A poignant chronicle of the deeply complicated emotions surrounding the American-Japanese hostility stoked by World War II.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Obmascik (Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled—and Knuckleheaded—Quest for the Rocky Mountain High, 2009, etc.) narrates the multilayered tale of an aged American veteran of the ferocious battle of Attu Island who, decades later, visited the daughter of a Japanese surgeon he killed during that horrendous episode. This began a confluence of truth-seeking and reconciliation, a remarkable story that the author ably pieces together. He begins with the recovered diary that the Japanese surgeon, Paul Tatsuguchi, had left in his effects after his death. Tatsuguchi was raised by Japanese parents in California and became a devoted Seventh Day Adventist; as an adult, he returned to Japan with his new bride just before the war in 1939. The timing, of course, was terrible. Tatsuguchi was inducted into the Imperial Army as a physician, but due to the intense suspicion about his American background, he was not given the suitable rank of an officer. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Tatsuguchi was deployed overseas, ending up on the remote, forbidding Aleutian island outpost (and American possession) of Attu, which was seized by the Japanese in 1942. During the harsh winter he was stationed there, Tatsuguchi wrote his war diary, delineating the brutal conditions of his surgical duties amid the chaos of battle. Meanwhile, on the American side, Charles “Dick” Laird, a scrappy GI from Ohio, became part of the waves of invading U.S. troops determined to extract the Japanese from the island, but they were thwarted by their entrenched positions in foxholes and caves and mystified by their refusal to surrender. Obmascik has carefully and fairly sifted through the layers to this complex story, offering a tightly focused examination of the different, misleading translations of Tatsuguchi’s diary as well as Laird’s efforts to get the diary back to his family.
An evenhanded, compassionate portrayal of the two deeply wounded sides to this story.