Seventy six years ago today, in the early morning hours, Japanese bombers attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Though intended to cripple the American fleet, the sneak attack instead propelled the greatest military force in the history of the world into the war.
Those of you who know me understand that I am rarely at a loss for words. But on one recent occasion, I was, at least momentarily.
Annie and I were visiting with a couple of our sons and their families in Springfield and we all went out to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner.
The cook who prepared our meal introduced himself by his Japanese name, which escapes me now, but added that, around there he is known as Steve. It was also on the nametag pinned to his smock, so that’s what I called him.
Steve looked to be about my age (late 50s, early 60s). He was very pleasant with an impressive grasp of English, speaking with a very noticeable Japanese accent. While cooking our meal on the griddle he did tricks and told jokes, at the same time carrying on a pleasant conversation with us. He seemed to like me especially, and took notice of my cap, which sports a Marine Corps emblem.
“How long were you in the Marines?” he asked.
I responded, “Four years active.”
He caught me by surprise with, “Did you go to Japan?”
“No, but uuuuh,” I mumbled, then stumbled over what to say.
Given his age and accent, it hit me that he was most likely born in Japan to parents who had survived World War II. Before I caught myself, I had almost said, “No, but my dad did, except we dropped the atomic bombs before he got there.”
After a pause, I actually said, “but some of my Marine friends went to Okinawa.”
“Yes, there were a lot of navy and Marines there.” Then he got me again, “My parents were born in Hawaii. I was born in Hiroshima.”
Thoughts were coursing through my brain, but it took a moment to come up a response, since his parents very possibly could have been in Hawaii when Japanese Americans were suspected of espionage because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and many of them were locked away in internment camps. That wouldn’t have made for very pleasant early memories for his parents, and could have easily led them to move back to Japan, where my new friend was born.
Of course, beginning his life and growing up in Hiroshima, he would be very aware of the bombs.
I was relieved when our conversation moved on to more pleasant topics.
I really liked “Steve” and believe we could be friends if we got to know each other. Once we were on good terms, we could even talk about the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
You see, I regret that it happened, but I regret even more that it had to happen.
Before the bombs were used more than five million leaflets were dropped on the cities warning people that we had weapons more powerful than anything ever seen in warfare and were going to use them to destroy military targets within the cities. People were advised to leave or face death. Similar warnings were broadcast over American controlled radio stations at intervals of 15 minutes.
When President Harry S Truman was making the decision that lead to the bombing, his advisors told him that an invasion of Japan could cost more than a million of our soldiers their lives.
On a more personal note, my dad could have been one of them. Instead, because of the bombings, Dad was aboard his ship, within sight of the Missouri when Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender that officially ended the second war to end all wars.
With hundreds of thousands of people killed by the atomic bombs, and millions more lost on all sides during the rest of the war, let’s all hope and pray that there is never a third.
I think Steve would agree.