I WILL REMEMBER THEM – For Remembrance Day
– I knew those soldiers-
I remember them; one German, five Canadians, two Japanese, and one American. They were all soldiers fought during the World War II. But the most important thing about them that I remember is: they were all good humans. Most of them are dead now, but some may still be alive.
I met Gerhardt at Bowman Art Centre. I never got to know his last name. He was a good artist. He saw beauty in every human, male or female, young or old, and had skills to put it on a piece of paper. He was a soldier in the German Army during the WW II, and spent sometime in a prisoners of war camp.
Garth Legge was my life-long mentor and the role model. He was the Africa Secretary of the United Church when I went to Southern Africa. He was a gentle and kind soul but a brilliant theologian. He was a fierce fighter for human dignity and worked closely with people like Desmond Tutu and Beyers Naude in South Africa. He was a pilot on the Spitfire during the WW II. And he walked like one; always his back straight.
Don Rae was General Secretary of the United Church and was briefly my boss. He was a navigator on a Lancaster bomber and did many missions to Germany. He knew exactly where he was, but never saw anything outside cooped up in a tiny cubicle behind the cockpit. He was a model of an administrator with humanity. The kindest man I knew.
I met Ian MacLeod and Frank Carey in Japan when I was still a student in 1951. We traveled together and visited many small parishes in rural communities in Nagano prefecture. Ian was a Spitfire pilot and Frank was a foot soldier. By the time I met them, they were members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (a Quaker organization), and committed pacifists. Until I met them I didn’t know Canada was different from America. They sure let me know it was. In fact, Frank recruited me to come to Canada.
Jack Mellow was my father-in-law. He was a Air Force mechanic looking after Spitfires in Southern England. When his daughter Muriel and I met, I heard that he had a few seconds of hesitation, me being a former enemy. But that didn’t last long. He loved me and I loved him. He and I spent some time once parked outside of the Winnipeg Airport just watching planes coming and going. He loved airplanes. Nevertheless, he maintained until the end that Spitfire was the best airplane, ever.
My uncle Mitsugu died when he was only 17. He is missing-in-action, and is presumed dead. He was shipped to the Island of Guadalcanal and was never found. He probably got lost, starved and rotted in a jungle. He taught me briefly in Sunday School. He was, like my father, a pacifist. Did he have a choice not to go? No way.
Hideo Katayama was also a Sunday School teacher at my father’s church in Tokyo. When he was drafted into the navy he became a language officer: Many Christians became language officers-interpreters, because many of them went to Christian schools where they had more exposures to English language than other Japanese young people. In 1948, Navy Lieutenant Katayama was executed by a firing squad as a war criminal. Many allied prisoners testified that Katayama was responsible for cruelties and deaths. In fact, he was simply relaying orders in English. His superiors did not come out to claim responsibility. They were in charge of the running of the prisoners of war camp but remained free. Katayama was a scapegoat.
Jacob de Cesar was an American airman who was shot down over Tokyo. He spent a few years in a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo. He suffered cruelty and torture, and nearly starved to death. After he was liberated, he went to a seminary in the U.S., became a minister of the church, and came back to Japan as a missionary. I met him when my father was acting as his interpreter in the beginning of his ministry in Japan. At the time, it seemed incredible to me to hear his story. Forgiveness personified. I kept thinking, “Is he real?”
Wars are fought in most cases by ordinary decent people. They are just cogs in a machine. Let us not demonize them just because they were enemies.