Memorial Day 1945

In May 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had recently died and the war in Europe was winding down.

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The origin of Memorial Day is attributed by most scholars to the ladies of Columbus, Mississippi  who decided to decorate both Union and Confederate graves with flowers on April 25, 1866. Francis Miles Finch commemorated the occasion with the poem “The Blue and the Grey; the last stanza read:

…No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

DECORATION DAY” was officially proclaimed after the Civil War in 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of a Union Civil War Veterans group known as the Grand Army of the Republic: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions (which occurred on different days) had merged, and Memorial Day was celebrated on the last day of May to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

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Inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, written by John McCrae in 1915 during what was known then as the “Great War,” poppies have traditionally been worn in honor of America’s war dead on Memorial Day.

Iwo Jima – Feb 1945

 

Iwo Jima is a rocky island in the volcano islands archipelago of Japan,~760 miles south of Tokyo. It is only 5 miles long and from 800 yards to 2.5 miles wide.

Located mid-way between the Marianas and the Japanese mainland, Iwo Jima provided a base for Japanese fighters to intercept  U.S. bombers attacking the home island.  Japanese airfields on the island were also used to launch attacks against American bases newly established in the Marianas.

After months of naval and air bombardment, ~70,000 U.S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima where ~18,000 Japanese defenders were dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks. In a little over a month, ~7,000 U.S. Marines were killed and another 20,000 were wounded. Only 216 Japanese soldiers were captured; the rest were killed in action.

Iwo Jima was the only battle in the Pacific War where U.S. Marine casualties exceeded those of Japanese forces.

 

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Japanese forces on Iwo Jima were commanded by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. Refusing to order costly Banzai attacks, Kuribayashi developed an insurgent style of defense that eventually became the Japanese standard:

“We are here to defend this island to the limit of our strength. We must devote ourselves to that task entirely. Each of your shots must kill many Americans. We cannot allow ourselves to be captured by the enemy. If our positions are overrun, we will take bombs and grenades and throw ourselves under the tanks to destroy them. We will infiltrate enemy’s lines to exterminate him. No man must die until he has killed at least ten Americans. We will harass the enemy with guerilla actions until the last of us has perished. Long live the Emperor!”

Based on his letters home, the book So Sad to Fall in Battle by Kumiko Kakehashi is a fascinating account of this unique warrior – part-time writer, haiku poet, diplomat and General of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff.

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Clint Eastwood, deciding to narrate the Battle of Iwo Jima from both the American and the Japanese point of view, directed the two excellent films Flags of Our Fathers  and Letters from Iwo Jima.

 

 

 

 

Manila Recaptured – Feb 1945

The month-long  Battle of Manila (February-March 1945), pitted American and Philippine forces against Imperial   Japanese occupiers in the most brutal urban fighting of the Pacific War. In addition to massive loss of civilian and military lives, much of the city’s architectural and cultural heritage was destroyed.

Casualties from the Battle of Manila

Allies:1,010 killed. 5,565 wounded
Japanese: 16,000+ killed
100,000 Filipino civilians killed

The most shocking events during the battle of Manila were the unfathomable atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers as it became clear they were losing Manila.

After the war, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita (the “tiger of Malaya” and commander during the Palawan massacre) was convicted and executed for the Manila massacre and other atrocities committed by soldiers under his command.

 

They Were Expendable – 1945

Starring: Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed

While the 1945 cinema in Nazi Germany re-lived historical victories and the Imperial Japanese turned toward animation to inspire their citizens, American films touted valor and victory. Nominated for two Oscars, They Were Expendable was named one of the top films of 1945 by the New York Times.

A dramatized account of the role of the American PT Boats in the defense of the Philippines, the film is based on a book by W.L. White about Motor Torpedo Squadron Three during the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42).

With enthusiastic support from the Navy Department, the film was shot in Key Biscayne and the Florida Keys, a region chosen to simulate the Pacific War zone. Actual U.S. Navy 80-foot Elco PT boats were used throughout the filming.Based on actual characters and events, the film has lauded for its verisimilitude.

Stars:

Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed

Das Volk Steht Auf – Jan 1945

THE PEOPLE STAND UP

In January 1945, as the Allies were closing in on the fatherland from the east and west, the director Veit Harlan released the historical film Kolberg to motivate Germans not to give in to the Allies. The film, based on the autobiography of Joachim Nettelbeck, mayor of Kolberg in western Pomerania, depicts the successful defense of the besieged fortress against Napoleon’s troops in 1807.

 

 Gross Deutschland (Greater Germany) in 1937.

 

In March 1945, after two weeks of fierce German resistance, the city of Kolberg was taken by Russian and Polish forces.

Momotaro the Sea God Soldier – 桃太郎 海の神兵

This scene from Momotaro the Sea God Soldier (桃太郎 海の神兵), the first Japanese feature-length animated film, was directed by Mitsuyo Seo. Commissioned by the Japanese Naval Ministry, the film, released in 1945 by the Shochiku Moving Picture Laboratory, was a sequel to Momotarō no Umiwashi, a film released in 1943 by the same director.

Plot Summary paraphrased from Wikipedia: The film begins with animal sailors (a bear cub, monkey, pheasant, and puppy) rescuing a child from being swept downstream. Later, they clear a forest for an air base on a remote Pacific island with the help of the primitive jungle animals and teach them the alphabet by singing, washing clothes, giving military training and loading weapons onto warplanes.

Preparing for the invasion of the Indonesian island of Celebes (Sulawesi) , the monkey, dog and bear cub become parachute jumpers while the pheasant becomes a pilot. The paratroopers ambush a halftrack and invade a British fort whence panicked British soldiers agree to surrender to Japanese rule. A brief epilogue depicts children pretending to parachute onto a map of America drawn on the ground.

A notable musical scene in the film is the alphabet song AIUEO (アイウエオの歌) where Japanese soldiers teach the local animals how to speak.

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I am impressed that North Korea today uses children in their propaganda posters and heroic animated characters in film – much in the same way as their oppressors of Imperial Japan did during WWII.