River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Memories Shaken - Not Stired

February 2003

Part 3

The Okinawa Peace museum covers a massive area. From the steps leading down to the gardens we could see row upon endless row of large flat black granite slabs, which stretched as afar as the eye could see. Each slab was engraved with the names of everyone who had died fighting there. They were mainly Americans but there were also other allies including 80 British men who lost their lives there.

Once inside I was mesmerised. I watched original newsreel footage of the invasion and some of the exhibits really focussed my mind. In one setting a family was sheltering in a cave; it showed a young woman nursing her baby and holding her hand over its mouth to stop it making a noise while a Japanese soldier stood menacingly over her with rifle and fixed bayonet. There were scenes of women and children being driven out of caves with the soldiers hiding behind them ready to open fire on the Americans. Others starved to death as the soldiers took their food or died from arsenic poison in their drink while others died from lethal injections after being used on defence work.

I came away from the museum knowing for certain that I could never forgive my captors. These exhibits of true happenings show them for the vile abhorrent creatures that they were. Strange as it may seem, I felt better for this visit. My mind clear, I knew that the present day Japanese people should not have to suffer for what happened in the past. Many of the modern Japanese have become Christians and are horrified to learn of the atrocities carried out by their army after learning of the true facts at last.

We attended a service held in the gardens for the British who are buried there; the resident American priest reading out the names of 80 men, all sailors, no doubt victims of a kamakasi plane, I expect. Before leaving I walked over to the now sacred fenced off site where Okinawan women threw their children off the cliff before themselves jumping to their deaths, as ordered to do so by the Japanese and not, as I had previously understood, of their own free will.

On the way back to the coach I was approached by two young Japanese ladies with note pads asking if I would mind being interviewed. Apparently, they were to write an article for a newspaper. They asked my views of the museum and the park, Japan and it's people etc. We travelled back to our hotel, our last day in Okinawa, and prepared for what turned out to be a sumptuous 7 course meal at a restaurant on the top floor overlooking the city. A lovely relaxed evening, which had to end because we had the inevitable cases to pack!

The following morning, as we entered the breakfast room, a waiter guided us to a secluded table. Shortly after, the tour organiser joined us holding a Japanese national newspaper, which had printed my comments when interviewed. This she read to me then gave the newspaper to me to keep. Soon after, we were boarding our coach again for our journey to the airport. Our flight took off at 11.45am and arrived at Tokyo at 1.55pm.

Back on a coach, we headed for Yokahama and the grand Continental hotel. The remainder of the day was free so out first priority was to sort out the cases. We needed clothing for the following two days; tomorrow we would be meeting a Japanese family who we would stay with over night. That done, we had a shower and rest. Feeling refreshed we left the hotel for a walk around town. The evening was pleasant and the streets were busy with Japanese out for the evening. We felt at ease as always when holidaying abroad, with not a European in sight. I was surprised that I felt this so soon. I had worried about my reactions when coming face to face with these people but needn't have. Worms began to bite so we looked for somewhere to eat. We came to a large busy restaurant with a facia, which said "Salad, seafood and steak"; we decided to give it a try. There were a few people sitting in the entrance, so we joined them. We didn't have long to wait before we were shown to a table. Despite the language difficulty, we had no problems ordering and enjoyed a meal of steak, vegetables, a carafe of wine, fruit and coffee. Back at the hotel I weighed myself! I had gained five pounds since leaving home.

We were collected next morning and taken to a park, where there were large conservatories full of tropical plants, exotic blooms and large pools of Koi carp and other varieties of fish. We then continued our journey to a modern built church situated on the hillside, there were many people waiting to greet us on arrival. Lunch had been prepared after which we were offered a trip to a nearby nursery or a walk in the gardens, Lena and I opted for the nursery visit.

Returning to the church, we were told there were rest rooms upstairs. Lena and another lady took advantage of this offer until dinner was ready to be served. This we shared with our hosts, who then took us by car to their home, where we were made welcome. One thing I found strange was that the gate opened out onto the road. The front door also opened outwards, which seemed rather hazardous as one tended to step backwards out of the way and could easily tumble down the steps. We were introduced to the eldest son, who arrived home later that evening. He had studied in America for two years, so spoke fluent English, which made conversing so much easier. Bed time we were shown to our room, which adjoined the lounge. We were to sleep on a rice straw futon. My last experience of sleeping on one of these was 54 years ago in a hotel, when a friend and I were trying to reach Tokyo after the war and were impatient to get home. The rice paper covered sliding doors were also similar. We didn't sleep well that night, missing our soft comfortable beds.

After breakfast our hostess took us for a walk, the area rather hilly and built up. Soon it was time to return to the church, where a service of reconciliation was to be held. Before the service began, I was asked if I would accept an apology from the Pastor on behalf of his people, for the treatment we had suffered. I agreed that I would. After prayers and hymns, we were given small translators with earpieces, which fitted into the pocket, nearby a large TV screen. We were then shown and heard of atrocities carried out by the military, of beatings, broken limbs, people strung upside down from branches, severed heads and more. A book was shown, the title "The Black Years". This narration continued for nearly two hours before I was asked to join the Pastor, who then asked if I would accept his apology. I replied "Yes". He then went down on his hands and knees wailing and chanting for a considerable time. I must admit to feeling rather uneasy. He eventually rose and embraced me, shook hands and thanked me.

The congregation, around 300 people, then gathered around us, the women crying, hugging and kissing us, the men hugging and begging forgiveness, very emotional. We then lunched together, the ladies as always taking good care of us and feeding us too well.

I had been asked to speak after lunch about my treatment as a POW, but during the meal I decided that these people had had enough of that. They were not responsible for what had taken place. I felt rather ashamed of the bad feeling I had held. They had worked timelessly on our behalf. Instead I told them how much I appreciated the goodwill and kindness that had been shown to us POWs since our arrival in Japan. How pleased I was that I had made the journey and the high regard I felt for them. I spoke of fate. I told them how fortunate I had been to survive the mine collapse and how unfortunate the man, who had been burned so horribly, who I attended for a few hours and had died a few hours after, six days before the war ended. Neither of us had any control over our destiny. I spoke of the leaders of countries, who decide to start these wars but never take an active part in leading the men and women, who do the suffering and dying.

I finished by saying that I hoped that wars were now a thing of the past, a futile hope obviously. Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to our friends and head back to our hotel. During the journey, we were told we were to visit a park and gardens the following day. If anyone would rather have the day off after such a hectic schedule, they were at liberty to do so: Lena and I decided to do just that, we felt very tired.

Back in our room, we made a cup of tea, had a chat and rested. Refreshed, we met up with a member of our travelling companions, who had asked if they could come with us to the restaurant we had found two nights before. Apparently most of them that night had dined at a MacDonald's.

After an enjoyable relaxing meal, we headed back to our hotel and soft bed.

To be continued...

Frank Planton (Joe Japan)

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