Category Archives: World War II

Save One For Hachioji

Veterans’ Tales by Vassar Bushmills

When my family and I first came to Japan, in Spring,1972, we flew on an American contract airline, via Honolulu and Wake Island, from Travis AFB, California.

We arrived at Yokota AFB in the northeast outskirts of greater Tokyo at night. An Army staff car and driver picked us up and took us the two and a half hour trip to Camp Zama, the old Japanese Army military academy grounds, and dropped us off at a BOQ, where we would stay until we received our household goods and could move into quarters.

Other than that I never had any occasion to travel to Yokota, except in 1974 to try a batch of criminal cases for the Air Force when their legal staff there had placed themselves in a conflict-of-interest situation, where they would rotate prosecutors and defense lawyers, so ended up arguing both sides of the case on different days. It was a big Buddha-weed bust on an AF transport heading back to the States. A civilian lawyer caught them at it, called them out, and those cases had to be retried. Egg on the Air Force’s face.

In all, I traveled back and forth to Yokota three times in normal daylight hours and we went through a small city of half a million, actually a suburb of Tokyo, named Hachioji. The first time, I wasn’t prepared.

Driving through what looked like just more endless city, just like the several miles on the south side of Tokyo, where I lived, my driver, a Japanese man in a suit, turned around, and said, “Captain, we are coming to Hachioji City. Please roll up windows, lock door, and look straight ahead. Make no face.”

Shortly, along the narrow streets that Japanese called “two-lane highways”, people began coming out of the shops and little 3-stooler restaurants they would lunch at, and began pounding on the car, shriek curses (I guess), spitting, making hand gestures, with scowls that could cause an exorcist to squirm.

In a couple of minutes they either quit or we left the city[…]

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A steep discount on a vividly told war novel — Paullina Simons’ “The Bronze Horseman”

A decade ago, I spent almost ten hours, many of which occurred when I should have been sleeping, reading Paullina Simons’ debut novel, The Bronze HorsemanIt’s a historical romance novel, about a young Russian woman and a soldier during the Siege of Leningrad. Although Simons’ approach to the romance is a bit shaky — a lot of endless teasing and kind of unusual lovemaking (although nothing graphic) — I nevertheless think that it is a book that’s really worth reading.

In all my many years of reading a lot of novels and history books, I’ve seldom read such a vivid recreation about what it’s like to survive (or die during) a modern siege. We often associate siege warfare with Biblical or Medieval times, but this book is a reminder that the events in Simons’ book happened slightly more than 70 years ago.

During the Nazi’s brutal Siege of Leningrad, which lasted almost two-and-a-half years, more than 1.5 million soldiers and civilians died, with some resorting to cannibalism to stave off death, while another 1.4 million women and children were evacuated, only to have an unknown number of them die during the evacuation process. According to Wikipedia (which I believe is accurate here), the battle between the Russians, on the one hand, and the Germans, Finns, and Italians, on the other hand, “caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city.”

To read more, please go here.