Sunday, August 5, 2012

Burma aka Myanmar

I had a gut feeling that I was less than 200 miles (280 km) east of Myitkyina, Burma when I traveled to Dali, Yunnan, China. Yes, that's on the Allied Forces supply road to rescue Chiang Kai-Shek in Chongqing, Sichuan, during WWII. The reason I remember these foreign names is because of the map we used to draw at school with the rising sun flag where the Japanese Imperial armies occupied: Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, etc. However, in order to shut the above Burma Supply Road, the Japanese Army dared an impossible invasion into Assam, India, through the steep Arakan Mountains, with heavy guns, munitions, and limited supplies of medicines and miscellaneous necessary needs. A mere ideological tactic (Allied called it a folly), dismissing oppositions and negative factors such as the rainy season, and malaria. The Allied named it the Battle of Kohima and the Japanese coded it Imphal Operations. The battle ended in a death toll of 85,600 * Japanese soldiers; almost a total defeat, succumbing to thirst and hunger, terrible sickness, appalling dysentery (per battle records) and bones laying along the retreat road.

Myitkyina, capital of Katin, northernmost province of Burma, occupied by the Japanese, was retaken by General Stilwell, (1883-1946), a West Point graduate, the Allied Commander, more well known as Vinegar Joe.

Very few records of the war exist because most of the soldiers at the front perished. One best selling fiction Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama released right after the war became a movie and I had to see it. It was a tearjerker all throughout. One defected Japanese soldier became a monk to bury and mourn for dead friends. Takeyama, who had no war experience, claimed he wrote a children's story, fantasizing the battleground as a "Home Sweet Home" chorus competition between British and Japanese armies.

Mr. Koichi Tsukamoto (1920-1998), the founder and manufacturer of Wacol, Kyoto women’s apparel, was one of three survivors out of a 55 man platoon.

I recently read a sad story that one Japanese soldier sought shelter at his Burmese friend's house as he had no family in Japan. While he was taken care of by his friend's daughter, the two got on well. Everything seemed to be going alright, until one day he ventured out to see a dentist (he claimed he couldn't stand his toothache) and was caught by the police and sent to a concentration camp. Eventually he was sent back to Japan. He tried to recontact his Burmese family, but was out of luck.

Decades later, he learned through the news media that his son in Burma was looking for him. The reason he got no response from Burma was because the family was ostracized from the village for hiding a Japanese defector.

I was about to move on to another story when I saw a book titled: And I survived in Burma by Kojima Shoichi (1920-), published in 2011 in Fukuoka, which led me to pursue the war aftermath a bit more. Kojima lives in Fukuoka; actually his parents lived in Kitakyushu, where I now live. He fought in two wars, Guadalcanal and Kohima, both losing battles. I could tell that he was born under an unlucky star.

The 124th Battalion was from Fukuoka. At the Guadalcanal landing (Aug 1942), he wrote: the carrying boat was shipwrecked on the coral reef while fleeing from the Allied Air night raids, 300 meters away from the seashore. Soldiers had to swim to shore. On landing alone, one third of the battalion was lost. On the island during fighting, he injured his leg and was unable to walk. His Hancho advised him that they had to move on without him. He made a wooden stick for a cane in order to follow, limping. The retreat order came and they left Guadalcanal on January 1943. The 4,000 Fukuoka Battalion had only 200 soldiers left, all with injuries and health issues of some kind.

I had read that former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (1941-) listed Guadalcanal Diary written by Richard William Tregaskis (1916-1973), as one of his favorite books. I wonder why he specifically mentioned it. I'll read it when I finish reading Kojima's story.

The 200 Fukuoka survivors were then sent to Saigon on June 1943 to be incorporated into 34th Army Division for the Impahl Operations, but he redeveloped malaria which he suffered in Guadalcanal. He was sent to a Hong Kong Hospital from Saigon for special treatment. When he recuperated, he traveled alone to catch up with his troop via railroad, and random rides available, which led through retreating routes.

I was impressed with his way of thinking that you can't walk the ocean back from Guadalcanal, but once you were on the continent, the road led to Japan. Even limping, he had the fortitude to continue walking. He and two friends walked over 1,000 kilometers to Chiangmai, Thailand. He was very thankful for all the help and alms from local Burmese along the way.


*This figure was taken as the most reliable number from the "Museum of Kohima" of York (UK) Website - "85,600 Japanese soldiers participated in the Imphal Mission, 30,000 died in action, of starvation and illness and 20,000 were injured or succumbed to malnutrition and illness. The road between Kohima and Imphal was called ‘White Bone Road’ on which lay the remains of many corpses in military uniform who have never been taken back to their home."

A monument was built at the Kohima site with the script: "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today", a British soldier inspired by the Greek poet Simonides' (556-468 BC) epitaph "Oh, stranger, tell the Spartans that we live here obedient to the world." See the photos of Kohima Bridge (battle zero ground), and the Monument.

The same website has a link to Sato Memorial, posted on Feb 13, 2012, by Akiko MacDonald, Honorary Secretary of Burma Campaign Society, related with the Anglo-Japan Alliance.


Paul Dion, STL said...

Thank you for bringing these touching historical to life for us who are never exposed to the truths that you write. To paraphrase the saying you used in your post, I say "my today is enriched by the open soul of a person like you who fears not the power of yesterday."
Thanks, Rio. My best wishes to your lovely wife.

riodan said...

Dear Paul,
Aug 15, 1945 was the day Japan unconditionally surrendered to the
Allied Forces, V-day for
Americans. 67 years ago. For the Japanese, this is the time to meet
our ancestors
(they return to us on Bon Season) and mourn for them. We mourn for the dead souls and renew our resolution not to make the same mistakes ever again.

Burma was the gate of the so-called "Aid Chiang Route". In the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S.
had backed (even before the Japan - U.S. War broke out) the government of the Chinese National Party led by Chiang Kai-shek by providing military supplies. Japan occupied Burma, so the gate had to
move to India.

It was an awful loss for both winners and losers, speaking only of the battle of Kohima. the remote
mountainous border of Assam.  

Thank you for rephrasing the memorial epitaph of Kohima. I like it very much. I appreciate your sincere comments. Thank you.