Tag Archives: Kibei

What Did FDR Know? – Part 5


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My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Yutaka, in the back row, center. He is posing with the Block kitchen crew at the Minidoka, Idaho “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. Notice their living quarters behind them.  They lived in plywood barracks covered only with tar paper.  There was no plumbing nor toilets installed.  Photo courtesy of my stateside cousin, Janice (Kanemoto) Hew.

So you likely see from reading Parts 1 through 4 of “What Did FDR Know” that Japan really never had a chance…  A chance to win WWII.

Their chances were nearly nil largely due to the US breaking two key Japanese codes.  One was JN-25, the code used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The other, as we’ve read, was “Purple”, the secret cipher used by the Japanese diplomats.  Simply put, we knew exactly what they were doing as well as what they were going to do in all aspects.

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 A Family Example of What Happened

My father’s draft card before Pearl Harbor, postmarked December 13, 1940.  As a US citizen, he was eligible for the draft and classified 1(A):

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My dad’s revised draft card mailed to him while imprisoned at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”, postmarked January 19, 1943.  This is now official notice he was now classified 4(C) – Enemy Alien.  The address bears his address (block number) at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”:

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Interestingly, the cards are creased as he was required to carry it in his wallet at all times.  All American males of draft age were…even if they were imprisoned in a dusty, barren dry lake bed in California stripped of all rights.

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Armed guard at the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. My father, uncle, aunt and cousins were there so he was guarding them. US Army Signal Corps, May 23, 1943.

Ironic, isn’t it?

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But what did FDR know about “suspect” activities by people of Japanese descent living in the US on the West Coast before Pearl Harbor?  Most importantly, of the extent and magnitude of their “suspect” activities?  We’re talking espionage.  What could have prompted his ordering the “evacuation” of such people from the west coast of America?

But don’t get me wrong; it was not just the Japanese.  People of German descent loyal to Nazi Germany also did spy…as did people of Italian descent.  Some were loyal to their homeland, not the US.  But certainly it was not ALL of them.  Let’s not forget the famous East Coast docks were run by the Italians, too.  Certainly, if one wished to “spy” and report on ship movements, there could not have been a better way.  Being dock workers, they know what supply ship left when…and with what.  After all, they loaded them.  A number were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic by the waiting U-boats.

Let’s explore this a bit further.

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Since we are addressing “suspect” activities, here’s an interesting sidebar to this story.

Did you know that eight German saboteurs were caught on American soil whose combined cases were brought before a special session of the Supreme Court on July 29, 1942?  Did you know they came ashore from submarines in mid-June with greenbacks worth over $2 million today, explosives and even James Bond-like devices?  The case was referred to as the Ex parte Quirin.  It was named as such because of the lead saboteur, Richard Quirin. Quirin had lived in the US for a dozen years and became the first spy “trainee” of this group once he returned to Germany.

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In short, six of the eight got to sit in the electric chair just about ten days later…  On top of that, a one saboteur (Herbert Haupt) actually went to live with his father in Chicago.  The father also helped him apply for a job and get a car.  Another saboteur, Werner Thiel, actually handed some of the money over to his once room mate and business partner, Anthony Cramer; they owned a deli but it had failed.  But it is interesting to note that in spite of this event, there was not a mass imprisonment of German nationals or their American-born offspring from this incident which made the US Supreme Court.

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The MAGIC Intercepts Distribution Process

Because the US had broken the ultra-complex “Purple” code in 1939 used by the Japanese diplomats, FDR was able to at least see exactly what the Japanese diplomatic corps was doing before Pearl Harbor.

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Lt. Cmdr. Arthur McCollum. US Navy Photo

ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) had established a secret delivery system for the intercepted Japanese military and diplomatic intelligence (MAGIC) for FDR in the winter of 1940. Lt. Com. Arthur H. McCollum of ONI, and the author of the “McCollum Memo”, was the distribution officer; his name was on 151 USN routing slips in the National Archives.(¹) These routing slips provided a trail to a large collection of Army and Navy MAGIC ultra secret deciphers from monitoring Japanese communications; these were presented to FDR, the top military chiefs and several key members of the Administration between February 1940 and December 7, 1941. Sometimes, when McCollum deemed he had a “hot” item, he would personally deliver the message to FDR; otherwise the President’s naval aide made the delivery as per below.

According to Stinnett (1):

The Japanese intercepts destined for FDR were placed in special folders.  Captain Callaghan (Naval Aide to FDR) was responsible for the safety of the documents. Roosevelt read the original copy but did not retain any of the intercepts. Each original was eventually returned to the folder and stored in McCollum’s safe at Station US in Washington. There they remained, available for White House review. Shortly after December 7, when Congressional critics began to question the administration’s failure to prevent the Hawaii attack, all records involving the Japanese radio intercept program—including the White House route logs and their secret content—were locked away in vaults controlled by Navy communications officials.

These intercepts would include those related to Japanese espionage efforts.  This twenty-two month monitoring program prior to Pearl Harbor also allowed FDR and key staff to anticipate and analyze Japan’s reaction to the provocations advocated in the McCollum Memo.(²)

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So what did some of the MAGIC intercepts and other investigative reports include before Pearl Harbor and up to the imprisonment of about 117,000 people of Japanese descent against their will?  We already know per “What Did FDR Know – Part 3” that Tokyo instructed its American-based diplomats to covertly begin putting together an espionage network.  In fact, because we had broken the Japanese codes, the US “listened in” on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in February 1941; he clued in Captain Kanji Ogawa, Japan’s top intelligence officer, of the intentions of attacking Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto wanted to give Ogawa enough time to put together his own military-based network in the event of war.

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ONI memo generated for FDR, dated February 12, 1941. This was based upon the Purple deciphers, with Tokyo instructing American-based diplomats to set up their espionage nets. Source: “Magic” by David D. Lowman.

Prior to the message instructing diplomats to energetically strengthen their espionage efforts, there were already Japanese spies living on the west coast.  Under the disguise of language students, Japanese military agents (primarily IJN) had already established their network including a small number of Issei and Nisei, militaristic Japanese organizations, Japanese clubs and business fronts.  This facet was led by Lt. Cmdr. Itaru Tachibana of the IJN.  In June 1941, however, this ring was smashed.  Tachibana, and unbelievably a former chauffeur and business secretary to Charlie Chaplin named Toraichi Kono, had tried to recruit a former US Navy seaman (Al Blake) but Blake turned him in.  While Tachibana and his lieutenants were deported, detailed searches of their living quarters provided detailed records of their espionage network.  This detail included names of residents of Japanese descent as well as a number of organizations.

While not a historian, the following is a summary of what I deem to be key MAGIC intercepts in addition to other information gathered by other entities such as the FBI.  In addition to information contained in the previous four parts, the thirst for intelligence by the Japanese was high:

  1. February 5, 1941 – Tokyo instructed the diplomats to come up with a contingency plan in the event something were to happen (i.e., war).  To always exercise due care and to look at Central/South America for continuing intelligence efforts.
  2. February 15, 1941 – Tokyo directly asked for intelligence on materiel movement (especially planes and ships), non-military cargo vessels, troop movements, production of planes and arms, military training activities, etc.
  3. April 24, 1941 – This intercept disclosed that Tokyo wanted a status update of its previous orders in regards to: (1) keying in on intelligence instead of propaganda, (2) recruiting of agents for the ring, and (3) established standards for reporting such information.
  4. May 9, 1941 – The Los Angeles office reported that they “…have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials…”  Further, they shall “…maintain close connections with the Japanese Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers.”
  5. May 19, 1941 – the Japanese Embassy in Washington requested $500,000 more cash to further their recruiting for intelligence gathering purposes, i.e., entertainment, bribery, etc.
  6. June 10, 1941 – To prevent an international scandal, this intercept recommended that it be made to look as if Kono’s friends were supporting him financially for his defense and to keep the IJN out of further suspicion on the arrest of Tachibana.  It was recommended $25,000 be offered as a bribe to Kono; the memo stated  in part “…in view of the danger that he might give evidence unsatisfactory  to TACHIBANA.”
  7. October 4, 1941 – specifically asked for intelligence on any change in sea or air patrols or warship movements and the immediate reporting thereof.
  8. October 28, 1941 – in one of many transmissions reporting naval ship movements, the Seattle diplomats reported in detail the sailing of fifteen Coast Guard vessels.  They also reported their four-inch guns were upgraded to five-inch guns.
  9. November 29, 1941 – Tokyo ordered the San Francisco diplomats to report in detail all arrivals, departure dates and destinations of ALL commercial and war ships in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. (Note: this was not transcribed until December 4, 1941.)
  10. December 6, 1941 – Seattle diplomats reported the departure of the carrier USS Saratoga from Bremerton, WA.

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Please note there were hundreds of these types of transmissions, both from and to Tokyo.  In addition, there were quite a few official FBI reports detailing espionage activities.  These reports also included names and businesses that were involved.  The FBI was not privy to MAGIC intercepts.

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FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which had the effect of forcibly relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry – both citizens and aliens – out of the west coast’s Pacific military zone and into War Relocation Centers. The much later publicized objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had bitter anti-Japanese attitudes.

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Dad in his US Army duds, Tokyo 1947. The Emperor’s Palace is behind him to his left. MacArthur’s GHQ is off to the right (Dai-Ichi Sei Mei Building).

So what is the point of this story, the last installment of “What Did FDR Know?”

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of their race.  In other words, they were discriminated against, pure and simple.³

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because “FDR wanted to protect the Japanese from hate crimes”.  After all, my grandmother was egged while she lived in Seattle.  Some Japanese girls were taunted or worse, molested, assaulted or raped.  Indeed, there was hysteria.

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of the espionage activities.  And from the above, we do see some were taking part in espionage activities.  In other words, the US wanted to ensure we won the war in the Pacific with the fewest amount of lost lives as possible and espionage was certainly a risk.  But if that were the case, how would the US go about removing Japanese suspected of espionage?  Just knock on specific homes and businesses and arrest specific men…but leave the others to go about their daily lives?

If they did that, wouldn’t Tokyo suspect their “secret” transmissions were being intercepted?  How else would the US have known who to arrest?  And if Tokyo did suspect that, what if they changed their codes?  We’d be in the dark again intel-wise.  More of our military would therefore possibly lose their lives.  (NOTE: It is true not one person of Japanese descent was tried and convicted of espionage.  However, it is my amateur opinion that they were NOT tried to maintain secrecy about the broken codes.  Case in point: the Supreme Court above.  Certainly, the fact we listened in on their espionage activities would have become public knowledge from testimony.)

So what do you think?  How does this compare to what you were taught?

(ADDENDUM – July 23, 2014

As a good fellow mentioned, the third paragraph immediately above can be read to imply my dad was suspected of espionage activities.  He was not.)

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In my opinion, our breaking of the Japanese codes was America’s greatest secret weapon.

It was not the atomic bomb.

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NOTES:

(1) Per “Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor” by Robert Stinnett.

(2) There was a brief period in 1941 when FDR himself was removed from the MAGIC distribution list.

(3) In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act.  The Act approved paying each surviving Japanese or Japanese-American $20,000 each for being unlawfully stripped of their rights for no reason other than race.  (My dad, four uncles, four aunts and seven cousins each did receive payment as did other more distant relatives.)

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 7


“When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”

– Vernon McLellan

That was Aunt Michie.  She gave all of herself and of her life strength to others because her heart knew no other way.

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At the moment Aunt Michie watched the ugly mushroom cloud rise from her field that day, her older siblings – my dad, Aunt Shiz and Uncle Yutaka – were all imprisoned in the “war relocation centers” scattered about the United States.  These were truly prisons and the popular view is that FDR imprisoned them “for their protection” because they looked like the enemy.(¹)

Life within these “camps” was “sub-standard”.  They were forced to live in small, shoddily built wooden barracks covered only with tar paper with little or no privacy.  No running water inside their barracks – they had to go wait in line outside, whether it be rain, snow, dust storm or searing desert sun to use public latrines or showers. Food was served in mess halls on pot metal plates at specific times, just like in the military.  The food was miserable according to Dad and worse yet, they had to wait in line again.  For the first month or so of imprisonment, he said all they had was liver, powdered eggs and potatoes.

But then again, he said it was food.

Aunt Michie and her family were near starving in Hiroshima while dad was imprisoned in the good ol’ US of A.

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Taken at the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima, 1951 and soon after my parents wed. (L to R) Sadako, Namie, Aunt Michie holding a young Kiyoshi, Grandma Kono, Masako, mom and dad. Courtesy of Kiyoshi Aramaki.

It is assumed like for the rest of America, Dad and his older siblings heard the news of the atomic bombing but while in the camps on or about August 8th… that one enormous bomb had wiped out Hiroshima.  There must have high anxiety and anger as many of the inmates in Dad’s camp (Minidoka) were from Seattle; they had family in Hiroshima as their parents had immigrated from there.

My cousins tell me that sometime after war’s end, Michie’s “American” siblings – my dad, Uncle Yutaka and Aunt Shiz – managed to re-establish contact with Grandmother Kono and Michie.  With the Japanese infrastructure destroyed, it was a miracle.  And it was no easy task as letters to and from Japan were not only prohibited, it was impossible.  There was no telephone in the villages where Grandmother and Michie lived.

But her American siblings somehow managed to send much needed clothing to them.  When my father finally reached Hiroshima while a sergeant in the US 8th Army, he carried two duffle bags full of C-rations, candy and Spam.  They said it was a feast for them after years of hunger.

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Dad in front of his Hiroshima home – April 1948

Sadako (who savored the white rice Michie made them on the day of the bomb) told me at a farewell dinner two years ago that she fondly remembered my dad taking them to a market of some kind where he bought her a little coin purse.  She remembered Dad gave her the money to buy the little purse and was told she could keep the change.  She remembers then handing the change – which was a LOT of money back then – to Michie who humbly accepted it.  Sadako said she cherished that little coin purse for years.

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EPILOGUE

From exhaustive laboring on her farm… to taking precious sashimi to her brother Suetaro… to walking ten miles with children in tow to care for Grandmother Kono after her stroke… to the pain of learning of her brother being killed in action… to being thrown onto the ground and watching a huge mushroom cloud rise over a small hill… to pulling a wooden cart over a hill…  to tirelessly aiding the victims… and most of all, sacrificing her own health for the sake of others…

She never gave up in those thirty years.  Would you have? I don’t believe I would have had the fortitude.

But because her soul would not quit, she got everyone to tomorrow… but in doing so, her own tomorrows dwindled.

Michie is still here.  The fruit of her sacrifices can be seen today in her six children, all of whom have lived – and are still living – full, joyous lives.

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Four of Michie’s children with my son and I. The four at the left front were at Aunt Michie’s farmhouse after the atomic bomb; Hitoshi was there as a burn victim. Hiroshima – September 8, 2012
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At breakfast – Endaijisou Hot Springs, November 2013.  Tomiko was at home when the atomic bomb went off; the house was destroyed.

They have their mother, Michie, to thank and they cherish that… and that they were all there at the farmhouse when she looked at each one of them intently one last time before leaving this world.

A most grand mother.

And yes…

They all love food to this very day.

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I wish to deeply thank my Hiroshima cousins for sharing their memories of their life with Michie with us.

Like all Hiroshima citizens I have met, they simply pray for peace.

NOTES:

(¹) There are declassified US intelligence documents which show that a small number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were performing espionage.  Intelligence was able to determine this by intercepting and decoding secret Japanese communications. This information was given a cover name of MAGIC and these documents were typed up for FDR and a very small number of trusted officials.  However, rounding up the spies would clearly indicate to the Japanese that their code had been cracked.  These documents present another view contra to the widespread belief that FDR imprisoned the Japanese and Japanese-Americans from discrimination and war time hysteria.  In other words, FDR used that hysteria as a cover story; by doing so, he was able to remove the “spies” from the West Coast without alerting the Japanese.  FDR also stated in communications that there would be “repercussions” from such action.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 6


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A mother holding her child in Ebisu, a part of Tokyo, and in front of her corrugated tin hut. 1946. National Archives.

Indeed, the difficult struggle for food in enough quantities and quality continued.  Black markets for food flourished, particularly in larger cities.

Housing in the cities, however, was extremely tough.  As an example, after many cities were bombed out, millions flocked to Kyoto.  MacArthur and other Allied military leaders omitted Kyoto as a target for its ancient cultural richness.  Many Japanese had heard of that by war’s end and trekked to Kyoto in hopes of finding a roof over their heads.  Unfortunately, all living spaces were occupied.  No rooms were available, even at a huge premium.

Even in 1948 – three years after war’s end – Tokyo still had tremendous scars as can be seen in one of my father’s photographs below:

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The trees bear the scars of the firebombing. Tokyo Station is in the background being rebuilt with the aid of the US military. Notice the “jinrikisha” lined up in front; they were the equivalent of taxis today and were pulled or pedaled by Japanese men to make a living. Cars will not be available for about ten more years.  Taken by my father in March 1948 while serving in the US 8th Army under General Eichelberger.

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Soon after the bomb was dropped, the hostilities finally ended.  However, food and essential goods continued to be largely absent.  Amazingly, my cousins who went through that hell choose to reflect on these post-war years positively.  That is, reflecting on it as a miserable time will but cause a wound to fester.  They had seen enough of festering wounds.

But let us step back a year in Aunt Michie’s life.

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Uncle Suetaro is pictured at the bottom left with his Army buddies. You can see how lean they are due to insufficient nutrition.  August 11. 1943.

One month before the surrender, Grandmother Kono was informed by the remnants of the Japanese military that her son Suetaro was killed on Leyte fighting as an Imperial Japanese soldier.  The date of death was recorded as July 15, 1945.  The Emperor capitulated just one month later.  Of course, we have no record of that communication nor when Grandmother Kono was actually told, but the bomb was dropped just around this time, we believe.

A little more than a year earlier, around March 3, 1944, Suetaro walked to Tomo and Masako’s school.  He wrote a farewell note on a chalkboard at Masako’s elementary school to say good bye as he was off to war.  Masako remembers he had written to be a good girl and that he was sorry he couldn’t say good bye in person.  The family took their last family picture with Suetaro (Part 2); he was flanked by his older sister Michie and Mikizo.

We believe the next day, Aunt Michie went to the train depot to say good bye to Suetaro.  She was very fond of him and “his American citizenship”.  Everyone loved the fun Suetaro and she apparently talked of him often after his death.  But at that farewell, deep down, she knew it would be the last time she would see him.  I wonder how she felt watching the train disappear.

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This photo was in Grandmother Kono’s photo album. Flag waving school girls stand on the right.  After talking about it with Kiyoshi, we believe this was the send-off Aunt Michie went to – to see her brother Suetaro go off to war and certain death. Kiyoshi indicates that a professional photographer took these types of photos at the train station and that the pictures would be offered for sale.  1943.

Soldiers rarely came back.  Per tradition, he had left Grandma Kono some of his nail clippings and some of his hair.  That is what is in the family crypt.

For hundreds of thousands, entire bodies would never be found.  This was true for America, England, Australia, Russia or Germany.

But at least part of him remains there in Hiroshima.

The cousins tell me Aunt Michie grieved for days after his departure… and that she was torn apart when she learned of his death.

The bomb would fall just days later.

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According to the family, even shortly after the bedlam caused by the bomb, Aunt Michie continued to care for her stricken mother by walking to her house five miles away when she could.  My dad said the road was “pretty” level but that since it is Japan, there were hills along the way, especially near Ishiuchi, a small village.

Taken by my father in April 1948 in front of the Hiroshima family home. Holding the baby Kiyoshi, who was born in the home, is Aunt Michie then clockwise – Sadako (who savored the white rice), Masataka, Namie (who pulled maggots out with chopsticks), Masako (who was thrown across her classroom by the shockwave, and Grandmother Kono (who did shaves at her Seattle barbershop).

In December 1947, Aunt Michie started to have contractions while walking over such a hill.  She was able to make it to Grandmother Kono’s house where she gave birth to Kiyoshi, right then and there.  No, no doctor…no nurse… and Grandmother Kono could not help due to her stroke.  It is said she was very happy that the birth took place at her childhood home.  She grew up there along with her American siblings.  She had felt safe.

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My cousins believe their mother, Aunt Michie, gave all of herself for her children and her family.  In spite of malnourishment, she toiled in her farm’s fields, cared for Grandmother Kono, gave her all in the bomb’s aftermath, set the example for her children.  She put everyone before her.

But soon after giving birth to Kiyoshi, she developed kidney problems.

They tell me that medical care then was still pretty non-existent so she had no choice but to ride it out.  However, she pushed herself back into working the farm too soon to care for her children, her own stricken mother and other household duties.  That was Aunt Michie.

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An “石じぞう”, or a stone buddha, along a pathway in Hiroshima. ©Koji Kanemoto 2013

Cousin Kiyoshi remembers massaging his mother’s swollen legs after a day’s work.  He also fondly remembers perspiring trying to keep up with Aunt Michie on a hot, humid summer day as they walked up a hill overgrown with thick, green wild grass.  There was a “石じぞう”, or a stone figure representing Buddha, alongside a ridge overlooking a blue Hiroshima Bay.  Kiyoshi will always remember that moment, looking at his mother with perspiration running down her face and the blueness of the bay.

In retrospect, they feel that if Michie had taken some time to rest and more often that she may have regained her health.

On May 29, 1963, she was laying in the same farmhouse in which she nursed the 23 injured people that fateful day.  Her kidneys were giving out.  She opened her eyes one last time and looked lovingly at each of her children who were gathered about her then closed them.  Thirty years after her father gave away her hand in marriage at 19, after 30 years of a life heaped with physical and emotional demands one after another, world changing events and family tragedies…  After enduring the pain of survival, Aunt Michie left this world.  She was but 48.

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In September 2012, I visited Aunt Michie for the first time. Masako is flanked by her daughter Izumi and my son Takeshi. Similar to the hot summer morning when she was knocked down by the shockwave, it was hot and humid that day. Now, I feel it was appropriate.

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Aunt Michie conquered all and gave her life to others so they could get to tomorrow… and she did that with dignity and unconditional love for her children.

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An epilogue will follow for Part 7….

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 4


You can hardly tell this is a young girl anymore. As Masako and Mr. Tsukamoto told me, they were walking dead. Flesh literally melted off their bodies and dangled. Grotesque forms which were once human beings.

The aftermath of the bombing was no different from hell.  Not that I’ve seen hell nor that I would want to…

But Aunt Michie and my very young cousins saw it.

They visited hell.

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Atomic bomb survivors. Perhaps this is what Aunt Michie and her cousins saw in their search for relatives on the other side of the hill. If you notice the flask the young girl is holding to her lips.  It was likely filled with radioactive water.

Nearly all doctors and nurses within the city had been killed or seriously wounded on August 6, 1945.  If they survived the blast, they were likely to fall ill from radiation poisoning and they themselves would die within days.  All remaining medical supplies – which had been nearly non-existent due to the war – had been destroyed as well.  Most food – even unpicked fruits or vegetables – were contaminated with radiation as was water(¹).  Thousands of corpses plugged the rivers as they would go in to soothe their burns but would soon perish.

It is important to note that food rationing in Japan was much more extreme than what was imposed on the American public.  While the rationing in America began in May 1942, it started with just coffee and sugar.  In Japan, rationing of a far more extensive reach began in 1939 if not earlier.  It extended to nearly all first quality food stuffs.  Rice, barley, seafood, meat, soy bean paste and soy sauce, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc.  Groups called “tonari-gumi” were established in villages and the like; they monitored and rationed food to the Japanese families based on what work they were doing, e.g., war production, number of family members along with their age and sex.  The rationing was so severe that when one family member died, the family did not report it.  The average caloric daily intake was cut down to less than 2,000 a day by 1945.

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Homeless orphan in Tokyo. He would have to be determined if he was to survive.

The Japanese civilians were starving, so to speak, and were without question malnourished.

Aunt Michie was no different.  She was hungry like everyone else and likely tired easily due to low nutritional intake and daily physical and emotional demands upon her.  It is important to have an understanding of her condition at this crucial moment in history.

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Sadako – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough. She would marry a distant cousin (common cultural practice at that time) who was also badly burned in the atomic explosion.  She is wearing clothing my father bought for her at the Tokyo PX.

After the shock and black rain subsided, Aunt Michie’s thoughts immediately went to her treasured family.  According to my cousins, she went into her priceless family rice reserves and cooked real rice for the children.  Sadako, the second oldest, remembers to this day how she savored that bowl of rice, a definite luxury at that time.  While but a child of ten years and filled with anxiety about eating such a fine meal, she saw at that moment her mother’s love and affection for them was unconditional.

Aunt Michie’s thoughts went to the Aramaki family (aunt and uncle’s family) who lived in Hiroshima.  She had no way of knowing that day but they had become direct victims of the atomic bombing.  They had been burned over most of their bodies and had even been trapped under their destroyed house.  They managed to struggle with their searing injuries to Aunt Michie’s house to seek refuge and care.  They had realized that only strong family support would allow them to live.

Grotesquely, the path going over the 300 meter high hill which the relatives traveled became littered with scores of dead people.  Masako said they were unrecognizable lumps of flesh and died where they crumpled.  Many had their clothes burned away.  While thousands were killed instantly, other thousands suffered for days before dying from intense burns, radioactive poisoning and other injuries.  As radiation poisoning was unheard of amongst them, some were told they had dysentery and the like.  Many before dying oozed pus from their ears and blood ran from their noses.  You will not read this in any Western textbook.  In fact, the gruesome information about the days, months and years after August 6th was suppressed for a couple of decades by both governments.

While the dazed and immensely pained adults struggled to Michie’s farm, there were young children of the family unaccounted for(²).  Without hesitation and unbelievably, Aunt Michie – in her weakened state – pulled a two wheel cart over the hill to Hiroshima to look for them.

Over a hill.

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I believe this to be the type of cart Aunt Michie pulled to Hiroshima to look for the unaccounted for children of the family. Kiyoshi called it a 大八車, or large two wheeled wooden cart.

Miraculously and while the details are lost, she found some of them and hauled them back to the farm on the cart, now laden with the additional weight of the children…  on the same road that was further littered with dead and dying people.  Think of the mental anguish Michie had to endure when dying people came up to her and asked for her help…  It would be difficult to not look at them.  It was more difficult to ignore them, I’m sure.

According to my cousins, a total of 23 people got refuge and care at Aunt Michie’s farm.  I understand many were relatives from the Aramaki side of the family.

There were more hurdles for Michie and her children immediately ahead – caring for the injured and dying.

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You can tell which way this woman was facing when the bomb went off. Her left side is burned. Photo was likely taken after August 6, 1945.
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A mother looks after her child. This photo was also likely taken after August 6, 1945.
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An elderly woman lies dying on the floor covered with flies. Perhaps this is just one of the sickening sights Michie and her children have buried in their conscious.

The preceding photographs may show what Michie and the children were faced with.  And the children were just that – children.

How old are your children, by the way?

The older cousins recall that they, Michie, Mikizo’s parents and the less injured relatives took on a 24 hour a day field hospital of sorts to treat the injured.  It was stifling hot and humid; yet, they had to be given constant attention and there were so many of them.  I cannot imagine how exhausting this task could have been, especially when you are hungry and malnourished yourself.

pattern
Taken sometime after August 6, 1945. The side of her you see is what had faced the atomic explosion. The patterns are from her clothing she wore that day. It was where the dark patterns of her clothing had been in contact with her skin. Masako recalls vividly this type of pattern among the burn victims and that the maggots followed that pattern.

The common injury were burns.  Severe burns…and they had no medicine whatsoever.(³)  No Bactine.  No Motrin.  No aloe.  All Michie could do was to coat the burns with a type of cooking oil and bandage them with pieces of cloth.  She must have endured unlimited anguish in knowing she could not measurably lessen their pain and suffering.  There must have been constant crying and unbearable moans of pain.

And on their hands, blood from human beings.

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Namie – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough.

Six year old Namie could never forget what she had to do.  Flies were swarming having sensed dying flesh.  Namie was tasked with shooing them away with a fan but they wouldn’t stay away.  And worse yet – time and time again, she had to remove the maggots that were feeding on dead flesh…with chopsticks.  I do not know if I could have done that…but Namie did.

The turmoil that must have stormed inside Aunt Michie to tell her daughters to do what they had to do for the sake of survival…and then to be stern with them and tell them to continue when they wavered or cried…  must have been punishing to her as a loving mother.  She must have wanted to cry.

Aunt Michie was the point woman.

And she fulfilled that role.

Her goal was to get everyone to tomorrow.

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To be continued in Part 5….

Notes:

(1) Per my 2012 meeting with Mr. Tsukamoto in Hiroshima, water is the main theme of the Cenotaph at the Peace Park.  Survivors clamored for water.  Where there was well water, many survivors were suffocated as dozens more pressed against them for the precious liquid.  Please see “A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima” for further information and links to their personal story.

(2) The number of unaccounted for children is unclear.

(3) Mr. Tsukamoto recounted how they had to constantly mash yams and place them over their burns to temporarily lessen the pain.  They did that for over a month, he says.

Ike, a German-American Soldier


General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Thirty-forth President of the United States of America.

An American soldier.

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An “American soldier”.

Plain.  Straight forward.  No descriptive.

But as a simple question… Was he ever referred to as a “German-American” soldier?  After all, he is of German descent.

Or as a “Kraut”?  No insult intended whatsoever.

I don’t know.

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How about General Charles Willoughby?

Major General Willoughby

Never heard of him?

He was General Douglas MacArthur’s right-hand man.  Chief of Intelligence during and after World War II.  G-2.  My dad’s boss’ boss.

An American soldier.

Did you know Willoughby was born in the town of Heidelberg, Germany, the son of Baron T. von Tscheppe-Weidenbach from Baden, Germany?  A royal German family.  His real name was Adolf Karl Tscheppe-Weidenbach.

He spoke German fluently.  And spoke English with a heavy accent.

Was he referred to as a “German-American” soldier?

Or as a “Kraut”?

I don’t know.

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How about my two uncles who received the Congressional Gold Medal?  Or even my dad?

An American soldier.

Unlike Willoughby, dad was born here.  In Seattle.

He spoke both English and Japanese without an accent.  And Ike didn’t speak German.

Is there any difference in Dad’s summer uniform in comparison to Ike’s?

Well, I guess there is a difference.  Ike’s has five stars; Dad’s doesn’t… Oh, and Dad’s is wrinkled.

But unlike Ike and General Willoughby, soldiers like Dad were referred to as “Japanese-American” soldiers.  Even today.  Or just plain “Jap” back then…even when in uniform.

Even in newspapers.  Here is one on my Uncle Paul who was bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal two years ago.

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Don’t get me wrong.  There is no intent to ruffle feathers.  Or to be accusatory or express anger.  And I certainly am not calling our 34th President a “Kraut”.

This is just history…  Albeit, perhaps, from an odd vantage point.

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But why is there a distinction made?

Are we – Americans in a broad stroke of the keyboard – bringing attention to minorities in too great a lawyer-driven focus?  But considering the popular vote, my friends, the minorities are no longer minorities.  Let’s face the facts.

From history, we need to learn.  Yes.  And we need to look at ourselves as of today… but with a helluva lot fewer lawyers.  (Did I write that?)

And people need to be “working” to the best of their ability… to live on their own ability instead of an expectation of assistance.  As a fellow blogger so eloquently wrote in “The Value of Ability“, we need to tighten up this ship and boost a person’s confidence that they do have potential and to live up to those expectations.

It’s time to move on from minority recognition…in whatever shape or form.  Hiring requirements.  College enrollment requirements.  Special program requirements. Especially within governments – local, state or federal…  Especially in our schools.  How about hiring a conservative to be a teacher once in a while..?  In my humble opinion, of course.

Time to promote “American-ism”.

Ike would have liked that, I’m sure.

正覚寺


正覚寺。

Catchy title?

In the past several years, as his dementia progresses, Dad is repeating many times how he broke his elbow as a young boy…  “Many times” like as in every four minutes.  No…every two.

I thought, “He doesn’t remember he ate like a horse ten minutes ago…  How can he remember something that happened 80+ years ago?”

Well, I just HAD to find out about his story…  and I did.

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The story (which never varies) is/was he was playing “oninga”, or tag, with the neighborhood kids.  “There was nothing else to do then,” he would tell me.  They would end up in the yard of 正覚寺 – pronounced “Shoukakuji” – the Buddhist temple which is a hop, skip and a jump from his home.  No wonder he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.

You can see a tiled roof on the tallest structure to the right of him.  That is 正覚寺.

The tiled roof of “Shoukakuji” can be seen behind and to the right of Dad in this 1948 photo.  He is standing alongside his childhood home.

For those who like visuals:

Satellite view of home and Shoukakuji, 2012.

He would tell me (over and over) that while playing tag, “…I tried to get away so I jumped on this big round stone then leaped up to a branch on big a pine tree in front of 正覚寺.”

Now that I know he did the broad jump at Nichu, I thought this jumping thing was therefore plausible.  (Did I mention I’m a writer for “Mythbusters”?)

“Trouble is, I jumped too far so my hands couldn’t grab onto the branch.  I slipped off the branch then broke my elbow when I hit the ground”.

OK.  So now, after “An Atomic Spark From a 1937 Yearbook“, I also know he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.  Plausible.  (See…  More proof I am a writer for “Mythbusters”.)

To this day, he cannot completely straighten out his right arm.  It’s crooked.  He now tells this story to my youngest kids, Jack and Brooke…  Every four minutes.

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On September 7, 2012, I had to know.  Off to 正覚時…  But unlike my agile father of the 1920’s, I was walking very gingerly.  There were four humongous blisters on my toes from walking in Japan and (from being tricked into) climbing Mt. Misen on Miyajima.

The sign at the entry gate, or “mon”.  Shoukakuji’s middle character is written with an old Japanese character.

Indeed, there was a Japanese pine tree, or “matsu”.  A huge one.  You couldn’t miss it as you walk through the “mon”, or gate.  It was so huge, the temple had steel braces installed to help hold these majestic branches up.

Steel posts and braces were installed to help hold up these ancient branches.

Off the to right, was the base of the tree.  A puny trunk in relation to the Goliath branches…  It was hard to believe at first this small trunk was the heart for this proud tree.

Then…  at the base…  was a large round stone.  Could it possibly be?  Plausible as we don’t know how long the stone was there…  Am I tough?

Masako and my son Takeshi stand next to the large round stone and pine tree made famous by my father some eighty-plus years ago.

But where’s the branch my father jumped for?  Myth: Busted!…  or so I thought.

Then we saw it.  Above my son Takeshi in the picture.  The base of a broken branch.  It was at the right height!  OK…  Myth: Plausible.

Here is the branch that Dad supposedly leaped for 80+ years ago…but fell and broke his elbow.

But conclusive proof was just beyond reach.  There was no evidence as to age of the tree or how long the stone was there…

Then, as if Aunt Shiz summoned him, the reverend of 正覚寺 came out…with his wife.  He was about 90 years old.  Almost as old as my dad but he still had his wits about him.  Thank goodness.

He told us he didn’t know my father personally…but that he played with Suetaro and Mieko, Dad’s youngest brother and sister!  He knew Suetaro well, he said.  He listened to Suetaro blow on his flute from the house in the evenings.

My Japanese wasn’t good enough so Masako stepped in…  She explained to the elderly reverend how my dad (her uncle) had jumped from a large round stone at the base of a pine tree here 80+ years ago and broke his elbow.

Masako is mimicking my father’s broken right elbow and his story while my son Takeshi and cousin Kiyoshi watch. Kiyoshi was pointing to the stone to supplement the story.

Unbelievably, the reverend said with pride, “The pine tree is about 400 years old…and that stone has been there for as long as I can remember.  It hasn’t been moved, either.”

Then the wife said that a number of years ago, the branch had broken off but it was very long.  Then after it broke off, “…a swarm of bees made a home inside.  We had to seal the crack unfortunately,” to account for the mortar on the branch.

Was his story a myth?  Busted?  Plausible?  Confirmed?

Myth: Confirmed.

Dad wasn’t imagining ANYTHING.  His memory is intact from that time.

Mission accomplished.

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But to end this fun story, we had my Aunt Shiz’s interment the next morning.

The reverend’s son was the officiant.  Glorious.  The circle of generations continues.  And he brought along one more piece of treasure to the interment:

The reverend’s son brought this gift for Masako and my Dad.

A photo of the majestic Japanese pine tree covered in snow.

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There are souls in this tree, too.

Oh…  I was kidding about Mythbusters.

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude – Part II


A young Grandmother Kono takes a modeling pose in front of her Seattle barbershop. She cannot possibly have foreseen what the future holds in store for her.

The most wicked risk of a mother’s love for a child is loss, and the price of loss is grief…  But the sheer passion of grief can become indescribable if a mother ponders on her decisions.

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In Part I, we left when my father returned to Seattle to stay while leaving behind in Hiroshima his two youngest siblings and his parents.  This was 1937.  Before leaving, the family took this portrait with Grandmother Kono sitting on the sakura wood at the house.  Suetaro is standing next to her:

One of the last portraits of the three siblings and my grandparents. Grandmother Kono is sitting on the sakura wood written about in “Souls of Wood“. Circa 1937

My father says that their younger sister Mieko was ill often.  Indeed, she passed away in 1939 at just 15 years of age from an apparent kidney infection.  Since my father was already in Seattle by that time, only his youngest brother Suetaro was left along with my grandparents.  Most decisively, Grandmother decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle when he turned 18.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi,” she was very concerned over the harassment and intimidation she had received due to the threat of war against Japan.  I also “feel” that Grandmother knew Grandfather was ill by the time she made the decision.

Sure enough, the very next year (1940), Grandfather Hisakichi passed away from stomach cancer.  He was 59 years old.  After raising Mieko for 15 years and marrying Hisakichi 31 years earlier in Seattle as a picture bride, only she and Suetaro were left in their home.  War with America would start the following year.  A war in which her three oldest surviving children called America home.

One family.  One war.  Two countries…  One mother.
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An undated school portrait of Suetaro. He looks to be about 14 years old.
For reasons I have been unable to document, Suetaro became part of the Imperial Japanese Army.  All Dad will say now is being taken by the Imperial Army was “part of life” back then.  Below, he is sitting on the sofa’s arm to celebrate the young man in the center being sent to China’s Army HQs.
According to the handwritten date on the back, this photo of Suetaro below (on right manning a non-combat grade light machine gun made for training) was taken on May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds”:
Suetaro on the right. Dated May 10, 1939. I wonder what Grandmother Kono was feeling.
Here is Suetaro, perhaps in a posed photograph for PR purposes.  It is of professional quality and taken on the same day as above:
Likely a professionally taken photograph of Suetaro.  It was also taken on May 10, 1939 in Hara Mura.

I have a strong belief this was taken at the Fukuyama training grounds for his regiment, the 41st Infantry Regiment (unverified):

A proud looking Suetaro in his full Army uniform. I cannot tell if the handle on his katana, or “samurai sword”, is wrapped in silk or machine stamped. All military issued swords were numbered, by the way.

Another piece of his elusive history then emerged – but it was not from the 100 year old woodshed.

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Readers know that my Uncle Suetaro was killed in action as a Japanese soldier on Leyte.  His regiment – the 41st Infantry Regiment – was annihilated by the US Army on Leyte.  My Grandmother Kono was told he perished on July 15, 1945 – just a month before Japan surrendered.  My father’s secret US Army unit, the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), had a direct hand in the high number of Japanese casualties – and the low number of American casualties.  In other words, the MIS likely had a direct hand in the annihilation of Suetaro’s regiment.  The MIS was comprised of Americans…of Japanese descent.
Dad as part of the MIS in post-war Japan.
It is not known if Grandmother knew of this fact.  It would have been an overwhelming of her heart.
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However, this is not a story on Suetaro’s life but about his life with his mother.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi”, we know she had her second stroke after being informed by the remnants of the Japanese military of her beloved Suetaro’s death.  The last Kanemoto in the family home was now… herself.

During my trip to the family home in September, my cousin Masako, her younger brother Kiyoshi, her son Toshiro along with my son were looking at vintage photos Toshiro uncovered just a couple weeks prior in the shed.  A number were of Suetaro with my father and Grandmother.  We were all quite emotional by then.  Masako removed herself from the table; I assumed she was overcome.  I didn’t stop her from quietly leaving thinking that.

Instead, she came back a few minutes later with something in her hand.  It was a small notebook.  Aged and frayed at the bindings.  Her eyes were red.

It was Suetaro’s war diary.  We were simply stunned.  Masako had it secreted away.  For decades.  She chose to bring it out now.  For closure.  It was the right time.

Masako shocked all of us when she brought out Suetaro’s Army diary.  (L to R) Masako, Kiyoshi and Toshiro, her son.  The Kleenex box is there for my use.

It took us a few moments to realize what she had brought.  It was brittle and smelled of old books.  The paperstock was of low quality – more like newspaper stock – as paper was in very limited supply during the war years.  We handled it as gently as possible.

The first few pages were of what he did during a short period of time; Suetaro’s writing was neat and in black ink.

Then the handwriting changed.  Suddenly.  It was hurried.  Rushed.  And in pencil.

It was his farewell letter to his mother.  My dad’s mother.  My grandmother.  It was dated March 3, 1944.
Kiyoshi is holding Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama” on the right.
Kiyoshi tried to read it; it was difficult as it not only was in his hurried cursive but in pre-MacArthur Japanese.  Many characters are simply not used any more.  Unused since 1945.  Only a few people can read it – like my father.  Suetaro’s brother.  But we managed to read critical passages.  I will include two pages as reference.  However, these are very literal translations of a few sentences but needs be read in its entire context considering the environment was when he wrote this.  It is easy to misunderstand or misconstrue his heart and soul at that moment.
Towards the left, it states, “初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます. 勿論, 生還を期してはいません”, or literally, “I am glad to be going to war and facing my first combat. Of course, I do not expect to be coming back.”
He writes, “今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます,” or “At this time, Japan is at the point of either winning or perishing. We must persevere as I still dream that we will free our older brothers.”

I stress this abbreviated presentation can be misunderstood.  My interpretation is, “I willingly go to war for Japan as we are on the brink of winning or losing.  By winning, Japan will free my older brothers from the concentration camps in the US.”

He will fight – and die – so that Japan will win.  If Japan wins, they would take over the United States and by doing so, free my Dad and his older brother Yutaka from the concentration camp.  At the time of his writing, both were imprisoned at the camp in Minidoka, Idaho after being relocated from Tule Lake, CA.  (His nephew, Bobby, had already perished in Minidoka at the young age of six.)  His older sister, my Aunt Shiz who passed away last month, was imprisoned at Manzanar.

Man, my eyes welled up.  Everybody was in shock…even Masako once again.

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I am unable to comprehend how my Grandmother must have felt reading that letter in 1944.  Suetaro had secreted it away in the “butsudan”, or family altar.  She had decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle to join his elder siblings.  Now, having read this letter, her regret must have been immense.  Grief.  She lost a piece of herself.  A beloved piece.

Mieko had passed away.  So did her husband in 1940.  Now her youngest son writes he does not expect to return.

Could she have foreseen this fate while she happily stood in front of her Seattle barbershop near King St. and Maynard in Seattle in the 1910’s?  I doubt it.

She would be alone.  To ponder.  To possibly regret to her last day.

A mother’s anguished solitude.

It is dated April 9th on the back with no year indicated. However, as my father took it when he was in the MIS, I will assume it is around 1948. Her face is worn.