Tag Archives: Navy

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 7


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A Marine protecting Vietnamese children. This may be an AP photo.

I have a number of good friends who went to Viet Nam, another ugly war.  Without going into politics, my thoughts while on Leyte also went to these friends who fought on or were stationed in Viet Nam.

Unlike a certain former president, my buds did not evade the draft… or avoid, whichever term you prefer.  My friends did their duty.  When they got drafted, they reported for duty as any American man should have.

But while I certainly appreciate their sacrifices, nothing in what I’ve read gave a hint about the climate THEY in Viet Nam had to fight and survive in.  Having been on Leyte, I can now more fully sense it was indescribably WORSE than what was written, if any.

Just like for Uncle Suetaro and Smitty, their days were grueling and a throwback to the times of cavemen.  Nightfall brought very little relief in temperature or humidity.  If my friends were at a fire base in the Vietnamese jungles, they went on for days without showers or even toilets.  New, laundered dungarees?  Dry feet during the monsoons?  No.

When I got back to LA and got over my jet lag, I called several of them to thank them even more and explained I more fully appreciate their sacrifices of their youth for the rotten conditions under which they faithfully fulfilled their duties.  One also had a father who was gunner on a Liberator in the sweltering SWP as well.  (There are a number of bloggers I know that I did not call but you know who you are.  Thank you.)

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Masako and Namie during a lighter moment. Clouds gave us a brief relief from the oppressive heat – but not the humidity.

Day 4 – Villaba

After chowing down in the morning, we piled into our well-driven vans once again.  We headed north towards Villaba on the same road that Uncle Suetaro marched up in October 1944 to Carigara but back then, it was mostly dirt – or mud.  They also had use of undetermined vehicles but the road offered no protection from US airpower from which rained bombs and strafing runs.  US planes dominated the skies.

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A muddy road on Leyte; the mud would become much worse. USMC photo.

In addition, their march north was hampered by attacks from US-supplied Filipino guerrillas.  They would blow up parts of the road that were at most merely passable.  In addition to slippery, oozing mud (see above), the Japanese were forced to go off the main road to bypass the destroyed sections.  This implies, for example, that since Uncle Suetaro’s platoon was hauling their 37mm cannons, they would be forced to break down the artillery pieces into the two wheels and cannon barrel sections to carry it over blown up section of road… in addition to lugging their shells and ammunition.

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On our way north towards Cananga, Mr. Ota spotted a “Jack Fruit” at roadside; we had never seen a fruit this big before.  Have you?  It must be the Fat Albert of the fruit world.

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The enormity of the Jack Fruit is apparent with Setsu standing next to it.

Passerbys were equally bewildered by our “touristy-ness”, it seems.  We definitely caught their attention.

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I believe this little motorcycle is powered by a 125cc two-cycle engine. Scenes like this were commonplace on Leyte.

Third Memorial Service

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Detailed road maps of this area of Leyte are hard to find nor would my GPS work; as such, all locations indicated are approximate.

After veering off from a town called Cananga, we headed northwest.  We stopped at an older memorial (indicated by #3 above) erected by a Japanese citizen many years ago.  It had not been maintained but amazingly rested in between two dwellings.  Unfortunately, it was erected just yards away from the street.

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Busy preparing for the service. The incense is already going.
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Tribute to Uncle Suetaro along with food offerings. The origami cranes (folded paper art) are from the Hiroshima Peace Park.
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Tribute to Setsu’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura. He was one of the last 268 survivors before they met their deaths near here.

At this service, my cousin Kiyoshi read his letter to Uncle Suetaro.

Dripping in perspiration, Kiyoshi was incredibly strong emotionally reading his letter to his uncle that he was never able to meet.  In his letter, Kiyoshi introduced himself to his Uncle Suetaro and that they were finally able to meet here.  Kiyoshi hoped that Uncle Suetaro was not lonely as no one had come to see him in these past 70 years and to please forgive us.  He explained he was the last child of Suetaro’s older sister Michie and that it is said he was born in Suetaro’s place after his death.  Because of Michie’s strength and devotion, all of her children are living long lives.  He closed by saying we will always remember his life and sacrifices then bowed reverently.

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Kiyoshi bows reverently while perspiration runs down his face.

After closing the ceremony, we once again handed out the food to the local children and families who were very grateful and friendly.

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This is where the young mother and daughter were photographed and shown in Part 1.

Again, like the low decibel thunder we heard after I read my letters, we soon saw a sign that Uncle Suetaro heard Kiyoshi and Namie: a rainbow appeared overhead, spotted by Izumi.  It was very fulfilling for us to see.

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It’s a badly exposed cell phone pic; sorry.
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The young man at the upper right is Mr. Ota’s teen-aged son, Daichi.

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We then headed towards the Mt. Canguipot area, a smaller hill just east of the town of Villaba (see map above).  It is said many Japanese soldiers closed their eyes for the last time while looking at Mt. Canguipot.  I understand Ms. Setsu Teraoka’s uncle, Lt. Nakamura, died here in its shadow, possibly during the last “banzai” charges against the US 1st Cavalry on December 31, 1944.

Our drivers, under Mr. Ota’s accurate GPS-assisted directions, wormed their way up a hidden dirt road – a very uneven and narrow hidden dirt road.  My belly was wider than the road.  Frankly, I don’t know how Mr. Ota even remembered where this road was except it was slightly south of the actual seaside town of Villaba.  This is where we saw the adorable little village girl running alongside us.

After bumping and thumping up the road in the vans engineered for city driving, we ended up at a very small clearing found at the crest in a small town called Catagbacan (marked by “school” in the map above).  We disembarked with all the village folk staring at us; there were a number of poor, scraggly dogs roaming about, their skin badly infected from incessant scratching of their numerous mosquito bites.  My two daughters would have been devastated if they had seen them.

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Mr. Ota leads us down the dirt and stone path towards the dark clouds which signify the gods overlooking Mt. Canguipot.

Mr. Ota led our party down a dirt path; after a distance, the peak of Mt. Canguipot veiled in dark clouds assembled by the Japanese gods began to peer down on our little pilgrimage.  Perhaps they were beckoning us.

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The peak of Mt. Canguipot.  Mr. Ota is at left, explaining to our group the last days of the 41st Regiment.

Nearing the end of the trail, Mr. Ota explained to us what happened around Mt. Canguipot, which included Lt. Nakamura.  He had collected this detailed information through many years of dedicated research including interviews of a couple of survivors.  Their last coordinated attacks were recorded to be on December 31, 1944. (See US battle notes below.)

After offering our Buddhist prayers to the souls, we headed back up the incline.  Masako doggedly kept up with us.

c-10-512We crossed through Catagbacan’s center and into their small elementary school, partially rebuilt after Typhoon Yolanda.  It was a large spread, with its natural sprawling beauty.  Mr. Ota explained that the last remaining rag tag survivors of the 41st Regiment had assembled in this spot along with others.  (One report said there were 268 in total.)

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Masako and I catch up to our party awaiting us at the Catagbacan Elementary School.

The Path

Mr. Ota had explained that every single night, a couple of the most capable men would walk down the hill under the cover of darkness to the shoreline in Balite.  They had heard rumors that the Japanese Navy was arranging for their evacuation.  The boats never came and therefore, they were never rescued. (For details of their hopes on being evacuated yet tragic and ultimate futility, please see my A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle.)

I was then duped into taking a “short” trek down to the shore area from this peak by Masako’s daughter, Izumi.  (She and my son did the same thing to me in Japan, tricking me into climbing Mt. Misen in Hiroshima.  I will get even!) She said, “Koji-san, let’s go (to your death is what I thought)!”

While Masako, escorted by Carmela, wisely made the decision to return to the nice air conditioned van, Mr. Ota had hired a young man to lead us down the path taken by the Japanese soldiers in December, 1944.  Hint of the things to come: he had a machete to cut through the growth, not a Black & Decker portable trimmer with rechargeable lithium batteries.  We exited through the backside of the school, never to be seen by humanity again.  Just kidding.

The trek down the path was through abundant natural growth and sweltering humidity.  Passing through shaded areas provided no relief; in fact, in some spots, the humidity had become entrapped by the vegetation.  Nothing better than natural saunas.

Yes, I was the straggler but my excuse was I was lugging my back pack laden with 100 pounds of camera equipment.  Just kidding; I’m just a SoCal wuse.  Even Namie and Tomiko were ahead of me as we neared the shoreline.  Notice the guide had made them walking sticks out of branches he cut down along the way.

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Namie in front negotiating the incline aided by the walking stick cut by the guide with his machete.

I had wilted once again on this trek; Mr. Ota said it was about 2-3 kilometers.  (I shall get even, Izumi-san!)  But seriously, what I thought about was how emaciated and very thirsty soldiers – without medical provisions either – did this night after night for a couple of weeks in hopes of spotting Japanese Navy rescue boats.  I understand a vast number of these “boats” were actually commandeered Filipino hollowed-out canoes with pontoons.

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“Jungle rot”

For those soldiers in December of 1944, it was desperation to survive and return home; I have never experienced this.  In fact, after being abandoned on this island by their own military, it would have been easy to be overcome by hopelessness and depression.  However, in a testament to their fortitude and determination, I was (plenty) fed, had bottled mineral water and dry shoes, socks and feet; yet, I was still pretty beat up.  They likely were infected with jungle rot, dysentery, malaria, infected wounds…  This went for all military on that island, Japanese or US (who likely had access to medical care however basic).

Remember: not only did they climb down, they had to climb back up before dawn in their emaciated condition.  Still, the thick growth effectively covered their movements during the day offering some protection against US airpower.  They could also easily duck into the bush if need be to avoid being detected.

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A dwelling near the shoreline.

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By this time in December 1944, death was the rule which governed their existence; surviving until this time was the exception. Yet, in spite of starvation, thirst, illness and depression, these last few soldiers survived, only to perish here due to their inability to surrender.

Two powerful letters and emotion-laden deliveries by Izumi and Setsu will mark the last service.

You will definitely shed a tear or two.

To be continued in Part 8.

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Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

US BATTLE NOTES (from Leyte: The Return to the Philippines by M. Hamlin Cannon):

The US 1st Cavalry Division

With the clearing of Highway 2 and the junction of the X and XXIV Corps at a point just south of Kananga, the 1st Cavalry Division was in readiness to push toward the west coast in conjunction with assaults by the 77th Division on its left and the 32d Division on its right. The troops were on a 2,500-yard front along Highway 2 between Kananga and Lonoy.

On the morning of 23 December the assault units of the 1st Cavalry Division moved out from the highway and started west. None encountered any resistance. The 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry, established a night perimeter on a ridge about 1,400 yards slightly northwest of Kananga. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, set up a night perimeter 1,000 yards north of that of the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry, while the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, dug in for the night on a line with the other two squadrons.

This first day’s march set the pattern for the next several days. The regiments pushed steadily forward, meeting only scattered resistance. The chief obstacles were waist-deep swamps in the zone of the 12th Cavalry. These were waded on 24 December. The tangled vegetation and sharp, precipitous ridges that were henceforward encountered also made the passage slow and difficult.

On 28 December, the foremost elements of the 5th and 12th Cavalry Regiments broke out of the mountains and reached the barrio of Tibur on the west coast, about 2,800 yards north of Abijao. By nightfall on the following day, the 7th Cavalry was also on the west coast but farther north. In its advance it had encountered and destroyed many small, scattered groups of the enemy, most of whom showed little desire to fight. The regiment arrived at Villaba, two and one-half miles north of Tibur, at dusk, and in securing the town killed thirty-five Japanese.

During the early morning hours of 31 December, the Japanese launched four counterattacks against the forces at Villaba. Each started with a bugle call, the first attack beginning at 0230 and the final one at dawn. An estimated 500 of the enemy, armed with mortars, machine guns, and rifles, participated in the assaults, but the American artillery stopped the Japanese and their forces scattered. On 31 December, the 77th Division began to relieve the elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, which moved back to Kananga.

On the morning of the 30th of December, the 7th Cavalry had made physical contact northeast of Villaba with the 127th Infantry, 32d Division, which had been driving to the west coast north of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Kamikazes


I thought this article interesting on kamikazes during WWII.  It also pretty much parallels my thoughts on what type of young man may have trained to be one.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/06/17/kamikaze-survivors-debunk-stereotype-with-stories-self-sacrifice-love-for/

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Source unknown

While countless atrocities were committed, I strongly believe that especially in the latter stages of the war, say late 1943-on, not all Japanese soldiers and sailors were crazed devils. Professional military personnel had been whittled away by the thousands by that time.  Replacements were replacements: they were drafted like millions of our boys: grocery clerks, farmhands, carpenters, etc., but not as well trained as our military were.

Possibly taken at his Fukuyama training grounds.  If so, this is where my Aunt Michie and cousin Masako took him a prized delicacy - sashimi.
My dad’s youngest brother, standing in the middle. Possibly taken at his Fukuyama training grounds 1943.

I do feel that these young Japanese soldiers and sailors were much like our boys under the stress of combat.  They griped about the monotonous chow (or absence thereof) like Old Man Jack.  The heat and humidity in the harsh jungle environments wore them down just like ours – likely worse due to lack of supplies – and took its toll on morale.

I stress again I am not condoning the inhuman acts.  I just wish to present a possibly different view on our Japanese adversaries during WWII… that they were not all willing to commit suicide and die on behalf of their Emperor.  Yes, they hated the enemy with all their might and would lay down their lives for their buddies just like ours… but all of them DID want to go home.

They just knew they couldn’t.

Old Man Jack-ism #8


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After recovering from a flood of memories, Old Man Jack stares at the other girl in his life: the F4U Corsair. Planes of Fame, March 3, 2003. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

“….The son-of-a-bitch had no legs…” said Old Man Jack from his wife’s blue wheelchair.  His arms were making like windmills.  Well, windmills as fast as his 88 year old arms could go.  He had a comical yet strained look on his face, his bushy white eyebrows still prominent.

But you could see the pain behind those eyes…and in his deadened voice.

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Several months have passed since I visited with Old Man Jack at his grave.  With Memorial Day around the corner, May 17th was a beautiful day to visit him.  A recent rainstorm had just passed and the blue skies were painted with thin, wispy clouds.

I could see no one had stopped by since my last visit; at least no one that left flowers for his wife Carol and him.  The hole for flowers was covered up and grass had crept up onto his gravestone.

I had brought along something for Jack this time; something I thought he would enjoy.  So after cleaning up his resting place, it was placed atop his gravestone – his beloved F4U Corsair:

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He loved the F4U Corsair. He reflected on seeing the entire patrol return to base at wave top, do a victory roll then peel off with a tear in his eyes.

I’m hoping he was beaming.  He couldn’t possibly be happier, being with the two most beautiful ladies in his life.

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But back to his story.

A few months before he was taken away from his home, we had been sitting in his cluttered garage, talking about this and that; I just can’t recall what.  But something in our talk triggered an ugly war flashback from his tormented and mightily buried subconscious.  By that day in 2011, I could tell when he was enduring one, having sat in his garage with him for ten years.

He began as he did before.  He would suddenly stop then gaze down at his hands for a couple of seconds.  His left ring finger would begin to rhythmically pick under his right thumbnail.  His white, bushy eyebrows now made thin with time would partly obscure his eyes from me when he lowered his head.

While I am unable to recall his exact words, he slowly allowed an ugly event to surface:

Old Man Jack began, “We were ordered to go on a patrol.  We were issued rifles and hoped to God we wouldn’t come across any Japs,” he said in a remorseful way.¹  “Then, we came to these rice paddies… We could see hills around us… but that also meant the Japs could see us.”²

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Perhaps it was this rice paddy in Okinawa. Archival image.
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…Or this rice paddy. US Army photo.

“We just followed the guy in front of us like cattle,” he said.  “We were making it through the rice paddies when a couple of shells came in.  Man, I hit the ground real quick.

Then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose.  Rounds were coming in like crazy all around me.  They had this area zeroed in real good.”

He continued.  “I ain’t ashamed to say it.  I was scared real bad.  Then we all started to scram.  I got up and started to run.  I dumped my rifle and ran like crazy.”   While in that blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife Carol, Old Man Jack made like he was running, much like Popeye in this clip:

He then took his gaze away from his hands.  “Then I saw this guy flying through the air with his arms making like he was still running… but the son-of-a-bitch had no legs!”  He pointed his finger and made an arc like a rainbow, then swung his arms like a windmill.  Apparently, an enemy round had hit his comrade, severing his upper torso from his legs then throwing him into the air.  Although the comrade met a violent end, Old Man Jack was describing how he saw his arms flailing.

He stopped.  His eyes returned to his hands.  I still cannot imagine the torment he was enduring, even after 70 years.

I never will.  I just hope he didn’t take it to his grave with him.

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While Old Man Jack was fortunate to have survived combat unlike my Uncle Suetaro or Sgt. Bill Genaust, it was but a physical survival.

Combat tormented him forever.

Let us remember this Memorial Day our fellow Americans who perished so young for the sake of their families and friends, no matter which conflict… and also firmly support those in uniform as I write.  They, too, are being forgotten by many, even as they fight – and die – for us in godforsaken faraway places.

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My friend’s first husband, Sgt. Robert W. Harsock, US Army, Viet Nam, posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor. National Medal of Honor Memorial, Riverside National Cemetery. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

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NOTES:

1. I would like to remind my readers that Old Man Jack had no hatred to me or my family when he uttered the word “Jap”.  He is digressing to a most vile period in his life in which he could be killed the very next moment.  If you are offended, it is suggested you participate in an all-out war; perhaps you will understand why.

2. At his funeral, the minister read off the islands he fought on.  Based solely on his description of the large rice paddy and hills combined with what the minister said, I firmly believe this was Okinawa 1945.  Oddly, while Old Man Jack mentioned Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Bougainville and Green Island, he never mentioned Okinawa.

Iwo Jima Flag Raising(s) – the MOVIE (Part 2)


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USMC Sgt Bill Genaust posing with his B&H Autoload motion picture camera. My guess – GUESS – is this appears to be a PR shot. If so, it was taken after his actions on Saipan.  USMC photo.

Now trained in motion picture combat methods, Sgt. Genaust is headed into his first combat.  What all Marines train for.

He is headed into a hell hole called Saipan.

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Overview of Pacific Campaign; Saipan is dead center. You can also see Guam and Tinian to the south. Tinian is where the Enola Gay was stationed. USMC report.

The United States had fought her way up the Solomon Islands campaign with great cost.

Saipan was at the edge of the Japanese Empire in 1944. Not only did it have two airfields, the taking of Saipan would allow the US to launch the B-29 bombers against the Japanese homeland.

The Japanese command knew this.  First and foremost, Saipan was part of their territory having been under their control since 1922.  They knew they must keep Saipan out of American hands at all costs or else their homeland would be vulnerable to air attack.

US intelligence estimated a garrison of 15,000 Japanese troops on Saipan.

They were very, very wrong.

The Marines and Sgt. Genaust would be assaulting an island with over 30,000 Japanese troops (although only about half were armed), fighting to the death to protect THEIR land.

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Photo reconnaissance was extensive.  It was so extensive that the Marines had rubberized 3D maps of the island made to familiarize the young Marines as to the terrain.¹  Even trench lines were clearly visible.

However, there was a shortcoming to these 3D maps: they could not show the spider holes, small pillboxes, caves nor the hardships in fighting in sugar cane fields.

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Remnants of the battle: a destroyed Japanese pillbox on Saipan, courtesy of my flickr friend reef_wreck. Clicking on the picture will take you to his photostream.

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On June 15th, 1944, Sgt. Genaust was one of about a dozen motion picture men assaulting the western beachheads in LVTs and Amtracs (see below).  The 4th Marines assaulted the southern beach area and the 2nd Marines just to the north².  About 8,000 Marines hit the beach in about 20 minutes.

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A sunken LVT at Saipan. Linked from the Pacific Maritime Heritage Trail website.

However and as seen above, many did not even make it to the beach.  As the hundreds of landing craft reached the edge of the reef, they were at the receiving end of pre-sighted Japanese artillery.  Some landing craft overturned, drowning the young Marines.  Others took direct hits from artillery fire, completing obliterating the landing craft and the Marines on board.  As they got closer to the beach, the landing craft received small arms fire.

Death was everywhere.

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Remnants of death. The sole of a Japanese soldier’s combat boot on Saipan, unearthed at the site of the largest banzai charge of the war. Courtesy of my flickr friend, Reef_Wreck. Clicking on the photo will take you to his photostream.

To further worsen the situation, stiff currents carried part of the 2nd Marines further north than planned.  Once on the beach, they found themselves 400 yards too far north.  They would now have to fight back towards their comrades in the 4th Division.

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A US Marine tank lays half sunk on the reef off the invasion beach on Saipan. Mt. Tapotchau, the highest point on the island and from where Japanese spotters directed artillery, can be seen right behind the open hatch. Photo courtesy of my flickr friend, reef_wreck; clicking on the picture will take you to his photostream.

Once on the beach, the Marines received targeted artillery and mortar rounds, directed by Japanese spotters above Mount Tapotchau, the highest point on the island.  The Japanese were equipped with 16 – 105mm, 30 – 75mm, and eight – 150mm guns on the high ground.

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Remnants of the battle on Saipan: a still unexploded round laying in the sand, courtesy of my flickr friend, reef_wreck. Clicking on the picture will take you to his photostream.

The battle became a slugfest, which included the largest tank battle in the Pacific War (the Japanese sent 44 tanks to attack the Marines and the soldiers who had landed the second day) and towards the end of the near month-long battle, the largest banzai charge of the war.  In the banzai charge, over 3,000 Japanese soldiers – some armed with spears – charged the Marines and soldiers, with brutal hand to hand combat lasting for over 15 hours.  It was total carnage.  Both attacks occurred under the cover of darkness.  Fear at its peak.

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A destroyed Japanese tank near the southern airstrip on Saipan taken by the US Marines (It is now Saipan Airport). Photo courtesy of my flickr friend reef_wreck; clicking on the picture will take you to his photostream.

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In his first taste of combat, it is reported Sgt. Genaust did extremely well as a cameraman.  Although surely trembling with fear along with his comrades, his first film reel was remarkably of steady hand.  (I’m so old now, I can’t even hold my own camera still anymore.  Incredible courage that man had.)  Remember, this is before image stabilization.

Much of the more viewed footage that can be seen now on the internet was shot by Sgt. Genaust.  In it, you can see the intense emotions in the young Marines.  Their faces.  Their body language.  Not only are they trying to fight the enemy, the fear is evident as death lurked everywhere.

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The assault on Saipan begins. There will be about 2,000 casualties in the first day alone. USMC photo.

Sgt. Genaust was filming for about three weeks.  Sadly, only three of his reels survive today.  The others have been lost.

And while specifics of his combat actions are lost with time, there was an interruption in his filming.  However, it is clear he was fighting for his life as a rifleman.  Nowhere was safe on that island.

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Unexploded American hand grenades still litter the Saipan landscape. The military still collects the potentially unstable and unexploded ordnance then blows them up even today. Photo courtesy of my flickr friend reef_wreck; clicking on the picture will take you to his photostream.

And although he primarily shot with his movie camera, he also shot with his carbine.  On Sunday, July 9th, 1944, Sgt. Genaust and his buddy Howard McClue, found themselves near the Marpi Airstrip.  They were under orders to eliminate all resistance on the northern part of the island.  They were to hook up with other Marines approaching from the opposite direction.

Their first contact with the other Marines was with a tank.  Their tank commander asked for riflemen so Sgt. Genaust and two of his buddies, including fellow cameraman Howard McClue, began to follow the tank.  The tank then hit a land mine and was destroyed.

As they continued on with their mission, they were ambushed by the Japanese of platoon strength.  Apparently outnumbered, Sgt. Genaust apparently ordered the two Marines during the firefight to go back and get reinforcements.  Genaust was then alone to fight them off.  He was in a fight for his life, with his carbine the only thing protecting him from a potentially ugly death.

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The Japanese had erected structures with corrugated tin roofs like those you can see in the background. Naval and artillery barrages obliterated such structures but in doing so, would scatter the corrugated tin. Japanese soldiers would lay under such sheets laying in wait as Marines would approach to clear the village. USMC photo.

McClue was successful in bringing back reinforcements.  He was apparently not 100% clear on where he left Genaust but did locate him roughly 50 yards away.  Just then, Genaust rose up to direct the Marines towards the enemy but was then immediately shot through his thigh.

In the time McClue was gone, Genaust single-handedly killed nine Japanese soldiers.  Incredible when you think he was a cameraman…but he was a Marine first and foremost.  He was expert with his rifle.

His wound required Genaust to be immediately evacuated and hospitalized.³

However, that will not be his only wound.  His close buddy, Howard McClue, would be killed later that day, shot through his heart per a letter Genaust wrote to his mother, Mrs. McClue, later in January 1945.4

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For his courageous action in combat, a Colonel Dickson had written a handwritten recommendation for Genaust to be awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest medal for bravery.  Only the Medal of Honor is higher.

Unbelievably, his recommendation for the Navy Cross was declined.  Instead, he was only awarded a Bronze Star.  The reason was beyond belief: the Navy declared he was not an infantryman but only a cameraman.

The Marine Corps is never wrong, of course, but they were sure short on being right.

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While Genaust could have elected to stay back in the States, he declined.

He was headed for Iwo Jima.

Please stay tuned for Part 3.

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NOTES

1.  This was the first time 3D maps were used.

2.  The assault force also included the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division under the command of US Army General Ralph Smith, who was later sacked by Lt. General Howlin’ Mad Smith of the USMC.

3. Old Man Jack told me wounds would get infected very quickly in the jungle heat and humidity, requiring immediate treatment.  The Saipan invasion force was for once supplied with ample medical teams.

4. Ironically, July 9, 1945 was when the highest number of Japanese civilians lept off the cliffs at Marpi Point.  They had been brainwashed by the Japanese military that they will be brutalized by the Marines if they surrendered.  Mothers would throw their babies onto the jagged rocks below then follow them, or, they would jump into the shark infested waters.  Many Marines were traumatized for the rest of their lives after witnessing this horror.  They were trained to fight the Japanese military, not watch thousands of civilians jump to their deaths.  Yet, many Marines risked their lives going up to cave openings to coax civilians out to safety, not knowing if there were Japanese soldiers inside.

The largest banzai charge also just occurred two days earlier, on July 7, 1944.

Saipan was also where a Los Angeles Mexican-American, PFC Guy Gabaldon, helped capture about one thousand Japanese civilians and soldiers.  He was able to speak enough Japanese having spent time with a Japanese-American family and attended military language school.  He was initially awarded a Silver Star but it was upgraded to the the Navy Cross in 1960.  Admittedly, there was controversy on his true actions.

At the end, American forces sustained 3,426 killed and 13,099 wounded. Japanese losses were approximately 29,000 killed (in action and suicides) and 921 captured.  It is estimated over 20,000 civilians were killed.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 4


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From left: Dad, Uncle Yutaka, Uncle Suetaro, Grandmother Kono, Aunt Mieko, Grandfather Hisakichi and Aunt Shiz.  Circa 1925 in Seattle, WA.

My father will be 96 years old later this month in February.  He is the only one left out of the above family picture taken in Seattle.

Yet, even last year, he fondly recalls his younger brother Suetaro (standing in front of my Grandmother above) while growing up in Hiroshima before the war.  That’s all he remembers now – his fun childhood years in Hiroshima.  He has memory issues.  Quite a bit now.  He calls me Suetaro or asks me how he is doing.

One story he told me was they would walk to the train station together in the morning to get to school; they would take turns slowly pedaling the only bike they had, riding alongside the other brother who was walking.  They would simply leave it by a merchant next to the train station and hop on the train.  However, when school got out, whoever got to the bicycle first would get to ride it home, leaving the other brother in the dust – or rain.

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Dulag, where Lt. Gen. Makino's HQs were moved from.  Oct. 29, 1944.Used with permission from my flickr friend, John T.  By clicking on the image, you can see other archival photographs in his collection.
Dulag village, where Lt. Gen. Makino’s HQs was moved from. Taken Oct. 29, 1944.  Utter destruction.  Used with permission from my flickr friend, John T. By clicking on the image, you can see other archival photographs in his collection.

Combat – Mainit River

When we left Part 3, Uncle Suetaro – now a Sergeant (軍曹) in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) – was to be headed towards Jaro and the Mainit River bridge at dawn.  The orders for his 41st Regiment was to defend it against the fast-advancing US Army, specifically the 34th Infantry.

According to Mr. Ota and if my translating is correct, the town of Jaro is situated by a river which runs along the base of a mountain.  At that time, elements of the IJA 33rd Regiment had set up some defensive positions around the bridge.  Per Leyte 1944: the Soldiers’ Battle, these defensive positions included earthen pillboxes covered with grass and spider holes; they also had an ammo dump.

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Uncle Suetaro during mandatory high school military training, May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds” in the Hiroshima Prefecture. My father had returned to Seattle two years earlier. Suetaro, too, was due to return to Seattle soon hereafter…but did not.

Regimental commander Iwatani intended on ambushing the US Army soldiers and prepared as best possible on the road approaching the bridge (Highway 2).  During the night, he decided the 2nd Echelon (5th Company plus Communications Officer Nakamura) to move from Carigara to the defensive position to bolster its strength.  The remnants of the 33rd Regiment from the 16th were also assigned (they took heavy losses fighting the US Army at Palo and had retreated to this area).

Ordered to leave their knapsacks behind to lighten their load (perhaps the commander knew it would be a one way trip), the group left early on the 28th for the six kilometer march to Jaro.  They double-timed from about the half-way point on the relatively level road to Jaro.   They reached the outskirts of Jaro and began to deploy as ordered.

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Mainit Bridge is at the 4 o’clock position, just outside the circle formed by the broken lines. From the Reports of General MacArthur. (Note: If you are accustomed to viewing US battle maps, the colors are switched since this is based on post-war Japanese sources. Black is the Imperial Japanese Army, red the US Army.)

In his book, he reports that the 41st Regiment was dispersed; one company and one platoon consisting of two machine gun crews were deployed on the east in addition to one platoon manning two 37mm anti-tank guns.  The tattered battalion of riflemen from the 16th Division, 33rd Regiment were deployed to the west.  They were ready to ambush the approaching Americans in Iwatani’s mind but their intelligence was very flawed.  Most of all, these troops did not know the Imperial Japanese Navy had lost the major sea battles surrounding Leyte.

On October 30th, Lt. Col. Thomas E. Clifford, Jr., the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, advanced through the town of Alangalang a mile and a half south of the Mainit River bridge.

Per Leyte: Return to the Philippines:

“As Company C reached the Mainit River, it made contact with the (Japanese), who had dug in on both steeply sloping banks of the river at the steel bridge crossing. The company suffered five casualties. It was opposed by the remaining elements of the 33d Infantry, which had been considerably mauled by the Americans. Company C withdrew 300 yards as Companies B and A pressed forward on the left side of the road under continuous rifle fire.  Colonel Pearsall’s 2nd Battalion had followed the 1st Battalion, and both units were to make an assault against the 41st Infantry Regiment, which had arrived in the area. Three batteries of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion shelled the enemy positions for a depth of 300 yards on the eastern side of the river and 100 yards on the western side.”

At this time, per Mr. Ota’s book, it is believed the 41st Regiment was stretched out and pretty much decentralized with respect to command.  As such and to their benefit, it is reported that the effect of the artillery barrage was minimized.  This is not directly mentioned in the US battle reports.

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A US soldier seeks cover behind a US 37mm anti-tank gun near Jaro. National Archives.

Leyte: Return to the Philippines continues:

“After the artillery concentration was over, the two battalions were to move out to the attack – the 1st on the left and the 2nd on the right. The regimental commander ordered the 1st Battalion to attack, destroy the enemy resistance, and secure the eastern bank of the river. Five tanks were to follow in the rear of the assault companies and fire at targets of opportunity. Five hundred yards away, to the right of the 1st Battalion, Companies E and F of Pearsall’s battalion were to cross the river, destroy enemy resistance on the western side, and then go south on Highway 2 to contact the enemy at the bridge.”

The Japanese defenses were well thought out; the Japanese excelled at defense.  However, the grasses in front of the earthen pillboxes used as camouflage began to smolder as the Japanese fired their weapons, becoming a smoke signal for American artillery fire.  They were quickly eliminated and most violently.

The 1st Battalion moved to the water’s edge, where it was pinned down by enemy fire. Companies E and F of the 2nd Battalion, however, were able to push north 500 yards through the heavy brush, and amid a driving rain they managed to ford the river unobserved. Once on the other side they charged the entrenchments of the 41st Infantry Regiment on the river, with Company F in the lead. As Company F neared the bridge it overran three mortar positions without stopping but was finally halted by heavy machine gun fire. After the company’s 60-mm. mortar had knocked out the machine gun, the unit continued to advance and passed the bridgehead before it ran out of ammunition. Company E then relieved Company F, while the latter set up heavy machine guns to silence enemy machine guns in the woods to the west. By 1500 the bridge was in American hands. The Japanese had placed a demolition charge on the bridge, but the American advance had been so swift that the enemy never had an opportunity to set off the charge.”

There was gruesome close quarters combat.  In reference to Company F above, led by Captain Austin, the 2nd Battalion, 34th Infantry charged the Japanese defenders with bayonets and eliminated them.

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Found this image through using Japanese search terms. No source was indicated but it said Japanese troops were not prepared for the Leyte jungle ecosystem.

During this battle, 1st Lt. Shioduka, in command of the 37mm anti-tank guns my Uncle Suetaro was apparently manning, was killed in action per Mr. Ota.

The surviving remnants of this Japanese defensive force retreated through Jaro.  By 5 pm, the 34th Infantry successfully occupied Jaro.

Per Mr. Ota’s research, it appears that although the demolition charges had been set, the combat engineer who was in charge of the detail was killed.  As such, no order to blow the bridge was issued and because of this strategic failure, Sherman M4 tanks and heavy artillery pieces were able to continue on to Carigara.

While I do not believe this film compilation to be an official US Army release, it may provide you with a possible glimpse into that war.  However, no movie can ever transmit to you, the reader, the immensity of the fear that was being experienced by both the American and Japanese soldiers.

Both sides.

Every minute.

Every hour.

Every Day.

Also note combat film from that period had no sound; all sound you hear has been edited in.  It is set to start at the 2:15 mark:

To be continued in Part 5.

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Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.

Home to Heroes


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A journey to the Riverside National Cemetery for this Memorial Day weekend was deemed in order.

Just my way of saying “Thank you” to three men… and Marge Johnson as well.

I was told that the Boy Scouts planted over 200,000 flags for this weekend.  Well, there’s a few more flags now…  albeit just small tokens of appreciation from me, they are recognition of what America deeply owes them.

If you never served (like me), you should be grateful that these men did…  instead of you.

In a documentary, a paralyzed Marine who made it back from Iwo Jima said one indescribable smell resonates in him to that day: the sweet, distinct smell of fresh blood squirting out from a wound to the jugular vein.  He said if you smelled that, it signaled a dying Marine.

The Riverside National Cemetery is the third-largest cemetery managed by the National Cemetery Administration.  It is also home of the Medal of Honor Memorial and only one of four sites recognized as a National Medal of Honor Memorial Site.  The Medal of Honor Memorial’s walls feature the names of all medal recipients.

(Note: By clicking on the images, you should be able to download full rez image files.)

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The uncle of one of our most patriotic bloggers, “pacificparatrooper“, is interred here.

Master Sergeant James O’Leary, USMC.

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He rests in this peaceful grassy knoll next to our other patriots…

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To learn about MSgt. O’Leary’s military service, please click on this link to read one of gpcox’s stories about her uncle: MSgt James O’Leary.  You will also learn how gpcox’s family has been serving our country for many decades, including her father “Smitty” who endured combat with the famed 11th Airborne during WWII.

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Of course, a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson was in order.

Mr. Johnson was a decorated Marine fighting on board CV-6, the USS Enterprise, during the Battle of Midway and the most brutal Solomon Islands campaign in WWII.

Marge recently passed away; I was unable to fulfill my promise to take her again to visit with her husband… but then again, they are together for eternity now.  I felt Marge would like some flowers and took an Old Glory for Mr. Johnson.  He loved the Corps.  You can read about Mr. Johnson, USMC here: Mr. Johnson, USMC.

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Interestingly, I learned something about Mr. Johnson’s service in the US Marine Corps.  His enlistment was longer than what I was led to believe.  He was but 16 when he “got suckered” into enlisting.  I’ll need to write about that later, I guess.

May they both happily rest in peace together.

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I have come to know Grace and her husband Bernie though a close knit national Mustang club.  No, not the horse.  The car.

Her fist husband was US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Hartsock.  His name is etched into the Medal of Honor Memorial wall.  He was killed in action at just 24 years of age in Viet Nam.  He was but two months away from ending his tour of duty and left a son, Dion.

Staff Sergeant Hartsock’s official Medal of Honor citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. S/Sgt. Hartsock, distinguished himself in action while serving as section leader with the 44th Infantry Platoon. When the Dau Tieng Base Camp came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, S/Sgt. Hartsock and his platoon commander spotted an enemy sapper squad which had infiltrated the camp undetected. Realizing the enemy squad was heading for the brigade tactical operations center and nearby prisoner compound, they concealed themselves and, although heavily outnumbered, awaited the approach of the hostile soldiers. When the enemy was almost upon them, S/Sgt. Hartsock and his platoon commander opened fire on the squad. As a wounded enemy soldier fell, he managed to detonate a satchel charge he was carrying. S/Sgt. Hartsock, with complete disregard for his life, threw himself on the charge and was gravely wounded. In spite of his wounds, S/Sgt. Hartsock crawled about 5 meters to a ditch and provided heavy suppressive fire, completely pinning down the enemy and allowing his commander to seek shelter. S/Sgt. Hartsock continued his deadly stream of fire until he succumbed to his wounds. S/Sgt. Hartsock’s extraordinary heroism and profound concern for the lives of his fellow soldiers were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

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May they all rest in peace.

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Blooms at Riverside National Cemetery near MSgt. O’Leary.

Two Old Keys to Memorial Day


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Old Man Jack entrusted me with his house keys “…in case he shot himself in the foot” as he put it. Now covered in dust is Old Man Jack’s favorite baby – the F4U Corsair albeit a toy. He would push that button in once in a while, listen to this toy’s engine sound and watch the prop spin… It would echo a bit in my hallway…

I looked at these two old keys in my hand.  They belonged to Old Man Jack and the thought of Memorial Day instantly crossed my mind.

Two old keys to Memorial Day.

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A year ago, I had written a blog about Memorial Day (“It” and Memorial Day).

At times, I feel the meaning of Memorial Day has either faded or has changed.

In essence, many people living in today’s “politically correct” society have taken the sacrifices of our fallen to mean a three day weekend.

Sad…but that’s how I feel.. and it angers me.

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When I looked at those two keys, my mind raced to some of the things Old Man Jack said.

But mostly, to the things he could not say.

In the twelve years I was honored to know him, he would abruptly blurt out something once in a while when we were talking in his garage… while sitting in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his wife.

There was no story associated with these mutterings.

“Boys got killed on those stinkin’ islands…” then raise his thick, white eyebrows.

Or, “Hell, I pissed in my pants.”

Or once in a while, he would make a muffled smack with his lips then slowly shake his head left and right… and not say anything more.

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One such utterance was mentioned in “Old Man Jack’s Love”.

Upon gazing upon his beloved Corsair in front of him after over 60 years, he began weeping.

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Ground crew working on a Corsair in heavy rain.

After recovering and meandering next to his plane, he simply let out, “Some of (the pilots) just didn’t come back.  I could never stop thinking, ‘Did a Jap get him… or was it me?’”

He said that because as Ground Crew Chief, he was responsible for the airworthiness of the plane a young Navy or Marine pilot would take out on a mission…to shoot at the enemy…or be shot at.  These planes had to be in the best fighting condition as lives depended on it.  But he frequently said “they had to make do” because they never had enough spare parts… so they HAD to improvise.

One time, he said a bushing had been shot out on a plane that had to go on a mission the next morning.  Old Man Jack did what he could.  What he must.  He soaked two pieces of coconut logs in engine oil overnight.  When it came time for the pilot to take off, he clamped the oil soaked wood around the cabling and used baling wire to clamp them together as tightly as he could.  The plane left on its mission – with the young pilot behind the stick…in a plane with oil soaked coconut log as a bushing.

Unbelievable.

Now perhaps you understand the depth of his utterance of, “…or was it me?”

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Old Glory shimmering off a P-51 Mustang at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum.

I will never have an answer because the question could never have been asked of him.

But I feel Old Man Jack carried tremendous guilt in his heart about something that happened on those stinkin’ islands.

Not just bad; real bad.

Deep down, my heart tugs at me that someone within Old Man Jack’s reach died that shouldn’t have… and that Old Man Jack feels personally responsible for his death… and he carried that anguish for all these years.

Torment.

Grief.

Guilt.

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As Old Man Jack said, some of the young pilots didn’t come back.

They were killed or are forever missing in action.

That is for whom Memorial Day is all about.

To remember and honor those that did not come back…and not a Memorial Day sale.

Two old keys to Memorial Day…