Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. So Many Heroes

 

My father was considered a war hero. He was presumed dead and had a liberty ship named after him, but my grandmother refused to believe it and would not attend the ship’s christening. Intuition or denial? I can’t say. Right before the end of the war, he was almost killed by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. He had been a prisoner of war there but was transferred two weeks before the bomb was dropped. After the war, he was discovered alive in the Ōfuna Prisoner of War Camp.

But he was almost killed many times before that.

I learned more from my father than from anyone else. He taught me how to think from an early age. Logic and truth ruled; deduction was the sixth sense. As a ten-year old child and a big fan of the movie The Great Escape, I asked him why he didn’t try to escape. He explained it to me, but I was a bit skeptical as I recall. Maybe you had to be around all those TV shows and movies in the early 60s (where American and British captives did everything they could to defiantly confound the enemy) to understand how my father’s explanation landed. I didn’t really understand. He was my dad, that was enough hero for me. But Steve McQueen in the cooler with his baseball for defiance is inspiring. Now, my 60-some-year-old self appreciates the realities. As best as I can tell, it was a combination of luck, Jesuit training in logic, and Boston Irish grit that kept my father alive.

The SS Jean Nicolet was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-8. What followed is considered the worst maritime atrocity of WWII. The entire crew survived and were in life boats. The sub surfaced and a voice — through a bullhorn and in perfect, unaccented English — ordered the boats to make their way to the sub and come aboard. There, they executed the men, taking each, one-by-one, fore of the sub’s conning tower to be brutally beaten by the crew with chains and pipes and, ultimately, impaled by bayonets and thrust overboard.

O’Gara, a civilian on his way to a post in Bombay for the War Shipping Administration, claimed diplomatic status and told them they were violating the Geneva Convention. He was taken below, along with the captain and the radio operator. He spent forty days in that sub, chained to a pole and subjected to random beatings.

My father actually liked the Japanese culture. He would sing Sakura and respected their cultural code. My dad was much like the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino, once he recognized their code. The young man on the bullhorn speaking perfect English, was a lad of Japanese decent, born in San Diego and who happened to be studying in Japan in December of 1941 when he was conscripted into the Japanese Navy to serve on a submarine of the psychopath, Captain Ariizumi.

My dad’s irreverence and wit may have saved his life. Being interviewed by Ariizumi through the Japanese-American translator, “How do you Americans think you can sail in these waters, you should know they are unsafe!”

“Certainly not as safe as the waters in the Captains’ bath tub,” my father quipped. Somehow, that was hilarious to the captain, and my father was granted some small regard as a sentient human.

After going through those ordeals, my father had few complaints. He had some quite cynical problems with authority, but that’s to be expected. He noted that, after the Japanese surrender, the guards and other officials came to him expressing their new loyalty, bowing to the new regime.

We were a nice upper-middle-class family. We had a grand piano and a stereo in our living room and, maybe, thirty records: Broadway shows, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, but also Madame Butterfly (my dad’s favorite opera), La Boheme, and Rachmaninoff Concerto #2, along with Broadway show albums like West Side Story (freakin’ brilliant) and Camelot (I saw Julie Andrews and Richard Burton from 60 feet away in a Broadway theater. The problem is, I was seven years old. I have an interesting appreciation in retrospect).

My father didn’t let his war-hero status define him. Of course he capitalized on it and acknowledged it but he certainly didn’t believe he was more of a hero than many less fortunate than he in the war. He returned to Japan to testify in the War Crimes Trials. He also conducted an independent investigation about Capt. Ariizumi who supposedly committed seppuku on the way returning his sub to port — now in control of the enemy — yet, there was no body. Perhaps the captain simply swam ashore. That was my father’s suspicion. But Ariizumi remained either dead or lived quietly under a new identity.

I believe my father tried to shield me from becoming too emotionally involved. Even though he was beaten by submariners and prison guards, all of whom are Japanese, he didn’t seem to hate them as a group. He was never a victim. He would mock them — he thought their notions were absurd and cultish — but he seemed to like them as human beings despite the situation. It’s really not their fault that they believe what is piped into their brains. Closed societies will ultimately deviate from reality.

My father could, by some oversight or error or random bureaucratic decision, been in prison with the other Americans who were in prison in Hiroshima when the bomb fell. I would never have been born — since ‘I” am the DNA of my ancestors — or something. It’s very confusing, too philosophical but…

These American POW’s in Hiroshima who died should be honored and named as heroes. Their lives were sacrificed, and I believe if it was up to these prisoners in Hiroshima to make the decision, they would pull the trigger. On themselves and on the Nippon regime.

There are so many heroes.

Thank you. I will always remember.

There are 35 comments.

  1. OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. Member

    Thank you, Franco.

    • #1
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:10 PM PST
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  2. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Thank you, Mr. O’Gara.

    • #2
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:14 PM PST
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  3. Profile Photo Member

    Thank you so much for sharing your father’s story, Franco. We owe everything to men like your father and my father, the ones who survived and the ones who didn’t. We owe them everything.

    • #3
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:20 PM PST
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  4. Doug Watt Member

    May G-d Bless your father Franco.

    • #4
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:25 PM PST
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  5. DocJay Inactive

    I bet you made him proud. Thanks for sharing. Very much.

    • #5
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:29 PM PST
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  6. David Carroll Thatcher

    My father was at the staging area for the invasion when bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. But for the two bombs and resulting surrender, I might not be here.

    Both my parents were in US Naval Intelligence. Thar are both in-urned in Arlington Cemetery. Thanks for letting me share, too.

    Anchors away.

    • #6
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:39 PM PST
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  7. Bob Thompson Member

    Franco:My father could, by some oversight or error or random bureaucratic decision, been in prison with the other Americans who were in prison in Hiroshima.

    He would be dead.

    I would never have been born – since ‘I” am the DNA of my ancestors – or something – it’s very confusing, too philosophical but…

    This is quite a story, Franco, thanks for taking the time to write it out for us. I just marked my fiftieth anniversary with my wife and spent some time going over some family history and some recounting of my personal history with grandchildren. My GG Grandfather Thompson joined the Georgia Madison County Greys in July 1861 and left with them to join Confederate Army of Virginia in the Peninsular Campaign and died at Yorktown, Virginia in early 1862. Fortunately for me, he left his wife, my GG Grandmother, pregnant with my Great-Grandfather Thompson, who was born in November, 1861. So, what may seem a rather insignificant or random occurrence makes a big difference to ‘us’ today.

    Honor all our past heroes on Memorial Day.

    • #7
    • May 29, 2016, at 7:55 PM PST
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  8. SkipSul Moderator

    What a remarkable man.

    • #8
    • May 29, 2016, at 8:02 PM PST
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  9. Boss Mongo Member

    Thank you.

    • #9
    • May 29, 2016, at 8:24 PM PST
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  10. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    So much of the Pacific theater I do not know…one Uncle in the Pacific, one in Italy, one at the Battle of the Bulge, one at home in a Jeep plant, my father constantly going to school. I did not know there were POWs at Hiroshima.

    Thank you for this.

    • #10
    • May 29, 2016, at 9:01 PM PST
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  11. Mountie Member

    Thank you

    • #11
    • May 29, 2016, at 9:39 PM PST
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  12. Percival Thatcher

    My dad was eleven years old when the war ended. His older brother was back home from Europe and on a 30 day leave before he was to head out to the West Coast to start training for Operation Downfall. Uncle had been serving out his ROTC commitment when the war started and thus was in for the duration. Japan surrendered during his last week at home.

    Thank you, Franco. Thank you to them all.

    • #12
    • May 29, 2016, at 9:44 PM PST
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  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Your father was Francis O’Gara???!!!

    Wow. What a story. I didn’t put two and two together until midway through. His father isn’t just “considered” a war hero. He’s an American legend.

    You must miss him.

    • #13
    • May 30, 2016, at 3:27 AM PST
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  14. Jules PA Member

    Your father and your family have an amazing story.

    Whatever the circumstance for his transfer from Hiroshima, that was G-d’s blessing.

    • #14
    • May 30, 2016, at 5:38 AM PST
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  15. Liz Member
    Liz

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Your father was Francis O’Gara???!!!

    Wow. What a story. I didn’t put two and two together until midway through. His father isn’t just “considered” a war hero. He’s an American legend.

    You must miss him.

    Another, longer account may be found here:

    http://www.armed-guard.com/ag87.html

    Incredible story, Franco. Thanks sharing your dad with us.

    • #15
    • May 30, 2016, at 5:40 AM PST
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  16. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Wow. Thanks, Franco.

    • #16
    • May 30, 2016, at 5:42 AM PST
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  17. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    Just read the longer account linked by Liz…then reread your post, Franco.

    And then he came home, raised a family, bought a stereo and a television, listened to records, wached the shows. Lived his life in freedom and prosperity, like the millions of others. All heroes, so many heros.

    • #17
    • May 30, 2016, at 6:47 AM PST
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  18. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Franco, I have been reading up on some of this, Ofuna, Omori, Sakurajima, and the Hell ships. You are no doubt familiar with http://www.mansell.com .

    I learned that there was POW labor involved on some railway work near Zushi which is close to here, and at the Yokosuka drydocks, which are actually on the property where I work. I do IT for the people who plan the work in and around those docks.

    I did the Google Maps thing, and see that there is a tidy housing development at the site where the Ofuna camp used to be. The modern Ofuna station is further north than where it used to be, so references from it can be deceptive — the site is right next to the new station.

    Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you out here.

    • #18
    • May 30, 2016, at 7:01 AM PST
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  19. PHCheese Member

    Great post Franco. Great father. I had an uncle that parachuted in to Nagasaki a couple of days after the bomb to rescue POWs. He survived 4 years of fighting in the Pacific Islands. He died young of cancer.

    • #19
    • May 30, 2016, at 7:46 AM PST
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  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Thanks so much, Franco.

    The dweebiness runs strong in my family – we have engineers stretching back to Noah. The men in my family who’ve served have done so as the guys with the pocket protectors, designing the equipment for the guys at the front lines to use.

    My family is mostly fairly recent immigrants, too – a great uncle of mine, fresh off the boat from Germany and not Jewish, ended up on the Manhattan project… I remember him telling me about the awesomeness of a country that would believe his patriotism even when he was so new, even though he was racially the same as the people the country was fighting – such a different attitude from the detestable thugs who had taken over his homeland and prompted his family to flee it!

    • #20
    • May 30, 2016, at 8:34 AM PST
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  21. Matthew Gilley Inactive

    This post is incredible, Franco. Thank you for sharing it.

    • #21
    • May 30, 2016, at 9:41 AM PST
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  22. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Your father sounds like he was a remarkable man. Thank you for sharing him with us.

    • #22
    • May 30, 2016, at 11:04 AM PST
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  23. Sandy Member

    Another thank you, Franco, to you and your family.

    As a ten-year old child, and a big fan of the movie The Great Escape I asked my dad, “Why didn’t you try to escape?” He explained it to me, but I was a bit skeptical as I recall.

    This reminded me of a passage in one of Primo Levi’s essays in which he tells about talking about Auschwitz with school children. They always wanted to know why he didn’t escape and seemed to think that they would have, and one, I recall, even explained to him how he would have done it. I think that it is too hard for a child to understand what it was really like, and too terrifying to even contemplate the impossibility of escape.

    • #23
    • May 30, 2016, at 12:03 PM PST
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  24. Franco Member
    Franco Post author

    Sandy:Another thank you, Franco, to you and your family.

    As a ten-year old child, and a big fan of the movie The Great Escape I asked my dad, “Why didn’t you try to escape?” He explained it to me, but I was a bit skeptical as I recall.

    This reminded me of a passage in one of Primo Levi’s essays in which he tells about talking about Auschwitz with school children. They always wanted to know why he didn’t escape and seemed to think that they would have, and one, I recall, even explained to him how he would have done it. I think that it is too hard for a child to understand what it was really like, and too terrifying to even contemplate the impossibility of escape.

    Yes. But I also didn’t understand the racial differences and the closed culture. My father could not have passed as a Swiss tourist or something. I was in Japan at age 17 aboard a merchant ship. I felt like I was walking on stilts (I’m 6’2″) then there was the problem of getting off the island….

    • #24
    • May 30, 2016, at 12:14 PM PST
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  25. drlorentz Member

    Great story, great hero. Thanks for posting.

    • #25
    • May 30, 2016, at 9:56 PM PST
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  26. Trinity Waters Inactive

    Doug Watt:May G-d Bless your father Franco.

    Mind expanding post, Fanco. Thank you. (Doug, it’s God.)

    • #26
    • May 30, 2016, at 10:00 PM PST
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  27. Eeyore Member

    It seems in public life, your father (or you by his wishes) showed the same focus on his WWII experiences as many vets. I read his local obit. Here is the entire, unedited section devoted to that time.

    …until enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942.

    After World War II, …

    • #27
    • May 30, 2016, at 10:09 PM PST
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  28. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Those guys just didn’t talk about it much. My dad was on Mindanoa, as a Navy radioman. He just said that he listened to the war, and passed on messages. All they wanted to do was go home when it was over. All the sailors were offered big bonuses to re-up, but, he said that he just wanted to go back home, and marry my mom, and be a farmer. And that is what he did.

    Franco, that is a fine, fine legacy your family has, and thank you for sharing it.

    • #28
    • May 30, 2016, at 10:35 PM PST
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  29. Dave Carter Contributor

    I’m a day late in reading this, but I appreciate you writing this, Franco. An amazing story, about an amazing man. Thank you so very much!

    • #29
    • May 31, 2016, at 5:04 AM PST
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  30. Dave L Member

    Thanks for sharing this Franco!

    • #30
    • May 31, 2016, at 5:15 AM PST
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