'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

25 February 2013


A Navy buddy and I have been exchanging e-mails about his upcoming Sea deployment. It brought to mind a story I've been keeping to myself for almost 29 years. He liked it so I've decided the time is right to share it with you.

I was Artillery in the Army. In 1984 we went to Japan to exercise with the JGSDF in an exercise called Michinoku 84. We were there long enough to get a few weekends free. On one of our jaunts we went into the local city. For the life of me I can't remember it's name. I need to go back to my old journal and refresh my memory. Anyway, while there we did what all American tourists do I imagine. We hit a restaurant that looked like a little slice of home. A McDonalds. It was different. You ordered and then sat down and had the food delivered to the table. They served rice instead or french fries. There were at least a half dozen of us. Young, loud, hungry GIs, none of whom spoke a word of Japanese. After several minutes of pidgin English and wild gesticulations we were interrupted by an elderly Japanese gentleman. He got the gist of what we wanted and then shooed us off to a table. He placed our order and paid for the entire meal. It had to have cost him a bundle. Prices were high anyway and for beef they were outrageous. He came and sat with us, refusing all offers to pay him back. We talked as we ate and found out he'd been an Artillery officer in the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. He'd seen combat. He spoke only broken English and we even less Japanese but we didn't need an interpreter. We spoke the same language, common among those who have made their living in uniform. It was a conversation I will always remember. He was honoring us and in his way paying homage to his own service and those men he'd left behind. It was a perfect moment, the kind that comes along but once in a lifetime if one is very, very fortunate. A bunch of young American soldiers being regaled with stories about another bunch of once young soldiers who had done their duty as they saw it. He was a proud man and it showed. In my later years, after age had granted me a modicum of wisdom, I understood that he was also teaching a lesson only those who have seen the elephant can understand. Under the uniform we are all the same. Warriors all. That bond can be found in the most unlikely places. Even a McDonalds in the middle of a nation that was once the bitterest of enemies.

I have no idea why he was moved to do what he did. No, that's not true. I know exactly what motivated him. I feel it even now as age begins it's inexorable pull on me. He saw a chance to educate, to give back to the next generation no matter the uniform and to keep the memory of his honorable service and the memories of all those men he so loved alive. If only in the minds of a bunch of young Americans and only for a little while. It worked. I'll remember him as long as my mind remains my own and I still draw breath.

I never got his name but it doesn't matter. I knew him as well as I know any of my brothers. Once a proud warrior always a proud warrior.

My buddy has agreed that when he gets to Japan he will go to a McDonalds and raise a toast to the memory of an old, proud Japanese soldier who once taught a young American what honor looks like. I am indebted my friend.



Rev. Paul said...

That's a wonderful way to learn that particular lesson. While in the Navy, a group of us had a very similar experience with an old Greek man who'd fought Nazis in WWII. He owned a small dessert shop & insisted on feeding us all.

We were young & green, but we figured it out. The deeper parts of the lesson dawned slowly on me, too.

Thanks for sharing.

RabidAlien said...

I never got much time off during my stint, and can't relate any cool personal stories like that (although I do remember passing a column of Koreans marching down the sidewalk while I was out jogging, and high-fiving the entire port-side as I ran past), but having been out for a while myself, I can understand the "been there done that, same folks different uniforms" feeling. Visited several different countries, and even being a young-n-dumb bubblehead squid, there was always that sense of comraderie whenever we'd run up against a group of ____ (insert country) sailors and start jawin. Definitely a brotherhood that transcends nationalities.

Old NFO said...

Six, that still happens on occasion... But not here... Sadly our young folks today do NOT seem to want to sit down even with US, they think they know everything or can get it from the net; and we're old fogies, past our prime and living in the past...

Great story though, and yes, SOME of us realize the truth of that.

Anonymous said...

Cripes Six, you just wrote damn well.

agirlandhergun said...

What a wonderful experience. Thank you for sharing it and thank you so much for your service Six.

NavyOne said...

I would be very wary of Navy guys. They are a cagey bunch. That said, I think you might be okay with this one. I'll bet he follows through with his promise and raises a toast!

Six said...

It does take time Rev. What's that old saw? Youth is wasted on the young. I'm glad you had that experience. Thank you for sharing.

Well said RabidAlien. I think your experience with those Korean soldiers definitely qualifies as a cool story!

I know you understand NFO. And you're right. That lesson sometimes comes very late and not everyone seems to get it.

Thanks Garry. Better stop that, my head is big enough as it is!

Thank you AGirl. You may have to press that handsome Marine you're married to. I bet has has a better one.

I'd bet the farm on that one Navy. I hear he's a heck of a guy. For a Swabbie anyway :)

Anonymous said...

Six, I was the 1st Brigade Sr. Legal NCO, 1982-85, and went to Japan for Michinoku also. I knew the Division Artillery Legal NCO, I think he was a SGT, name of Mark Donaldson. A native Californian, IIRC, from up above San Francisco, I think. Do you recall that name?

Tan Son Nhut AB
Class of 1971

Six said...

We were definitely there at the same time LaMigra. I was stationed at The Planet from 81 to 85. I'm wracking my brain but I can't remember if I knew him or not. I spent all my time in the line Batteries so there's a fair chance we never met. Then again, I was the re-enlistment NCO at HHB 2/8 for my last 6 months so it's possible. What is it they say about getting older? I've developed a severe case of CRS!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It's great to hear from one of the men I served with even if we never met. The 7th may be gone but she'll never be forgotten. I hope you'll come by often. I'd love to reminisce sometime.