Tag Archives: Imperial Japanese Army

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.

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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 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 in a Faraway Jungle – Part 3


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

Battle Situation Overview

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

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

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

First: Irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the War on Leyte and Uncle Suetaro…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Operational policy:

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

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

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

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

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

2. Allocation of missions:

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

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

1st Div.-Carigara (Uncle Suetaro)

26th Div.-Carigara

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued in Part 4.

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

A Draft Card and Immigration


In my seemingly never-ending drive to uncover lost details of family history – both here in America and in Hiroshima – many surprises have popped up.  Stuff I could have not even imagined.

For instance, finding out my grandfather went camping – complete with a Coleman stove from that time (circa 1915).  It’s odd even for me to see Japanese immigrants camping let alone in shirts and ties:

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Grandfather Hisakichi on the right with the Coleman stove next to him. Mr. Fujii is in the center.  His importance will be noted in another story. Circa 1915.

Or that Grandmother Kono – also from a small farming village in Hiroshima as my grandfather – would pose for a picture on the running board of a brand new 1918 (c) Chevrolet Touring happily holding my Aunt Shiz:

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Grandma Kono and Aunt Shiz, July 1918. The car is owned by Mr. Fujii, the owner of Hotel Fujii and shows up clearly in another photo. Seattle, WA.

I don’t think even she could have ever dreamed she would be sitting on the running board of an American icon from the poverty she had lived in before coming to Seattle as a picture bride.

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On other subjects, I’ve developed unprovable conclusions based on detailed inspection of such photos… but I guess there’s no harm in believing them.

For instance, there are quite a few lefties in my dad’s side of the family.  I’ve always wondered from whom that trait came from.

Well, in the few photographs remaining of Grandfather Hisakichi, I see some glaring patterns:

Here he is on the right, holding a cigarette in his left hand:

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A motley crew indeed.  Grandfather Hisakichi on right, holding cigarette in his left hand. I know when I (ahem) smoke a cigar, it is in my right hand. I am right-handed.

In July 1922, he is photographed here holding his hat in his left hand; however, as in his other photos in a suit, his gold chain (perhaps a watch) leads to a left vest pocket.  I am unsure of which direction a watch would have been pocketed:

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(L to R) Dad, Grandfather Hisakichi holding his hat in his left hand, Aunt Shiz. Unidentified park, July 1922.

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But there is one undeniable fact.  While I cannot find the actual US Immigration manifest, the 1930 Census discloses Grandfather Hisakichi (legally) immigrated here in 1898 when he was just 17 years old.

But because he was a documented immigrant, the government knew he was here.  He had to register for the draft in 1918!  WWI was raging then.  He was 38 years old.

WWI Draft Registration Card________________________________________

So there is a benefit to illegally immigrating to the US.

“They” wouldn’t know you’re here.

…All in jest, of course.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

banzai killed
Aftermath of a banzai charge.

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

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

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

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

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

But the struggles she will endure will have purpose.

She would not let her family down.

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To be continued in Part 3….