Infamous Infamy:  Prime Minister Hideki Tojo


“At the Imperial Conference on December 1 (1941), it was decided to make war against England and the United States.”  ~Hideki Tojo, General, Imperial Japanese Army

Tojo, it seems, was a little bit full of himself. Really? That many medals??

Tojo, it seems, was a little bit full of himself. Really? That many medals??

I used to work at United States Southern Command in Miami with a fellow Naval Aviation whose flier callsign was “Tojo.”  He was a Navy Commander, an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer, and of 100% Japanese descent and the first generation in his family to be born and raised in the United States.  While he is every bit as American as you or I, he bore a more than a casual resemblance to his namesake, especially when he touted a bushy mustache which is often did.  While I’m sure it was not a callsign of his choosing (they never are), he was rather good-natured about it, going so far as to hold his own “Pearl Harbor Atonement Day” every December 7th by catering in a huge lunch for the entire office.  But who was this man “Tojo,” and why don’t more Americans know about him and his role in Japan’s strike against Pearl Harbor and the expansion of the World War throughout the Pacific Basin?

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, the destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the attack that brought the United States into World War II. (AP File Photo)

Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941

Hideki Tojo (1884 – 1948) was a General of the Imperial Japanese Army and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during much of World War II, from October 17, 1941, to July 22, 1944.  As Prime Minister, he was responsible for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor (with the Emperor Hirohito’s approval), which initiated war between Japan and the United States.  After the end of the war, Tojo was arrested, tried for war crimes, and sentenced to death by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE).  He was hanged until dead on December 23, 1948.

Tojo as a Young Army Officer

Tojo as a Young Army Officer

Hideki Tojo was born in Tokyo in 1884 as the 3rd son of Hidenori Tojo, a Lieutenant General in the Imperial Japanese Army.  He graduated from the Japanese Military Academy in 1905 and was commissioned an Army Second Lieutenant.  In 1909, he married Katsuko Ito, with whom he would have three sons and four daughters.  He began to take an interest in militarist politics during his command of the 1st Infantry Regiment after promotion to colonel in the late 1920s.

Tojo with his Wife and Family

Tojo with his Wife and Family

In September 1935, Tojo assumed a command billet in the field in Manchuria (Northern China).  Politically by this time, he was fascist, nationalist, and militarist, and was nicknamed “Razor” for his reputation of having a sharp and quick mind.  In Manchuria, Tojo was responsible for the expansion of military operations and much wider attacks during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Leaders of the Axis Powers - note that Hirohito (who escaped execution) is pictures, not Tojo

The Leaders of the Axis Powers – note that Hirohito (who escaped execution) is pictures, not Tojo

By 1940 he strongly supported the newly signed Tripartite Pact between Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy, and as Army Minister, he expanded the war with China and French Indochina in July 1941.  This latest aggression precipitated a response by the United States who imposed significant economic sanctions in August, including a total embargo on oil and gasoline exports, and demanded Japan’s withdrawal from China and Indochina.  “The heart of the matter is the imposition on us (Japan) of withdrawal from Indochina and China,” Tojo said in a September cabinet meeting.  He continued, “If we yield to America’s demands, it will destroy the fruits of the China incident.  Manchukuo [Manchuria, present-day northeast China] will be endangered and our control of Korea undermined.”

6a00d83454ab7169e200e54f68f9018833-500wi

On November 2, under the advisement of Tojo, the Emperor gave his consent to war.  The next day, Fleet Admiral Osami Nagano explained in detail the Pearl Harbor attack plan to Emperor Hirohito.  The eventual plan drawn up by Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff assumed a mauling of Western powers from which recovery would be impossible, leaving the Japanese planned defense perimeter incapable of breach.  On November 5, Hirohito approved the operations plan for a war against the West.  On December 1, another conference finally sanctioned the “war against the United States, England, and Holland” (Holland referring to Dutch control of the “East Indies,” present day Indonesia).

Tojo in 1942 as the Tide of War began to turn....

Tojo in 1942 as the Tide of War began to turn….

Tojo as depicted in Marvel Comics of the time

Tojo as depicted in Marvel Comics of the time

tojo-propaganda-1Tojo continued to hold the position of Army Minister during his term as Prime Minister, and as impossible and improbable as it seems, he also served concurrently as Home Minister, Foreign Minister, Education Minister, and Minister of Commerce and Industry, positions from which he could easily continue militaristic and nationalist indoctrination in the national education system, and totalitarian policies throughout the government.  While Tojo had popular support in the early, victory-filled years of the war, after the Battle of Midway (summer 1942), where the tide of war turned against Japan, Tojo faced increasing opposition from within the government and military.  U.S. wartime propaganda of the time caricatured Tojo as the face of the enemy.

Tojo Caricatured in a WWII Powers

Tojo Caricatured in a WWII Powers

After Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, U.S. general Douglas MacArthur issued orders for the arrest of alleged war criminals, including Tojo.  As authorities arrived at his residence to take him into custody, Tojo attempted suicide by shooting himself in the heart.  However, when American authorities surrounded his house on September 11, 1945, they found him alive but wounded, the bullet having missed his heart and penetrated his stomach instead.  Two Japanese reporters recorded his murmured words: “I am very sorry it is taking me so long to die.  The Greater East Asia War was justified and righteous.  I am very sorry for the nation and all the races of the Greater Asiatic powers.  I wait for the righteous judgment of history.”  Such righteous judgment was never to come.

Attempted Suicide and Aid by an American Medic

Attempted Suicide and Aid by an American Medic

After recovering from his injuries (after emergency surgery and extensive treatment in an American hospital), Tojo was moved to Sugamo Prison and tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for war crimes and found guilty of waging wars of aggression, and war in violation of international law, as well as ordering, authorizing, and permitting inhumane treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs) and others.  In large part, he is directly responsible for many of Japan’s most egregious crimes of the 1930s and 1940s.

Tojo on Trial as a War Criminal

Tojo on Trial as a War Criminal

Tojo embraced full responsibility in the end for his actions during the war, all-the-while diligently shielding the Emperor from any intimation of guilt, which some claim was the aim of his testimony, on both sides.  The former Prime Minister made this speech during the time of his trial:

Tojo on Trial

Tojo on Trial

“It is natural that I should bear entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so.  Consequently, now that the war has been lost, it is presumably necessary that I be judged so that the circumstances of the time can be clarified and the future peace of the world be assured.  Therefore, with respect to my trial, it is my intention to speak frankly, according to my recollection, even though when the vanquished stands before the victor, who has over him the power of life and death, he may be apt to toady and flatter.  I mean to pay considerable attention to this in my actions, and say to the end that what is true is true and what is false is false.  To shade one’s words in flattery to the point of untruthfulness would falsify the trial and do incalculable harm to the nation, and great care must be taken to avoid this.”

Hanging Tojo

Hanging Tojo

Tojo's Medals on Display (only photo I could find!)

Tojo’s Medals on Display (only photo I could find!)

Tojo was sentenced to death on November 12, 1948 and executed on December 23, 1948.  Before his execution, he gave his military ribbons to Private First Class Kincaid, one of his guards, and in an unusual Far East Fling connection, they are now on display in the National Museum for Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida, where Jody and I call home and I used to work.  See the National Flight Academy for the facility and amazing experience for young people that I helped to design, build and open.

Ultra-Right-Wing Nationalists, then and now; Tojo's Granddaughter

Ultra-Right-Wing Nationalists, then and now; Tojo’s Granddaughter Yuko

In his final statements before execution, he apologized for the atrocities committed by the Japanese military and urged the American military to show compassion toward the Japanese people.  Tojo is one of the controversial Class “A” War Criminals enshrined at Tokyo’s Yasukuni (see Yasukuni:  Enshrining Japan’s War Dead for more) Shrine.  His daughter, Yuko Tojo, a ultra-far-right-wing Nationalist who attempted to rehabilitate her Grandfather’s reputation and role in WWII, claims to have fulfilled a dying wish of the senior Tojo by visiting our Pearl Harbor Memorial in 1999.  “In my grandfather’s will, he said he wanted to hold a ceremony to honor all the war dead, regardless of which side they fought on,” she said. “On behalf of the Tojo family, I’m going to carry out my grandfather’s wish.”

Never Forget

Like my shipmate’s attempts at making amends, we should always strive to atone, but to Never Forget.

Explosive Find:  The Special Attack Tunnels of Miyakojima


“With back hunched, pushing forward the control stick, now comes an end to many countless hopes.”  ~Japanese Suicide Pilot’s last words

I’ve learned while exploring the world to stop and check out all those “historic markers” that most people blow past as they go haphazardly barreling through their lives and down the road.  Driving around Miyakojima, a Ryukyu island in the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan, Jody and I passed just such a monument.  Of course we stopped, and found a more remote but significant trace of war in jungled-covered coral mounds of the Far East.

Roadside Historic Marker

Roadside Historic Marker

After their defeats of 1943, Japan knew they were losing the war.  Looking to the hurried and desperate defense of their homeland, and in attempts to slow the steady but American advance, in March of 1944, Japan began the Shinyo (震洋 Shin’yō, “Sea Quake”) manned Explosive Motor-Boat (EMB) program.  The first models of these kamikaze craft were copied from existing Japanese 18-meter motor torpedo boats, themselves copies of American hulls from the late 1930s.  Initially built of steel and constructed at Yokosuka Naval Base, wood was ultimately selected because of availability of materials.  These boats were just one component of the wider Japanese “Special Attack Units: program which incorporated aircraft, divers, boats and torpedoes in suicide attacks.  Nothing much “special” about that.

Shinyo Suicide Boats

Shinyo Suicide Boats

In August of 1944, the first 400 future boat captains started training near Yokosuka.  The students, all would-be aircraft pilots with an average age of 17, were diverted from flight schools because of the lack of aircraft production throughout Japan, given the strangling American maritime blockade of that island-nation and the ongoing strategic fire-bombing campaign of their cities and industrial centers.

Braving the Banana Spiders at the Tunnel Entrance

Braving the Banana Spiders at the Tunnel Entrance

Initially there was a planned 3-month training period focusing on small-boat handling, mechanics and attack techniques, but the pressing needs to defend the Philippines, Okinawa, Formosa and Hainan Island required hasty deployments starting almost immediately.  In September 1944, the first Shinyo Squadrons were sent to the Bonin and Haha (islands about 600 miles south of Tokyo), and the Philippines.

Tunnel Entrance

Tunnel Entrance

The 41st Shinyo Squadron with 55 authorized EMBs and a compliment of over 100 men were deployed to Miyakojima in March 1945.  On this island, roughly halfway between Okinawa and Taiwan, the Japanese Imperial Navy 313 Construction Unit dug numerous tunnels to hide the unit’s Model 1 Shinyo EMBs at Karimata Inlet and various other locations.  The Squadron was there to defend the island from expected invasion because of the active airfields found there, but invasion never came.  The squadron never had a chance to engage in battle.

Shinyo Type 5

Shinyo Type 5

Type 1, one-man Shinyo EMBs were relatively slow and only capable of speeds up to about 18 knots when fully armed.  Typically, Navy EMBs were equipped with a bow-mounted explosive charge of 500-600 pounds that could either be fired by contact fuse (when ramming an enemy vessel), or manually from the craft’s cockpit.  Army EMBs carried depth charges at the stern and were not considered “true” suicide boats as the pilot was supposed to drop the depth charges, setting off a timed fuse, and run.  Very few pilots survived, however, given there was only 6-seconds to escape from an ensuing massive explosion.  Some boats were armed with anti-personnel rockets to help neutralize surface fires from the ships being attacked.

Type 1 and 5 Suicide Boats

Type 1 and 5 Suicide Boats

The slightly larger and faster two-man Type 5 Shinyo EMBs were powered by two Toyota 6-cylinder automobile engines, armed with a 13.2mm heavy machine gun (roughly equivalent to our 50 cal), and were designed to serve as command & control boats being equipped with radio.

Tunnel Interior Today

Tunnel Interior Today

Over 6,100 Shinyo EMBs were manufactured for the Imperial Japanese Navy, and roughly 3,000 somewhat similar Maru-ni EMBs were built for the Imperial Japanese Army.  Around 1,100 boats were transported to the Philippines, 400 to Okinawa and Formosa (modern-day Taiwan), and smaller numbers to Korea, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hainan and Singapore.  The vast majority – some remaining 7,000 kamikaze boats – were stored along the shores of coastal Japan for defense against the expected invasion of the Home Islands.  The Naval General Staff expected a 10% success rate, or roughly ~900 successful attacks for the suicide boats.  This was not the case.

emb

EMBs scored very limited successes in the Philippines and Okinawa.  Heavy gunfire from Allied ships and PT-boats (patrol boats referred to as “fly-catchers”), along with relentless attack from the air given allied air supremacy stopped most of boats before they could even be utilized.  In the Philippines in 1944, six smaller landing and patrol craft were sunk, while a few others were damaged.  In the 88 day campaign for Okinawa in 1945, about 700 suicide boats, supported by about 7,000 personnel, were employed against the Americans, sinking only two ships and damaging the same in massive waste of the youth of a country;.  Luckily the boats at Miyakojima were never employed, although many kamikaze pilots flying from that island’s airfields suffered the ultimate sacrifice.

Tunnel Exit Today

Tunnel Exit Today

On Miyakojima, a monument to the 41st Shinyo Special Attack Squadron was erected in 2006.  Plaques there in multiple languages (Japanese, English, Chinese, and German) explain the site’s significance, and the unit’s historic tunnels can be accessed immediately behind the monument.  Three entrances/exits can be found, all connected far inside the complex (~300m), but upon exploration, no other artifacts can be found in this far-flung trace of war, except for welcoming light at the end of the tunnel.

26825840013_b440ff9520_b

An Ignominious End:  T-33s on Okinawa


“History is full of ignominious getaways by the great and famous.” ~ George Orwell

I still don't know how I feel about this....

I still don’t know how I feel about this….

haulinga6s-1a6bargeThe A-6E Intruder, the Navy’s premier attack aircraft for 30 years and my initial fleet aircraft I few for four years from 1990-1994, was rather suddenly “retired” in the mid-1990s.  At that time, since the Intruder’s “sundown” came so unexpectedly, several airframes were waiting re-winging at the Northrop Grumman facility at St. Augustine Airport, Florida.  Unserviceable and not worthy of long-term storage, some 44 aircraft were later sunk off the coast of St. Johns County, Florida, starting on June 16, 1995 to form an artificial reef and fish haven named “Intruder Reef” or perhaps even “Naval Air Station Atlantis.”  Burial at sea:  a fitting end, or an ignominious one?

Composite JASDF T-33A Serial 81-5349

Composite JASDF T-33A Serial 81-5349 at Ordnance Tactical, Nago, Okinawa

okinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5349-in-the-weeds-2okinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5349-tail-and-engine-in-the-weedsIt has always amazed me at how such iconic aircraft, built in sometimes massive numbers, reach their final, often times ignominious end.  During a visit to Okinawa’s Pineapple Park last year, I noticed a derelict aircraft I recognized sitting in the weeds of a field across the street.  Upon further examination, this was indeed a T-33 of the Japanese Self Defense Force (JASDF), rotting away under the harsh skies of this sub-tropical island….

Oddly, the aircraft wears USAF markings.

Oddly, the aircraft wears USAF markings.

t-33a-enginet-33-349-better-times-in-2009JASDF received a total of 68 T-33A Shooting Stars, better known as “T-Birds,” from the United States Air Force in 1955, serialized between 51-5601 and 51-5668.  Later, Kawasaki was licensed to first assemble aircraft from components built in America, and then build aircraft from scratch.  They went on to build 210 airframes between 1956-1959, with JASDF serials between 61-5201 and 91-5410.  In Japan, the aircraft were known as “Wakataka” (“Young Hawk”), a name reflecting their primary role as a pilot trainer.  Initially the Japanese used a natural metal color scheme, but began painting them silver in the 1960’s, while those in Okinawa (Naha airbase) were painted differently in an effort to avoid corrosion from the harsh environment found there.

JASDF T-33A 81-5345 nose and cockpit on display in the shop's loft.

JASDF T-33A 81-5345 nose and cockpit on display in the shop’s loft.

cl-t33a-5349-301-1977-10-02hayaku-kupanbacl-t33a-5345-302-1976-07-30komatsu-kupanbaInto the 1980s Japan maintained two jet training squadrons flying T-33As, the 33rd and the 35th.  But other aircraft were operated by other operational squadrons in a proficiency and general support role.  As amazing as it might sound the last of the JASDF T-33As were withdrawn only in 2000 after 40 years of continuous service; in the United States, the last NT-33 was retired only in 1997.  A total of 6,557 Shooting Stars were produced, 5,691 by Lockheed, 210 by Kawasaki and 656 by Canadair.

a8805-1-ordnance-20100217-mav-5

okinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5345-kevin-checking-out-the-cockpitokinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5345-copilot-stationIn Nago, Okinawa, there used to be a military surplus store called “Ordnance Tactical“.  It was a popular place for Marines based at Camp Schwab to have their combat gear customized or modified.  For whatever reasons, two JASDF T-33s were purchased by the store’s owner.  One, sitting out front and wearing very faded USAF markings, is a composite aircraft based on the former Japanese Air Defense Force fuselage from 81-5349, combined with the tail of 81-5382.  Inside the shop, on a second story loft, was the cockpit of airframe 81-5345, which amazingly enough had most of the equipment, controls and instruments openly displayed for visitors to enjoy!

One of the T-33s in better times, 1982.

One of the T-33s in better times, 1982.

t-33-chitose-1973cl-t33a-5345-19940825-yThese aircraft were assigned to the 201st and 203rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron (2nd Air Wing) when they were outfitted with F-104Js at Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan.  During the Cold War, the interceptors based there, being in such close proximity to the USSR, were tasked with keeping the “Soviet Menace” at bay.

Aircraft #349 in 1985.

Aircraft #349 in 1985.

a88ordnance2010mav-30img_6328a88ordnance2010mav-29img_6327But Hokkaido is a long way from Okinawa, and how these aircraft came to neglect under rather obscure private ownership is forgotten to time, as are probably most of the amazing stories these airframes could tell, if only they had a voice.  From what I understand, the store in Nago has been razed and moved.  It seems that 81-5349 and its associated engine have been sold, but this is hard to confirm, and one source says it has been sold for scrap.  On the other hand, the cockpit display for 81-5345 found its way safely into storage in the shop’s warehouse, its final disposition unknown.  For me, such ignominy seems not so far removed from burial at sea….

Losing their Hearts in San Francisco:  The San Francisco Maru of Truk Lagoon


“Come back.  Even as a shadow, even as a dream.”  ~Euripides, Greek classical tragedian playwright

Built in Japan in 1919 by the Kawasaki Dockyard, The SS (Steam Ship) San Francisco Maru was a medium-sized freighter of the time specifically designed for the Japanese Yamashista Kisen Line.   She was a 385ft, 27ft beam, 5,800+ ton passenger-cargo ship that served as part of Japan’s wider commercial fleet involved in world-wide trade.  The word “Maru,” meaning “circle” in Japanese, has been used to designate a Japanese merchant vessel since the 16th century.  Although the exact reasoning of this particular ship-naming convention is lost to time, the idea of a safe circular journey for ships and their crews is probably not far from the mark.  As to the city-name?  The Japanese at the time often named ships to reflect their primary destinations.

The San Francisco Maru

The San Francisco Maru

During World War II the Japanese were in desperate need to meet the logistical needs of their new Pacific empire, suddenly stretched far, wide, and thin.  Many commercial vessels were thus taken into service of the Emperor, a fate no different for the San Francisco.  Following her requisition by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the ship was detailed to transport military cargoes between the Japanese homeland and far-flung Pacific destinations.  Like most of the other Japanese merchants during WWII, the San Francisco was armed, in this case with a single 75mm/3” deck gun forward to both defend against surface submarine attack, and to provide an opportunity to attack and capture other unsuspecting merchants she happened to meet along the way.

Although damaged by aerial bombing in 1943 while delivering supplies in New Guinea, the San Francisco suffered her fatal blows after arriving at Truk Lagoon (current day Chuuk, part of the Federated States of Micronesia) in February 1944.  Packed with war materials, including cargo holds full of bombs, mines and torpedoes, she arrived just days before a massive American attack on this Japanese stronghold.  During Operation “Hailstone” (ラック島空襲 Torakku-tō Kūshū, lit. “the airstrike on Truk Island”) between 17-18 February 1944, waves upon waves of US Navy carrier-based planes were launched against shipping found at Truk, as well as the significant military presence Japan had built up there since the end of World War I.  After the first day’s attacks, the San Francisco was observed and reported by US forces as being on fire with smoke belching amidships.  The next day, she was reportedly hit by at least six 500-lb bombs, and was left burning furiously and sinking stern first.  At least five crew members were killed.  Operation Hailstone is often referred to as the “Japanese Pearl Harbor” due to the massive damage inflicted on the Japanese fleet.

Basic Orientation of the Wreck Today

Basic Orientation of the Wreck Today

It’s position lost to the fog of war made even more obscure by the passage of time, the wreck was “discovered” in 1969 by Cousteau (no doubt with the help of locals who all but knew her location), but was not dived again until 1973 when the ship’s bell was recovered and her identity confirmed.

Bow Gun of the San Francisco

Bow Gun of the San Francisco

The San Francisco lies very deep, and rests on an even keel with the superstructure beginning at ~140fsw, weather deck at ~165fsw, and the sea bottom around 210fsw.  Upon descent, her wreck remains invisible, and only passing about 50’fsw do her twin masts first come into view, themselves reaching up only to 105’fsw.  Heading from the forward mast to the bow, you cross over the open access to cargo hold 1 and finally reach the vessel’s most impressive and picturesque deck gun at ~150fsw.  Most deck guns of the wrecks in Truk are covered with an immense amount of growth, but due to the depths of the San Francisco, this is not that case of her wreck.

Hemispherical Mines of the Forward Cargo Hold

Hemispherical Mines of the Forward Cargo Hold

After touring the gun – a must on this shipwreck in Truk – one should immediately descend down into hold 1 forward, where you will find a cargo space packed with hemispherical landmines, at one time destined to help defend the beaches and shallow waters of Truk Lagoon against potential Allied invasion.  Watch the depth here though; the hold descends down to almost 200fsw!  Exiting up and aft out of hold , immediately proceed aft and around the forward mast to hold 2, where divers will find a plethora of scattered aerial bombs, complete with tail fins and the remains of their original wooden packing crates, along with the remains of Japanese trucks in the hold’s ‘tween decks.  Still deeper, drums of fuel can be seen.

scuba-diving-truk-2016-san-francisco-maru-diver-over-a-japanese-type-95-ha-go-tank-bw-wm

Perhaps the highlight of visiting the San Francisco, however, are the three iconic Japanese tanks still found resting on the ship’s main deck.  These tanks, built by Mitsubishi, are Japanese Light Type 95 HA-Go tanks covered in with ½” armor.  They appear toyishly small in appearance, but would have been manned by a crew of three and could make up to 30mph on a six-cylinder, air-cooled 120hp diesel engine.  Weighing ~7.5 tons, the tanks were armed with three weapons:  a 37mm main battery turreted gun, and two 7.7mm machine guns, one forward (non-coaxial) and one rear-facing.  The tank was only mildly effective against infantry and was never designed for armored battles, and with an extremely cramped interior, only the lightest armor, and a hand-operated turret, the tank suffered enormously in battle as more modern battlefield weapons came into play.  Two tanks are found on the starboard side of the ship, with one to port.  This is perhaps the most photogenic part of the wreck, and if your bottom time is already limited (as it is on this wreck), make sure to reserve at least a few minutes for these infamous tanks.

scuba-diving-truk-2016-san-francisco-maru-fish-overflight-of-a-japanese-type-95-ha-go-tank-wm

From here, our planned dive run time required us to start our long ascent to the surface, where we completed our accelerated decompression profiles as we went.  It’s hard to leave the wreck, especially seeing the cratered remains of the superstructure (severely damaged from bombing), and knowing that the rear cargo holds contain a mixture of trucks, crates of ammunition, more mines, some depth charges, and scattered torpedoes….  How this wreck failed to detonate under such intense bombing is hard to imagine.  Equally as befuddling is the lack of other visible damage from the other reported bomb hits of the 2nd day’s attacks.

scuba-diving-truk-2016-san-francisco-maru-armored-tank-on-the-deck-2-wm

But exploring the 2nd half of this ship, where those five unfortunate souls who lost their hearts in San Francisco can be remembered as a shadowy dream, will have to wait for my return to Truk Lagoon.  Until then, stayed tuned for more “Traces of War” from this year’s adventures exploring this iconic battle site.

Traces of War: The Voices of Fukuro-machi Elementary School


“This peace museum is located in a preserved section of Fukuro-machi Elementary School’s west building, an A-Bombed building. Its precious exhibits – notably messages scrawled on walls communicating the whereabouts of survivors – starkly convey the situation at the school when it served as a relief station immediately following the bombing.”  ~ Museum Placard

The preserved section of the original school, surrounded by the new.

The Preserved Section of the Original, Surrounded by the New.

August 6, 1945 began with a beautiful sunrise for Hiroshima’s many sleepy residents. Air raid alarms, warning of enemy planes and potential attack, had sounded on and off throughout the previous night, forcing much of the city to hide in shelters again and again. There was little time for sleep.

The threat of bombing subsided as the bright morning sun rose in the east, and the “all-clear” signal was finally given at 7:31 A.M. Those in air raid shelters and evacuation areas started to make their way home, some even going directly to work or their mobilization sites.

Hiroshima 2015, Fukuromachi Elementary School Peace Museum, exploring the preserved messages from the past WM

Hiroshima was in the process of preparing itself against the massive fire-bombing that her sister cities had suffered. In the city center, various large-scale building demolition projects were underway, designed to create firebreaks and provide escape routes. Work for most started at about 8:00 A.M., and this day was no different.

Except for the blast that leveled the city which occurred just 15 minutes later….

The Gutted School as a Aid and Rescue Station

The Gutted School as a Aid and Rescue Station

The Fukuromachi Elementary School Peace Museum (袋町小学校平和資料館) is located in Hiroshima, just across the river from the city’s more famed Peace Memorial Park. At the time of the bombing, it was one of the closest schools to the bomb’s hypocenter – only the Honkawa was closer (see Honkawa Peace Museum for more on that school). Exposed to the massive effects of the blast, heat rays, and radiation only 460 meters from ground zero, about 160 students and teachers at the school were killed while the school was heavily damaged. Three students miraculously survived, having been by chance in a sheltered part of the basement at the time of the bombing. Luckily for the community, most of the school’s pupils had previously been evacuated to the surrounding countryside.

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle

The western wing, the one where the present-day museum is housed, was completed in 1937, and its three stories were made of reinforced concrete and included a completed basement and flush toilets, all quite modern for the time in Japan. Most of the school had collapsed and burned to ashes, being mostly made of wood. But because the newer, reinforced concrete western wing of the school survived the blast, the day after, August 7, 1945, the gutted hulk of the school became a first aid station.

Dr. Ota, a Female Eye Doctor, does what she can....

Dr. Ota, a Female Eye Doctor, does what she can….

“For a treatment table, we put desks together. When we peeled the long bandages from the patients’ wounds, their pain was excruciating. We got those who were relatively healthy to slowly pull their own bandages off, but we had to do it for the more seriously wounded. The procedure was so difficult and painful it make many scream and cry. We applied ointment to their faces and cut the gauze to the size of their heads. Then we cut holes with scissors for their eyes, nose and mouth. Where there were signs of festering, we applied mercurochrome.” ~ Masayuki Okita

Museum Displays

Museum Displays

There were, however, only two nurses and doctors available to treat the wounded and dying, and almost no medicines. Finally, on August 20, 1945, a regional medical team moved in, and by this time, the school had become a key base of operations for relief activities throughout the city. The school’s role in rescuing and treating survivors was significant.

Voices from the Past Echo across the Generations

Voices from the Past Echo across the Generations

“Our examination rooms was a tiny space under the stairs. The classrooms had all become hospital “wards.” On the second floor were the hygiene section and general affairs. I don’t have accurate numbers for patients treated, but it was probably around 350. Most of those were badly burned over their entire bodies. We could hardly stand to look at them. The wounded were everywhere, completely filling the classroom floors. They had other wounds as well. ~ Dr. Hagi Ota

A Plaster Cut-Out showing the Negative of the Original

A Plaster Cut-Out showing the Negative of the Original

But what really makes this place uniquely sobering is that the schools soot-covered walls and charred blackboards had, at the time, became message boards for those in desperate search of their loved ones. In this regard, not only is the building a direct surviving relic of the atomic explosion, its walls today still carry the loud and tragic voices of the past. As a place of refuge, people began to leave messages on the burned walls using pieces of chalk which were scattered on the floor.  Contemplating the undecipherable characters as the lone visitors to the museum on a late weekday afternoon, I swear I could hear the cries and pleas of their authors….

Hiroshima 2015, Fukuro-machi Elementary School Peace Museum, peace offerings and rememberance WM

“Patients had survived 12 days since the bombing and had received what treatment was available. They had regained some emotional composure. Very few were crying or screaming, but they were suffering quietly with terrible pain and anxiety. Many were on the brink of death. This much had not changed.” ~ Masayuki Okita

The Walls in 1945 and Today

The Walls in 1945 and Today

With each passing day after Hiroshima was leveled, more and more people frantically searched for missing children, spouses, siblings, coworkers and friends. Most were hoping to find someone alive, but all were hoping at least to recover remains to bring home, which in most cases was simply no possible since people were reduced to ash, swept downriver, burnt beyond recognition, or otherwise disposed of by rescue teams. But still those left behind held out hope. And they continued to scrawl messages on the walls of the school in the hopes of reuniting with the missing, be they alive or dead.

Messages Recovered from Time

Messages Recovered from Time

“One of the strangest by common sights was patients with maggots in their facial burns. The maggots crawled from their eyelids onto their eyeballs. There were tragic scenes of childbirth. Every day, many patients died. The playground became a crematory. The ashes were placed into wooden boxes. If their names were known, they were written on pieces of paper and posted on the wall above the box. When people would come looking for relatives and found their names, we would give them some of the ashes from the box with that name on it….” ~ Atomic Bomb Survivor

Hiroshima 2015, Fukuromachi Elementary School Peace Museum, stairwell message from the past 2 WM

Those messages, however, were lost to time when the building was repaired, having been plastered or painted over. In March 1999, when plans were being explored for preserving a section of the original building as an atomic bombing peace memorial, messages beneath plaster and paint were discovered. It seems that although plaster absorbed both chalk and soot alone, when chalk is placed on top of soot, only the chalk is absorbed, leaving behind in effect a “negative” of the original message. This find launched a full-scale investigation of the entire west building, which recovered many more messages. These desperate and often sad messages from the past became the central element of the now-altered plans for a moving peace museum.

Hiroshima 2015, Fukuro-machi Elementary School Peace Museum, peace offerings and rememberance 2 WM

Some of those original messages left by survivors who scribbled in chalk on the soot-blackened walls of the school can still be seen today in the museum which opened in a preserved section of the school in 2002 (the rest of the building has been replaced with modern construction). The photo overlays of the messages seen today on the walls of the museum were taken in October 1945, about two months after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Cutouts in the existing wall’s plaster reveal portions of the messages still preserved underneath. In the basement are doors and windows on display that were damaged in the blast of August 6th.

Origami Peace Offerings

Origami Peace Offerings

The museum provides very good English translations of Japanese placards. There are numerous survivor testimonials, many focused on the role of the school as an aid station in the days and weeks following the bombing. The museum here is modern and well-appointed offering multi-media presentations, much more so than that found at Honkawa.

Preserved Portions

Preserved Portions

But while this peace museum is informative and moving, the museum structure itself well isolated from the school still active on the site. What is missing here is hope in the form of life always finds a way, the most precious facet of our shared human existence that is so readily apparent at Honkawa museum with the sights and sounds its happy school children hurrying about.

Hiroshima 2015, Fukuro-machi Elementary School Peace Museum, peace offerings WM

Still, this site offers a much more personal focus on the tragedy and human suffering resulting from the city’s atomic bombing. Rather than talk in generic numbers that are almost unimaginable, many first-hand accounts are offered to help those visiting contemplate and understand such horrors. Much like a visit to Honkawa, a brief stop here is really every bit as important as visiting the crowded park and museum just a few blocks away.

Always Choose Peace

Always Choose Peace

For More Information:

Address: 〒730-0036 6-36 Fukuro-machi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City

Phone: 082-541-5345 Hours: 09:00 – 17:00, closed Dec. 28 – Jan. 4

Admission: FREE!

Web: http://www.fukuromachi-e.edu.city.hiroshima.jp/shiryoukan-index.htm

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fukuromachi-Elementary-School-Peace-Museum/111874765496586

V-J Day, Victory over Japan


“Well Darling last night came the most wonderful news I have heard for a long time. Did you think so? I was working last night so didn’t have a chance to celebrate didn’t even have a drink.” ~An exchange between TSgt Donald Larson and His Girl Dolores

Young Don and Dolores during WWII

Young Don and Dolores during WWII

Jody, in reorganizing what we affectionately refer to as our “crap room,” just yesterday found a packet of letters from her Grandfather to his future bride Dolores during his service as part of the Army Air Forces in WWII. Jody and her Mother, Bonnie, thought these letters missing. Searches on both ends occurred without success. In these particular letters we were able to hear of the end of the war through Jody’s Grandfather’s eyewitness words. And oddly enough, these words turned up this particular week.

The Ending of the War, almost an Afterthought!

The Ending of the War, almost an Afterthought!

A strange coincidence? Yes. This week marks the passing of an indelible date to people on both sides of the Pacific: the anniversary of the surrender of Imperial Japan. On August 15th, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito formally announced his government’s surrender, and in the process, effectively ended World War II.

Donald Larson is standing all the way to the right. He was already an old man being already in his 30s.

B-17 Flying Fortress crew of 10.  Donald Larson is standing all the way to the right. He was already an old man being already in his 30s.

Fighting through Flak

Fighting through Flak

At the time, Jody’s Grandfather, TSgt Donald Edgar Larson, was stationed in Wisconsin, having previously survived 35 bombing missions as a B-17 Flying Fortress mechanic and aerial gunner. From the summer of 1944 through early winter of 1945, Don fought the war in Europe as part of the Eight Air Force in the skies over Germany and France. In a somewhat less glamorous yet infinitely safer role, at the time of the Japanese surrender, he found himself driving trucks at the Army Air Force’s Truax Field, just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. His love, Dolores, was in Iowa.

Manning a Fortress Waist Gun

Manning a Fortress Waist Gun

Truax Field was activated as an Army Air Forces airfield in June 1942, and served as the headquarters for the Army Air Forces Eastern Technical Training Center, tasked with training B-17 mechanics and radio operators, and in later times, radar operators for the “new” B-29 Superfortress. Today, it is an Air National Guard Base, co-located with Dane County Regional Airport, home of the Wisconsin ANG 115th Fighter Wing, equipped with the F-16 Fighting Falcon. In another odd connection and “what are the odds” turn of events (see Long Odds and Unlikely Connections for more), this past spring I ended up befriending and training in scuba a number of reservists from this very base and unit while they were deployed to Kadena Air Base here on Okinawa, Japan.

Donald as an Army Air Force E4

Donald as an Army Air Force E4

At noon on August 6th, 1945, Gyokuon-hōsō (玉音放送 “Jewel Voice Broadcast”) was heard in a radio broadcast in which Japanese Emperor Hirohito read out the “Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War” (大東亜戦争終結ノ詔書 Daitōa-sensō-shūketsu-no-shōsho). It was translated into English and simulcast throughout the Pacific and in America. In what was probably the first time that an Emperor of Japan had spoken to the common people, he announced that the Japanese Government had accepted the Potsdam Declaration demanding the unconditional surrender of the Japanese military. The bloody Battle of Okinawa, the twin devastating atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Soviet invasion of Japanese-held territories all conspired to bring the War in the Pacific to a quick and somewhat unexpected end.

No Zip Codes!

No Zip Codes!

TSgt Larson got the news on August 14th, as most of America did due to the time-traveling dimension of the international dateline and the many time zones separating the West from the Far East. In a letter dated August 15th, 1945, he writes:

“Well Darling last night came the most wonderful news I have heard for a long time. Did you think so? I was working last night so didn’t have a chance to celebrate didn’t even have a drink. I suppose you celebrated last night or today, right? Boy, Darling its to (sic) good to be true to think this was is finaly (sic) over at last. That’s going to be one happy day when I get of this thing which I think will be soon. You should have heard some of the guys around here they almost went wild you can imagine what a noise there was.”

The date was known to the allies of the time as “Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day),” and remains so for the United Kingdom. However, official commemorations in the United States honoring the ending of World War II occur on September 2nd, when the formal signing of the surrender document on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay actually transpired.

TSgt Larson WWII, army air forces honorable discharge

Honorable Discharge

In Japan, August 15 usually is known as the “Memorial Day for the End of the War” (終戦記念日 Shūsen-kinenbi). The official name for the day, however, is the “Day for Mourning of War Dead and Praying for Peace” (戦没者を追悼し平和を祈念する日 Senbotsusha o tsuitōshi heiwa o kinensuru hi), nomenclature fairly recently adopted by the Japanese government in 1982.

Postage was only 3 cents, but look at military pay of the time!

Postage was only 3 cents, but look at military pay of the time!

The end of the war, a momentous occasion by any standard, is oddly almost an afterthought in Don’s letters to his girlfriend. Perhaps he knew that his combat days were over in that war, having survived the Luftwaffe and the 8th Army Air Force.  Equally as interesting, the envelopes used to send his letters were addressed merely to just “Miss Dolores Arens, Le Mars, Iowa,” while the postage was free (but 3 cents for the general public). The postmarks are all from Madison, WI, and dated 1945. Such a simpler time on most fronts. Except for that horrible, global war….

4-Engine Bombers of Every Boy's Dreams

4-Engine Bombers of Every Boy’s Dreams

What I find quite humorous and enlightening, though, is a letter concerning the “new stationery” which Don was trying out in a letter sent July 26th, 1945, somewhat timidly, on his sweetheart: “Here is some of that new stationery I was telling you about. I still don’t know if I should send it or not but here goes,” Don hints. His later comments below (in bold), which also are found in the letter which is quoted in part above, confirm that boys will be boys, through time and even at the crossroads of history when a world war happens to be ending:

August 15, 1945

My Dearest Dolores,

Hello my Darling how are you any way (sic)? I had begin (sic) to wonder if you was still living or not as it had been so long since I had heard from you from the 1st until the 15th that’s a long time between letters.

I planned on waiting until I got an answer but same as usual I didn’t. I should wait as long as you did before I write but some thing (sic) won’t let me.

Darling I just got your letter yesterday saying that you got the watch O.K. it went to Chanute and they was how about sending it on to me.

Oh! Yes how’s the sun burn you mentioned in that letter? Hope its O.K.

Yes, Darling I am still driving trucks not such a bad job at that but I can think of other things I’d rather be doing.

Well Darling last night came the most wonderful news I have heard for a long time. Did you think so? I was working last night so didn’t have a chance to celebrate didn’t even have a drink. I suppose you celebrated last night or today, right? Boy, Darling its to (sic) good to be true to think this was is finaly (sic) over at last. That’s going to be one happy day when I get of this thing which I think will be soon. You should have heard some of the guys around here they almost went wild you can imagine what a noise there was.

Darling, you know I would come and see you if I could but you can imagine how things are here in the army. Its to (sic) late in the game to screw up the works now.

So you liked that stationery did you? That was some four engine bomber wasn’t it? I couldn’t say if it was a B-29 or what it was, Ha! It was a new model of some kind.

I got Romies (sic) address too I’ll write to him not saying that it will do any good, but if he isn’t getting your letters it seems as tho (sic), you would get them back.

Well My Darling think I have wrote (sic) enough for this time and guess I’ll wait until I get an answer before I write again. Should I?

Good night My Darling see you in my Dreams.

All My Love, Don

TSgt Larson WWII, young Don and Dolores

Thankfully, Don and Dolores’ relationship survived both that world war and some rather risqué stationery (for the time). The emergence of this correspondence during this week of historical significance provides a beautifully clocked look back through time, and into the roots of our families. And one that offers an overlay of everyday humanity that sometimes we forget always permeates even the most auspicious of occasions.

As an E7 at Separation in September 1945

As an E7 at Separation in September 1945