Tag Archives: Tacloban City

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 three 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.