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My Uncle at Makawao Veterans Cemetery
July 21, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama
See related essay: Japan Times: Between Japan and America: Time, Space, and Remembrance
From time to time I go up Baldwin Avenue from the busy-ness of Pa’ia to cool, windy Makawao Veterans Cemetery.
My uncle F., along with my aunt D., is 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 to be educated at a relative's home in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the Japanese island of Kyushu. He 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”, highly prized in current business organizations.
I recall aunt D. was a more intellectual person, who taught at Wailuku Elementary for 35 years or so (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, he said that she was his teacher in his second grade – which meant it was a long long time ago.). She also taught at the Sunday School at Kahului Union Church (and yes, I know an individual who was a student there, too).
Uncle F. was the only one of the three brothers who was not shaped by a Japanese education.
Whenever the three brothers met (which was quite rare after my father left Maui in 1939 and never returned to live – one 1950s black-and-white photograph shows him with uncle W. beside a rare flowering silversword plant on the slopes of Haleakala) they would speak in English, since my uncle F.’s Japanese was quite rusty and dialect-filled.
My older uncle W. and my father had long conversations entirely in Japanese, as they studied for years in the Imperial educational system (incongruously, after a hard day fixing diesel engines in Wailuku, my uncle. W. would read Japanese poetry). 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, in their own particular linguistic and cultural world.
Uncle F. had an exotic and quite challenging life trajectory that in retrospect was quite global, even among today's whirlwind travelers: 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 from Maui and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, for the 442d Regimental Combat Team.
On his first trip to the Mainland, probably in an Army troopship, he rode a train for days and days across the continent until he arrived at Camp Shelby, a large War-time basic training base, in the southern part of the State of Mississippi.
Somehow my father, who also had volunteered for the Army, 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 -- went outside the Army training camp, perhaps walking pass students at the near-by then-segregated University of Southern Mississippi to visit a local photography studio – ironically probably owned by a Southerner whose grandfather was in General Lee’s Confederate Army fighting tenaciously against the United States government for a period longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II.
Both my uncle and father sat before the old-style camera and flash for what they both believed was their last photo alive. In his elegant penmanship honed under liberal 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 trigger for my uncle W. and father’s return from Kumamoto Prefecture to Maui – and so only my grandmother remained, with my uncle W., back in Wailuku, awaiting the return of her two sons.
As I write this, I calculated that my grandmother would have been in 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.
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 442d Regimental Combat Team my uncle F. boarded an Army transport ship that would zig-zag across the Atlantic, looking out for U-boat submarine 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, the battleground of several years of see-saw battles and final German withdrawal to Sicily and the Italian peninsula. After a brief African sojourn watching camel caravans arrive from the desert and listening to Muslim calls for prayer, my Uncle F. sailed to southern Italy, to save Europe. His idyllic Maui High School classes and proms must have seemed far away as he probably walked, crawled or ran in heavy fighting in the Italian peninsula interior northwards to Cassino, a mountainous area occupied by German defenders and artillery that overlooked the highway leading to Rome, the Italian capital.
The Allied forces command believed that Cassino line could be 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 completely overshadowed by the Allied Invasion in Normandy, along the German occupied northern French coast on June 6 (some veteran U.S. Army units, like the 1st “Big Red One” Division, were transferred from Italy to England to train for the Normandy invasion).
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 walked with his comrades northwards up the Italian peninsula, perhaps above Florence, the major city of the Tuscany region, and the last big push towards Bologna against the German Army Group C in the Po River Valley. He probably heard from Italian civilians that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was somewhere to the west, on the coast, but he was too tired to even think of wandering off and like 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 in Italy, he was carrying a M1 Garand rifle, which weighed over 11 pounds loaded with just eight bullets (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 really weigh on an individual, since Uncle F. carried a lot more items.
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 people were trying to kill you), extra clips of Garand rifle rounds (since the 30-caliber bullets were large and weighed a lot, by the early 1960s the U.S. Army would adopt smaller-caliber, lighter bullets for the M-16, with controversial results), a knife, a grenade or two, perhaps a small collapsible shovel and even a gas mask. He may have had some soap, towel, razor, and his dog tags, his name imprinted on small stainless steel plates. Aside from his rifle and bayonet the total weight of everything else was probably close to 40-50 pounds.
The War ended – although German forces in northern Italy did not surrender until the day of total German capitulation in apocalyptic Berlin, the devastated German capital. Sometime in early 1945 a tired Uncle F. boarded a transport maybe in the southern port of Naples, again passed under the Rock of Gibraltar, feeling safer now that the U-boat menace was over, and came out into the Atlantic ocean; he returned to an East Coast port, perhaps Norfolk in Virginia. He then rode a series of trains, perhaps transferring in Chicago, then all the way to San Francisco. He boarded still another transport ship across the Pacific to Honolulu harbor (Aloha Tower must have loomed larger and larger as his ship steamed into the dock), and then he waited impatiently, reflecting his personality, for the first ferry to Kahului harbor, Maui.
I can only wonder how my grandmother looked when my Uncle F. re-appeared at the Wailuku plantation house after a three-year trip half-way around the world.
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