From: Oregon, USA
March 26, 1945
Attached to: None
Mission: Disbanded in port
System Damage: 0
Float Damage: 0
Orders: Await further orders
Wars end, though war goes on. The guns fall silent. And when the echoes of their thunder die away what remains are the quiet places, the hallowed places, the places where the dead are buried.
Stand at Arlington while the bugler plays “taps” and listen as the last notes echo and fade among the endless rows of headstones. Walk at Flanders Fields amid the neat rows of white crosses, where the poppies still blow. Stand at Groesbeek, at Brookwood, any place where the fallen are honored. There are such places in every nation. Wars end. But the dead remain.
The dead, perhaps, are beyond caring. They have given everything they were, or might have been, in service to their country and passed on. It is given to those of us who remain to honor them, to tend their graves, and to remember who they were and why they died.
We may judge the cause for which they fought, debate the wisdom of their leaders, and argue about the course of the battles in which they fell. But we should never forget. For in forgetting we diminish not only who they were and why they died, we diminish ourselves. When service and courage and honor are neglected the soul is left threadbare. If there is ever to be a time when we no longer have to dig fresh graves to receive the broken bodies of those who died in war, we should never forget.
For the Japanese, the dead have not departed. The spirits of the deceased are ever-present. Yasukuni shrine is more than a memorial, more than a museum. It is the home of the spirits of those who have died in service to the Emperor.
The belief in the spirits of the dead has waned in recent decades and is less powerful for those of Jomei’s generation than it is for men like his great-grandfather. Nonetheless, as Jomei and Shiro walk under the thirty-meter tall steel tori’i that leads onto the grounds Jomei cannot help feeling as though he is in the presence of something powerful. Perhaps it is the somber and grand scale of the place.
As they stop at the massive granite water trough to ritually purify themselves before proceeding further Jomei notices something else. His great-grandfather is wearing his uniform, and though the old man is stooped and the uniform hangs on his bony frame the people here are all treating him with great respect. Jomei knows the old man as a kindly whittler and vaguely knows that he was a successful furniture craftsman but this respect is something new. He has read his book, of course, and talked with him about the war, but for the first time he really begins to connect the old man he knows with the man who sailed with Ishii, with Shun, and who saw so many of the battles of the Great Pacific War.
Having poured water over their hands and rinsed their mouths the two Kuramatas proceed through a wooden gate hinged with a massive pair of doors that would not have looked out of place in a medieval castle. Old and young, walking together, they enter the grounds.
It is some hours later. Jomei and Shiro sit on a bench while Shiro rests before they proceed to the railway station and the Shinkansen train that will take them back to Tendo. Though it has been a long afternoon Jomei notes that his great-grandfather seems less tired than he would expect from the exertions of the day. The old man, in fact, seems quite alert as he turns a bright eye towards Jomei.
“Well, Jomei-san, what do you think?” he asks. Jomei pauses a moment, choosing his words.
“I am not sure, Great-Grandfather,” he says. In truth he is delighted and awed all at once. The museum was amazing and Jomei could have spent hours more there. But something of the grandeur and sorrow of the place has seeped into him as well and left him more thoughtful than usual for a fifteen-year-old boy. He struggles to put this into words.
“It makes the stories and the history seem more real,” he says at last. “Less like stories more like something that really happened. I mean, I always knew it really happened but…now I know it more. You know? And it all seems less exciting and more…something else.” He trails off.
“I think maybe you do understand,” his great-grandfather says. He pats the boy on the shoulder with a hand that is still strong and callused. “Come on then, boy, we have to get you home before your mother starts fretting about you.” They get to their feet.
“She isn’t going to worry about me,” Jomei scoffs. “She’s going to worry about you.”
The elder Kuramata gives a chuckle. “I guess you’re right about that,” he says. The two begin to walk away. And whether any fond and familiar spirits bid Shiro farewell as he leaves none can really say.
< Message edited by Cuttlefish -- 5/14/2009 10:02:07 PM >