Chie Abe & Denis
by Denis R. Graham
Chie and I were born near the same time, but on two separate continents, separated by the Pacific Ocean. To the Chinese it was the Year of the Dog, and in Japan, where Chie was born, it was Showa 21, the twenty-first year of Emperor Hirohito's reign. By the Western calendar, it was 1946.
Chie was born the sixth day of February that year, while I was born on the fifth day of May. The dreadful war between our two great nations had been over only a few months, and little would anyone guess that one day we would meet, let alone marry.
For reasons that will soon become apparent, this story begins not with our birth but with our conception.
Chie, who could very easily have been born as a Russian prisoner or in Korea, or not born at all, was conceived on a cool day in Japanese held Manchuria, nearly a year before my birth. Chie's father, Shyoji Shin, was an engineer, employed by a construction company, and had been sent to China and the vassal state of Manchuko (Manchuria) several years earlier. Her father was in Manchuko to help build dams, like the one at right, and a plant for the testing and production of synthetic products for the Japanese war effort.
The war, by this time, was going badly for Japan. At Chie's conception, the Japanese home island of Okinawa was under attack and would soon be lost. After the island fell to American troops, bombing of Japan's other home islands began almost around the clock.
At the time I was conceived, my father, Robert Graham, was stationed in Texas and preparing to leave for the expected invasion of Japan. It was also about the time of my conception that the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima on the Japanese island of Honshu. My father was crossing the Pacific when the war ended, and instead of going to Japan, he was sent to Korea as part of America's army of occupation.
Two days after the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, Russia declared war on Japan and were soon invading Manchuko.
The family was living in a small village between Harbin and the Amur river in northeast Manchuko, but Chie's father was away on another assignment, so it was left to Chie's mother, Kiyoko, to take care of her two sons, and the unborn child she carried. On more than one occasion, Kiyoko had to hide under the floorboards of a Manchuko home as the Russians searched through the village for the Japanese. Friends of hers had been found by the Russian soldiers and were raped and murdered. The Russians were becoming even more cruel, the Chinese were approaching, and the Manchuko people were beginning to turn Japanese over to the Russians. Kiyoko knew she could stay no longer. Somehow, she had to flee to safety.
Although winter was approaching, Kiyoko gathered what food, warm clothing, money and valuables she could, and with her two sons, aged two and three, began her flight to Korea, some five hundred miles away over rugged mountain terrain.
It was December 8 when Kiyoko and her sons began their journey. Her plans were to somehow get to Korea, pass through the Russian occupied area and make it to the area occupied by the "Red Barbarians," the Americans. For, even they were preferred to the cruel, sadistic Russians.
They had been existing on pickles and rice, and Kiyoko was suffering from malnutrition. Many Japanese families had given up their children to Chinese families to assure their safety, but for Kiyoko this was not an option she considered. For two weeks they traveled toward Russian Korea, fording rivers and streams, crossing mountains, wandering through valleys and deep snow. Though the war was now over, she knew there was no safety in Russian or Chinese territory. And, her main concern was for her sons and the unborn child she carried. As they approached Korea, the roads became crowded with refugees escaping the Russian horde. More often than not, they slept in the open, nearly freezing. Food was scarce or non-existent. Kiyoko often saw mothers mothers letting go of their children's hands as they crossed rivers, rather than let them suffer any longer. It was a gruesome journey.
Somewhere near the Korean border, they reached a railhead and managed to get a ride as far as the central mountains of Korea. Although close to the American lines, they still had many miles to travel. Finally, on December 28, 1945, their bodies exhausted, their feet bloody and swollen, and near starvation, they crossed the crest of the mountains along the 38th parallel and walked across the American lines, and to safety.
When American soldiers came to take them to safety, Kiyoko was so weak that a soldier had to lift her into the truck. A few days later they were taken to a refugee camp in Pusan. From there an American ship took them to Japan. Kiyoko and her sons arrived in Fukuoka January 8, 1946. She was shocked to see only three houses left in her neighborhood, the others having been destroyed by bombs and fire. Luckily one of those left standing was the home of her parents. Less than a month later, on February 6, Kiyoko gave birth to her daughter, Chie. It was a difficult birth, and the umbilical cord was wrapped three times aound the baby's neck, but mother and child survied. Their long ordeal was now over. Kiyoko's husband, Chie's father, joined them, a few weeks later.
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