After finishing the story of my father’s wartime service, I have remembered something that happened during my senior year in college at Manhattanville circa 1968. I was enrolled in a class entitled “Modern Japanese Literature” taught by a lovely instructor from Columbia University, Ms. Fumiko Fujikawa. We knew that she had been a child during the Pacific War but she rarely, if ever, talked about her personal life.
However, a short story that we were reading must have triggered her memories of that time. We sat rapt as she described the ending of the war. She was living in Dairen, China where her grandfather was an official. The Soviet army was approaching so they fled. As this was happening, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. I cannot recall if she mentioned relatives living in those areas. What I have never forgotten is the following story.
In cultivated English, Fumiko-san said “My father was a senior officer in charge of sending young men on missions to destroy the American fleet off Okinawa. When all was lost and news of the Surrender came he, along with others, embarked on their final mission. Since he had sent so many to their deaths as “kamikazi” my father believed that sacred honor bound him to do as they did. On August 15, my father “plunged” into one of the American ships.”
The class of young women sat in silence. It was a moment of terrible grief for her and incomprehension and cognitive dissonance for the students. At that time, I did not know that my father was aboard the USS Hilarity off Okinawa. But I could fully imagine the fate of Ms. Fujikawa’s father and of the men aboard the ship he targeted. I also remember that, as a Christian, this was the first time that I could even begin to understand Jesus’ command “to love your enemies.” My instructor and I were both orphans of a terrible war. We shared the same loss and grief. Much later, when I was serving as an ordained pastor, I used this memory in a sermon to illustrate how we might be able to overcome hatred for the “Other.” A Naval veteran in my congregation was deeply moved and disturbed by my teacher’s story. All he could say was “The men in the ships, the men in the ships. . .”
Now that I have found my father’s war history, this narrative has a haunting quality which I will carry with with me until I die. He was there. Daddy survived to come home but the experience of the sea battle wounded him in body, mind, and spirit. His life was cut short and he died at age 41, leaving a 35 year old widow and me, age 6.
May all the faithful departed rest in peace. May eternal light shine upon them.