Life has been quite unpredictable for me for the past six weeks or so – as well as tiring. I am quite behind in reading many of your fine blogs and that is on my priority to-do list. But it is a hollow descriptive for me to say I am tired.
I am still alive.
Twenty-nine thousand are not.
The battle for Iwo Jima began 68 years ago on February 19, 1945.
Sixty-eight years ago. Just yesterday for many.
Sixty-eight years ago, about 29,000 young men met horrible deaths on that demonic volcanic island – 22,000 Japanese soldiers and 7,000 Marines. That unforgiving island still has not given up all of her dead to this day… American and Japanese.
Indeed, the camaraderie amongst the survivors as well as those linked to the battle by relation or history is rightfully still strong. It is vital to the preservation of bravery, courage and love of country.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, the US Army also participated but not in a manner you would expect.
Per Dr. James McNaughton’s authoritative book, “Nisei Linguists”, Tech Sgt. 5g Terry Takeshi Doi “landed with the assault waves on 19 February 1945”. Doi was a member of the US Army’s top secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Doi would be awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Iwo Jima; he went into cave after cave armed only with a flashlight and knife to persuade Japanese soldiers to come out. I believe he is still alive.
Another MIS Nisei, Tech Sgt 3g James Yoshinobu, was fighting in his second world war; he had fought for the US in WW I (that’s ONE) and was 47 years of age while fighting on Iwo Jima. He landed with the 4th Marine Division and was later awarded the Silver Star.
One MIS Nisei, Sgt. Mike Masato Deguchi, was seriously wounded by a land mine and died of his wounds shortly after war’s end.
Oddly, these Nisei may have never joined the task force sailing out of Pearl for the invasion of Iwo Jima. The Nisei contingent was stopped at the security gate and were prohibited from proceeding because they “looked Japanese”. Only with the accompaniment and support of a few Caucasian officers were they finally allowed to pass and board their transport ships.
Sixty-eight years later, let us today deeply and reverently remember these brave boys… whether they be American or Japanese…or both. The iconic flag-raising would be tomorrow, February 23.
But we’ve been “at war” against terrorism – both foreign and now domestic – since 2001. More than 11 years.
But the war against Japan started officially for us on December 7, 1941. We were caught flat-footed.
Yet it was over by August 15, 1945.
Incredible. In 3 years, 8 months, 8 days. How could that have happened so quickly (relatively speaking)? Have you ever thought of this timeline?
Well, I have removed my Kevlar flak vest for all you bloggers who love history – and who are immensely more versed and intelligent than I…or is it me?
Below herein is my “Top Ten” list of the reasons why Japan lost the Pacific War…so quickly.
I’d like to hear your opinions, corrections, or teachings.
Hunting season is open. Rubber bullets are most suitable.
1. Long Range Failure of Pearl Harbor Attack
a. Admiral Nagumo – placed in charge of the attack force by the Japanese Imperial Navy and NOT by Admiral Yamamoto – failed to fully execute the direct orders issued to him by Yamamoto.
b. Attack plans skewed towards sinking of carriers (which were not there). Genda wanted to insure carriers were sent to bottom and therefore be unsalvageable. Because our carriers were not there, pilots overly concentrated on battleships or other less tactically important ships.
c. The ordnance used by the attacking Japanese was inappropriate for sinking battleships. Besides, Pearl Harbor is way to shallow to allow for “sinking to the bottom of the ocean,” so to speak.
d. The first wave of Japanese torpedo bombers – although a complete tactical surprise – was a dismal failure with very few hits.
e. Failed to destroy dry docks and fuel dumps (Hawaii is an island country and had to import all fuel…like Japan). Although there is the fog of battle, Nagumo (overly cautious) did not heed the strong advice from Fuchida who urged a third wave just for such purpose.
f. In light of “e” above, Yamamoto himself had one weakness: he did not see his submarine force has an OFFENSIVE weapon. He failed to deploy them between Pearl Harbor and the West Coast of the US to target supply ships – which would have been carrying fuel, materiel and supplies to rebuild Pearl Harbor.
g. Nearly all ships damaged by the attack were refloated.
h. Insufficient training by Japanese Navy in preparation for attack.
i. Lastly – and for some foolish reason – they attacked on a Sunday morning.
2. Breaking of the Japanese Naval Code and the failure of the Japanese to accept it was broken.
3. 24-hour Repair of USS Yorktown after Coral Sea in Preparation for Battle of Midway.
4. Innovation of US Navy to Use CO2 for Fire Suppression.
a. US Navy would flood fuel tanks on ships with carbon dioxide thereby displacing oxygen before battle.
b. Japanese ships had useless fire suppression systems with fuel right alongside ordnance.
5. Innovation of Rubber-lined Fuel Tanks and Armor Protection for Pilots on US Aircraft
a. “Self-sealing tanks” in wings.
b. Impressive armor shielding for the pilot (especially in the Grumman F6F Hellcat).
c. Japanese planes had neither, leading to insurmountable casualties and easy shoot-downs, i.e., Japanese aircraft would “flame” or disintegrate under withering fire from .50 caliber guns.
6. Battle of Midway
a. Huge tactical gamble by Nimitz in usage of Spruance as task force commander.
b. Tactical decision to launch torpedo planes early on by Spruance. While all but one pilot perished and no torpedoes hit, Mitsubishi Zeroes assigned to combat air patrol were at low altitudes since they shot down the torpedo planes.
c. Dauntless dive bombers (with US fighter cover) were able to dive relatively uncontested and caught Nagumo between launchings with ordnance scattered about.
d. Confusion by Japanese pilots that two US carriers were sunk. In actuality and while eventually sunk, the USS Yorktown had been hit in the first wave but the fires had been put out before the second wave attacked.
e. With the sinking of four Japanese carriers (see Fire Suppression above) and loss of valuable pilots, the Japanese Navy ceased to be an offensive force.
7. Production Might of the US
a. We had eight carriers at time of Pearl Harbor (in the Pacific and the Atlantic) but were down to two after the Battle of Midway.
b. We lost the Wasp, Hornet, Lexington and Yorktown by then.
c. The USS Enterprise was the last operational carrier. The “other” carrier, the USS Langley, was used only for training purposes and was out in the Atlantic.
d. By the time of the invasion of Okinawa in 1945, however, we had over 40 carriers as part of the assault fleet alone.
8. Semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle and the M-2 Flamethrower
a. Japanese military were burdened with reliable but bolt action Arisaka or failure-prone Nambu armaments. (Bolt-action implies the shooter must lower his rifle to load the next round and then re-sight.)
b. The M-1 Garand took an eight-round clip. The round had tremendous stopping power, was rugged and a rifle squad could lay down withering fire with the semi-automatic. The shooter did not have to lower his rifle to load the next round and re-sight.
c. On Iwo Jima and other island battles, the Japanese were rarely seen. As such, the flamethrower was critical for success although accompanied by high mortality rates.
9. The Japanese-American (or “Nisei”) Soldiers in the Top Secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS)
a. MIS secretly accompanied Marines and soldiers for every Pacific Theater amphibious assault or parachuted in with Airborne troops.
b. Nisei’s were the actual soldiers that listened in on Japanese Navy radio transmissions and NOT US Navy personnel. One transmission disclosed details on Admiral Yamamoto’s flight schedule which led to his shootdown.
c. Quickly translated captured major Japanese battle plans for Leyte Gulf (Z-Plan) and allowed for the lop-sided victory at the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.
d. The invaluable intel provided by the MIS proved to the (generally unsupportive) top echelon that the Japanese military was near operational collapse in many combat areas.
10. The US Marine Corps
OK. So what about the B-29’s or the atomic bombs/fire bombings? Aren’t they some of the reasons Japan lost the Pacific War?
No. Not in my humble opinion.
Historical facts will show that the B-29s were largely ineffective until the time LeMay unleashed the firebombing campaign on March 9, 1945. The first B-29s were deployed out of India and China in the summer of 1944. For the first missions, about 20% failed to reach their target due largely to mechanical trouble. Of the approximately 80% that made it to target, only a couple of bombs actually hit target. Therefore, ineffective results.
Their engines were also prone to overheating in flight. Criminy.
As for the firebombings/atomic bombings, it is my opinion Japan had already lost the Pacific War due to the ten summarized reasons above. Intelligence obtained by the US Army MIS Nisei’s like my dad’s predecessors support that conclusion. When the Nisei interrogated Japanese prisoners at the front lines, it was clear they were nearly without food, water, medical supplies or ammunition. Their morale was also devastated. For instance, Japanese soldiers that surrendered would say, “We were terrified. For every mortar round we would fire at the Marines, ten rounds would come back.” The Japanese needed to make every round count; the Americans didn’t.
Japanese soldiers – dead, wounded or captured – would have uncensored letters from home on their person. After the Nisei translated those letters on the battlefront, they disclosed that their families, too, were without much food or water…and that morale was extremely low.
So some Greek dude said centuries ago that, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Pretty smart. But that applies even today – and certainly during World War II.
We were raised with certain textbooks for our history classes. We believed in them. We had no reason not to.
But the truth is, there are many versions of history. Factual versions. Incorrect versions. Factual versions “edited” by the victors. Factual versions written by the losers. And new versions. And versions to further patriotism.
But there is one thing for sure… Said by one of the most brilliant minds this world has known:
“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Thirty-forth President of the United States of America.
An American soldier.
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.
How about General Charles 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.
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.
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.
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.
At times, I mix in Memorial Day with it… I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
They will always be veterans in my eyes.
Dad at Miyajima, Hiroshima in the spring of 1949. I now have a bad case of “tennis elbow” and can’t retouch:
He was part of the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service and served during Occupied Japan. Being a “kibei”, he translated during the War Crimes trials, interrogated Japanese soldiers being released by Russia, Korea, Manchuria and China and translated Japanese war documents for intelligence.
Dad today with my two littlest kids:
Went to pay our respects to Old Man Jack. Sun was just too low in the sky for a good pic… 😦 Miss you, Jack.
And went to see good ol’ Bob, too… What a kind, great man he was.
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.
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.
For those who like visuals:
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Dad wasn’t imagining ANYTHING. His memory is intact from that time.
Although my Aunt Shiz passed away ten days before my son and I were to travel to her childhood home in Hiroshima, I believe it was her caring soul that made our journey eerily complete.
Time for heebie-jeebies.
Like all but one of the siblings, Aunt Shiz was born in Seattle in 1916. My grandparents operated a barbershop as mentioned in “Masako and Spam Musubi“, the first story in this blog. In the picture below likely taken early in 1918, she is standing in front of her mother Kono at their barbershop in Hotel Fujii near King and Maynard in downtown Seattle. Grandma Kono is smiling while looking on; she appears to be holding a straight razor. My relatives tell me Grandma was great with the customers and gave excellent shaves. (If it is a straight edge razor, she’s holding it in her left hand. We have a number of lefties in our family. Hmmm.) Notice the wooden sidewalk:
In this photo taken about five or six years later, the wooden sidewalk has been replaced with concrete. Aunt Shiz shows her friendly character while dancing on the left. You can make out “Fujii” on the sign hanging overhead in the background:
Masako tells me Aunt Shiz was the village “hottie” as she grew up back in those days. It made us laugh but it was true. Surely, she broke a lot of the young boys’ hearts in the village.
She returned to Seattle on April 7, 1935, a vibrant young lady. Amazingly (well, really not), her granddaughter looks very much like her at that age. Genes.
She married and had three boys and one girl. All but one were imprisoned during World War II. They had the dehumanizing horror of having to first stay in vacated horse stalls at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Los Angeles before being transported under armed guard in blacked out trains to Manzanar where they stayed until war’s end. They were American citizens. Incredible, isn’t it?
Aunt Shiz, who was my dad’s older sister and last lving sibling, was a true “Kanemoto” as the saying goes. They were much alike…especially when they talked in their “Hiroshima dialect”. Funny they aren’t able to remember when their birthdays are but they sure remember their happy days as children in that Hiroshima home. Both loved to eat. And eat they did. Most of all, they loved sweets. Don’t ask why.
When I see Dad now, I always take him Japanese treats – mainly “manjyu” and “youkan”.
Last October, shortly after her 95th birthday, I took Dad to visit with Aunt Shiz. It is a long drive to and from. While Dad had great difficulty remembering why he was in my car – not just once but several times – there was no hesitation by either of them when they first got a glimpse of each other at Aunt Shiz’s senior home:
Yes, I took a bag of yokan. Its on the front right in the video in a cellophane bag. There were three different flavors, too. They ate them ALL. Really.
But they couldn’t remember who was older. Absolutely precious to our family.
At her funeral service in Los Angeles, her grandson described her perfectly as a very warm person. She loved to hug and give her young relatives a peck on the cheek. That was Aunt Shiz.
But back to the story… Some heebie-jeebie stuff. You know… Stuff that gives you a year’s supply of chicken skin.
Our journey to Hiroshima was planned for months. My decision to do so was made after I met with Masako and the others in Hawaii in May and returned home…or so I thought I made that decision. It was as if something took over my thoughts and actions. It was kharma. I was also going to take my oldest son Takeshi (24 years old – very important. Remember that.) who had NEVER been out of the country.
As the time neared, our Hiroshima family was excited my son and I were going. Although those of us here in the States were unaware, in the extreme heat and humidity of Japan, my cousin Toshiro went deep into a 100 year old wooden shed which still exists in a last ditch effort to uncover past family information. He found it…about a thousand pictures from the late 1800’s through shortly after war’s end. That is where the photos of Aunt Shiz and the barbershop emerged from although all were damaged by mildew and insects. They were extremely elated and flabbergasted to have found these vintage family treasures still existing. They began to go through them in the main family room where their “butsudan”, or family altar was. The altar is also about a hundred years old.
A few days after they looked over the treasure, Aunt Shiz passed away quietly… She had fallen asleep in her wheelchair like she frequently did but this time, just didn’t wake up. Oddly, her daughter and my cousin Bessie, who diligently and energetically cared for her for many years, said “…she said she wasn’t that hungry that evening then just passed away”. Not having an appetitite is NOT Kanemoto. I will have to remember that.
Bessie immediately notified the family in Hiroshima at which time Masako immediately said, “I saw Shiz in the room while we were looking at the pictures. She passed through the house.” We all got chicken skin when we heard that. Masako does not make things up and is as sharp as a tack at 78 years of age. She has all her wits about her. (That last trait is NOT typical Kanemoto, by the way.) We don’t doubt her.
Bessie suddenly requested I take some of her ashes back with me to the family home for interment. I was honored.
After my son and I arrived at the family home with Aunt Shiz, my cousin Toshiro immediately placed her ashes on the 100 year old altar…in the same room where Masako saw Aunt Shiz. Again, Masako said to us she saw Aunt Shiz in that room before she passed through the house. Creepies.
Shortly thereafter, my Hiroshima family surprised my son and I with the many, many vintage photos. Then to add to the heebie-jeebies, Toshiro remarked, “We know Masako saw Aunt Shiz’s spirit in this room shortly before she died while we were looking over our ancestors’ pictures. Aunt Shiz could have passed away two months ago or next year. But she knew you were coming and in her soul, she wanted to come home now with you. She arranged for all this to happen at this time. She is happy now.”
Wow. I felt like if a day’s worth of chicken skin out of Foster Farms was thrown on my arms. Really creepie-crawly.
Not over yet… We had her official interment into the family crypt a few days later. My other cousin Kiyoshi – another kind hearted person and the man who invented the first EDM device – came with us to the family burial plot, or “ohaka”. The stone ohaka holds the ashes of my grandparents and their deceased children – including my Uncle Suetaro who was killed on Leyte in the Philippines during World War II as a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Army.
As my son was cleaning the ohaka prior to the interment, Kiyoshi said to my son and I, “Suetaro was 24 years old when he was killed. Now, your son is meeting Suetaro for the first time. Your son is 24 years old. It was all planned for by Aunt Shiz. She picked this time to come home and for Takeshi to be here and to meet Suetaro. It was meant to be this way. To help strengthen our ancestral family bonds although an ocean separates us.”
He was right. Masako and Toshiro are right. Aunt Shiz picked this time to come home. She knew we were going. She decided Takeshi was to come. She made everything happen as they did. My son was very moved and affected by this coming together of family…so much so he cried at our farewell dinner.
After a war’s end, the war for food continues for a losing country. Japan was no exception.
In “There Be Gold in My Family,” Taro was mentioned. He was miraculously able to track down my mother and Aunt Eiko in what remained of Tokyo after Japan’s surrender in WWII. He was part of the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service and had brought them much needed food, clothing and cigarettes.
After being discharged from the Army in early 1947, he returned to his family’s farming roots in Livingston, CA. With his meager income, he still managed to buy clothing and shipped them to my mother and Aunt Eiko. He was a kind and generous man. To this day, they are indebted to Taro.
One ensemble Aunt Eiko received was a blue dress, shoes, and handbag. More later.
When war ended and the Allies began their Occupation of Japan, the population was in rags. Many had no homes.
Everyday people suffered from poverty, filthy conditions, hunger, and food shortages. In order to help distribute food, Japanese people were given assigned rations by the Allies. This was put into motion quickly thanks to the Supreme Commander, Gen. MacArthur. He ensured the most humane treatment possible under those wretched conditions.
In reality, living just on the rationed food often did not provide adequate nourishment, and a thriving black market developed amidst the constant food shortages. Civilians lined up, waiting for their rations of beans as even rice was not available to them at that time. (The last point is critical to this story.) They also carried receptacles to carry clean water which was also rationed. As many young Japanese men were killed, a majority of those lining up were the elderly, women and children.
Of course, Americans were issued food ration stamps as part of our war effort back home and textbooks show many photos of starving and tortured American prisoners.
Back to Aunt Eiko’s blue dress ensemble.
She recalls how “Western” they looked. Especially since the outfit was a BRIGHT blue. Very American. Very NOT Japanese. Madonna-esque. You can tell by looking at the clothing the women were wearing in the food line picture.
Aunt Eiko was so happy though. She wanted to show off her dress but was fearful of the ridicule or demeaning comments she may receive from passerbys. You see, even in 1947, only a small minority “had”… The vast majority were “have nots”. Neighbors would turn their backs on those that appeared to have received favors from the conquering Americans.
Nevertheless, she was too happy and wore the ensemble through the still decimated Ginza. She caught a photographer’s eye. She was asked to model. So she did.
The photo series ended up in a magazine, a rarity as paper was still in short supply and very expensive. Another case of have versus have nots.
Although the magazine now is extremely fragile (the paper quality was very poor), it is one of Aunt Eiko’s prized possessions. I was so worried the pages would fall apart if I opened up the magazine to scan the pages. Its odor was typical of old newsprint. But somehow, the pages stayed together.
This is the original B&W of the cover shot:
Inside the cover:
Orginal B&Ws of this page:
Aunt Eiko cannot recall why the actual magazine took about a year to be issued.
But what is the connection between a blue dress, food and post-war Japan?
The photographer paid her with “ohagi”. Out of his food ration. Made out of precious rice and beans.
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.
“War is no good,” he said as we left the small community movie theater near his assisted living home today; we had just watched the limited release documentary “MIS: Human Secret Weapon”. It was about his highly classified World War II US Army unit. He had silently watched and with a ghostly stillness. But I saw him wipe his eyes twice after gently lifting his glasses. Others openly wept…but I had never, ever seen him shed a tear before today.
I was ignorant. Combat isn’t necessary for the ugliness of war to be buried in a person’s mind. The documentary made it clear that it is also easily dug out. All one needs to do is scratch.
The documentary reveals the conflicted state of mind of the then young Japanese-Americans who made up the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS). About 3,000 of them – including two of my uncles – secretly and faithfully served the red, white and blue, hastening the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri.
Another 3,000 served during the Occupation of Japan. My dad was one and worked out of General Eichelberger’s US 8th Army’s GHQ in Yokohama. That’s when he was able to journey to Hiroshima and see his mother for the first time in ten years…and when a hungry Masako first relished the flavor of Spam.
One Nisei veteran interviewed was Grant Ichikawa. He was gracious enough to not only greet me and my family in 2010 near his home in Rosslyn, VA, he also secretly treated us to lunch. Pun intended. He had lost his wife Millie just months before. She was an even rarer female member of the MIS as well.
He and Terry Shima (also interviewed in the documentary) gave me the jump start in finding out about Dad’s involvement in the MIS. During that all too brief get together, Grant did touch on what he did on the battlefront in a GI uniform. He also said it “got dicey”.
In this documentary, you learn of one such experience. He was told there were Japanese soldiers who had agreed to surrender. Grant said he was the point man. They proceeded to the rendezvous point where he met the Japanese commander; they were in the middle of an open field.
It turns out there were 200 to 250 of them; all their weapons were in good working order he says in the documentary. Grant suddenly realized – out in the middle of this field – that these Japanese soldiers were “toukoutai”, or “suicide corps”. Grant just as quickly and with great consternation realized there were only ten of them… GI’s, that is, armed only with rifles. I’m sure Grant picked his words wisely. He is still alive.
“Dicey” was a definite understatement.
In a lighter moment, Ken Akune described how they were searching a Japanese soldier that had surrendered in the jungle of Burma. They came across one of the American propaganda leaflets promising safe passage for those Japanese soldiers that surrendered. It was neatly folded in a pocket.
Akune asked the Japanese soldier if he believed what the leaflet promised since the MIS Nisei wrote it. The Japanese soldier said no but that it made for good toilet paper. “There was no toilet paper in the jungle of Burma,” said the prisoner.
Thomas Tsubota broke down at the end of his interview. Many did.
Tsubota was one of the top secret MIS members of Merrill’s Marauders.
They had just stumbled across ten Japanese soldiers in a small jungle clearing, he says. “Boom,” he said, in a split second they killed them all. He described how his commander, Colonel Beach, called him over to inspect a photo album taken off one of the now dead Japanese soldiers
They looked through the album. Tsubota told Col. Beach there was nothing of military importance in it but as they came upon the last page of the album, there was a picture of a mother and a daughter.
Tsubota said Colonel Beach’s eyes got red, filled with tears and he said, “Thank you, Tom.”
While crying, Tsubota ended the interview by saying this is why he isn’t enthusiastic about talking about the war. Too painful. He doesn’t want to think about that sad moment. Tsubota is 96 years old. I thought Dad was old.
The documentary intensely yet humanely describes the internal turmoil within these young American GIs of Japanese descent. Quite a few had brothers who were left in Japan when war broke out and were killed as Japanese soldiers. Deep down, many carried guilt that their own secret actions led to the deaths of their own brothers. My Dad’s youngest brother – my Uncle Suetaro – was one of those casualties.
But these 3,000 young American boys of Japanese heritage did their job as did millions of other young American boys…but in secret. They translated diaries covered with blood or offered cigarettes to Japanese prisoners to extract military intelligence while battles were raging.
They endured years of discrimination and intimidation to boot – both from GI’s fighting alongside them as well as back home. A barber in Chicago wouldn’t cut Dad’s hair because of his race – and he was wearing his perfectly creased US Army uniform with sergeant’s stripes, sleeve highlighted by the proud shoulder patch of the US 8th Army.
The secrecy was officially lifted in 1972 by Executive Order 11652.
Just the two of us, I thought, were going to see this movie and that this may help Dad slow down his growing dementia.
I was wrong.
His quiet tears and with his exiting comment, I am sure Uncle Suetaro was there, too, in Dad’s heart – as if it was 1937 in Hiroshima when he last saw his brother alive.
Over the past two years, I’ve asked, “Dad, tell me about what you worked on in the MIS. What was the one thing you remember the most? A picture? A diary?” Each time, the answer was vague or “I don’t know.” I chalked it up to senility.
He doesn’t want to talk about it…just like Tsubota painfully recalling Col. Beach and the photo of a mother and a daughter taken from a Japanese soldier they had just killed.
Ugly recollections from war wanting to be masked need not come from battlefields, bullets or bombs.
It was Monday, Valentines’ Day 2001. My wife was five months pregnant at the time we moved into this wonderful neighborhood smothered in US Naval glory. After I came back from work the next day, she told me a kind old man stopped her as she was wheeling out the trash bin. She said he hobbled from across our quiet street lined with peppercorn trees then kindly wheeled them out for her.
I found out the “old man” was a World War II combat vet. Worse yet, he was a sailor in the Pacific – he fought the Japanese in World War II.
“Holy crap,” flashed through my mind, “What if he finds out we’re Japanese?”
Twelve years later, I was honored to have been a pallbearer at his funeral.
I was so far off base about my first thoughts on Old Man Jack that even George Burns could have picked me off without being called for a balk…and this while he was in his grave.
I felt so ashamed.
“Young man, get over here and plant your butt in that chair,” barked old man Jack from his cluttered garage across the street. Having lived in that house since 1953, it was filled with his life history.
“But I have my stogie going, Jack,” said I.
“Well, I can see it and I sure as hell can smell it. Now shut up and sit down. I want to tell you something.”
That was Old Man Jack, my dear neighbor who lived across the street. I like to think we were close.
He was 87 years old by that summer’s day in 2010 when he called me over. While he had become feeble, his barrel chest was still prominent. He was a rabble-rouser in his youth. He was always “mixing it up” throughout his young years… Well, he was mixing it up even while working at Northrup in the 50’s. That makes me grin.
His handshake was always firm and warm; you didn’t need to be psychic to sense his insight and outlook on life. He always spoke his mind. He earned that right having been shot at, strafed, and bombed on “those stinkin’ islands” in the Southwest Pacific as he so often said during a most bitter war.
I had invited Jack to Father’s Day dinner that summer just two years ago; my Dad who was 91 was coming as well.
Jack knew my dad was US Army but I fretted over what they would say to each other when they first met. Or how they would react to one another. It was more than just a concern over the centuries old rivalry between Army and Navy. It was the bitter war.
Dad was in the front room when Jack rang the bell – right on time as always. Jack had on his favorite blue plaid shirt; he wore it often as it had a pocket for his glasses. I often wondered how often he washed it, though. Jack and Dad are shown here on Father’s Day 2010.
“Dad,” I said, “This is Jack, US Navy, Aviation Machinist’s Mate, First Class, the Pacific.”
“Jack, this is my Dad. US 8th Army, sergeant, Military Intelligence Service.”
Although not as agile as they once were, they immediately saluted each other.
You didn’t need a sound system to hear them. Dad and Jack are both hard of hearing.
It was easy to hear Jack ask Dad what he did in the Army. During the Occupation of Japan, Dad said he went into a room once a week that reeked of dry cleaning to retrieve a crate. (The crates contained documents, photos and other personal items such as war diaries written by Japanese soldiers. They were removed from a WWII battlefield – read on.) He would then translate the contents for military intelligence (below).
I had to tend to cooking so I lost track of the conversation. It was regretful I didn’t keep tuned in.
So back to being called over by Jack on that summer’s day.
He was sitting in his favorite blue wheelchair. He didn’t need it but it belonged to his beloved wife Carol who passed away ten years before. They married during the waning days of the war. They had been married for 55 strong years.
“So what did you want to tell me, Jack?” I asked.
He then went into his trance – one signaling evident anguish and wretched remembrances. When he went into these trances, he always started by staring at his hands while picking at his right thumbnail with his left ring finger. He would lift his once thick eyebrows now turned snow white with age, then begin talking in a slow, deliberate pace, never taking his eyes off his hands.
“I went on ID patrol…” Jack rasply whispered while ever so slightly drawing out his words.
“ID patrol? What is that?” I asked.
He ignored me. It was as if I wasn’t sitting next to him… He had already left the present. He had stepped foot onto that violent SW Pacific jungle of 70 years ago. I’m sure its smell was as vivid to him in his tormented subconscious as it was seven decades ago.
“They would issue six of us white caps M1’s with bayonets… Then we’d follow two Marines on a patrol into the jungle.”
“Patrol? You? You were ground crew, Jack,” I remarked.
“Ain’t enough of them (Marines) to go around on those stinkin’ islands so we got picked,” he said, still speaking in a lifeless yet pained monotone. He added, “If you got killed, you rotted real quick in that jungle heat. And if you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”
His stare doesn’t change. His eyes have glassed over. He is in a different world now – one of 70 years ago in a stifling jungle, his youthful, sweaty hands trying to grip onto his Garand rifle while wearing a smelly steel helmet… Listening in terror for any sound that may signal a Japanese soldier concealed in ambush knowing that the enemy was just there shortly before. A world that only combat veterans understand. Thankfully, you and I never will. Never.
“The Marines had two bags – one small one and a big one. When we found one, the two Marines would stand guard. We’d hold the rifle by the butt end and use the fixed bayonet to fish out the tags.”
It was then when I realized what he was painfully regurgitating.
This is what he meant by “I.D. patrol”. They were going back into the jungle to locate the dead Marines they had to leave behind after a “tussle” with the enemy as Jack liked to say – a life or death firefight. Old Man Jack was only 20 years old. The Marines were likely younger. Ponder that thought.
“We weren’t allowed to touch the dead (Marine) as the Japs would booby-trap ‘em. We’d hand over the tags hanging on the the end of the bayonet to one of the Marines who would put a tag in the small bag. They marked a map for the graves registration guys to come back later.”
Jack’s anguished delivery dimmed even further. “But we’d come across a dead Jap. Nobody cared about them so they rotted where they were. But we’d have to stick the bayonet into the rotting goo and try to fish stuff out. The prize was a pouch or a satchel. Those would go into the big duffel bag just as they were, covered with rot and maggots. We headed back to CP and that’s the last I saw of those bags,” he said.
He abruptly ended but his unconscious stare didn’t change. He was still in the jungle, scared out of his wits. He was still picking at his thumbnail all this time. His head hardly moved while he sat in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife.
I thought to myself, “Is that the end, Jack? That’s it? Why did you tell me this?” I knew not to pry any more so I kept the thoughts to myself. He was in torment already. Seventy years had passed but he was reliving the awfulness of a brutal war. Nevertheless, I wondered why he chose that time to tell me about this horrific recall of something he experienced so very young.
It bugged me for several weeks.
About a month later, I understood why Jack told me the story after I communicated with Mr. Grant Ichikawa, a more well known veteran of the famed US Army’s Military Intelligence Service and combat veteran himself. Apparently, the items they recovered from Japanese corpses were dry cleaned to remove the rotting body fluids. After getting dry cleaned, they ended up in the crates that were in the room my Dad went into once a week when he was in the Military Intelligence Service…and why the room reeked of dry cleaning.
The brief chat with my dad on Father’s Day sparked that vile memory back to life. It had been eating at Old Man Jack since that day. He wanted to get it off his once mightily barreled chest.
I lament to this day that an invitation to a Father’s Day dinner had resulted in an unwanted recall of horror Jack was very much trying to forget. More so, I lament he relived such horrors each night for the last 70 years of his life. Seventy years.
Jack was a great man to have endured combat in the Pacific during World War II. He was an immeasurable giant in learning to forgive – although he was never able to forget.
I miss him greatly. I thanked him for all we have when I visited him today at his grave on this glorious Memorial Day.