…but Dad passed away quietly at 99 years of age on Good Friday, March 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA – at the same facility where his older sister, my Aunt Shizue, passed away just a few years earlier at 95.
Just an eulogy in photographs of Dad:
And my last video of Dad:
Dad, I wish I were a much better son… but I know you are joyfully back playing “oninga” or jump-frog in front of your Hiroshima home with your favorite brother Suetaro. I hope you have all the odango you can eat now. You will be forever young.
“Tell me the truth about death. I don’t know what it is. We have them, then they are gone but they stay in our minds. Their stories are part of us as long as we live and as long as we tell them or write them down.”
The Pain of Hope
I opened this series trying to describe the anguish a mother must have suffered – no matter what her country – knowing her son was missing in action in a battlefront so far away…
When we closed Part 5 of this series, no Imperial Japanese soldier came down off Mt. Canguipot on August 15, 1945, the day Japan officially surrendered to the Allies.¹ The US Navy and Army had also effectively sealed off any chance of retreating to other islands.
Uncle Suetaro was still on Leyte.
The date when Grandmother Kono and Aunt Michie learned of Japan’s surrender is unknown. After all, Japan and especially Hiroshima was in shambles from the fire and atomic bombings but I’m sure they learned fast enough.
But with war over and just like ANY stateside mother, Grandmother Kono waited for her son to come home… her precious son born in Seattle who was to carry on the family name in Japan.
As days passed then months, deep in her heart, she must have come to the realization Uncle Suetaro may not be coming home…but the hope was still burning inside, I’m sure.
Hope is powerful. Hoping, you believe, will change destiny. But on or about October 15, 1947, Grandmother Kono will learn that such hope can magnify anguish.
She learned her son was declared dead.
Japanese War Records
In January of this year and through the urging of Mr. Ota, my cousin Masako and her daughter Izumi journeyed to the Hiroshima Prefectural Office in hopes of retrieving some official military record or declaration of his death. Not knowing was eating them, too.
Because of the strictness of Japanese society, they were unsure the government would release Uncle Suetaro’s military record (if any) to his niece, Masako. I understand in anticipation of this, Masako had a “song and dance” prepared. She wanted to know that badly as to what happened to him.
She took along the precious, brittle 72 year old notebook with her… the notebook in which Uncle Suetaro hurriedly wrote his good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in May 1944. She told the government worker stories of her Uncle Suetaro from 75 years ago – that he was always happy-go-lucky and was the peacekeeper with his kind heart.
Perhaps the song and dance was unnecessary but she was successful. As sad as it was, she was given Uncle Suetaro’s certified death notification. She was also given a copy of a handwritten IJA service record that abruptly ended in 1943 – when the tide of war turned against Japan.
In Masako’s heart and mind, she then accepted Uncle Suetaro’s fate and resting place.
Uncle Suetaro’s Spirit Calls Out
But with the recent discoveries and stirring of beautiful memories, the spirit of Uncle Suetaro dominated her thoughts my cousin Masako said. His spirit beckoned her mightily…so much so that even with her failing legs, she determined to go “visit him”.
At eighty years of age and with ailing legs, Masako and her filial daughter Izumi journeyed to 備後護国神社, or “Bingo Gokoku Jinjya” on February 2, 2015. It is a military shrine in which resides the god-like spirits of those men who gave their young lives in defense of Japan.
Izumi wrote that she escorted Masako to offer her prayers to Uncle Suetaro at the first altar (below), believing that was a far as she could go.
Then Masako, in a stunning revelation, said, “I am going to climb to the top… Suetaro is calling for me.”
Izumi was beyond belief. Stunned.
Her mother was going to walk up the numerous steps that reached upwards towards the brave spirits. No cane. No assistance. By herself.
Masako climbed the steps, one by one. Determinedly.
Izumi wrote to me that upon reaching the top, Masako said in her Hiroshima dialect (translated by me), “Whew..! I made it! I climbed the stairs! You know, I feel Suetaro was nudging me from behind, all the time.” (「まあ～ あがれたわ～ 末太郎さんが後ろからおしてくれたんじゃろ～か？？？」)
Here is a link to a video from youtube of the shrine and stairs. It is so peaceful, you can hear Uncle Suetaro whispering. No wonder Masako had to climb those stairs:
From that day, Izumi says, Masako had renewed her life energy, all due to the call from Uncle Suetaro’s spirit.
But she did voice in reflection, “Suetaro was starving… When I think about that, dieting is nothing (meaning she can do it).”
Or, “Suetaro must be so lonely… When I think of that, I feel that we must go to Leyte to visit him and offer our prayers so he won’t be lonely anymore.”
…then, “Now I’ve got to go to the pool to strengthen my legs… so that I can walk on Leyte.”
And she means that.
She is likely going to Leyte this year.
And it looks as if Izumi and I will be going, too.
Uncle Suetaro’s Soul and Resting Place
Uncle Suetaro’s dreams of life in America died with him…shared only by him. But his spirit lives on.
Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, he glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.
He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?
While I cannot speak to how my Hiroshima cousins feel, to me, the hard evidence tells me Uncle Suetaro did make it to Leyte as a soldier in the IJA’s 41st Regiment. With the good help from Mr. Ota, his official military records document that.
But truthfully, I don’t know if he was in the troop convoy that disembarked on October 26th in Ormoc. Records indicate that only two of three battalions of the 41st Regiment landed there; the third battalion remained on Mindanao for a short period. Yet, it appears that even that last battalion headed to Leyte in short order.
Due to Mr. Ota’s notes and as corroborated by official US Army combat records, Uncle’s 41st Regiment did fiercely engage Colonel Newman’s 34th Infantry at the end of October and that one of Suetaro’s lieutenants was killed during that violent combat.
Combat records of the US 12th Cavalry Regiment document that once again Uncle Suetaro’s unit was engaged in combat. The presence of the 41st Regiment was confirmed by dog tags, having been removed from Japanese bodies then translated by Nisei’s in the US 8th Army’s 166th Language Detachment – the same unit my dad was assigned to in 1947.
There is second hand testimony that a few survivors had assembled on Mt. Canguipot from January 1945… and “mopping up” actions by the US Army units continued. Indeed, it was far from a “mopping up” situation.
Those of you versed in WWII will know of how enemy corpses were handled – down to the use of lye – so there is no need for elaboration. If you are not familiar with how death is handled in a WWII battlefield, the only thing you need to know is it is odious.
Therefore, how he met his death will never be known…nor his place of rest uncovered with his identification intact. Perhaps there was a picture of him and his siblings in his pocket that has long since dissolved away. But dedicated Japanese citizens visit these battlegrounds in search of Japanese remains to cremate them. Maybe Uncle Suetaro has been given such an honor.
I can only hope death had a heart…that he did not suffer for so long only to endure an agonizing death in a lonely confine… but statistically, over 60% of the 2,875,000 Japanese war deaths was attributed to starvation or illness (including those arising from wounds and lack of medical care).
Indeed, Uncle Suetaro is a soul lost in a faraway jungle.
Mr. Ota, on behalf of my family here in the US, I thank you for your help in our search for Uncle Suetaro.
Yes, some holdouts continued to fight the Allies after war’s official end and more lives were lost on both sides. And indeed, there were two notable soldiers who held out for many, many years. Sgt. Onoda was the longest holdout, living for 29 years in a Philippine jungle until his former commanding officer flew to the Philippines then personally rescinded his order to stay and fight but this is atypical.
When we left Part 4, at least one of Uncle Suetaro’s officers – 1st Lt. Shioduka – was killed during this battle per Mr. Ota’s book. If so – and if Uncle Suetaro himself survived – he would possibly left in charge of his 37mm anti-tank gun platoon being a Master Sergeant.
After retreating, Mr. Ota understands that around 2:20 pm, the surviving troops of the 41st Regiment tried to dig in along the banks of the Ginagon River and wait for the US troops to advance into their sights. However, after doing so, a deluge flooded the river and they were forced to move. Nevertheless, defensive positions were established just north of Jaro.
Per Cannon’s Leyte: Return to the Philippines:
At 8 am on 30 October, Colonel Newman ordered the 3d Battalion of the 34th Infantry to start for Carigara down the highway. As the battalion left the outskirts of Jaro, with Company L in the lead, it came under fire from Japanese who were dug in under shacks along the road. Upon a call from the commanding officer of Company L, the tanks came up in a column, fired under the shacks, and then retired. The leading platoon was drawn back so that artillery fire might be placed on the Japanese, but the enemy could not be located precisely enough to use the artillery. Colonel Newman then ordered a cautious movement forward without artillery support, a squad placed on each side of the road and two tanks in the center. The squads had advanced only fifty yards when Japanese fire again pinned them down.
When Colonel Newman came forward and discovered why the advance was held up he declared, “I’ll get the men going okay.” Upon hearing that the regimental commander was to lead them, the men started to move forward. The Japanese at once opened fire with artillery and mortars, and Colonel Newman was hit in the stomach. Although badly wounded he tried to devise some means of clearing the situation. After sending a runner back with orders to have Colonel Postlethwait fire on the Japanese position, he said, “Leave me here and get mortar fire on that enemy position.” As soon as possible Colonel Newman was put on a poncho and dragged back to safety.¹
At this point in battle, Mr. Ota reports, a M4 Sherman was proceeding up the left side of the highway when it came under fire. As the gunner was in the process of reloading (i.e., the breech was open), a 37mm anti-tank round directly entered the M4 Sherman’s 75mm barrel, passed through and carried through the radio before detonating. While all three tank crew members were wounded, the results would have been more disastrous if a round was chambered. Uncle Suetaro manned 37mm anti-tank guns.
Around Jaro and Tunga, fierce and intense see-saw battles took place. Continuing on with Leyte: Return to the Philippines, it reports:
Company E pushed down the left side of the road but was halted by fire from an enemy pillbox on a knoll. A self-propelled 105-mm. howitzer was brought up, and fire from this weapon completely disorganized the Japanese and forced them to desert their position. When the howitzer had exhausted its ammunition, another was brought up to replace it. By this time, however, the enemy’s artillery was registering on the spot and the second was disabled before it could fire a shot.
Elements of the 41st Infantry Regiment, protected by artillery, gathered in front of Company E and emplaced machine guns in a position from which they could enfilade the company. Thereupon Company E committed its reserve platoon to its left flank but shortly afterward received orders to protectthe disabled howitzer and dig in for the night. A tank was sent up to cover the establishment of the night perimeter. Company G received orders to fall back and dig in for the night, and upon its withdrawal the Japanese concentrated their fire on Company E. Although badly shaken, Company E held on and protected (a damaged) howitzer…. Company E then disengaged and fell back through Company F, as Company G had done.
Under the protective cover of night, the 41st Infantry Regiment retreated.
Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment, along with troops that had landed at Ormoc during the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, had succeeded for the moment to stall the advance of the US 34th Infantry. But fighting would continue.
On November 1, General Suzuki determined defending Carigara was untenable. As such, and during the night following, General Suzuki withdrew his troops from Carigara. He ordered his remaining troops – now low on food, ammunition, overwhelmed with dying wounded and no hope for adequate re-supply – to establish strong defensive positions in the mountains southwest of the town in the vicinity of Limon. By “clever deception as to his strength and intentions,” the enemy completely deluded the Americans into believing that his major force was still in Carigara per the Sixth Army’s Operations Report, Leyte.
Of significant note, a massive typhoon hit the Philippines on November 8, 1944. Trees were felled and the slow pace of resupply nearly ceased. Trails were washed away with flooding at the lower elevations. This affected both the IJA and US forces, likely the Japanese the hardest.
I wonder what Uncle Suetaro was feeling as the intense rain from the typhoon pummeled him in the jungle while being surrounded by the US Army. He could not light a fire even if it were safe to do so. I wonder how cold he was or if he was shivering while laying in the thick mud. I wonder what he was eating just to stay alive let alone fight for his life.
Breakneck Ridge: Second Phase
Per Leyte: Return to the Philippines, the 41st Regiment is documented again:
On 9 November the Japanese 26th Division arrived at Ormoc in three large transports with a destroyer escort. The troops landed without their equipment and ammunition, since aircraft from the Fifth Air Force bombed the convoy and forced it to depart before the unloading was completed. During the convoy’s return, some of the Japanese vessels were destroyed by the American aircraft.
The arrival of these (Japanese) troops was in accord with a plan embodied in the order which had been taken from the dead Japanese officer on the previous day.² This plan envisaged a grand offensive which was to start in the middle of November. The 41st Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division and the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions of the 102d Division were to secure a line that ran from a hill 3,500 yards northwest of Jaro to a point just south of Pinamopoan and protect the movement of the 1st Division to this line. With the arrival of the 1st Division on this defensive line, a coordinated attack was to be launched–the 1st Division seizing the Carigara area and the 41st Infantry Regiment and the 26th Division attacking the Mt. Mamban area about ten miles southeast of Limon. The way would then be open for a drive into Leyte Valley.
Battle Against the US 12th Cavalry Regiment
Per a US 1st Cavalry Division website (http://www.first-team.us/tableaux/chapt_02/) and with the research performed by Mr. Ota, the 41st Regiment was positively identified as being present on “Hill 2348” and fighting against the US 12th Cavalry Regiment (a subset of the 1st Cavalry Division) :
On 20 November, the rest of the 12th Cavalry became heavily engaged around Mt. Cabungaan, about three miles south of Hill 2348. The enemy had dug in on the reverse side of sharp slopes. Individual troopers were again faced with the task of searching out and destroying positions in the fog. Throughout the night of 21 – 22 November the 271st Field Artillery kept the Japanese on the northwest side of Mt. Catabaran awake by heavy concentrations of fire. Before the day was over, patrols from the 12th Cavalry had established observation posts within 150 yards of Cananga on Highway 2 in the Ormoc Valley.
Mr. Ota uncovered a 12th Cavalry report on microfiche in a Japanese governmental archive, dated November 26, 1944. It states in part, “Dog tags from Hill 2348 confirmed elements of the 41st Regiment there.”² In it, it states fog and the muddy terrain made for extreme conditions but they used 81mm mortars to eliminate Japanese positions.
The website continues:
On 26 November, both the 12th and 112th Cavalry Regiments launched attacks against their immediate opposition. The enemy positions that had given heavy resistance to the 112th Cavalry on the two previous days were seized in the afternoon after a pulverizing barrage from the 82nd and 99th Field Artillery Battalions. On 28 November the 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry launched another successful attack on Hill 2348 which took the form of a double envelopment. The 1st Squadron renewed their attack on positions on Mt. Cabungaan but sharp ridges held up their advance, The 112th Cavalry continued to move toward its objective…
On 01 December the 112th Cavalry engaged the enemy at the ridge south of Limon. On the night of 02 December, the battle for Hill 2348 reached its climax. The 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry suffered heavy casualties from the heavy machine gun fire, mortars, and waves of Japanese troops in suicidal attacks. On 04 December, the 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry attacked and overcame a position to its front with the enemy fleeing in the confusion. “A” Troop, of the 112th, in a drive to the northwest, made contact with the left flank elements of the 32nd Division. Thus the drive became an unremitting continuous line against the Japanese and enemy elements that were caught behind the line were trapped.
Throughout 07 and 08 December, patrols of the 5th and 12 Cavalry continued mop up operations. The 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry moved out to locate and cut supply lines of the enemy who were still holding up the advance of the 2nd Squadron. On 09 December, heavy rains brought tactical operations to a near standstill and limited activity to patrol missions…
…The Division continued the attack west toward the coast over swamps against scattered resistance. By 29 December the 7th Cavalry had reached the Visayan Sea and initiated action to take the coastal barrio of Villaba. On 31 December after four “Banzai” attacks, each preceded by bugle calls, the small barrio fell.
Attempts to Leave Leyte
By January 1945, Japanese command was in shambles. However, some planned effort was made by the IJA to retreat (evacuate) to other islands. Certain departure points were selected south of Villaba, east of the island of Cebu.
The Japanese only had 40 seaworthy landing craft available to evacuate survivors. (A record exists which estimated 268 soldiers of the 41st Regiment were left out of the 2,550 that landed at Ormoc on October 26, 1944.) The US ruled the seas and the skies making any large scale evacuation impossible.
The Reports of General MacArthur states only about 200 soldiers were able to board the landing crafts; however, only 35 made it to Cebu. Once MacArthur figured out this was an evacuation attempt, the Villaba coastline came under intense attack. Evacuation hopes ended for Uncle Suetaro.
Lt. General Makino attempted as best possible to assemble any IJA survivors in the Mt. Canguipot area, just a couple of miles east of Villaba.
By April, 1945, only a small number of tattered, hungry and ill soldiers were believed to still be alive. In a Japanese book called Rising Sun, it was reported up to 100 Japanese soldiers were dying each day during this time from starvation and/or illness.³
If Uncle Suetaro was still alive, I passionately wonder what intense emotions were raging through him. Perhaps he thought of his mother or of his remaining siblings in America. I am here fighting to free my brothers and sister from the American concentration camps.
He must have known his young life would be ending on that island – on that hill to become another soul lost in a faraway jungle.
I can but hope his fear was overcome by tranquility.
The war ended four months later, on August 15, 1945.
No one walked down off Mt. Canguipot that day… in particular, my Uncle Suetaro.
An epilogue will follow and will close this series.
1. Although Aubrey “Red” Newman would survive his grievous stomach wound, he would not return to battle before war’s end. However, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his command actions and retired a Major General. He passed away in 1994 at 90 years of age.
2. It is just my opinion but only one of the 120 US 8th Army Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service on Leyte could have translated this key document in less than a day.
3. I am not convinced of this information’s authenticity.
It is believed I occupy a potentially unique position when it comes to looking at history as it pertains to the Pacific Theater in World War II. I am American first and foremost and have studied WWII history out of curiosity. As expressed in the description of my blog, my viewpoint is from “one war, two countries, one family”. However, one potential uniqueness is that I am able to read a bit of Japanese; you may be amazed to read what is written about WWII from the Japanese viewpoint of history. As such, I believe each battle will have in the background two broad, driving and dissimilar viewpoints: one from America and one from Japan. The attack on Pearl Harbor is one example. But that is but the surface on war’s history – a high altitude view. One that can be easily manipulated politically. But being on the ground dealing in face to face combat – or interrogation – leaves little to interpretation. However, the fog of time challenges what is seen in a veteran’s mind.
Many of us here in the US interested in this world-wide cataclysm believe the Japanese soldier was a fanatic… freely willing to give his life for the Emperor. The banzai charges. The kamikaze attacks. Individual soldiers throwing themselves under tanks with an explosive charge strapped onto their backs in a suicide attack. The truth of the matter is… they were farm boys. City boys. Just like our boys, they were drafted. Instead of dying in “banzai attacks”, these “fanatical” Japanese soldiers wanted to go home just like our boys…but they couldn’t for fear of reprisal against their families. Being a buck private in the Japanese army was brutal. Perhaps not as brutal as the treatment they gave POWs but brutal nonetheless. My Uncle warned his brother-in-law of that brutality in his farewell letter written on May 3, 1944.
A Look Into Imperial Japanese Army Morale
Indeed, as early as 1943, morale amongst the Japanese soldiers was very poor per this US Army G-2 intelligence report:
So perhaps things are not what they seem? I wonder how my Uncle Suetaro felt.
The 41st Regiment, and therefore Uncle Suetaro, was stationed in Pyongyang, Korea in May, 1944 per Mr. Ota’s book. It had become absorbed by the Imperial Japanese Army’s 30th Division. After sunset on May 8, 1944, the 41st Regiment boarded a steam locomotive bound for Pusan. After one day’s ride, they arrived in Pusan on May 9 at 4:00 PM. All 5,000 troops soon began to cram onto a ship called the 日昌丸 (Nissho Maru) with a capacity of 3,000 troops… in addition to supplies and their backpacks. American intelligence reports indicate temperatures could rise to 120F within the holds.
Per Mr. Ota’s reconstruction, the Nissho Maru departed Pusan on May 10 as part of a Imperial Japanese Navy fleet convoy. At about 3 PM the next day, the convoy docked in Moji Port in Kyushu, Japan to take on more supplies and hook up with other transports. During this time, their destination was disclosed: Mindanao. I am sure thoughts of seeing his mother was enveloping his mind…and heart.
Hiroshima was not far away. In the early dawn hours of May 13, the convoy – now consisting of eleven transports and four destroyer escorts, departed Moji Port. They were vigilant against US submarines and proceeded at best possible speed. They docked at Manila during the evening of the 18th. The troops were already plagued with severe cases of sweat rash.
Soon, the 1st and 2nd Battalions on board the Nissho Maru headed to Cagayan with the 3rd Battalion and headquarters staff headed to Surigao on board the Tamatsu Maru. Because they were splitting up and therefore would be separated from their regimental colors, the commanding officers boarded the Nissho Maru on the 19th as a send off. They reached their destinations on the 23rd. Soon, they were engaging Filipino guerrillas and they were extracting their toll on Uncle Suetaro’s regiment. Per Mr. Ota, Captain Okamoto, a combat veteran from New Guinea was killed. On July 10, Captain Ozaki, commanding officer of the 2nd Batallion, was also killed. Short on officers, Captain Masaoka was appointed commanding officer of the remaining troops, numbering about 1,000.
October 20, 1944 – Invasion of Leyte
By the time of the invasion, General Yamashita had more than 400,000 soldiers stationed about the Philippines. My Uncle Suetaro’s division, the 30th Division, was stationed on Mindanao to the south. Yamashita had access to close to 900 planes, about 100 airfields (the largest of which was Tacloban on Leyte), and a naval fleet spearheaded by four carriers and seven battleships. (However, this paled in comparison to the naval and air forces of the US. For instance, by the time of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the US had 34 carriers at their disposal.) The invasion of Leyte was preceded by the US 6th Ranger Battalion taking three smaller islands to the east of Leyte Gulf on October 17, 1944. The weather was perfect and all hell broke lose on October 20, 1944 (A-Day) when MacArthur unleashed the Sixth Army’s X Corps, XXIV Corps and the 21st Infantry Regiment in three different assaults on three eastward facing beaches (see below):
General Yamashita was caught flat-footed. He had anticipated MacArthur would invade Luzon first. He had to scramble. In fact, the invasion’s advance was so rapid that MacArthur made his walk onto the Leyte beach a “Hollywood-esque” event on the first day. Yes, he actually had several takes done of wading ashore being the media seeker he was but it is true there was gunfire off in the distance. Fortunately for our troops, the Japanese had withdrawn her troops from shoreline defensive posts. Even though there had been up to four hours of bombardment by the USN of the shore defenses, many fortifications – including pillboxes – were untouched per an A-Day communication to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF from General Kenney. He concluded there would have been a blood bath similar to Tarawa if the Japanese hadn’t withdrawn.
The first major coordinated Japanese Army troop movements (i.e., reinforcements) to Leyte involved troop transports, joined by units of Cruiser Division 16 out of Manila. The objective was to transport about 2,550 soldiers (count per Mr. Ota) of the 41st Regiment from Cagayan, on Mindanao, to Ormoc. Named Convoy TA 1 by the USN, it included heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Kinu, Uranami, three new T.1-class transports (T.6, T.9, and T.10), and two new T.101-class transports, (T.101 and T.102). They were to be led by Rear Admiral Sakonju Naomasa in the Aoba but she had been torpedoed two days earlier by the USS Bream. The flag had been transferred to Kinu. This convoy picked up the surviving 1st and 2nd Battalion members of the 30th Division at Cagayan, Mindanao on October 25th and arrived at Ormoc. Fortunately, the Division had been alerted the day before so they were ready. Uncle Suetaro had apparently been in the the 3rd Echelon, 1st wave of five transports that disembarked on the 26th in Ormoc.
Per Mr. Ota and under the command of Lt. General Shiro Makino, Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment headed towards Tacloban. He could not have foreseen what was ahead of him: swamps, jungle, mud, illness, starvation…and the US Sixth Army. …and most poignantly, up against my dad’s US 8th Army’s Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service. To be continued in Part 3. (Note: The Battle of Leyte Gulf took place from October 23 to 26, 1944. The immense Japanese battleship Yamato was reportedly only a few hours from Ormoc Bay when she inexplicably turned back during this epic sea battle.)
A mother during World War II could suffer no greater anguish than receiving a telegram that her son was not killed but rather, deemed missing in action.
One irony rests with the fact we were the victors in World War II. While certainly not in all instances, we have a large percentage of intact battle records – and survivors – to help identify (or locate) remains largely because we were victors.
For us here in the US, roughly 420,000 are deemed as killed in action during World War II. However, at one time, there were roughly 80,000 classified as missing in action. There is a second irony here. As seen in the solemn photograph above, parts of a vibrant yet unidentifiable son were brought to this battlefield cemetery for burial. In other words, we have his remains; his name, however, is not on the grave marker. His name is on the list of those missing in action.
The most horrible anguish for a mother, in my opinion, is knowing he could not be found or not knowing where or how he met his end. Her son physically will be forever alone where he perished, never to be seen again… to be taken back over time into the earth from whence he came.
Absence of Records
Japan was at the losing end of the war (as was Nazi Germany). Japan’s major cities were obliterated as were her paper records unless underground or well protected against fire. To further exacerbate the bleakness of this situation, most combat notes or reports written by Japanese officers at a front never made it back to Japan for the most part, especially if the unit was disseminated. Further, as a unit became closer to annihilation, Japanese army headquarters would lose all contact.
On the other hand, many of these written reports made it into US hands and used as intelligence against the Japanese themselves; US Army soldiers were under orders to retrieve all such material. Such documents were taken from those who surrendered or from overrun positions. The most gruesome was having to remove it from a dead soldier – or what was left of him.
The end result was Japanese headquarters more often than not knew little or nothing of what happened to individual soldiers or sailors – especially when it came to NCOs, or Non-Commissioned Officers.
American military wore dog tags (a set of two) towards war’s end, complete with name, home town and serial number to help with identification. Japanese NCOs – like my Uncle Suetaro – also wore “ID tags”, called 認識票 (Ninshikihyo).
Unlike the machine stamped American tags, all of the Japanese tags were stamped by hand with a small chisel and hammer. Most of all, these NCO tags generally only had their assigned regiment number, possibly a unit number and a serial number. No name.
Their fates disappeared with the deaths of their units.
The void of not knowing how or exactly where my Uncle Suetaro was killed has plagued me for five years now. Yes, I was unaware that dad had a younger brother let alone killed as a Japanese soldier until then.
My Hiroshima cousins, Masako, Kiyoshi, Toshiro and Masako’s daughter Izumi, believed Uncle Suetaro met his end near a village called Villaba on Leyte, thirty days before war’s end on July 15, 1945. This was essentially based on word of mouth. Any other information had been lost in the seven decades since his tragic death. (I believe my father knew more specifics about his death having heard it directly from my grandmother and his older sister, Michie, in 1947. He refuses to talk about it.)
However, in November last year, we renewed interest in a link we found on a Japanese website. Izumi took the initiative and pursued it. It led to an actual memorial association started by the approximately 20 survivors of my Uncle’s unit, the 41st Regiment.
Long story short, it turns out there is one man, Mr. Yusuke Ota, who had also taken a huge interest in the Hiroshima-based 41st Regiment. He was just about to publish a book on the regiment when Izumi made contact with him, with well over 500 pages of data and history he’s uncovered .
In addition to buying our family ten copies of his book (in vertically written Japanese, unfortunately), Izumi began a dialogue with the author, Mr. Ota. Mr. Ota was gracious enough to share his thoughts on our Uncle Suetaro based upon our vintage photos.
After viewing the photos and in his opinion, Uncle Suetaro was part of an anti-tank gun squad manning a Type 94 37mm anti-tank gun based on a German design. In the early part of our war with Japan, the 37mm was deadly against our antiquated Stuart and early Sherman tank models.
The photos below were taken in Japan and were scanned from my Hiroshima Grandmother Kono’s photo album. I believe Uncle Suetaro gave them to her:
The 37mm anti-tank gun was manned by eleven men and was equipped with either wooden or steel wheels. It could be broken down into four main parts so that it could be hauled by four mules or carried if need be. It weighed about 220 pounds. But it is easier said than done – imagine you are in a hilly jungle during the monsoons or in a swamp… and you’re hungry, thirsty or even wounded.
It was low profile, a typical Japanese design, meant to be fired in combat while prone or squatting. It had a straight sight and a well supplied and trained team could fire a round every two seconds. They were deployed, if possible, in groups of four guns.
We believe, through Mr. Ota’s book, that Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment was stationed in Pyongyang, Korea in early May, 1944. (Edit: 2/7/2015)
By this time, Japan’s control over the Philippines had begun to deteriorate. The Allies were knocking on their doorstep. The Imperial Japanese Navy was to lose tremendous naval assets in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in just a few weeks. Filipino guerrillas were also attacking Japanese infrastructure from within. The Japanese military believed that General MacArthur would begin his attacks and assault Mindanao in short order.
In response to that conclusion, The Japanese army reorganized and placed the infamous General Tomoyuki Yamashita in charge of the newly restructured 14th Area Army. My uncle’s unit, the 41st Regiment, was then attached to the 14th Area Army.
By the end of May, Uncle Suetaro and his 41st Regiment were on Leyte.
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.