Crossroads of Fate

The air-raid we experienced was just like the expression, “as easy as twisting a baby’s hand” meant.  When the town of Hahm Nyeo was turned into the mountain of rubble after the raid by B25s and B15s, I suffered a  slightly injured back.  However, the apprentice officer for the accounting department I was taking with me received a serious head injury.  My classmate from the Tokyo School of Economics who was visiting me died in the air-raid outside the castle of Hahm Nyeo.  Moreover, first lieutenant N in the branch of the army, who was staying next to my room, was killed in the air-raid.  During the air-raid, we were all hiding in fox holes almost naked, gripping onto the handle of our sabers.  However, he believed going into such a hole was too dangerous, and was always jumping into the sturdier bomb shelter made under the wall of the castle with all his formal attire on.  I vividly remember how we saw from our fox hole the way he was running toward that shelter.  

The first lieutenant N, however, died instantly when a direct hit the air-raid shelter. Two non-commissioned officers who were with him were buried under the rubble and were unconscious but were only slightly injured when they were dug out.  At a time like this, careful preparation does not mean anything.  At the same time, brimming with self-confidence and bravery does not affect where the bomb hits.  It is the matter of fate.

As I was writing my cards, I was really wondering about what to do now.  One choice was to go from Seoul to Pusan, and find a ship to go back to Japan.  Another choice was to go to either Hsinking where the headquarter of the Kwantung Army was or to Houten where the supply depot was to find out more about the situation.  The last or the first possibility was to go to Beijin where the Sato family was.  

As I contemplating my options, I was drinking sake in the room in Bizenya.  The landlord said, “ I have made efforts to make my inn what it is today spending over forty years, but this is it.  Please drink any amount of sake as you wish.  This is my treat.” His kindness accelerated my drinking and I had already finished ten bottles by then.   

“The war is finally over.  It is amazing I am still alive!”  I greatly relived for one , but was full of questions.  “Why did my comrades have to die?  What was the use for me to collect various goods during the air-raid?”  My mind was swaying between regrets and daze, and I was completely at a loss how to make up my mind for the immediate future.  

No matter how hard I tried, it was very difficult for me to decide since nothing was informed regarding the situations in the northern areas such as in Seoul, Korea, Manchuria, and North China.

When I finally came to the conclusion to go to Beijin, two commissioned officers who belonged to the same department of the legal office of the military headquarters suddenly opened the sliding screen and came in.    

They said, “we don’t have any ideas either, so we will try and see how it is if we go back to Hamhung where the military headquarter is.”  It is really strange, but human beings easily become sentimental at times like that.  As I kept listening to them, my own conclusion to go to Beijin began to collapse immediately.  Instead, I began to lean towards  the idea to go back to Hamhung with them.  In the meantime, the landlord who came into our room at that time said he was going back to Japan since nothing could be done about his business anymore.   

Back then, it did not dawn on me that commoners (“locals” in the army language) were far more informed and had a better sense of decision makig at a time like that. 

“Don’t say such a thing.  Hang in there a bit more.  It will be worth it to see how things are going to be like.”  Although I talked to him like that, soon after that, I was made to realize how I was lacking in the understanding of reality at that time.

After we comforted the master of Bizenya, we left Seoul that night.  Then we headed for Hamhung in a fierce rain on a dark train which was still under no light restrictions.  

We crossed the 38-degree parallel during the night—which was a crossroad for my destiny.  The locomotive in South Korea was saturated with the smell of garlic.  It may sound funny but back then, I did not know what garlic was.  I probably had eaten it before, but had no idea that it was the root of the plant of that shape until I was taken to the Soviet Union.  

When I was riding the same train from Seoul to Hamhung at the end of July, a Korean man around forty years old, who was sitting in front of me, offered me a lunch box.  The lunch box was filled with white rice and red-colored meat as a side dish in the corner of the box. 

As I was so hungry at that time, my eyes may have been looking at his lunch with envy.   He was eating the same lunch.  Rice was under rationing due to the lack of food.  He must have been carrying two lunch boxes for himself because of that, and he was so kind to offer one of them to me.   

I had never met anyone who insisted offering his own lunch box.  In addition, that Korean person was a stranger, and he did not owe anything to me.  Naturally, I declined his offer, but he left the lunch box there for me to eat.  Being so hungry, I changed my mind and decided to accept his kindness.  

How tasty the lunch was!  Rice was white and the meat was so delicious.  It was hot with hot pepper, and had a strong scent of garlic.  I remember him watching me eat with chopsticks with a very happy face--I must have been gobbling the treat.    

Now I was taking the lonesome night train. I felt especially lonely on the train where the light bulbs were wrapped with black cloth due to the control of lights.  Everytime the train went over the joints of the rails, it gave monotonous sounds.  Often, there were small shakes as it went through the points.  On such a train, I could not fall asleep for a long time, thinking about what I had gone through and what might be waiting for me.  However, with the help of the alcohol from the sake, I gradually fell asleep.

The following morning, the locomotive train arrived at the station in Hamhung.  Then I immediately went to the military headquarters.  The office at a middle school where the accounting department was in a state of chaos down.  Everyone was at a loss and just kept walking around.  Everyone was very nervous, but was not doing anything with focus.  I did not see any of the Soviet soldiers yet.  

As I think back about the crossroad of my fate, I cannot think about my decision to go to Hamhung without having thoughts of deep regret.  My decision that evening at Bizenya was truly a crossroad for me.