Shattered Jewels

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog

Young boys have a fascination with war; a fascination with bravery and glory, with medals and uniforms.  Since Hirohito took the throne, young boys were immersed in the beauty of war. They were taught the greatest glory was to die for the country and for God: the Emperor. They were taught when they fell their spirits would glow as deities in the Yasukuni shrine. It was for the young boys of Japan to fight the “Holy War” to free Asia from its European chains, and place Japan as the rightful leader in the east.

In less than a hundred years, what was once a feudal nation had modernized and joined Europe in the game of Imperialism.  Japan moved from isolation to colonization taking Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria and parts of China. By the twentieth century it established itself as a major power. It was the only non-European nation of the Eight-Nation Alliance to suppress the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. In 1905 it defeated Russia, the first time in modern history for an Asian country to defeat a Caucasian power.

By the 1930’s Japan possessed, arguably one of the most powerful armies and most sophisticated navies in the world. As a nation, Japan moved to an increasingly militaristic stance, crushing any internal voices for peace or freedom.

Girls being trained to use bamboo spears to repel the American invasion

Girls being trained to use bamboo spears to repel the American invasion

In 1937, when Japan’s full scale war started with China, young men of twenty and older were being drafted to fight. The Japanese conscription laws passed in 1873 had many exemptions. It gave first born sons, students and people of wealth a path to buy their way out of servitude, leaving second and third sons of poor farmers to make a large percentage of the rank and file. As the need for manpower grew, boys as young as fifteen were called to active service. By the last year of the war the entire adult male population aged 15-60 and women from 17-40 were given bamboo spears and ordered to resist the coming American invasion.

Like all militaries, soldiers adopted mascots: animals and children being popular. Sometime during the war, a young boy was given a private’s uniform and served as a mascot with his dog. When the mascot was old enough, he would be promoted from a boy to a man and serve not as a good luck charm, but as a soldier, expected to fight to the end with the pure heart of the “100 Million” and die like a “Shattered Jewel”.

The Japanese military perpetrated unspeakable horrors upon the people they subjugated. They in turn suffered heavily. Twenty percent of sailors and one in four soldiers died in the war, around 1.7 to 2 million men in the name of the Emperor.

Starved Japanese soldiers captured on Saipan

Starved Japanese soldiers captured on Saipan

Most of them did not meet the glorious death on the battlefield they were taught to strive for. The majority of Japan’s youth did not die as cherry blossoms falling to earth, sixty percent of the dead met death from disease and starvation; their lives tossed away like petals in the wind. By September of 1945, the war in the Pacific had consumed the lives of thirty five million people.

Homeless Japanese boys after the war (photo credit: Tadahiko Hayashi)

Homeless Japanese boys after the war (photo credit: Tadahiko Hayashi)

Perhaps the young boy in the picture survived the war, or maybe he died a shattered jewel like so many others. Perhaps he was reunited with his family, or became like 123,510 other children in Japan after the war, orphaned and homeless.

The picture offers no clues. It remains a silent reminder of a moment in time; a boy and his dog caught up somewhere in the echoes of war.

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It takes more than heroes

B-29 bombers fly over the 5th Marine Division cemetary on Iwo Jima

B-29 bombers fly over the 5th Marine Division cemetery on Iwo Jima

On 9:00 AM on March 26th 1945 a small strip of land in the Volcanic Islands became silent. The last major action had ended the night before, with a 300 man suicide charge by the Japanese. Iwo Jima would become the iconic battle for the US Marines in World War Two. It would also be the only battle where overall US casualties exceeded that of the Japanese. 6,800 Americans lay in the volcanic ash, in the shadow of Mount Suribachi, where the iconic flag raising took place.

When I think of Marines and Iwo Jima, I think of tough men, pushing forward yard by yard, with rifles and grenades, against a determined foe; the marine with a grenade in his hand and a flamethrower on his back. These are the men that captured the minds of Americans; the heroes of Iwo Jima. But when the heroes got in trouble who could they turn to? Who paved the way for their trek to Suribachi and immortality?

The 5th Marine Division saw its one and only combat at Iwo Jima. It was one of three Marine divisions on the island, and the only one new to fighting. William Manning was a corporal in the 5th Marine division. William wasn’t the hero who led men into battle to grapple with the enemy in hand to hand combat. William was an artilleryman, in Headquarters battery, 4th Battalion, 13th Marine Artillery Regiment. He was one of the men those heroes turned to when they needed help. Assistance so they could move forward.

William helped for the thirty-six days of the battle, then he never fired a shot in anger at the Japanese again; his next encounter with them came when the 5th Division went to Japan, to occupy it peacefully.

Napoleon Bonaparte once made the comment:

“With Artillery, War is made”

So William Manning made war, so that he could find peace, a peace that 2,416 of the 5th Division’s men would never know. But because of him and the others in the artillery, maybe a few more got to see it. Sometimes in war, it takes more than heroes.

Fatigue shirt of Corporal William Manning 13th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division

Fatigue shirt of Corporal William Manning 13th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division

Encounters with the Rising Sun

Pack of Corporal Kenney, 4th Marine Regiment

Pack of Corporal Kenney, 4th Marine Regiment

On May 6th, 1942 the death march on Bataan had happened almost a month before. Now the island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. The men of the 4th Marine Regiment and the other defenders sat on the dock surrounded by their captors awaiting an unknown future. They didn’t know it yet, that three and a half years of beatings, humiliation, starvation, disease and cruelty awaited them. Names of places like 92nd Garage, Bilibid, and Cabanatuan didn’t mean much to them on that day.

They couldn’t imagine the Japan bound “Hellships”, cargo ships unmarked as holding POW’s to protect them from friendly fire, inside which men would die packed in the holds, with little food, or water in the tropic heat; where one in five would die at the torpedoes of American submarines.
If luck was with them and they make it to Japan, they would become slaves, working in coal and copper mines, shipyards and factories. When it is all over, one in three would be dead.
It is often said “if things could talk, think of the stories they could tell.” This pack could tell a few about a young man named Richard Kenney; A Marine who carried it from the regiment’s days in Shanghai, China, to the defense of Corregidor. Maybe it could tell us of the POW’s forced march through the streets in front of the Filipino’s and how those Filipino’s cheered the defenders and were beaten by the Japanese when they offered food and water. It could go on about the cruel days and nights of the Hellships, and of days in Osaka main Camp at Chikko. Perhaps it could tell us how Corporal Kenney died at the camp, years before liberation, and how it made it back to the United States without him.

If it could talk it might tell us these things. But it leaves us to imagine for ourselves what it saw. It bears a mute witness to history and the life of a young man who once carried it.