“Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, Uncle Suetaro glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse that the dawn before. He was starving.
He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?“
– A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle, Masako and Spam Musubi
A Pilgrimage to Leyte Begins
At 33,000 feet, the Philippine Airline’s pressurized cabin was cool and comfortable. An hour into our three and a half hour flight to Tacloban, Leyte, it began to fill with the wonderful, pleasant scent of lunch.
The attractive Filipina flight attendant handed us our meals. As I took the gold foil cover off the chicken lunch, I turned to my cousin Kiyoshi seated next to me in 46H on my left and said, “末太郎さん、腹へっていたでしょう、” or “Uncle Suetaro must have been so hungry.”
My eyes began to tear up once again. It would happen many times during our family pilgrimage to Leyte…
In the epilogue of my story, “A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle”, my 81 year old cousin Masako climbed a long flight of stone stairs to the top of a military shrine in Hiroshima. She said our Uncle Suetaro called out to her. With that, we knew we would be headed to Leyte. It was just a question of when.
“When” was last week. July 19, 2015.
My four Hiroshima cousins and Masako’s daughter went on a six-day/five-night pilgrimage to Leyte, spearheaded by the author of the book “Eternal 41st”, Mr. Yusuke Ota. With us was another lady whose uncle was verified as being killed on Leyte near the end. Also with us was a news reporter from a Hiroshima newspaper.
We went to honor not just our uncle who was killed as a Japanese soldier but for all souls who never returned from that island during WWII.
I also took with me a letter as well as photographs from blogger gpcox of PacificParatrooper to be read to her father “Smitty”. Smitty was a paratrooper with the US 11th Airborne and fought against the Imperial Japanese Army on Leyte – of which my uncle was one. My uncle arrived on Leyte October 26, 1945; Smitty on November 18, 1945. Smitty returned home; my Uncle Suetaro did not.
But first, a quick look at Leyte and its people:
A little Filipina girl runs alongside us as we pass through her small village:
The entire island is in various stages of reconstruction after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda less than two years ago. Death toll estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people.
Mr. Ota is very active in the noble Tacloban City/Fukuyama Sister City relations. If you would like to contribute to their recovery efforts, please contact Mr. Ota directly through his blog:
The pilgrimage continues in Part 2…