Lifelines lead back to World War II

Seeking an old friend

Kevin Roop, writing to us from the U.S., is trying to find an old friend of his 85-year-old father, Vernon Roop, a veteran of World War II who after the war was based with his unit, the 5th AAF, at Tachikawa Air Base in Tokyo.

Vernon was in the 375th Troop Carrier Group, 55th Squadron, 5th Army Air Force. After the surrender, his unit was moved into Tachikawa, where he was issued six former Japanese soldiers to work for him.

That same day, a tech-sergeant was trying to get an electric hoist working but there was a problem.

Not speaking Japanese, Vernon motioned for one of the Japanese soldiers to try to fix it. Turning to walk away, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder.

“When dad turned around, one of the soldiers said, in perfect English, ‘You want me to fix that hoist?’ Dad was shocked and told him he probably couldn’t fix it, but the soldier insisted that he could. And he did!”

The short story is that Vernon got the soldier assigned to him as a mechanic. The other Japanese men went their own way.

One day, the soldier invited Vernon to his mother’s house, which was just across the road from the hangar where he was working. His mother also spoke English and made them both dinner.

“Dad remembers that as being some of the best food he had ever eaten,” Kevin says.

Vernon remembers also that the soldier had one or possibly two fingers missing from one of his hands. When he asked about it, the soldier said it had happened in China, but he didn’t want to talk about it.

Vernon has many more stories about their relationship. Yet — amazingly — he never got around to asking his friend’s name, or his address.

Dad had to abruptly leave his friend, never to see or talk to him again. He woke up one morning and walked outside the hangar to where a group of American soldiers were gathered around a tree with a piece of paper nailed to it.

“Someone told dad that it was a list of soldiers with orders to return to America and that the truck was getting ready to leave. He was on it, he had to grab what he could and run.”

Kevin knows it’s a long shot, but since his friend and his mother spoke such good English, it’s quite possible they are familiar with this paper. Please get in contact with us via the Community e-mail address if you think you can help! (A.J.)

Footnote: In the postwar period, Tachikawa had the reputation of being the most beautiful base in the Tokyo area. Small two-bedroom homes were dotted around in a woodlike setting.

Most people probably don’t realize it, but at one time there were 20 bases in the Tokyo area alone, with names like Grant Heights, Green Park, Momote Village, Yamato Air Station, Tachikawa Air Base, Johnson Air Base, Fuchu Air Station, Washington Heights, North and South Camp Drake, Camp Tokorozawa and Kanto Mura.

There are a number of sites where you can get information on Tachikawa and other bases in Japan. The best (with info on regular reunions and alumni groups) is www.militarybrats.com. The address tachikawaairbasejapan@- yahoogroups.com is also very helpful. Narimasu High School, Chofu High School, Yamato High School and many, many others have Web sites and reunions. (K.J.)

Tricky characters

R.J. recently obtained a sword that bears some characters on the haft, where the handle would fit.

“I have not been able to translate it, nor have I been able to find anyone that can help. Can you?”

Well, of course we can. That’s our job.

The sword is dated Showa 19, meaning 1944. Forged toward the end of the war, it is therefore safe to say it was made for the military.

The last kanji character reads “mune.” This is interesting because in the Kamakura Period, that is in the 14th century, the famed sword maker Masamune was summoned to Kamakura to supply swords to the Kamakura Shogunate, or military regime.

Even more interestingly, the Masamune family still makes swords in Kamakura (Masamune Koge, a three-minute walk from Kamakura Station — phone (0467) 22-3962; fax (0467) 22-9364). So I took along the pictures, hoping for identification.

Tsunahiro Masamune, who is 25th in his family line of sword makers, looked a little puzzled, but then caught on.

“The other character is ‘kane,’ ” he said, pulling put a book that lists all the recorded sword makers in Japan’s long history of the craft.

There were pages of craftsmen whose names began with “kane,” so it seemed best to check out the name on the Web to save him time.

Masamune-san has three children, but none of them will be following him into the tradition, so breaking a line that stretches back some six centuries.

“But I have five deshi (apprentices), three of whom are already independent,” he said philosophically. “The craft continues.”

But back to R.J.’s sword. The following site in Japanese and English gets you closest to its history, perhaps: www.h4.dion.ne.jp/~t-ohmura/gunto_120.htm

The name Kanemune does appear in a list of sword makers of the period, but whether it is the Kanemune, of course, we cannot be entirely sure, but it’s a good bet. (A.J.)

Moving — and soon

Mrs P. and family are relocating to Australia at the end of October and would like to know with some urgency about moving companies that could be of help.

“This is not a company move,” she explains. “We will be taking everything — furniture, personal belongings and most likely our car too. It would be a great help to hear from readers who have had good experiences at reasonable cost. Can you help put us get in touch with good and dependable overseas movers?”

Even if too late for Mrs P, such referrals would be helpful to others in a similar situation.


Angela Jeffs is a freelance writer and writing guide (www.thewriterwithin.net/). Ken Joseph Jr. directs the Japan Helpline at www.jhelp.com and (03) 000-911. Send questions to community@japantimes.co.jp