There Are No EnemiesPosted: November 10, 2011
By Dean Keller
On December 7, 1941, in the afternoon, our family was listening to the radio about a devastating bombing raid by the forces of the Empire of Japan on military installations of the United States in Hawaii. I was one month short of my tenth birthday, and was caught up in the frenzy of excitement and anger about this sneak attack. My brother, Chuck, was going to be 19 years old on the next April 7. Also, my uncle Mac lived in Honolulu, so our family was concerned about his safety. For the next four years I was subjected to the news about the cruelty of the Japanese.
Chuck enlisted in the Navy in February of 1942 and was trained as an Aircraft Mechanic. He served in the Pacific. We did not know much about what he was doing until after the war when he came home. We learned then that he performed maintenance of naval aircraft in the Philippines where he was in close contact including hand to hand combat with the enemy. He also served as a crew member on naval aircraft on raids. When he came back to the states you could tell that he had experienced much that he would like to forget. Dad was in the Navy Reserve since he was an officer in WWI, and they patrolled the Mississippi Riverfor German submarines.
The rest of us had our duties to perform. Mom was in the American Legion Auxiliary and volunteered for war support functions, had a victory garden and chickens for eggs and meat. We had a rooster named “sassy” that was the king of the yard and harassed the hens. He was too arrogant and ended up on the table one Sunday. No one would eat the meat- we just looked at it and said “poor Sassy.”
The war came and the war ended and I was still in High School. After finishing High School and a Business Training Course, I felt sort of empty. I could have gotten a job at the Public Service in New Orleans where my Dad worked, but it just didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to be part of something bigger. So I talked it over with a couple of my buddies and they agreed that it would be a good opportunity. We three, Mac (Dean), Charles and Eddie, enlisted in the United States Air Force, a peace time air force at that time. I was a few months before 18 years old at the time of my enlistment. I went to Lackland AFB, Keesler AFB (Training) and then MacDill AFB for a permanent station. Chuck was still in the Navy and served during the Korean police action also. All of this is just a background to let you know background information on my life and my impressions from the recent past about Japan.
While I was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base with an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of ground radio operator working out of a building at MacDill, Circumstances changed, and we were at war again, and this time it was my turn to go. There were notices placed on the bulletin board stating that Combat Crews were needed for Korea. The 307th Bomb Wing had already left for Okinawa and was bombing targets in North Korea. I went to our Squadron Commander’s office, was admitted, and smartly marched in, saluted and stated “Sir, I request a transfer to flying status.” He looked at me questioningly and asked “Do you realize that you will be sent into combat?” I replied “Yes sir!” Then I went to Randolph AFB for Crew Training, to Travis AFB for deployment and then to Yokota AFB inJapan viaHawaii, Midway andWake Island. It took six months to train an airman to be a crew member on a bomber for combat. Now Mom (Hazel Dean Keller) and dad (Clarence E. Keller) had two sons in combat at the same time. They were proud.
In May of 1951, I was on my way toJapanto fly in B-29 Bombers in the Korean War, and to be a member of the occupation forces. What are these people going to be like? I had heard so many bad things about them. I was surprised.
From the time that I landed at the airport inTokyoto the day that I left to go back to theUnited StatesI enjoyed the Japanese people, and the friendship of Japanese who worked with us. I also found that persons we met in one way or another, even casual acquaintances with very limited exposure, were a people who were gracious, kind and willing to treat you well in every way. As a western lady who was in a Japanese prison camp stated, “It was not the Japanese who made war terrible, but war which made the Japanese terrible.”
For the whole time that I was in Japan, an American GI could go anywhere in the country without a weapon and feel completely safe. There was very little evidence of the war remaining in our area, although there were no tall buildings, even in Tokyo, as the nation was in a state of rebuilding and surviving- and then flourishing. General MacArthur performed a magnificent service for both the United States and Japan in the way he performed in Japan. The Japanese supported us in many ways in the Korean War.
When we arrived at the barracks and moved in, we had one room for the six enlisted men on our crew. We also had a day room at the end of the hall which was operated by a Japanese man in his late teens, named “Charlie,” who spoke very good English. His name was Toshi Nukbriya, but he had no problem with Charlie. Charlie and I were close from the time that I arrived until I left. He helped me learn Japanese and gave me help in understanding Japanese customs and where things were. He was a friend. I learned in August, on an anniversary of the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, that Charlie was from Hiroshima. He told me that if it weren’t for the bomb, he would be dead. He and his family were being trained to attack enemy soldiers if an invasion took place, with sharpened bamboo spears. Leaflets were dropped by US aircraft warning the people of a bombing raid which would take place at some time in the future, and his family went to a country home and was at their country home when the bomb was dropped.
There was a movie theatre within easy walking distance from the barracks and a PX where one could get a more desirable meal if liver was being served at the mess hall. Food was generally good, but the milk was reconstituted and beef was in short supply. There was plenty of Spam and reconstituted eggs.
We had Japanese “house boy” who was formerly in the Japanese army, named Toshia. He was nice, kept the room cleaned, smiled a lot, but was a bit reserved. He was very honest as all of the Japanese who worked at the base were, and we had a mutual respect for each other. He was married while we were there and we showered him with money.
We had orientation classes and the usual VD movies to scare us. Our flights were scheduled in advance so when there was time available we could take the train toTokyo.
I met many Japanese over the eleven and one-half months that we were stationed there. There was a curio shop just outside the gate to the base which was run by two Japanese ladies, not in their teens. They spoke some English, and often I would stop in and spend a half hour or so talking to them. They were always happy to see me. We would exchange English/Japanese words, and just have very pleasant conversations and even a few laughs over tea.
I met a young lady named Nardiko Sugano at the skating rink and spent much time with her. Unlike some of my fellow airmen, I did not have a “wife” in town – that would cost you twenty dollars a month, and would not be in keeping with the way I believed you should treat the Japanese ladies. My mother didn’t raise me that way. I went to Tokyot o visit her parents one day, and met her mother and father and little brother. They were a wonderful family. I taught her brother how to make a hangman’s noose with string, which he enjoyed very much. Mom and dad did not speak English so Nardiko would translate, and I could carry on a limited conversation with the Japanese I knew. When her brother came back into the room with a statue of the emperor hanging from a hangman’s noose, I immediately said “Dame, Dame” which means very bad. This was picked up by others, and a good laugh was had by all.
It was possible to go to Tokyo on the trains which were very efficient, and sometimes crowded. At six foot-two inches tall I could usually see over the heads of most persons around me. Japanese school boy and girls would look at my shoes, and point. I wore a size 13 at that time. I would respond with “I have big feet, don’t I?” in Japanese and laughter would erupt.
One day I was sitting next to a well dressed Japanese man on the train going into Tokyo when I noticed that my watch had stopped. (Remember winding the watch?) I asked the gentleman sitting next to me “ could you please tell me what time it is?” He replied “No speak English.” I then asked him “daijobu, nan ji desu ka?” which translates “that’s ok, what time is it?” He replied with the correct time. I said “arigato” which is thank you. He then said something like “You speak Japanese?” and I answerer “hai, sukoshi nihongo dekimasu.” Which translates to; “Yes, I speak a little Japanese.” He then started speaking to me in English. He spoke very good English, but did not want to speak to a kid who was a member of the occupation forces until he learned that I cared enough to try to learn about his country and language. While I was in Japan I met very few Japanese who could be classified as unfriendly, but I did meet some ugly Americans – and they made me ashamed of being from the same country that they were.
One day in Tokyo, on the Ginza, I was bargaining with a Japanese man who was selling items from a push cart. He spoke very little English. I would ask him “ikura desu ka?” (How much is it?) He would reply with “ku ju yen” (90 yen). I would then say “itai” (that hurts). “Watashi wa bimbo desu, anata wa takusan okane o mote imasu” (I am poor and you have a lot of money). He would laugh, and start bargaining over the price. We would agree, I would give him a little bow, and say thank you, he the same with you’re welcome. And our transaction was over. He was still wearing his Japanese army hat, and I was in my US Air Force uniform. We were laughing together when six or eight years ago we would have been trying to kill each other. There are no enemies, just friends that you have not had a chance to know yet.