To My Grandson – Swords into Plowshares and Spears into Pruning Hooks: The Burial of War

October 25, 2012 by Admin

By Namiko Sakamoto

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many of their people:  and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks:  nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Isaiah 2:4

As we shovel up war memories from the recesses of our past,
We wonder why we’ve buried the past so long.
Why did we say, “Don’t talk about it?”
Why does it cause tears to form anew?
Did we try so hard to blend into the fabric of America
That we forgot about the past while we looked toward the future?

We’d like to leave it in the past and throw the piles of memories
Behind our backs in heaps.
No one liked war then and no one understands war now.

We did what the times told us.  We left our homes behind,
Our stores, farms, friends, and jobs, children pulled out of school,
Youth no longer headed to college.
Our feelings for our family heirloom swords
Were for a while buried underneath our homes with them
After we were asked to quickly gather our belongings and go.
We hoped to come back someday and find these swords,
Shiny and waiting, in a better world after the war.

We even gave a helping hand.
Some of us dug the earth to build our internment camps,
And others dug the earth to grow the crops to feed us.
We wrote our family in the service
And continued our traditions until they could return.
Under barbed wire and military outpost guard,
We waited and kept our feelings for America that we built
Alive, healthy, and burning deep.

Others, already in the service, gave up their weapons when asked,
So hysterical was the mood after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
We were questioned for our patriotic loyalties,
Even as we fought the Europeans on their soil
And the Japanese hand-to-hand on beaches of the Pacific islands.
We dug trenches to fight the enemy and ate out of cans–
Corned beef hash and military rations,
Our bodies covered with dirt and grime.

We cried to see the masses of dead bodies that littered the Pacific beaches when we landed.
We heard the sounds of shovels that buried the dead in the sand after.
Because we share common ancestry, we sang a Japanese song in memory of those who died.
We pled with the vanquished Japanese soldiers
To give up their samurai swords and surrender.
We announced the shocking news, “The war is over!”
We tried to somehow convince them to leave the past behind,
And now live for the future of their lives and their own children to come.
“The emperor has surrendered!” we say in Japanese,
Hoping they will surrender quietly and not turn around
And take their own lives with their own swords in shame.
Some of them thanked us for stopping them from this act of hara-kiri.
As they seriously considered leaving the past behind.
They gratefully gave us the gift of their samurai swords.

We called out to children shot out from the caves of these islands,
Hiding from the landing troops, also unsure of the future.
When the war is over, we leave our memories behind us.
When we return to our homes, the family heirloom swords under the house have
been taken.
We buried these sorrows and bruises for our children to come.
We continue to bury our family on the Japanese side of the graveyard.
The sound of the gravedigger’s shovel screeches against hard dirt and pebbles,
The dirt flung outward, hitting the ground with a dull thud.
If we could, we would bury war forever.

Will it ever stop?
This merry-go-round of war?
Spinning round and round
‘Til we’re dizzy,
Tossing bodies off its side.
The old, tired lies,
To get you to take just
One more ride.
This fitful merry-go-round,
Spinning off course,
The speed set too high,
Bodies fall to the floor.
The throttle set way high,
STOP!  I don’t like this ride.
You’ve taken us on it before.
The Nisei recall
The round-up of their kin
In the burning, hot sand
And freezing, snowy cold.
We ask to get off,
But the ride operator
Has snuck off with a smirk on his face,
Shoulders scrunched up,
Walking mischievously
Out by the side door.
He looked more like Charon
Than he did like Father Time.
Different faces, different places,
Same old story.  It’s old and it repeats.


Copyright 2012 Namiko Sakamoto, excerpt from a longer piece

Author’s Note:  My father, Mike Sakamoto, served as an Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Interpreter in the Pacific theater.  He enlisted one year before the war broke out after having graduated from U.C. Berkeley in Business.   The second son in the family, he was trained at Camp Savage and Camp Roberts, California, in the 7th Infantry Division.  After the Pearl Harbor bombing, he was asked to and agreed to give up his weapons at Camp Roberts.  Because of his assignment to call out the Japanese troops to surrender after the war was over, he won a Bronze Star for his efforts on such islands as Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, and Okinawa.  Since he persuaded some Japanese soldiers not to commit hari-kiri, they gave him their samurai swords– he sold three of them to a collector in the 1970s.  When he saw all the dead bodies of the Japanese soldiers on the beach upon landing, he cried and sang a Japanese song.  He called out some teenage sisters from the caves to surrender.

His family was taken from San Jose, California, and incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, concentration camp during the war.  Their family boardinghouse, fish market, and pool hall were sold upon the family’s return because of the buildings’ disheveled condition, though another family resided there throughout the war years.  They found the extreme temperatures to be difficult in camp as well as losing the opportunity to earn a livelihood.  They had worked on ranches and did agriculture in the Santa Clara Valley such as “picking prunes,” as well as ran their family fish market and boardinghouse/pool hall. The Sakamoto family came from Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan, near Mt. Aso, where they were potato farmers before the potato famine.  My father’s brother Bob enlisted in the 442nd and went to Italy. My mother’s family home was leveled by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, which they had escaped by going to the country home of cousins believing that gas bombs would be dropped.  Her mother walked into the city days after with her grandson, not knowing the type of bomb that was dropped.

In the aftermath of World War II, more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry – roughly two-thirds of whom were American citizens – were released from forced imprisonment in U.S. concentration camps. But released to return where, after being taken from their homes along the West Coast? When they were finally allowed to leave the internment camps, they faced a new challenge: How do you resume a life so interrupted.
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