Diary. March 10, 2005.
Breakfast, an egg sandwich, two gout pills and a painkiller for my headache. Skipped nap as the workers came in the afternoon fo fix the internet. Daughter insisted that I learn the computer, but still can’t get along with it. I prefer handwritten words. One more thing in the afternoon. John had called to confirm my attendance for the US-Japan Veterans Meeting. They might be holding the meeting either in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or the Port of Yokosuka, Japan. This had reminded me some of the older days.
Today is actually a quite special day, for I had first met Yang, to some extend, as we did not really meet in person.
60 years back then, the 20-year-old me was gripping the gun tightly with my frozen fingers in the aircraft, as few enemy planes roared by in the darkness, where far below, the whole Tokyo area was engulfed in flames. I shared the wearing weight of massacre, though I was not in charge of pushing the bombing button. Yang said that this was the “Karma” that we all shared. He had turned to Buddhism at old age, and we shared about Dharma since. When I was up in the freezing air, holding tensely and staring fixedly at the front sight of my gun, Yang was only a 16-year-old young kid from Taichung, Taiwan, but already a maker of “Thunderbolt”, the fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. These aircrafts he produced in the Koza Arsenal, Japan, were the targets of my front sight.
War had ended several months later, after the devastating incident of the Tokyo fire. I met Yang in person at the Atsuki naval base, which was just beside the dormitory of the Koza Arsenal. Our troop had occupied and taken over the base. Commander had demanded the kids, the former plane makers whom were all then unemployed as the war had ended, to clean up the aircraft wreckage. These young men were so energetic that they finished the work in a blink. But thought provoking was that, they were still the makers of these debris not long ago, and also, they, who were from the victorious nation, spoke yet fluently in the tongue of the defeated.
Yang and I were acquainted in Japan under such circumstances. War was over, people were scattered and dispersed, and the officers of Koza Arsenal were also disbanded, where only the lads from Taiwan were left there. After they cleared away the debris, the only matter remained was to seek attempt to get onto the returning ships to Taiwan. Poles apart was the life before, when situations was constantly pressing, and unceasingly was the work assembling those planes. During the times when we were twiddling our thumbs, we few youngsters had hid between the spaces of the plane wreckage, creating a little secret retreat, where we shared chocolates and canned peas from the American troop, while Yang and other Taiwanese would bring apples from the Aomori prefecture. How they managed to obtain these particular goods, I had never known. The rising-sun emblem on the aircraft wing had curtained over the dazzling sun, as we were all laid back and at ease, like we were enjoying summer vacations that no longer exist. We had even run into the lads on the streets of Yokohama during our leaves. Yang recollected that he had loved most the donburi in Nankin-machi, which was such luxurious indulgence during the shortages after war. A few months later, the ship that they had long awaited was finally available, and they all sailed back to Taiwan.
Wind in Chicago rattles my window, while having missed my nap had made me drowsy. Memories always come flooding in as drowsiness creeps. Fate had brought us upon chance encounter in the US military club in Taipei suburb, 20 years after our parting. “Fate” was also the term in Dharma that Yang told me. In 1966, Yang was speaking fluent English and was a captain in the US military club, when I had only retreated from the hellish Vietnam to Taipei for a break and to wait for my retirement. I was the captain of the UH-1H Iroquiois Helicopter company, and by the time I left Vietnam, half of my unit brothers were dead or disabled. Sitting then in the livened up club, I stared blankly at the singing and dancing Taiwanese young women, and could only felt out of time.
Combating missions had torn both my body and my mind, and I wished desperately only for the bloody retirement order. Drinking with Yang in the club had become one of my few comforts. He had returned home after the days in Koza Arsenal, where his parents welcomed him with tears of joy. But, the new government of his homeland did not welcome him as the family did. What awaited him after the war was not peace, but the bloodshed of February 28 Incident. Past experiences at the Japanese Naval Arsenal had become inconvenient burden for Yang. But, how living experiences and memories could be disposed easily like the scrap metals at the Atsuki base?
The Kuomintang regime had declared martial law in Taiwan to suppress Communist influences. Incited fear and panic had thus severely divided the people. Yang had forced to identify himself from a Japanese to a Chinese under such enormous pressure.
“I have to speak in English with you, for others would not understand if they are listening.”
“Lots of my fellow in Koza had been arrested. Those Chinese armies are snatching people from streets without reasons,” said Yang with his teeth grinding in hatred. The American military club had been his refuge for freedom of speech, but there were always military police outside the door.
“I was so lost when i came back to Taiwan. I speak only Taiwanese and Japanese, but out of sudden, you could only speak Pekingese to find yourself a job. I had dreamt of becoming a mechanic, but couldn’t find any job after returning from Japan, and could even land myself in jail for doing simply anything! I started to doubt that if it was a mistake to come back.”
“I had to act like I know nothing. Fellows from Koza could only contact each other in private.”
“Those in lead had always shouted to fight back to the mainland, and brainwashed everyday that “You are a Chinese, China had conquered over Japan, and you should be thankful.” Such overwhelming situations had made Yang lost and unsure.
“My neighbor had proclaimed his admiration and loyalty toward the new regime, and had procured him a guard position. He said he was left with no other choices, for time had changed. What troubling him was that his son could not meet expectations in school’s geography lessons, as children were required to to learn rivers, mountains, weather, and everything about mainland, which they had never ever seen in their lives.”
Back to Chicago, I had grown close with Yang since, not only because of our friendship during wartime, but also that we shared the same constant feeling of unbelonging. By day, the American youth pointed in my face and called me a murderer. By night in my sleep, my dead comrades greet me with their head exploded, where the vast fire in Tokyo were also revived, and burnt down my house. Awoke in fright, I would burst into tears in the arms of my wife. Never had I truly retired from the army. For Yang, he said that the days in Koza Arsenal had toughened his spirit and had helped him through the harsh days. The identity issue that had long concerned him was being brought to light, following the lift of Taiwan Martial Law, where the identity of Taiwan nation and the history of Yang and the other Shonenko (Taiwanese child laborers) were finally being discussed and recorded. I really felt happy for him.
Several years ago, Yang and his family had visited me once when they came traveling in US. That was probably the last time we met. Both old were we and white were our heads, taking endless gout pills and couldn’t ever see distinctly of phone numbers, but pictures inside our mind were getting clearer and clearer. We had dedicated our youth to ideologies, but were then being cast away immediately. Only among the wreckages and scraps, and under the rusted aircraft wings of the secret hideaway in the Atsuki base, were we ever being received.
John said that among the people he had contacted, one third of the veterans were unwilling to meet up their once foes, while the other one third had nodded to attend the meeting. Ghosts from the era of madness still lingered on, though time had long left without turning back. As memories keep feeding on the undying time, some had become vintage, while those that didn’t, often turned sour. I told John that I would love to visit Tokyo, Yokohama, and Atsuki again, wishing there is still the chance.