Good on you Candis, thank you for nudging us. My thoughts on the 80th Anniversary of the Asian Pacific War.
As longtime participants or readers of this site realize, over the years many persons have posted reflections and remembrances about the startling attacks that expanded the war across the Pacific and Asia. Around the world people were dragged into the most massive, life changing event in history, World War II.
This community board has memories and significance of its own for many readers. I was contacted a few years ago by a gentleman who related how his childhood was affected by World War II. His mother brought him to live in the Richmond District soon after the bleak news that the Philippines had fallen to invading Japanese Imperial Forces.
Her husband, the boy’s father, was a member of an Oregon National Guard unit deployed in 1940 to the Philippines. Following the surrender of US and Philippine military forces in May 1942 they could only hope that he had been captured and remained alive.
Because his German born mother spoke with a German accent he and she were frequently met with hostility when out in public or attending school. They remained alert and wary and curtailed their exposure. Long after the civil defense measures requiring the use of black-out curtains were lifted they lived with their blackout curtains shut day and night for the duration of the war. He remembered watching convoys of military vehicles carrying troops motoring along Park Presidio Boulevard and it gave him a child’s hope that perhaps his dad would come home sometime.
He was instructed emphatically by his mother to avoid playing with other kids on his block or school playground which rendered his childhood a very lonely one. He amused himself in creating art and crafts but never knew having play friends. His mom was afraid that she might be jailed or deported due to her nation of origin leaving him without parents. They were anxious all the time. Eventually a letter came from the Red Cross indicating his father was a Prisoner of War (POW). Little mention about actual conditions were exchanged. Just a lifeline of hope that the family could survive. Over the course of the war only a few letters were exchanged to sustain them.
When Allied forces liberated the Philippines in 1945 word of his dad’s grueling survival arrived. The expectation and hope of mother and child were beyond imagining. The reality was the man was terribly broken and home life in the years after the war were endlessly harsh with fits of anger, bouts of depression and binges of drinking. The war never had an ending.
As a teenager in the 1960s when I first saw William Wyler’s 1946 film, “The Best Years of Our Lives” I was utterly blown away. For its time it was a brave film because it portrayed the damage of warfare in lives of many who returned home. It put a dent into my perception growing up watching television reruns of popular war films made during the 1940s and 1950s.
It astounds me the stories that I never heard from people I could have asked, had I the realization to pose the right questions. I lacked the knowhow and courage to do so. All around were people who’d lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They were neighbors on the block I grew up on, in the parish, and most certainly at school where there were kids from families and faculty who’d survived that devastating global war. People who’d survived combat, people who’d lost families in Nazi extermination and slave camps, men who’d been jailed as conscientious objectors, kids from families that had been ‘Displaced Persons’ in Asia and Europe, I was friends with members of a community of over 100,000 West Coast residents and Americans who’d been unjustly held in internment camps. There were many people from war torn places around the world who came after the war to the Outsidelands.
Here’s one such way to can gain insight to the trials and turmoil of that war for Americans in the home front and the front lines of combat. I’ve just finished reading Daniel James Brown’s book “Facing the Mountain” a book about the present as much as the past. It is about prejudice and racism towards fellow countrymen. How first generation (Issei) Japanese parents, extended family and neighbors were taken from their homes, business and farms and unjustly incarcerated during the war. Some Issei and Nisei (second-generation) resisted through legal means the constitutional wrongs waged against them. Others elected to fight for America in the war. Some of those enlistees and draftees were detailed to secret intelligence gathering units in Asia and the Pacific. Most fought in Europe with one of the most bloodied and highly decorated segregated military units of the war, the 442 Regimental Combat Team.
Daniel James Brown is the author of the amazing, “Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”. His account of the ordeal faced by Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII is every bit as inspiring and insightful about sacrifice, honor, and durability of the human spirit as the previous book.
Americans would greatly benefit reading “Facing the Mountain” and apply its lessons to the present state of affairs in our nation.