Tag Archives: World War II

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue


Fortune in War

I believe there is fortune in war.

Before Pearl Harbor, the US was still not recovered from the Great Depression.  With the money printed in great quantity – as a necessity – by the US government, the US war machine rolled into action.  Many executives and businessmen taking part in this frantic and mass expenditure of government money with their companies gained their financial fortunes from this great war as did a large number of Congressmen.

The boots on the ground also had fortune – but it was MISfortune.  Misfortune fell upon the millions of brave young men who were sent to war because world leaders had their own agendas.  Millions were killed like my dad’s favorite brother, my Uncle Suetaro.

Misfortune, unfortunately, also followed home for the rest of their lives those young men who survived combat.   Men like Smitty, Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson.  Horrible nightmares each and every night.  Some succumbed to the immense weight this horrible misfortune had on their minds and ended their own lives after making it home.  Sadly, they are all being forgotten in our children’s history books.

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Our little group was afforded a day of sightseeing before leaving for Osaka/Kansai Airport in Japan, once again led by Mr. Yusuke Ota.  Here’s a small collection of sights taken in, some during the week (Clicking on an image will show you its location.):

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Mr. Kagimoto hunts for dragonflies at the  golf course we had lunch at. The facility was once for US Army officers.
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Shoeless children help their elder sell pineapples at bayside in Tacloban City.
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Meeting with beautiful wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, Christina Gonzales, a former actress. Thank goodness for our Carmela in the center: she speaks four languages fluently including Tagalog, English and Japanese.
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Villaba’s town center; the beach is off immediately to the left. Our two vans are at the right.
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(From left) Masako, Christina Gonzales and Carmela. The other young lady in red in the background is another Filipina actress.

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Mr. Ota inspects a clock tower he donated to Tacloban City; he serves as a councilman in Fukuyama City where my uncle’s regimental army base was located during the war.

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School boys at Old Kawayan City, Leyte.
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At Albuera, Leyte. One of two self-destroyed Japanese howitzers can be seen behind Izumi.
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Hard life of a Filipino fisherman.
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At the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines. Engineering was provided by the Japanese.

While waiting at the Manila Airport for our connecting flight to Osaka, Mr. Ota took us to the Philippine Air Force Museum where among other items was the Type 99 Arisaka rifle Lt. Onoda kept with him for over 29 years in the Philippine jungle.  He was the last holdout from WWII:

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Epilogue

A Victory Nonetheless

Seventy years after this most brutal war in the Pacific, the same US Marines and the same Japanese military that sought to kill each other with extreme bitterness are now the closest of allies as shown in the USMC photos below.  Now, they sail together on the same US Navy ships, eat together, train together and assault the beaches here at Camp Pendleton, CA together in joint training exercises.  The same with the US Army.  My gut feeling is one of these gallant young men would die to protect the other if the unfortunate circumstances arose.

Then:

U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Bitter enemies then, U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

Today:

110215-M-0564A-030 U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)
U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. (Three US Marines on the left, two Japanese Self-Defense Forces soldiers on the right.)  DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

Uncle Suetaro lost his life and while Smitty carried the war silently for the rest of his life, they were both victorious because of the above.

It was not in vain.

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One War.  Two Countries.  One Family.

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Uncle Yutaka, taken at the Minidoka, ID “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. You can see the sub-standard wooden barracks they lived in; they only had tar paper covering the wood slat walls. Yutaka was the oldest surviving sibling but was imprisoned here during the war. My dad and cousins were also here but no picture of them is available.
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Aunt Shiz and my cousins as they leave the Tule Lake, CA “War Relocation Center”, November 1945. My best guess is she still doesn’t know for certain that her younger brother Suetaro had been taken by the Japanese Imperial Army and killed. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima where her mother Kono and older sister Michie (and her children that went on the pilgrimage) lived just three months earlier.
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Dad in his US 8th Army uniform along with Namie (center) who went on the pilgrimage and Sadako, her older sister. Dad had taken them Spam and C-rations plus clothing he bought at the PX in Tokyo.  April 1948, Miyajima, Japan.
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Uncle Suetaro’s official death certificate from the remnants of the Japanese military. It was dated October 15, 1947, less than two months before my dad arrived as a US Army sergeant for the Occupation of Japan.

My Thoughts of the Experience

I cannot speak for Masako or my other cousins but what you believe in is almighty.  Hope.  Fear.  Happiness.  Sadness.  I experienced all those during the pilgrimage to Leyte.

While listening to Masako’s tender letter to Uncle Suetaro, a feeling of deep regrets and the dashing of hope experienced by Grandmother Kono buried me.  My heart could see Grandmother’s face in silent torment, resting in Masako’s arms in 1954 as she drew her last breath in the Kanemoto family home.

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Grandma Kono at her Seattle barbershop, circa 1917. A forlorn Grandma and Masako, sometime after learning of Suetaro’s death, circa 1948. Grandma would pass away in this very home six years later.

Just like most American mothers, Grandmother must have clung on to a hope – however dim – that her youngest son Suetaro would come home… the one she decided to keep from returning to Seattle in 1940 so that he could carry on the Kanemoto name and inherit the home and land. That was not to be now. It would have been better to have let him go home. Her son would be alive.

But perhaps Uncle Suetaro would have ended up in the same prison camps that my dad, aunts and uncles were in but would still be alive.  Or, he would have answered the call out of camp and volunteered for the US Army as thousands of other Nisei’s did to prove their loyalty, only to die in Italy or France as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.¹

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Uncle Suetaro and my dad.

I also thought about my dad often during the trek.  At 96 years of age, this journey would have been physically impossible for him.  More so, I wondered if the stirring up of fond memories of his youngest brother would do more harm than good at this stage in his life.

My 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding the ashes of Suetaro who was killed at 24 years of age.
In 2012, my then 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding Uncle Suetaro’s fingernail clippings and a lock of hair.  Uncle Suetaro was killed also at 24 years of age.

I also felt more deeply the quandary confronting Uncle Suetaro when he was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army.  The decision he had to make to knowingly fight the country your siblings were living in as Americans… and the country he most dearly wanted to return to.  However, he wrote in his farewell letter that he will fight to free his older siblings from the prisons FDR sent them to.

Also in his heart and in that of his mother, both knew this was a one-way trip.  A death sentence.  Japanese soldiers rarely returned from war.  In the case of his IJA’s 41st Regiment, only 20 young men returned home out of 2,550.

I’m sure just like any other American boy, he wanted a life that was worth living, a life filled with feelings, emotions, love and dreams.  That would never happen and it pains me without end.

Before he met his death, was he drowned in futility or solace?  Did he see death up close and come to the stark realization that would be his future perhaps tomorrow?  What did he dream about as he took his last breaths or was he blindly looking up at the stars hoping?  Was he dreaming about his childhood, playing on the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle with my dad?  Was he in great pain or was his death swift and without warning?  Did he see the eyes of the American soldier inches from his own eyes in a hand-to-hand combat to the death?  Was he hungry?  How terrified was he?

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A tiny photo of the two brothers, dad and Suetaro, in Hiroshima, perhaps 1928. It fell out from behind one of the pictures in Uncle Suetaro’s photo album, filled with pictures Uncle Yutaka likely mailed to him from Seattle. Although tiny, it must have been precious to Uncle Suetaro for him to have kept it. I wish I knew why.

The painful mystery of what Uncle Suetaro did, felt or saw in his last days will remain forever so…  That is one agony that will be with me until my own time comes.  Happily, we at least visited him in his unmarked graveyard among the now lusciously green vegetation with the birds endlessly singing Taps for him.

As Izumi passionately said to Uncle Suetaro’s spirit, “Come home with us.”

Indeed, he did.

He is no longer a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

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I wish to thank my Hiroshima cousins for making this unforgettable pilgrimage possible and a special thank you to Izumi whose untiring efforts to follow up on Japan-based leads brought comfort to our family.   I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to Akehira and Carmela who made dear Masako’s journey so comfortable and worry-free.  And a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Yusuke Ota whose in-depth knowledge allowed us to see our Uncle Suetaro’s last footsteps on this earth and gave Masako peace in her soul.

Most of all, Uncle, thank you for your sacrifice.  Indeed, you set your older brothers and sister free.

Rest in peace.

南無阿弥陀仏

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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 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

Notes

  1.  For a summary of the all Nisei US army regiment during WWII: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/442nd_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6


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Title screen for “Victory at Sea”, a National Broadcasting Company’s TV documentary series produced with cooperation from the US Navy. Its first of 26 episodes began airing in 1952.

My LA cousins held a third anniversary Buddhist memorial service for our Aunt Shiz today (August 15, 2015), ironically the day 70 years ago that Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his citizens that Japan was surrendering.

I was reporting in person to my LA cousins of our pilgrimage to Leyte as well.  Bessie, my cousin and Aunt Shiz’s only daughter, shared with me something about her mom that echoed of the reason for the pilgrimage.

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Taken in Seattle, circa 1925. From top right, clockwise: Grandma Kono, Aunt Shiz with hands on Uncle Suetaro, Dad, and Aunt Mieko.

She told me Aunt Shiz used to watch “Victory at Sea” on the TV for years.  “Mom, why do you always watch it?” she asked.

Aunt Shiz replied, “Because I may get a glimpse of Sue-boh…”

Think of the irony.  Aunt Shiz was watching a US Navy-backed documentary series of our WWII victory over Japan… in hopes of seeing her youngest brother captured on some US movie footage.

Indeed… One war.  Two countries.  One family.

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Day 3 – Evening / Break Neck Ridge

After the memorial service during which I read my letters, we went up a winding road.  The road had a few stetches where it had given way and slid down the side of the hill.  Sure kept my attention but our drivers were excellent.

We then made a stop near the crest of a hill: we were at the actual Break Neck Ridge battle site.¹

c-10-475There was a flight of uneven concrete and dirt stairs to the top; a hand rail was on one side only yet our firmly driven Masako-san unhesitatingly took on the challenge and strongly made the climb.

Once on top of the hill, you could not help but notice you were surrounded by the sounds of insects hidden in the tall grass and birds singing as the sun once again played hide and seek.  Standing at the crest gave you a sweeping view of the terrain.  Indeed, the Japanese defenders had the advantage, costing many American casualties.

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Post-battle view down from Break Neck Ridge.  Note the absence of palm trees in the near foreground. The hillsides had been nearly denuded of palm trees and other larger plants from the extensive shelling.  US Army photo.

My July 2015 photo from about a similar location:

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A photo I took from atop Break Neck Ridge on July 21, 2015.  A number of palm trees can now be easily seen having 70 years to grow back, hiding once again the death filled terrain below.

According to Mr. Ota and US battle reports, the US would continually shell the hillsides to soften up Japanese defensive positions.  However, when the shelling or bombing would begin, the Japanese soldiers would temporarily abandon their weapons and via established and well camouflaged foot trails or tunnels, run to the backside of the hill.  There, they were shielded against the shelling.  Once the barrage or bombing would lift, they would scamper back to their defensive positions and await the US soldiers advancing up the hill.

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Masako’s daughter Izumi with Mr. Ota’s backside on the left.  Some of the grass to the right is taller than her.

There was also another short climb off to the right.  The vegetation was thicker, chest high in some places and the grass’ sharp edges irritated your exposed legs as you walked through.  To give you a small sense of the surroundings, Mr. Ota is speaking of the defensive advantage and Mr. Kagimoto is coming back down the smaller hill, flanked by the vegetation.  The height of the grasses can be easily judged; they’re having a slight drought, by the way:

While American memorials were absent, there were a number of Japanese ones:

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The memorial on the right simply states, “Eternal love. Eternal peace.”
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Masako-san offers up a prayer atop Break Neck Ridge.

We said some prayers for those who are still on this island and made our way back down.

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Ormoc City and Port

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Japanese destroyer escort explodes after a US bomb hit in Ormoc Bay. November 1944.

We then headed south nearly the entire length of Leyte, down the two lane Pan-Philippine Highway towards Ormoc City and its dock.  Uncle Suetaro disembarked from his Japanese troop transport on this very dock on October 26, 1944.

The dock reaches into Ormoc Bay, the sight of tremendous life and death struggles between US airpower and Japanese shipping. Although the Allies commanded the air, MacArthur was slow to catch on that the Japanese were unloading thousands of reinforcements (including Uncle Suetaro) and supplies.  Once MacArthur caught on, it was a certain violent end to a number of troops still at sea.  Tons of critical supplies were also sent to the bottom, thereby ensuring the defeat of Japanese troops on Leyte.²

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Ormoc City and dock onto which Uncle Suetaro disembarked, circa 1945. The hotel in which we stayed was built atop the 1945 hotel location. National Archives.
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Docks at Ormoc Bay today. The Japanese ship that exploded is still sunken in the bay beyond as are many troopships. This was the view from our third story hotel balcony.

Two palm tree stumps across the street from the hotel are left from the war; dozens of bullet holes pepper the two trunks.  The yellow steel fencing can also be seen in the lower right of my photo above to help give a sense of where these tree trunks are.

c-10-491After all took very quick and much needed showers, we enjoyed an informal dinner outdoors, ordering local grilled items from a mother-daughter food stand.  It was still quite warm and therefore steamy but a jovial mood took over after a long day.  I didn’t quite know what everything was but my cousins – who had very little food for years – happily dined on whatever was brought out.

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The first (silly) question of the night: Who wants beer?!

After talking about the events of the day and on our way back to the hotel, Carmela encouraged all five ladies to experience a group ride on a “tricycle”, which is a 125cc motorcycle with an ungainly but colorfully decorated side car.  The only time I’ve seen girls more giddy was when I took my Little Cake Boss and friends mall shopping – twice.

c-10-493Remember how lots of college kids would pile into on phone booth?  Well, those college kids would have been proud.  All five ladies piled in!

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Five giddy ladies piled into one tricycle. You would think it was the beer.

While we all had a wonderful, relaxing evening alongside Ormoc Bay, I am sure each realized that both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura had begun their march to their deaths from these very grounds on October 26, 1944.

The final memorial services for our graveless souls in Part 7.

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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 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue

NOTES:

  1. For those interested, this link will take you to an actual WWII “Military Intelligence Bulletin”.  Dated April 1945, there is a section of the battle including descriptions of the tactics and dangers of fighting on that series of ridges.  Interestingly, the publication was issued by G-2, Military Intelligence.  My dad was part of G-2 albeit postwar.  Please click here.
  2. The critical Gulf of Leyte sea battle took place between October 23 and October 26, 1944, when Uncle Suetaro was en route to Ormoc Bay.  Through critical US ship identification errors by the then superior Imperial Japanese Navy force (including the battleship Yamato), they engaged Taffy 3, a small defensive US naval force.  Although the battle had been won tactically by the Japanese, they inexplicably turned back.  A CGI recap is here on youtube.

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 2


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My 81 year old cousin Masako is the first to offer “gassho” to our fallen Uncle Suetaro. She is the last one alive to truly remember him aside from my father (96).

Leyte Pilgrimage – Day One

As we made our descent into Leyte’s Tacloban Airport, I vacated my port-side preferred aisle seat and moved towards the window then buckled in.  Visibly condensed, chilled and misted air flowed out of the specialized air conditioning system above us, very necessary in the Southwest Pacific.  Our final approach was north to south.

The tarmac filled my window and thought to myself, My god.  We are actually going to land on the island where my uncle was killed.  It is finally happening.  Our plane touched down at 4:40 pm.

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Touchdown. Tacloban, Leyte.

I wonder what my cousin Masako felt at that very same instant.  Besides my 96 year old father, she is the last person on this earth that truly remembers Uncle Suetaro.¹  I had been imagining many things of my uncle’s resting place.  I solemnly realized that I had been grieving over what we know happened to him as well as how my father silently grieved for decades… but now, I feared about what we may discover about what truly happened to Uncle Suetaro.  His suffering.  His death.

I slung my orange backpack weighed down with my cameras and lenses over my shoulder then exited from the rear of the air conditioned jet.  It would be six days before I would once again sit in such air conditioned luxury.  The impact of the tropical heat and humidity was immediate on this southern California body.  I began to perspire faster than Hillary could tell a lie.  It reminded me of the climate inside the house when I lived with my last ex – ugly.

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A smiling Masako after retrieving her luggage at the uncultivated Tacloban Airport. I wonder what she felt deep inside at that moment.
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Also accompanying us was Ms. S. Teraoka; she is carrying wooden boards on which is charcoal ink calligraphy written by her temple’s reverend. Her uncle was a lieutenant who also killed on Leyte.
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Mr. B. Kagimoto, a news reporter from RCC Broadcasting Co. in Hiroshima, was also part of our little pilgrimage.

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After being greeted by Akehira and Calimera, husband and wife owners of the limo service, we quickly exited the heat and humidity into two cooled vans.

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Calimera and Akehira, Leyte residents. Their home was also significantly damaged by Typhoon Yolanda. No one was exempt.

Along the way to our hotel, we made our first stop: White Beach.  Code named White Beach (see below) by the American invasion forces, it lays just south of the airport.  There were two Imperial Japanese Army pillboxes left pretty intact for historical purposes.

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White Beach on October 20, 1944. Source: Leyte, Return to the Philippines by M. Hamlin Cannon.

On A-Day, the US Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment assaulted White Beach.

Per Cannon’s book, “…Both squadrons landed on schedule, with only slight opposition, and immediately began to execute their assignments. The 2d Squadron, within fifteen minutes after landing, knocked out two pillboxes on the beach, killing eight Japanese in one and five in the other.”

These are those two pillboxes.

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One of the two Japanese pillboxes taken out by the US Army’s  7th Cavalry on October 20, 1944.
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(R to L) Mr. Ota, Tomiko, Masako, Namie and Akehira gaze upon a pillbox at White Beach.
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I took Masako down to see the interior. The mosquitoes were very happy in there, awaiting tasty humans like me.
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Masako determinedly climbing back up the stairs after looking inside the pillbox.
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A gleeful Masako, Izumi and Tomiko resting upon the remnants of the second pillbox. I didn’t have the heart to inform Masako either five or eight Japanese soldiers died inside that pillbox via rifle fire, hand grenade or flame thrower as the exterior was intact.

Day Two to follow.

That’s when the crying really begins.

Part 3 is here.

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NOTES

  1.  The only other person with active memories of Uncle Suetaro was the reverend of the Buddhist temple adjacent to our Hiroshima home.  I talked with him three years ago when he was about 90 years old but with a sharp as a tack memory.  He passed away last year per Masako.

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.

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 6/Epilogue


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A portrait of my grandmother taken by my father in their Hiroshima home. She is flanked by my father (left) and Uncle Suetaro (right), both in their respective country’s uniforms. April 1948.

“Tell me the truth about death. I don’t know what it is. We have them, then they are gone but they stay in our minds. Their stories are part of us as long as we live and as long as we tell them or write them down.”

ELLEN GILCHRIST

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The Pain of Hope

I opened this series trying to describe the anguish a mother must have suffered – no matter what her country – knowing her son was missing in action in a battlefront so far away…

When we closed Part 5 of this series, no Imperial Japanese soldier came down off Mt. Canguipot on August 15, 1945, the day Japan officially surrendered to the Allies.¹ The US Navy and Army had also effectively sealed off any chance of retreating to other islands.

Uncle Suetaro was still on Leyte.

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The date when Grandmother Kono and Aunt Michie learned of Japan’s surrender is unknown. After all, Japan and especially Hiroshima was in shambles from the fire and atomic bombings but I’m sure they learned fast enough.

But with war over and just like ANY stateside mother, Grandmother Kono waited for her son to come home… her precious son born in Seattle who was to carry on the family name in Japan.

As days passed then months, deep in her heart, she must have come to the realization Uncle Suetaro may not be coming home…but the hope was still burning inside, I’m sure.

Hope is powerful. Hoping, you believe, will change destiny. But on or about October 15, 1947, Grandmother Kono will learn that such hope can magnify anguish.

She learned her son was declared dead.

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Japanese War Records

In January of this year and through the urging of Mr. Ota, my cousin Masako and her daughter Izumi journeyed to the Hiroshima Prefectural Office in hopes of retrieving some official military record or declaration of his death. Not knowing was eating them, too.

Because of the strictness of Japanese society, they were unsure the government would release Uncle Suetaro’s military record (if any) to his niece, Masako. I understand in anticipation of this, Masako had a “song and dance” prepared. She wanted to know that badly as to what happened to him.

Suetaro's farewell letter. It starts with
Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama”.

She took along the precious, brittle 72 year old notebook with her… the notebook in which Uncle Suetaro hurriedly wrote his good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in May 1944. She told the government worker stories of her Uncle Suetaro from 75 years ago – that he was always happy-go-lucky and was the peacekeeper with his kind heart.

Perhaps the song and dance was unnecessary but she was successful. As sad as it was, she was given Uncle Suetaro’s certified death notification. She was also given a copy of a handwritten IJA service record that abruptly ended in 1943 – when the tide of war turned against Japan.

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Excerpt from the certified military death certificate obtained by Masako. It states his place of death was 20 km north of Villaba, Leyte.
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Copy of Uncle Suetaro’s handwritten military record. Sadly, my father and Uncle Yutaka are listed as next of kin. All three were American citizens.

In Masako’s heart and mind, she then accepted Uncle Suetaro’s fate and resting place.

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Uncle Suetaro’s Spirit Calls Out

But with the recent discoveries and stirring of beautiful memories, the spirit of Uncle Suetaro dominated her thoughts my cousin Masako said. His spirit beckoned her mightily…so much so that even with her failing legs, she determined to go “visit him”.

At eighty years of age and with ailing legs, Masako and her filial daughter Izumi journeyed to 備後護国神社, or “Bingo Gokoku Jinjya” on February 2, 2015. It is a military shrine in which resides the god-like spirits of those men who gave their young lives in defense of Japan.

Izumi wrote that she escorted Masako to offer her prayers to Uncle Suetaro at the first altar (below), believing that was a far as she could go.

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Main entrance to Bingo Shrine and first altar. Photo by Izumi K.

Then Masako, in a stunning revelation, said, “I am going to climb to the top… Suetaro is calling for me.”

No joke.

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The steps Masako climbed – with her bad legs and knees – to get to the main shrine at the top…on her own… Without help from her filial daughter, Izumi. She said Uncle Suetaro was watching over her. (Photo source unknown.)

Izumi was beyond belief. Stunned.

Her mother was going to walk up the numerous steps that reached upwards towards the brave spirits. No cane. No assistance. By herself.

Masako climbed the steps, one by one. Determinedly.

Izumi wrote to me that upon reaching the top, Masako said in her Hiroshima dialect (translated by me), “Whew..! I made it! I climbed the stairs! You know, I feel Suetaro was nudging me from behind, all the time.” (「まあ~ あがれたわ~ 末太郎さんが後ろからおしてくれたんじゃろ~か???」)

Here is a link to a video from youtube of the shrine and stairs. It is so peaceful, you can hear Uncle Suetaro whispering. No wonder Masako had to climb those stairs:

From that day, Izumi says, Masako had renewed her life energy, all due to the call from Uncle Suetaro’s spirit.

But she did voice in reflection, “Suetaro was starving… When I think about that, dieting is nothing (meaning she can do it).”

Or, “Suetaro must be so lonely… When I think of that, I feel that we must go to Leyte to visit him and offer our prayers so he won’t be lonely anymore.”

…then, “Now I’ve got to go to the pool to strengthen my legs… so that I can walk on Leyte.”

And she means that.

She is likely going to Leyte this year.

And it looks as if Izumi and I will be going, too.

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Epilogue

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I believe this young man is called Noguchi but am not positive. He journeyed to Leyte to cremate any Japanese soldier’s remains he finds as in the above. He is in one of the hundreds of caves on Leyte. His Japanese website is here: http://www.noguchi-ken.com/M/2008/10/51133019.html

Uncle Suetaro’s Soul and Resting Place

Uncle Suetaro’s dreams of life in America died with him…shared only by him. But his spirit lives on.

Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, he 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?

While I cannot speak to how my Hiroshima cousins feel, to me, the hard evidence tells me Uncle Suetaro did make it to Leyte as a soldier in the IJA’s 41st Regiment. With the good help from Mr. Ota, his official military records document that.

But truthfully, I don’t know if he was in the troop convoy that disembarked on October 26th in Ormoc. Records indicate that only two of three battalions of the 41st Regiment landed there; the third battalion remained on Mindanao for a short period. Yet, it appears that even that last battalion headed to Leyte in short order.

Due to Mr. Ota’s notes and as corroborated by official US Army combat records, Uncle’s 41st Regiment did fiercely engage Colonel Newman’s 34th Infantry at the end of October and that one of Suetaro’s lieutenants was killed during that violent combat.

Combat records of the US 12th Cavalry Regiment document that once again Uncle Suetaro’s unit was engaged in combat. The presence of the 41st Regiment was confirmed by dog tags, having been removed from Japanese bodies then translated by Nisei’s in the US 8th Army’s 166th Language Detachment – the same unit my dad was assigned to in 1947.

There is second hand testimony that a few survivors had assembled on Mt. Canguipot from January 1945… and “mopping up” actions by the US Army units continued. Indeed, it was far from a “mopping up” situation.

Those of you versed in WWII will know of how enemy corpses were handled – down to the use of lye – so there is no need for elaboration. If you are not familiar with how death is handled in a WWII battlefield, the only thing you need to know is it is odious.

Therefore, how he met his death will never be known…nor his place of rest uncovered with his identification intact. Perhaps there was a picture of him and his siblings in his pocket that has long since dissolved away. But dedicated Japanese citizens visit these battlegrounds in search of Japanese remains to cremate them. Maybe Uncle Suetaro has been given such an honor.

I can only hope death had a heart…that he did not suffer for so long only to endure an agonizing death in a lonely confine… but statistically, over 60% of the 2,875,000 Japanese war deaths was attributed to starvation or illness (including those arising from wounds and lack of medical care).

Indeed, Uncle Suetaro is a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

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My oldest son and I visited Tokyo in August, 2012. One stop was at the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s equivalent of our Arlington National Cemetery in a way. We left a prayer for Uncle Suetaro. May your soul be at peace, Uncle.

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Mr. Ota, on behalf of my family here in the US, I thank you for your help in our search for Uncle Suetaro.

大田様、大変お世話様でした。米国におる金本ファミリーは感謝しております。お礼を申し上げます。

正子さん、いずみさん、淳さん, 俊郎さん、有難う御座いました。末太郎さんは大喜びでしょう。。。

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Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Part 5 is here.

NOTES:

  1. Yes, some holdouts continued to fight the Allies after war’s official end and more lives were lost on both sides. And indeed, there were two notable soldiers who held out for many, many years. Sgt. Onoda was the longest holdout, living for 29 years in a Philippine jungle until his former commanding officer flew to the Philippines then personally rescinded his order to stay and fight but this is atypical.

A Cauldron and War’s End


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My aunt’s second cousins are on the left, Mr. and Mrs. Nakano. I took this while were were on the way to their field to harvest yams. They harvested yams from the same field during the waning days of the war. August 1974, Fukui, Japan.

We must realize that those who endured World War II – as combatants or as civilians – are leaving this world daily.

Of those who survived and remain with us today, it is not enough to have seen it as a small child.  Of course, I am not implying there was no damaging effect on their souls.  If you were such a child and witnessed a bomb blast, that will be in your mind forevermore.

But those who were young adults back then have the most intimate, most detailed recollections.  Unfortunately, they would by now at the least be in their late 80s or early 90s – like my parents and Aunt Eiko.

Even so, the mental faculties of these aging survivors have diminished with age.  For some, dementia has taken over or of course, many just do not wish to recall it.  My dad is that way on both counts even though he did not endure combat.  For instance, he still refuses to recall what he first felt getting off that train at the obliterated remains of the Hiroshima train station in 1947 as a US Army sergeant.  I’m positive he also went to see the ruins of his beloved high school where he ran track.

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Some of my Aunt Eiko’s poignant notes about the last weeks of war.

As described in my series on the firebombing of Tokyo (link is here), my aunt, mother and grandmother fled Tokyo around July 1, 1945 via train.  They were headed for Fukui, a town alongside the Japan Sea, and the farm of Mr. Shinkichi Mitani (He is my second great uncle so you can figure that one out.) My guess is grandfather believed the farmlands to be a very safe refuge. My grandfather accompanied them on their journey to safety but he would be returning to Tokyo after they reached their destination.  To this day, my aunt does not know why he went back to Tokyo, a most dangerous and desperate city to live in.

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Fukui is marked by the red marker. Tokyo is directly east along the bay.

As the railroad system in Japan was devastated, it always perplexes me as to how my grandfather managed to get tickets on a rare operating train let alone get seats…but he did.  The train ride is even more incredible given the Allies ruled the skies by then; during daylight, American P-51 Mustangs strafed targets of opportunity at will: trains, boats and factories.  It appears they traveled at night.

My aunt firmly recalls the train being overfilled with civilians trying to escape extermination in Tokyo.  But with my grandfather’s connections (and likely a bribe or two while spouting he was of samurai heritage), they were fortunate to get seats in an uncrowded private rail car. You see, the car was only for Japanese military officers; the military still ruled Japan.  She remembers many of them were in white uniforms¹, all with “katana”, or their ceremonial “samurai swords” as the Allied military forces called them.  She said she didn’t say a word. She felt the solemnness heavily amongst them in the stuffy humidity.

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My dad’s youngest brother, Uncle Suetaro, is sporting a “katana”, or samurai sword for a ceremony of some kind. Although born in Seattle, he was unable to leave Hiroshima and became drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army. He was KIA on Leyte by US forces. Circa 1944.

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The Mitani farm was about 2-1/2 miles NW of Awara Station in a village called Namimatsu; the beach was about a ten minute walk away.

She said they arrived at the Awara Station (芦原) at night.  Humidity was a constant during that time as it was the rainy season (梅雨, or “Tsuyu”); nothing could dry out and mildew would proliferate.  They walked roughly 2-1/2 miles (一里) in total darkness on a hilly dirt trail looking for the farm of Mr. Mitani.  Being of an aristocratic family, I’m sure their trek was quite the challenge emotionally and physically. No, they did not have a Craftsman flashlight. No street lights either. The only thing that possibly glowed was my grandfather’s cigarette.

The challenge would escalate.  While living conditions in Tokyo were wretched, they had been aristocrats. She was unprepared for farm life. Indeed, she had become a Japanese Zsa Zsa Gabor in a real life “Green Acres”.

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When I visited the Mitani farm in 1974. Although the Mitanis had passed away, Mitani’s daughter is at the center with the blue headband.  Her husband is at the far right with my mom standing next to him in “American” clothing. I am at the far left, toting my Canon F-1 camera of back then.

Aunt Eiko described the farmhouse and its associated living conditions as essential beyond belief.  She was greeted by a 土間 (doma), or a living area with a dirt floor², as she entered.  Immediately inside the doorway was a relatively exposed お風呂, or traditional Japanese bath tub.  Her biggest surprise was the toilet – or rather, the absence of one.  It was indeed a hole in the ground outside.  (I know.  I used it when I visited in 1974…but it had toilet paper when I went.)

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During the day, they helped farm the yams Mr. Mitani was growing.  They also ate a lot of those yams because it was available.  There wasn’t much else.

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My second cousin Toshio on the left, mom pulling some yams, Mr. Nakano at right when we were visiting Fukui in 1974.  It was the first time back for mom and Aunt Eiko since the war.

Although my grandfather moved them to Fukui as a safe refuge, he was mistaken.

Shortly after arrival, Aunt Eiko said the terror of being on the losing end of war struck again.  US warships began to shell the farming areas in the Namimatsu village.³  Mrs. Mitani immediately screamed, “Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!”  She vividly remembers Mrs. Mitani and all the other villagers strap their “nabekama” (鍋釜), or cast iron cooking cauldrons, onto their backs and whatever foodstuff they could grab and carry.  You see, life had become primal for the farmers and villagers.  Food and water was their wealth.  Everything else had become expendable by then.

鍋釜
A traditional cooking cauldron, or “鍋釜 (nabekama)” hangs above a firepit towards the bottom left in the picture above.

They all did run to the hills as the shelling continued, she said.  I do not know how long the barrage lasted nor how far away those hills were or if anyone she had met there was injured or killed.  Surely, the damage must have been quite measurable on the essential crops or already dilapidated farmhouses if they were hit.  For some, it may have become the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The years of war would have taken its toll.

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The Japan Sea was on the “backside” of the farm, she said (see map above); it was close by.  One poignant memory she has is one of watching young Japanese soldiers by the coastal sea cliffs several times.

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My Uncle Suetaro is at the bottom left at a beach; he and many of his fellow soldiers are in their typical loincloths. I am confident my Aunt Eiko saw very similarly dressed young soldiers like these by the sea cliffs at Fukui.

She writes:

表がすぐ日本海であったのでその海崖にいつも若い日本兵がフンドシ一つで泳いでいた。学徒出陣の青年達だった。この青年達も皆戦死したであろうと思うととても気持ちはいたい。

She says that as the Japan Sea was on the other side of the farm, she watched young Japanese soldiers joyously swimming by the sea cliffs in their loincloths (フンドシ or fundoshi). They were Army recruits and so very young.  Aunt Eiko says her heart is pained to this day knowing that all those young boys she saw swimming in the Japan Sea certainly perished.

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Preceded by my mom, Aunt Eiko and grandmother returned to Tokyo about a month after war’s end. The Mitani’s had taken them into their already burdened life, provided shelter and shared whatever meager provisions they had. While they have all passed on, she is grateful  to them to this day.

As she wrote, the sight of Mrs. Mitani strapping on their cauldron remains etched in her mind to this day.

To Aunt Eiko, the simple cast iron cauldron had helped stew the essence of survival.

Notes:

1. Being the summer months, the white uniforms were likely worn by Imperial Japanese Navy officers.

2. For a visual on what a dirt floor house may have looked like, please click on this link.

3. While TF 37 and 38 were operating around Japan attacking targets, I was successful in only locating one battle record of Fukui being attacked when Aunt Eiko was there.   It belongs to the US 20th Air Force; in Mission 277 flown on July 19th, 1945, 127 B-29s carpet bombed Fukui’s urban area.  Military records state that Fukui was deemed an important military target, producing aircraft parts, electrical equipment, machine motors, various metal products and textiles.  It was also reportedly an important railroad center.  Per Wikipedia, the attack was meant to destroy industries, disrupt rail communications, and decrease Japan’s recuperative potential. Of the city’s 1.9 sq. miles at the time, 84.8% of Fukui was destroyed that day.  I am under the assumption that having witnessed B-29 attacks in Tokyo that she definitely would have heard the ominous drone of the B-29s.  As such, she maintains it was a naval barrage.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue


YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Lt. Gen. Burton Field, United States Forces Japan commander and 5th Air Force commander, gives Tomo Ishikawa, Gakushuin Women’s College student, a hug after she presented him 1,000 origami cranes March 16, 2012. The students made a total of 4,000 origami cranes and gave 1,000 to a member of each service. This was in appreciation for all the help given by the 5th Air Force to the Japanese citizens stranded by the tsunami.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad C. Strohmeyer)

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

War is hell.

Vile.

Scars are left on those who had to endure the horror…

Those who witnessed it…

Those who fought in it…

But then hopefully there is a healing.

Perhaps it will take a generation or two.

But it will happen.

Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.
Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.

Perhaps one will never forget… but one can forgive.

Perhaps is it wrong of me – a person who never endured war – to say it so simply.  Forgive.

But I have witnessed forgiving with Old Man Jack… Mr. Johnson…

Warriors have forgiven and tried to move on with their life in spite of nightmares for the rest of their lives.

Civilians, too.

The result is endearing friendship.  The same USAF that bombed Japan assisted thousands of stranded Japanese civilians after the tsunami.  The world has benefited but at the cost of the sanity of single souls so many decades ago.

Captain Ray B. Smisek

On Sept. 2, 1945, Captain Ray Smisek once again made a round trip flight to Tokyo.

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A glimpse at a formation of B-29s flying over the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. Perhaps Capt. Smisek’s B-29 is pictured. National Archives.

This time, it was as a member of one of the great air armadas ever assembled in history.  Over 300 carrier based Navy planes and hundreds of B-29s.  MacArthur rightfully wanted to make an impression upon the Japanese people by ordering a huge flyover Tokyo Bay and the USS Missouri, where the formal surrender documents were signed.  (They were to fly over at the moment of the signing but were late, upwards of ten minutes.  MacArthur apparently whispered to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF something to the effect of, “Now would be a good time, Hap,” with respect to his missing armada.)

It was the crew’s 21st mission.  They were going home.

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Official Mission List, retained by Capt. Smisek’s bombadier, Capt. Alfonso Escalante. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

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In Part 1, son S. Smisek said of his father that he hated to kill anything – even bugs.  That was his character.

Capt. Ray Smisek returned home to his parents after the war and tried his hand in the Los Angeles real estate market; he also worked as a cook in a restaurant.  He must have made one heckuva Sauerkraut, one of his favorites.

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Capt. Ray Smisek with his parents after returning home. They must have been proud. Photo courtesy of S. Smisek (Copyright).

But…  Ray Smisek had met a young woman while he and a back-seater were on a cross-country training flight in 1942.  They were flying from Greenville, Mississippi when the BT-13 trainer developed engine trouble.  To make matters worse, there was a bad storm.  Not swell conditions when you’re training to be a pilot.  Fortunately, the clouds miraculously parted and a small town below was bathed in forgiving sunlight.  He said he did a barrel roll and dove through the break in the clouds.  It turned out to be a rural airport in Springfield, MO (now known at the Springfield-Branson National Airport).

On the USAAF’s dime, he was put up in a posh hotel.  After noticing “this sweet thing walk by” per his son, Ray Smisek asked a desk clerk if he knew who she was.  Seeing the twinkle in his eye, the clerk contacted the gal’s father who agreed to let him meet his daughter…but under the father’s mindful eye.  She apparently “had a guy”, so to speak, but they still ended up becoming pen pals.  Those letters must have been so important to a young man off in a faraway place facing death at any time.  It may have been fate but her beau tragically perished in a B-24 Liberator accident in England.
She was a singer in the “big bands” era of the 40’s and traveled extensively.  Remembering there was no internet, Ray finally tracked her down in 1947.  She was in Houston for a gig.  His son tells me he drove for two days straight to get to where she was performing.  Ray had a note he had written and asked a waiter to hand it to her.  It said, “Let me take you home and love you forever.  Ray!”  The note is a precious heirloom; the family still has it.
After getting married, Ray re-enlisted in the newly organized USAF (It was separated from the US Army.).  He flew for 16 more years in service of our country and retired from the USAF as a Colonel in 1963.  Along the way, they had five children; one was born at each station at which he was assigned.  Talk about the hardships of a military family.
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Family picture taken in the 1980’s, with Ray (plaid shirt) and his wife (red blouse), five children and the grandparents to the right of center. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

S. Smisek explained to me that his father rarely, if ever, talked about his time at war while he was growing up.  That was very typical, you see.  His son wrote very eloquently:

When I was growing up, he never spoke much of his time during the war. When asked about those times, I could see a sullenness come over his face, then he would most often ask me another question just to change the subject. In those rare exchanges when he would answer, he made it very clear that he desired no recognition for what he had done. He desired no contact with his fellow comrades, felt no honor for the devastation he had helped cause, and amazingly to me, felt no affection whatsoever for the incredible aircraft which had brought he and his crew back safely from so many missions over so many horrible places.

He, along with the rest of these brave young men, was an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so that countless others would have the freedom to accomplish theirs.

Raymond B. Smisek was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in 1989 and passed away at home, surrounded by his family, in August 1990.  He was just 70 years old.  His son believes his father also suffered from another cancer – one related to unhealed scars from war.  His son said they were cancers of the soul and spirit, much more damaging than those of the body.  His wife – the singer in the big bands of the ’40s – passed away in 2001.

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Please visit his son’s tribute to the men of the 330th Bombardment Group at www.330th.org.  For the sake of the families of the WWII airmen, S. Smisek has researched and brought many of the pieces together of what it was like for their fathers at war.  Through his website and in a sterling triumph several years ago, S. Smisek played a key role in coordinating the meeting of a Japanese gentleman living in Canada with a B-29 pilot from his father’s squadron. Seventy years earlier, the Japanese gentleman was in Kumagaya Japan as an eight year old, running from the bombs being dropped from the pilot’s aircraft.  The two finally met and it was moving and emotional moment per S. Smisek.  For an article of the meeting, please click here.

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Aunt Eiko

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Dad took this picture of the Tokyo Station in 1947. His G-2 HQ was to his left in front of the Palace. The station was being rebuilt, courtesy of the US. Notice the rickshaws lined up in front; the Japanese had no cars until the late 50’s. Also note the trees; they are burned.

There was no escaping bombardment for Aunt Eiko, even after moving to Fukui slightly inland from the Japan Sea; the US Navy shelled their farming neighborhood heavily.  She also vividly remembers a small group of high school aged Japanese soldiers relaxing at the nearby beach and still cries inside knowing their fate.

Preceded by my mother, Aunt Eiko and grandma returned to Tokyo sometime in mid-September to find it in shambles.  People were living in lean-to’s, she said, and running water still had not yet been re-established in devastated areas.  Food was a tremendous daily hurdle.  She cannot recall when but she remembers it was such a relief when MacArthur began rationing out beans and drinkable water…but it was American beans.  Still, the beans were appreciated.

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PFC Taro Tanji seated in center flanked by (from left) mom, grandparents and Aunt Eiko. You can make out Taro’s US 8th Army emblem. Taken in Tokyo, December 8, 1946.
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Aunt Eiko got a job at the Tokyo PX, working out of the Matsuzakaya Department Store in the Ginza. You can see “Tokyo PX” on her badge. 1947, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

But their greatest savior surviving the first few months after war’s end was another relative – an American.  An American of Japanese descent that is.  Taro Tanji was born in Livingston, CA but was drafted out of the Amache War Relocation Center in Colorado by the US Army.  He became a member of the famed Military Intelligence Service.

He arrived in Tokyo at war’s end as part of the US 8th Army’s Occupation Force.  Through his intelligence connections, he was able to track down Aunt Eiko and family in a suburb called “Toritsu Daigaku”.  Some of it had miraculously escaped burning.

Driving up in his US Army jeep, he stayed at their house every weekend.  Each time, he would bring a duffle bag filled with C-rations, instant coffee and American cigarettes for my Grandfather (which he reluctantly accepted – funny story).  Yes, Aunt Eiko ate the Spam and deviled ham.  Taro managed to get in a good word and found both Aunt Eiko and my mother jobs at the PX.

TouritsuDaigaku - Summer 1952
Aunt Eiko and her love in her life, Puri. Circa 1952, Toritsu Gakuen, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

Things were tough until the early 50’s.  Dogs as pets were still rare as they also needed to be fed…but Aunt Eiko wanted dearly to achieve one of her dreams – to have a dog.

And so she did… She named him “Prince”, or “Puri” when you shorten “Pu-ri-un-su” pronounced in Japanese.  She loved him until he passed away in 1968.  She was devastated, of course.  I think Puri was an escape from the war’s ugliness for her.

She met Paul Sakuma sometime in the late 60’s; he was a Hawaiian born Sansei who was also drafted by the US Army into the Military Intelligence Service by the US Army.  He was attached to the 720th MP Battalion to serve as a translator.  He told a funny story to Aunt Eiko where the MPs frequently raided certain types of “houses”…  You know…  GI’s were prohibited from “fraternizing with the enemy” so they would raid them.  One time, there was a fellow MIS Nisei caught inside.  He made sure the “howlies” couldn’t escape…but held the door open for the Nisei.  After being discharged, he decided to stay in Tokyo to live and worked for the USAF as a civilian employee, using his knowledge of Japanese as a go-between.

Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling's top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945.  The old barracks is seen in the background.
Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling’s top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945. The old barracks is seen in the background.

They married but had no children – but a week before my first marriage in 1980, I got a phone call from Aunt Eiko in Tokyo.  She was sobbing uncontrollably.

Uncle Paul had gone upstairs in their beautiful home he just had built for them after washing her car.  He screamed, “Eiko!”  It would be his last word; he suffered a massive heart attack and died, right there at the top of the stairs in his brand new home.

Soon after his death, Aunt Eiko immigrated to the US along with my grandmother.  She became an US citizen about a dozen years ago.

In an irony, the country that bombed her city to ashes in 1945 bestowed upon her beloved husband Uncle Paul (as well as to Uncle Taro) the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for their service to the country.  While both had passed away before the award, Aunt Eiko cried for happy when I surprised her with the medal.  She said, “Even after all these years, Paul still brings me happiness.”

Holding Uncle Paul's Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy.  Incidentally, she became an American citizen about ten years ago.
Holding Uncle Paul’s Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy. Incidentally, she became an American citizen about a dozen years ago. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.
With her best friend - August 1963
Aunt Eiko with her childhood friend – the one who was burned during a firebombing. August 1963, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

As for her childhood friends, she is all who remains now at 88 years of age, just like Old Man Jack.  Her friend who was burned during the firebombings was one of the last to pass away.  She was the tall girl standing behind Aunt Eiko atop the Asahi Newspaper Building on October 30, 1937 and shown here in 1963.

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A most sincere thank you to S. Smisek without whom this series would not have been possible.  I wish him continued fortune with his 330th Bomb Group’s website, helping those descendants piece together their father’s contribution in World War II.

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My two youngest kids standing beneath the Enola Gay in 2010, the most famous B-29. Her single bomb destroyed my father’s Hiroshima high school and damaged my grandmother’s home as well. Read the story by clicking on the photo.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

Previous parts can be found by clicking on the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4