Anecdote/The Accordion

Anecdote/The Accordion by Moriso Teraoka

Unless there, is a compelling reason, my Sunday mornings are spent at the Aloha Swap Meet. My wife, Fumino and I spent half of Sundays walking the rows of vendor stalls.

I still continue this practice by myself since my wife passed away six years ago. The Sunday prior to Labor Day was no exception. It was a small three-octave accordion that caught my attention. Nostalgically, I picked up the accordion and asked the vendor, “How much?”

“Fifteen-dollars,” he said.

I laid the accordion back down on the display mat. It was not in tune.

I wondered what happened to the accordion I brought home from Italy after the war ended in 1945. I remembered that I threw it away, but I thought I would check on it later.

I learned to play a few simple tunes including “Aloha Oe” from a prisoner of war.

How did I get the accordion?

The war ended in Europe in May of 1945. The 100th/442nd RCT had breached the Gothic Line in Italy and the German army was retreating north. I think my Company reached Alexandria when the war ended on May 2 in Italy. The German army gave up their arms and surrendered en-mass at Ghedi Airport. The German soldiers also gave up their many personal belongings: Lugar pistols and Leica cameras were some of the sought-after war souvenirs. Among my loot was the accordion. I don’t know why, but there it was.

After almost a month of processing the surrendering German army, the combat team folded up their tents, packed up, and my 3rd Platoon of Company D traveled south to Leghorn where our 3rd Platoon was assigned to guard a group of POWs who worked at the facility moving military supplies at the dock of Leghorn. Our platoon took over a farmhouse near the POW compound. I believe the farming family maintained their residence in the back of our quarters.

Our platoon’s daily duty routine was to march the workers to the waterfront warehouse, stand watch, and return the POWs to their compound. This was a period of leisure. Someone was always on three-day or one-week passes. Switzerland, Rome, and the other recreation centers were established by the armed services. A POW was assigned to clean our living quarters.

One of the POWs was an elderly worker who would not have been in the service had it not been for the desperate situation the Germans were in later in the war period. The elderly man must have noticed the accordion on the floor adjacent to my bunk bed during his daily cleanup of our quarters.

One day he asked me in perfect English if he could play on the instrument.

“Go ahead,” I said.

How he enjoyed the accordion. I would, sit next to him on my bunk and listen to his music. He told me that he was a professor of music in the University of Munich. I asked him how old he was. I forget his exact answer, but he said he was seventy-something. Hitler’s army was desperate to fill the ranks in their armed services and drafted him for clerk duties, which he could do.

He used to obtain permission from the guard in the compound after his evening chores were done and play the accordion for us.

One evening I asked him if he would teach me to play the accordion, and without hesitation he said, “Sure.” And the lesson began.

I knew how to read simple music notes for I used to be in the high school band in Hilo and reading a simple music sheet was not unfamiliar.

By the time his departure orders came for him to return to Germany, I had learned to play “Home Sweet Home,” “Aloha Oe,” and a few German folk tunes.

His name was Robert Theirfeldex. I bid him a fond farewell and gave him cartons of cigarettes and chocolate. Cigarettes were worth their weight in gold, and I was sure that my gifts would reach home safely. But of course, he went home not knowing if his family was still alive in Germany. Those were the facts of life during the past war days.

Before the year was up, I, too, was on my way home to Hawai’i, and I was discharged the day before Christmas in 1945.

After I came home from the Swap Meet that Sunday morning, I looked for the accordion, only to find that I must have thrown it away. I placed fresh anthuriums on Fumino’s altar and placed another vase of anthuriums for Robert Theirfeldex, my teacher.