This was from a time when the entire nation was 100% behind our troops… even our media.
March 1942… here in southern California.
She, an aspiring starlet named Marilyn Hare, was determined to kiss 10,000 soldiers in early 1942 and while doing so, boost morale… Not only for the troops facing an uncertain future but the country. At this time, the news was filled with the conquests of the Japanese military in the Pacific. The Doolittle Raid and the Battle of the Coral Sea would not happen until the following month.
Times have changed yet our young are still sent to war.
For the uplifting photo series of this kissing wonder in LIFE, please click here.
There is personal pain in a full-fledged war that only those who were fully involved can feel. Those feelings will differ by how that person was involved.
We somewhat understand through survivors that a soldier, airman, sailor or Marine near or on the front lines will have an intimate kinship with instantaneous fear. They know combat is immediate, unfair, cruel, and barbaric. But hopefully, they know their families and country are behind them – perhaps giving them the edge to overcome their fears and survive.
And this is true for the enemy as well. As I become more knowledgeable on the Pacific Theater during WWII, I have learned the young Japanese combatants had the same fears (please see “There’s No Toilet Paper in the Jungle of Burma“). But unlike the Allied forces who had millions of tons of war materiel, food and medical care backing them, the Japanese military fell way short.
But what about the Japanese home front? Have you paused to ponder that? Were their countrymen any different from us in their ways of supporting their young men dying by the hundreds of thousands?
I never did myself until recently.
I met Rob on the internet through his facebook page, “WWII U.S. Capture Photos“. He focuses on the spoils of war, bringing back to the forefront the war souvenirs seized by military personnel.
He acquired a letter from a now elderly Marine who was fighting on Saipan in mid-1944. He had told Rob that he removed it from a Japanese corpse.
Apparently, this letter had ended up to haunt the Marine who was at time very young and fighting for his life on Saipan. The once young Marine is pictured in the center of this photo:
Rob asked if my father could read the letter and translate it.
The letter was haunting Rob, too.
My friend and I went to see Dad in October 2013. Below, Dad is reading the letter taken by the then young Marine from Saipan in 1944.
The backside of the envelope is below showing the sender’s name and return address. The image was enhanced to bring out the writing. The Marine had written “Japanese letter picked up on Saipan”.
The letter was anonymously addressed and sent by a young girl named “Kazuko Arai (荒井和子)”. The return address shows she was a student of a girl’s economics school in Tokyo, Nakano City, town of Honcho (東京都中野区本町通六丁目女子経済専門学校 – 附属高女). While I believe the school may have been at least damaged by the fire bombings, I may have located the successor school. It is called “Nitobe Bunka Gakuen” with its current address as 東京都中野区本町6-38-1. (While I did send a blind email of inquiry to them in my far from perfect Japanese, there has been no response. I doubt that there will be given the Japanese culture.)
While the scans were of low resolution, the two pages of the letter are as follows:
Because my father will be 95 next month, it was difficult to keep him on course. In spite of reminding him to just read the letter in Japanese (I would understand most of it), he continually tried to translate its sentences into English. Perhaps somewhere in his buried conscious, he is doing as he was trained by the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service. Admittedly, there were about a half-dozen characters that were just tough to make out due to creases and lack of clarity. And he wasn’t able to figure out one paragraph in particular…but I did! Got one on my old man.
As summer passes and turns into autumn, the war situation is getting more severe and now we must physically and mentally dedicate ourselves for our country.
As a courageous sailor out at sea, I know your unwavering fighting spirit continues.
Per our (radio) broadcasts, we hear that the intensity of battle and such has increased for both sides at all the front lines in the Far East Asia theater of war.
A radio broadcast announced that Lt. General Yasuyo Yamasaki and 2,000 of his garrison died honorably defending an island in the North Sea. All we could do was bow our heads (in honor) and swallow our grief (voices).
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
[ NOTE: In researching this report, I discovered that Lt. General Yamasaki was assigned to defend the island of Attu. He was killed with his remaining garrison in a banzai charge on May 29, 1943. Please click on the following for more information:
Now, with the daily war situation, we strongly feel as if we are in the midst of the battle and realize (winning) will not be easy.
Soon, it will be time for the autumn (military) athletic meet; I will train hard to strengthen my physique.
We resolve to not lose against the American and English women.
So please, courageous sailor, sincerely take good care of yourself and fight hard. I pray for your fighting spirit.
So now we realize that Japan also had a “home front”.
Perhaps they did not have a “Rosie the Riveter” like we did.
But the Japanese homeland did endure pain, fear and sorrow as we did…and depression. They were not the inhuman creatures depicted on war posters and in propaganda of that time. And thanks to Rob and the young Marine, we see a letter written in Tokyo by a high school girl named Kazuko Arai in the autumn of 1943 and simply addressed to an anonymous sailor. Kiyoshi also believes that the watermarked stationery was of high quality and issued out of military stock for this purpose.
Sadly, we do not know the name of the sailor from whose corpse the letter was removed from, nor do we know if Ms. Arai survived the war and raised a family.
Things like this sort aren’t evident in our (current) history textbooks. Now, WWII has pretty much been erased from school textbooks altogether, replaced by “politically correct” topics…that there was simply a war between Japan and America. A disgrace to those who endured or died.
In closing, there is a diary written by a young Japanese doctor up to the time of the final banzai charge on Attu. He was one of the attackers who was killed. As mentioned in my other posts about the Military Intelligence Service, Japanese military forces were allowed to write diaries. When these diaries were taken from the battlefield, the Japanese-Americans (Nisei) soldiers were able to read then extract valuable intel on the enemy – both for their battle front and their homeland. In his last entry, the young doctor writes a goodbye to his wife and two small children back home.
Including my Uncle Suetaro who was killed in action as an Imperial Japanese Army soldier on Leyte in the Philippines.
When Masako-san, my son Takeshi and I walked to the temple in 2013 to investigate my dad’s story of how he broke his elbow, we were greeted by the Reverend. He was 90 years old and still had his wits about him.
While he did not recollect my father, he validated the placement of a large round rock under the pine tree that hasn’t been touched for as long as he’s lived at the temple…. And that’s a loooong time. I’m sure he was born there.
And that there was a big branch of a pine tree that has since broken off recently.
He said he knew my Aunt Mieko who died in 1939.
And miraculously, he mentioned Uncle Suetaro. The reverend said they played together as children and that he was always a jokester and smiling…and that he could hear him playing his “fue”, or flute, from his second story room at the house.
Until then, not even Masako-san knew Uncle Suetaro played a flute…but there was no proof.
Just the recollection of a 90 year old reverend.
My tennis elbow pain kept me from retouching the old vintage photographs I had brought back from Hiroshima last September.
And the project was at a standstill since late October. That was as depressing as Obama V2.0.
But from three weeks ago, I am attempting to slowly restart the retouching project as my elbow pain has subsided greatly…and I came across the group photo you saw at the beginning here.
This was the backside since I know you ALL can read ancient Japanese:
But as I enlarged the image to begin retouching, something caught my (old) eye.
I noticed Uncle Suetaro was clutching something in his right hand.
A case more slender than the others in the group picture.
It’s not a trumpet or a trombone, that’s for sure.
Or for a cue stick.
It sure looks like a flute case.
Oh, heck. It IS a flute case.
I say so.
So words from the mouth of an old reverend started an eighty year old circle… to this vintage photograph of young boys.
All of whom likely lost their lives in a violent war.
In the past several years, as his dementia progresses, Dad is repeating many times how he broke his elbow as a young boy… “Many times” like as in every four minutes. No…every two.
I thought, “He doesn’t remember he ate like a horse ten minutes ago… How can he remember something that happened 80+ years ago?”
Well, I just HAD to find out about his story… and I did.
The story (which never varies) is/was he was playing “oninga”, or tag, with the neighborhood kids. “There was nothing else to do then,” he would tell me. They would end up in the yard of 正覚寺 – pronounced “Shoukakuji” – the Buddhist temple which is a hop, skip and a jump from his home. No wonder he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.
You can see a tiled roof on the tallest structure to the right of him. That is 正覚寺.
For those who like visuals:
He would tell me (over and over) that while playing tag, “…I tried to get away so I jumped on this big round stone then leaped up to a branch on big a pine tree in front of 正覚寺.”
Now that I know he did the broad jump at Nichu, I thought this jumping thing was therefore plausible. (Did I mention I’m a writer for “Mythbusters”?)
“Trouble is, I jumped too far so my hands couldn’t grab onto the branch. I slipped off the branch then broke my elbow when I hit the ground”.
To this day, he cannot completely straighten out his right arm. It’s crooked. He now tells this story to my youngest kids, Jack and Brooke… Every four minutes.
On September 7, 2012, I had to know. Off to 正覚時… But unlike my agile father of the 1920’s, I was walking very gingerly. There were four humongous blisters on my toes from walking in Japan and (from being tricked into) climbing Mt. Misen on Miyajima.
Indeed, there was a Japanese pine tree, or “matsu”. A huge one. You couldn’t miss it as you walk through the “mon”, or gate. It was so huge, the temple had steel braces installed to help hold these majestic branches up.
Off the to right, was the base of the tree. A puny trunk in relation to the Goliath branches… It was hard to believe at first this small trunk was the heart for this proud tree.
Then… at the base… was a large round stone. Could it possibly be? Plausible as we don’t know how long the stone was there… Am I tough?
But where’s the branch my father jumped for? Myth: Busted!… or so I thought.
Then we saw it. Above my son Takeshi in the picture. The base of a broken branch. It was at the right height! OK… Myth: Plausible.
But conclusive proof was just beyond reach. There was no evidence as to age of the tree or how long the stone was there…
Then, as if Aunt Shiz summoned him, the reverend of 正覚寺 came out…with his wife. He was about 90 years old. Almost as old as my dad but he still had his wits about him. Thank goodness.
He told us he didn’t know my father personally…but that he played with Suetaro and Mieko, Dad’s youngest brother and sister! He knew Suetaro well, he said. He listened to Suetaro blow on his flute from the house in the evenings.
My Japanese wasn’t good enough so Masako stepped in… She explained to the elderly reverend how my dad (her uncle) had jumped from a large round stone at the base of a pine tree here 80+ years ago and broke his elbow.
Unbelievably, the reverend said with pride, “The pine tree is about 400 years old…and that stone has been there for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t been moved, either.”
Then the wife said that a number of years ago, the branch had broken off but it was very long. Then after it broke off, “…a swarm of bees made a home inside. We had to seal the crack unfortunately,” to account for the mortar on the branch.
Was his story a myth? Busted? Plausible? Confirmed?
Dad wasn’t imagining ANYTHING. His memory is intact from that time.
World War II Military Intelligence techniques are still important and in use today – but for entirely different reasons.
During the war in the Pacific, US military personnel were forbidden to keep notes or diaries in the event they were captured. Nothing more disillusioning to be captured or killed, then have the enemy read about the ammo dump you just left from. Especially for your buddies still stationed there.
On the other hand, Japanese soldiers were allowed to keep notes or diaries. Apparently, the Japanese military saw the diaries similar to “water cooler gossip” at the office.
That was their downfall as Americans like my father translated such documents. The Military Intelligence Service. It was from these diaries that the Allies first began to see that the enemy were not the samurai of lore.
They had gripes of their commander – even by name. They complained of starving, no ammunition, no water. They also had uncensored letters from home – their families were starving, sick or had no home left for the soldier to come back to.
A mortar crewman wrote of how terrified they were to launch a mortar shell at the Marines as for every round they fired, the Marines would send ten back their way.
The MIS did their job faithfully back then on those hell hole islands. Their job was to help kill the enemy.
Today, albeit in a roundabout way, MIS veterans like my father are still doing their job.
Last week, a representative of the “Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA.org)” contacted me again to enlist the help of my father. As mentioned in an earlier short story, Dad was a “kibei“, or an American of Japanese descent who got schooling in Japan. He was fluent. More so, he still is fluent in reading the pre-war Japanese writing. There really aren’t that many left with this ability. Dad is 93.
Unfortunately, Dad had a bad fall the day the request came in. He fell flat on his face and shattered his glasses in the process.
Apparently, a gentleman had in his family’s possession a captured Japanese flag. Presumably, someone in his family brought it back as a souvenir. Of course, if an Allied soldier brought one home, it may have been removed from a corpse. In the best case scenario, it was taken from a prisoner. You just didn’t find them laying around on the battlefield.
According to the request, the owner of the flag stated he wanted to return it if possible to the family. Not an easy task – even for “I Dream of Jeannie”. These flags were created at the farewell party of a soldier who was going to be dispatched to the war and certain death. There is usually the name of the person for whom the flag was presented. If you are lucky, the flag may have a city or town written. I’m sure my Uncle Suetaro received one.
Even for Dad, the complicating factor is not knowing how to read a Japanese character. It is HOW it was written. These were all signed by brush and charcoal ink. The ink lasts forever since it is carbon. But have you ever tried reading signatures? Try your hand at this one:
You get the picture.
Anyways, Dad – and while his glasses were shattered in the fall – was able to say the person for which the flag was signed was likely for a Mr. Tokio Miyake. Unfortunately, there was no true town or city named specifically. Nevertheless, we were able to make out what appears to be “Kurayoshi Mayor”, or the mayor of “Kurayoshi”.
Last night, I did a little reserch and almost unbelievably did find a town named Kurayoshi. I tracked down the town’s website and sent a blind email (in my broken Japanese) to the mayor’s office and asked if there was a mayor named “Furuya” during the war.
While my Dad did not participate in the hostilities, his Nisei unit did their job and greatly shortened the war according to General MacArthur. The Nisei’s job was a true secret weapon.
Hopefully, this no longer secret weapon can serve some peacetime good and bring two families to peace.
Oh. That was Johnny Depp’s signature. Thought you ladies may like that.
There be gold in my family. Really. Well, the Congressional Gold Medal, that is. And it is made out of gold and honors the “Nisei Soldiers of World War II”. Its on display at the Smithsonian.
In fact, my family was awarded two of them. Two Congressional Gold Medals. Pretty neat, don’t you think? Three if you include a distant relative. Four if Dad had enlisted in the Army five weeks earlier. OK. Enough of that.
It was just a miracle mom and her younger sister Eiko survived the war having lived in the heart of Tokyo where very little was left standing. My grandmother was required to train with a sharpened bamboo spear to repel the invaders that were expected to come. It’s true.
But when war ended in 1945, neither my mother nor my Aunt Eiko could have possibly thought that they – through no grand scheme – would each end up marrying an “invader” and that they would end up living in America. The country that bombed their home into ashes. But it was a brutal war. Just fact.
Even more stunning is that they would be unknowingly dovetailed with the famed US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) for the rest of their lives. (I had briefly reported on the top secret MIS in an earlier short story.)
The first family member bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal is my mother and Aunt Eiko’s cousin, Taro Tanji; he is pictured above in a family portrait taken in Tokyo. He was born in Merced County, CA. Taro, like my father, was imprisoned in the camp called Granada in Colorado for being of Japanese heritage although he didn’t speak one word of Japanese.
In 1944, along with thousands of other young American boys of Japanese heritage, he was drafted out of the camp into the US Army. He was a “Nisei”. He then was assigned to the top secret US Army Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) in Fort Snelling, Minnesota to learn the Japanese language.
After graduating, he was assigned to Tokyo as part of US 8th Army and became part of the Allied Occupation. Once there, he immediately sought the fate of my mother’s family.
Through the resources of the MIS, he miraculously located my grandmother – the same one who was forced to train with a bamboo spear. They had survived but were in dire straits like millions of other survivors.
Exactly as my father did for my cousin Masako in Hiroshima, Taro used whatever pay he had to buy them clothing and essentials from the PX, took them C-rations and of course, American cigarettes for my grandfather. There are many stories of other things Taro did (he was a STRONG man) which I will save for later.
A kind man, Taro became a much loved teacher in the Gardena school system. He recently passed away in Gardena, CA in 2009.
His CGM was posthumously awarded to his wife, Aunt Martha. Amazingly, neither mom nor Aunt Eiko realized Taro was part of the MIS until I told them. I determined that through research of US Army records.
My Aunt Eiko was sickly as a young girl. Indeed, it was a miracle especially for her to have survived. She hates medicine, even to this day. As a funny story, when the US Army began de-licing the surviving Japanese citizens, she ran away as she was terrified she would get sick from the powder. Well, it was DDT so she wasn’t that far off.
In 1966, she met Paul Sakuma, a Hawaiian born Nisei. While Uncle Paul told Aunt Eiko he was also put into camp on the Mainland (the article says that, too), I can find no record of his internment. However, Uncle Paul was at some time in Springfield, Massachusetts after the war started. He was “featured” in this newspaper article. Surely, the title of the article was a sign of the times.
Uncle Paul was also drafted in 1944 and was also sent to the MISLS at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. This is the only photo Aunt Eiko has of Uncle Paul in uniform. I stumbled across it last year. Frankly, Aunt Eiko also knew very little of his Army days but I noticed the building in the background (below) as being the old cavalry barracks at Fort Snelling which sparked my researching again. He was also indeed a member of the famed MIS unbeknownst to Aunt Eiko.
Uncle Paul was also immediately dispatched to Tokyo as part of the Occupation Force. He was assigned to the 720th Military Police Battalion and accompanied patrols where his translation abilities were needed. A couple of good patrol stories – ones that men would likely appreciate. Perhaps some ladies, too. No harm, no foul, as the great Chick Hearn said.
Days before my first marriage, I got a call from Aunt Eiko late at night. She was hysterical. Uncle Paul had died of a massive heart attack in 1980 in Tokyo in the new home he had just finished building for them. He had continued living in Tokyo as a civilian employee of the USAF.
Like Taro, Uncle Paul was posthumously awarded the CGM. I secured the CGM and surprised her with it. Aunt Eiko “cried for happy” as he held the medal for the first time early this year (below). She loves him greatly to this day. She said, “Even today, Paul brings me great happiness.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, well, you’re pretty tough.
As dad volunteered in February 1947, he did not qualify for the CGM. But unbelievably, mom, too, did not know much of what dad did in the Army let alone him being a member of the MIS. Mom said dad never talked much about it except to say he did not enjoy interrogating Japanese soldiers being returned from Russia and Manchuria.
Nevertheless, mom and Aunt Eiko WERE enmeshed with the famed Military Intelligence Service although they didn’t realize it. Fate. They were surrounded by the invaders – secretly. Famous ones at that. A prejudiced opinion, of course.
I am very proud of these Americans. The Congressional Gold Medal is a tremendous honor and finally brings to public light the importance of the intelligence they secretly obtained for our United States of America amidst prejudice and discrimination.
I like to think that these Americans of Japanese heritage weathered the clouds of that time so we could have glorious sunshine today.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family