Tag Archives: Army

Combat! – Part 1


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Back in the very early 1960’s, my dad picked up a used B&W TV set from an appliance store’s outdoor parking lot sale at Atlantic Square in Monterey Park, CA.  It was loaded into the cavernous trunk of his 1955 Ford Victoria coupe, also bought (really) used.  He probably should have spent the money on repairing the car instead of buying that TV.  Anyways, the TV was our first one, dust covered vacuum tubes and all.  At least it turned on.

Well, mom commandeered it.  Don’t ask me why.  After all, she didn’t speak much English at all having come here just a few years earlier.

While I was able to watch The Mouseketeers, Sheriff John and Engineer Bill in the morning, the night belonged to mom.  She decided what to watch.  I don’t recall dad ever saying anything either, but then, he never did.  (ps Sheriff John read off my name during his show on my birthday.  He even pronounced it correctly.)

I remember some of “her” shows.

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“Sea Hunt”.  She loved seeing Lloyd Bridges in his swimming trunks.  (He did enlist in the Coast Guard when WWII started.)

“Rawhide”.

“The Ed Sullivan Show”.

“Have Gun – Will Travel”.

“The Lucy Show”… although I can’t figure out for the life of me how she could have laughed at the lines.  She couldn’t have possibly understood the English.  American humor is so different from that of Japan’s, too.  I guess she just laughed at her physical comedy and wacky faces.  (Another ps: I watched re-runs of the Lucy Show when I stayed in Japan for two years as a young adult.  You will be shocked to learn the lines were radically changed and replaced with dubbed Japanese which would be funny in their culture.)

Near the top of her list was the “Dean Martin Show”.  Of course, it was because of Dean Martin.  While he didn’t get into swimming trunks like Lloyd Bridges, man, she thought he was man’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe.

But sadly for dad, the show at the top of mom’s list was…  Wait for it…  Combat!

“Combat!”?  How could that be?  How could she possibly want to watch a TV series based on a war Japan just brutally lost 15 short years earlier?  Her city of Tokyo was burned to the ground in 1945 by us Americans and she was hungry all the time.   Even grandma used to call the men of the US military occupying Japan as the “invaders” or “long legs”.  Dad, a Japanese-American, was one of the invaders but definitely sans the long legs.

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Dad on the left in his summer US 8th Army uniform with two of my cousins in Hiroshima (1948). By the way, dad had one more stripe than Sgt. Saunders.

Did she know what “Little John, take the point” or “Kirby, set up your BAR over there to provide cover” meant?  Of course not.

Well, if you haven’t guessed yet as to why she loved to watch Combat!…  it was because of…  Sgt. Saunders.

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Sgt. “Chip” Saunders.  He was played by Vic Morrow.  He outdid Dean Martin and Lloyd Bridges – and my dad – by far in her epitome of manliness department.  Hell, she couldn’t even pronounce his TV name correctly: SAN-DAZU is how she pronounced it with her Japanese pronunciation.  All she saw was testosterone.  Machismo.

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Sgt. Chip Saunders. Source unknown.

Even though I was young, I vaguely remember I felt kind of odd towards dad as every time we got together with her “Nisei” lady friends, mom would rant and rave of Saunders – all in Japanese – with dad next to her.  “Daddy kara chigatte San-dazu-san wa otokopokutte kakko ii!” or translated, “Unlike dad, Saunders is so manly, rugged and handsome.  He’s a man!”  I also recall her scolding at dad every now and then in the house or car to be more “manly”.

Poor dad.

Of course, there was co-star Lt. Gil Hanley, played by Rick Jason.  She noticed him too, of course, but all she felt about him was that he was “cute” like a teen movie star – not a man’s man.

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Lieutenant Hanley on Combat!, played by Rick Jason.  Source unknown.

The other regulars were:

Pvt. William G. Kirby, who started the series with a M-1 Garand but eventually got his wish to man the BAR.  He was well played by Jack Hogan and was always getting yelled at for doing something lame-brain:

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Talkative and excitable PFC Kirby, manning his BAR, was played by Jack Hogan. Source unknown.

PFC Paul “Caje” LeMay was Saunders go-to man on patrol or in a firefight; he was played by Pierre Jalbert.  In the series, he is of Cajun heritage and comes from New Orleans where he spoke French fluently.  In real life, he was a Canadian skiing champ in his teens and was destined to ski in the Olympics.

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PFC Paul “Caje” LeMay. Source unknown.

“Little John” rounded out the long playing cast members.  His TV name was a gag; he towered over everyone else being 6′ 6″ tall.  I don’t know if it was custom made but his standard issue GI helmet fit like a condom as it looked like a tiny beanie on his head.  His real name was Dick Peabody and he wrote a column later in life which I’ll mention later.  He often wrote about the “great times” they had while shooting the episodes.

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“Little John” at left, played by Dick Peabody. To his immediate right are Caje and Kirby.

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The show was unique, even for today.  It did its best to convey the war from the GI Joe’s point of view.  Sure, the “kills” on the set were theatrical nor were the on-set explosions or artillery barrages real but it had a human streak throughout its run on TV.  It tried to convey what war was really like for the suffering civilians or the everyday soldier – well, as best it could do for TV.  Themes focused on fear, bravery, hatred, cowardice, heroism, pain and randomness of death.  Filthiness of being on the front lines without baths, crawling in mud, wading through streams with gear, protecting their buddies, killing with their bayonets and endless but deadly patrols.  As in real life, replacement soldiers were grocery clerks, dancers, used car salesmen, baseball players or worked on telephone lines.

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Induction. Source unknown.

One possible reason the show was able to convey the feelings of the everyday Joe so well was that all of these six regulars had served in the military, some during WWII itself.  “Kirby” and “Little John” served in the US Navy while “Hanley” served in the Army Air Corps (before it broke off from the US Army and became the US Air Force) during WWII.  “Caje” also served as a drill sergeant during WWII in Canada in an air training corps.  “Saunders” served in the US Navy in 1947.  It is unknown if any of them were subjected to combat.

Another bit of uniqueness was not only its early-for-its-time human interest story line but its script.  There really weren’t many spoken lines except for when it counted; just a lot of Army-based jargon otherwise but well researched.  But one funny bit of trivia at this time: one of the most oft said lines was, “Shut up, Kirby.”

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According to various articles, the men totally enjoyed “playing soldier” and getting paid for it. Here, they are actually crossing a stream.

Also adding to its TV land “realism” was that all chatter was in German between Nazi soldiers or in French between the local townspeople; there was no translation or sub-titling.  The Nazi uniforms were so well replicated by the costume folks that some Jews working at MGM’s cafeteria were upset when actors came in from the set wearing very authentic-looking Nazi uniforms (No political statement being made; just fact.)

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A scene from Episode One with “green” Hanley and combat-hardened Saunders on board a transport heading to Omaha Beach on D-Day. Note the chalk denoting “PA 142” on Hanley’s helmet (still a sergeant). They were so marked to indicate which craft the soldier was to board upon “going over the side”.

Its first episode aired on October 2, 1962, set in England a day before D-Day.  In this initial episode, both Saunders and Hanley were sergeants.  By the second episode, Hanley had gotten a battlefield promotion to lieutenant and issued his Garand M-1 Carbine.  Saunders will be issued his trademark Thompson .45 caliber machine gun.  There is a very interesting history behind who got what weapon.  Both of their helmets will change for the subsequent episodes and will become identified with them for the entire series.

Hollywood stars clamoring for guest star roles, filming schedules and behind the scenes trivia to come in Part 2.

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As with all real GI Joes in WWII, the trademark Lucky Strikes… filterless.

 

 

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue


Fortune in War

I believe there is fortune in war.

Before Pearl Harbor, the US was still not recovered from the Great Depression.  With the money printed in great quantity – as a necessity – by the US government, the US war machine rolled into action.  Many executives and businessmen taking part in this frantic and mass expenditure of government money with their companies gained their financial fortunes from this great war as did a large number of Congressmen.

The boots on the ground also had fortune – but it was MISfortune.  Misfortune fell upon the millions of brave young men who were sent to war because world leaders had their own agendas.  Millions were killed like my dad’s favorite brother, my Uncle Suetaro.

Misfortune, unfortunately, also followed home for the rest of their lives those young men who survived combat.   Men like Smitty, Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson.  Horrible nightmares each and every night.  Some succumbed to the immense weight this horrible misfortune had on their minds and ended their own lives after making it home.  Sadly, they are all being forgotten in our children’s history books.

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Our little group was afforded a day of sightseeing before leaving for Osaka/Kansai Airport in Japan, once again led by Mr. Yusuke Ota.  Here’s a small collection of sights taken in, some during the week (Clicking on an image will show you its location.):

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Mr. Kagimoto hunts for dragonflies at the  golf course we had lunch at. The facility was once for US Army officers.
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Shoeless children help their elder sell pineapples at bayside in Tacloban City.
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Meeting with beautiful wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, Christina Gonzales, a former actress. Thank goodness for our Carmela in the center: she speaks four languages fluently including Tagalog, English and Japanese.
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Villaba’s town center; the beach is off immediately to the left. Our two vans are at the right.
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(From left) Masako, Christina Gonzales and Carmela. The other young lady in red in the background is another Filipina actress.

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Mr. Ota inspects a clock tower he donated to Tacloban City; he serves as a councilman in Fukuyama City where my uncle’s regimental army base was located during the war.

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School boys at Old Kawayan City, Leyte.
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At Albuera, Leyte. One of two self-destroyed Japanese howitzers can be seen behind Izumi.
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Hard life of a Filipino fisherman.
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At the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines. Engineering was provided by the Japanese.

While waiting at the Manila Airport for our connecting flight to Osaka, Mr. Ota took us to the Philippine Air Force Museum where among other items was the Type 99 Arisaka rifle Lt. Onoda kept with him for over 29 years in the Philippine jungle.  He was the last holdout from WWII:

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Epilogue

A Victory Nonetheless

Seventy years after this most brutal war in the Pacific, the same US Marines and the same Japanese military that sought to kill each other with extreme bitterness are now the closest of allies as shown in the USMC photos below.  Now, they sail together on the same US Navy ships, eat together, train together and assault the beaches here at Camp Pendleton, CA together in joint training exercises.  The same with the US Army.  My gut feeling is one of these gallant young men would die to protect the other if the unfortunate circumstances arose.

Then:

U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Bitter enemies then, U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

Today:

110215-M-0564A-030 U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)
U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. (Three US Marines on the left, two Japanese Self-Defense Forces soldiers on the right.)  DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

Uncle Suetaro lost his life and while Smitty carried the war silently for the rest of his life, they were both victorious because of the above.

It was not in vain.

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One War.  Two Countries.  One Family.

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Uncle Yutaka, taken at the Minidoka, ID “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. You can see the sub-standard wooden barracks they lived in; they only had tar paper covering the wood slat walls. Yutaka was the oldest surviving sibling but was imprisoned here during the war. My dad and cousins were also here but no picture of them is available.
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Aunt Shiz and my cousins as they leave the Tule Lake, CA “War Relocation Center”, November 1945. My best guess is she still doesn’t know for certain that her younger brother Suetaro had been taken by the Japanese Imperial Army and killed. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima where her mother Kono and older sister Michie (and her children that went on the pilgrimage) lived just three months earlier.
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Dad in his US 8th Army uniform along with Namie (center) who went on the pilgrimage and Sadako, her older sister. Dad had taken them Spam and C-rations plus clothing he bought at the PX in Tokyo.  April 1948, Miyajima, Japan.
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Uncle Suetaro’s official death certificate from the remnants of the Japanese military. It was dated October 15, 1947, less than two months before my dad arrived as a US Army sergeant for the Occupation of Japan.

My Thoughts of the Experience

I cannot speak for Masako or my other cousins but what you believe in is almighty.  Hope.  Fear.  Happiness.  Sadness.  I experienced all those during the pilgrimage to Leyte.

While listening to Masako’s tender letter to Uncle Suetaro, a feeling of deep regrets and the dashing of hope experienced by Grandmother Kono buried me.  My heart could see Grandmother’s face in silent torment, resting in Masako’s arms in 1954 as she drew her last breath in the Kanemoto family home.

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Grandma Kono at her Seattle barbershop, circa 1917. A forlorn Grandma and Masako, sometime after learning of Suetaro’s death, circa 1948. Grandma would pass away in this very home six years later.

Just like most American mothers, Grandmother must have clung on to a hope – however dim – that her youngest son Suetaro would come home… the one she decided to keep from returning to Seattle in 1940 so that he could carry on the Kanemoto name and inherit the home and land. That was not to be now. It would have been better to have let him go home. Her son would be alive.

But perhaps Uncle Suetaro would have ended up in the same prison camps that my dad, aunts and uncles were in but would still be alive.  Or, he would have answered the call out of camp and volunteered for the US Army as thousands of other Nisei’s did to prove their loyalty, only to die in Italy or France as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.¹

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Uncle Suetaro and my dad.

I also thought about my dad often during the trek.  At 96 years of age, this journey would have been physically impossible for him.  More so, I wondered if the stirring up of fond memories of his youngest brother would do more harm than good at this stage in his life.

My 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding the ashes of Suetaro who was killed at 24 years of age.
In 2012, my then 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding Uncle Suetaro’s fingernail clippings and a lock of hair.  Uncle Suetaro was killed also at 24 years of age.

I also felt more deeply the quandary confronting Uncle Suetaro when he was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army.  The decision he had to make to knowingly fight the country your siblings were living in as Americans… and the country he most dearly wanted to return to.  However, he wrote in his farewell letter that he will fight to free his older siblings from the prisons FDR sent them to.

Also in his heart and in that of his mother, both knew this was a one-way trip.  A death sentence.  Japanese soldiers rarely returned from war.  In the case of his IJA’s 41st Regiment, only 20 young men returned home out of 2,550.

I’m sure just like any other American boy, he wanted a life that was worth living, a life filled with feelings, emotions, love and dreams.  That would never happen and it pains me without end.

Before he met his death, was he drowned in futility or solace?  Did he see death up close and come to the stark realization that would be his future perhaps tomorrow?  What did he dream about as he took his last breaths or was he blindly looking up at the stars hoping?  Was he dreaming about his childhood, playing on the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle with my dad?  Was he in great pain or was his death swift and without warning?  Did he see the eyes of the American soldier inches from his own eyes in a hand-to-hand combat to the death?  Was he hungry?  How terrified was he?

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A tiny photo of the two brothers, dad and Suetaro, in Hiroshima, perhaps 1928. It fell out from behind one of the pictures in Uncle Suetaro’s photo album, filled with pictures Uncle Yutaka likely mailed to him from Seattle. Although tiny, it must have been precious to Uncle Suetaro for him to have kept it. I wish I knew why.

The painful mystery of what Uncle Suetaro did, felt or saw in his last days will remain forever so…  That is one agony that will be with me until my own time comes.  Happily, we at least visited him in his unmarked graveyard among the now lusciously green vegetation with the birds endlessly singing Taps for him.

As Izumi passionately said to Uncle Suetaro’s spirit, “Come home with us.”

Indeed, he did.

He is no longer a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

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I wish to thank my Hiroshima cousins for making this unforgettable pilgrimage possible and a special thank you to Izumi whose untiring efforts to follow up on Japan-based leads brought comfort to our family.   I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to Akehira and Carmela who made dear Masako’s journey so comfortable and worry-free.  And a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Yusuke Ota whose in-depth knowledge allowed us to see our Uncle Suetaro’s last footsteps on this earth and gave Masako peace in her soul.

Most of all, Uncle, thank you for your sacrifice.  Indeed, you set your older brothers and sister free.

Rest in peace.

南無阿弥陀仏

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Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

Notes

  1.  For a summary of the all Nisei US army regiment during WWII: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/442nd_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 8


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In our pilgrimage from the photo above was then baby Kiyoshi (held by their mother Michie), Masako on the far right in a kimono and Namie standing next to her. Taken by my father in 1948 in front of the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima. The house was still not repaired from the damage caused by the atomic bomb.

“Uncle, Let’s Go Home…”

Uncle, let’s go home…  Those were the words that devotedly flowed with compassion from Masako’s daughter, Izumi, during our fourth and last memorial service on Leyte.  “Leyte Fuji” stood before her, covered in greenery that had likely been destroyed 70 years earlier.  Her voice was draped in unchained anguish and power.  Her unbridled emotions from her 心 – her heart – were felt by everyone; tears and restrained sobs were in abundance.

Me included.

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There are readers who had their fathers or other loved ones killed or imprisoned by the Japanese.  There are readers whose loved ones learned to forgive after fighting a bitter war.  There are readers who will forever despise what the Japanese did.  I certainly accept that.

While these services may be foreign in appearance, they are to honor those killed in a field of combat.  If you live in America, place yourself on the sacred grounds of Arlington…  Then you glimpse a caisson pulled past the crosses with the flag draped over a casket or taps being played with the folded flag presented to the deceased loved one with thanks given by a comrade on bended knee.

That is what these services are in substance, at least in my opinion.

Just no cemetery.

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The difference is my uncle is not in any cemetery. (US Army cemetery under construction, Leyte. US Army photo.)

Day 4 – Last Service

After the long climb down the path Japanese soldiers took in December 1944 from the town of Catagbacan, we briefly rested in a small, humble cluster of family dwellings.

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A dwelling at the foot of the path down from the mountain.  A couple of villagers climbed palm trees like the one in the center to cut down coconuts.

In an effort to help in their sustenance, Mr. Ota paid the village folks to climb up palm trees to cut down what appeared to be coconuts.  They chopped open the narrow end at an angle with a machete and we sampled it.

Soon, we retreated to the air conditioned vans, taking two villagers (including the guide with the machete) to where a motorcycle would take them back up the long, winding dirt road and home (Catagbacan).  While I was near death, these two young men weren’t winded at all.  My older cousins had also recovered nicely.  Hmm…. Am I old?

We headed to a quick outdoor lunch before continuing on to our last memorial stop: “Leyte Fuji”.

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Last Memorial Service – and the Most Emotional

As we neared the end of our journey, I had come to realize we have been reading our kind thoughts to our family members, both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura, both of whom were killed in war and left on this island.   What made it doleful is that it would have been much, much better to say these kind words to them while they were living.

But there was one anguished tone among all the letters, excepting Masako’s: we all apologized in one way, shape or form to our departed uncles for not knowing of them or even they had died in war… That we were enjoying life.  And we all shared remorse for all the young men who died here under these gruesome conditions – Japanese or American.  They took their last breaths fighting for what they believed in, smothered by depression and futility, death, disease, in unwashed and bloodied uniforms.

Indeed, what Old Man Jack told me years before and after a Father’s Day dinner became more forlorn: “If you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”

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Approximate location of “Leyte Fuji”, or Mt. Calbugos.

“Leyte Fuji” is the nickname given to Mt. Calbugos (aka Calbukos, 11.2541,124.4539) by the Japanese over the decades.  Many deaths occurred around this hilly range with the one prominent peak; while large numbers were of Japanese, American soldiers also perished as did many Filipinos.

Leyte Fuji was in clear view from the spot picked by Mr. Ota; it was at the end of a short road, in from a narrow highway.  There were some very basic dwellings and a small village store.  There were children about as there was an open air schoolroom adjacent to where we parked; it was an unpaved and decaying homemade basketball court.  Palm tree stumps were used to hold the rickety backboards made out of scrap pieces of wood.

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The outdoor classroom filled with children can be seen.

An occasional two-cycle engine’d motorcycle would putt by and the loud voices of young school children at play showed their interest was understandably elsewhere.

The sun was not bashful; the sunshine was blazing and the air sweltering.  The group did their best to setup the memorial table for the last time but a constant and mischievous hot breeze kept the photos fluttering and softly toppled the other items.

The two best “readings” were from these two fantastic ladies.  The best for last, as they say.   Every heartbreak, every torment, every regret, every loss and the feeling of shame flowed forcefully – shame that we all knew very little of these men who died.  Some did not know them at all until recently – like me and Setsu.

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Setsu wrote her letter with traditional brush and charcoal ink. Such writing can show the emotions of those writing them. Think of them as art.

While Izumi read her letter first, I choose to describe now Setsu’s passionate reading to her uncle, Lt. Nakamura.  She had chosen to write her letter on a traditional Japanese notebook with brush and charcoal ink, writing daily and filling it with her deep and unrestrained feelings.

She bowed at her uncle’s picture on the memorial table.  Leyte Fuji was dominant before her.  She began by introducing herself as his niece.  She understandably broke down a number of times.  There is no shame in that.

In one passage, she said a nurse had stopped by her grandmother’s house after war’s end.  The nurse said she had went with Lt. Nakamura to dockside to send him off… and that he told this nurse he should be on the next ship and coming home soon.  Even after she received official notification after war’s end that he was declared dead on July 15, 1945, she probably continued to believe he would still come home… just like my Grandmother Kono.

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The peak of Leyte Fuji.  Many people died on this now green land.  Just realizing there are unburied bones humbled me incredibly.

In another passage, she talked about her father (Nakamura’s brother) that when he went off to war, he knew in his heart Lt. Nakamura would never be coming home.  She felt tremendous anguish knowing her father suffered such a burden for so many years.

A much shortened video of Setsu’s letter:

Setsu’s letter was very eloquently read in spite of overflowing emotions.  It simply brought many to tears; Masako had to sit down, apparently overcome with the sadness and heat.

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Of my Hiroshima cousins, I have communicated with Izumi the most.  The only daughter of Masako, she looks after Masako in spite of working six days a week as a pre-school teacher and raising her beautiful daughter, Yuu-chan.  She is a most caring person and feels for others.

It is with Izumi this trek for Uncle Suetaro’s hidden life and death began in 2010.  My then seven year old daughter Brooke was snooping in my dad’s closet at his assisted living apartment when she stumbled across my dad’s small box.  She had opened it up and brought out a photo of a Japanese soldier.  I thought, “Gee, that’s odd,” as I knew my dad was US Army.  So I showed my then 91 year old dad the picture of the Japanese soldier and asked him, “Who’s this?”

He quickly replied, “Sue-boh (pronounced SUE – e – boh).”

“Sue-boh?  Who’s that?” I asked.

“My brother.  He was killed.”

And so the journey began, culminating in Izumi’s passionate reading of her letter to Uncle Suetaro below.

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Screenshots of video I took of Izumi emotionally reading her letter to Uncle Suetaro. Her video will be kept private.
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How the scene appeared on July 22, 2015.  You can see the makeshift basketball hoop in the background. We all freely broke down.

Preceded by a short, softly spoken message from Namie, trying to summarize Izumi’s well-written letter afire with emotions by using words is not possible; yet, I will try to summarize her words here and how it was delivered:

“Dear Uncle Suetaro,

We have come together at last…  I have come to take you home…”

Five years of pent up emotions burst forth. Her emotions overcame her and sadness showed itself through her broken voice and tears.  Indeed, after we all heard her say “take you home” to our forgotten uncle, the flood gates opened for everyone.

“You still have family in America…  When Koji asked me about you, I was so ashamed as I knew nothing…  Since then, you have become deeply entrenched in my heart and soul, day in and day out…  You are forever in my mind…”

She paused to try and collect herself.  She was only partially successful; it was clear that for her, this was a cleansing, a purging of sorrow, regret and happiness that had amassed over the last five years.

“With the unending patience from Mr. Ota, I learned of your hardships…  Of how you arrived here for war… Your battles and final days.

After learning of your sacrifice for your (American) family as well as Japan, I said to Koji, Masako and my aunts, ‘We must go to Leyte’… and now, we are finally here with you…  I have now heard your voice, was touched by your heavenly soul and heard of how kind and gentle of a young man you were…”

She paused again to collect herself and continued with her magnificent reading.

“Last year, my mother was hardly able to walk.  After memories of you from 70 years ago were stirred up, my mother said you beckoned her here… and she is now here, dismissing her bad legs and all from her mind, to be with you here and to honor you on this land…

And to all of your fellow 41st Regiment soldiers who died, you had to do your duty seven decades ago and you did that with tremendous fortitude and courage…  Your bravery has seeped into me…

To the souls of the 41st Regiment and Uncle Suetaro, let’s go home together…

Love, Izumi”

Nobody had Puffs…  Even then, several boxes would have been required.

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Our group with the memorial table before us and Fuji Leyte behind. Yes, brave and young men were killed on this very ground.
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Masako and Izumi, their pilgrimage to seek out Uncle Suetaro ending in front of Leyte Fuji.

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Indeed, Izumi’s thoughts were righteous.

We did take him home – some took him home to Japan.

I took him back to America where he was born and where his two older brothers and sister lived as he died.

Epilogue to follow.

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Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Epilogues

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 7


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A Marine protecting Vietnamese children. This may be an AP photo.

I have a number of good friends who went to Viet Nam, another ugly war.  Without going into politics, my thoughts while on Leyte also went to these friends who fought on or were stationed in Viet Nam.

Unlike a certain former president, my buds did not evade the draft… or avoid, whichever term you prefer.  My friends did their duty.  When they got drafted, they reported for duty as any American man should have.

But while I certainly appreciate their sacrifices, nothing in what I’ve read gave a hint about the climate THEY in Viet Nam had to fight and survive in.  Having been on Leyte, I can now more fully sense it was indescribably WORSE than what was written, if any.

Just like for Uncle Suetaro and Smitty, their days were grueling and a throwback to the times of cavemen.  Nightfall brought very little relief in temperature or humidity.  If my friends were at a fire base in the Vietnamese jungles, they went on for days without showers or even toilets.  New, laundered dungarees?  Dry feet during the monsoons?  No.

When I got back to LA and got over my jet lag, I called several of them to thank them even more and explained I more fully appreciate their sacrifices of their youth for the rotten conditions under which they faithfully fulfilled their duties.  One also had a father who was gunner on a Liberator in the sweltering SWP as well.  (There are a number of bloggers I know that I did not call but you know who you are.  Thank you.)

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Masako and Namie during a lighter moment. Clouds gave us a brief relief from the oppressive heat – but not the humidity.

Day 4 – Villaba

After chowing down in the morning, we piled into our well-driven vans once again.  We headed north towards Villaba on the same road that Uncle Suetaro marched up in October 1944 to Carigara but back then, it was mostly dirt – or mud.  They also had use of undetermined vehicles but the road offered no protection from US airpower from which rained bombs and strafing runs.  US planes dominated the skies.

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A muddy road on Leyte; the mud would become much worse. USMC photo.

In addition, their march north was hampered by attacks from US-supplied Filipino guerrillas.  They would blow up parts of the road that were at most merely passable.  In addition to slippery, oozing mud (see above), the Japanese were forced to go off the main road to bypass the destroyed sections.  This implies, for example, that since Uncle Suetaro’s platoon was hauling their 37mm cannons, they would be forced to break down the artillery pieces into the two wheels and cannon barrel sections to carry it over blown up section of road… in addition to lugging their shells and ammunition.

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On our way north towards Cananga, Mr. Ota spotted a “Jack Fruit” at roadside; we had never seen a fruit this big before.  Have you?  It must be the Fat Albert of the fruit world.

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The enormity of the Jack Fruit is apparent with Setsu standing next to it.

Passerbys were equally bewildered by our “touristy-ness”, it seems.  We definitely caught their attention.

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I believe this little motorcycle is powered by a 125cc two-cycle engine. Scenes like this were commonplace on Leyte.

Third Memorial Service

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Detailed road maps of this area of Leyte are hard to find nor would my GPS work; as such, all locations indicated are approximate.

After veering off from a town called Cananga, we headed northwest.  We stopped at an older memorial (indicated by #3 above) erected by a Japanese citizen many years ago.  It had not been maintained but amazingly rested in between two dwellings.  Unfortunately, it was erected just yards away from the street.

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Busy preparing for the service. The incense is already going.
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Tribute to Uncle Suetaro along with food offerings. The origami cranes (folded paper art) are from the Hiroshima Peace Park.
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Tribute to Setsu’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura. He was one of the last 268 survivors before they met their deaths near here.

At this service, my cousin Kiyoshi read his letter to Uncle Suetaro.

Dripping in perspiration, Kiyoshi was incredibly strong emotionally reading his letter to his uncle that he was never able to meet.  In his letter, Kiyoshi introduced himself to his Uncle Suetaro and that they were finally able to meet here.  Kiyoshi hoped that Uncle Suetaro was not lonely as no one had come to see him in these past 70 years and to please forgive us.  He explained he was the last child of Suetaro’s older sister Michie and that it is said he was born in Suetaro’s place after his death.  Because of Michie’s strength and devotion, all of her children are living long lives.  He closed by saying we will always remember his life and sacrifices then bowed reverently.

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Kiyoshi bows reverently while perspiration runs down his face.

After closing the ceremony, we once again handed out the food to the local children and families who were very grateful and friendly.

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This is where the young mother and daughter were photographed and shown in Part 1.

Again, like the low decibel thunder we heard after I read my letters, we soon saw a sign that Uncle Suetaro heard Kiyoshi and Namie: a rainbow appeared overhead, spotted by Izumi.  It was very fulfilling for us to see.

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It’s a badly exposed cell phone pic; sorry.
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The young man at the upper right is Mr. Ota’s teen-aged son, Daichi.

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We then headed towards the Mt. Canguipot area, a smaller hill just east of the town of Villaba (see map above).  It is said many Japanese soldiers closed their eyes for the last time while looking at Mt. Canguipot.  I understand Ms. Setsu Teraoka’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura, died here in its shadow, possibly during the last “banzai” charges against the US 1st Cavalry on December 31, 1944.

Our drivers, under Mr. Ota’s accurate GPS-assisted directions, wormed their way up a hidden dirt road – a very uneven and narrow hidden dirt road.  My belly was wider than the road.  Frankly, I don’t know how Mr. Ota even remembered where this road was except it was slightly south of the actual seaside town of Villaba.  This is where we saw the adorable little village girl running alongside us.

After bumping and thumping up the road in the vans engineered for city driving, we ended up at a very small clearing found at the crest in a small town called Catagbacan (marked by “school” in the map above).  We disembarked with all the village folk staring at us; there were a number of poor, scraggly dogs roaming about, their skin badly infected from incessant scratching of their numerous mosquito bites.  My two daughters would have been devastated if they had seen them.

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Mr. Ota leads us down the dirt and stone path towards the dark clouds which signify the gods overlooking Mt. Canguipot.

Mr. Ota led our party down a dirt path; after a distance, the peak of Mt. Canguipot veiled in dark clouds assembled by the Japanese gods began to peer down on our little pilgrimage.  Perhaps they were beckoning us.

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The peak of Mt. Canguipot.  Mr. Ota is at left, explaining to our group the last days of the 41st Regiment.

Nearing the end of the trail, Mr. Ota explained to us what happened around Mt. Canguipot, which included Lt. Nakamura.  He had collected this detailed information through many years of dedicated research including interviews of a couple of survivors.  Their last coordinated attacks were recorded to be on December 31, 1944. (See US battle notes below.)

After offering our Buddhist prayers to the souls, we headed back up the incline.  Masako doggedly kept up with us.

c-10-512We crossed through Catagbacan’s center and into their small elementary school, partially rebuilt after Typhoon Yolanda.  It was a large spread, with its natural sprawling beauty.  Mr. Ota explained that the last remaining rag tag survivors of the 41st Regiment had assembled in this spot along with others.  (One report said there were 268 in total.)

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Masako and I catch up to our party awaiting us at the Catagbacan Elementary School.

The Path

Mr. Ota had explained that every single night, a couple of the most capable men would walk down the hill under the cover of darkness to the shoreline in Balite.  They had heard rumors that the Japanese Navy was arranging for their evacuation.  The boats never came and therefore, they were never rescued. (For details of their hopes on being evacuated yet tragic and ultimate futility, please see my A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle.)

I was then duped into taking a “short” trek down to the shore area from this peak by Masako’s daughter, Izumi.  (She and my son did the same thing to me in Japan, tricking me into climbing Mt. Misen in Hiroshima.  I will get even!) She said, “Koji-san, let’s go (to your death is what I thought)!”

While Masako, escorted by Carmela, wisely made the decision to return to the nice air conditioned van, Mr. Ota had hired a young man to lead us down the path taken by the Japanese soldiers in December, 1944.  Hint of the things to come: he had a machete to cut through the growth, not a Black & Decker portable trimmer with rechargeable lithium batteries.  We exited through the backside of the school, never to be seen by humanity again.  Just kidding.

The trek down the path was through abundant natural growth and sweltering humidity.  Passing through shaded areas provided no relief; in fact, in some spots, the humidity had become entrapped by the vegetation.  Nothing better than natural saunas.

Yes, I was the straggler but my excuse was I was lugging my back pack laden with 100 pounds of camera equipment.  Just kidding; I’m just a SoCal wuse.  Even Namie and Tomiko were ahead of me as we neared the shoreline.  Notice the guide had made them walking sticks out of branches he cut down along the way.

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Namie in front negotiating the incline aided by the walking stick cut by the guide with his machete.

I had wilted once again on this trek; Mr. Ota said it was about 2-3 kilometers.  (I shall get even, Izumi-san!)  But seriously, what I thought about was how emaciated and very thirsty soldiers – without medical provisions either – did this night after night for a couple of weeks in hopes of spotting Japanese Navy rescue boats.  I understand a vast number of these “boats” were actually commandeered Filipino hollowed-out canoes with pontoons.

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“Jungle rot”

For those soldiers in December of 1944, it was desperation to survive and return home; I have never experienced this.  In fact, after being abandoned on this island by their own military, it would have been easy to be overcome by hopelessness and depression.  However, in a testament to their fortitude and determination, I was (plenty) fed, had bottled mineral water and dry shoes, socks and feet; yet, I was still pretty beat up.  They likely were infected with jungle rot, dysentery, malaria, infected wounds…  This went for all military on that island, Japanese or US (who likely had access to medical care however basic).

Remember: not only did they climb down, they had to climb back up before dawn in their emaciated condition.  Still, the thick growth effectively covered their movements during the day offering some protection against US airpower.  They could also easily duck into the bush if need be to avoid being detected.

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A dwelling near the shoreline.

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By this time in December 1944, death was the rule which governed their existence; surviving until this time was the exception. Yet, in spite of starvation, thirst, illness and depression, these last few soldiers survived, only to perish here due to their inability to surrender.

Two powerful letters and emotion-laden deliveries by Izumi and Setsu will mark the last service.

You will definitely shed a tear or two.

To be continued in Part 8.

_______________________________________

Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

US BATTLE NOTES (from Leyte: The Return to the Philippines by M. Hamlin Cannon):

The US 1st Cavalry Division

With the clearing of Highway 2 and the junction of the X and XXIV Corps at a point just south of Kananga, the 1st Cavalry Division was in readiness to push toward the west coast in conjunction with assaults by the 77th Division on its left and the 32d Division on its right. The troops were on a 2,500-yard front along Highway 2 between Kananga and Lonoy.

On the morning of 23 December the assault units of the 1st Cavalry Division moved out from the highway and started west. None encountered any resistance. The 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry, established a night perimeter on a ridge about 1,400 yards slightly northwest of Kananga. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, set up a night perimeter 1,000 yards north of that of the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry, while the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, dug in for the night on a line with the other two squadrons.

This first day’s march set the pattern for the next several days. The regiments pushed steadily forward, meeting only scattered resistance. The chief obstacles were waist-deep swamps in the zone of the 12th Cavalry. These were waded on 24 December. The tangled vegetation and sharp, precipitous ridges that were henceforward encountered also made the passage slow and difficult.

On 28 December, the foremost elements of the 5th and 12th Cavalry Regiments broke out of the mountains and reached the barrio of Tibur on the west coast, about 2,800 yards north of Abijao. By nightfall on the following day, the 7th Cavalry was also on the west coast but farther north. In its advance it had encountered and destroyed many small, scattered groups of the enemy, most of whom showed little desire to fight. The regiment arrived at Villaba, two and one-half miles north of Tibur, at dusk, and in securing the town killed thirty-five Japanese.

During the early morning hours of 31 December, the Japanese launched four counterattacks against the forces at Villaba. Each started with a bugle call, the first attack beginning at 0230 and the final one at dawn. An estimated 500 of the enemy, armed with mortars, machine guns, and rifles, participated in the assaults, but the American artillery stopped the Japanese and their forces scattered. On 31 December, the 77th Division began to relieve the elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, which moved back to Kananga.

On the morning of the 30th of December, the 7th Cavalry had made physical contact northeast of Villaba with the 127th Infantry, 32d Division, which had been driving to the west coast north of the 1st Cavalry Division.

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6


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Title screen for “Victory at Sea”, a National Broadcasting Company’s TV documentary series produced with cooperation from the US Navy. Its first of 26 episodes began airing in 1952.

My LA cousins held a third anniversary Buddhist memorial service for our Aunt Shiz today (August 15, 2015), ironically the day 70 years ago that Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his citizens that Japan was surrendering.

I was reporting in person to my LA cousins of our pilgrimage to Leyte as well.  Bessie, my cousin and Aunt Shiz’s only daughter, shared with me something about her mom that echoed of the reason for the pilgrimage.

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Taken in Seattle, circa 1925. From top right, clockwise: Grandma Kono, Aunt Shiz with hands on Uncle Suetaro, Dad, and Aunt Mieko.

She told me Aunt Shiz used to watch “Victory at Sea” on the TV for years.  “Mom, why do you always watch it?” she asked.

Aunt Shiz replied, “Because I may get a glimpse of Sue-boh…”

Think of the irony.  Aunt Shiz was watching a US Navy-backed documentary series of our WWII victory over Japan… in hopes of seeing her youngest brother captured on some US movie footage.

Indeed… One war.  Two countries.  One family.

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Day 3 – Evening / Break Neck Ridge

After the memorial service during which I read my letters, we went up a winding road.  The road had a few stetches where it had given way and slid down the side of the hill.  Sure kept my attention but our drivers were excellent.

We then made a stop near the crest of a hill: we were at the actual Break Neck Ridge battle site.¹

c-10-475There was a flight of uneven concrete and dirt stairs to the top; a hand rail was on one side only yet our firmly driven Masako-san unhesitatingly took on the challenge and strongly made the climb.

Once on top of the hill, you could not help but notice you were surrounded by the sounds of insects hidden in the tall grass and birds singing as the sun once again played hide and seek.  Standing at the crest gave you a sweeping view of the terrain.  Indeed, the Japanese defenders had the advantage, costing many American casualties.

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Post-battle view down from Break Neck Ridge.  Note the absence of palm trees in the near foreground. The hillsides had been nearly denuded of palm trees and other larger plants from the extensive shelling.  US Army photo.

My July 2015 photo from about a similar location:

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A photo I took from atop Break Neck Ridge on July 21, 2015.  A number of palm trees can now be easily seen having 70 years to grow back, hiding once again the death filled terrain below.

According to Mr. Ota and US battle reports, the US would continually shell the hillsides to soften up Japanese defensive positions.  However, when the shelling or bombing would begin, the Japanese soldiers would temporarily abandon their weapons and via established and well camouflaged foot trails or tunnels, run to the backside of the hill.  There, they were shielded against the shelling.  Once the barrage or bombing would lift, they would scamper back to their defensive positions and await the US soldiers advancing up the hill.

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Masako’s daughter Izumi with Mr. Ota’s backside on the left.  Some of the grass to the right is taller than her.

There was also another short climb off to the right.  The vegetation was thicker, chest high in some places and the grass’ sharp edges irritated your exposed legs as you walked through.  To give you a small sense of the surroundings, Mr. Ota is speaking of the defensive advantage and Mr. Kagimoto is coming back down the smaller hill, flanked by the vegetation.  The height of the grasses can be easily judged; they’re having a slight drought, by the way:

While American memorials were absent, there were a number of Japanese ones:

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The memorial on the right simply states, “Eternal love. Eternal peace.”
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Masako-san offers up a prayer atop Break Neck Ridge.

We said some prayers for those who are still on this island and made our way back down.

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Ormoc City and Port

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Japanese destroyer escort explodes after a US bomb hit in Ormoc Bay. November 1944.

We then headed south nearly the entire length of Leyte, down the two lane Pan-Philippine Highway towards Ormoc City and its dock.  Uncle Suetaro disembarked from his Japanese troop transport on this very dock on October 26, 1944.

The dock reaches into Ormoc Bay, the sight of tremendous life and death struggles between US airpower and Japanese shipping. Although the Allies commanded the air, MacArthur was slow to catch on that the Japanese were unloading thousands of reinforcements (including Uncle Suetaro) and supplies.  Once MacArthur caught on, it was a certain violent end to a number of troops still at sea.  Tons of critical supplies were also sent to the bottom, thereby ensuring the defeat of Japanese troops on Leyte.²

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Ormoc City and dock onto which Uncle Suetaro disembarked, circa 1945. The hotel in which we stayed was built atop the 1945 hotel location. National Archives.
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Docks at Ormoc Bay today. The Japanese ship that exploded is still sunken in the bay beyond as are many troopships. This was the view from our third story hotel balcony.

Two palm tree stumps across the street from the hotel are left from the war; dozens of bullet holes pepper the two trunks.  The yellow steel fencing can also be seen in the lower right of my photo above to help give a sense of where these tree trunks are.

c-10-491After all took very quick and much needed showers, we enjoyed an informal dinner outdoors, ordering local grilled items from a mother-daughter food stand.  It was still quite warm and therefore steamy but a jovial mood took over after a long day.  I didn’t quite know what everything was but my cousins – who had very little food for years – happily dined on whatever was brought out.

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The first (silly) question of the night: Who wants beer?!

After talking about the events of the day and on our way back to the hotel, Carmela encouraged all five ladies to experience a group ride on a “tricycle”, which is a 125cc motorcycle with an ungainly but colorfully decorated side car.  The only time I’ve seen girls more giddy was when I took my Little Cake Boss and friends mall shopping – twice.

c-10-493Remember how lots of college kids would pile into on phone booth?  Well, those college kids would have been proud.  All five ladies piled in!

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Five giddy ladies piled into one tricycle. You would think it was the beer.

While we all had a wonderful, relaxing evening alongside Ormoc Bay, I am sure each realized that both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura had begun their march to their deaths from these very grounds on October 26, 1944.

The final memorial services for our graveless souls in Part 7.

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Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

NOTES:

  1. For those interested, this link will take you to an actual WWII “Military Intelligence Bulletin”.  Dated April 1945, there is a section of the battle including descriptions of the tactics and dangers of fighting on that series of ridges.  Interestingly, the publication was issued by G-2, Military Intelligence.  My dad was part of G-2 albeit postwar.  Please click here.
  2. The critical Gulf of Leyte sea battle took place between October 23 and October 26, 1944, when Uncle Suetaro was en route to Ormoc Bay.  Through critical US ship identification errors by the then superior Imperial Japanese Navy force (including the battleship Yamato), they engaged Taffy 3, a small defensive US naval force.  Although the battle had been won tactically by the Japanese, they inexplicably turned back.  A CGI recap is here on youtube.

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5


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Masako and my dad in his US Army uniform at Miyajima, Hiroshima. 1947.

“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”

— Herbert Hoover

As we left the Mainit River bridge and our first memorial service behind, a deep somber prevailed.  We had been walking over a solemn graveyard, one without gravestones or markers.  There was no honored archway signaling you are entering a resting place for brave soldiers who were once farm boys, clerks or musicians before clashing with the ghastly violence caused by failed leaders.  Indeed, this graveyard had no boundary but it was timeless.

All these young men – American or Japanese – were forced to fight one another.  Perhaps many fought those in front of them out of bred hatred but I believe all fought for what was behind them: their respective countries and families… some who would never know of their names let alone died.

I was one of them until five years ago.

A bugler played taps in my heart.

We were their funeral procession.

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Day 3 – Afternoon

With the first somber memorial service experience behind us, we headed back to the parked vans.  As we approached the dwelling, we handed the food and cigarettes to the awaiting families.

The drivers were kind enough to have started the engines back up and had turned the air conditioning going.  Being a southern California boy, I had wilted in the heat and humidity.  Even the Wicked Witch of the West would have melted from all the perspiration that had soaked my t-shirt.  Heck, Dorothy would have been spared.

We headed north up towards Carigara Bay but a short distance later, we stopped in front of an elementary school in Tunga.

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Tunga Elementary School

It turns out, the 41st Regiment had set up a field CP here.  And Uncle Suetaro did double-time it past this location on his southward march to Jaro from Carigara to engage the US Army.

Its principal came out to greet us and say hi.  She was a cheerful lady although having survived the typhoon.  She indicated the school had been literally blown away.  Fortunately, a Taiwan church foundation supplied the funds to rebuild most of it.

Before reaching the vast playground, we came across this.

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Fuse end of an unexploded American bomb, possibly a 250 pounder as Akehira looks on while wiping perspiration off his face. The school now uses it as a gong. Man, it was loud.

We got back into our two white Toyota vans; their black limo tint was a necessity but it made for hard picture taking, especially from a moving van.

Soon, we came upon Carigara Bay; its blueness quickly greeted us as we drove in and out of sunlight due to some cloud cover that was developing.  It was a signal as you will read later.

We veered off the main road at some point and into a village of rice farmers.  Living conditions were very basic, down to the dirt and gravel road.

We stopped in front of a dwelling; in my imperfect Japanese, I understood a village elder lived there and that Mr. Ota knew him.  It was then I found out it was the site of our second memorial service…and my time up to the podium.

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We were at Hill 517, part of the savage Breakneck Ridge battle.

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A map provided by Mr. Ota to our pilgrimage group. Also published on his blog here.

As we prepared for the ceremony, some dark clouds had reappeared beyond Breakneck Ridge in our background allowing the hot sun to play hide and seek.  Yet in comparison to 71 years ago, the scene was entirely absent of death and violence – combat that took many lives over two weeks.

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The crest of Hill 517 can be seen, veiled by darkening clouds. Such a beautiful landscape…

As earlier that morning, our group began to set up the memorial table as before, adorned with photographs, food, incense and osake:

c-10-472At the right front, next to the photographs of my Uncle Suetaro are pictures of “Smitty”, the father of blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper on WordPress.  An established blogger, gpcox and I have a special kinship that began soon after I began to blog myself as her father – a member of the famed 11th Airborne – arrived on Leyte just a couple weeks after my Uncle Suetaro did.  While he first fought his counterpart Japanese paratroopers at Burauen – and while the chances are remote that he and my Uncle faced each other in battle – they were not far from each other on this small island in the sweltering Southwest Pacific had my Uncle survived Jaro.

c-10-485She was gracious enough to write a letter to Smitty for me to read during the memorial service.  Yes, I had the honor to read two letters… both in each soldier’s memory, honor and peace.  I feel it unbelievable that gpcox and I are friends considering Smitty and my Uncle were fighting each other in a most bitter war.¹

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A very warm but moist wind began to swirl about us as our second service began with Hill 517 in front of us but beyond the green rice seedlings.  The photographs of our fallen family seemed to do a joyful ballet in the breeze.  I think they were speaking to us.

Mr. Kagimoto once again led our chanting and did a marvelous job.

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Ms. Teraoka’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura, is also on the memorial table. He survived for months only to be killed in action towards the end with the tattered regimental flag tied around his waist.
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Cousin Tomiko offers gassho and incense to the fallen soldiers. At the time of the atomic blast, she was inside her home which toppled above her.

It became time for me to read my letters.  I was hoping to not insult any of my Japanese family and friends but I determined just to do what I believed to be proper.

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So peaceful, so beautiful.

I bowed to my group and said in my poor Japanese to please indulge me while I read two letters: one from Smitty’s daughter and one from myself to Uncle Suetaro.  I explained Smitty was a US paratrooper and that he had fought the same Imperial Japanese Army that Uncle was in on this now peaceful island.  However, after hostilities ended, he respected the Japanese and the Nisei and never said a negative word… that in fact, he had praise for my father’s US 8th Army unit comprised of Nisei’s.¹

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A screenshot from a video Masako’s daughter Izumi was kind enough to take. As it cannot be edited, I’ve only shared it with gpcox.

Everyday, you feel anger, happiness, frustration… but they all paled compared to what was being conjured up inside me at that moment.

Reading each letter was tough; I didn’t take Puffs with me to the Philippines although I had considered it.  It took me five minutes to read the two short letters.  My voice trembled and cracked in between the constant sniffling – especially when gpcox wrote in her letter that she wished her father and the rest of the 11th Airborne would receive this letter and spend their next lives in eternal peace.

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Dad sitting in front of MacArthur’s GHQ in Tokyo 1947. Judging by the date, the remnants of the Japanese military had officially just informed his mother in October 1947 that Suetaro would not be coming home.

At the same time, I felt so peculiar reading the letters in English to my uncle, who wrote in his farewell letter to my grandmother that he would fight as a Japanese soldier to free my dad from the US prisons.  I think only Izumi understood part of what I said.

I did open it with a couple of sentences in Japanese, saying how blessed I was to have been able to receive a wonderfully smelling lunch on the plane, knowing he had so very little to eat… that I was embarrassed to have not known of him until 2010.  It was very hard to say to Suetaro that even up to last year my dad would ask me, “… and how is Sue-boh?”, as he fondly nicknamed him.  Each time, I would tell Dad you were still here on Leyte…and his face and especially his eyes would become very sad.  But Dad would then again ask me five minutes later, “How is Sue-boh?”

That was the toughest part of reading my letter to Uncle Suetaro.  Dad’s bond with him was so deep that his mind won’t accept that his favorite brother fought and died on Leyte to free them.

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The Heavens Heard

Soon after my reading was completed, the clouds that had collected over Hill 517 began to thunder…  Low but discernible rumbles.

But there is a deep meaning to that thunder for the Japanese as I was to find out.  As we concluded the ceremony, Izumi asked me in Japanese, “Koji-san, did you hear the thunder?” to which I replied yes.

“That means the heavens had heard you… and that Suetaro did, too.”

I believe her.  Both our eyes watered with happiness.

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A group shot after our ceremony near Hill 517. The clouds that had released the thunder are now also leaving us, another signal the heavens heard us.

Part 6 is HERE.

__________________________________________

Other chapters are listed here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

NOTES:

1     Everett “Smitty” Smith survived the combat and was the first unit to go onto the Japanese homeland on August 30, 1945 for the Occupation of Japan.  I believe his unit actually jumped the gun a bit but he was there at the Atsugi Airbase when MacArthur and his corn cob pipe first landed as conquerer a few hours later.  I hope gpcox won’t mind but to show you Smitty’s character, an excerpt from one of her blogs:

“Upon returning home from Japan, my father and several other troopers from the 11th A/B, including two Nisei, went to a saloon to celebrate their return to San Francisco and the good ole U.S. of A. The drinks were put up on the bar, free of charge for returning veterans, and Smitty began to distribute them. He said he stopped laughing and talking just long enough to realize that he was two drinks shy of what he ordered. He knew right off what it was all about, but he tried to control that infamous temper of his, and said something to the effect of “Hey, I think you forgot a couple over here.” The reply came back in a growl, “We don’t serve their kind in here.” Dad said he was not sorry that lost control, he told me, “I began to rant things like, ‘don’t you know what they’ve been through?’ and ‘what the hell’s wrong with you?’”

By this time, the other troopers had heard Smitty yelling and it did not take them long to figure out the scenario between my father and the bartender. No explanation was necessary. In fact, dad said the entire situation blew apart like spontaneous combustion. The drinks hit the floor and all hell broke loose. When there was not much left in the bar to destroy, they quieted down and left the established (such as it was). The men finished their celebration elsewhere. Smitty said he never knew what, if anything ever came out of the incident. He never heard of charges being filed or men reprimanded. (I’ve wondered if Norman Kihuta, who was discharged on the same date as Smitty, was there on the scene.)

For the record, a barber wouldn’t cut my Dad’s hair either – even while wearing his sergeant’s uniform emblazoned with the patch of the US 8th Army.

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3


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The “pilgrims”. Clockwise from left: Mr. Yusuke Ota, Ms. Setsu Teraoka, Tomiko, Mr. Bungo Kagimoto, Izumi, Kiyoshi, Masako and Namie.

Experiencing this heat and humidity was one of my personal goals for this pilgrimage.  No history book on the Battle for Leyte could ever truly convey the endurance each soldier – American or Japanese – put up in order to stay alive given the climate, kill the enemy and go back home.

It was all out war… A war that fumbling politicians caused or created with their own personal agendas .  Even though failing, Roosevelt, Tojo, Hitler and Churchill didn’t have to go to Leyte to potentially lose their own lives.  They sent young, vibrant boys and men in their stead to fight and die in this climate unsuited for violent life and death struggles.

Millions of other people died, too.

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Day 2

(Note: by clicking on most of the images, you can see the location on a map.)

Although early in the morning, the sun was already unforgiving.  In reacting to the humidity, your body begins to perspire just standing there in the open-air lobby.  Once you step out of the shade, rays come down on you so searingly that you wouldn’t need a microwave to zap popcorn.  Just leave the Orville Redenbacher bag out on the sidewalk for a few minutes.  I’m not kidding – and I live in LA.

I thought I was a whiz kid by bringing along one of those microfiber drying cloths you use when wiping off your car after washing it.  You know it can soak up Lake Michigan and not drip one drop.  Well, it was useless in this heat.  It also wasn’t anti-odor. 🙂

As we awaited our vans, I also noticed the ladies were all wearing long sleeve over-shirts.  In this heat?  Odd.  So I asked my cousin Masako why she put on additional shirts given it was so hot.

She said that it was because they didn’t want to get dark.

Oh well.

(They put on gloves, too.)

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MacArthur Landing Memorial Park

c-10-440Our first official stop was MacArthur Landing Memorial Park; it is in Palo and was codenamed “Red Beach” for the invasion of Leyte on October 20, 1944.  This is where MacArthur waded ashore then broadcast his speech to the Filipinos of, “I have returned.”

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My cousins are in the background viewing the memorial.
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Cousins Tomiko and Masako taking in the sight.

Well, actually, he had returned at least three times by the time he made his broadcast.  You see, he waded ashore at least three times (not sure of actual count but at least three) to ensure he got the best possible photo and news coverage.

To his credit, though, there still was small arms fire around the area.

Proof of at least one other wading attempt by MacArthur:

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National Archives.

Notice Philippines President Osmena (in the jungle hat) is to the left of MacArthur in the above image; yet, in the memorial, he is on MacArthur’s right.

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Hill 522

Our next stop was “Hill 522 (see notes)”.¹  Essentially, this high ground was critical to saving US lives as it commanded a sweeping view of the landing beaches and ground inland.  It was called Hill 522 as it was 522′ high.

Leyte’s temperatures do not vary extensively during the year; on this day, my cell phone said it was 89F.   If it were this hot on October 20, 1944, the US soldiers and Filipino guerrillas faced a daunting task slogging up that hill with full packs, weapons and ammunition…  Never mind they were being shot at.  The same for the Japanese soldiers scrambling up to reinforce their positions.

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This is how Hill 522 looks like today from street level; you cannot see the peak from here. The stairs up to the top begin between the blue and beige structures. Akehira is to the right with his back to us and a towel wrapped around his neck. One of the vans we rode in is on his right.

c-10-446We walked past a little village girl; the journey up the hill begins:

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Gotta hand it to my cousin Masako; she’s in the striped shirt with a backpack.

Just half a year earlier, Masako had tremendous difficulty just walking… but after visiting the shrine, she felt that Uncle Suetaro was calling her to visit him on Leyte and began to strengthen her legs with exercise.  This would be her first true test.

It leveled off for about 30 yards before climbing once again.  We passed some homes:

Distinctive odors signaled the absence of an established sewage system.  I now had a first hand idea of what Old Man Jack always said about the islands he fought on during WWII.

After some more climbing, we came to a clearing.  With my t-shirt soaking up the world’s supply of Sparkletts water, I thought, “Dang, that wasn’t a tough climb at all!”  Wrong.

c-10-447It was a rest stop.  Duh.  My guess is that it was about 200′ up the hill.  The crest of Hill 522 was straight ahead in the picture above but you still can’t see it.  And Masako was still hanging in there.  What a driven lady she was.

Well, she and her sister Tomiko made it to about the 300′ mark before they had to retire.  What an effort, especially with her bad legs, the heat and humidity.

This is where I ran into four village children who were trailing us part of the way up the hill:

c-10-463As for me and the hop, skip and a jump to the top?  Well, this southern Californian began to fall behind, slowly but surely.  I blame it on the 100 pounds of camera equipment and the eight gallons of water I was lugging in my backpack…not.

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Where I petered out… You cans see my cousins are still climbing.

I petered out at around the 400′ mark (Just trying to make me look good.) as the heat and humidity got to me.  So I’m a wuss.  To tell you the truth, I got a bit dizzy.  In that heat, I did think of the soldiers fighting for their lives on his hill 71 years ago.  Do we even know their names?

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The view from where I petered out, looking generally south. I left the telephone line in for reference. The hill which intersects it is Catmon Hill, another vital piece of high ground that needed capture as quickly as possible. It would not be under control for several days.

Well, my older cousins Namie and Kiyoshi – along with the rest of the group – made it to the top where a large cross has been erected.  Incredible, yes?  And Namie survived the atomic bombing.  They said it afforded a commanding view of the surroundings, a testament to the combat need to take this hill.

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Hill 120

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A recreation of Lt. Mills hoisting the first flag is visible. Although hidden by the vegetation, there is also a radioman at the base of the palm tree.

After a much needed lunch and rest stop, our next destination was Hill 120². Hill 120 is still a sacred place to the Filipinos; it was here that the US flag was first hoisted above Leyte by US Army Lt. Clifford Mills.

As with many other places on Leyte, this hill was severely pummeled by the 200 mph+ winds of Typhoon Yolanda, felling several trees and ripped apart the memorial.  Given that, I was amazed at the growth that had sprung up since then.  (I also understand that before the typhoon, this memorial was in excellent shape with the landscape being pruned and structures maintained.  Leyte is still in process of bringing this site to its previous state.)

While “only” 120′ high, Masako again took on the challenge.  Because of the damage from the typhoon, some of the footing was precarious but she ambled up.  A lot of the footing was not clearly visible due to the growth.  It swallowed up your feet and legs.

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Given this vegetation is what has grown back since the typhoon, it still amazed me with its height and thickness. Grasses were chest high in some spots; walking through the vegetation left tiny thistle-like things stuck in your shoes and socks. You definitely felt the coarseness rub on your legs as you made your way through.  It was impossible to walk through it silently.  If you were a soldier, the rustling must have sounded like a fog horn.

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Hill 120 during battle. I believe we parked on the same road running diagonally through this photo.  Signal Corps photo.
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This memorial sign was recently rebuilt and put up by the Filipinos; its predecessor had been blown away and down the backside of the hill by Typhoon Yolanda.

There is one stump (below) that I could see remaining from the actual battle on October 20, 1944, pot-marked with bullet holes; my cousin Kiyoshi is walking past it:

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When compared to the previous B&W photo taken on A-Day, 1944, the ocean is somewhat in the same direction. The road we traveled is the same as in the B&W photo.

After descending back down, we walked around to the side of the hill; it was dotted with a number of privately erected memorials.  One was for the US soldiers; it was flanked by unexploded bomb casings.

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It reads, “In grateful memory of the unknown American soldiers who with untold magnanimity and valiance fought and paid the the supreme sacrifice on this foreign shore to liberate a people foreign to them.”

Several others were for Japanese soldiers, all privately erected.  This is when Masako truly began to feel the relevance of why she just had to come.

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Namie and Tomiko offer “gassho”, or prayer, in reflection of those who perished and long since forgotten.

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Namie and Tomiko offer their gassho at yet another memorial.
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Mr. Ota photographs another memorial, erected in 1977.

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My five cousins. Masako, Tomiko and Namie on the left survived the atomic bombing. Izumi is Masako’s filial daughter with Kiyoshi next to her. Kiyoshi was born immediately after war’s end; the moment came in the Kanemoto home quite suddenly.

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At Hill 120 and while looking at the number of memorials, Masako said to me, “All these memorials…  It is terrible knowing they lost their lives and have since been forgotten.”

We all felt the same, I’m sure.  I did.

…and this is a feeling you will never find in a textbook.

You had to be there.

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Day 3 to follow…  Masako and I read our letters to Uncle Suetaro and pacificparatrooper’s father Smitty at the actual battle sites on Leyte.  Short videos will be included for those interested.

Part 4 is here.

BATTLE NOTES:

  1.  Per Cannon’s book: While the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, was proceeding cautiously forward the 1st Battalion was working toward Hill 522. This hill, which rose directly from the river’s edge north of Palo, overlooked the landing beaches and its upward trails were steep and winding. Hill 522 presented the most significant terrain feature which would have to be overcome before the American forces could push into the interior from Palo and it constituted one of the chief objectives for A Day. Three months earlier General Makino had started to fortify it, impressing nearly all of the male population of Palo for the work. By A Day they had constructed five well-camouflaged pillboxes of rocks, planking, and logs, covered with earth. Numerous tunnels honeycombed the hill; the communications trenches were seven feet deep.During the preliminary bombardments the Navy had delivered some of its heaviest blows on the hill, and the bombardment was continued by Battery B of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion and Battery A of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion. The 1st Battalion of the 19th Infantry sent reconnaissance parties to locate a northern route to the hill. The plan had been to move inland from the extreme south of the beachhead, but that area was still in Japanese hands. At 1430, when scouts reported finding a covered route on the northern side of the hill, the 1st Battalion immediately moved out in a column of companies. The column had barely started when Company A, in the lead, was held up by enemy fire from the five pillboxes. The remainder of the battalion moved north around Company A, and, skirting the woods, attacked Hill 522 from the northeast, with Company C on the right and Company B on the left.The men, although tired from the day’s activity and strain, made steady progress up the slope. As the troops moved upward, American mortars started to shell the crest of the hill. It was thought that this was artillery fire and a request was made that it be lifted. It came, however, from the chemical mortars. After a short delay the firing ceased. At dusk Company B reached the first crest of the hill and was halted by fire from two enemy bunkers. The company thereupon dug in.At the same time scouts from Company C reached the central and highest crest of the hill and espied about two platoons of Japanese coming up the other side. They shouted for the remainder of the company to hurry. Company C got to the top of the hill barely ahead of the Japanese, and a sharp engagement took place in which about fifty Japanese were killed. Company C held the highest crest of the hill. During this attack, 1st Lt. Dallas Dick was struck in the leg and his carbine was shot from his hands, but he continued to command his unit until his evacuation forty-eight hours later.During the night the Japanese made frequent but unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate the company area and in the darkness they carried away their dead and wounded. During the action to secure Hill 522, fourteen men of the 1st Battalion were killed and ninety-five wounded; thirty of the latter eventually rejoined their units. General Irving, who had assumed command of the 24th Division ashore at 1420, later said that if Hill 522 had not been secured when it was, the Americans might have suffered a thousand casualties in the assault.By the end of A Day, the division had crossed Highway 1 and established physical contact with the 1st Cavalry Division on its right flank. In spite of strong opposition on its left flank, the 24th Division had secured Hill 522, which dominated the route into the interior and overlooked the town of Palo, the entrance point into Leyte Valley. Furthermore, the X Corps had now secured a firm beachhead area averaging a mile in depth and extending over five miles from the tip of the Cataisan Peninsula to the vicinity of Palo, and had captured the important Tacloban airstrip on the Cataisan Peninsula.
  2. Per Cannon’s book, the amphibian tractors carrying the 3d Battalion, 382d Infantry, were held up by the tank barriers of coconut logs and debris on the beach, and the troops were forced to debark at the water’s edge. Several hundred yards off the beach this battalion began to receive heavy fire from Hill 120, which was about 600 yards from the beach. The hill dominated the regimental beach area and was the A Day objective for the battalion. The fire pinned down the battalion, which thereupon called for mortar support and naval gunfire. The resulting barrage forced the Japanese out of their positions, and at 1040 the battalion advanced and captured Hill 120.