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Postwar60: Japanese widow remembers husband killed in Battle of Attu.

By Takaki Tominaga


''Only 33 years of living and I am to die here. I have no regrets. Banzai to the Emperor. I am grateful that I have kept the peace in my soul which Christ bestowed upon me.''

The diary of Nobuo Tatsuguchi, an American-educated Japanese doctor who was killed during World War II, quietly recorded the tragedies of the war, his own suffering and the last moments of Japanese troops on Attu Island at the western tip of Aleutians in the Bering Sea.

Taeko Tatsuguchi, his 92-year-old widow in Los Angeles shared her memories of her late husband and the war with Kyodo News.

''He was a faithful Christian doctor and a gentleman who devoted himself to God and communities,'' said Taeko.

Nobuo Tatsuguchi was born in Hiroshima on Aug. 31, 1911, as the second son of a Christian dentist who had been educated in the United States. Tatsuguchi also studied medicine at the College of Medical Evangelists, now Loma Linda University, in southern California.

He returned to Japan as a medical missionary with a vision of saving tuberculosis patients there, and worked at Adventist Tokyo Sanitarium.

Soon after his first child was born, he was drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army and trained at the army school for doctors.

''I only have one memory of my father, and that was playing hide and seek with him,'' said his daughter, Misako Shiraishi, in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1945, Tatsuguchi was assigned to Northern 5216 Detachment North Sea Defense Hospital and sent off to Attu Island with other army surgeons.

Tatsuguchi kept his battlefield journal from May 12 to May 29, which spanned from the day after American forces landed on the island until right before the final suicidal attack by Japanese forces.

There were 3,929 American casualties recorded, 549 of whom were killed, and 2,638 Japanese were killed and 27 returned after being captured by the Americans.

May 29 -- Battle ''Today at 2000 o'clock, we assembled in front of headquarters. The field hospital took part too. The last assault is to be carried out. We received the order for all the patients in the hospital to commit suicide. Only 33 years of living and I am to die here. I have no regrets. Banzai to the Emperor. I am grateful to all that I have kept the peace of my soul which Christ bestowed upon me. At 1800, took care of all the patients with hand grenades. Goodbye, Taeko, my beloved wife, who loved me to the last. Until we meet again, greet you Godspeed. Misako, who just became 4 years old, will grow up unhindered. I feel sorry for you, Mutsuko, born February of this year and gone without seeing your father. Well, be good. Mr. Matsubara (relative), Sattchan (sister), Toshichan (sister), Maachan (brother), Mittchan (sister), good bye.

The number participating in this attack is a little over 1000; to take enemy artillery position. It seems that the enemy is expecting an all-out attack, tomorrow.''

In a strange twist of fate, J.L. Whitaker, a classmate of Tatsuguchi and J. Mudry, a year behind, at the College of Medical Evangelists, were on Attu as Seventh Division medical officers.

Whitaker, a battalion surgeon, was in the path of the final kamikaze attack by Japanese troops but escaped unharmed. Tatsuguchi was shot to death not far away. Whitaker and Mudry was stunned when they discovered Tatsuguchi was on the island and killed in action.

''Yes, I know him well -- we went to the College of Medical Evangelists together in Los Angeles for three years,'' Mudry told the local newspaper issued on September 26, 1943. ''I always thought Tatsuguchi -- we called him Paul -- was quite an American.''

''Since the time of the American Civil War probably no lover of America has been assigned to such burdensome military service,'' the late Floyd Watkins, a professor of English at Emory University in Georgia, who helped to trace the diary to Tatsuguchi, told to Associated Press. ''He was loyal to two peoples and two cultures, who were warring against each other.''

Since Tatsuguchi diary was the only Japanese written record eyewitness the defense of Attu, his diary was immediately translated into English by a U.S. intelligence officer after its recovery.

The record of Tatsuguchi's last days, especially his love and affection for his family captured hearts of many American soldiers, and they brought back their own copies.

Taeko received a telegraph notifying her husband's death in August 1943 at her home in Tokyo.

''I still believed he would come back as I saw some people who had been reported as dead returned after several years,'' Taeko recalled.

Two years later, B.P. Hoffman, Tatsuguchi's former teacher and Taeko's longtime friend, visited her in Osaka where she worked for the U.S. military as a translator.

Hoffman told her that FBI agent visited him in Washington D.C., because Hoffman's name and address was in Tatsuguchi's address book recovered from his pocket. The agent told Hoffman that the doctor was killed as he came out of a cave, which was a field hospital.

Tatsuguchi tried to tell them he was a Christian and tried to show them a bible. But the man who shot him was not able to see and hear him clearly because of the fog and wind.

Hoffman told Taeko that she needs to move on because Tatsuguchi would never come back.

''That was the final closure,'' said Taeko. ''Since then, I dried my eyes and finally started to move forward. I had to raise my two daughters.''

Taeko and her daughters immigrated to Hawaii where her parents lived, and moved to Los Angeles later.

Taeko recalled her painful memories of the U.S. media using Tatsuguchi's diary during the war to demonstrate the cold-bloodedness of the Japanese enemy.

American newspapers quickly exploited the sensational aspect of the diary that the U.S.-educated doctor, who professed a belief in Christ, may have killed wounded patients on the eve of the final attack.

Chicago Tribune on September 9, 1943, ran an article headlined: ''Japs Slew Own Patients on Attu, Diary Discloses.''

''How Japanese medical officers on Attu blew up their own field hospitals with grenades, killing the patients, and then killed themselves as American invaders tightened their hold on that Aleutian island late in May was revealed today in a bloodstained diary,'' the report said.

But people who knew Tatsuguchi passionately defended him in numerous publications, such as Loma Linda University School of Medicine Alumni Journal. They believed Tatsuguchi, a gentle and caring doctor was trapped in a situation beyond his control, but the true actions he took did not violate his religious and medical creed.

''I'm sure that he tried his very best under the extremely difficult circumstances,'' said Taeko.

Also, there are quite number of mistranslations of the diary, possibly caused by his handwriting or mistakes by translators and typists.

Since the original diary written in Japanese is still missing, we cannot know what exactly Tatsuguchi wrote or did on the final night of his life at this point.

In 1984, Charles Laird, a former U.S. sergeant, suddenly visited Taeko and Mutsuko at their Los Angeles home. Laird told them he fought the battle of Attu but he did not disclose the true purpose behind his visit at first.

''When I first saw him, I felt some uneasiness and asked Mutsuko to talk to him,'' said Taeko.

Laird later confessed to Mutsuko that ''I killed your father.''

The story Laird told Tatsuguchi's family about how he died was little different from what Hoffman told Taeko and what the media was reporting.

Laird was at the Engineer Hill, the final battlefield between two forces, when the Japanese troops desperately engaged in the final attack.

Suddenly, a man ran into his tent so he shot and killed him, but it was one of their own men. Then Laird spotted Japanese soldiers, eight of them approaching toward him in the fog so he shot them. Tatsuguchi was one of them. He found Tatsuguchi's diary and address book and submitted them to the commanding office. Laird was really shocked when he saw American names and addresses were written in Tatsuguchi's address book. Laird told Mutsuko that he still had flashbacks of the memory.

Several years later from his visit, Mutsuko wrote Laird a letter to tell him she and her mother hold no anger toward him any more.

''I am writing this letter to express even more completely my gratitude to you for coming to my home so many years ago, and ask you to let go of any feelings of guilt or pain your still have over what happened between you and my father at Attu. What happened there was neither your fault nor his,'' she wrote.

''Whatever happened out there that day, and whatever painful flashes of memory still visit you, I ask you to let them go. And I want you to know that the daughter and the wife of Paul Tatsuguchi both hold you in honor and gratitude for coming forward and visiting our home that day, and wish you peace and happiness,'' she concluded.

''It was precisely to the point. I don't mind telling you that your letter brought a tear to these 84-year-old eyes,'' said Laird in his return mail to Mutsuko dated March 15, 2001. ''I think she understands just what went on during the war,'' he wrote.

''I understand that it happened during the war and Mr. Laird too was ordered to fight against his enemy by his superior officer,'' said Taeko. ''War killed so many bright young people who could have tremendously contributed to the future of the countries. It's totally a waste of talents.''

At the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the English bible that he brought to Attu is preserved.

Inside the bible, there is a picture of Misako, her older daughter standing on the lawn, taken by Tatsuguchi and a dried flower of primrose from Attu.

But the most intriguing things are found on the blank space of inside cover. Tatsuguchi wrote there: ''therefore choose life Deut. 30:19,'' a quoted scripture from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, which probably was his favorite verse and served as his main guideline as a doctor and a person.

On the next page, he wrote down mottos, on medical tape which he used to secure the cover.

They say: ''Always the sun will shine...The most manifest sign of religion is cheerfulness...I would rather be sick than idle...There is no failure save in giving up... It's solemn thing to die, but it's far more solemn thing to live.''
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Aug 15, 2005
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