As we made our descent into Leyte’s Tacloban Airport, I vacated my port-side preferred aisle seat and moved towards the window then buckled in. Visibly condensed, chilled and misted air flowed out of the specialized air conditioning system above us, very necessary in the Southwest Pacific. Our final approach was north to south.
The tarmac filled my window and thought to myself, My god. We are actually going to land on the island where my uncle was killed. It is finally happening. Our plane touched down at 4:40 pm.
I wonder what my cousin Masako felt at that very same instant. Besides my 96 year old father, she is the last person on this earth that truly remembers Uncle Suetaro.¹ I had been imagining many things of my uncle’s resting place. I solemnly realized that I had been grieving over what we know happened to him as well as how my father silently grieved for decades… but now, I feared about what we may discover about what truly happened to Uncle Suetaro. His suffering. His death.
I slung my orange backpack weighed down with my cameras and lenses over my shoulder then exited from the rear of the air conditioned jet. It would be six days before I would once again sit in such air conditioned luxury. The impact of the tropical heat and humidity was immediate on this southern California body. I began to perspire faster than Hillary could tell a lie. It reminded me of the climate inside the house when I lived with my last ex – ugly.
After being greeted by Akehira and Calimera, husband and wife owners of the limo service, we quickly exited the heat and humidity into two cooled vans.
Along the way to our hotel, we made our first stop: White Beach. Code named White Beach (see below) by the American invasion forces, it lays just south of the airport. There were two Imperial Japanese Army pillboxes left pretty intact for historical purposes.
On A-Day, the US Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment assaulted White Beach.
Per Cannon’s book, “…Both squadrons landed on schedule, with only slight opposition, and immediately began to execute their assignments. The 2d Squadron, within fifteen minutes after landing, knocked out two pillboxes on the beach, killing eight Japanese in one and five in the other.”
Mitsuko went about Tokyo seeking artists to paint war scenes from the Japanese point of view. This task was made much easier as Willoughby gave her permission to ride about in her own private jeep. This was a definite indicator of his affection for Mitsuko as all Japanese women were prohibited from even riding in any Allied military vehicle, let alone have one assigned to her.¹ With her purse flush with cash from Willoughby, Mitsuko paid starving artists large sums of money for art pieces depicting the war from the Japanese point of view. It was reported that she paid these artists up to several hundred dollars for one piece; this caused great dissension amongst the Japanese men who were assigned to compile the history. At that time, a year’s average salary rarely exceeded $150. Many of these men were also former Japanese military and were required to address their superiors as if they were still in the military. Kawabe ran the group as if it were still his army. Some of them found it dishonorable to be even working “for the invaders”, as my Tokyo grandmother liked to say.
Fraud was suspected with respect to Kawabe and Arisue. To further their spying, they asked for and received a tidy sum of money from Willoughby to supposedly increase spying activities on the Communists in the surrounding Asiatic regions. Similar to what is happening today but on a grander scale, some of these supposed spies just “disappeared” after receiving a supposed cash payment. While the CIA apparently came to the conclusion there was a scam going on, they failed to take remedial action.
In a further documented twist, the subservient Hattori was himself pursuing his own agenda in secret. Actually, he had two secret and separate agendas.
First, as he solely determined what would go into the Japanese-version of the history, Hattori was absconding with selected crucial documents that came across his desk. He had schemed that once “the invaders” left, he would write his way into history by publishing his own “true” version of the war against the Allies. By 1953, he was partly successful in that he did put together an eight volume history entitled “大東亜戦争全史”, or “The Complete History of the Great East Asia War”.
Second, he was gung-ho to re-arm the new Japan. It is reported that by 1949, the brilliant planner Hattori had drawn up a four division army with key officer positions already determined, complete with detailed arms and logistics laid out.
He passed away in 1960. In another twist of fate, his original publication was condensed into a thousand page book and published five years later under the same title.²
As for Willoughby, he also pursued his own agenda. Yes, he was motivated to glorify his commanding officer, General MacArthur, in the history books. Using the funding from G-2, the project moved along out in the open. Most anyone knew about it although it was done under a military intelligence umbrella.
However, in late 1947, G-2’s history department requested copies of the documented history. In a bewildering response, Willoughby replied by saying it was not ready; he also replied in like for the Japanese volumes. But what made it bizarre was that he stated it was but MacArthur’s personal record – a report, if you will – of what happened during the war… Essentially, that it was not an official US Army publication. As such, it would not be subject to review and approval by the US Army prior to publication. However, in a kind gesture, Willoughby indicated they would receive copies once it was published.
Willoughby went to a former Army officer, General Stackpole, in 1948; he owned a publishing company specializing in military history. Due to the immenseness of the volumes, Stackpole declined participation on the grounds it was too large a printing effort for his company. Willoughby then sought out Japanese printing companies but they were still in shambles from the war. He was unsuccessful. It was reported unofficially that MacArthur had known, at least, of the attempt.
Eventually, five samples of the “report” were published in 1950 by a Japanese printing company with the assistance of Washington. However, during this time, Willoughby – for (their) mutual protection – ordered all extraneous documentation collected during this five-year project that may jeopardize MacArthur’s hero status destroyed… and they were. Even notes and drafts were burned. The burning was supervised on March 2, 1951 by two US Army officers assigned to Willoughby’s history detachment.
The reasoning and significance behind this burning at that time is now clear. On April 11, 1951, President Truman relieved General MacArthur of his duties for his handling of the Korean War. To give you an idea of the volumes of documentation collected yet remaining after the burning, MacArthur brought back 32 footlockers full of documentation. Willoughby himself brought three more which apparently contained the galley proofs. He claimed these were MacArthur’s personal property… a diary of sorts. Willoughby managed to convince the government to finally print the “report” in 1953; however, MacArthur intervened and squashed the agreement citing the documentation was full of errors and was just a draft. It was not printed.
MacArthur did sell his memoirs for nearly $1 million in 1963 but like Hattori, MacArthur passed away soon thereafter in April 1964 and ironically never saw his memoirs published.
Nevertheless, the US Army finally did publish the two-sided “history” of WWII in 1967 after MacArthur’s death. The publication is entitled “Reports of General MacArthur” and can be read online at several websites. Previously owned hard copies are also available online. It is immense. From what I understand, the Army disclaimed any responsibility over its accuracy throughout its four volumes. It does contain the original Japanese artwork sought out by Mitsuko.³
Willoughby passed away in October 1972 in Naples, Florida. He is buried in Arlington.
In closing, I came across some information in the “Reports of General MacArthur” as to the action that potentially led to the combat death of my own Uncle Suetaro on Leyte near a village called Villaba…on Page 533 of Volume 2, Part 2. My Hiroshima cousins believe he was assigned to the Imperial Japanese Army’s 41st Mixed Regiment; it had been annihilated on Leyte. He was reportedly killed on July 15, 1945 but it is clear per MacArthur’s “report” that centralized Japanese army command on Leyte had ceased in March 1945 per this Japanese record.
Perhaps finding out exactly what happened to my Uncle Suetaro will only occur in a fairy tale. To realize I will never find out is my dragon to slay.
1 Though I have yet to see one photo, my mother and aunt claim our Uncle Taro took them around what was left of Tokyo in his US Army jeep. Uncle Taro was a Private in the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service.
2 Unbelievably, it is available on Amazon Japan.
3 Although I have scoured Japanese websites, only scant sentences can be found about Mitsuko. Her fate is unknown to me except for her grave marker.
As I watched “How to Train Your Dragon” on Blu-Ray for the third time with my kids, it became clear that knights in shining armor kill dragons…and only in fairy tales.
A tremendous Einstein moment for this old geezer.
But then I realized that sometimes, what we read about WWII history can be sort of a fairy tale, complete with a knight in shining armor trying to slay a dragon… the dragon being what truly happened in war.
History becomes what the writer – or a leader – wants it to be in the public domain.
Unknown to many is that another battle raged after the surrender of Japan. It was about what was to be recorded as an official history of WWII. It was a battle involving glorification, greed and politics of both the victors and the defeated.
And of course, it involved General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.
First, a quick opinion and summary of MacArthur from this arm-chair (amateur) historian’s viewpoint.
MacArthur had a helluva an ego as did George Patton and Bernard Montgomery. He was suspicious, short tempered, short on patience and embittered. MacArthur – as did Patton – studied military history extensively; he loved Napoleon. As commander, he failed to appropriately alert the troops under his command in the Philippines immediately prior to Pearl and worse yet, in the hours after. He had to flee the Philippines on a PT boat along with his family to avoid capture leaving behind his troops. However, supported by a brilliant, top notch staff and highly critical intel derived from intercepted then deciphered Japanese transmissions, he was highly successful in winning the war in the Pacific. He was a hero at war’s end to his great gratification. He was so loved by the American public that quite a few babies were named Douglas.
Primarily due to a ridiculously small and inexperienced staff, only a relatively short written history of WWII in the Pacific emerged in late 1946 to the chagrin of MacArthur. He immediately then placed Major General Charles Willoughby in charge of generating an “official” history.
Willoughby was in charge of the US Army’s G-2 (i.e., military intelligence) in the Southwest Pacific theater of war and was trusted by MacArthur. (I briefly reported on Willougby in “Ike, a German-American Soldier”.) Having a heavy German accent, Willoughby was very loyal to MacArthur, pompous and stoutly anti-Communist. He seized the opportunity to “write the history” on victory in the Pacific under MacArthur’s leadership.
Seeking glory in this mission, Willoughby recruited by the end of 1946 top Japanese military officers, spies and even war criminals. Each had their own personal goals and copious amounts of US money flowed into these Japanese hands. One Japanese officer who Willoughby met in Manila was the Imperial Japanese Army’s Lt. General Torashiro Kawabe (photo above). Amazingly, because Kawabe also spoke German very well and was anti-Communist, he and Willoughby struck it off well.
A short time later, still in 1946, Willoughby met Lt. General Seizo Arisue who was the intelligence chief for the Imperial Japanese Army. By sheer luck, Arisue was also fluent in German and a staunch anti-Communist and reported he had the extensive spy network in place mentioned above. A triad had thus formed and the project to document history took off but with a twist: to Willoughby’s credit, he foresaw a “dual” history. As history always gets written by the victor, Willoughby wanted two volumes. One would be the US side of the story, the second volume to be Japan’s.
In early 1947, Willoughby was introduced to a former colonel who served at the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo during the war. His name was Col. Takuhiro Hattori. Hattori was known to both Kawabe and Arisue as a genius in planning and organizing. Hattori eventually became the person from Japan’s side to determine what went into the war history.
Generous money flowed through Willoughby to Kawabe and Arisue, reportedly to help fund the spy network. Along the way, they brought in an “Issei” (a Japan-born first generation immigrant to the US like my grandfather) plus a university professor named Mitsutaro Araki. He also received education in Germany but no history would be complete without sexual escapades. Professor Araki’s wife was a socialite who used her beauty to charm others, primarily men. Her name was Mitsuko Araki. As a bit of trivia, Mitsuko was the only Japanese who was allowed free, unhindered entry/exit to GHQ. It was believed the CIA concluded she and Willoughby were having an affair.
In his efforts to make his recorded history unique, Willoughby paid Mitsuko to find and compensate artists who could paint battle scenes from Japanese eyes. He felt photos were too ordinary plus many were from US sources.