Tag Archives: Kanemoto

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 8


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

“Uncle, Let’s Go Home…”

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

Me included.

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

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

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

Just no cemetery.

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

Day 4 – Last Service

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Memorial Service – and the Most Emotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The outdoor classroom filled with children can be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A much shortened video of Setsu’s letter:

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

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

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

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

“Sue-boh?  Who’s that?” I asked.

“My brother.  He was killed.”

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

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

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

“Dear Uncle Suetaro,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Izumi”

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

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

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Indeed, Izumi’s thoughts were righteous.

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

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

Epilogue to follow.

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

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Epilogues

Dear Mama – A Farewell Letter


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Uncle Suetaro (L) and my dad (R). Taken from the Hiroshima house with Mt. Suzugamine in background. Circa 1929

During my visit to my father’s childhood home in Hiroshima last summer, I was entrusted with hundreds of vintage family photos and mementos.  I brought them back here stateside, promising my Hiroshima family I would “restore” them.

Well, after a good start, I developed a painful case “tennis elbow” from using the mouse so much during the retouching process.  Sadly, it came to a screeching halt sometime in November last year.

But one very, very special item was entrusted with me – my Uncle Suetaro’s war diary.

Although born an American citizen in Seattle with the rest of his siblings, he was writing this war diary as a sergeant in the Japanese Imperial Army.

The last entry was a farewell letter to his Mother.

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The photo above had been secreted away behind another photo that was in Uncle Suetaro’s album.  He meticulously kept the album up to the time of war.  His oldest brother, my Uncle Yutaka, had conscientiously sent him family photos they had taken in Chicago and Los Angeles before imprisonment.  Suetaro complimented the photos with his beautiful Japanese calligraphy, written in a silver, whitish ink.

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The photo of Uncle Suetaro and my dad shown at the beginning was so very tiny – but there was something Uncle Suetaro loved about it to keep it.  I wish I knew what it was.

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Actual size

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Uncle Suetaro was killed as a sergeant major of the Japanese Imperial Army on Leyte apparently near a town called “Villaba”.  Below is an actual page from a “war diary”, an official report written and published by the US Army.  Villaba is located on the western shore of Leyte but not far from Ormoc Bay, which was a killing field for Japanese ships by US aircraft.

Page 109
Source: US Army 81st Infantry Division Headquarters / Report of Operations

His remains were never recovered.  In the family grave are his tiny pieces of his fingernails and a lock of hair.  It was custom at that time to leave parts of your earthly body with your family as returning was unlikely.

Not much to bury… but it was better than not returning at all.

In a spiritualistic way, he had never left.

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This is his farewell letter to his Mother (my Grandmother).

It is clear it was very hurriedly written.

With the help of my cousin Kiyoshi in Hiroshima and my dad, we’ve typed up Uncle Suetaro’s farewell letter – complete with old Japanese characters and translated as best possible into English.  When reading this, please remember these are the words as written as a soldier going off to fight the Americans – but he was once a young American boy born in Seattle, WA.

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Cover. His name is at the bottom.
金本 末太郎
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ママ様
Dear Mama,
御無沙汰致しました。
I am sorry for not writing for a while.
お元気ですか。 自分も相変わらず元気旺盛御奉公致しております故、何卒ご放念く
ださい。
How are you? As usual, I am full of life fulfilling my duty to my country so please feel at ease.
(元気で国のために力を尽くしてるので心配しないでください)
愈(いよいよ)自分も日本男子としてこの世に生を受け、初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます.
More and more, as I realize I was born into this world as a Japanese male, I am overjoyed to be going into my first combat.
勿論(もちろん)生還を期してはいません(生きて帰ることは思ってはいません)。
Of course, I do not expect to come back alive.
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併せ(しかしながら)自分に何事があっても決して驚かないように、また決して力を
落とさないよう平素より力強く暮らしてください。
And for you, Mother, whatever happens, do not be taken by surprise and please fight back with even more energy than you normally would.
24年の長いあいだスネかじりにて非常にご心配をかけ誠にすいませんでした。
I deeply apologize for these 24 years of worry and concern I have caused you.
お赦し下さい(おゆるし下さい)。
Please forgive me.
今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。
At this time, Japan is at the boundary of either winning or perishing.
どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。
We must persevere.
兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます。
I still dream that we can free our older brothers (from forced imprisonment).
自分のことは決して心配せずお体をくれぐれも気をつけて無理をしないよう長生きを
してください。
Please do not worry about me but instead, please take it easy on yourself and live a long life.

(Note: Green indicates an edit inserted for clarification purposes.)

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何事あっても荒槇、小林の方に相談して下さい。
If something comes up, please discuss it with the Kobayashis or Aramakis.
金本家は絶対に倒してはいけないのです。
No matter what, do not allow the Kanemoto name be extinguished.
伴の兄さんもお召の日が必ずあることと思います。
Mikizou-san will also be drafted.
(荒槇幹造さんも必ず徴兵されることと思う)
歳はとっていても軍隊に入れば初年兵です。一年生です。
Although he is much older in age, he will be treated like any other draftee. As a young recruit.
絶対服従を旨とするようよく言って下さい。
Implore upon him to obey every command without question.
近所の皆さん、河野,倉本、白井、武田、永井、正覚寺、梶田、山城、山根、杉本、
辻、河野…、橋本,西本、松本繁人、小林、中本、新宅、武蔵、水入、土井、堀田、住岡、見崎、長尾、加藤、三好、内藤、島本、(Writing continues next page from here) 宮本先生、谷口先生、慶雲寺などの人によろしくよろしくお伝えください。
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ではこれにて失礼します。
With that, I will say farewell.
何時までも何時までもお達者のほどお祈り致しております。
I pray for all eternity for your good health and prosperity.
南無阿弥陀仏の御6文字と共に行きます。
I go blessed with the six realms of Namu Amida Butsu.
サヨウナラ
Sayonara
昭和19年5月3日
May 3, 1944
末太郎より   ママ様へ
From Suetaro To Mama-san

His farewell send-off is pictured below.  Masako-san believes Suetaro wrote the letter around this time.  It was at gatherings such as this when a Japanese soldier was given a “good luck” battle flag – the ones that many WWII combat veterans “removed from the battlefield” as souvenirs.  There are many cases now where their sons and daughters – or grandchildren – are making efforts to return such flags to the Japanese families.

One of the treasures found during our journey to the family home in Hiroshima this month.  Uncle Suetaro is going to war and his death.
Uncle Suetaro (center) is pictured just before going off to war and his death.  You will notice my grandmother is missing from the photo; that is because she suffered her first stroke knowing her last son was going to his death.

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Bertrand Russell wrote, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”

He is correct.

On a much smaller scale, though, Grandmother Kono was all who was left in that house when war’s end came.  Her precious son Suetaro – who she kept from returning to America for the purpose of keeping the Kanemoto name going – was dead.  She was now alone.  I wonder how she felt.

A mother’s anguished solitude.

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Grandma and four youngest children at the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle, circa 1926. From clockwise right-front: Suetaro, dad, Mieko, Grandmother Kono and Shizue.

(For other related stories:

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part I

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part II

Were Japanese Soldier’s Frightened?

Eighty Years Later…


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Eighty years or so after he posed for a photo, my Grandfather Hisakichi is in an American book.

Standing “Marine-esque” in his Seattle barbershop.

Incredible to me.

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I had come to know Rob Ketcherside from flickr.  We had helped each other out looking at some old photos he had of Seattle – where all my aunts and uncles were born (except one).  He had some fascinating tidbits on some of my Grandmother’s photos.

Well, it turned out he was an author.  He had been doing a ton of research into “lost Seattle” – skylines and communities now long gone.  With his fascination for “what was” (me, too!), those sights are now basking in sunlight once again through this mesmerizing book.

It was boosting to me when he asked if he could use one of the family’s vintage photos in his book; specifically, the photo of my grandfather’s barbershop.  It is on loan to me from my cousin Masako (yes, the Masako after whom my blog is named) who luckily kept these family treasures all these years.  It is more wonderful in that the home in which the photos were in survived the atomic blast – as did my family.

I hope Rob (and his publisher) don’t mind a couple of pages of his book are shown herein…and I’ll be picking up a few more copies to take back to Hiroshima in a few weeks.

In the description below, Rob also mentions Masahiro Furuya and his business.  As it turns out, both my dad’s oldest brother Yutaka and his best friend John Tanaka worked for Furuya…  And yes, that is the same John Tanaka my Aunt Shiz married.  Small world, yes?  Actually, Uncle Yutaka was the matchmaker.

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A close up of his photo caption from above:

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Grandfather is standing at the right-rear of his barbershop.  And the photo is a full pager in Rob’s book!  Cool!  Grandfather should be pleased.  In the original print, you can see the brand names of the hair tonics popular at that time.  The gal in the middle was quite a cutie, too.   I wonder what happened to her.  If she was still there in Seattle when war broke out, it is likely she went to the same prison camp my dad and uncle were incarcerated in.

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On an interesting note, the consensus is the calendar shows January 9, 1930.

In concert with Rob’s massive research effort, gone is my father’s precious Hotel Fujii and my grandfather’s pride and joy barber shop.  It was demolished to make room for “Hing Hay Park” taking its place.

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Front of Barbershop
Grandfather Hisakichi holding Aunt Shiz in front of the barbershop. Circa 1918.
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Dad on right with his youngest brother Suetaro in front of the barbershop (circa 1922).  They are likely standing where the label “Hing Hay Park” is on the map above. As readers know, Uncle Suetaro was killed as a Japanese soldier by the US Army on Leyte on July 15, 1945.  Dad was imprisoned in Minidoka, ID at the time of his death.

Eighty years later.

My gosh.

And like the barbershop and Hotel Fujii, my dad is the last one standing out of seven siblings and two courageous grandparents.

Thanks, Masako-san and Rob.

I kinda wish my grandparents could have seen this.