Several posters have asked me to write of my recent return to Japan (emd, TravelGirl2, EKSCRUNCHY included).
Rather than write of our nearly month-long journey through parts of China and Japan, I've decided to write a shorter version description of just the most emotional highlight.
This may be a very timely story. Allow me to explain. I'm a writer and a long-time independent traveler, having recently returned from both places to which I have been before. When planning the Japan portion, I had a strong yen (pardon the pun) for returning to the town where 60 years ago I was a young G.I. with the 19th Infantry Regiment as part of the first U.S. occupying force right after WW II.
Months ago, I had contacted the Beppu, Japan, Mayor's office through their internet web site and I immediately heard from one of his staff who was gracious enough to welcome me as the first-ever returnee to Beppu from those long ago, immediate post-war days.
When we arrived in Beppu, Kyushu three weeks ago (my wife and I), a "plush red carpet" was laid out for us and we were escorted to the former campsite by two officers of the Japanese Defense Force and the young lady from the Mayor's staff with whom I had been corresponding. We were taken to the exceptionally awesome Beppu City Peace Park, an enormous Japanese-style garden covering several acres...on the site of the former Camp Chickamauga (we were the "Rock of Chickamauga" Regiment), and they pointed out a 60-foot pine which has been named "The Chickamauga Tree"...it was the once 10-foot pine that was used to decorate with Christmas Lights, and it was especially saved from the bulldozing. By this time, my eyes began to well up, and my legs were shaking. (You have to imagine returning anywhere after 60 years absence!)
Next to the tree, there stood a large plaque commemorating "the kindnesses shown by troops of the 19th Infantry Regiment to the people of Beppu"... and Tomoko, the young lady, told me of the stories her grandfather and his cronies used to tell of how respectful and caring the young occupation soldiers were toward the people of the downtrodden town.
I clearly remembered how we would never go to town without bringing some food items and other necessities, especially for the ill-fed children. Although I was choking up, I was never more proud of being an American and of once being part of all those gestures of good will, when animosities could have easily ruled the day.
The Colonel and the Lieutenant saluted me when they left, which I returned to them...me a little old PFC, suh!
To go along with these memories, I must mention that my regiment was responsible for patrolling the polling places in the region during the first-ever Japanese free elections. I was assigned to drive a recon jeep with a lieutenant and a Japanese-Hawaiian fellow G.I. as interpreter, into some of the most remote polling locations on that island of Kyushu. The elections went off without an incident (as indeed did the entire occupation of the country...contrast with today's Iraq!).
At the time I was 18 years old and when we returned to base two weeks later, I wrote a lengthy essay under the theme of, "Is Japan Now Ready For Democracy". My mother sent it to the Quincy (my Massachusetts home town)Patriot Ledger, and they printed it in full with my picture. I have an old yellowing copy, of course.
I believe the timeliness of this story couldn't be more appropriate, in light of military events the world over. I seem to think that this is in stark difference to the Iraqi situation...a time when an American occupation of a defeated foreign power met with far better results.
P.S. Tomoko proudly told me that during the Christmas season, the local populace lights up the Chickamauga Tree every year...and as you know, there are very few Christians in all of Japan. But, she told me, they do so not for Christmas, but in honor of the good deeds of the 19th. (I still wear my baseball cap with the Division's taro-leaf patch).
http://www.beppu-navi.jp/ml/english/history.htm (see mention of Camp Chickamauga)
Photos of the event:
1946-2007: An Old Soldier Returns to Camp Site in Beppu
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