“Wyrd biõ ful ãræd.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"I'll see you at Yasakuni."



I was stationed in Japan in the late 1970's.   I got the opportunity to work with the Japanese Self Defense Forces and was always impressed with their professionalism.  This at a time when there was still deep antipathy towards military service in the Japanese population at large.  When my daughter was growing up, she heard a lot about Japan and the Japanese from me.  So, she decided one day she would live there.

While she was finishing her education in Vancouver, B.C. she had a lot of Japanese friends. Japanese women, like women everywhere, love dainty things, and my daughter liked to go to Japanese gatherings, common among the expat students there. This is her back then, ready for a little get together with "the girls."  I met some of her Japanese friends and liked them. They were nice young people, didn't do drugs, and the young men treated the young women with respect.  My daughter has learned fluent Japanese and one day I will help her go there and live for a year or two. That's one of her dreams and  I think it's a good one.

My father and my Uncle fought in World War II, in the Pacific.  My Uncle was a Marine infantry Sergeant.  My dad was a navy Corpsman.  My father in law fought in the Pacific as well, as a Marine NCO in the infantry. Between them they were involved in the landings at Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa among other less well known places.


This is my Uncle Tom, in Brooksville, Florida.  Fall of 1942.  

My Uncle would never say word one about the War.  He gave me a Japanese Marine's forage cap when I was just a little kid.  He had a samurai sword, but late in his life he returned it to Japan, through a veterans association that knew how to do that.  He stayed in the Marine Corps, fought in Korea and Viet Nam. Then retired.  He died a few years back.



My father in the Pacific, 1944. He's the guy on the right.



This is a picture he sent my mom .




My father died some years back. He hated the Japanese with a passion.  You couldn't talk to him about it.  Even the slightest mention of the fact that the war was over, a long time ago, and maybe it was time to put that behind him would send him off in a tizzy.  He was furious with my daughter when she made Japanese friends and learned the language.


I know now that sometimes, when you fight other people, you never stop remembering it and you never stop feeling the emotions of that time.  For a long while, I thought my dad was just being hateful but I later learned it's much more complicated than that. It's the old saw "you had to be there." Nobody who wasn't there, will ever understand it.


A year after I was in Japan, my little brother was stationed there.  Somewhere here I have pictures of him and his platoon climbing Mount Fuji, with the obligatory head bands and walking staffs.  I guess it seems strange, for U.S. Marines to be wearing  hachimaki (head bands emblazoned with the Rising Sun) but none of the people in that unit had even been born during World War II.


Now, the Japanese have amended their constitution to permit their troops to fight alongside their allies in certain circumstances.  Since World War II ended, the Japanese have participated in humanitarian actions but have been proscribed by law from engaging in combat other than in defense of the home islands.


As you would expect from a maritime nation,  Japan has an outstanding Navy.  Unlike most of the countries in that part of the world, it's well balanced. They have warships, and a fleet train. That means they can project power a long way from Japan itself.  Their Navy is highly professional and modern to the nth degree.



The Japanese Air Force is primarily comprised of transports, maritime patrol aircraft, air superiority fighters, and utility aircraft. No long range bombers. Limited tactical air assets.  I think that may soon change, as the Red Chinese have been pushing Japan over the Sakhalin Island chain, and Japan is pushing back.

The Japanese Army is not huge, but it is well equipped, motivated, and ready to rock.  As later generations get over the effects of World War II,  military service has become an acceptable profession again.  Droves of young Japanese are not beating down the gates to get in, but there is not the same stigma attached to military service that there was even when I was over there some 34 years ago.



All this comes at a good time. We are stretched very thin on the ground right now.  And, we are short of fighting allies. We have plenty of meal delivery allies, but we need people who will kick ass and take names.  Japan can be one of those allies if things work out right.

26 comments:

  1. Interesting. My father fought in North Africa and then Europe. After the war he despised the Germans, saying they were smug and arrogant towards US occupation troops postwar. When stationed in Germany in the early '60s he told one German the US should have "hung more Germans after the war." But when stationed in Japan in the mid '50s, he developed a fondness for them, since they recognized they had been beaten, were properly shamed and respectful towards Americans. I guess "you had to be there" was specific to the theater in which you served.

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    1. I don't think I had any relatives in the European Theater. All of mine fought in the Pacific. That was a different kind of war. There aren't any fun ones, but the Germans fought according to the same rules we did, essentially. I know there were atrocities on both sides, but in general there were rules. In the Pacific, there weren't any rules. I think race played a part too.

      Whatever the circumstances, I expect that having fought against a people will color your feelings toward them forever. It's natural to remember the really bad things that made an impression on you, and just mentally skip over the positive aspects of the enemy, if there were any. Maybe it's because if you fight somebody, you see events as they happen. If you just read about it, that's all it is, written history.

      I think, too, that the Japanese culture is more conducive to good relations than American or European culture. The Japanese place a high value on courtesy, on being polite, on being good hosts. If you have ever traveled in Europe, you find that people are like they are here. Some of them are nice, and some of them are jerks. Maybe it's all of these ideas, or none of them. Damned if I know myself.

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  2. Harry, thanks for sharing your story. Its always interesting to hear how the wars affected people and how they treat others.

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    1. I was reading a news story on line about the Japanese armed forces last night, and I suppose that's what made me think about all that.

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  3. Hey Harry,

    (captaincrunch)


    Your family history is interesting' Harry.

    I wore some of the same uniforms that your father wore. The dress whites and the dress blues. Our dress blues had the same black thing around the neck (cant remember the name of it) Tradition in the Navy ran deep for along time' until recent years the Uniforms have changed. The Dungarees were comfortable to wear onboard the ship. Evan in the hot Persian Gulf. The new dark blue BDU's now gotta be hotter than hell to wear in the Gulf.
    Another thing too. What if you have a 'man overboard' The Dungaree's shirts wear brighter colored than the water. What do you do if your wearing dark blue BDU's and your in the drink???

    It's nice to see the Jap's get their act together on the modern warfare arena. I noticed on of the pictured destroyers was one of our Aegis class ships. I think the others are older Spruence class. Good solid boats, If maintained very well, they can last for a hundred years.

    As you know Harry' that I am a big fan of Toyota trucks. I got two and with everything, certain years are better than others. I admire the Japanese for their "attention to detail and strive for perfection" Our automotive manufactuers for the most part lost that philosophy back in the very early 1970's. Some trucks since then like some of the older Ford and Dodge diesels are built very well, but most American cars are built to self destruct (planned obsolesense) after 120.000 miles or so.

    As per the 'had to be there thing"

    I feel that way towards muslims and muslim countries. I know who the real enemy is and him an his buddies will try to kill all of us just because we exist. This is a form of fascism and nothing more. Pure good old fashion' ethnic cleansing and genocide if ISIS (and many other camel worshippers) had their way.

    Every time I see a muslim at a walmart or something, I start to calculate the blast radius if they set themselves off to see if I have "cover" between me and any shrapnel.

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    1. I feel the same way about Muslims, although instead of calculating blast radius I just have to contain a big rush of anger. Sometimes it's a struggle not to just go Travis on their asses if they are men.

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    2. Well don't forget they have women blowing themselves up. The women are just as nasty as the men are with the attitude sometimes and I haven't forgotten the woman dancing in the street in Gaza (or was it the West Bank?) on 9/11 after the attacks had happened and the towers fell.

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    3. I decided I had better delete my original response, because it was highly uncomplimentary to Islam, and I don't want Pimp Daddy Holder and his Gangsta's coming down here and using the Waffle House Gambit on me.

      It was Gaza. Dancing around and handing out little sweeties to all the celebrants. As the Brits put it "Roll on Israel" .

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  4. Thanks for the post, I always enjoy some good history and military information. I had the pleasure of having lunch last week with the oldest surviving veteran from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
    It really reminded me of how much people have changed.

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    1. That old guy has seen some changes over the years. It would have been interesting to talk to him. I was on the U.S.S. Bainbridge, (DLGN 25) as a reservist in the summer of 72. We spent a lot of time in Pearl Harbor, tied up right near the Arizona.

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  5. +1 one to Max on the history and info, I love looking at old photos from the war

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    1. My mom had a cousin whose husband was a B17 pilot in WW2. She had a lot of unpublished aviation photos from the war. I have them around here somewhere, I'll try to find them and put some of the more interesting ones on the blog.

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    2. That would be awesome. Thanks.

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    3. I also have a bunch of pictures taken in China after WW2. My father in law was not demobilized, but sent to China to help maintain order around a city the Americans were using for diplomatic purposes. Can't remember the name of it but it's on the back of the pictures. I'll see what I can find. I should scan all these photos anyway, so that when I go they don't get thrown out. Another of my ancestors was a Navy pilot in the 1920's and 1930's. Through that line, I got some pictures of the bombing tests on the old German battleships after world war I. I have those framed, and I think they are in a box in the climate controlled part of the barn.

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  6. If a nation has changed it's attitude from past generations, I find it hard to hold them responsible for the past.

    But I still won't condemn, nor dismiss anyone like your father and MANY other old warriors who still hold a grudge. The things the old Japanese did like the Bombing of Pearl Harbor or the Baton Death March will leavea generational grudge. Just like what the musloid folk did on 9/11. It's sad that this happens, it just human nature and it's certainly justified to feel like that.

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    1. No, I understand their feelings. People aren't rational beings and you can't just turn something on and off that's an integral part of you. Sometimes, too, there's something so intrinsically wrong with the people you dislike that they deserve it. They merit it. I'd say the Moslems fit that bill, myself.

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  7. Wow, that is a really neat dream. Her kimonos are fantastic!

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    1. Elizabeth loves Kimonos. They are graceful, elegant, and very feminine. Just like Japanese women. All of hers are from Japan and her friends helped her choose them so they would be of good quality. All her old dad did was pay for them, but I was glad to.

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  8. Interesting tidbit: when Japan's Self Defense Forces standardized on .308 NATO, years ago, they had to use a specially downloaded version of the round because most Japanese were of such a smaller stature than most Westerners that the recoil was a problem for them. Of course, now they use 5.56, but that still must have been slightly embarrassing.

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    1. The Spanish did the same thing with the original load for the Cetme.

      In World War II, when the Japanese were trying to switch over to the 7.7 Type 99 rifle, they got a lot of complaints from the field. Same issue, too much of a load for smaller statured men, even if they were tough as nails.

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  9. what a good history lesson. Seeing the kimonos reminded me that my dad was stationed in Japan in the early 60s, he bought Geisha Dolls in a glass box, and gave one to my grandmother, when she died it was passed off to me. I still have it in mint condition.

    one of my dads uncles was a German POW,,when the camps were liberated he came out weighing only 85 lbs. The stories he told from his prisonment would make you shiver..

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    1. Something like your Geisha Doll is an important part of family history. It makes a connection with an ancestor from the past, especially for the kids. I think without that physical link,young people often have a hard time connecting with their deceased grandparents, great uncles, etc. But if you can look at something, and tell how it is part of the family story, they seem to understand better.

      Now that the old World War II veterans are almost gone, about all that's left is dusty books and the memorabilia they left behind.

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  10. Harry, that family history was a great read. My grandfather passed away a year ago, he was stationed in the pacific in WW2 as a gunner on the destroyer USS Yarnall. The stories he told were amazing. He faced down a kamakazi and escaped death. But what scared him the most was a cyclone that almost took his ship.

    Those men were men of steel. I admire and salute them when I can. --Troy

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    1. Troy, I think "the greatest generation" is a fitting epitaph for those people. It seems to me as a country we reached our pinnacle then, and it's been slow and steady decline since. Maybe he was in the big Typhoon that actually sank a number of our ships towards the end of the war. That would have been an experience.

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  11. Your daughter looks so pretty in the photos above.

    War does crazy things to people. My Dad's uncle fought in World War 2. He was high up in his rank. He walked through Hitler's Camp, and saw Hitler's dog. He had nightmares for years. He didn't walk to talk about his experiences much at all. When my dad was a teen, he and his cousin checked out all my uncle had in the attic. There was a helmet with bullet holes it, and more.

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    1. She has always been an attractive person, even as a child. I am very proud of her.

      One of the places that I got a lot of the best guns in my collection was a general store up here. When the old veterans died, their wives would come in and trade the old war trophies and vet bring backs for clothing, kitchen ware, food, or whatever they needed. The store was run by an honest old couple who gave fair measure for the guns. Then I would buy them for a fair price. I set the price myself since I knew the value of the weapons, and I always paid market value.

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