MR. KIHACHIRO UEDA
My name is Kihachiro Ueda, and it is my pleasure and honor to write to you.
I was born on August 30, 1920, and was drafted into the Japanese Army in 1941. On December 8, 1941 (Philippine time), Japanese forces attacked the United States naval and air power both in Hawaii and Philippines. Earlier that day, they had started landing on the Malay Peninsula. Millions of lives were lost in the terrible conflict that lasted for three years and eight months from that day.
I was assigned in the unit that served on board the ships requisitioned by the Army, for guarding Japanese transports by sea with AA guns and machine guns. Consequently, although I was an army soldier, I spent most of the time during the war at sea with ships.
Japan is an island country, therefore, most of her logistics depended on the requisitioned merchant marine, which transported materials and goods gained in the southern territories to Japan proper. As soon as war broke out, those luxury liners, cargo ships, tankers and so on that, in the days before the war, tied Japan to Europe, America and Asia were requisitioned (either charter or leased) by the Army or Navy.
During the whole period of the war, the Allied forces set the Japanese convoys as the priority target of their fierce attacks. Beginning in the latter half of 1942, when the offensive of the Allied forces became active, the damage to the Japanese merchant marine rapidly increased, either by submarine attacks or aerial bombings. The Japanese merchant marine had been annihilated by the end of the war. According to the statistics, 2,600 merchant ships were destroyed. The number of all ships destroyed amounted to as many as 7,500, including small vessels and fishing boats.
I boarded as many as twenty-eight ships during the whole period of the war, and experienced six shipwrecks by bombardment. Most of the others were eventually sunk, after I had disembarked.
The last ship that I
boarded and was shipwrecked on, was the Kinka-Maru, a high speed
ship of traffic, which had originally served on the New York route. Before the
war, the Kinka-Maru had achieved the record of an average of 17.9 knots on a
voyage between Yokohama and San Francisco. That record was not broken until
1953. She was also engaged in the landing operations on the Malay Peninsula on
December 8, 1941.
My last battle fell on November 13, 1944, the day of the Great Air Raid over Manila Bay by the United States. One of the US planes was shot down and crashed into a mast of the Kinka-Maru, killing nearly all the soldiers around me. I injured my right arm and leg and was thrown over board into the sea.
One month later, on December 15th, the Oryoku-Maru was bombarded and sunk in Subic Bay.
On board, I often made sketches of the ships at sea on available pieces of paper, such as military post cards and hiding them from my seniors. I liked ships, aircraft and engines, and was fascinated by the beauty I found in their engineering and construction. Ships at sea were my favorite subjects of drawing.
Because of my injuries, I lost the use of my right hand, but after the war, I eventually learnt to draw with my left hand.
My heart still aches when I think of those comrades of mine, crew members of the merchant ships, and passengers, who died such miserable deaths. I have taken photos of all the images of the ships that I painted following the end of the war, and sent them to fellow soldiers and bereaved families. Sometimes it seems to me that the souls of my close comrades, who were killed in action, keep my left hand working.
Recently, I came in contact with members of the PRISONERS OF WAR RESEARCH NETWORK, JAPAN (POWRNJ). Owing to their research, the fact has gradually become known in Japan that a large number of the Allied Prisoners of War (POW) were forced to make awful voyages in those transport ships. It has also been revealed to the Japanese people that none of these ships were marked as POW transports, and as a consequence, many were targeted, bombarded and sunk before being able to reach Japan.
Among my paintings, the ships engaged in the transport of POWs are now known and include:
The Oryoku-Maru ( Sunk on December 15th 1944),
The Lisbon-Maru ( Sunk on October 2nd 1942),
The Rakuyo-Maru ( Sunk on September 12th 1944),
The Kachidoki-Maru ( Sunk on September 12th 1944),
The Montevideo-Maru ( Sunk on July 1st 1942).
Iíd like you to know that I myself have gradually come to realize that these paintings could give moral support to the bereaved families and friends, as they think of and remember the personal history of their kin or friend who lost their life; be it an officer, enlisted man, or civilian - of either the Japanese or Allied forces.
In the spring of 2006, thanks to the assistance of the members of the POWRNJ, I had the honor of being able to donate this painting of the Oryoku Maru to the Hellship Memorial Projectís display at the Subic Bay Historical Center, Philippines.
The painting required two months to complete, and through the kind and dedicated joint efforts of members of POWRNJ and the Hellship Memorial Project, was safely transported to the Philippines for installation.
It creates in me a special emotion to know that my Oryoku-Maru painting is now displayed in Subic, close to the heart of Bataan Peninsula, near where I joined my last mortal battle, and where your and my beloved friends, comrades and family members now sleep. I would like to express my respect and heartfelt thanks to the devoted efforts made by the members of the POWRNJ, and the organisers of the Hellship Memorial Project, who help realize the display of this painting, which is dedicated to the remembrance of all those who lost their lives.
I sincerely wish for the successful further development of your Historical Center with itís Hellship Memorial display, so that it will continue to tell the young of all generations, on whose shoulders the future rests, the invaluableness of precious peace.
Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
(For further information please go to: www.us-japandialogueonpow.org )