World War Two in the Pacific: 1942 – 1945

photo                          The  Navajo Code Talkers             photo

It is quiet on the Navajo reservation. It is Thanksgiving weekend 2013. One day just does not seem long enough to take a break from our busy lives and reflect on all the things we are thankful for. So do as I do: take a long weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Count your blessings. Here is my wish for a Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you all.

Until next time



World War Two in the Pacific 1942 – 1945

The Navajo Code Talkers

Strangely enough, it was only a couple of years ago that I first heard about the Navajo Code Talkers and the important role they played in the War in the Pacific. More than 3,600 Navajos served in World War Two and fought at every Pacific beach from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. Just 420 of them were Code Talkers. They were instrumental in winning the war. “Without the Navajos the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima” Marine Major Howard Conner said.

I was impressed by what I heard and set out to do research on the Code Talkers. Without them, the Pacific War would not have come to an end when it did, and I would have died in September 1945. So it was important to me to find out exactly who they were and what they did.

On the morning after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, dozens of Navajo volunteers with ponytails and red bandanas, carrying hunting rifles and sacred corn pollen for protection, showed up at the office of the superintendent of the Navajo reservation, ready to defend the United States. The men were sent home because they only spoke Navajo and no official call to arms had been issued.

In Los Angeles, a civil engineer by the name of Philip Johnson, having grown up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona as the son of missionaries, had an idea. He proposed to the Marine Commandant Thomas Holcomb in Camp Elliott, north of San Diego to recruit Navajos whose language was like a secret code, extremely well suited for fast, secure communication. As a result, in April 1942, 29 men, fluent in Navajo and English, were enlisted on the reservation and boarded a train that would take them to a California boot camp. Most of them had never been off the reservation and before going to fight in a foreign land across an ocean they had never seen, medicine men performed a Navajo ritual for them called “The Blessing Way.”

After six weeks in boot camp, where they proved to be model Marines, used as they were to walking miles each day in the high desert, they became the 382nd Platoon, USMC, and were taken to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, to be trained in turning their complex language into a code.

The Code Talkers turned to nature to create their code. Since the Navajo language knows no words for modern warfare like ships, tanks, airplanes or bomber, the Code Talkers had to improvise. For instance, destroyer became calo – “shark”; submarine beshloiron – “fish”; bomb – “egg”, Japanese –  “slant eyes”, grenades – “potatoes”.

When the code was finished, Navy Intelligence could not decipher a single message but the Code Talkers could encode and decode sensitive military information in no time at all. Because in Navajo everything is stored in memory, they had no problem remembering the code names. A couple of them stayed behind to teach the next group and the others were shipped overseas.

To be continued.

Did you know about the Navajo Code Talkers? Did you see the movie “Wind Talkers?” What did you think of the movie?

I welcome your comments.

Until next time,




Japanese Concentration Camps – World War Two

My Best Friend “Papa”

It was April 1942 when my parents, two brothers, our nanny Iwa and I were brought by open boat from the Island of Nias, west of Sumatra, to Sibolga, a village on the west coast. About 30 other prisoners – men, women and children – shared the boat with us. There were no toilet facilities; a number of pigs, expropriated by the Japanese, shared our  cramped quarters.

After arriving in Sibolga, the women and children were separated from the men. My father kissed us and told us to look after each other and especially after my mother, who was pregnant with my brother Kees. Then he and the rest of the men were taken to the jail.

In December we were again uprooted (after four earlier moves) and relocated to Brastagi. We traveled all day on very crowded trucks and many women and children became sick. In Brastagi, the Japanese commander, Mr. Saida, visited us in our barrack one day. My mother was working as a nurse in the camp, and when she asked him if he could bring some medicine and food, he did. This did not happen often, as food and medicine were hard to obtain, even outside the camp. I must have been three or four when I was allowed to take baby Kees for walks around the camp. One day, Mr. Saida saw us and walked with us. His visits became a daily routine, not only to Kees and me but for many other children as well. Mr. Saida would call me Ieteke, or “Blondy”. I called him Mr. Saida or “Blacky.” I don’t think our mothers liked our walks with a Japanese officer very much because we should have hated the Japanese. But how could we hate him? We loved him.

Some children called Mr. Saida “Papa” and I asked my mother, “Is Mr. Saida my papa too?”
“No,” my mother said and showed me a picture of my father, who was white.

One day Mr. Saida asked me where my papa was. I did not know, only that he was in the jail. He told me that he had a woman and a little girl. I asked him how old the girl was and he replied, “Four years old, just like you.” He patted my head and called me Blondy. I had so many questions. I asked,  “Does your little girl go to school? I’ll be going soon to the school run by the nuns.” By that time Mr. Saida could speak some Dutch, and he said, “I have not seen my little girl and woman for a long time.”

One day he asked if I would like to write to my papa and he would deliver the letters. So my mother and I would write our letters and I scribbled on a piece of paper: Lieve Papa scribble, scribble,  Ieteke.

My note was one of the many Mr. Saida would be caught with. He was to be beheaded. I did not know what “beheading” meant. He had refused to translate the letters and name the people who had written them. He knew that the writers, including myself, would be beheaded along with him.

One day, he came to say goodbye. Instead of going on our walk, we went behind the barrack. He kneeled down and asked to kneel in front of him. I did not understand…Mr. Saida would be beheaded, his head chopped off? Why? I did not understand.

He said goodbye and kissed me on my forehead and both cheeks, and then he pressed his forehead against mine and cried. Why did he cry? I did not understand. He told me to go to the place where he would be beheaded, so I would remember. “Ieteke,” he said, “remember, some Japanese are good.” I would not remember this until 36 years later.

When I recently asked my mother why she had allowed me to attend the beheading, she explained that towards the end of our stay in the camp she was often sick and spent much time lying down outside on a mat. She was extremely weak and unable to do her daily tasks, often unaware of what was happening. After the beheading had taken place, she did hear about it but thought it best not to talk about it.

Excerpt by Miriam Zwaan van Veen, published earlier in FOUR YEARS TILL TOMORROW
Yes, there were some good Japanese in some camps, who often had a wife and children back home, and who treated the women and children well, behind the backs of their superiors.

As always, I welcome your comments.
Until next time














Japanese Concentration Camps – World War Two

So Many Questions

Child: Why is there war, Mamma?

Mamma: Hush child, be still, everything is okay.

Child: Where is Papa going, Mamma?

Mamma: It’s okay, don’t you worry.

Child: Why are there so many people living in our house, Mamma?

Mamma: Well, because we are at war. They will only stay for a little while.

Child: Why is there no water to mandi (bathe), Mamma?

Mamma: There is not enough water for all the people here. We have to share.

Child: Mamma, when you come from the kitchen, why do you smell so bad?

Mamma: My job all day long is to clean pig guts so we can make soup from them.

Child: Where are we going, Mamma? Why do we have to go to the “square”? Why do I have to hide my head in Tante’s skirt? Why do the soldiers hurt people, Mamma?

Mamma: Why do you ask so many questions?

Child: I am scared, Mamma. I am so hot. Where are we going? Am I heavy for you, Mamma? I am so hot.

Mamma: It’s okay. Go to sleep. Kiss Papa’s photo good night.

Child: Are we going home now, Mamma?

Mamma: Yes, the war is finally over.

Child: Are we all going to see Oma and Opa in Holland, Mamma?

Mamma: Yes, we are all going to Holland but Oma and Opa are not there anymore.
They went to camps in Germany, but they did not come back.

Child: Was there a war in Holland too, Mamma?

Mamma: Yes, there was.

Child: Why are there wars, Mamma?

Excerpt by Leny Mulder Laven,published earlier in Four Years till Tomorrow

Listen to the sounds of Japanese soldiers marching into town, the droning sounds of enemy aircraft, the Bomb on Nagasaki:

As always, I welcome your comments.

Until next time


Japanese Concentration Camps – World War Two

Held by the Kempeitai – Conclusion

We worked daily on large wooden weaving machines, shooting a shuttle from one end to the other. We were forced to produce a daily quota of the meters of gunisack material (jute). If we fell short, the guard would single one person out and give him a beating with a teak wood bar. We were now all wearing light brown colored clothing with the letters RPSH written on the back: that stood for rumah penjaraseumor hidap (life imprisonment). Rations were very meager and we had to line up in long rows, squatting on the sand to collect them. Filing by, everyone received a tin plate which contained a thin layer of watery rice and a single drab vegetable leaf. This we gulped down in less than a minute, while guards ran up and down the line shouting “Ayo cepat.” (Quickly, quickly.) Breakfast was a small amount of kanji (laundry starch). We experienced hallucinations about food. That we hung on to existence was largely due to our young age. Beri-beri and dysentery were rampant. Had this gone on for another year, many would not have survived.

End of the War

In mid-August of 1945 the walking skeletons had once again assembled in the square, silently waiting for the usual taiso (morning exercises) to begin. This time, though, there was to be no taiso. Instead we saw the commanding Indonesian prison guard appear. From a raised cement platform he began to speak. There was to be no more work. No more taiso. We would be allowed to move freely, but first we were to go to a place by the gate where we were to remove our brown prison clothes and receive some of our own confiscated clothes back. What was this? Our numb ears heard but did not absorb. The voice continued. This morning the gates would be opened and we could go into town, but we had to wear our own clothing. Also, we were to come back before dusk.

As we listened in disbelief, we heard the distant sound of an approaching plane, the sound swelling in intensity. Suddenly there it was, over the east wall, as though out of the morning sun. Objects crashed into the prison yard, rolling to a stop against the cement walls. Now a subdued roar came from the assembly in the square as we suddenly understood. We broke helter skelter across the yard, running towards the objects that had red crosses visible on the sides. A mass of skinny hands tore them apart. Jubilant cries went up. There were chocolate bars, cans containing long-forgotten foods and pamphlets saying the Japanese had capitulated – the war was over! Prison garb was dumped. Some found their old clothes, but many did not and tried to borrow from friends. The gates were open. The first ones walked out – eager, barefoot and only wearing shorts. I was one of those.

My cousin Jim and I ignored the command to return to the prison at dusk but instead hightailed out of there. This may have been the most important decision of our lives, we learned later. Just a week later, the route we had taken to go home was to prove fatal for many of our friends who left Semarang after us. The infamous Bersiap period had begun in a mad frenzy of killing.

How we arrived in Malang and how Jim and I went to our respective homes I don’t remember. But the emotions as I walked up the long lane towards the house my mother lived in, and the sight of her dear brown eyes in a pool of tears as she saw me, will stay with me forever.

Excerpt by Robert Schultz, published earlier in  Four Years till Tomorrow 

Listen to the sounds of War: the Japanese marching in, the airplanes approaching, the sound of the Bomb on Nagasaki:


As always, I welcome your comments.

Until next time