a biggish wheel in Boise who owned a Buick dealership, a radio station, and a mall or two, very nice fellow, active in the Marine Corps League, a man Bob trusted. The second was Asian. There was something about him that radiated Japanese, Bob thought, but he didn’t know quite what. He recalled a letter that had come a week or so ago, full of puzzling possibilities.

Gny. Sgt. (Ret.) Bob Lee Swagger

RR 504

Crazy Horse, ID

Dear Sergeant Swagger:

I hope this letter finds you happy in a well-earned retirement and I hope you pardon the intrusion, as I know you to be a man who treasures his privacy.

I am a retired full colonel USMC and currently head of the Marine Historical Section at Henderson Hall, Arlington, VA-Marine Headquarters.

For some months I have been working with Philip Yano, of Tokyo, Japan. I have found Mr. Yano to be an excellent man. He is retired from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces, where he was a colonel and a battalion commander, with special duty attachments to a variety of American and British Military Training Schools, including Ranger, Airborne, SpecOps, British SAS, and the Command and Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. As well, he has a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University.

Mr. Yano has spent the summer researching Marine records as part of a research project regarding the campaign on Iwo Jima February-March 1945. As your father figured significantly in that battle and was one of twenty-three Marines to win the Medal of Honor for actions there, he hopes to discuss this with you. I gather he’s doing a book on Iwo from a Japanese point of view. He is a polite, respectful, and even an endearing man and a military professional of the highest order. I hope you can be of assistance to Mr. Yano.

I am requesting your full cooperation with him. Possibly you would not be averse to sharing your father’s memories with him. He is, as I say, an admirable man deserving of respect and cooperation.

I will put him in contact with you and sometime in the next few weeks he will be in touch. Again, my thanks and best,


Robert Bridges

Historical Section Superintendent

Marine Headquarters

Henderson Hall, VA

Bob hadn’t felt up to this. When he’d read the letter, he’d thought, Well, now, what the hell? What do I know about it? The old man never talked, just as he himself, years later with tales of this and that when the lead was buzzing through the air, never talked either. That was somehow part of it: you didn’t talk about it.

But he also knew that in a strange way, his father, who fought, hated, killed, blew up, and burned the Japanese for three years in the most horrific way possible, also respected them in the way that only enemies unto death can respect each other. To call it love was to say too much; to call it forgiveness and redemption, maybe too much as well. But call it healing and you’d have it just about right. He had an image of the old man at a drugstore, must have been ’52 or ’53, couple of years before he died, someone said to him, “Say, Earl, them Japs, they’se little monkey devils, huh? You fry them Japs by the bucketful, right?” and his father turned instantly grave as if insulted and said, “You can say anything you want about ’em, Charlie, but I’ll tell you this: they were damn fine soldiers and they stood their ground till the last drop of blood. They stood and fought even when they’s burning alive. No one ever accused a Japanese infantryman of not doing his duty.” Then he felt his father, so voluble and commanding, turn the conversation skillfully to other subjects. There were certain things he wouldn’t share, particularly with folks who hadn’t been out there, on the beaches and the tiny little islands.

He turned to face the gentleman.

He saw a man his own age, square-headed with a neat crop of short gray hair, steady-eyed, stocky where Bob was lanky. Even in the heat and the rugged terrain, the man wore a dark suit and tie and radiated military dignity from every pore.

“Bob,” said Tom Jenks, “this is-”

“Oh, I know. Mr. Yano, retired recently from…,” and then he paused involuntarily, noticing that Mr. Yano’s left eye, though almost the same color as the right, wasn’t focusing even as it moved in coordination with its brother, signifying that it was glass, and Bob then noticed a line running above and beneath it that, though neatly mended with the best skill that modern surgery could manage, was evidence of an ugly, violent trauma. “From his country’s service. Sir, pleasure to meet you. I am Bob Lee Swagger.”

Mr. Yano smiled, showing white, even teeth, and bowed in a way that Bob had never seen except in movies: the bow was deep and deeply felt at once, as if the man were taking pleasure in it.

“I did not wish to intrude, Sergeant Swagger.”

Bob recalled something somewhere he’d heard about the Japanese and their humility and fear of acquiring obligation and causing difficulty and saw how from that point of view it made more sense to drive an hour through back roads than to come up to the house.

“So what can I do for you, sir?” asked Bob. “Some research project about Iwo, is that it?”

“First, Sergeant Swagger, if I may.”

With that he pulled from his pocket a small gift box, bowed, and presented it to Swagger.

“As an expression of thanks for your time and knowledge.”

Bob was a little stunned. He wasn’t much on gifts or bows or the kind of formality that seemed pointless in ninety-degree sunlight in the high desert of a western state, on his own land, when he was damp in sweat.

“Well, I can’t say how nice this is, sir. I certainly appreciate it.”

“The Japanese always give gifts,” said Tom Jenks. “It’s their way of saying howdy and thanks.”

“Please,” said the Japanese fellow.

Bob saw that the box was so precisely wrapped that opening it seemed slightly sacrilegious. But he felt also an obligation and tore into it, marveling at the intricate folded structure of the paper, until finally he got it open, discovered a tiny jewel box, and opened that.

“Well, that is really swell,” he said.

It was a miniature sword assembled with high artistry. The tiny blade gleamed and the miniaturist had even wrapped the grip in individual thread strands.

“The sword is the soul of the samurai, Sergeant Swagger. You are a great samurai, as I know, so I bring this in salute.”

In a funny way, the gift touched Bob. It was so unexpected and, he guessed, quite expensive, for the craftsmanship was exquisite.

“You shouldn’t have. It’s so impressive. Believe me, all that samurai-ing is way behind me. I just run some barns. But you put me in a helpful mood, so whatever it is you’re interested in, fire away and I’ll see if I can’t pitch in. My old man never talked much about the war.”

“I understand. Few do. In any event, as possibly Colonel Bridges’s letter noted, I’ve spent the last few months at Henderson Hall, examining the original documents pertaining to Iwo Jima. Before that I spent almost a year in Japanese defense archives, examining the same thing, though as you might imagine, Japanese records are rather incoherent.”

“Yes sir.”

“I have ended up concentrating on an action that took place February twenty-first, at a place on Japanese maps called Point I-five. It was a blockhouse on the northwest slope of Mount Suribachi.”

“I am familiar with Mount Suribachi and what happened on its northwest slope February twenty-first. Sir, may I say something. Sometimes you don’t want to look too carefully or learn too much about what happens in battle. People do things in battle they wouldn’t dream of doing no other way, time, or place. I speak from experience, sir.”

“I know you do.”

“You might learn something about us or about your own people that would prove upsetting.”

“I understand that too. This isn’t about atrocity, however, or national policies or even about the movement of troops across the landscape, say the Twenty-eighth Marines circling the southern tip of the island to cut off, then assault Suribachi. It’s about something far more intimate. Your father destroyed the blockhouse at Point I-five and

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