Friday, November 13, 2009

Jan Letzel, Hiroshima Atomic Dome Architect

Lowland corridors were my first impressions of the Czech Republic as I traveled by train from Sachsen, Germany to Bratislava, then on to Budapest, Hungary with stopovers in Prague and Pardubice. The northern border of Czech shares the Krkonose Mountains with Poland and is as high as 1,600 meters above sea level. The mountain ridges curb south to the right and comes down to an elevation of 1,000 meters, where part of Poland is surrounded by the Czech Republic. Nachod, the gateway to Poland and noted for Primator beer brand, is situated there and has a population of 22,000. In 2005, I visited the city, with the help of my Czech friend Jiri Psenicka, a Pardubice Toastmaster.

Jan Letzel (1880-1925) had been recognized by the Japanese as the designer/architect of the "Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall" (built in 1915) and the postwar "Hiroshima Atomic Dome" , with UNESCO designation. When Hiroshima celebrated Letzel's 100th birthday, Czech writer Olga Stolskova participated. Pavel Hayslore, Letzel's great great nephew was invited to Hiroshima on August 6. 2000. Thanks to the excellent pre-arrangements of my friend Jiri, I had a chance to visit Nachod's two year College of Architecture, which was named after Letzel in 2000, the same year Hiroshima celebrated Letzel's 100th birth year; the city of Nachod honored the architect as "Letzel Year".

Jiri drove his Czech car "Skoda" that day for me. We left Pardubice, where Jiri worked and lived with his family, early in the morning and headed for Nachod, about 80 kilometers northeast of Pardubice. It was a smooth, scenic country drive, after hitting a little morning traffic in the Industrial Hradec Kralove. Prinicpal Ing. Chraska met us in his room in the company of Vera Vlckova, the Englsih teacher in charge. They treated us to breakfast before we went to Vera's English class.In my address to the English class, I gave a brief talk on the "island" Japan, rich in marine and farm products, but exposed constantly to the threats of nature, such as seasonal typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis. I told them about the earthquakes that just hit Fukuoka after my departure and about northern Kyushu where I live, and the telephone conversation I had with my wife about the earthquake. I told the students that Jan Letzel himself experienced the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1925 that made him build the dome sturdy, which withstood even the atomic bomb. I emphasized that the Japanese people were determined not to be engaged in any war again so as not to repeat the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After my speech, I presented Japanese souvenirs that included fans, picture postcards, chopsticks. During the Q&A session, I was requested to demonstrate how to use chopsticks, and sing some typical Japanese songs. I sang the "Sukiyaki" song, a Japanese pop tune and "Sakura", the cherry blossom song.

After class, Ms. Vlckova took us to the grave site of Jan Letzel, then to the nearby castle on the hill. We had lunch at Masaryk Square (named after the first President and founder of Czechoslovakia, 1850-1937). She bit her lip when she spoke of the poor student exchange offers, despite her willingness to deepen ties with Japanese counterpart colleges. On our way back, Jiri drove me to Ceska Skalice, not far from Nachod. There is a national park and forest called Ratiborice and a summer palace a Bohemian lord built in the 18th century. It was off-season so we met no one while visiting. The brimming river was running through a scenic area with a water mill, cottages and dams.

Jiri pointed to the stone statue of a stooped grandma and children looking up to the sky, which depicted a scene from the book written by Bozena Nemcova (1820-1862). Bozena‘s two best known books are The Village under Mountains and The Grandmother (1855). The latter is about a young girl named Barunka (name is a pet form of Barbora) and her childhood with her grandmother in the countryside. Both books were inspired by Nemcova's own childhood in the village of Ratiborice, where she lived with her parents, siblings and maternal grandmother, Magdalena Novotna. Grandma, on her deathbed, asked the children to tell the bees her message. A couple of mock-up beehives can be seen on the slope of the river banks. The sprouting bare branches of poplar trees along the River Upa shone brilliantly in the sun.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Australian Connection Part 2

"The year was 1951. Yes, we were fighting the Korean War, but President Harry Truman called it a police action. We were fighting the Chinese communists on the central front, on the famous 38th parallel*, I was part of the 40th Division, 143rd Field Artillery Battalion 'B' Battery. My part in this war was to feed 150 men in the 'B' Battery three times a day."
- from the 143rd Field Artillery Korean War Web site (“Chow")

* 248 kilometers in length from northern Kosong down to southern Kanghwa Island with Chorwon in the middle; all hard-fought areas


Dick fought in the Korean War, joining the U.S. Army in 1947. First he was an infantry sergeant, someone on the ground seeing the reality of battle. His family recounted how he told the story of the time when over a million Chinese men attacked their forces, and they were fought off by brave U.S. defense forces. Dick saw the good and the bad of war, and was honored several times with a Purple Heart and Silver Star for Gallantry during his service. Shirley recalled Dick saying he lived on peanut butter alone for a number of days - that was the only food he could find then. After the war, he never went near the brown stuff for the next thirty years.

Then he became a supply sergeant, and he continued to develop skills of being meticulous, detailed, particular and precise about everything in his charge. In fact, when his superiors could find no fault with his work during an inspection (in the army at that time, you could not be shown as perfect because it meant you were as good as the general), he was marked down one point because the soles of his shoes were dirty!

My perception of the distant Korean War is:

1) It was the coldest war when Jack Frost invaded (I read veteran Daniel Wolfe’s Cold Ground’s Been My Bed), traveling frozen rivers in the ceaseless rain and/or snow; I saw at the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC a squad of 38 (representing 38 degrees dividing line borders) fully armed soldiers in patrol all clad in ponchos protecting and warming themselves from the cold and rain.2) There were long foot journeys that could easily wear down the sturdiest shoes. One marine from Camp Pendleton wrote that "all of the traveling around, worn out a pair of my boondockers and had holes in the shoe, I was glad to trade in mine when I found a pile of shoes and gear stacked around, probably somebody who was just shipped over was the previous owner". The roads were rugged and muddy.

3) There were fierce battles fought. When I was a student, there were rumors that many young students were drawn to U.S. base airports such as Yokohama, Itazuke (Fukuoka) because of highly paid jobs dealing with dead soldiers coming back from Korea.

The author of the Korean War story quotation at the top was a cook of a battalion. After his infantry duty, Dick became an A.S.C. (Army Service Corps) sergeant of a similar battalion, taking care of supplies. He returned to Fort Eustis, Virginia and met Sam Levin there. (Shirley told me that Sam attended Dick's funeral in Arlington.) I contacted Sam, with Shirley's permission, and asked him to describe Dick as his buddy. He didn't go to Korea, but worked for Dick in Fort Eustis right after Dick's homecoming.

He wrote me the following:

After Basic Training, I went to special supply training at Fort Lee, Virginia and then to a newly formed unit. As I had training in supply, I was assigned to the supply room as a clerk, to a Sgt. Thompson who (perhaps no fault of his own as the whole company was in a topsy-turvy mess from the top down) was relieved and replaced with a Sgt. Crawford, who after a few weeks, went AWOL. During this period I remained. It was during this early formation of a permanent unit that there was an arrival of returning overseas personnel from Korea which included Sgt. (Dick) Ettinger. This was my first contact with him. Immediately he went to work to put the supply room in order. In a matter of a month or so it was the envy of the battalion. We worked hand in hand for the unit and with other supply rooms on base. One incident that remains in my mind is the day Sgt. Ettinger was called to the orderly room by First Sgt. McNeely (with whom he did not always get along) for a conference. Well, when Sgt. Ettinger came back he was storming, slammed the door, threw the clipboard down, cussing in a dialect he must have picked up in Korea followed by name calling of the First Sgt., screaming “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I know the regulations better than him, I forgot more of these rules than he ever knew!” It was quite a funny sight to see Sgt. Ettinger so animated as he was very small and thin back then.

Later in my Army term I was sent to the Arctic Circle and Sarge was a short-termer (meaning he was due to be discharged soon, and therefore was not sent on long-term projects) and stayed behind. Upon my return I found that he had re-upped with the army and I was discharged a few months later. Sarge was evidently quite humble. Even though we knew each other for decades, I did not know of his decorations (Silver Star and Purple Heart) until his funeral.

While Dick was stationed in Fort Eustis, he was blessed to meet his better-half Shirley by strange but marvelous fortune. On his home leave to Harrisburg (all I know is that the city runs through Suskehanna and Republican Newt Gingrich is from there), Dick met two girls from Washsington D.C., Jean and Shirley who shared an apartment. Jean knew Dick as a family friend. Jean had her car fixed in Harrisburg on her previous trip home and asked Shirley, her roommate for a ride to pick up the repaired car. On their drive back to Washington, Dick hitched a ride to Eustis. Dick frequented Washington to visit the two girls but his real objective was to date Shirley.

Shirley recounted her visit to Eustis, "When I went down to Ft. Eustis, Va. for Thanksgiving Dinner, Dick showed me where his room was. It was a room all to himself and situated at the end of a long barracks building. His room had curtains at the windows, which I thought was unusual for a man in general and a soldier in particular. Dick must have impressed Shirley. I drove from Washington D.C. to Norfolk, Virginia recently and I remember passing Fort Eustis in Newport News and realized how close it was to Washington - ideal for dating!

After their marriage, the couple spent about five years in various U.S. bases in West Germany in the late 60s - Erlengen, Stutgart, Ulm, Heidelberg, ...etc. They chose to immigrate to Australia, not returning to the U.S. Shirley recalled her visit to her mother's home when racial tensions were flaring up in the streets of Washington, D.C. Based on experience living abroad, the couple felt better to explore family life in a new world such as Australia. They thought it would be better for Robert, their son, to grow up in an environment where there was little social inequities, no drug problems and low crime. The U.S. Consulate showed some concerns, but their decision was final.

Working for a local aluminum window and door frame company, Dick secured his home near Albany Creek and raised Robert until his retirement. Then the couple traveled a lot together every year to see different countries, including Japan. I heard, however, they did not go near the borders of communist countries. I know Dick's strong stance against the communists. I wrote previously that the couple had been visiting the U.S. almost every year and I thought it was for Ham(Radio)Fest and Conventions, but he had other duties to perform as Master Mason and as an American Legion veteran (joined both organizations in ‘60s). I have heard that they often headed for Dayton, Indianapolis or Columbia, South Carolina.

This year, Dick made his last visit to the U.S., accompanied by Shirley and Robert. The urn that contained Dick ashes was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. Shirley wrote that the chaplain in charge surprised her by giving an excellent eulogy for Dick, after a little chat with Shirley about Dick, prior to proceeding.Back in Albany Creek, Brisbane, Shirley started to go through the files Dick had left. She wrote "I'm still going through Dick's papers. Dick really kept things in very neat order. Each folder was titled as to its contents, but there was so much and so many folders." I have to admire his filing skills compared to my messy study.

He is buried in Arlington as a decorated veteran, but I wonder if he was happier as a civilian. There is a saying, “You know you are Australian when you understand a group of Aussie's women wearing black thongs refers to footwear and is less alluring than it sounds." Dick said thongs when referring to the Japanese Tabi socks. He was an Australian.

Let me quote Joy Wornes' poem, "Wattle Blooms After Rain", to conclude my tribute to Dick.

"This land we call Australia, is home sweet home to me,
Wherever I may wander sweet is the memory of silver sands,
the ocean roam, tall trees and wide sparse plains,
But of all the lasting images, it's wattle blooms after rain."

Dick, thank you for the Summit Sunday brunch on Mt. Coot-Tha. I enjoyed my brunch with a great view of Brisbane in the distance, the highlight of my Australian trip.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Australian Connection

"Shirley, my heartfelt condolence to you in the passing of Dick. I know he was a fighter and persevered through adversity. I admired his courage. My sympathy to you, Shirley, who took care of him 'til the last. We lived during the same war days and shared moments of joys after the war. Our life paths met in Nagasaki in the l980s. We were good friends ever since. Praying peace in his soul." - Rio (sent March 6, 2009)


Encountering people when traveling sometimes brings you a life-time friend and lots of joy. I met Dick and Shirley in Nagasaki, Japan in the mid '80s. I was then visiting my sister-in-law in Kyushu from the U.S. Usually, I made quick U-turns, but I had one free day to spare alone and decided to visit Nagasaki, the second city hit by an A-Bomb. I've been to Hiroshima but not to Nagasaki.

Upon arriving at the Nagasaki Station, I jumped on the sightseeing bus that was already moving. I stumbled into the rear seat. I felt at ease to see a foreign couple there and we exchanged nods. We were the only foreign visitors on the bus. The woman bus guide spoke in Japanese. I served as a translator for the couple as we cruised Nagasaki. I found that Nagasaki is the No. 1 city in Kyushu visited by foreign visitors today, so plenty of translators should be serving these days, I'm sure.

I remember our bus first visited Nagasaki's Hypocenter Park, where we saw a 10 meter tall (30 ft) young man's bronze statue, surrounded by an orderly gallery of peace monuments given as gifts from numerous foreign countries and sister cities of Nagasaki, including St. Paul, Minnesota, Middleburg, Netherlands, and Santos, Brazil. The central bronze statue took 10 years to build by the city of Nagasaki at a cost of 30 million yen (donation came from Japanese citizens) for the statue and another 20 million yen (budgeted by Nagasaki) for the statue foundation.
Sculptor Seibo Kitamura was quoted as saying, "I wanted to create a sage, towering like a mountain, seen as god or as Buddha as the case may be, I wanted him healthy and brawny." His right hand points towards the heaven, signifying the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, his left hand is extended outward symbolizing the continuous quest for peace.

The bus then took us to see a bit of Temple Row and China Town and the last stop was the former residence and garden of Thomas Glover* (1838-1911). We walked together inside the garden, and to the "Oura" Catholic Church nearby. During this day trip, I found out husband Dick was raised in Pennsylvania, went to the Korean War, and moved to Australia after retiring from the U.S. Army. We exchanged names and addresses.

We started writing to each other, but my letters were answered always by Shirley. I found out she was a court reporter. Answering my handwritten letters, she typed her letters always on "air-mailers." They were very professionally typed and I showed them to my American secretaries as a great example of a speed-written memo.

Topics of our casual exchanges started with the trees native or quasi-native to Australia. The Jacaranda is one, Moreton Bay Fig is another. I saw Jacarandas in Southern California for the first time. Jacarandas served as a substitute tree to cherry blossoms for us Japanese. I learned Jacaranda is native to Brazil but we also can find it in South Africa, Australia, Okinawa, Taiwan, etc. Shirley told me there is a Jacaranda festival in Queensland.

Moreton Bay Fig is a big tree, like the Banyan tree in the Lahaina Court House Square in Hawaii, and became a landmark tree in South California, namely Santa Barbara and San Diego. Shirley wrote back there is a beach actually named "Moreton Bay," in northern Brisbane, where they live. I dreamed that some day I would visit there.

My dream came true in the late '90s. My first visit to the country Down Under. I flew into Brisbane and flew out of Melbourne. I took the train between the two airports, stopping over at Grafton for the Jacaranda Festival and toured Sydney with the help of Dick and Shirley. In Brisbane, they offered me their son's room. They drove me to Moreton Bay, where Brisbane River drains into, and to Manly and Scarborough, both noted for their boat harbors, facing the off-shore Moreton Island National Park. The island is shaped like a battledore or a Chinese broadsword, about 20 kilometers in length from north to south, featuring the world's tallest sand dunes. Captain Matthew Flinders (1799-1802) explored the area on his Norfolk ship and left an accurate bay chart. Brisbane celebrated a Bicentennial Anniversary in 2002 for Flinders. I had an opportunity to attend their son Robert's commencement from college before leaving.

Dick showed me his authentic DX equipment in his den, his QSL (Quebec Sign Language) VK4DIC calling card and a towering antenna he erected by himself in his backyard. He had requested certain replacement parts and magazines from the U.S. specialty stores while I was in the U.S., so I knew about his life hobby and introduced him to some of my Japanese DXing friends. Shirley wrote that he continued to call "Greetings from Queensland, Australia" until his dying day, maintaining good friendship with his many "airwave" friends.

Dick liked to wear Japanese split toe "Tabi Socks" in the house. Once he got used to it, he was unable to do without it. About two years ago, Shirley sent me an email as follows:

Dick and I brought back lots of the slippers from Japan years ago. At long last Dick has run out of them. He wears them in the house, so I call them “slippers.” He calls them “thongs” because he says they can be worn outside the house. They are black for men and white for women. The material that they are made of is cotton with slightly tougher material on the bottom. They have four small metal tabs at the back of the part of the slipper that is over the ankle. On these small metal tabs Dick found the number “10” which may have indicated size. They are made in such a way that the big toe is individually covered and the other four toes are covered together.

I remembered Dick was quite agile in the Tabi socks. I sent them spare Tabis quickly as my personal gifts, confirming the size. It's the same size that I use.

After retiring as the court reporter, Shirley became active in the Shirley Club organization not only for Australia but also New Zealand. This organization consists of ladies all named Shirley and they get together every two years for a convention. Shirley said, as per Guinness Book of World Records, the Maria Club is No. 1 with about 500 members followed by the Shirley Club with about 300 members. At one convention Shirley had the biggest attendance of 230. Shirley, serving as secretary, has been busy in sending out birthday cards, membership newsletters, etc.

Shirley and Dick were visiting the U.S. almost every year. My wife and I were doing the same so I wanted to have a special reunion maybe in California or Hawaii. One time we were close to realizing our plan but it did not happen. I also looked forward to seeing them this summer because Toastmasters was planning to meet in Sydney but canceled suddenly. It would have been the first convention in Toastmasters history taking place outside of North America. One of the reasons for cancellation may have been the worldwide depression.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

DMZ Korean River called "Imjingan"

The newspaper reported sad news recently that music producer and composer Kazuhiko Kato, 62 years old, was found dead at the Karuizawa hotel in Nagano. The cause appeared to be premeditated suicide. I vaguely remember him as a member of the popular Folk Crusaders group in the late '60s that hit Japan, first with the best selling record "I Only Lived Twice", a parody of James Bond’s "You Only Live Twice". The group's second song "Imjin River" impressed the fans but because the song originated in North Korea, sales and performances were voluntarily suspended because Japan had no diplomatic relations with North Korea or DPPR. My whole family moved to the U.S. in the early '70s so I lost touch with the Japanese music scene.

Stuck in my memory, however, is the name "Imjin", the name of the river flowing in the DMZ between the two Koreas and the name of the fierce battleground of the Korean War (1950-1953). While in the U.S., I befriended a number of Japanese Americans who fought in Korea, including some Japanese who obtained U.S. citizenship and U.S. education as veterans of the Korean War. One of the photos I obtained from one of them shows a Korean father in "paggi" and his son in trousers, carrying hay, towering above them on their backs, crossing the frozen Imjin River. The photo was somewhat poetic, reflecting the postwar respite, and very symbolic of the country, burdened with recovery after the war.

When I read about composer Kato, my memory of Imjin River returned and I wanted to explore what happened after the song came out during the years I was away from Japan (1970-2000).

There was not a whole lot of information. Nothing had changed much between Japan and DPPR. The diplomatic relations actually got worse when the issue over Japanese abductions got so contentious, talks essentially came to a halt. Exploring on Google, some facts were revealed and changed my preconceptions. Another Folk Crusade member, Takeshi Matsuyama, grew up in Kyoto in the neighborhood of Korean Town, playing soccer with Korean children. One day Takeshi heard a pretty song coming from the nearby pro-Pyongyang Chongryong school (there are a little over 200 such schools throughout Japan, getting subsidies from DPPR) and asked his friend to translate it into Japanese. Takeshi Matsuyama, together with the late Kaz Kato made it part of their repertoire. After the song was banned, Takeshi Matsuyama wrote a novel inspired by the song.

Amazingly Takeshi Matsuyama’s story was adapted into a movie called Pacchigi! (Korean title meaning "We shall overcome some day") with "Imjin River" as the theme music, directed by Kazuyuki Izutsu. The movie picked up many accolades in 2007, including Best Film at the Japanese Blue Ribbon Awards. It is a serio-comic Romeo and Juliet romance set in Kyoto in the '60s, starring Shun Shioya as a naive high school boy and Erika Sawajiri as the cute-but-tough "zainichi" (ethnic Korean living in Japan) girl with whom he falls in love. This year, a stage version with the same director and music opened and it is being well received. The play has a new set of actors and actresses, both Japanese and Korean, at the New National Theater in Tokyo.

To conclude, let me introduce Pak Se-yeong (1902-1989), songwriter of "Imjingan", born in Kyeonggi-do, the most populous province in South Korea which includes Seoul, who became famous as the writer of DPPR's national anthem. (Ko Jonghang's name is given as the composer of Imjingan)

Pak sang:

Birds come and go and freely commute
But I can't follow birds to my own town despite my yearning wish

Birds sadly sing in the reed marsh 'cross the river
People suffering lean crop and digging grass roots

Kolkhoz blessing us with golden rice crop and dances o'er the river
Nobody can block the river flow and surge

The second verse is interpreted as Pak's glorification of DPPR. It just so happens that not long ago the Imjin overflowed and flooded towns downstream. Half a dozen Southern Koreans died. Countering a South Korean claim that the cause was a dam water release, DPPR reportedly stated that it was unintentional.