Reiko’s Story

She cried when they gave her the hand grenade.
They showed her how to hold it and told her when to pull the pin. She was only seven years old and here the adults whom she had trusted all her short life were telling her how to die. It was a tumultuous time. Only three days before, the Kempei Tai, the military police, had arrested her mother for treasonous acts. Her eldest brother would be flying off soon to die over Okinawa. Today, she, her school mates and all the adults were assembled at her school in Omuta City to listen to a voice over the radio that said that they must surrender. It was bewildering for her see the stern military men and some of the adults crying as they listened to the Emperor of all Japan tell them that Japan, invincible Japan, had lost the war. Grandfather would know what to do she thought, he was her strength. Still, it was so bewildering and so hard.
It was Grandfather who told her what had happened to her mother. Three days earlier, the new group of Kamikaze pilots was presented for a sending off ceremony in front of their families. Her seventeen-year old brother was among the pilots. He was barely trained he told her later. And here he was, getting ready to be locked into the cockpit of an airplane, to be sent to crash into an American ship and kill the invaders. Her mother, in her final good bye had told her brother to save himself and not crash his plane. Mother told her brother that this war was Tojo’s war and not Japan’s war and for his and his mother’s sake, he should turn his plane around and save his life. The military police quickly pounced on Mother and dragged her off. Grandfather said that her mother would probably be executed for treason.
A country should not lose a war. It was hard being seven, just starting life and to be told to use bamboo spears and hand grenades to kill the foreign invaders. Everyone was told that the Emperor was going to be hung by the Americans and each citizen must kill one American before they died as retribution. Grandfather did understand. He had prepared a cave, with food and water. “Stay in”, he told her, “until you don’t hear anybody else around and then come out.” By then, she knew, all of her family would be gone and she would have to fend for herself. She cried too at that realization.
The Americans did come, but they did not kill the old folk and ravage the women. Her brother did not go on his final mission. The Emperor was allowed to live and her mother did not die. The foreign barbarians turned out to be quite benevolent. She eventually married one and moved to America herself. Years later, when she reflected on it, three day’s timing made all the difference. Had the Emperor not directed the surrender when he did, all that she knew would have been lost. The surrender really saved her family as well as other Japanese. For that, she would be always grateful.

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