On December 7th, 1941, after hearing the announcement of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, I was walking up the street in my hometown, Lakeview, Long Island, and ran into my cousin. We said simultaneously, “I hope it lasts long enough for me to get into it.” I was 15 years old; he was 16.

I remember songs like Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor and Were Going to Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap. We were really mad at the yellow so-and-so’s. As soon as I was 17 years old, I joined the US Navy to get back at them. I spent two-and-a-half years in the South Pacific and went from New Guinea to Okinawa and the islands in between, including the Philippines. I was at Biak Island off the coast of New Guinea when the ammunition ship, Mount Hood, exploded and blew up in December, 1944. My ship the USS Thomas F Nickel D.E 587 was standing in line to receive munitions when the accident happened. We were only a few hundred yards away. The noise was unbelievable and rocked our ship in the water. Fortunately we sustained no physical damage. The only survivors were those who had gone ashore in the ship’s whaleboat – the coxswain, the mailman, and the movie trader.

On January 10, 1945 after we had secured the harbor at Manila Bay, shortly after dusk there were suddenly several explosions on nearby ships. I turned out that the Japanese soldiers were swimming under floating cardboard boxes with munitions strapped to their bodies. They were climbing up anchor chains and putting explosives in out gun mounts. We broke out all small arms on the ship and set all 20-mm guns at general quarters. You could actually spot cardboard boxes floating against the tide and current. The Japanese were very clever and tricky warriors. It was sort of interesting to shoot at a cardboard box floating against the tide and seeing it explode.

In August, 1945 we were escorting another ship from Okinawa to Leyte in the Philippines and we were attacked by a Japanese human torpedo pack. These human torpedoes were on suicide missions and the Japanese were strapped into one-man torpedoes. These one-man torpedoes had a steering mechanism that could turn on a dime and cut you off after you had already zigged and zagged. Your only defense was to shoot them in the water and explode them before they hit your ship. We did that with 20 mm and 40mm guns. These human torpedoes were carried six to eight in a mother sub that sat on the bottom and released her human torpedoes in the middle of the convoy. We were lucky that day. We sunk two for sure and possibly a third. The mother sub took off.

We were all aware of the atrocities committed on American prisoners in Japanese prison camps. There was no love lost between American fighting men and the Japanese.

Some thirty-five years later in the mid-1970s I was approached by a member of my church about the Pacific American Institute that was placing Japanese students in American homes for the summer so they could learn English at local high schools. My wife, fully realizing that I had spent 2 ½ years in the South Pacific fighting the Japanese, asked me if I thought I could handle having a Japanese girl living in our home for the summer. I thought about it for a minute or so and reminded my wife that I had worked for a mutual fund company as a division manager in Whittier, California, where I won several annual sales trips. The manager of the company office in Sacramento was a Japanese-American by the name of Ralph Nashimi and won the same trips I did I had never had any problems with Ralph; I just thought of him as another manager. In fact, my wife and I got along very well with Ralph and his wife, Ruby. We decided that we would go ahead with the student exchange program. Since we had a 15-year old daughter Debbie, we agreed to take at 15-year-old Japanese girl for the summer of 1977.

Her name was Yesmin from Kyoto. The only English she knew was, “hello, “yes” and “no.” We had purchased an English/Japanese dictionary and started from there. We made it through the summer and Yesmin completed the program, speaking pretty good English when she left. The Japanese students are very fast learners.

It was a little embarrassing when the US was celebrating the bombing of Hiroshima in August.
The entire family, including my 75-year-old mother enjoyed the experience. The Japanese truly respect and honor their elder relatives and treated my mother as such. We agreed to do the exchange program next year.

Noriko Iguchi, a 16-year-old, also from Kyoto, arrived in 1978. Although my daughter Debbie enjoyed and got along very well with Yasmin, she and Noriko really hit it off well and became fast friends. Debbie even asked Noriko if she would be one of her bridesmaids at her wedding. Noriko said she would come to America for the wedding. Debbie was going with the boy she eventually married and Noriko had met him.

We had two other girls from Japan in 1979. Noriko came to visit with three girlfriends, and the girls from 1979 came for a visit in the early 1980s. Noriko had become a translator and when her company sent her to Los Angeles on business, she visited us.
At Debbie’s wedding on December 31, 1983, Noriko wore her best ceremonial kimono and obi. She looked like an oriental doll coming down the aisle on the arm of my son Darrell.

We had come full circle. I turned the other cheek and Noriko kissed it.