My colonel didn't like me very much. At least that's what I was thinking as a 22-year- old forward observer one black, rainy midnight on Okinawa in 1945.
My 27th Infantry Division had taken heavy casualties and had been relieved by a fresh division of Marines. The trouble was, after 48 hours, the Marines had lost so many forward observers that they asked the Army for volunteers, and my colonel naturally volunteered me. That particular midnight, the four of us in my party had not much idea of where the Marines had ended up after two days of fighting. In my opinion, we were lost, but I didn't want to admit it. Trying to read a wet, dirty map by matchlight under a poncho in a downpour with the Japanese lines anywhere from 50 to 500 yards away gave me about as good a feeling as the 21/2 times we'd been surrounded in the last month. I was almost wishing I'd buttered up the colonel a little more so he wouldn't always volunteer me first, when we stumbled into the Marine lines -- I must say somewhat back of where we'd left them. One of my men said, "Lieutenant, you sure are lucky." At least that's a better confidence-builder on the front lines than saying you're not too dumb.
Well, yard by yard, we made it the rest of the way south to the end of the island with the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions and then rejoined the 27th up north, cleaning out guerrillas. When Okinawa was secure, we lived in real tents and sometimes had real movies while we were briefed on the coming invasion of Japan. My forward observer unit was to go in the second wave on a beach that looked about 100 yards deep before you reached a steep line of hills with perfect firing lanes down to whee we'd land. Except for the replacement, all of us had made two or more landings and none of us thought we would live through this one.
I remember that feeling as if it were yesterday. Sure we'd do it, but for the first time without real hope. I guess "resigned" was the right word, particularly for the older soldiers who had made landings on Makin, Eniwetok, Saipan, Tsugen Shima and Okinawa and had not seen the United States for 31/2 years.
Then the bomb dropped, and shortly after the surrender came. I really can't accurately describe our feelings -- not instant joy, certainly, more of a wariness, a fear to believe because normal human sensibilities had been repressed for so long, while the instincts for combat and self-preservation had been honed. They had to be. On the front lines, it's kill or be killed, and you have to be passable at it if you are going to last more than a night or two.
And the longer you last, if you're going to beat the odds, the more you are brutalized. Question: Otherwise how could you give the order to fire on a bunch of Okinawan women looking for their dead near your lines on a quiet night lighted by a full moon? Answer: Because you suspected they were Japanese soldiers dressed in women's robes. Question: Did you try to warn them off to see whether they were women and would leave? Answer: No. Thought about it, but a warning would have given away our location. Question: Shouldn't you have been sure before firing? Answer: Being sure can get you killed -- and they did turn out to be Japanese soldiers, every one. In short, the right reaction, but it came too quickly and too easily. I couldn't help wondering what we were turning into.
The first week of the occupation, elements of the 1st Cavalry, the 11th Airborne and the 27th Infantry Division flew to Japan, ending up, in the case of my battalion, in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a snowbound agricultural town in northwest Honshu. The few hundred of us headquartered there were responsible for checking the disarming of several villages spread over more than 100 square miles. We had some apprehension -- there were still a good many Japanese divisions in the country, and we had to hope they were following the emperor's orders to lay down all arms. We also didn't trust them, and some of our GIs and officers thought this could be a trap. I thought that possible, but not probable; still, we slept for over a week with M1s and carbines by our side.
I was the liaison officer between our battalion and the local authorities, and in dealing with the Japanese, came to see them in a different light. In my opinion, they were terrified -- first, at the enormousness of the defeat when they had been continually assured of victory; second, out of fear that the American soldiers would rape the women and pillage the town. The propaganda posters had not all been taken down. They showed the results of a four-year campaign to depict GIs as rapists and robbers with long noses and mustaches. That fact that I had a long nose and a handlebar mustache made it difficult for them to believe my assurances that none of that would happen, and that there would be serious trouble only if all arms were not turned in.
It was not easy for me to be as sanguine privately about our conduct. I had been in the Pacific short of two years then, but a great many of my troops had been overseas for 31/2 years. Although one of the emotions that keeps combat troops going for so long is loyalty to their fellow soldiers, the reverse side is a growing hatred for the enemy. I worried about this.
It took about 48 hours for both sides to get things figured out. The Americans saw a town populated mostly by older people, women and children who were obviously frightened. So they forthwith proceeded to act as GIs did everywhere with civilians. The Japanese saw front-line veterans of Saipan and Okinawa giving candy to kids and exchanging food for goods, not stealing them. There just wasn't any trouble. That may sound corny, but it was true.
The Hotel Mukaitaki, where the officers were billeted in Aizu-Wakamatsu, was a true "ryokan" -- an old country inn with several hot baths and an ice-cold bath to finish up, fed from a mountain stream running through the base of the hotel. Mama-San owned it and ran it -- and I mean ran it. She was in her forties when I knew her first, had lost a husband in the war, had some kids to raise, and was fighting a losing battle to keep the hotel going for reasons of pride and tradition, as well as income. Once she figured out we weren't going to steal the antiques or wreck the hotel with wild parties, I am sure she looked on the occupation as a way to keep the family fed and her patrimony together. All the officers slept on the floor, Japanese style, with paper walls and an icy breeze wafting through the bathrooms.
She was a strong woman, and most of us in our early twenties could imagine our own families trying to make out in similar circumstances. As liaison officer, I dealt with her often and seldom did we disagree. I remember her fondly.
Some 20 years later, the business I was running had a Japanese partner in one of it divisions whom I had to see in Tokyo. I decided to take along my wife and two daughters, ages 10 and 8, during their Christmas vacation and arranged to spend Christmas at the Mukaitaki as Mama-San was still running it. She didn't comprehend that I was going to Tokyo on business, and let everyone in town know I was coming across the ocean with family to visit her for Christmas. I knew this was a matter of great face to her, but when we got off the train I was still surprised to see a band, the mayor, the council, and in front of all -- Mama- San in her best kimono.
Most unusually for a Japanese, she started to cry in public. This brought some tears to my eyes, and then both daughters started crying, and my wife joined in. We got over that; I made a short speech to the council, the mayor did the same for me and off we went to show our girls a real Japanese country inn with paper walls, straw mats and futons to sleep on, very hot baths, very cold bathrooms and no television. Mama-San fixed Christmas dinner and, at age 70, danced a formal Japanese dance for us to a 40-year-old record played on an honest-to-God 1920s gramophone with the barking dog trademark. She's dead now, but, as the kids would say, she was a piece of work and neither I nor our family will forget her.
The 27th Division went home that winter of 1946, but I still had about six months more to serve in Japan. I spent one month with a newly arrived division giving combat classes for reasons unknown to me as everything was very peaceful.
Tokyo had been almost flattened by fire and bombs, although by order the emperor's palace and grounds had been left unscathed. I was shocked, coming, as I had, from the relatively untouched countryside. Even with Allied help, medical care, housing and food were monumental problems.
My assignment was with the Headquarters Group of MacArthur's headquarters. My group was not very glamorous -- it did the administrative and paper work for the housing, food and transportation needed for the rest of the Headquarters -- who in turn did all the major planning and rule-making for the occupation.
On the way back to the States when it was over, I had plenty of time to think about the occupation and the future. You could see by the summer of 1946 that the Japanese were going to make it back to prosperity by working for it. Gen. MacArthur had been given authority to set up a new economic system there, and he and his staff did. The Zaibatsu were broken up, but it was obvious the former industrial leaders would coalesce again in different forms as they have.
The American plans allowed for concentration of industry, protection and subsidies for emerging industries, government financing, aid and a host of other programs that were necessary at the time for a war-ravaged country but now are part of Japan's closed-market syndrome. All of its leaders have been raised under this system, with its modern variations of "Buy Japan." This makes it very difficult for them to change -- and sometimes even to understand the criticism.
With some real help, they have performed an industrial miracle. Now is the time for the Japanese to stop looking inward and face the outward responsibilities they have as the world's second largest industrial power -- whether it be to their industrialized or their Third World trading partners. They are capable of it.