“In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” – Admiral Yamamoto to Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoe.
The date of Admiral Yamamoto’s death was ironic.
Admiral Yamamoto was killed exactly one year after the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
It was like an omen.
The Japanese military and government did not disclose his death for about a month. When they did, they conducted a grand state funeral.
Here is a link to a Japanese video of his funeral. At the beginning, it shows the last known movie footage of him on Rabaul, waving to the pilots as they take off to attack Guadalcanal in Operation I boosting morale tremendously. There is also a glimpse of the only memorial statue of Admiral Yamamoto and a look inside his small home that is now in disrepair. During the funeral procession, it is very important to note you see Tokyo as it once looked before being leveled. I wonder if my grandparents, mom and aunt were in the crowds:
While his ashes were met in Tokyo by his widow (1), one half of his ashes remained in Tokyo, the other half taken back to his home town of Nagaoka. There, an unremarkable crypt of about three feet tall entombs one-half of his remains in a small family plot that is visited much more so by history nuts and the curious than by family and relatives.
In a bit of lost history, the funeral procession passed in front of his favorite geisha Chiyoko’s residence.
Similar to how WWII history has become to being taught here in America (meaning forgotten), Japan had chosen post-war to teach very little of WWII if anything. Because of this, many Japanese younger than say 55 years of age know very little about the war with America… except for the atomic and fire bombings.
For instance, my second wife and her mother never even heard of Iwo Jima. When I told them it was an island and part of the Tokyo prefecture, they were in disbelief. They didn’t even know there was a horrendous battle that took 30,000 young Japanese and American lives. Imagine that… but “the forgetting” is happening here in America too because of misguided emotional beliefs and attitudes of the teachers and school administrations.
Here in America, we have ships, airfields and streets named after heroes. Aircraft carriers USS Chester Nimitz, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS George H. W. Bush, O’Hare International Airport, or John Basilone Road near Camp Pendleton.
Yamamoto has nothing. He is rarely even mentioned in Japanese textbooks. There are no ships, airfields or streets named after him. Just two unassuming crypts and they are rarely visited by offspring or family. There is a small museum I was able to see back around 2001 soon after it opened during a business trip but it was hard to find. Even the train conductor whom I asked for directions didn’t even know who Yamamoto was. He told me to go to the police kiosk and luckily, one of the officers heard of it and gave me directions – about a 15 minute walk. It does house a piece of the wing that was part of the Betty bomber he was shot down in. Oh, there is a small statue of him in his hometown near his crypt.
The lack of honorariums is an insult, in my opinion, as he gave his life to a war he knew he couldn’t win. He was simply loyal to his emperor. I also believe from my civilian’s chair that Yamamoto was one of the greatest prophetic naval minds in history – so much so that Nimitz viewed him as his greatest threat.
In his time, those in the Japanese military who wanted to see him assassinated believed he was “pro-American” or just a cowardly “dove”. I don’t see it that way. I believe he was a patriot, loved his country and was the consummate military man wearing the uniform of his country – just like Patton, Ike, and Nimitz. He simply did what he thought best for his country given his orders and conditions – that the pompous Army-led government wanted a war that Yamamoto knew they could not win. He therefore believed the only way to achieve this haughty vision of victory against the US and England was to execute a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and disabling the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.(2) He may have succeeded if Nagumo had indeed attempted to carry out Yamamoto’s full orders and battle plan. Nagumo failed to do so.
(Note: As an American, I fully accept that any attack on a country should be preceded by a declaration of war. However, just as I/we believe a declaration of war is necessary before hostilities, the samurai roots of Japan totally accepted surprise attacks as the norm. Just a fact.)
…but as a military leader, I feel for him. He knew Japan could not win. What was he to do? Step aside and let others lead the young men to their deaths under less competent leadership? Or lead them himself into a war they could not win and should not fight? Of course, he chose the latter and appropriately so. In my opinion, he should not be condemned because he did.
But it cost him his life.
The man whose name was his samurai father’s age at birth, the man who did handstands to break the thick air and bring laughter, the man who was a winner at gambling around the globe, the man who was nicknamed “Eighty Sen” by geishas… died fighting for the country who would then quickly bury him in theirlost history.
If he was not killed in the daring and risky attack hastily put together by the USAAF, what would have happened to him if he was alive on the day of surrender?
Would he have killed himself? Many did. He was the son of a respected samurai.
Or would he have surrendered like General Yamashita did in the Philippines only to be hung shortly thereafter as a war criminal in a hasty trial?
Would MacArthur have spared Yamamoto to be used as a liaison with his understanding of America and his fluent English during the Occupation? After all, he was revered in Japan as was Ike and Patton here. That may have been ideal but unlikely due to the immense hatred bred onto him by American propaganda.
We will never know.
Perhaps it was best he died a warrior while leading his troops.
(1) In the first video, Admiral Yamamoto’s ashes disembark from the train after its arrival in Tokyo on May 23, 1943.
This second video is the “official” national footage of the state funeral procession. You can glimpse the infamous General Tojo at about the 3:10 mark and his widow and three children at about the 3:20 mark:
(2) Against Admiral RIchardson’s stern advice to FDR for which he was fired, the US Seventh Fleet was moved out of San Diego to Pearl Harbor by FDR. Yamamoto, just like Richardson, saw it as a dumb military move. They were both right. This is one reason why I firmly believe FDR wanted Japan to attack the US and get us into a war which he campaigned against.
After radio chatter in supposed secret Japanese naval code was intercepted by MAGIC on April 13, 1943, the US Navy jumped into action. The US Navy brass now knew of Yamamoto’s projected flight schedule just five days later.
But to fully appreciate this, of course, it is critical to note this was 1943 and during a most vile world war. There was no faxing, texting, internet or the like. Also, Yamamoto’s plane may not start that day, weather may alter the flight or he may just get sick (He did suffer from a form of beriberi.).
But some huge questions that had to be answered in only three days if the shoot-down were to occur successfully:
Who was going to order/approve the killing?
How was it going to get carried out? And,
How can the Japanese be kept from figuring out our secret that we broke their secret code? (1)
Sources differ on who approved the go-ahead for Admiral Yamamoto’s killing.
Some sources say Admiral Nimitz said go.
Some sources say Admiral Nimitz refused to give the order to kill Admiral Yamamoto and deferred the decision to his superior, Admiral King.
Some sources say no military brass wanted to approve the killing and that it ultimately came from FDR (which by definition becomes an assassination). Although no document from that time could be found, several items indicate FDR was at least involved. (1) (2)
But one thing is certain; when Bull Halsey found out the mission was a go, he stated, “TALLY HO X LET’S GET THE BASTARD.”
Some buried history on the actual mission to kill Admiral Yamamoto:
In a tent choked with humidity on Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field on April 17, 1943, Admiral Marc Mitscher read the message marked ‘TOP SECRET’, signed by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. In attendance was Major John W. Mitchell, USAAF. He would plan and lead the flight: “SQUADRON 339 P-38 MUST AT ALL COSTS REACH AND DESTROY. PRESIDENT ATTACHES EXTREME IMPORTANCE TO MISSION.”
The recently deployed P-38G Lightning was the only fighter that could accomplish the shoot-down. Other fighters like the US Navy’s Grumman F4F or new Vought F4U Corsair simply could not fly the approximately 800 mile round trip. Even then, without Charles Lindbergh’s engineering insights to lean-burn, the flight may have been impossible for the P-38Gs. Still, the P-38s required external fuel tanks, one of which must be a 330 gallon capacity, the other 150. They were located at Port Moresby, expedited to Guadalcanal then hurriedly attached to the fighters in an all night effort.
A Marine named Major John Condon actually drafted up the flight plan first but Major Mitchell rejected it with only 12 hours of so before takeoff. With input from several key pilots, Mitchell rushedly planned out the mission as the shootdown was to occur the next day with the flight leaving early in the morning! Relying on Yamamoto’s trademark punctuality, Mitchell precisely “walked back” the flight path from the expected intercept time over the southwest coast of Bougainville at 9:35 AM.
4. It was determined there would be four “killer” attack planes and 14 escort planes to handle the anticipated six Zero escort fighters and to compensate for aborts. The 14 escort fighters were also in anticipation of the dozens of other land-based Zero fighters that may be airborne. The four killer planes were responsible for the single Betty bomber carrying Admiral Yamamoto. (3)
5. Mitchell, in leading the flight, demanded the standard USAAF compass on his P-38G be replaced by a larger and more accurate Navy compass. “Dead reckoning” would be the order of the day and exact headings were an absolute requirement – therefore, the need for the most accurate compass available. All they would see in their 400 mile flight out would be water.
6. One P-38 suffered a flat tire at takeoff and another’s fuel transfer from belly tanks failed, leaving 12 escort P-38s for the anticipated combat. Surprisingly, these two planes that dropped out due to the mechanical failures were two of the four original killer planes.
7. Per a recent Military Intelligence Service’s veteran’s report, “At 7:25 AM on April 18 1943, the American pilots departed
Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, to travel a circuitous all water route at ten to thirty feet above the water and radio silenced to avoid enemy radar detection. At 8:00 AM, 35 minutes later and 700 miles away, Yamamoto’s convoy took off on schedule from Rabaul airfield and (then) arrived over the southwest coast of Bougainville at 9:35 AM, the exact time the P 38s arrived there.”(2) The flight path avoided all possibility of being seen from occupied islands or radar. Being literally at sea level, it was sweltering in the cockpit. Mitchell had to fight of drowsiness as one mistake meant death an instant later.
8. Miraculously, Mitchell had guided his attack force to within one minute of the targeted arrival time. The third pilot spotted the flight but it included TWO Betty bombers, not the single one dictated in the decoded secret message. At this moment, Mitchell was not sure if this was Yamamoto’s flight. Forunately, Mitchell made the snap decision to attack, said, “Skin them (meaning drop fuel tanks),” and began combat.
9. Lanphier and Barber both had hits on the Betty bomber that carried Admiral Yamamoto. However, Lanphier’s gun camera footage shows his rounds striking the Betty bomber, causing part of the left wing to split off. The bomber then crashed into the jungle.
Here is footage from both American and Japanese viewpoints (scroll to the 5:28 mark). It does show in slow motion Lanphier’s gun camera footage where he shoots off part of the left wing of Yamamoto’s plane. (Important note: the “gunfire” you hear in the actual gun footage is edited in. The gun cameras were silent B&W film.)
10. One killer P-38 piloted by Lt. Raymond K. Hine was lost; he originally began the flight as an escort fighter but moved up when the two killer planes had to abort. There were various sightings from Japanese reports which claim his supercharger was hit and engine smoking when he headed out to sea. He was never heard from or seen again. In spite of claims by the USAAF pilots, not one Zero was shot down although several were damaged.
11. The six Japanese Zero pilots assigned to escort Admiral Yamamoto were:
All were shamed, of course, for failing in their duty to protect Admiral Yamamoto but they were up against tremendous odds. Japanese brass decided not to have them commit suicide; the brass knew they would perish in combat in their hopes Yamamoto’s death woukd be kept underwraps. Sure enough, all but Kenji Yanagiya would be killed in action within a short period. Yanagiya was severely wounded, losing his right hand and was sent home. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 88.
12. Per John Connor, History.net, he writes:
“At every stage, planners had stressed the need for secrecy. But even before the P-38s had landed, security was compromised.
As the returning planes neared Guadalcanal, Lanphier radioed to the control tower: “That son of a bitch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House.” Lanphier’s announcement was shocking to others on the mission. Air-to-ground messages were broadcast in the clear, and the Japanese monitored American aviation frequencies. Lanphier’s message left little to the imagination. Bystanders on Guadalcanal, including a young navy officer named John F. Kennedy, watched as Lanphier executed a victory roll over the field before landing. “I got him!” Lanphier announced to the crowd after climbing out of his cockpit. “I got that son of a bitch. I got Yamamoto.”
Halsey and Nimitz, when they found out, went nuts as if the Japanese heard the message, they would realize that Lanphier knew Yamamoto was on board which would be impossible unless we broke their JN-25 naval code.
13. Behind the scenes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reacted with glee, writing a mock letter of condolence to Yamamoto’s widow that circulated around the White House but was never sent:
Dear Widow Yamamoto:
Time is a great leveler and somehow I never expected to see the old boy at the White House anyway. Sorry I can’t attend the funeral because I approve of it.
Hoping he is where we know he ain’t.
Very sincerely yours,
/s/ Franklin D. Roosevelt
14. The US definitely wanted to keep the Japanese Navy from suspecting we had broken their JN-25 code. In a ploy to make it look like Mitchell’s flight was indeed a chance of luck, the USAAF sent out similar patrols on subsequent days. Besides, the Japanese did NOT publicize his death for about two months; as such, the Americans could not possibly know Admiral Yamamoto was killed.
15. Decades later, the feud between Barber and Lanphier continued as to who shot Yamamoto down. At the end, the US Navy officially awarded the “kill” to Barber. When that happened, ironically, Lanphier lost his “ace” status.
16. Per the Japanese Navy’s coroner’s report, Yamamoto was found ejected from the crashed plane but still strapped into the pilot’s seat. Further, that he was still clutching his family’s samurai sword. The report stated that the seat was upright resting against a tree and that his face looked unchanged. It further stated the cause of death was from two .50 caliber rounds, one into his back and another entering though his jaw and exiting above the right eye. (Author’s note: I am highly suspect of this report given it was from propaganda driven wartime Japan. Although I never served, I cannot fathom his face “looking unchanged” when a .50 caliber round exited above his right eye after entering through his jaw. I also cannot believe he was still clutching his samurai sword after being ejected from the plane.)
17. The second Betty bomber carried Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki. He and two other sailors survived the crash into the ocean after being shot down albeit with a broken arm. He would recover from his wounds but would not return from the infamous last kamikaze attack of WWII which he led on August 15, 1945. He did not make his target. He would leave behind his meticulous diary, a wealth of information.
More to follow in Part X.
(1) It was vital that the Japanese not know their naval codes (the JN-25) had been broken. If they did, they would react and modify their code. This would terminate the US Navy’s ability to track and sink military and most of all, merchant shipping of vital natural resources taken from captured countries. As written in “What Did FDR Know”, the sinking of many tons of merchant vessels was made possible by our breaking their JN-25.
(2) “…The message was decrypted and translated at FRUPAC by Marine Lt Col Alva Byan Lasswell and was passed the next day to
Commander Ed Layton, CINCPAC intelligence officer. Admiral Chester NIMITZ, CINCPAC, sent the message to Washington. President Franklin Roosevelt approved and requested the
shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto’s air convoy be given the highest priority. This was conveyed to RADM Marc A. Mitscher, commander of the Solomons region, via NIMITZ and Admiral Halsey who was responsible for that region.” – “Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Air Convoy Shoot Down” report, JAVA, April 18, 2014. The author was a noted Military Intelligence Service member during WWII.
(3) The original flight organization was:
Initial Killer Flight:
Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.
Lt. Rex T. Barber
Lt. Jim McLanahan (dropped out with flat tire)
Lt. Joe Moore (dropped out with faulty fuel feed)
The remaining pilots were to as reserves and provide air cover against any retaliatory attacks by local Japanese fighters:
Back during the day, there had been a great brouhaha over the killing of Admiral Yamamoto on April 18, 1943. Two USAAF pilots bickered for decades after the war as to who shot Admiral Yamamoto out of the sky. While most attribute the killing to a pilot named Lt. Rex Barber, others believe Capt. Thomas Lanphier Jr. fired the fatal burst from his Lockheed P-38G Lightning.
We will never truly know.
But some lost history first on what led to Admiral Yamamoto’s killing.
The Most Hated Man in America – Even More Than Hitler
By April 1943, Admiral Yamamoto was the most hated man in America by many accounts – more so than Hitler. Think of it this way. Yamamoto was WWII’s version of today’s Osama bin Laden (or however you wish to spell it) on a hate level.
How did it come to be?
Sure, there are Pearl Harbor parallels with bin Laden; bin Laden masterminded the surprise “dastardly” attack on 9/11 on American civilians. (Dastardly. Sound familiar?) The attackers were maniacal terrorists who definitely knew it would be a one-way trip and it was to appease their god… but they didn’t fly their own planes to attack America.
But in my opinion, that’s where the parallels lack some merit if not wrong in substance. For one, Yamamoto as you learned was AGAINST taking on America as an enemy unlike bin Laden. It would be the end of the Japanese empire and he was right. Secondly, the surprise Pearl Harbor attack was against military targets using their own planes. Thirdly, while the attacking navy pilots could die for their emperor on this mission, it was not their desired outcome. They did not see this for the most part as a one-way trip.
Sure, it is enough to hate Yamamoto on the surface but how did he become by and large the most hated man in America? It was because of… fake news.
Yes, fake news. Things manipulated or taken out of context.
And it started with the Japanese.
Before the strike on Pearl Harbor and with plans generally in place, Admiral Yamamoto wrote to his close friend, Ryoichi Sasakawa:
“Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. Iwonder if our politicians, among whom armchair arguments about war are being glibly bandied about in the name of state politics, have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. (1)”
Well, a bit after the attack on Pearl, the Japanese propaganda machine went into action. For the most part, folks, the Japanese propaganda/news media would GREATLY exaggerate if not lie to present the rosiest war picture to boost the morale of the citizens. In this case, the contents of Yamamoto’s private letter got “leaked” (sound familiar?) but the militarists dropped his last sentence of what he wrote in its entirely – which therefore shed a whole different tone on what was he truly meant (in bold italics above).
Then, the American propaganda machine took over. They picked up what Yamamoto supposedly said and changed its meaning even more. Posters sprang up all over the place with purposely and understandably exaggerated caricatures demonizing Yamamoto… but most of all, very much mutating the questioning feelings of Yamamoto. Time Magazine even took part.
Please don’t misunderstand the gist of what I am writing here. These are facts.
The shoot down of Yamamoto in a moving airborne target 76 years ago was a miracle by today’s standards. Likely, it was mostly luck after the U.S. attack force took off. Today, drones can be sent in with Hellfire missiles with GPS accuracy when a message intercepted.
But in a very primitive way now, that’s how the U.S. killed Yamamoto, the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack.
It was Lady Luck.
In April 1943, Guadalcanal was a dismal place for Japanese soldiers. Through blunders, bad intelligence and exaggerated aerial combat reports, Japanese soldiers had minimal war materials for combat or were simply dying of starvation or illness. It guesstimated that these young boys were trying to fight on less than 1,700 calories a day without such energy staples as rice or potatoes.
Yamamoto was tasked to resupply them by sea but was thwarted by the US Navy and USAAF as we had broken their naval code. They had resorted to using their samurai swords to dig dirt looking for food.
Knowing their dismal state and morale, their consummate leader Yamamoto made the fatal decision to go down to the front lines to boost morale. This would have been akin to Ike visiting the freezing soldiers during the horrendous winter at Bastogne. His initial stop was to have been the naval base Ballale, an active airfield for the Japanese Imperial Navy pilots. His lieutenants strongly urged him not to go but his character gave Yamamoto no other avenue. The plans were made then dispatched by radio.
The Japanese held islands lit up the airwaves with radio chatter on April 13, 1943. The chatter reported their great revered leader Yamamoto was coming down to cheer on the troops. The chatter included his detailed flight schedule as well as he and his second in command Admiral Ugaki would be flying in a Betty bomber escorted by six Japanese Zeroes. Admiral Yamamoto was always punctual – and that would help get him killed.
Well, the radio chatter was in what the Japanese thought was their secret Imperial Japanese Navy Code JN-25D. (3) They believed that “Westerners” could not break it. Well, it was a very closely guarded secret but the US had broken the code by the Battle of Midway. From what I read, the actual JN-25D coded message announcing Yamamoto’s upcoming visit said (translated into English):
“ON APRIL 18 CINC COMBINED FLEET WILL VISIT RXZ,R–, AND RXP IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE FOLLOWING SCHEDULE:
1. DEPART RR AT 0600 IN A MEDIUM ATTACK PLANE ESCORTED BY 6 FIGHTERS. ARRIVE RXZ AT 0800. IMMEDIATELY DEPART FOR R- ON BOARD SUBCHASER (1ST BASE FORCE TO READY ONE BOAT), ARRIVING AT 0840. DEPART R- 0945 ABOARD SAID SUBCHASER, ARRIVING RXZ AT 1030. (FOR TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES, HAVE READY AN ASSAULT BOAT AT R- AND A MOTOR LAUNCH AT RXZ.) 1100 DEPARTRXZ ON BOARD MEDIUM ATTACK PLANE, ARRIVING RXP AT 1110. LUNCH AT 1 BASE FORCE HEADQUARTERS (SENIOR STAFF OFFICER OF AIR FLOTILLA 26 TO BE PRESENT). 1400 DEPART RXP ABOARD MEDIUM ATTACK PLANE; ARRIVE RR AT 1540.“ (2)
(Note: the bolded italics is the portion that pertains to the shootdown. The rest of the decoded message relates to Yamamoto’s schedule AFTER he touches down. US command at Kukum Field decided going for the subchasers would be questionable as the USAAF pilots wouldn’t be able to discern surface ship configurations but they knew aircraft.)
Details of the shootdown, the aftermath and the secrets – from both sides of the Pacific – comes in Part IX.
(1) “At Dawn We Slept,” (1981) by Gordon W. Prange. Page 11.
(2) – Source: US Naval Institute. Also, the original coded message was in Japanese; it was translated into English by US Army Niseis in the Military Intelligence Service (my Dad’s old unit).
(3) Aiding the effort to completely crack the secret Japanese naval code were two military action events. First, a few days after the US Marines invaded Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, the Marines capture a complete JN-25C code book.
Then in February 1943, US recovers significant code materials from the I-1 beached off Guadalcanal after a fierce surface battle with two British minesweepers. The captured documents included a superceded JN-25 code book, but no additive book. “As part of the crew at Station AL Guadalcanal, (he) helped rehabilitate the five code books recovered plus many other classified documents and navigational charts. They were sent by courier to Pearl Harbor.” The report continued:
“…The salt-water logged code books retrieved by the Ortolan were taken to Station AL (a small intercept, direction finder, traffic analysis, cryptoanalysis and reporting station on Guadalcanal). There they were dried by being placed on top of a radio receiver to use its heat. The records were kept for about two days to get them in shape for transport. They were taken to the intercept site at Lunga Point, a promontory on the northern coast of Guadalcanal. From there they were sent to CINCPAC’s code breakers at Pearl Harbor.
While the code breakers were trying to exploit the captured code material from the I-1, translators began the task of translating and publishing important documents from the submarine. The U. S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area (USAFISPA) begins publishing I-1 items in early March. On March 1, the Translation and Interrogation Section, G-2 (my Dad’s unit), of the USAFISPA published a notebook containing entries for January 1-29, 1943. On March 9, the Section published the diary of Seiho Suzuki, 2nd Class Petty Officer, covering the period of early 1942. The same day the Section published the notebook and diary of Masae Suzuki, covering February 11-September 17, 1942. On March 13, it published, extracted from list of communications personnel, the organization of Japanese submarine forces. The next day the Section published communications personnel roster. The Section on March 16, it published a message written on a communication form for encoding and decoding messages. On March 18, it published part of a copy of Naval Regulations (Edition of April 1, 1936, with revisions up to June 30, 1942) and on May 30 published the remainder of the regulations. Also on March 18, the Section published penciled notes, regarding firing torpedoes. On March 21, the Section published bound notes on ciphers and codes. On March 30, the Section published the submarine’s operating log covering the period January 1-28, 1943. The next day it published printed a chart regarding depth charges. The Section on April 1, published a file of messages and notes dealing with the gunnery section, quartering on shore, orders, and dispatches. A printed chart regarding mechanical mines was published on April 7.
In early July 1943 the Section published a notebook, probably belonging to an officer, which appears to have been kept over a period of several years. It provided a list of ships in commission from December 1, 1939 to June 1940. Also published was a code book table, detailed information about equipment on warships, information on submarines, political commentary, information on aircraft, and numerous names of officers and positions. This translation ran 41 pages. The published translations continued. In mid-January 1944, the Section published a Japanese publication on Results and Opinions on Items of Essential Engineering Training and Research in the 6th Fleet for the Year 1941, 7th Submarine Division.
The Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area (ICPOA), was also involved in the exploitation of the I-1 documents. On March 16, 1943, it sent to Washington information regarding hydrographic charts, taken from the I-1, noting “these charts are very accurate reproductions of United States Navy Hydrographic Office confidential charts.” In late March and early April, ICPOA translated and published various documents from the submarine.
All in all, the sinking of the I-1 had been a great success. The documents captured from the submarine provided a wealth of information and intelligence about the Japanese codes and the Japanese navy.” – JN-25 fact sheet, Version 1.1 September 2004 by Geoffrey Sinclair.
Yamamoto’s Barriers to Becoming the Ultimate Admiral
I never served… I never donned on a uniform for this great country.
That in itself qualifies any opinion I may have to offer on World War II military leadership… but from my armchair civilian’s viewpoint, Admiral Yamamoto was one of the elite admirals of World War II.
I certainly feel he was likely the one with the most military foresight and highly likely the most well balanced. Yes, he was the enemy and FDR approved his assassination in vengeance for the attack on Pearl Harbor… but I am looking at this broadly.
And I also feel he may have become one of the greatest admirals in history if the barriers obstructing him had not existed. Regardless, his military achievements could have been much, much greater had he not been encumbered by conditions smothering him – and yes, he did have one prominent military weakness in my humble opinion.
Factually, he may have succeeded in bringing the US to the peace table ifPearl Harbor was an unqualified success. No, not for “surrender” or to occupy America; that would have been impossible as he knew… but to get America to concede to Japanese expansion in Asia.
His Balls and Chains – Plural
The Uncontrollable Japanese Imperial Army
His first ball and chain was the misguided yet all domineering Japanese Army. Since the Boshin War victory, their newly formed Imperial Army’s self-centered view of themselves had snowballed. In other words, they were full of themselves and Yamamoto was handcuffed militarily and politically from a naval standpoint. They were second fiddle.
In American terminology, Yamamoto was a “dove” in a way, primarily because he realized Japan relied on imports of oil and steel from America. The Army clearly wanted to invade neighboring Asian countries and take these resources by force.
Yamamoto was also forced into planning the attack on Pearl Harbor because the hawks in the Imperial Army-controlled government signed the Tripartite Pact in September 1940. He knew this would cause Japan to become a clear enemy and anger FDR. As the nail in the coffin, FDR through the League of Nations instituted an embargo on oil and steel. The “hawks” went berserk.
“If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year. The Tripartite Pact has been concluded and we cannot help it. Now that the situation has come to this pass, I hope you will endeavor to avoid a Japanese-American war.” – Admiral Yamamoto to Premier Konoye Fumimaro after Japan signed the Tripartite Pact.
Further, the “hotheads” in the Japanese military were so war focused that they lost sight of the fact their own natural resources – being an island country – was dismal. “How could Japan wage a war,” Yamamoto knew; Japan’s natural resources were (1):
Copper 75,000 tons yearly (less than 50% required militarily)
Iron Ore 12% of national requirements
Coking Coal None
Petroleum 10% of needs
In another lesser known angle, the production of military aircraft in any great number was a pressing matter for Japan. In fact, the Imperial Army-controlled leadership simply allocated aircraft production right down the middle: one-half to the Army, one-half to the Navy. Yamamoto was tasked with protecting the entire Japanese empire with his allocation of aircraft while the Army was only focused on land action. This was more ironic in that Yamamoto championed the development of these Zeroes and the Betty bombers, both used by the army.
The “Overly Cautious” Vice-Admiral Nagumo
The second and likely Yamamoto’s heaviest ball and chain – if not the sinker at the end of a fishing line – was Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (南雲忠一). It is my belief that most importantly, the outcome of the attack on Pearl Harbor may have been truly been a death blow to the U.S. if Yamamoto himself had been in command of the attack fleet instead of Nagumo.
Long story short, Nagumo was Commander in Chief, 1st Air Fleet. He was in command of the world’s most deadliest carrier-based naval air strike force in history at that time, bound for Pearl Harbor.
However, he was raised a ship-based torpedo man and was well versed in surface maneuvering. He had only had commands of destroyers, cruisers and a battleship before being appointed to this position of commanding the most powerful carrier based air strike force. Even a fellow admiral (Tsukahara) opined that essentially Nagumo had zero experience in the capabilities and potential of offensive naval aviation let alone in battle.
By the way, Nagumo and Yamamoto were like oil and vinegar. In fact, while Yamamoto’s attack plan for Pearl was extremely well planned out, Nagumo had little faith in it and argued against it.
So how did he become in charge of Yamamoto’s six carrier Pearl Harbor attack force if he wasn’t qualified and did not support the attack plan orchestrated by Yamamoto?
It was because of… his seniority. Simple as that.
You see, in those days and even today, Japan is entrenched in “etiquette” and social ladders. Nagumo had the most seniority among admiral-rank officers and therefore was “rightfully” given the “honor” to command. Not even Yamamoto could change that. (Accepting Nagumo would be fleet commander, Yamamoto ensured his two most highly regarded lieutenants were assigned to surround Nagumo during the Pearl Harbor attack – Minoru Genda and Mitsuo Fuchida.)
But most of all, Nagumo was overly cautious. Timid may be another word to describe what I see forthwith:
In spite of heeding Genda and Fuchida’s strong urging to send a third wave at Pearl Harbor, he assessed the situation conservatively. He ordered the planes and ordnance below and turned the fleet around after only two waves. His apparent reasoning was to not lose a carrier to air attack from the Americans while Yamamoto was prepared for two carriers lost. Nagumo made this decision in spite of Fuchida circling above Pearl in the clouds for about two hours during the attack, professionally observing the damage at Pearl and providing a detailed accurate report in person to Nagumo. The purpose of the third wave to was destroy repair and fuel facilities. By destroying such assets, the U.S. would NOT have as quickly re-floated/repaired the badly damaged ships. However. to be fair, this is not to say that if Nagumo had sent the third wave that the mission would have been accomplished.
While Japanese propaganda blatantly lied to the public that the American fleet had been completely destroyed by Nagumo, that was far from the truth. While Yamamoto had heard smatterings of what really happened on board the Akagi (Nagumo’s flagship), Fuchida flew in ahead of the fleet and personally gave Yamamoto a detailed report of the situation and how Nagumo’s timidity resulted in an incomplete mission. The whole PURPOSE of the secret attack was to totally cripple the U.S. fleet including fuel and repair docks. Yamamoto concluded the Nagumo-led attack failed to complete its mission. Because the propaganda had made Nagumo into a national hero, Yamamoto could not do much. In typical Japanese fashion, i.e., a veiled insult, he didn’t congratulate Nagumo when they met. Instead, he told Nagumo to ready himself for another battle. Think about it. In essence, if Nagumo had completed his mission, there would be no further battle. Yamamoto was furious but did not show it.
The next ultimate Nagumo failure was at the Battle of Midway. Again, he was in command of a four carrier strike force which outnumbered the American fleet of three carriers.(2) In support of Nagumo, however, the Americans had cracked the Japanese naval code, knew of the impending attack and had taken an immense gamble to set up an ambush at sea. During the battle, Nagumo’s overly cautious nature resulted in delays in launching another strike against Midway.(3) The carrier decks were loaded with bombs, torpedoes and fuel when attacked by dive bombers from the Enterprise (on which Mr. Johnson was again manning anti-aircraft guns). Within minutes, two Japanese carriers were sunk. Nagumo would lose the last two in short order while the U.S. lost the Yorktown.
Per his quote above, Admiral Yamamoto had forecast that his navy may rule the Pacific for six months to perhaps a year without a successful preemptive strike to eliminate the US naval fleet at the get-go. He was right. The Battle of Midway was six months after Pearl Harbor… and the preemptive strike had failed.
Two months after Midway, August 1942, there was an intense sea battle, the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands near Guadalcanal. The U.S. had only two carriers in the area (Enterprise and Saratoga under Admiral Fletcher) while Nagumo, who was again in command, had SIX. Yamamoto’s orders to Nagumo were for his 3rd Fleet to seek out and destroy the American carrier force. In spite of the numerical superiority, Nagumo lost the carrier Ryujo but damaged the Enterprise severely. (My neighbor, Mr. Johnson USMC, was a US Marine serving on board the Enterprise manning 20mm anti-aircraft guns and was wounded. See his story here.) While both Nagumo and Fletcher didn’t have the bellies to engage the other and fight, Yamamoto was furious that Nagumo once again failed to successfully engage the two carriers and sink them due to indecisiveness and from being overly cautious.
Yamamoto’s Major Flaw
From early in his career, Yamamoto’s vision for a future offensive carrier based navy showed tremendous insight and intelligence. His rise up the ranks allowed him to achieve his goals in steps. Train the best aviators, develop advanced specialized attack aircraft, cease building battleships and build world-class carriers and institute intensive training and safety regimens. He was also an excellent planner and a man faultlessly devoted to the Emperor and the Japanese empire.
But one aspect of naval warfare he was unable to get his arms around involved his submarines. The subs were innovative and fired the tremendously effective and reliable Type 95 and Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedoes. One, the I-400, was the largest sub ever built.
However, Yamamoto did not veer from his belief that his submarines (of which there were not many) were primarily to be deployed against capital ships, i.e, destroyers, cruisers, battleships and hopefully carriers. While the submarines did sink the USS Wasp and fired the final blow to finish off the Yorktown, their successes were not many, thankfully, due to defensive measures taken by the U.S. Navy.
But within this belief, he failed to deploy them effectively against merchant shipping and supply ships. In tabular form, the table below reports the number of merchant ship sinkings by submarines (rounded):
While Nagumo failed to complete the mission to completely destroy the naval assets and facilities at Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto himself contributed to allowing the US to rebuild its Pacific Fleet quickly through his short-sighted and defective deployment of his lethal submarines. While many subs of various classes were deployed about the Hawaiian islands (4), they were generally recalled by January; they were only able to sink a couple of merchant ships and were plagued by mishaps and strong anti-submarine warfare tactics by the US Navy.
The death of Admiral Yamamoto in Part VIII to follow.
(1) “Yamamoto” by Edwin P. Hoyt.
(2) The four Japanese carriers that were sunk, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, were four of the six carrier fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor. This sweetened the victory for the U.S. Japan would NEVER recover from this loss.
(3) To the defense of Nagumo, true military historians cite that Nagumo may have been following Japanese naval doctrine in that it required launch of strike aircraft in full force rather than in piecemeal. Further, that Spruance had already given orders to launch his aircraft so Nagumo’s cautious approach to delay launch would not have made much difference.
(4) Another tip-off to an imminent attack were the number of radio transmissions from Japanese submarine headquarters to it sub fleet off the shores of Hawaii. Per “The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II” by Carl Boyd in 1995: “Part of the reason for the failure of the I-boats in Hawaiian waters concerned the manner of directing operations from afar. The commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Adm. Mitsumi Shimizu at Kwajalein, filled the air each night shortly before the air strike with radio messages to his submarines around the Hawaiian islands. A U. S. Navy intelligence officer, then stationed at Pearl Harbor, wrote 25 years later that “port authorities in Hawaii were thus made conscious of the magnitude and to some extent the location of the Japanese submarine menace. They were consequently cautious in routing ships, and this had some bearing on the Japanese lack of success.”
Admiral Yamamoto on Rabaul in 1943 and shortly before his death.
The Imp and a Nickname
In direct contrast to his smug and no nonsense military face while on duty, Admiral Yamamoto was indeed a complex yet unselfconcious man. He was a strategist and used spontaneity to his utmost advantage…
…and typical of that time, Admiral Yamamoto sought relief and amusement in true geisha houses. (1)
The Impish Admiral Yamamoto
In Part II of this series, you learned that Admiral Yamamoto pursued gymnastics given his small build and illness-ridden childhood. He had persevered and became quite good at it. This skill came into good use throughout his military career.
Even as a young ensign, he would love to see his companions’ reactions; on the spur of the moment, for example, he would do a handstand on a ship’s rail. He was that confident in his gymnastic abilities. I wouldn’t even get near the handrail just standing on my two aging feet. I hate heights.
Still later in life, at dinner parties most often held in geisha houses, he would refrain from drinking more than a small cup or two of osake while his other navy fellows would drink to excess. If you recall, he couldn’t drink as he would turn bright red even after a sip like my Dad. All of a sudden, he would do a handstand to the amusement of not his fellow sailors but the geisha as well. As they would break out into laughter at his spontaneity then settle down, he would quietly observe them as he knew they would either serve together or under him. He sought out their weaknesses and strengths.
On yet another show of spontaneity, he was sailing to America in 1919 on board the Suwa Maru. His Japanese contingent was dining with Western diplomats when the Westerners started to get drunk and began to sing and dance. They tried to get the stoic Japanese to also dance but they refused. Very typical; I am like that. Yamamoto saw a relational rift already developing and to break it, did yet another handstand to the joy of the Westerners. He then took some dishes from a bus boy and began spinning them on his fingers to the great joy of the Westerners.
It was also said that upon his return in 1935 from failed talks in London, the now Rear Admiral Yamamoto childishly stuck his tongue out at some Akasaka geisha who were at the Tokyo train station just to get a reaction.
The Gambler Admiral Yamamoto
Admiral Yamamoto was indeed a gambling man – and a very good one at that. He would empty many a pocket of his opponents in several countries during his official and unofficial travels… even in Siberia. He remarked that the British were the easiest victims. Indeed, he had mastered bridge and later poker during his travels in America and England.
He was so openly against warring with America that the navy “hawks” despised him so much that he was “put out to pasture”, so to speak, in the Navy Affairs Bureau in 1935. At that time, he was depressed to the point that he confided with his closest friends that he was thinking about resigning – and that he would be totally happy retiring in Monaco while opening up a casino there. He was that confident in his gambling abilities.
A Nickname from the Geisha
In Part I, it was mentioned Admiral Yamamoto was given a nickname by the geisha – it has to do with money. But before I disclose what it was, some time machine action has to take place.
Admiral Yamamoto would often get his manicures from the geisha. At that time, manicures would run about one yen.
“Yen” is the monetary unit in Japan as you all know. In the 1920’s, just one yen went a long ways; it was a different time. I understand one yen could have bought about a dozen eggs or about 5 pounds of rice (which was hard to get your hands on) or about ten bowls of ramen. However, there are “100 sen” in “one yen”.
Well, he was lovingly called “八十戦” or “Eighty Sen” by the geisha. They apparently felt bad charging him one yen for a full manicure.
He only had eight fingers.
More to follow in Part VII.
(1) There are only several hundred true geisha left in Japan. A once ancient tradition, their number and appeal has diminished so much that many Kyoto merchants who had solely serviced the geisha for centuries (silk kimono making, elaborate accessories, wooden sandals, etc.) have closed their doors.
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.
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.):
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:
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.
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.
One War. Two Countries. One Family.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Nobody had Puffs… Even then, several boxes would have been required.
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.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Passerbys were equally bewildered by our “touristy-ness”, it seems. We definitely caught their attention.
Third Memorial Service
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.
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.
After closing the ceremony, we once again handed out the food to the local children and families who were very grateful and friendly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
There 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.
My July 2015 photo from about a similar location:
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.
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:
We said some prayers for those who are still on this island and made our way back down.
Ormoc City and Port
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
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.
After 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.
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.
Remember how lots of college kids would pile into on phone booth? Well, those college kids would have been proud. All five ladies piled in!
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.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As earlier that morning, our group began to set up the memorial table as before, adorned with photographs, food, incense and osake:
At 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.
She 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family