Tag Archives: Philippines

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3


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The “pilgrims”. Clockwise from left: Mr. Yusuke Ota, Ms. Setsu Teraoka, Tomiko, Mr. Bungo Kagimoto, Izumi, Kiyoshi, Masako and Namie.

Experiencing this heat and humidity was one of my personal goals for this pilgrimage.  No history book on the Battle for Leyte could ever truly convey the endurance each soldier – American or Japanese – put up in order to stay alive given the climate, kill the enemy and go back home.

It was all out war… A war that fumbling politicians caused or created with their own personal agendas .  Even though failing, Roosevelt, Tojo, Hitler and Churchill didn’t have to go to Leyte to potentially lose their own lives.  They sent young, vibrant boys and men in their stead to fight and die in this climate unsuited for violent life and death struggles.

Millions of other people died, too.

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Day 2

(Note: by clicking on most of the images, you can see the location on a map.)

Although early in the morning, the sun was already unforgiving.  In reacting to the humidity, your body begins to perspire just standing there in the open-air lobby.  Once you step out of the shade, rays come down on you so searingly that you wouldn’t need a microwave to zap popcorn.  Just leave the Orville Redenbacher bag out on the sidewalk for a few minutes.  I’m not kidding – and I live in LA.

I thought I was a whiz kid by bringing along one of those microfiber drying cloths you use when wiping off your car after washing it.  You know it can soak up Lake Michigan and not drip one drop.  Well, it was useless in this heat.  It also wasn’t anti-odor. 🙂

As we awaited our vans, I also noticed the ladies were all wearing long sleeve over-shirts.  In this heat?  Odd.  So I asked my cousin Masako why she put on additional shirts given it was so hot.

She said that it was because they didn’t want to get dark.

Oh well.

(They put on gloves, too.)

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MacArthur Landing Memorial Park

c-10-440Our first official stop was MacArthur Landing Memorial Park; it is in Palo and was codenamed “Red Beach” for the invasion of Leyte on October 20, 1944.  This is where MacArthur waded ashore then broadcast his speech to the Filipinos of, “I have returned.”

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My cousins are in the background viewing the memorial.
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Cousins Tomiko and Masako taking in the sight.

Well, actually, he had returned at least times by the time he made his broadcast.  You see, he waded ashore at least three times (not sure of actual count but at least three) to ensure he got the best possible photo and news coverage.

To his credit, though, there still was small arms fire around the area.

Proof of at least one other wading attempt by MacArthur:

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National Archives.

Notice Philippines President Osmena (in the jungle hat) is to the left of MacArthur in the above image; yet, in the memorial, he is on MacArthur’s right.

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Hill 522

Our next stop was “Hill 522 (see notes)”.¹  Essentially, this high ground was critical to saving US lives as it commanded a sweeping view of the landing beaches and ground inland.  It was called Hill 522 as it was 522′ high.

Leyte’s temperatures do not vary extensively during the year; on this day, my cell phone said it was 89F.   If it were this hot on October 20, 1944, the US soldiers and Filipino guerrillas faced a daunting task slogging up that hill with full packs, weapons and ammunition…  Never mind they were being shot at.  The same for the Japanese soldiers scrambling up to reinforce their positions.

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This is how Hill 522 looks like today from street level; you cannot see the peak from here. The stairs up to the top begin between the blue and beige structures. Akehira is to the right with his back to us and a towel wrapped around his neck. One of the vans we rode in is on his right.

c-10-446We walked past a little village girl; the journey up the hill begins:

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Gotta hand it to my cousin Masako; she’s in the striped shirt with a backpack.

Just half a year earlier, Masako had tremendous difficulty just walking… but after visiting the shrine, she felt that Uncle Suetaro was calling her to visit him on Leyte and began to strengthen her legs with exercise.  This would be her first true test.

It leveled off for about 30 yards before climbing once again.  We passed some homes:

Distinctive odors signaled the absence of an established sewage system.  I now had a first hand idea of what Old Man Jack always said about the islands he fought on during WWII.

After some more climbing, we came to a clearing.  With my t-shirt soaking up the world’s supply of Sparkletts water, I thought, “Dang, that wasn’t a tough climb at all!”  Wrong.

c-10-447It was a rest stop.  Duh.  My guess is that it was about 200′ up the hill.  The crest of Hill 522 was straight ahead in the picture above but you still can’t see it.  And Masako was still hanging in there.  What a driven lady she was.

Well, she and her sister Tomiko made it to about the 300′ mark before they had to retire.  What an effort, especially with her bad legs, the heat and humidity.

This is where I ran into four village children who were trailing us part of the way up the hill:

c-10-463As for me and the hop, skip and a jump to the top?  Well, this southern Californian began to fall behind, slowly but surely.  I blame it on the 100 pounds of camera equipment and the eight gallons of water I was lugging in my backpack…not.

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Where I petered out… You cans see my cousins are still climbing.

I petered out at around the 400′ mark (Just trying to make me look good.) as the heat and humidity got to me.  So I’m a wuss.  To tell you the truth, I got a bit dizzy.  In that heat, I did think of the soldiers fighting for their lives on his hill 71 years ago.  Do we even know their names?

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The view from where I petered out, looking generally south. I left the telephone line in for reference. The hill which intersects it is Catmon Hill, another vital piece of high ground that needed capture as quickly as possible. It would not be under control for several days.

Well, my older cousins Namie and Kiyoshi – along with the rest of the group – made it to the top where a large cross has been erected.  Incredible, yes?  And Namie survived the atomic bombing.  They said it afforded a commanding view of the surroundings, a testament to the combat need to take this hill.

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Hill 120

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A recreation of Lt. Mills hoisting the first flag is visible. Although hidden by the vegetation, there is also a radioman at the base of the palm tree.

After a much needed lunch and rest stop, our next destination was Hill 120². Hill 120 is still a sacred place to the Filipinos; it was here that the US flag was first hoisted above Leyte by US Army Lt. Clifford Mills.

As with many other places on Leyte, this hill was severely pummeled by the 200 mph+ winds of Typhoon Yolanda, felling several trees and ripped apart the memorial.  Given that, I was amazed at the growth that had sprung up since then.  (I also understand that before the typhoon, this memorial was in excellent shape with the landscape being pruned and structures maintained.  Leyte is still in process of bringing this site to its previous state.)

While “only” 120′ high, Masako again took on the challenge.  Because of the damage from the typhoon, some of the footing was precarious but she ambled up.  A lot of the footing was not clearly visible due to the growth.  It swallowed up your feet and legs.

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Given this vegetation is what has grown back since the typhoon, it still amazed me with its height and thickness. Grasses were chest high in some spots; walking through the vegetation left tiny thistle-like things stuck in your shoes and socks. You definitely felt the coarseness rub on your legs as you made your way through.  It was impossible to walk through it silently.  If you were a soldier, the rustling must have sounded like a fog horn.

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Hill 120 during battle. I believe we parked on the same road running diagonally through this photo.  Signal Corps photo.
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This memorial sign was recently rebuilt and put up by the Filipinos; its predecessor had been blown away and down the backside of the hill by Typhoon Yolanda.

There is one stump (below) that I could see remaining from the actual battle on October 20, 1944, pot-marked with bullet holes; my cousin Kiyoshi is walking past it:

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When compared to the previous B&W photo taken on A-Day, 1944, the ocean is somewhat in the same direction. The road we traveled is the same as in the B&W photo.

After descending back down, we walked around to the side of the hill; it was dotted with a number of privately erected memorials.  One was for the US soldiers; it was flanked by unexploded bomb casings.

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It reads, “In grateful memory of the unknown American soldiers who with untold magnanimity and valiance fought and paid the the supreme sacrifice on this foreign shore to liberate a people foreign to them.”

Several others were for Japanese soldiers, all privately erected.  This is when Masako truly began to feel the relevance of why she just had to come.

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Namie and Tomiko offer “gassho”, or prayer, in reflection of those who perished and long since forgotten.

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Namie and Tomiko offer their gassho at yet another memorial.
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Mr. Ota photographs another memorial, erected in 1977.

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My five cousins. Masako, Tomiko and Namie on the left survived the atomic bombing. Izumi is Masako’s filial daughter with Kiyoshi next to her. Kiyoshi was born immediately after war’s end; the moment came in the Kanemoto home quite suddenly.

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At Hill 120 and while looking at the number of memorials, Masako said to me, “All these memorials…  It is terrible knowing they lost their lives and have since been forgotten.”

We all felt the same, I’m sure.  I did.

…and this is a feeling you will never find in a textbook.

You had to be there.

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Day 3 to follow…  Masako and I read our letters to Uncle Suetaro and pacificparatrooper’s father Smitty at the actual battle sites on Leyte.  Short videos will be included for those interested.

Part 4 is here.

BATTLE NOTES:

  1.  Per Cannon’s book: While the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, was proceeding cautiously forward the 1st Battalion was working toward Hill 522. This hill, which rose directly from the river’s edge north of Palo, overlooked the landing beaches and its upward trails were steep and winding. Hill 522 presented the most significant terrain feature which would have to be overcome before the American forces could push into the interior from Palo and it constituted one of the chief objectives for A Day. Three months earlier General Makino had started to fortify it, impressing nearly all of the male population of Palo for the work. By A Day they had constructed five well-camouflaged pillboxes of rocks, planking, and logs, covered with earth. Numerous tunnels honeycombed the hill; the communications trenches were seven feet deep.During the preliminary bombardments the Navy had delivered some of its heaviest blows on the hill, and the bombardment was continued by Battery B of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion and Battery A of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion. The 1st Battalion of the 19th Infantry sent reconnaissance parties to locate a northern route to the hill. The plan had been to move inland from the extreme south of the beachhead, but that area was still in Japanese hands. At 1430, when scouts reported finding a covered route on the northern side of the hill, the 1st Battalion immediately moved out in a column of companies. The column had barely started when Company A, in the lead, was held up by enemy fire from the five pillboxes. The remainder of the battalion moved north around Company A, and, skirting the woods, attacked Hill 522 from the northeast, with Company C on the right and Company B on the left.The men, although tired from the day’s activity and strain, made steady progress up the slope. As the troops moved upward, American mortars started to shell the crest of the hill. It was thought that this was artillery fire and a request was made that it be lifted. It came, however, from the chemical mortars. After a short delay the firing ceased. At dusk Company B reached the first crest of the hill and was halted by fire from two enemy bunkers. The company thereupon dug in.At the same time scouts from Company C reached the central and highest crest of the hill and espied about two platoons of Japanese coming up the other side. They shouted for the remainder of the company to hurry. Company C got to the top of the hill barely ahead of the Japanese, and a sharp engagement took place in which about fifty Japanese were killed. Company C held the highest crest of the hill. During this attack, 1st Lt. Dallas Dick was struck in the leg and his carbine was shot from his hands, but he continued to command his unit until his evacuation forty-eight hours later.During the night the Japanese made frequent but unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate the company area and in the darkness they carried away their dead and wounded. During the action to secure Hill 522, fourteen men of the 1st Battalion were killed and ninety-five wounded; thirty of the latter eventually rejoined their units. General Irving, who had assumed command of the 24th Division ashore at 1420, later said that if Hill 522 had not been secured when it was, the Americans might have suffered a thousand casualties in the assault.By the end of A Day, the division had crossed Highway 1 and established physical contact with the 1st Cavalry Division on its right flank. In spite of strong opposition on its left flank, the 24th Division had secured Hill 522, which dominated the route into the interior and overlooked the town of Palo, the entrance point into Leyte Valley. Furthermore, the X Corps had now secured a firm beachhead area averaging a mile in depth and extending over five miles from the tip of the Cataisan Peninsula to the vicinity of Palo, and had captured the important Tacloban airstrip on the Cataisan Peninsula.
  2. Per Cannon’s book, the amphibian tractors carrying the 3d Battalion, 382d Infantry, were held up by the tank barriers of coconut logs and debris on the beach, and the troops were forced to debark at the water’s edge. Several hundred yards off the beach this battalion began to receive heavy fire from Hill 120, which was about 600 yards from the beach. The hill dominated the regimental beach area and was the A Day objective for the battalion. The fire pinned down the battalion, which thereupon called for mortar support and naval gunfire. The resulting barrage forced the Japanese out of their positions, and at 1040 the battalion advanced and captured Hill 120.

A Lost Soul From WWII Comes Home – Part 1


iroshima

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On a sweltering, humid day, the family poses in front of Breakneck Ridge after the second of four memorial services. The one with the belly is me. Leyte, Philippines. July 22, 2015.
“Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, Uncle Suetaro glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.
He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle, Masako and Spam Musubi

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Cousins Namie and Tomiko negotiate an incline on Leyte.  They are all in their late 70’s.

A Pilgrimage to Leyte Begins

At 33,000 feet, the Philippine Airline’s pressurized cabin was cool and comfortable.  An hour into our three and a half hour flight to Tacloban, Leyte, it began to fill with the wonderful, pleasant scent of lunch.

The attractive Filipina flight attendant handed us our meals.  As I took the gold foil cover off the chicken lunch, I turned to my cousin Kiyoshi seated next to me in 46H on my left and said, “末太郎さん、腹へっていたでしょう、” or “Uncle Suetaro must have been so hungry.”

My eyes began to tear up once again.  It would happen many times during our Hiroshima family’s pilgrimage to Leyte…

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The wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, the former actress Cristina Gonzales, was kind enough to greet our group.

In the epilogue of my story, “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle”, my 81 year old cousin Masako climbed a long flight of stone stairs to the top of a military shrine in Hiroshima.  She said our deceased Uncle Suetaro called out to her.  With that, we knew we would be headed to Leyte.  It was just a question of when.

“When” was last week.  July 19, 2015.

My four Hiroshima cousins and Masako’s daughter went on a six-day/five-night pilgrimage to Leyte, spearheaded by the author of the book “Eternal 41st”, Mr. Yusuke Ota.  With us was another lady whose uncle was verified as being killed on Leyte near the end.  Also with us was a news reporter from a Hiroshima newspaper.

We went to honor not just our uncle who was killed as a Japanese soldier but for all souls who never returned from that island during WWII.

I also took with me a letter as well as photographs from blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper to be read to her father “Smitty”.  Smitty was a paratrooper with the US 11th Airborne and fought for his own life on Leyte against the Imperial Japanese Army – of which my uncle was one.  My uncle arrived on Leyte October 26, 1945; Smitty on November 18, 1945.  Smitty returned home; my Uncle Suetaro did not.

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The memorial tabletop, Japanese-style. You can see Smitty’s photos on the right alongside the photos of my Uncle Suetaro. Perhaps their paths crossed but ultimately, their sacrifices 70 years ago led to the US/Japan harmony we have today. Indeed, I like to think they were both victorious.

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Leyte

But first, a quick look at Leyte and its people:

A little Filipina girl runs alongside us as we pass through her small village:

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Filipina children we encountered climbing Hill 522 near the invasion beaches of 1944.
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A typical transit bus, taken through our van’s window.
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Local people almost always watched our memorial services including this young mother and daughter. She is clutching some of the food we distributed after the services.
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Vegetable peddler, Tacloban City.
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Curious locals watching us near Limon River which turned blood red during the battle in 1944 per interviews.
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Family selling bananas at street side. Bananas grow everywhere on Leyte.

The entire island is in various stages of reconstruction after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda less than two years ago.  Death toll estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

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Tacloban City and the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Mr. Ota is very active in the noble Tacloban City/Fukuyama Sister City relations.  If you would like to contribute to their recovery efforts, please contact Mr. Ota directly through his blog:

http://kkochan.com/

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The pilgrimage continues in Part 2… Please click here.

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.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 2


It is believed I occupy a potentially unique position when it comes to looking at history as it pertains to the Pacific Theater in World War II.  I am American first and foremost and have studied WWII history out of curiosity.  As expressed in the description of my blog, my viewpoint is from “one war, two countries, one family”.  However, one potential uniqueness is that I am able to read a bit of Japanese; you may be amazed to read what is written about WWII from the Japanese viewpoint of history. As such, I believe each battle will have in the background two broad, driving and dissimilar viewpoints: one from America and one from Japan.  The attack on Pearl Harbor is one example. But that is but the surface on war’s history – a high altitude view.  One that can be easily manipulated politically. But being on the ground dealing in face to face combat – or interrogation – leaves little to interpretation.  However, the fog of time challenges what is seen in a veteran’s mind.

Many of us here in the US interested in this world-wide cataclysm believe the Japanese soldier was a fanatic… freely willing to give his life for the Emperor.  The banzai charges.  The kamikaze attacks.  Individual soldiers throwing themselves under tanks with an explosive charge strapped onto their backs in a suicide attack. The truth of the matter is… they were farm boys.  City boys.  Just like our boys, they were drafted.  Instead of dying in “banzai attacks”, these “fanatical” Japanese soldiers wanted to go home just like our boys…but they couldn’t for fear of reprisal against their families.  Being a buck private in the Japanese army was brutal.  Perhaps not as brutal as the treatment they gave POWs but brutal nonetheless.  My Uncle warned his brother-in-law of that brutality in his farewell letter written on May 3, 1944.

A Look Into Imperial Japanese Army Morale

Indeed, as early as 1943, morale amongst the Japanese soldiers was very poor per this US Army G-2 intelligence report:

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Excerpt from “Intelligence Bulletin, G-2 USAFPOA, Feb 1945”. The translation was performed by a Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service.  The captured Japanese document was dated October 24, 1943.

So perhaps things are not what they seem? I wonder how my Uncle Suetaro felt.

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The 41st Regiment, and therefore Uncle Suetaro, was stationed in Pyongyang, Korea in May, 1944 per Mr. Ota’s book.  It had become absorbed by the Imperial Japanese Army’s 30th Division. After sunset on May 8, 1944, the 41st Regiment boarded a steam locomotive bound for Pusan.  After one day’s ride, they arrived in Pusan on May 9 at 4:00 PM. All 5,000 troops soon began to cram onto a ship called the 日昌丸 (Nissho Maru) with a capacity of 3,000 troops…  in addition to supplies and their backpacks.  American intelligence reports indicate temperatures could rise to 120F within the holds.

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oni ships2 The Nissho Maru is listed in this WWII era Division of Naval Intelligence report.

Per Mr. Ota’s reconstruction, the Nissho Maru departed Pusan on May 10 as part of a Imperial Japanese Navy fleet convoy. At about 3 PM the next day, the convoy docked in Moji Port in Kyushu, Japan to take on more supplies and hook up with other transports.  During this time, their destination was disclosed: Mindanao.  I am sure thoughts of seeing his mother was enveloping his mind…and heart.

Hiroshima was not far away. In the early dawn hours of May 13, the convoy – now consisting of eleven transports and four destroyer escorts, departed Moji Port.  They were vigilant against US submarines and proceeded at best possible speed.  They docked at Manila during the evening of the 18th.  The troops were already plagued with severe cases of sweat rash.

Soon, the 1st and 2nd Battalions on board the Nissho Maru headed to Cagayan with the 3rd Battalion and headquarters staff headed to Surigao on board the Tamatsu Maru.  Because they were splitting up and therefore would be separated from their regimental colors, the commanding officers boarded the Nissho Maru on the 19th as a send off.  They reached their destinations on the 23rd.  Soon, they were engaging Filipino guerrillas and they were extracting their toll on Uncle Suetaro’s regiment.  Per Mr. Ota, Captain Okamoto, a combat veteran from New Guinea was killed.  On July 10, Captain Ozaki, commanding officer of the 2nd Batallion, was also killed.  Short on officers, Captain Masaoka was appointed commanding officer of the remaining troops, numbering about 1,000.

October 20, 1944 – Invasion of Leyte

By the time of the invasion, General Yamashita had more than 400,000 soldiers stationed about the Philippines.  My Uncle Suetaro’s division, the 30th Division, was stationed on Mindanao to the south.  Yamashita had access to close to 900 planes, about 100 airfields (the largest of which was Tacloban on Leyte), and a naval fleet spearheaded by four carriers and seven battleships.  (However, this paled in comparison to the naval and air forces of the US. For instance, by the time of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the US had 34 carriers at their disposal.) The invasion of Leyte was preceded by the US 6th Ranger Battalion taking three smaller islands to the east of Leyte Gulf on October 17, 1944. The weather was perfect and all hell broke lose on October 20, 1944 (A-Day) when MacArthur unleashed the Sixth Army’s X Corps, XXIV Corps and the 21st Infantry Regiment in three different assaults on three eastward facing beaches (see below):

invasion file
From “Leyte”, US Army publication.

General Yamashita was caught flat-footed.  He had anticipated MacArthur would invade Luzon first.  He had to scramble.  In fact, the invasion’s advance was so rapid that MacArthur made his walk onto the Leyte beach a “Hollywood-esque” event on the first day.  Yes, he actually had several takes done of wading ashore being the media seeker he was but it is true there was gunfire off in the distance. Fortunately for our troops, the Japanese had withdrawn her troops from shoreline defensive posts.  Even though there had been up to four hours of bombardment by the USN of the shore defenses, many fortifications – including pillboxes – were untouched per an A-Day communication to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF from General Kenney.  He concluded there would have been a blood bath similar to Tarawa if the Japanese hadn’t withdrawn.

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MacArthur pompously wading ashore on Leyte on October 20, 1944. He would shortly broadcast that speech where he says, “I have returned.” National Archive photo.

The first major coordinated Japanese Army troop movements (i.e., reinforcements) to Leyte involved troop transports, joined by units of Cruiser Division 16 out of Manila.  The objective was to transport about 2,550 soldiers (count per Mr. Ota) of the 41st Regiment from Cagayan, on Mindanao, to Ormoc.  Named Convoy TA 1 by the USN, it included heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Kinu, Uranami, three new T.1-class transports (T.6, T.9, and T.10), and two new T.101-class transports, (T.101 and T.102). They were to be led by Rear Admiral Sakonju Naomasa in the Aoba but she had been torpedoed two days earlier by the USS Bream.  The flag had been transferred to Kinu. This convoy picked up the surviving 1st and 2nd Battalion members of the 30th Division at Cagayan, Mindanao on October 25th and arrived at Ormoc.  Fortunately, the Division had been alerted the day before so they were ready.  Uncle Suetaro had apparently been in the the 3rd Echelon, 1st wave of five transports that disembarked on the 26th in Ormoc.

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Source: Reports of General MacArthur.

Per Mr. Ota and under the command of Lt. General Shiro Makino, Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment headed towards Tacloban.  He could not have foreseen what was ahead of him: swamps, jungle, mud, illness, starvation…and the US Sixth Army. …and most poignantly, up against my dad’s US 8th Army’s Nisei’s in the Military Intelligence Service. To be continued in Part 3. (Note: The Battle of Leyte Gulf took place from October 23 to 26, 1944.  The immense Japanese battleship Yamato was reportedly only a few hours from Ormoc Bay when she inexplicably turned back during this epic sea battle.)

Part 1 is HERE.

Part 3 is HERE.

Part 4 is HERE.

Part 5 is HERE.

Epilogue is HERE.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 1


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Photo by Eugene Smith, USMC

A mother during World War II could suffer no greater anguish than receiving a telegram that her son was not killed but rather, deemed missing in action.

One irony rests with the fact we were the victors in World War II.  While certainly not in all instances, we have a large percentage of intact battle records – and survivors – to help identify (or locate) remains largely because we were victors.

For us here in the US, roughly 420,000 are deemed as killed in action during World War II.  However, at one time, there were roughly 80,000 classified as missing in action.  There is a second irony here.  As seen in the solemn photograph above, parts of a vibrant yet unidentifiable son were brought to this battlefield cemetery for burial.  In other words, we have his remains; his name, however, is not on the grave marker.  His name is on the list of those missing in action.

The most horrible anguish for a mother, in my opinion, is knowing he could not be found or not knowing where or how he met his end.  Her son physically will be forever alone where he perished, never to be seen again… to be taken back over time into the earth from whence he came.

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Absence of Records

Japan was at the losing end of the war (as was Nazi Germany).  Japan’s major cities were obliterated as were her paper records unless underground or well protected against fire.  To further exacerbate the bleakness of this situation, most combat notes or reports written by Japanese officers at a front never made it back to Japan for the most part, especially if the unit was disseminated.  Further, as a unit became closer to annihilation, Japanese army headquarters would lose all contact.

On the other hand, many of these written reports made it into US hands and used as intelligence against the Japanese themselves; US Army soldiers were under orders to retrieve all such material.  Such documents were taken from those who surrendered or from overrun positions.  The most gruesome was having to remove it from a dead soldier – or what was left of him.

The end result was Japanese headquarters more often than not knew little or nothing of what happened to individual soldiers or sailors – especially when it came to NCOs, or Non-Commissioned Officers.

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Actual American WWII dog tag recently recovered. From “http://www.powmiaawareness.org”

American military wore dog tags (a set of two) towards war’s end, complete with name, home town and serial number to help with identification.  Japanese NCOs – like my Uncle Suetaro – also wore “ID tags”, called 認識票 (Ninshikihyo).

WWII Luzon Captured Japanese Artifact

Unlike the machine stamped American tags, all of the Japanese tags were stamped by hand with a small chisel and hammer.  Most of all, these NCO tags generally only had their assigned regiment number, possibly a unit number and a serial number.  No name.

Their fates disappeared with the deaths of their units.

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Uncle Suetaro is on the high with Dad standing next to him.  They are in front of my grandparent's barber on King St and Maynard in Seattle.  Circa 1921.  The shop was inside Hotel Fujii (no longer standing).
Uncle Suetaro is on the high chair with Dad standing next to him. They are in front of my grandparent’s barbershop on King St and Maynard in Seattle. Circa 1923. The shop was inside Hotel Fujii (no longer standing).

The Discoveries

The void of not knowing how or exactly where my Uncle Suetaro was killed has plagued me for five years now.  Yes, I was unaware that dad had a younger brother let alone killed as a Japanese soldier until then.

My Hiroshima cousins, Masako, Kiyoshi, Toshiro and Masako’s daughter Izumi, believed Uncle Suetaro met his end near a village called Villaba on Leyte, thirty days before war’s end on July 15, 1945.  This was essentially based on word of mouth.  Any other information had been lost in the seven decades since his tragic death.  (I believe my father knew more specifics about his death having heard it directly from my grandmother and his older sister, Michie, in 1947.  He refuses to talk about it.)

However, in November last year, we renewed interest in a link we found on a Japanese website.  Izumi took the initiative and pursued it.  It led to an actual memorial association started by the approximately 20 survivors of my Uncle’s unit, the 41st Regiment.

Long story short, it turns out there is one man, Mr. Yusuke Ota, who had also taken a huge interest in the Hiroshima-based 41st Regiment.  He was just about to publish a book on the regiment when Izumi made contact with him, with well over 500 pages of data and history he’s uncovered .

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Mr. Ota’s book, “The Eternal 41st”.

In addition to buying our family ten copies of his book (in vertically written Japanese, unfortunately), Izumi began a dialogue with the author, Mr. Ota.  Mr. Ota was gracious enough to share his thoughts on our Uncle Suetaro based upon our vintage photos.

The Weapon

After viewing the photos and in his opinion, Uncle Suetaro was part of an anti-tank gun squad manning a Type 94 37mm anti-tank gun based on a German design.  In the early part of our war with Japan, the 37mm was deadly against our antiquated Stuart and early Sherman tank models.

A partially restored Type 94 37mm anti-tank gun.  It was already obsolete by the time the US entered the war.  From http://www.tomboy205.cocolog-nifty.com

The photos below were taken in Japan and were scanned from my Hiroshima Grandmother Kono’s photo album.  I believe Uncle Suetaro gave them to her:

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Our family assumes the soldiers pictured were from Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment. A 37mm anti-tank gun is behind them. On the backside, Uncle wrote “石手川ニテ、昭和18六月二十三日”, or “taken at Ishite River, June 23, 1943”. Ishite River is in the current Ehime Prefecture of Japan.
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On the back side, Uncle Suetaro wrote, “温泉郡浅海村” or “Onsengun Asanamimura” as the location for this training exercise in Japan. We cannot tell if he is pictured. It is now part of the Ehime Prefecture. Dated August 19, 1943.

The 37mm anti-tank gun was manned by eleven men and was equipped with either wooden or steel wheels.  It could be broken down into four main parts so that it could be hauled by four mules or carried if need be.  It weighed about 220 pounds.  But it is easier said than done – imagine you are in a hilly jungle during the monsoons or in a swamp… and you’re hungry, thirsty or even wounded.

It was low profile, a typical Japanese design, meant to be fired in combat while prone or squatting.  It had a straight sight and a well supplied and trained team could fire a round every two seconds.  They were deployed, if possible, in groups of four guns.

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Combat

We believe, through Mr. Ota’s book, that Uncle Suetaro’s 41st Regiment was stationed in Pyongyang, Korea in early May, 1944. (Edit: 2/7/2015)

By this time, Japan’s control over the Philippines had begun to deteriorate.  The Allies were knocking on their doorstep.  The Imperial Japanese Navy was to lose tremendous naval assets in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in just a few weeks.  Filipino guerrillas were also attacking Japanese infrastructure from within.  The Japanese military believed that General MacArthur would begin his attacks and assault Mindanao in short order.

In response to that conclusion, The Japanese army reorganized and placed the infamous General Tomoyuki Yamashita in charge of the newly restructured 14th Area Army.  My uncle’s unit, the 41st Regiment, was then attached to the 14th Area Army.

By the end of May, Uncle Suetaro and his 41st Regiment were on Leyte.

He was on his journey to his death.

To be continued in Part 2.  Please click here.