Last week, an old memory came surging back to me while I played golf on a WWII bombing range in the Southwest corner.
Friday, August 9, was the day the B-29 bomber Bockspar dropped the second atomic bomb, “Fat Man” on the center of Nagasaki, Japan. It occurred 63 years ago.
Sasebo, on the island of Kyushu, Japan was essentially my home for all of 1970 while I was the executive officer of Military Sealift Command Transport Unit One. The unit coordinated the transport of Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back aboard USNS Geiger and later, USNS Upshur. The round trip was a 22-day cycle with five days of replenishment in Sasebo. Those five days were mostly liberty for us.
The unit’s commanding officer, the two doctors, the chaplain, and I did not frequent “Sailor Town.” That area was a red light district filled with an uncountable number of dingy bars.
The evening after I arrived in Sasebo, I went out with my new shipmates. We went to the “Town Club,” transformed from Admiral Yamamoto’s WWII headquarters where he planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a labyrinth of numerous little dining areas, bars, six BOQ rooms, and a large dining theater where the USO put on weekend shows.
Following dinner, we repaired to a small “stand bar” in the middle of the city called The Butterfly, nowhere near Sailor Town. A stand bar also served light food of both American and Japanese cuisine. Among the five young women who legitimately were bartenders, one caught my eye. She was tiny, smaller than my grandmother. I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She had a quick wit and a good laugh. Her name was Kosyko.
About the third night there, I asked her out and she agreed to go after work. Her work ended at 2:00 a.m. When they closed The Butterfly, she took me to a small restaurant on the edge of the city. It was delightful and the fare was wonderful. It became our go-to place because it was one of the few restaurants open at that hour.
When my ship was in, it became a routine to meet Kosyko after work and go out. Movie theaters were open all night and we frequently went to the one down the street. I managed to stay awake during the Japanese films with no English subtitles.
I was smitten. I felt like I was in James Michener’s novel Sayonara, only with a happier ending. Kosyko took me out in the country to her aunt’s traditional Japanese home. We had dinner and carried on as much conversation as we could with Kosyko as the translator.
It was there I learned Kosyko was an orphan.
On August 9, 1945, she was visiting her aunt near Sasebo while her parents stayed in her home town of Nagasaki, roughly 50 miles south on the island of Kyushu. Her parents were among the 60,000 to 80,000 people who died from the “Fat Man.” Six days later, Japan surrendered, and World War II was essentially over.
Kosyko and I split about half-way through my tour. I made her angry. She was justified in her decision to call it quits. In 1975 while back in Sasebo for a month of maintenance on the U.S.S. Anchorage, I learned from another of the women at The Butterfly, Kosyko had moved to Hawaii. I never saw her again. But I often think of her when I hear or read something about Sasebo or Nagasaki.
The decisions on how to end the Great War will always be debated. A Japanese admiral estimated a U.S. invasion of the islands would result in 20 million Japanese deaths. The allied Joint War Plans Committee estimated such an invasion would cost up to 46,000 U.S. lives and anticipated as many as 220,000 allied casualties. Other U.S. estimates predicted allied deaths as high as 800,000.
We will never know if “Fat Man” and it’s earlier brother of death, “Little Boy” were worth the cost.
As with the evacuation of Vietnam, I am not smart enough to know the debate’s answer. But it seems to me there has to be a better way to live and die together on this planet.
I’m sure Kosyko, wherever she is today, will agree.
Jim Jewell is a writer and retired Navy commander living in San Diego and working for Pacific Tugboat Service. He was the director Navy’s West Coast leadership training and has been an consultant in executive coaching, teambuilding and organizational development. Jim still calls Lebanon his home.