Do you think that the battles of World War II never touched United States soil? That’s what I thought until I read this book. In May of 1943, a brutal struggle took place on the Aleutian island of Attu, which is part of the state of Alaska. It was a remote location that was almost uninhabited. For nearly a year, Japanese soldiers battled American soldiers for control of the island. It was a cold, windy, foggy place with spongy ground, which made it almost impossible to transport vehicles across. Most of the fighting was guerrilla-style.
When the Americans finally won control of the island, a hand-written journal was found on the dead body of a Japanese doctor. It was translated into English with the hope of finding some military secrets. But it contained only the daily happenings of the surgeon, and his desire to return home to his wife and daughters, one of whom he had never met. Copies of the translation began circulating among the servicemen. It was a side to the enemy that most had not considered – that some of the Japanese soldiers who were drafted were much like themselves. They loved their families, were homesick, and wanted the war to end.
The Japanese surgeon -Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi – had actually spent ten years in the United States studying to become a doctor. He had returned back to Japan to marry his childhood sweetheart, but hoped to become a U.S. citizen someday. But the start of World War II killed that dream. The Japanese were the enemy, and the United States didn’t want more coming into the country, let alone becoming citizens. Paul’s dream died, but he did the best he could to be a good doctor in Japan. He and his wife were 7th-Day Adventist Christians, which was not a good faith to have in Japan. Then came the order that he was being drafted. There was no choice; he had to serve. So Paul Tatsuguchi tended to the medical needs of his fellow soldiers, while trying to follow his religious beliefs of non-violence. It was an impossible situation.
The book goes back and forth between the story of Paul’s life, and the life of American soldier Laird, who shot and killed Paul. By the end of the book, I felt sorry for both of the men.
The battle of Attu was mostly unknown to Americans, and the government and the military suppressed the story. This battle claimed thousands of lives, both American and Japanese, and was totally unnecessary. When will mankind ever learn that in war-times, everyone loses? Everyone.