This was from a time when the entire nation was 100% behind our troops… even our media.
March 1942… here in southern California.
She, an aspiring starlet named Marilyn Hare, was determined to kiss 10,000 soldiers in early 1942 and while doing so, boost morale… Not only for the troops facing an uncertain future but the country. At this time, the news was filled with the conquests of the Japanese military in the Pacific. The Doolittle Raid and the Battle of the Coral Sea would not happen until the following month.
Times have changed yet our young are still sent to war.
For the uplifting photo series of this kissing wonder in LIFE, please click here.
Life in Hiroshima was uncertain and grueling in 1945 – especially for women and children. It is a fact that nearly all the men up to the age of 35 had been taken by the Japanese military. For many, it was truly day to day.
Little food, clothing and medical care. It all went to the military…and then there were the B-29’s and the bombings. Devils associated with being on the losing side of war.
But at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, my Aunt Michie’s already tough life would be cast into wretchedness to test her mortal soul. She was in her farm’s field clearing old crops on that hot summer morning. There was an intense flash of light then the atomic bomb’s shockwave traveling close to the speed of sound slammed into her. She was catapulted and hit the ground.
At the same instant, her oldest daughter and my cousin Masako – who was eleven and in her classroom nearby – was hurled across the classroom by the same shockwave. The schoolgirls that were standing in front of her were pierced by shards of glass and debris.
Below is an eye opening re-enactment supplemented by computer simulation of the atomic blast in 1945. Perhaps you can put yourself into Aunt Michie’s or Masako’s shoes on that morning and experience what they did:
After years of a most grueling life, Aunt Michie and her children would now face the searing pain of surviving.
Even while giving shaves at my Grandfather’s barbershop in Seattle, Grandma Kono was busy in her early years of marriage. She gave birth to Yutaka (1910), Hisao (1912) then Michie in 1914. Other children followed: Shizue (1917), Dad (1919), Suetaro (c. 1921) and Mieko (c. 1924). A total of seven.
All seven of the siblings were born in Seattle… All except for Michie who was born in Hiroshima.
My cousins tell me their mother Michie told them she would wistfully ask her family, “Why couldn’t I have been born in America like everyone else?!” Lovingly, of course.
Aunt Michie never did get a chance to visit America.
Dad’s siblings came to Hiroshima and half of them were able to return to Seattle to continue their lives as Americans before war with America. But Michie lived her entire life in Japan. She was the oldest sister to the siblings and helped Grandma Kono raise them.
Michie’s father (my Grandfather Hisakichi) was a devout Buddhist. He required the family to chant Buddhist mantras daily; it was not “praying” but a way through which a follower “energized” himself to the teachings of Buddha. Dad’s Hiroshima home to this day has the altar in the main room where they chanted; it is unchanged in nearly a hundred years having survived the shockwave from the atomic blast.
According to well accepted family lore, a man from a village called Tomo came to the house one fateful day apparently to seek one of his daughter’s hand in marriage. His name was Mikizo Aramaki. He immediately went to the altar and chanted. Grandfather Hisakichi was so impressed by his devotion to the Buddhist way of life that he immediately gave his daughter away in marriage…but apparently, Grandather gave away the wrong daughter – Aunt Michie. It is said Mikizo had come seeking the hand of my Aunt Shiz. (Aunt Shiz was the prize of the village according to my cousin Masako.)
Being of farming heritage, Mikizo had acreage and a home. After Aunt Michie was told she was to marry Mikizo, she was, to say the least, not very happy. I guess that is a slight understatement if I say so myself. She argued – pleaded – with my Grandfather that she didn’t want to marry him and that she was not raised to be a farmer…but to no avail.
Aunt Michie was given away in marriage. Done deal.
I was reminded of how wonderful our little neighborhood is this past Sunday morning.
I invited our neighbor’s two youngest kids out to have breakfast. We had such a nice time albeit much too brief.
Although Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson are no longer with us, the integrity of the neighborhood remains.
It is a neighborhood where I feel safe. And I feel the kids are safe.
They are safe because our street is filled with good people. Good parents. Good neighbors.
They even bring in our trash barrels if they get home first. It’s swell.
But I marveled at how ALWAYS nice Jacob and Brady are with my kids…from when Jack and Brooke were born.
Jacob and Brady are growing up so fast. They are becoming young adults now and very busy. Yet, they find the time to play with my young kids.
Jacob is a super athlete. Heckuva sportsman and is heavily sought after by the high schools. Even now. His dad is a jock so he’s a chip off the ol’ block. (Don’t worry, dad. You’re not THAT old.)
And Brady… She already is a boy-killer…and a heckuva dancer. Smart one, too! (Don’t worry, mom. I won’t tell ANYONE I have taken over at least a hundred of my chocolate truffles. Funny Jake and Brady rarely tell me if they were good or not… ;))
But most of all, they are great kids.
Jacob and Brady always take their dishes to the sink when they eat here. Brady even cleaned off my (DISGUSTING) rangetop when she watched Jack and Brooke so that I could have my “date” with a varsity cheerleader and old friend for my 40th high school reunion last month. I’m still on a high from that, by the way. Thanks, Brady!
I had Jacob clear this irritating climbing ivy “someone” planted in my backyard. It was climbing all over the place…and into my neighbor’s yard. There wasn’t one branch left after he finished. He even pulled out the roots. Problem no more. Thanks, Jacob!
One other amazing piece of “togetherness”… There are eight kids between our two families with an amazing connection… The kids’ first letters in their names coincide – and in birth order, to boot! They are:
Robbie and Robyn
Taylor and Takeshi
Jacob and Jack, and lastly,
Brady and Brooke
And one last (and upcoming) connection… Robbie and Robyn are both getting married next year.
Soon, Jacob and Brady will be seeking their own niches in life. While Jack and Brooke will be sad, at the same time, I know their hearts will be filled with happiness and gratefulness for all their love, care and fun afforded them throughout their first years of life.
So many things to be thankful for…and Jacob and Brady are two of them.
There be gold in my family. Really. Well, the Congressional Gold Medal, that is. And it is made out of gold and honors the “Nisei Soldiers of World War II”. Its on display at the Smithsonian.
In fact, my family was awarded two of them. Two Congressional Gold Medals. Pretty neat, don’t you think? Three if you include a distant relative. Four if Dad had enlisted in the Army five weeks earlier. OK. Enough of that.
It was just a miracle mom and her younger sister Eiko survived the war having lived in the heart of Tokyo where very little was left standing. My grandmother was required to train with a sharpened bamboo spear to repel the invaders that were expected to come. It’s true.
But when war ended in 1945, neither my mother nor my Aunt Eiko could have possibly thought that they – through no grand scheme – would each end up marrying an “invader” and that they would end up living in America. The country that bombed their home into ashes. But it was a brutal war. Just fact.
Even more stunning is that they would be unknowingly dovetailed with the famed US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) for the rest of their lives. (I had briefly reported on the top secret MIS in an earlier short story.)
The first family member bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal is my mother and Aunt Eiko’s cousin, Taro Tanji; he is pictured above in a family portrait taken in Tokyo. He was born in Merced County, CA. Taro, like my father, was imprisoned in the camp called Granada in Colorado for being of Japanese heritage although he didn’t speak one word of Japanese.
In 1944, along with thousands of other young American boys of Japanese heritage, he was drafted out of the camp into the US Army. He was a “Nisei”. He then was assigned to the top secret US Army Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) in Fort Snelling, Minnesota to learn the Japanese language.
After graduating, he was assigned to Tokyo as part of US 8th Army and became part of the Allied Occupation. Once there, he immediately sought the fate of my mother’s family.
Through the resources of the MIS, he miraculously located my grandmother – the same one who was forced to train with a bamboo spear. They had survived but were in dire straits like millions of other survivors.
Exactly as my father did for my cousin Masako in Hiroshima, Taro used whatever pay he had to buy them clothing and essentials from the PX, took them C-rations and of course, American cigarettes for my grandfather. There are many stories of other things Taro did (he was a STRONG man) which I will save for later.
A kind man, Taro became a much loved teacher in the Gardena school system. He recently passed away in Gardena, CA in 2009.
His CGM was posthumously awarded to his wife, Aunt Martha. Amazingly, neither mom nor Aunt Eiko realized Taro was part of the MIS until I told them. I determined that through research of US Army records.
My Aunt Eiko was sickly as a young girl. Indeed, it was a miracle especially for her to have survived. She hates medicine, even to this day. As a funny story, when the US Army began de-licing the surviving Japanese citizens, she ran away as she was terrified she would get sick from the powder. Well, it was DDT so she wasn’t that far off.
In 1966, she met Paul Sakuma, a Hawaiian born Nisei. While Uncle Paul told Aunt Eiko he was also put into camp on the Mainland (the article says that, too), I can find no record of his internment. However, Uncle Paul was at some time in Springfield, Massachusetts after the war started. He was “featured” in this newspaper article. Surely, the title of the article was a sign of the times.
Uncle Paul was also drafted in 1944 and was also sent to the MISLS at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. This is the only photo Aunt Eiko has of Uncle Paul in uniform. I stumbled across it last year. Frankly, Aunt Eiko also knew very little of his Army days but I noticed the building in the background (below) as being the old cavalry barracks at Fort Snelling which sparked my researching again. He was also indeed a member of the famed MIS unbeknownst to Aunt Eiko.
Uncle Paul was also immediately dispatched to Tokyo as part of the Occupation Force. He was assigned to the 720th Military Police Battalion and accompanied patrols where his translation abilities were needed. A couple of good patrol stories – ones that men would likely appreciate. Perhaps some ladies, too. No harm, no foul, as the great Chick Hearn said.
Days before my first marriage, I got a call from Aunt Eiko late at night. She was hysterical. Uncle Paul had died of a massive heart attack in 1980 in Tokyo in the new home he had just finished building for them. He had continued living in Tokyo as a civilian employee of the USAF.
Like Taro, Uncle Paul was posthumously awarded the CGM. I secured the CGM and surprised her with it. Aunt Eiko “cried for happy” as he held the medal for the first time early this year (below). She loves him greatly to this day. She said, “Even today, Paul brings me great happiness.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, well, you’re pretty tough.
As dad volunteered in February 1947, he did not qualify for the CGM. But unbelievably, mom, too, did not know much of what dad did in the Army let alone him being a member of the MIS. Mom said dad never talked much about it except to say he did not enjoy interrogating Japanese soldiers being returned from Russia and Manchuria.
Nevertheless, mom and Aunt Eiko WERE enmeshed with the famed Military Intelligence Service although they didn’t realize it. Fate. They were surrounded by the invaders – secretly. Famous ones at that. A prejudiced opinion, of course.
I am very proud of these Americans. The Congressional Gold Medal is a tremendous honor and finally brings to public light the importance of the intelligence they secretly obtained for our United States of America amidst prejudice and discrimination.
I like to think that these Americans of Japanese heritage weathered the clouds of that time so we could have glorious sunshine today.
Yes, a small percentage of Japanese soldiers were anxious to die for their emperor.
But a vast majority was frightened of having to go to war. My opinion, of course.
Young Japanese boys were drafted from farms and fishing villages – just like we did here in the US of A during that time. Boys from Parsons, Kansas or from a sea coast shrimping town in Louisiana.
And they all had moms.
Like all Americans of my age, we were taught that the Japanese soldiers of WWII were fanatics. That they all were hell-bent to charge into a hail of Allied machine gun fire. To willingly die.
We were also taught that when a US Marine charged well entrenched Japanese soldiers with a satchel charge, he was a hero. Not a fanatic. He was John Wayne or Kirk Douglas. Was Esprit de Corps driving the young Marine to offer his life to save his buddies?
There is no intent to question our American values of valor or honor. Just a quandary.
My Hiroshima cousin Masako mentioned in Hawai’i having seen a photo of Uncle Suetaro and Grandmother. It was taken the day before Uncle shipped out for war (1944). Masako said Grandmother – having suffered a stroke the day before – was propped up by “shiki-futon”, or Japanese bedding for the picture. She felt strongly it was the last picture taken of Uncle Suetaro but doesn’t know what happened to it.
A few weeks ago, my California cousin Janice came across a number of old photos; she had forgotten about them. She said there were some family photos from Hiroshima. Her father – Uncle Suetaro’s and my Dad’s oldest brother – had apparently been able to hold on to them through the decades.
I asked Janice if there were any photos of my Dad’s two youngest siblings, Suetaro and Mieko, or of Michie (Masako’s mother). Janice then described a picture of Uncle Suetaro in a uniform and Grandmother (seen at the beginning of this story).
I was stunned. Topo Giggio meets Godzilla. It was the photo Masako vividly recalled seeing decades ago.
Is there an air of fearfulness…of fright? You can decide. But as we were led to believe, all Japanese soldiers were fanatics…yes?