (Marine) as the Japs would booby-trap ‘em. We’d hand over the tags hanging on the the end of the bayonet to one of the Marines who would put a tag in the small bag. They marked a map for the graves registration guys to come back later.”
Jack’s anguished delivery dimmed even further. “But we’d come across a dead Jap. Nobody cared about them so they rotted where they were. But we’d have to stick the bayonet into the rotting goo and try to fish stuff out. The prize was a pouch or a satchel. Those would go into the big duffel bag just as they were, covered with rot and maggots. We headed back to CP and that’s the last I saw of those bags,” he said.
He abruptly ended but his unconscious stare didn’t change. He was still in the jungle, scared out of his wits. He was still picking at his thumbnail all this time. His head hardly moved while he sat in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife.
I thought to myself, “Is that the end, Jack? That’s it? Why did you tell me this?” I knew not to pry any more so I kept the thoughts to myself. He was in torment already. Seventy years had passed but he was reliving the awfulness of a brutal war. Nevertheless, I wondered why he chose that time to tell me about this horrific recall of something he experienced so very young.
It bugged me for several weeks.
About a month later, I understood why Jack told me the story after I communicated with Mr. Grant Ichikawa, a more well known veteran of the famed US Army’s Military Intelligence Service and combat veteran himself. Apparently, the items they recovered from Japanese corpses were dry cleaned to remove the rotting body fluids. After getting dry cleaned, they ended up in the crates that were in the room my Dad went into once a week when he was in the Military Intelligence Service…and why the room reeked of dry cleaning.
The brief chat with my dad on Father’s Day sparked that vile memory back to life. It had been eating at him since that day. He wanted to get it off his once mightily barreled chest.
I lament to this day that an invitation to a Father’s Day dinner had resulted in an unwanted recall of horror Jack was very much trying to forget. More so, I lament he relived such horrors each night for the last 70 years of his life. Seventy years.
Jack was a great man to have endured combat in the Pacific during World War II. He was an immeasurable giant in learning to forgive – although he was never able to forget.
I miss him greatly. I thanked him for all we have when I visited him today at his grave on this glorious Memorial Day.
February 19, 1945 – Men with names like Kuwahara and Koyanagi were with the US Marines on the sands of Iwo Jima.
No, not the Japanese soldiers within the concrete fortifications led by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi of the Japanese Imperial Army. These were Americans of Japanese descent, or Japanese-Americans. Nisei. And to make matters worse, they were in the uniforms of the US Army. GI Joes. The Japanese were trying to kill them, too.
Sorry, Marines. It wasn’t all your show – lightheatedly, of course. (One of the greatest US Marines, John Basilone, CMH, Navy Cross gave his life on those black talcum powder-like sands.)
Having said that, ever watch the iconic B&W World War II classic, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”? John Wayne might just be turning over in his grave. But to his credit, the movie is one of my faves. It’s theme song, “The Marine’s Hymm”, gives me goosebumps even to this day.
The envelope immediately caught my attention. Aside from a crease, the envelope looked pristine. It was addressed to my Dad while he was in Minidoka, an Idaho prison camp where he and over 10,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned by FDR. It was postmarked September 2, 1945 – just about seven months after the bloody fight for Iwo Jima. The return address was the “War Department”.
If you’ll get past the lawyer speak, the letter says Dad is now free to go about America as he chooses.
About one thousand young Nisei men volunteered for the US Army while their families remained imprisoned in Minidoka. That’s about ten percent of the total camp’s population. Most who volunteered were from my Dad’s home state, Washington. While Dad was not one of those volunteers, 71 of these young men from Minidoka were killed fighting for the red, white and blue. Two were bestowed the Medal of Honor – posthumously. Silent patriots to this day.
“Kibei” were amongst those 1,000 men. Kibei’s were a sub-set of Nisei’s as a whole. A Kibei is a Japanese-American who actually spent time being raised in Japan. One result was they were absolutely fluent in Japanese – read, write, speak. Even slang and dirty words. No land-locked Nisei could come close. Dad was a Kibei.
But the Kibei – they formed the crucial core of the group. The most fluent. The decisive secret weapon. As luck would have it, many of these Kibei were from Hiroshima. Their fathers came to Hawaii or Washington in droves from Hiroshima for a better life – just like my Grandfather Hisakichi. (Dad is pictured here standing next to his Hiroshima home in 1947.)
MIS Kibei were the ones who intercepted and swiftly translated the Japanese Imperial Navy radio transmissions that led to the shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto’s transport. Kibei also swiftly and accurately translated captured critical secret military plans written in Japanese (“Z-Plan“) for the defense of the Marianas Islands and the Philippines; this led to the lopsided American naval victory called the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” in 1944 – as well as to the death of my Seattle-born Uncle Suetaro. My dad’s youngest brother.
Interestingly, due to continuing suspicions, the US Navy and the Marine Corps refused to enlist the Nisei. Their loss.
The cloak and dagger actions of the MIS were only declassified in the 1972 by Executive Order 11652. That’s a long time. And true to their oaths, these Nisei kept their heroics to themselves for all those decades. They sought no honor or recognition.
But back to the letter of 1945 – mailed to my Dad just seven months after the vicious fight for Iwo Jima. While my father finally volunteered for duty in February 1947 and became part of the famed MIS, his silent and patriotic Nisei brothers that preceded him hastened the end of war and saved millions of casualties – for both sides.
In recognition for their patriotism, sacrifices and loyalty, Congress bestowed upon the MIS and other Nisei who fought for the US in 2010 the Congressional Gold Medal. Two of my uncles were recipients although they had passed away.
By the way, the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal was George Washington. I believe the Nisei are in pretty good company.
No credit is being taken from the young Marines who fought and died for Iwo Jima. The Marines did take Iwo Jima with their blood…but they were not alone. About 50 Nisei MIS’ers landed in the first assault waves alongside the Marines.
Just ask Mineo Yamagata, a MIS veteran of Saipan and Tinian. He accompanied the 28th Marines to the summit of Mt. Suribachi and witnessed the flag raising.
Oh… He was from Hawaii.
Short Stories about World War II. One war. Two Countries. One Family