Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas in 1945 Japan

Mom included this twig with tinsel 
from the family Christmas tree 
in one of her letters to Dad in Japan.

This post continues and concludes “A Christmas Love Story” begun in my last post, using letters my mom and dad exchanged while he served as part of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan following the end of World War II, as she and their toddler daughter and infant son remained in their home in Los Angeles. (Mom was 30 and Dad was 29, and they shared the same birthday a year apart.) Current service members stationed abroad and their families know firsthand the challenges and heartache involved.

On December 25, 1945, Mom wrote of Christmas, “This has been the loneliest I have ever had. I haven’t cried—I’ve felt too numb. I don’t dare dwell on the fact you are so far away.” Then she describes that morning: 
I wish you would have seen Stevie this morning. He was as excited as Sharon. He yelled & almost threw himself out of my arms. And I couldn’t turn him away from the tree & toys. I gave him his roly poly and oh did he love it. Pretty soon I put him back to bed & did he cry. He wanted to stay. He likes his rocking horse. He should—my hand is sore from using the screwdriver on it & I still don’t have the screws tight enough.

Sharon was well pleased with everything. I think the only time she had her skates off was when she ate her meals. I had told her they didn’t have any more skates like Bonnie was going to get unless you had told Santa to bring her some. And you had.
From my dad: 
Sen Zaki, Japan
Christmas morning

Merry Christmas, my Darlings! … It was a happy Christmas for many of us new replacements—our mail has at last started coming through. Most all of the guys got stacks of letters yesterday—one guy got 47. Some of us, however, including me, did not get any, but our hopes are high for the next mail call!

“Red” Hunter and Sgt. Engel have been negotiating for two weeks with the necessary people to bring about the party we had last night. Passes to leave camp and a jeep for transportation were granted by our Lieutenant. And about 6:30 last night, Hunter, Engel, Gattis, and I left the camp. The rest of the guys here were settling down to their beer-drinking, which held promise of being a record-breaking celebration, there being a case of beer available per person. Which is one of the reasons we were now headed for Sen Zaki in a jeep. We were going to spend the evening with Johnny and his wife and perhaps a few of their friends.

Briefly, Johnny is a Korean, is the chief of the Korean Association here, is a graduate of Tokyo University, and—this is the important thing—he is a Christian! His father is a minister of a Korean Presbyterian church somewhere in Korea. Johnny speaks English, though, as he says, “English conversation very, very, difficult.”

It was perhaps chiefly Johnny’s idea that some of us gather with him and his wife on Christmas Eve to sing a few carols. And as we four fellows who were there last night think a good deal of Johnny and his efforts in behalf of his miserable people,* the idea got “promoted” in typical Yankee fashion to the point of reality. And although it was very different from any way I ever spent Christmas Eve before, I believe we came nearer to the true meaning of Christmas spirit than had we remained in camp and soaked up our case of beer.

Not that we did not drink some beer. Sgt. Engel and I took our two cases along. It is much better to share two cases of beer with a group of 8 or 9 people than just the two of us. And as it developed, also to my liking and I think to yours, there was a goodly amount of American beer to be left as “presents” to Johnny, whose meager salary does not permit many luxuries of life.

Red had a can of chili that his mother had sent him some time ago. I had several packs of cigarettes that I had got on the boat. Also we had chewing gum, a few chocolate bars. All these and the beer were our contributions to the feast. Also some tangerines. In fact it was practically our party, which was the way we wanted it, because we have so much and those people so little.

We G.I.’s did not eat the chili—for two reasons, one being that we had already eaten a big chow, and the other being that we had forgotten about spoons, and had we tried to eat it with chopsticks like they did we would still be there! ha! So we ate tangerines.

As I said, there were the four of us Americans. “Red” Hunter, a youngster of 19, who looks more like Spencer Tracy than Tracy does himself. Red is a religious youth and aspires to be a missionary someday. Sgt. Engel, lean, hawk-faced, fierce blue eyes, a bit smaller than I, and hopes this summer will find him back home on his Pennsylvania farm after his 2 year army stretch. John Gattis, from Alabama, I think, a carpenter and builder before his army life—very handy with a guitar, and a very good singing voice. He has a wife and two kids at home. And the fourth G.I.—well you know him pretty well already. Or have you forgotten me?

The others were: Johnny. More properly his name is John Kim. Johnny’s-----MAIL CALL!

I had just about given up hope that I had a letter when they called my name and gave me your letter of Dec. 11th. It’s the first letter I’ve got since I left the States. Darling, I love you!
Dad interrupted his narrative to respond to things in Mom’s letter, reading it and re-reading it a number of times. Several pages later he returns to introducing the other Christmas Eve partiers: Johnny Kim’s wife, a university graduate and not a Christian, a Mr. Ree, a doctor named Miss Nagato, whom Dad describes as “very kind to Koreans,” plus the serving girl at the hotel, invited to join the group, “giggly,” whose “contribution to entertainment was two or three Japanese songs sung in a very high-pitched voice.” 
They asked us about our age, our work, and our families. I showed them my pictures of you, Sharon, and Stevie and in three different languages I was told very emphatically that you are very lovely, Sharon very beautiful and Stevie a wonderful boy—and that I was a very lucky man. And [they asked] did I miss you all tonight? Did I miss you! Lord, Honey, no one could ever measure the amount of feeling that I had to compress into three simple words for the sake of John Kim’s limited vocabulary of English when I said very slowly, “Very, very much!” 
I miss Mom and Dad very, very much. And I am grateful to be reminded of their love and faith through their words of Christmas past.

*Koreans were treated harshly during World War II.

Other posts about my folks:

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

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