The Fate Of War
The pages of history often take a great deal of time to turn. Recently the pages turned for the final time in the lives of two men separated by an ocean and countries.Neither of these two men sought to be written into the pages of history, but the events of World War II changed all that nearly 70 years ago.
Last year, on the evening news, I watched a story about a retired Navy man who met with President Obama in Washington. He was honored at the White House on Memorial Day; his name was Lt. John Finn. You may not have heard of John, but he was one of several awarded the Medal of Honor after the attack on the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay in December of 1941.
The second man I learned about in the news at about the same time lived in Japan, his name was Tsutomu Yamaguchi. He was named by his government as the only person officially recognized to have survived both Atomic bombs dropped on to Japan.
Tsutomu died at the age of 93 in January of this year and John died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 100. My interests in history lead me last year to look into the lives of these two men. Their stories are in two different chapters in the history of the Second World War, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the war.
John enlisted in the Navy a little before his 17th birthday. Before the war he served in the Panama Canal Zone, China, the Philippines, and on ships in the North Atlantic. His assignment in 1941 was at Kaneohe Bay as ordinance chief for a PBY Catalina flying boat.
As Japanese planes attacked the air station John found a 50-caliber machine gun and began to fight off the invading planes. For over two hours he manned the gun from an instructional platform that gave him no cover from the enemy. During the attack he was wounded several times by bullet and bomb fragments.
It was only after specific orders did Chief Petty Officer Finn leave his gun and seek medical treatment.According to the Medal of Honor citation. “Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes.” John was the oldest of the 97 Medal of Honor recipients still living from the war until a short time ago.
“All I ever was, was an old swab jockey. . . What I did I was being paid for.” That was how John saw his part in history that Sunday morning in 1941. John received a battlefield commission to lieutenant during the war. He left the active Navy in 1947 and served in the reserves until his retirement in 1956.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in the city of Hiroshima on business in August 1945. He worked as a draftsman designing oil tankers since the 1930s. He and two colleagues were scheduled to return home on August 6, 1945. He had forgotten something at work and was returning with it to the dock area when the Enola Gay dropped the bomb on the center of the city. He remembered seeing the plane and two small parachutes in the sky before the explosion. He was three kilometers away from the city center. The bomb damaged his ear drums, temporally blinded him, and burned the left side of his body. He spent the night in an air raid shelter and returned home to Nagasaki to seek treatment the next day.
Three days later on August 9 at 11 a.m. Tsutomu had returned to his place of employment and was describing to his supervisor about the tremendous explosion he experienced in Hiroshima when Nagasaki was bombed. This time he was uninjured by the second bomb’s explosion. The damage to the city prevented him from being able to find medical treatment for burns he experienced from the first bomb. Over the next few weeks he developed medical complication from his injuries.
After the war ended he served as translator for the occupying American forces and after that became a schoolmaster.
Tsutomu was only recognized for many years as a survivor of the Nagasaki attack by the Japanese government.
But in January 2009 he applied for recognition as a double survivor of the country’s two atomic bombs. In March of the same year, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was officially recognized by his government as having survived both bombings. It is known there were others survivors of both blasts, but only Tsutomu is recognized in Japan for his presence at both events.
I guess my love of history found these two men’s stories of interest because of their profound moments in history. John Finn stood tall in the face of the enemy as the first bombs of World War II fell around him and Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived the last bombs to fall in the war. These separate events of war secured their place in history.The two men did not seek the pages of our two countries history, but the bombs of war and the fates chose them both for a place in history.
The story of war is never a simple one. It is often told ina thousanddifferent human stories that becomeinterwoven into the complex pages of history.
Lives are sometimes changed by being somewhere in time and overcome by the events in the world.
Today our American soldiers are in far places defending our country. And the reality is a bomb somewhere in the dangerous world will change a life.
Just as those bombs did nearly 70 years ago for John and Tsutomu. The history of yesterday is often the window of tomorrow as I look Thru the Lens.