Leyte Pilgrimage – Day One
As we made our descent into Leyte’s Tacloban Airport, I vacated my port-side preferred aisle seat and moved towards the window then buckled in. Visibly condensed, chilled and misted air flowed out of the specialized air conditioning system above us, very necessary in the Southwest Pacific. Our final approach was north to south.
The tarmac filled my window and thought to myself, My god. We are actually going to land on the island where my uncle was killed. It is finally happening. Our plane touched down at 4:40 pm.
I wonder what my cousin Masako felt at that very same instant. Besides my 96 year old father, she is the last person on this earth that truly remembers Uncle Suetaro.¹ I had been imagining many things of my uncle’s resting place. I solemnly realized that I had been grieving over what we know happened to him as well as how my father silently grieved for decades… but now, I feared about what we may discover about what truly happened to Uncle Suetaro. His suffering. His death.
I slung my orange backpack weighed down with my cameras and lenses over my shoulder then exited from the rear of the air conditioned jet. It would be six days before I would once again sit in such air conditioned luxury. The impact of the tropical heat and humidity was immediate on this southern California body. I began to perspire faster than Hillary could tell a lie. It reminded me of the climate inside the house when I lived with my last ex – ugly.
After being greeted by Akehira and Calimera, husband and wife owners of the limo service, we quickly exited the heat and humidity into two cooled vans.
We made our first stop of our pilgrimage along the way to our hotel: White Beach. Code named White Beach (see below) by the American invasion forces, it lays just south of the airport. There were two Imperial Japanese Army pillboxes left pretty intact for historical purposes.
On A-Day, the US Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment assaulted White Beach.
Per Cannon’s book, “…Both squadrons landed on schedule, with only slight opposition, and immediately began to execute their assignments. The 2d Squadron, within fifteen minutes after landing, knocked out two pillboxes on the beach, killing eight Japanese in one and five in the other.”
These are those two pillboxes.
Day Two to follow.
That’s when the crying really begins.
- The only other person with active memories of Uncle Suetaro was the reverend of the Buddhist temple adjacent to our Hiroshima home. I talked with him three years ago when he was about 90 years old but with a sharp as a tack memory. He passed away last year per Masako.