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My Uncle at Makawao Veterans Cemetery
July 21, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama
See related essay: The Japan Times: Between Japan and America: Time, Space, and Remembrance
Several times a year I pass by Pa’ia town with its boutiques and health food stores and go up Baldwin Avenue to cool, windy Makawao Veterans Cemetery.
My uncle F., along with my aunt D., are buried there, together.
My uncle F. was known as a frank, direct person, who “spoke his mind”. I think his personality was shaped by the absence of his two older brothers, taken when they were a few years old to be educated at a relative's home in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu. Uncle F. was the only one who was raised entirely by my grandmother, which meant that he did not have to share toys with siblings nor develop “group skills” or collaborative teamwork, so highly prized in current business organizations. But Uncle F. also had his unique war experiences.
I recall aunt D. taught at Wailuku Elementary for 30 years; once a man came up to me in Kahului and asked if I had any relatives who was a teacher, and when I replied yes, my aunt D., and he said that she was his teacher in his second grade. She also taught at the Sunday School at Kahului Union Church (and yes, I know an individual who was her student there, too).
Uncle F. was the only one of the three brothers who was not shaped by Japanese education.
Whenever the three brothers met (which was quite rare after my father left Maui in 1939 and never returned to live) they would speak entirely in English, since my uncle F.’s Japanese was quite rusty.
My older uncle W. and my father had long conversations by themselves entirely in Japanese, as they studied at Japanese schools (incongruously, after a hard day fixing diesel engines in Wailuku, my uncle W. would read Japanese haiku and even German poetry, like Friedich Schiller, in translation). Perhaps my uncle F. felt “out of the circle” and tried to compensate by speaking even more directly in English to the other two brothers, bonded together for life in their own particular esoteric linguistic and cultural world.
In retrospect, uncle F., the most "American" of the three brothers, had a challenging global life trajectory: he graduated from the “old” Maui High School in Hamakuopoko, and was 23 years old the year of Pearl Harbor, and volunteered, along with many young men from the Hawaiian Islands, for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
On his first trip to the Mainland, probably in an Army troopship that docked in San Diego, he rode a train for days and nights across Arizona, New Mexico, the widest middle part of Texas, until he arrived at Camp Shelby, a large War-time Army training base, in the southern part of the State of Mississippi.
Somehow my father, who also had volunteered for the Army to "get out" of an Arkansas internment camp, would meet my uncle F. at Camp Shelby, located south of the city of Hattiesburg, which is nearer to the Alabama and Louisiana state borders than to the Mississippi State capital of Jackson. The two brothers, probably speaking excitedly together -- they had not seen each other for several years since my father had departed for a Detroit auto school -- went outside the Army training camp, perhaps walking pass students at the then-segregated University of Southern Mississippi.
They then entered a local photography studio. Both my uncle F. and father sat before the old-style camera and flash for what they both believed was their last photo while alive. In his elegant penmanship honed under progressive Mainland teachers at Maui High School, my father would write on the photo “To Our Dearest Mom -- Us”.*
At that time during the War, my grandmother was widowed – my grandfather had unexpectedly passed away in the early 1930s, the sad trigger for my uncle W. and father’s return from Kumamoto Prefecture to Maui – and so only my grandmother remained, with my uncle W., the eldest son, back in Wailuku, awaiting the return of her two sons.
My grandmother would have been barely in her early-50s, still relatively young, and in good health, cooking apple pies for the plantation manager.
I can imagine how worried she must have felt: like a recurring nightmare, again, two of her three boys had left Maui for the unknown, this time for a War in Europe so far away.
And to give her further stress, in War-time Maui, she would not speak Japanese outside of the house for fear of somebody reporting her as a Japanese sympathizer and instead spoke in whispers at home with my uncle W. (although she lived on Maui for decades she did not speak English well). After Pearl Harbor there was neither Japanese-language radio nor newspapers, so she had to rely on my Uncle W. to listen to the English-language radio broadcasts or local newspapers and update her in hushed Japanese over dinner on the War.
After the completion of Army infantry basic training with the rest of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team my uncle F. boarded an Army transport ship that would zig-zag across the Atlantic, looking out for U-boat submarine torpedo attacks, then passed under the Rock of Gibraltar and entered the ancient Mediterranean Sea, the simmering blue expanse separating Europe and Africa, the site of Odysseus’ wanderings and adventures.
His Army ship docked in North Africa, probably in Tunisia, the battleground of several years of see-saw battles between German and Allied forces, and final German withdrawal from Africa to the Italian peninsula.
After an North African sojourn watching camel caravans arrive from the desert and listening to Muslim calls for prayer, my Uncle F. sailed to southern Italy. His idyllic Maui High School classes and proms, my grandmother's baked apple pies must have seemed far away as he probably walked, crawled or ran in heavy fighting in the Italian peninsula interior northwards to Monte Cassino, a mountainous area occupied by German defenders and artillery that overlooked the highway leading to Rome, the Italian capital.
The Allied forces commanders believed that the Cassino line could be easily breached and Allied soldiers would enter Rome by early 1944. Unfortunately for Allied strategic planning, the “Battle of Monte Cassino” transformed into a six month siege that delayed the taking of Rome until the first week of June 1944 – and was overshadowed by the Allied invasion in Normandy, the German occupied northern French coast, on June 6.
After a few days R & R in Rome, perhaps visiting the Colosseum and joining other Maui High graduates reciting Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" from memory, uncle F. again joined his comrades northwards up the Italian peninsula, above Florence, the major city of the Tuscany region, and the last big push towards Bologna against the remnants of German Army Group C in the Po River Valley.
He probably heard from Italians that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was somewhere to the west, on the coast, but he was too tired to even think emulating a million tourists in peacetime having his photo taken with his hand out as if to hold the “Leaning” Tower from falling.
All that time dodging bullets and huddling in foxholes while artillery and mortar shells blasted the earth, uncle F. carried a M-1 Garand rifle, which weighed over 11 pounds (he was barely five feet four inches tall). In comparison, today’s M-4 carbine with 30 rounds in a curved magazine weighs barely 7.5 pounds: just four additional pounds marching over twenty miles begins to weigh on an individual, since Uncle F. carried a lot more items, on his back, front pouches, and waist belt.
Wearing a steel helmet, he had his pack filled with C-rations, round metal cans that weighed 12 ounces apiece, and also carried a water canteen, mess kit (a tiny plate and fork/spoon combination; in a sense, in War you were on a prolonged camping trip, plus soldiers in the surrounding forest were trying to kill you), a knife, a grenade, a small collapsible shovel and even a gas mask. He may have had some soap, towel, razor, and his dog tags, and though he became a Protestant Christian when he married his Sunday School teacher spouse, he certainly had an omamori or Shinto amulet from the Maui Jinja or Shrine -- an odd item as an American soldier to explain to Catholic Italians. The total weight of everything he carried was probably close to 50 pounds.
The War ended in spring 1945 – although German forces in northern Italy did not surrender until early May, after total German capitulation in apocalyptic Berlin, the devastated German capital. Sometime earlier a tired uncle F. boarded a transport maybe in the southern port of Naples, again passed under the Rock of Gibraltar into the Atlantic.
He returned to an East Coast port, perhaps Norfolk in Virginia, and heard again the Southern accents. He then rode a train, perhaps transferring in Chicago, then to San Francisco, the western edge of the American continent.
Seeing the Pacific Ocean, he probably thought he was nearly there, so tantalizingly close to Maui.
He boarded another transport ship, filled with Marines destined for still-to-be-fought battles in the Philippines and Okinawa, since the Pacific War would not be over until August 1945. During his ship's entry into Honolulu harbor Aloha Tower with the huge clock face must have loomed larger and larger, and then he waited at the docks impatiently for the next ferry to Maui.
I can only wonder how my grandmother looked when my uncle F. re-appeared at the Wailuku plantation house: a dozen pounds lighter, a pressed khaki uniform hanging on his worn body, a cap on his head with a jaunty angle, the omamori and Lucky Strikes cigarette pack stuffed in his shirt pocket -- after a three-year trip half-way around the world. And uncle F., the Maui Odysseus, must have wanted to eat my grandmother's apple pie very badly.
*I have the framed photo on my wall.
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Makawao Veterans Cemetery