Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Today is our last day in Rome, tomorrow we board a plane home. We will arrive in San Francisco late on the 6th. I am looking forward to seeing everyone upon our return.
We had a fantastic last day. We visited the Coliseum where 60,000 people could gather to watch the gladiators fight. The Coliseum is huge, built in the 70 ACE it is showing it’s age. There is a lot of renovation going on, but still a magnificent site. We had the privilege of going in and standing on the battleground floor. You really get a sense of the closeness of the crowds as the gladiators fought.
After the Coliseum we walked over to the Roman Forum. Along the way we saw the excavation of Roman ruins. It is hard to imagine the Forum almost 2,000 years ago with people gathering to watch the chariot races around the circus makimus. This was the center of Rome socially and politically. As with all things it didn’t last.
Jane and I made our way to the Spanish Steps named because of the vicinity of the Spanish diplomatic building and a Italian church. The Spanish counsel built the steps to link the two as a sign of friendship. Something we dearly need today.
Monday, November 4, 2019
Today was a very special day. Not only did the weather cooperate but we were treated to some once in a lifetime sites. We rode the Metro and visited the Vatican Museum. The museum is the former home for the Popes and next to the Louve in Paris the largest museum in the world.
Aside from the many beautiful and ancient paintings and statues we visited the Sistine Chapel and the famous ceiling painted by Michaelangelo. Also saw paintings by Botticelli and Rafael.
We then made our way to Saint Marks Cathedral where all the past Pope’s are entombed.
Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome and then we return home. Looking forward to seeing you all.
Sunday, November 3, 2019
Today we left Florence by bus for Rome our last stop on this incredible journey. We made a stop in the Tuscany area known for their wine and olive oil. The family owned winery is located high in the hills. Marco and his wife have been here for 30 years making wine and olive oil. We learned a lot about olive trees and oil. His olive oil is rated very highly. We had a wonderful wine tasting accompanied by great food provided by his wife.
On to Rome, we arrived at our hotel and were met with rain. A walk through town was met with families on vacation (All Saints Day) and intermittent rain. We saw the fountain of the 3 rivers, the Parthenon and then hurried to our dinner in the midst of a thunderstorm. Many of us were soaked to the bone.
The small restraunt was nice and dry and warm. We settled into the basement which is next to the very spot where Ceaser was assassinated by Brutus and Cassius. We were serenaded with Italian classics during dinner. Wonderful!
Friday, November 1, 2019
Happy November Everyone,
Today we were treated to a walking tour of the backstreets of Florence. We visited the Musei del Bargello a 12th Century home in a very old neighborhood. The 5 story building’s facade is made of three arched entryways. In the old days these arches were open and led into a courtyard. Today there are doors. You can see the rings on the outside where horses were tied up and other metal holders where torches were set up at night. Each floor showed us the what life was like in 12th Century Florence.
We then traveled over to St. Trinity Church built in the 12th Century. From the outside it is very non-descript church but once inside we see a beautiful example of the Catholic faith. Inside there is a sculpture donated from Michaelangelo to the church. He created Jesus on the cross at age 17 and gave it to the church in gratitude. Michelangelo had studied anatomy and dissected corpses at the church (Illegal at the time) and from those studies he was able to make wonderful sculptures.
We then went and had a wonderful cooking class at In Tavola. We cooked tomato bruschette, fresh egg pasta with mushroom sauce, farmers chicken and tiramisu. Great fun and a delicious lunch. Can’t wait to try it at home.
We had free time, so Jane and I walked over to the Pitti Palace home of the Medici. The 16th and 17th Century art collection is one of the best. Even more impressive is the apartments or living quarters of the Pitti rulers.
Since it is All Saints week, the streets are full of people. We spent time after having a gelato and watched the people stroll by.
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Happy Halloween Everyone,
Here in Italy it is All Saints Day a three to four day holiday much like our Obon where families return to their homes, visit the graves of their loved ones and attend church services.
We drove by bus to Florence and upon our arrival we had a walking tour of the city’s historic Renaissance center. We learned about Brunelleschis’ magnificent cathedral dome. A massive structure. It is another example of the power of faith and what can be done in the name of God. Much like the huge Buddha in Nara. Nearby we saw the Ghilberti’s Baptistery doors of gold.
We walked a short distance to Santa Croce Church. The 14th Century Franscian chuch houses the tomb of Galileo Galilei. I admire Galileo who defied the church by stating that the earth moved around the sun. He was put under house arrest and wasn’t allowed to be buried in the church until hundreds of years after his death. Also buried here is Michelangelo and Machiavelli.
After visiting this beautiful church with its rich history we settled into a restraunt for a Tuscan dinner of a hearty vegetable soup, beef stew, wine, panna cotta and lemon chello.
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Today is our last full day in Venice. We are spending the morning in the museum Galleries dell’Academia home to some of the most famous and outstanding Italian paintings including “The Tempest”. Most of the paintings subjects are St. Mark, The Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. It is an amazing collection of paintings.
After the museum we boarded a bus to visit the islands of Burano and Torecello. Burano is famous for its colorful buildings and lace. We had a wonderful lunch at a small Resturaunt famous for its fish. From there we went to Burano the first settlement of Venetians and the oldest church and mosaic work in Italy.
Coming back to Venice we were treated to a gondola ride with music by an accordion player and a singer with a great voice. Dinner was at Vinci de Pinto. Great soup and a delicious lasagna with wine and lemoncello to end the dinner.
Tomorrow we travel to Florence.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Venice is amazing with all its tiny narrow streets, shops, plazas and churches. It’s history dates back to the 6th century when refugees from the invasion of the Huns drove people into the swamps to avoid them. Eventually making it their home. It is amazing how they have built the city on wooden timbers driven into the water where they become petrified because of the lack of oxygen and then building are put up on top of them. Today it rained and the tide went up so St. Marks square was under water. This is not unusual and they are prepared for it. After visiting the magnificent St. Marks Cathedral (which by the way didn’t start as a church, but a city leaders center) we visited a glass blower. The Venetian glass is beautiful as you can imagine.
Dinner last night was at a very nice place where I had the squid with black ink spaghetti. Jane had affagato, coffee and ice cream.
It is futile to try to explain the deep history and beauty of Venice. I will add pictures as usual in the hopes that it will give readers a sense of the city.
Monday, October 28, 2019
We arrived safely on our flight from Paris to Marco Polo Airport. We took a boat from the airport to Venice. I made the mistake of opening the front window to the boat to get some fresh air and got soaked from a wave hitting our boat. Welcome to Venice!
Our hotel in the Rialto area of Venice is very quaint. 700 years old, but full of all the amenities except a TV. We can live without one for a few days, good for us. In the afternoon we met with the rest of our group and had an orientation. We then had a walk around the city and stopped at a Graspodeua Restaurant Lounge for a great dinner of shrimp pasta, salad, calamari and of course wine. Dessert was a tiramisu and limoncello. Delicious.
Sunday, October 27, 2019
I hope everyone is doing well. Today was a leisurely day of visiting some of Paris’ most famous sites. There is so much history here and so much to see that we decided to travel on the site seeing bus around the city. We were able to get a good view and hear a audio history of Paris along the way.
We jumped off near the Louve and took some pictures then walked over to the Obelisk where once stood the guillotine that saw over 2,000 heads roll into baskets including Emperor Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Next to the Obelisk we visited a small museum with the works of Monet and Serac. We boarded the bus again and saw the “entertainment” part of town including the Moulin Rouge.
After a quiet dinner near the Louve we headed back to our hotel. Tomorrow we head to Italy.
Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 26-27, 2019
I am sorry that I didn’t post a blog for the past couple of days. We have been on the move and taking in a lot and coming back to our hotel late at night.
Friday, we spent the morning at the Palace of Versailles. A remarkable palace built by King Louie the XIV. It is so very opulent. Louie XIV lived in the late 15th century and consolidated the nation in much the same way the Shogun and Emperors did in Japan. The palace is so huge that it is impossible to see it all in one day. It was very crowded in parts of the palace but we were able to see some of the most important rooms. King Louie the XV took over the crown and lead in much the same way as his predecessor. King Louis the XVI with Marie Antoinette isolated themselves in the palace while France rebelled. They hid out until they were overthrown and killled.
We then traveled to the lLouve where we saw the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo.
Saturday, October 27
We spent the day doing some shopping along the Champ de Ellllise. Including a stop at the Baccarat store. In the early evening we made our way to the Eiffel Tower where we took the elevator up to the top. I don’t have any good pictures because I was not looking out or down at all during the time up there. After our trip up I had a scotch.
Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019
Today we have left our town of hotel in Reims and are heading to the Champagne region of France. We are on the final full day of the tour commemorating the 100th/442nd RCT 75th Anniversary. My blogs from this day forward will most likely be a bit shorter.
We have learned that the soil in the Reims area is very chalky and below the surface of the earth there are hundreds of miles of tunnels used to store and age the champagne. The gentle slopping hills of the region create for a short growing season and more sugar in the fruit which attributes for the bubbles. Like scotch, to be called champagne it must be produced in this area of France. Dom Perignon a Benedictine monk is credited as the first to make champagne in the 17th Century.
As we enter Mercier we can see the many small and large producers of champagne. We have arrived at the Mercier champagne producer where we will tour the caves and taste the champagne. The tour is on a small train that takes through the underground caves and gives us a history and educational presentation into the process of making champagne. After the train ride we were treated to a tasting. First a 2 year old brut. Brute champagne has been aged and then a small amount of sugar is added to each bottle. We then had a 4 year old brut followed with a pink champagne.
We then traveled back to Reims and visited the museum where the surrender of Germany took place on May 7, 1945. The building had housed a university before the Germans occupied Reims. After the liberation the 101st Airborne used it as their headquarters and eventually gave it to the Allied command for their headquarters. After the war a ceremony was held where they returned the keys to the mayor of Reims.
Inside the museum today are artifacts of the war and it’s participants. Most remarkable is the room where the Germans signed their surrender and the actual document of surrender.
We left Reims now knowing it’s important place in history. Returning to Paris in the late afternoon, Larry, Anne Jane and I took the train to the Arc de Triomphe. It was Napoleon who had the Arch of Triumph built to the glory of the Great Army. It is an imposing monument sitting at the end of the Champs-Elysees’ opposite the Palais des Tuileries the residence of the Emperor. The arc was under construction from 1806 to 1836.
Jane and I climbed the spiral staircase to the top, stopping frequently to catch our breath. The climb takes us 50 meters up about 170 feet. From the top we had a sweeping view of the city and the many roads that lead to the huge roundabout surrounding the Arc.
Returning below we saw the many markers honoring the soliders who fought for France over the years including those during WWII. In January 1920 a ceremony was held burying the body of an unknown solider. An eternal flame was lit on November 11, 1923.
After taking pictures we walked down the Champs-Elyses a wide street with many familiar stores like Luis Vuitton where a line to get in had formed. We stopped at Charles V diner on the avenue and had a very nice dinner.
Today we woke up to a cold and foggy morning. We have loaded our luggage onto our bus. We are first heading back to Bruyères for a final farewell to the city and the 100/442nd monuments. From there we will travel to the American Cemetery in Lorraine to pay our respects and conduct a memorial service.
As we say goodbye to Geredemeyer a beautiful white stork flys by our window and over the lake. As we approach Bruyères for the last time the sun is shining and we see more blue sky than clouds. Once again off in the distance we can see Hills B and C.
In 1945 the JACL offered a plaque to the city of Bruyères commemorating the 100th/44nd. They were able to erect that monument. However as you can imagine the town had just come from a devastating war and had little money or resources so the marker on Hill 555 was a simple wooden marker. In 2011 Carl Williams visited the site and saw that it needed repair. He contacted the mayor (who is the current mayor) who was happy to work with Carl on restoring the site. Together they decided to add elements to the site, and began collecting donations and eventually built a new monument that we see today.
We arrived at Hill 555 and were greeted by Mayor & Mrs. Yves Bonjean and daughter Anne. The hill is much quieter today which allows us time to quietly visit and contemplate. I had time to visit the small sculpture nearby by famed artist Shinkichi Tajiril. Tajiri was born in the Watts area of Los Angeles. He was interned in Poston from where he volunteered and joined the 100th/442nd with his brother Vincent. Wounded here in Bruyères he returned to the US and attended the Chicago Art Institute. Racism and prejudice drove Tajiri to the Netherlands to live. He became a world famous artist, sculptor and film maker. The “Knot” is here on hill 555 in memory of the 100th/44nd.
After a beautiful and moving rendition of Amazing Grace by Anne Bonjean and her mother we departed hill 555 and said goodbye to Bruyères and began the 2.5 hour drive to Lorraine.
We arrive in the American Cemetery in Lorraine and are met with an imposing site of the monument and surrounding headstones. Lorraine is the largest American Cemetery covering 1135 acres. There lies here 10,482 soldiers killed in WWII. Most died while driving the Germans from Metz toward the Rhine River. The cemetery was dedicated in 1960. There are 444 names on the wall of those missing in action, 4 Medal of Honor winners, 151 unknown soldiers, 11 women, and 30 sets of brothers.
Included in the brothers are the Akimoto brothers, Victor and John of Idaho. Victor was the older brother who was in the army when the war broke out. He had attained the rank of Staff Sargent when his brother enlisted from camp. Victor requested that he be allowed to serve with his younger brother, but was told that as a Staff Sargent that was not possible. Victor then volunteered to lower his rank to private so he could be with his brother. They died here in France and now are buried side by side.
Here is my talk to our group today:
“At my temples I conduct memorial services each month called Shotsuki Hoyo or monthly memorials. At these memorials we read the names of all who have died in that particular month. I am insistent that we read each and every name. When we hear the names they come to life. In Epinal and here we say the names of those fallen soldiers and they come to life, their hope dreams and their deeds. We then see that their lives were real just like ours.
Names have a power and a function. When I say the word Mom, Dad, brother it conjures up memories and feelings for each of you. You can see the face of your mom, you can hear her voice. These young men most of them in their 20s called out to their mothers and they found comfort, warmth and security. They knew they were embraced and accepted just as they were. Although thousands of miles away at that moment of calling out the distance disappeared and they were one. All sense of time and space were erased.
That is the power and function of a word like mom. That is why we read the names of these soldiers because it reminds us of their life, their hopes and dreams. In our tradition we say Namoamidabutsu. It is just a word, but it has a power and a function. It connects us to all beings past and present. It affirms that we are all accepted just as we are. They who lie here are never alone, never forsaken even when we are thousands of miles away. So today we call out their names and become one with them.”
After leaving Lorraine we drove into the town of Reims. We had time to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims. A 13th century church where the kings and queens of France were crowned. It is both beautiful and imposing. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. While visiting we saw devotees visiting making it clear that it is not just a beautiful and historical building, but a living and breathing church with parishioners.
At 7:30 pm we had our farewell dinner at the hotel. It was nice to have an opportunity to thank Carl and June Williams for all their hard work in putting together this trip. Tomorrow we return to Paris.
Today was a leisurely day of site seeing in the Vosges area. We made our way to Colmar though a thick fog. As we climbed in altitude and rose above the fog we were treated to some spectacular views from high above the fog. We passed though the forest Communale de Soultzeren. There are ski lifts near the summit. Parts of this road that we are on is where the Tour de France is held.
As we descend closer to the German boarder we are entering the town of Munster famous for their cheese. As we enter the city of Colmar is is bigger than what I imagined. But the area that we are interested in is ancient.
We boarded a small tour train upon our arrival. The 40 minute ride gave us a very good introduction to the city. After the ride we made our way to the Old Market Hall for lunch. The old market is next to Petite Venice a small canal running through town with beautiful old buildings. Colmar was an economic powerhouse in the 15th and 16th centuries and was one of ten imperial cities ruled directly by the Roman Emperor.
One outstanding feature of the town is the Half-Timbered Houses. The exposed timbers of the homes make for a beautiful and charming look to the area. As we strolled around we saw several works of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi the sculptor of our Statue of Liberty. The Church St. Martin built in 1235 was especially impressive.
We walked by the House of Heads or Maison des Tetes. Built in 1609 the front is decorated with 100 faces and masks.
We then boarded our bus and headed for the town of Riquewihr on the Alasac Wine route in Eastern France. This town a half hour away has preserved its ancient look and was fascinating just to stroll around. The Dolder Tower built in 1291 is impressive. We visited the Tour des Voleures a former prison with torture instruments.
The day is quickly coming to an end and with it our last night in our hotel in Gérardmer.
Monday, Oct. 21, 2019
Today we boarded our bus at 9:00 am and traveled to Epinal. Epinal is located about 1.5 hour drive from Strasbourg (141 Km) in the NE. On this day in history, the small town of Les Baraques was taken and the 100th/442nd was ordered to Biffontaine where they would save the Lost battalion.
From our vantage point as we arrive in Bruyères we can see hill B and come to realize how very daunting a task it must have been to climb the steep terrain in the cold, rain and while be bombarded with artillery fire and small arms fire.
But today are stop is in Epinal. It was here that the Allied troops began their offensive into Germany. In late September 1944 the forces of the 7th Army left Epinal and marched across the Moselle River on their way to Germany. At the same time the French First Army approached the Black Forests of Germany from the South. This was the beginning of a brutal and difficult campaign to take Germany. It would be 8 months later on May 8, 1945 that the US and its Allies would declare victory in Europe.
As we drive into the town we were greeted with a double rainbow.
In the town of Epinal there is the “Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial. As we arrive the cemetery is located on the outskirts of town on a hill. There is a beautiful manicured entry way that leads into the 5 acre site. At the cemetery there is a visitors building and the memorial structure that leads to the cemetery itself. On either side of the memorial are the Walls of the Missing 424 names of soldiers killed in action whose bodies were never found. Some of the names have next to them a rosette signifying that their remains have been found and buried. Also here are 69 soldiers whose identity is unknown. There are grave markers scattered around the cemetery with the words, “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A COMRADE IN ARMS KNOWN BUT TO GOD.” There are 14 sets of brothers buried here. The cemetery was dedicated on July 29, 1956.
As we arrived we conducted a memorial service at the top of steps overlooking the cemetery. Sanbujo, Juseige. Below is my talk:
“The gravestones here of young American soldiers among them members of the 100th/44nd represent a truth of life, of suffering and tears, like the flowers in full bloom subject to wither, like the full moon in the sky that wanes at dawn, they represent the fragile nature of human existence. The freedom that they fought so gallantly for is also subject to that truth, therefore it is important that we remain vigilant in the fight for freedom, so that they did not die in vain.
Throughout this week we have been experiencing moments of rain, a small inconvenience for us when we think of the struggles of these young men. When rain falls, our air becomes clear. There is a freshness in the air, and all the colors of the earth and sky seem to stand out even brighter. All of our senses come alive. And in Buddhism we believe that through our 6 senses we perceive and determine our entire existence. And that is why we symbolically burn incense at all our services, to awaken our senses. To become fully aware of what we have received from these brave men.
When our senses come alive, we are better able to know and experience all that exists around us. When the air is clear, when the colors of the earth and sky vibrate with their own individual colors, when our sense of sight, smell, taste touch, thought and hearing come alive, all that we have taken for granted or never noticed before comes alive.
And so on this day when we remember the young men who gave their lives here, the rain that gives us our crops and the rain that gives us our very lives, it also helps fill the emptiness that we feel in our hearts. At that moment, the memories feelings and emotions that we shared with those who lie here become even more deeply rooted in our hearts and minds.
There will be moments of sadness in life, but there will also be moments of joy, however both are evidence of the life of these beloved young men at this very moment. Proof that their lives continue to influence ours.
Just as the rain only removes the dust and reveals what has always been there and gives life, it is within our life also that the true heart and mind of these soldiers shall always take effect upon our lives and reveal the truth of life to us.
To know and experience this fact of our lives, this is the world of Namoamidabutsu. It is to truly experience those causes for this existence and those conditions that sustain this existence until we die. These young men paid the highest price for our freedom, let us not for a moment take for granted that precious gift of freedom.
In gratitude, Namoamidabutsu “
Following the service we visited the 13 gravesites of the 100/442nd Regiment members.
Sgt. George Suyama of Montana – MIA
PFC Bob T. Kameoka of Arkansas
Capt. Joseph L. Byrne of New York
PFC Yoshio Tengwan of Hawaii
PFC Edward Ogawa of Idaho
TSgt Mitsulu E. Miyoko of California
SSgt Tomosu Hirahara of Hawaii
PFC Terusaki Fujioka of Wyoming
PFC Minoru M. Yoshida of California
PFC Hachiro Mukai of California
TSgt Uetaro Sanmonji of California
1Lt. Ben Rogers Jr. of Arkansas
Pvt Hideo Yasui of Washington
Flowers and leis were laid at each site by representatives from our group, and the mayor of Honolulu and Bruyères.
Following the cemetery visit in Epinal we traveled back to Bruyères where our guide showed us the four hills surrounding Bruyères.
From there we visited a remote area of town to the NW where on a lonely farm road stands a unique and remarkable monument. A young soldier from Sumner, Washington volunteered with his 6 brothers into the army. Yohei Sagami and his oldest brother Joe ended up side by side in the 442nd fighting in Bruyères.
Yohei was part of E Company who was ordered to take Bruyères. As they came down the hill toward Bruyeres a mortar shell struck nearby mortally wounding Yohei. He died on October 15, 1944. His older brother was knocked down by the blast, ran to his brother and held him in his arms until he died.
Yohei’s mother never recovered from her son’s death, wearing his dog tags for the rest of her life. She rubbed the tags constantly until smooth.
On our trip with us are members of Yohei Sagami’s family. Nephew Lindsey told us the story of how his cousin came to see the sight where her father had died. She found that the villagers had marked the spot with a wooden marker. She thanked them and said she would be back again some day. Well, she returned years later, carrying with her the last letter Yohei had sent home. She had it laminated and asked if she could put the letter into the new wooden marker. To her surprise the villagers decided to put up a marble marker and insert the letter in the marker.
We were able to meet the Pierrat family who has for the past 75 years taken care of the site with flowers. Mr. Peirrat age 86 clearly remembers the soldiers coming through to liberate their small town. It was very touching and moving experience. I was able to do Omairi for the family at the site.
Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019
Today we stepped outside to a cool and crisp Fall morning. We were greeted with a double rainbow over Lake Geradmer outside our hotel, a good omen for us. This morning our bus is taking us to the town of Bruyères where we join others in the small town with the many activities commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the town.
This anniversary is significant to the Nisei soldiers who fought here and the residents of Bruyères. The town of Bruyères is where many Nisei saw their first battles in France. The town on Bruyères sits in a valley surrounded by four dome shaped hills. Those four hills surrounding Bruyères make up four corners surrounding the town. The Germans not only held the town, but the four hills designated A, B, C and D. Without taking the hills the liberation of Bruyères would be impossible. Hill A lay to the NW, B to the SW, C to the NE and D to the SE.
The 100th Battalion was charged with taking Hill A to the NW of town. In vicious battles up steep terrain the Nisei advanced 500 yards in one full day of assaults on the hill. As we viewed the hills from a distance we could see pine trees reaching high into the sky. We could imagine the cold, the fog and these trees giving excellent cover for the German forces. Having higher ground and being dug in with artillery support made the assault in the rain and cold miserable for the 100th.
The 100th also had the support of the 522nd artillery group. For three days the infantry fought off attacks and mounted assaults on the hills. While the 100th attacked Hill A, other units were attacking the other 3 hills. The 442nd was attacking hills C and D
On October 20, 1944 while extracting a wounded solider the stretcher bound solider was shot and killed. This incensed the Nisei soldiers whose sense of honor would never imagine shooting a wounded solider who was literally out of the fight. They charged up the hill enraged and took the hills C & D. It was here that a Nisei soldier shot and killed a German officer and he was able to secure battle plans that allowed F and L company to infiltrate in the cover of darkness and attack the Germans from behind their lines.
On this day Sargent Robert Toshio Kuroda single handedly attacked and took two German machine gun encampments. Leading a charge up the steep hills he came within 10 yards of the first encampment and with continuing fire took the machine gun nest. See a second he advanced forward constantly shooting until he took the second nest. As the rest of his company advanced forward Kuroda was killed by a sniper. For his actions on this day 75 years ago today, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The 100th/442nd was then ordered to move to take the town of Biffontaine. Without rest they left Bruyères.
As we arrived in the town of Bruyères we can clearly see the hills. They are daunting steep and filled with trees. We gathered together at a sign honoring the first killed in Bruyères, Sargent Tomosu Hirahara of the 100th/442nd. Across the street was the local Catholic Church still showing the marks of bullet holes from 75 years ago.
We attended the morning Mass that was attended by many dignitaries including, mayors of local towns, Mayor of Honolulu, Counsel General and Congressmen. It is a beautiful church with stained glass depicting the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Following the Mass we gathered together for a small parade (we took part in the parade) into the center of town. Jane and I handed out candy to the children along the way. The parade ended in the city center where there is a large monument honoring those who died in the war including civilians, French resistance fighters and French soldiers from Bruyères who fought throughout Europe. We heard the National Anthem of France and US with speeches and floral offerings at the site.
We then boarded our bus to Hill 555 the site of the 100th/442nd monuments. I had the honor with others of laying down a floral offering from our group. Mayor Yves Bonjean of Bruyères, Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu and Hawaii 1st District Congressman Ed Case planted a Japanese Maple tree.
I then chanted the Sanbujo and Juseige and shared these thoughts:
“Shariputra if a good man hears Amida Buddha preach and firmly holds the Name wholeheartedly and single mindedly, be it for one day, two days, three days, four days, five days, six or seven days. Amida Buddha, together with all the holy multitudes will appear before that person as the end of life draws near. When death arrives, that person with mind undisturbed, at once gains rebirth in Amida’s Land of utmost happiness” Amidakyo.
“As we gather it is our turn to listen, and receive the message from the young men who died here. It is our turn to live each moment in gratitude for this life, for our family and friends. It is our turn to live with compassion and wisdom for all beings.
Today those young men who gave their lives here bring us together, they posses a power in our lives live never before, they make us remember, they make us contemplate life, they make us cry, they make us mature and they make us all hear the Dharma, the truth of life in a deeper way that we never heard before.
They teach us all the truth of impermanence and guide us all toward seeing the truth of our lives and our deep connection with each and every one of them.
They will continue to influence our lives and guide us to grow and mature in ways that we cannot comprehend today. Therefore, we honor them and call them Buddhas and we put our hands together in Gassho and recite the Nembutsu in gratitude to them. At that moment we become one with them. Namoamidabutsu”
Everyone was then invited to come up and Oshoko.
From Hill 555 we traveled back into town. On our way we stopped to see the sign designating the street named after the 442nd. Rue De 442nd Regiment American Infantry Liberators of Bruyères October 1944.
At the town center more speeches before lunch. Near the town center there was a photo display of the liberation of Bruyères along with artifacts. The town clearly honors those Nisei who liberated Bruyères. Around town photos were hung on street corners and we could see that after 75 years the town had not changed that much. Buildings still stand as they did 75 years ago, some showing the marks of war.
Lunch was held at the city sports center. Allison Hue Miss Hawaii 2016 was present and danced and sang for all of us. Lunch was late and by the time we finished and returned to our hotel is was past 5:00 pm, so we returned to our rooms and rested.
All in all a very moving day. Jane and I were so happy to be able to be part of a memorable and moving experience.
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019
Today was a full day of visits to sites. It was an emotional and poignant day. And as promised, tears fell as we remembered the men of the100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. We traveled from our hotel to Biffontaine about a half an hour drive from our hotel. As we traveled up the hill. We followed the Vologne River and the town of Les Evelines. Passing through small town one after the other, we could see the landscape change along with the weather.
We crossed over the River Neune’ on Rue de la Marie into the hamlet of Les Poulieres. We are now seeing the many hills where the 100th/442nd fought and died. At 9:15 we arrived in Biffontaine. Near the village church we had a few minutes to visit. Jane handed out See’s suckers to the many children present. They were all smiles and some gave to her origami blue birds with “merci” written on it & their names. Very sweet. Also present were members of the 100th from Hawaii and young men dressed as WWII American soldiers complete with weapons and jeeps.
After a few minutes we boarded the bus and an long entourage of cars, vans and our bus to the site of the “Lost Battalion”. There was a memorial ceremony with speeches by the local dignitaries and floral presentations by representatives of the villages. Our group was represented by Carl Williams. Children of the nearby villages presented 1,000 cranes with Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu.
Following the ceremony many of us walked up the nearby hills where there still exists the foxholes dug out by the 100th/44nd and some by the “Lost Battalion”. I came across Elizabeth Brownly-Blonder granddaughter of Lt. Erwin Blonder. She was crouched in a foxhole. We both commented how hard it must have been for all the men here on this hill and how hard it is to imagine what they went through.
We boarded the bus and made a quick stop to see the monument dedicated to Medal of Honor winner Barney Hajiro who fought in these woods 75 years ago.
As we moved on toward Biffontaine a steady rain fell, almost as if the tears shed by those soldiers 75 years ago bid us farewell.
Back at Biffontaine a ceremony was held to dedicate a plaque to George Washington Suyama the only MIA of the Biffontaine Campaigns. We did a memorial service at this site. Sanbujo, Juseige followed by Nembutsu:
“I can imagine many young men like George Suyama attended Sunday School at the Buddhist temple in their youth. They learned of the fragile nature of life, and as young men here in Biffontaine they lived that truth. I can imagine they saw the start of Autumn and watched the leaves flutter to the ground, reminding them of this truth of life. Then they witness their comrades falling to the ground. No greater truth than the fragility of life. They embraced each moment and each other and saw each moment of life as precious.
They also learned as youth the truth the interdependent nature of all things. They learned that we are all connected, that we are all one, and that all our thoughts words and actions have lasting and profound effects. They knew this an fought for us here today.
You and I are able to see that truth here in the lives of the people in these small towns and in their families. The family of Erwin Blonde a survivor of the “Lost Battalion” is a stark example of this truth. They remind us that their lives would not be here if not for the sacrifices of the 100th/442nd.
The lives of these brave men of the 100th/442nd truly touch our lives today. Their sacrifice of 75 years ago make this world more peaceful and our lives more fulfilled. May we gathered here today continue to honor them by fulfilling their hopes and dreams for a peaceful world and a love for one another. Namoamidabutsu”
After returning from the hotel, we rested up a bit and then met for dinner with mayor of Biffontaine. The Sakato family from Denver was introduced. Father Joe Sakato was a Medal of Honor recipient. His daughter Leslie is on our tour
George Taro Sakato
Mayor Deni Enrei’ spoke to us in French and then Tom Graves spoke to us on the history of the 442nd. Before dinner I gave the following words:
“Today, we gathered together on hallowed ground where the feats of the young men of the 100th/442 became true and real to us. We were reminded of our past and the deep connection to the present. Our job now is to carry on their story, their lives live on in us. As we partake of this meal placed before us, in a spirit of gratitude to all the conditions, past and present that have allowed us to gather together and nourish our minds and bodies through the Wisdom and Compassion of the Buddha Dharma. May we through the Buddha Dharma enhance our realization of the interdependency of all existences and accept our role, as those soldiers did 75 years ago, with a sense of integrity, respect, courage, compassion, honesty, loyalty and gratitude. Dans la plus grande nous recevons ce repar. With gratitude I accept this food. Namoamidabutsu, Itadakimasu.
After dinner, the family of Lt. Erwin Blonder spoke to us. The wife of Lt. Blonder sent her regrets that she couldn’t be with us, but her health wouldn’t allow her to travel. Their daughter Leslie spoke for the family. Lt. Blonder was part of the 141st Texas battalion sent up to the hills of Biffontaine and became know as the “Alamo Battalion”. On October 24, 1944 they found themselves surrounded by the Germans and then became known as the “Lost Battalion”. Lt. Blonder manned the only radio and was the only line of communication to the Allies. Hitler heard of their predicament and ordered the German to assault and capture or kill them all. Hunkered down in foxholes, Lt. Blonder reported on October 16th that they were out of water and food and low on ammunition. 36 men were sent out to try to find a way out and only 5 returned. A day later 53 volunteered to find a way out and 5 returned. On October 28, 1944 General Dalquist ordered the 442nd in. On October 30th Lt. Blonder last communique was “the 442nd has arrived, we are saved, tell them we love them”
Lt. Erwin Blonder
Lt. Blonder returned to the US raised a family and a successful business man, never forgetting his life after the war was possible because of the heroics of the 442nd. Through those days of fighting the 200 man battalion came down the hill with the Texas Battalion and 8 men and many more killed and wounded.
The children and grandchildren repeatedly said their lives are a direct result of the sacrifices, bravery and dedication of the 442nd battalion.
Friday, Oct. 18, 2019
Today we left Paris by bus and traveled toward the German boarder. Along the way we were treated to vistas of the beautiful French countryside. Rolling hills of Soviet Laila & Fontuannes. The farmlands were beautifully manicured and occasionally interrupted with groves of luscious green trees. Fall is definitely arriving here in France. We can see the green hills accented by the changing yellow, red and orange leaves of the trees, reminding us of ephemeral nature of all things. Occasionally the sun tries to peak through the clouds treating us to light and a French rainbow. (Looks just like US rainbows).
As we move through the countryside I can imagine the soldiers who fought here 75 years ago walking though the open fields and finding comfort and cover in the dense forests of Fontvannes. I can imagine the young men who grew up going to temples and heard the Buddha Dharma and truly understanding the frailty of life. They watched the falling leaves like their fallen comrades fluttering to the ground and becoming one with the earth.
As we turn south toward Lainey’s-aux Bols and Saint-Lerer PRs Troyes we stopped at a nearby rest stop for lunch. Jane and I shared a ratatouille and soup for lunch. A very clean and well kept rest stop.
After lunch the weather turned and we drove through a pretty good rain. We were distracted from the rain with a presentation from Tom Graves, photographer and author who shared the history of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The unit was created in March 1943 and trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. In May 1944 they were shipped to Italy and eventually joined the 100th RCT. They took part in Operation Drangoon on the Gothic Line as well as the campaign in France near our destination in Bruyères.
The rain let up as we approached Gerarchner and our hotel Beau Rivage. After checking in Jane, Larry, Anne and I explored the small ski town.
Dinner was at 7:30 pm in the hotel. Mayor Yves Bonjean from Bruyères spoke followed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. I then led the words before the meal in English and French: “ Throughout the next few days we will hear the word “sacrifice”. There is no greater sacrifice than to lay down ones life for the sake of others. Because of the sacrifices of the 100th/442nd battalion we here today find in each other, love, trust and a common bond of gratitude. Because of that we find a oneness and harmony with our hosts, guests and friends. May we all sharing in their gathering cherish the highest aspiration. May this dinner we partake of nourish us physically and spiritually so that the mists of error and the foolish vanity of self be dispelled. Namoamidabutsu, Itadakimasu.”
Judge Margaret Masunaga of Hilo, Hawaii ended the night with a personal story of the 100th where her uncle died and her interviews with others who fought with the 100th. It was moving and poignant.
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019
Today was a very leisurely day. We started out in the lobby of our hotel at 8:30 am where we met many of our fellow travelers who had arrived the day before. We have people from Denver, Los Angeles, Oregon, New York and Hawaii. We boarded our bus and started a historical tour of Paris.
We were able to see many of the sights familiar to many including the Arc de Triumph, the Eiffel Tower and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Much of our tour was on the bus, so photography was limited. It was sad to see Notre Dame under renovation after the devastating fire earlier this year.
We stopped briefly to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower and again at the Luxor Obelisk. The Obelisk was originally located at the Luxor Temple in Egypt and moved to Paris in 1833 in a gift exchange with Egypt. It is estimated to be 3,000 years old.
Following our bus tour we traveled to the restaurant La Coupole a Michelin Star Resturaunt opened in 1927. It is designated as an historical heritage site. I took a minute to explain to everyone the meaning of “Itadakimasu”. Rather than the words “Let’s eat” as subtitled in many Japanese films, Itadakimasu literally means to raise above our heads, symbolically honoring the food and all that goes into it’s preparation. I asked everyone to join me in Gassho and then thanked all the efforts, causes and conditions for the meal we have received. Namoamidabutsu. Our wonderful lunch consisted of Chicken Supreme with mushrooms and rice. Dessert was a beautiful Creme Brûlée.
After lunch, Larry, Anne, Jane and I walked a few blocks over to the bakery Maison M’Sedd. The bakery is the winner of the 2018 best baguette in Paris. Of course we bought a baguette which we enjoyed later in the evening with cheese, salami and good company.
Tomorrow we will board the bus for Bruyeres.
Rev. Hosei Shinseki
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019
Today was a full day of art, culture and food of Paris. Jane and I spent the morning traveling to the Atlier des Lumineres at the Centre d’art numerique. There was a special show of Van Gogh that is an immersive art display of his artwork. It was visually stunning. I was reminded of the genius of Van Gogh and his use of color. Seeing his work in such a format we were able to see the genius of Van Gogh and his brush strokes that brought out not only colors and hues, but how he spoke to generations with his beautiful work. One of my favorite Van Gogh works is Starry Night painted in 1889 in France. Accompanied with beautiful music, we were able to see his work in all its wonder.
Following the Van Gogh works, we were treated to a art work from Japan with the same stunning presentation with music accompaniment from taiko to Keiko Matsuki. We were fortunate to experience this wonderful show that is only in Paris and Tokyo.
Later in the day we were met with our good friends Larry and Anne Oda of Monterey. They arrived with many others whom we met who are here for the 100th/442nd Anniversary tour. Larry, Anne Jane and I all traveled together in the later afternoon to a dinner cruise on the Seine. We were able to see the Eiffel Tower glittering in the night and from our river cruise we saw sights and views unique from a river boat. We saw sights such as the Le Musee D’Orsay, the burned out La Cathedrale Notre-Dame, theLuvere and Le Grand Palais as well as La Statue de la Liberte’.
Our dinner was on the cruise was memorable. I had snails cooked with fregola sarda. Bigarade Duckling in orange sauce and baked Alaska. Of course with champagne and wine. Jane had crab in cream of grapefruit, fillet of sea bass, and mango, coconut and passion fruit for dessert. No wine for Jane, I drank her share.
All in all it was a wonderful day. Tomorrow we meet all the persons on the tour at a welcome luncheon. Looking forward to the next phase of our trip.
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019
We have safely arrived in Paris without any problems. We arrived at SFO a bit early and had time to sit in the Air France lounge. Had a nice snack washed down with a Bloody Mary. Our flight was about 10 hours traveling over the upper NE part of the United States. We flew over Nova Scotia on our to France. We skirted the south of England and came into France from the North. We landed with a thump and a skid that scared us but we landed just fine. Namoamidabutsu. Something about air flight that reminds me the Other Power and giving up our powerless selves.
We arrived on Tuesday at 11:30 am and took the train into Paris to our hotel. We settled Into our room and them took an afternoon food tour. We got a bit lost on our way to the tour, but eventually met up with our tour guide Dina. We started our tour in the Northern part of Paris at the Rue de Bretagne market where we picked up dates, tomatoes and grapes. We then traveled nearby to Maison Verot to pick up salami.
As we traversed the area we saw wonderful old neighborhoods. Dina pointed out that many of the older buildings will have lanterns hanging outside and some buildings will have street names carved into the buildings.
Our next stop was Jacques Genin Chocolate shop one of the best in Paris. I have to say it was very very good. With sugar pouring through our veins we had renewed energy to walk over to the Place de la Republique. This large statue celebrates the founding of the French Republic. It’s large statue on the top is Marianne the manifistation of the French Republic. Surrounding her is three statues representing Liberty, Equality and Faternity. Something we dearly need in the world today.
Nearby we stopped at a small and wonderful cheese shop were we tasted 10 different cheeses with wine and our fruits, salami and veggies bought earlier. Our last stop was Boularngerie Des Pain. Great pistachio pastry. I had the apple. Yummy.
That ended our first day in Paris. Loving the city and the people.
World Buddhist Women’s Conference
On August 30, 31 and September 1, twelve members of the Watsonville Buddhist Temple attended the World Buddhist Women’s Conference in San Francisco. Attendees came from Europe, South America, Hawaii, Canada and Japan. The current Gomonshu his Eminence Monshu Kojun the 25th generation descendant of Shinran Shonin to head the Hongwanji was also in attendance.
Everyone who attended were very pleased with the two keynote speakers Dr. Tono of Japan and Rev. Yukiko Motoyoshi of the Stockton Buddhist Temple. Most of the workshops were fun, educational and interesting for the attendees.
On Sunday after the conference many of the 1700 attendees participated in Bon Odori at the Yerba Buena Park near the hotel.
Thank you to all who attended from Watsonville.
On November 23, 2018, His Eminence Monshu Kojun Ohtani delivered a dharma message at the Hongwanji’s annual Perpetual Memorial and Autumn Service.
In his message, Gomonshu-sama summarized his thoughts in a four verse piece titled OUR PLEDGE.
It is Gomonshu-sama’s hope that these verses will be read and shared at various services and gatherings, especially among young and new members, so that we may bring religion closer to our everyday lives.
On August 2 and 3, 2019, the Temple held its annual Rummage Sale which is always well attended.
Breaking out of my shell
I will share a warm smile and speak gentle words
Just like the kind Buddha.
Not becoming lost in my greed, anger, and ignorance
I shall think and act with an open-mind
Just like the calm and peaceful Buddha
Not putting myself first
I will share in the joy and sadness of others
Just like the compassionate Buddha
Realizing the gift of life I have received
I shall strive to live each day to its fullest
Like the Buddha who tirelessly works to liberate all.