Memorial Message

Author: Reverend Hiro Higuchi
Puka Puka Parades, October 1976, vol. 30 no. 5

Copy of speech given by Reverend Hiro Higuchi at the 31st memorial service

Mr. Chairman, Gold Star Parents, honored guests, fellow veterans and friends. May I take this opportunity to thank you for giving me this privilege to speak at your annual service. Whenever I am asked to speak at a Memorial Service…my thoughts always go back to a Memorial Service which my battalion observed in France 32 years ago. A service which we held after the Vosges Mountain campaign in a pasture on the outskirts of the town of Fayes…It was a cold and foggy morning as the whole battalion to the last cook joined in the service for our men killed in action. Each company which entered the battle with a full complement of some two hundred men marched into that pasture with less than fifty men left in their ranks. A whole battalion which began the campaign with nearly a thousand men stood before the colonel and myself with less than three hundred men heads high, shoulders back, proud in spite of the empty ranks. The colonel stood there and wept.

I think of another service which we held at the end of the war in Europe…it was in the town of Novi Liguri in Northern Italy. While listening to radio messages in the communication room, I heard the announcement of the war’s end. I immediately asked the colonel’s permission to announce the news to the men…and so when the colonel turned over the retreat formation to me a few minutes later, I said, “Men, the war is over and the peace which we have been waiting for, and for which many of our friends died has finally come.” Even though that was the first time they heard the news, not one man cheered. I could see them (subconsciously) straightening their shoulders, eyes straight ahead as if they could see their fallen comrades in the horizon beyond…the men who slept with us, who ate with us, and who shared the misery and utter terror of war with us…they who wanted to see this day so much, who dreamt about, talked about it and planned for it…but who did not make it with us. No, there were no cheers, only tears and a prayer of thanksgiving.

I recall too the pilgrimages I made to all the cemeteries in Europe where our men were buried, and who laid so peacefully and quietly beneath the soil of a foreign country and whose remains are now reburied here. I knew many of the men for I recall meeting them in training, on maneuvers, and in combat. Each was a son and the hope of a family. His greatest ambition was never a desire for military glory or hatred for another person but his dreams were of some girl back home, or some loved one, or a job or home or an education, but they walked into death because they believed that the four freedoms which the President spoke of was worth dying for, and so when they were asked to give up their life for it…they gave it willingly.

Here today, we meet for another service…a fitting and beautiful tradition in which we spend this hour with memories of our friends. And yet if this hour stops right here with just a few minutes as a grand gesture of memorial for them, it would be meaningless indeed. These men knew just as you and I do, the fact that they gave up their lives for peace and for freedom does not guarantee a better world to come, or just because we had won a war meant that we had won the peace, and we who have stood by their graves and made promises that the world would become better because of their sacrifice must do some profound thinking if we are not to deceive them. Peace, the kind of a peace they died for can be attained only by a new kind of battle which involves justice, goodwill, brotherhood, righteousness and integrity.

One day, while in Camp Shelby one of our officers was leaving to join the 100th. From the port of embarkation he wrote me a very bitter letter saying that he did not know what he was fighting for. It seemed that he was treated shabbily and with prejudice by some white officers due to his Japanese ancestry. I pointed out to him that we were not fighting this war so that we may receive good treatment from others, we were fighting for a greater issue. I received another letter after he had joined the 100th in which he said, “Chaplain, I did not know what I was fighting for …but now I know. It is more than just fighting for the happiness of the people at home. It is fighting for all the races of people throughout the world, a world where all men could live as brothers, a world in which one can live without hatreds, prejudices, a just world, socially, economically, and spiritually. I am fighting for my child and freedom for her, and if so doing I should die, I will have no regrets.” This young officer was killed in action. We owe him something.

So now thirty years have gone by since the last taps were played over the graves of our friends and comrades, and in those years much has happened. We have been engaged in two more wars in that period in which our brothers and children were called to fight. If our friends buried here should face us this moment…I wonder if we could face them and say we honestly tried to make this a better world in their memory. No doubt we have made great advances in the means by which we live…we have better schools, bigger hospitals, better homes, and high salaried jobs, we have television set in each home, faster means of communications, and have even sent a space machine to Mars. However, these are only the means of life, how about the ends for which all men should live and for which these men died…peace at home and in the world, brotherhood and goodwill at home and throughout the world…for these ends, we have not progressed in the society you and I have made. Except for the great material advances and the affluence of the people, there is not much difference in the moral atmosphere in our country and in our community in the past fifty years. The ideals which we pledged ourselves to fight for after every war and every death are not material achievements but moral ones, and the great danger is that you and I may be fooled by living in a generation where material progress has blinded our eyes and has given us the illusion of progress.

We may say we are just little people and such great moves as peace, brotherhood, and equality are made by the big people in higher places. Just so, the big people can only do what we want them to do, and they can only represent the attitudes and the qualities we represent. For a few men can never control the flood of human attitudes that pour down the great reservoir of human sentiment whether it be for good or for evil. Just as every drop of water, every dew drop, every little spring contributes to the great sea…every person high or low could stand for evil or for good…can either contribute to the great sea of peace or to the great sea of death…to the sea of hatred or to the sea of goodwill to be poured down the arid deserts of mankind to make it beautiful and peaceful. What qualities do you represent?

One day during the last campaign where the battles were fought climbing one high mountain peak after another, a wounded sergeant said, “Chaplain, I wonder how these men stand up. After fighting and walking up one peak, orders would come ordering us to move on and capture the next hill while the enemy was on the run, and then the next hill and the next and the men carrying their rifles, their machine guns, their mortars would keep going. Three days and nights with only four hours of continuous rest, and when we would stop for a five minute break, some of them would fall on their faces, asleep before they hit the ground. After the break, when we had to go again the men would cuss but keep on going. The Jerries would find us and open up on us with their mortars and their 88’s and the men would fall silently… killed or wounded. Physically so tired that the men seemed to be moving from habit…mentally so blank they were numb to fear and all things around them…knowing only that they had to go on, driven by the thought that this was a fight for a free world and a great and lasting peace.” And as your book “Ambassadors In Arms” aptly wrote of such a situation with the words of a sergeant: “I didn’t hear a man complain.” Fellow Veterans, will you do as much in peacetime for your fellowmen. How much have you given of yourself for these great ideals? Today as we gather here in memory of our comrades buried here, and as we visit the graves of all our fallen friends, it is not you looking over the graves but they who are looking at you… searching out your souls one by one, asking: “What have you done to insure the ideals we fought for and died for? What contributions have you made towards it?”

This service would be meaningless unless we meet the obligation passed on to us, for we owe them more than flowers on their graves, more than a plaque in our clubhouse, more than any public gathering, more than the words that are spoken here, for as Abraham Lincoln so aptly stated “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”
May God bless, always.