My father was a US Navy pilot in World War II. Based for an extended period of time in New Guinea, he took part in many bombing missions against Japanese ships. Eleven years later, still in the Navy but now with a young family, he was sent to Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands.
Aged only five when we arrived there, I have vivid memories of the year and a half we spent there. Kwajalein was a tiny island, so small that you could walk from one of its ends to the other in less than two hours. The beautiful blue of the ocean was never out of sight, and the sunsets were glorious. Just as close as the natural beauty were the reminders that this island had been the scene of particularly fierce fighting during the war. We children often found bullets in the ground when we were at play.
A box of (my) toys being given by my Dad to Marshallese islanders. Something similar happened in Japan. Just before we left I remember going to a Yokohama orphanage and giving the children there some of my toys.
In the middle of our stay in Kwajalein our family had a three-week vacation, which my parents chose to take in Japan. They were attracted to and charmed by this country, the land of my father’s former enemies. They loved it here and my father applied for Japan to be his next posting.
So in 1957, when I was six, we came to Japan again. During the two years I spent here I was touched by the country’s natural beauty and experienced the kind heart of ordinary Japanese people. I also understood, even as a child, the suffering that the war had brought. I remember seeing ex-soldiers, many of them amputees, begging on the streets; I also remember the smiling faces of orphans who had lost their parents in the war. Seeds were planted that made me want to return as an adult.
There are many of us who, with fathers and grandfathers who fought in the war, share a sense of mission to ensure that peace prevails over the anger that leads to war. Many of us also feel that Japan, with its unique history of war, natural disaster and more recently nuclear contamination, has the potential to be a leading voice for peace in the world. Ari Beser and Clifton Truman Daniel, whose grandfathers were so personally involved in the atomic bombings, are two such people.
I’ll blog about these two guys later.