The Chrysanthemums

It was the last week of August, 1945. World War II had just ended a few days earlier, with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. On August 19, I had witnessed the Japanese informal surrender on Ie Shima, a small island just west of Okinawa where I was based.

I was a Fifth Air Force navigator and our crew was assigned to fly General MacArthur’s Honor Guard to Japan, prior to his arrival in Yokohama later that day. Anxiously, unsure of what lay ahead, we landed in Atsugi at a Japanese fighter base just south of what was left of Yokohama after the repeated bombing.

We were greeted by an elderly, civilian Japanese man. I say “elderly” since I’d just had my 20th birthday in July. He introduced himself in fluent English, as Mr. Toda, informing us that he would be our interpreter. He was dressed in a white linen suit, welcoming us with a bouquet of beautiful, large yellow chrysanthemums.

After dispensing with the brief military matters, I had a chance to speak privately with Mr. Toda, and asked how he had learned to speak English so fluently. He told me he and his family had in lived in Portland, Oregon, for a few years prior to the war. He had worked for the U.S. office of a company in the import/export industry.

Somewhat hesitantly, he told me his young children had complained repeatedly of being teased by their schoolmates because of their Asian appearance and awkward English. After several discussions, the family decided to return to Japan in 1939. His oldest daughter, Martha, asked to remain in the U.S. to complete her education. She planned to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. When I told him my sister, Aileen, was currently a student there, his eyes filled with tears. He asked if I could have my sister contact his daughter. The family had been out-of-touch since the start of the war. He wanted his daughter to know that the family had survived the B-29 bombings after moving to the mountain region outside Yokohama. I told him I would certainly relay his request in my next letter home, and did so. I never saw Mr. Toda again.

After numerous flights recovering allied POWs from their confinement camps in Japan, Korea, and China, I returned to my Trenton, New Jersey home in 1946. My sister told me that Martha Toda had graduated from Smith in 1945 and that she had been unable to contact her.

Fast-forward 50 years later to July, 1995, when I had an opportunity to return to Japan. I learned from the Smith College Alumnae Directory that Martha Toda had married and was living in Renton, Washington. Fortunately, I was able to phone her. I related the whole story and that I would be flying to Japan and wanted to renew my friendship with her father. Sadly, she told me the family had reunited, but that both parents had died in 1975.

I did return to Japan but, unfortunately, was unable to renew our WWII brief encounter. However, my memory of Mr. Toda and his yellow chrysanthemums lives on.

— Robert McHugh

The writer, a 1943 graduate of Trenton Central High School and a 1950 graduate of Princeton University, served in both World War II and the Korean War. He was prompted to submit this story after reading the memoir of Pearl Harbor in the December 7, 2011, issue of U.S. 1. McHugh’s story, in turn, prompted our editor to reprint the following poem:

War Requiem

We fertilize the fields of foreign lands.

We eulogize with tears and folded hands.

We memorialize with solemn psalms of sorrow.

We grease the guns,

Beget more sons,

We send them forth today to die tomorrow.

– Robert McHugh

This poem appeared originally in the 2011 U.S. 1 Summer Fiction issue.

Battle of Princeton – Plus 235 Years

This week marks the 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, a seminal event in world history. The week before the battle, General Washington had obtained a map, known now as the Cadwalader Spymap, showing how he could move the Continental Army into Princeton without being detected. With the Continental Congress running out of money, commissions of many soldiers also were running out on December 31. After defeating Hessian troops on December 26th in the first Battle of Trenton, Washington’s army became embroiled in a second battle at Assunpink Creek. To try to keep his army together, on December 31. General Washington gave an extra $10 pay to those who would stay a few weeks beyond the end of their commissions.

On January 2, General Cornwallis and his large professional army arrived in Trenton. Thinking that he had Washington cornered he decided to finish the battle the next day. That night, leaving bonfires and a small group to make noise, Washington managed to move his army out of Trenton, marching all night in freezing temperatures, reaching Princeton via a circuitous route. Somewhat delayed, he marched his army of about 5,500 soldiers up the unguarded Saw Mill Road as dawn was breaking, hoping to initiate a surprise attack against the Princeton Garrison of about 1,500.

In 2010 John Milner Associates (JMA), under a federally funded commission from the Princeton Battlefield Society, completed a study of 175 original accounts of the battle, including records of the British Court Martial of Cornet, Henry Evatt. Dr. Robert Selig, a multilingual American Revolution historian working with JMA, analyzed these accounts and drew from them physical features that could be used to map the progression of the battle. Using the Geographical Information System (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS), JMA mapped and analyzed these data points along with the topography and viewsheds of the battle area. Maps of the progression of the battle were then overlaid with the archaeological evidence.

While much work remains to map the exact location of the now lost Saw Mill Road, and to confirm new information about the first phase of the battle leading to the defeat of General Mercer’s brigade, all scholars who have carefully studied the Battle of Princeton have concluded that Washington’s winning counterattack took place on property just to the east of what is now Princeton Battlefield State Park. The evidence is overwhelming.

Today, without walking the sloping topography of the Battlefield and understanding the dynamics of the counterattack, you cannot appreciate what happened that day, a day when — if the Continental Army had not prevailed — the American Revolution almost certainly would have been lost, and George Washington would have been hunted down and hanged.

Just as the Battle of Normandy cannot be understood without seeing the topography of Normandy Beach, this pivotal moment in history can’t be memorialized by a sign or a monument, but must be experienced by walking the battlefield. Saving the property where the counterattack occurred is not a matter of whether an organization might be a good neighbor. It is a question of meeting the requirements of Princeton’s Master Plan to preserve the town’s vital historic resources, as the best and highest use. As a willing seller, funds can be obtained to purchase the property and put it into the public domain.

What is the alternative for the Institute for Advanced Study, whose faculty, we are told, just cannot afford to live in the neighborhood immediately around the IAS? There are several, but one that I find compelling is the establishment of a mortgage subsidy program, similar to that of Princeton University’s, which would allow faculty to choose the neighborhood and home of their choice and enjoy the benefits of gaining equity in their homes. I invite faculty with or without a subsidy to check out my own wonderful neighborhood, only about 10 minutes from the IAS Campus.

— Dan Thompson

The writer is a member of the Princeton Battlefield Society and a resident of Dempsey Avenue in Princeton.

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