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Please read the article I wrote for the USMC 4th division newsletter about returning WWII items to Japan.
Download the PDF here.

Actual Japanese letter and postcard that were recovered during the battle for Iwo Jima in March 1945 by US Marine John Puett. The letter was written by a mother to her son 1st Lt.Genichi Hattori who was a 2nd in Command of the Suribachi Eastern Defense zone, located directly above "green beach", the invasion spot closest to the mountain. The postcard was written by his younger brother, Capt. Genji Hattori who was also an Army officer, stationed in the homelands.

"In January 2011, I received an email from John Powell of the Iwo Jima Association of America asking for assistance in translating a letter from Iwo Jima that recently surfaced at a flea market in North Carolina. I have been on the Iwo Jima trip, Pearl Harbor, Guam & Midway trips with John Powell -through Military Historical Tours working as the volunteer Japanese interpreter- so naturally agreed to help.

I was then contacted by Rex Butler, the collector who found and bought the paperwork found in a box of items from a dead US Marine who had fought at Iwo Jima with the 5th Marine Div, John Puett. Rex managed to find the son of the Marine, and return some items to him, but he wanted to find out more regarding the Japanese letters.

Even though I earned my degree in Japanese and lived there for 10 years, the letters were difficult to read due to the calligraphic nature of the author's handwriting. I sent the letter to a good friend in Japan, WWII Naval historian and photographer, Nobuhiro Nakamura for review. He summoned the help of 6 others including several WWII Japanese veterans to help decipher the beautifully written 5-page letter.

Family photo of the Hattori brothers taken on Jan.1, 1944 near the city of Nara. L-R Genuchi Hattori (father) Capt. Genji Hattori, Machiko Hattori (mother) 1st Lt. Genichi Hattori who died on Iwo Jima.

Through their efforts and those of Vickie Prosser of the Oceanside-Kisarazu sister city program and Shinji-san of the Kisarazu sister city program we learned that the letter was written from a mother, Machiko Hattori of Sakurai city, (near Nara) to her eldest son 1st Lt. Genichi Hattori, serving in the Japanese Army. At the time of the battle for Iwo Jima, the 30-year-old officer had a wife Sawako, and a 3-year-old daughter Sachiko. Hattori had a younger brother Genji who became a Captain in the Army, and 2 elder sisters Miyoko and Kyoko.

The Road to Iwo Jima

Hattori was born in 1916 into an old timber family in Sakurai City, in Nara Japan. He had a younger brother Genji who became Army Officer Academy graduate, and 2 elder sisters Miyoko and Kyoko. His father, Genuchi Hattori, was the 5th in a line of Hattoris who had been lumber traders. His mother, Machiko, wrote to him often when he was in the service.

Map of the Suribachi southern defense sector showing the spot where 1st Lt. Hattori died on Feb 22, 1945. A survivor of the battle returned to Japan to report that he had witnessed Hattori leave a bunker at 02:00 in the morning with 5 other men to engage in a nighttime raid but only 1 returned who died the next day from wounds.

In 1934 he graduated at the top of his class from Nara Prefecture Shogyo's forestry trade school in order to follow in his father's footsteps in the family business. When his father became ill, he became the 6th generation of Hattori clan to manage the forests of Nara. His family had been samurai loyal to the Toda Daimyo in the infamous Sekigahara Battle of 1601 in which the use of firearms was first used to great effect against fellow samurai charging headlong with swords and spears. A lesson that seemed to have been learned and then forgotten by Japan's modern Army.

On Dec. 26, 1936 he joined the Japanese Army's 4th Imperial Guard Regiment and within 2 years proved himself as a leader and entered the Officers Candidate school. On July 1 1938 he was promoted the 2nd Lieutenant and dispatched to the Northern China – Russian Boarder area, (Sunwu) a week prior to the start of the China-Incident War.

Mihoko and her husband Motoki Hattori hold a page from the 5 page letter from Iwo Jima.

He was de-commissioned (he wasn't a career officer) and discharged on May 5, 1941 to return to Nara prefecture to work in the forest industry and performed duties as an ex-soldier in the Zaigo Gunjin Association. On June 6, 1941 through an arranged marriage he wed Sawako Kawai who later gave birth to a girl, Chikako, on Feb. 8, 1943. He was doing well and soon promoted to secretary to the minister of forestry of all Nara prefecture.

Rex Butler presenting the letters to Motoki Hattori during the dinner hosted by the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce.

Things changed dramatically for the Hattori family when he was recalled to active duty on June 20, 1944 and assigned to the HQ of the "Osaka 22nd Unit". However, the 10th Independent Anti-tank battalion Commanding Officer, Major Kyusan Matsushita, was in need of an executive officer because his normal XO was gravely ill. As a result, 1st Lt. Hattori was called in as an emergency replacement with the unit, which left Osaka harbor the following day consisting of 303 officers and men. The ship soon docked in Yokosuka where he was able to meet his younger brother Genji who had become the commander of the "Eastern 2112 Unit" a coastal artillery unit charged with the defense of Tokyo Bay. The younger brother Genji survived the war and wrote a book. He mentioned how the brothers spoke for three painfully short hours about their resolve to make the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. The unit boarded a light Cruiser and headed for the Ogasawara island chain.

Motoki Hattori, Rex Butler, Dan King, John Edwards.

On July 20, 1944 the ship pulled into Chichi Jima and then to Iwo Jima.

10th Independent anti-tank battalion under Major Kyusan Matsushita was made up of men from Osaka, Nara, and Wakayama. The Battalion was tasked with defending the Mt. Suribachi which put them right between the landing beach and the path to the top of Mt. Suribachi; this was the objective of the 5th Marines, 28th Regiment that landed on Feb 19, 1945. 1st Lt. Hattori never saw the flag go up on Suribachi, for he died the day before at 2:00am in a squad-sized impromptu Banzai charge he led. A survivor of the attack crawled back into the cave (located next to the Southern Kannon goddess memorial at the base of Mr. Suribachi today) and reported that 1st Lt. Hattori and the others were killed. The witness died shortly after reporting the attack to Major Matsushita who survived the battle and later went to Hattori's parents' home in Dec 1945 to inform them of his last day.

In keeping with Japanese military tradition, upon death in battle the soldier was promoted a single rank. 1st Lt. Hattori was promoted to Captain Hattori as is labeled in this photo provided by his family.

The Japanese state there were 20,129 Japanese soldiers and sailors killed on Iwo Jima with 1,033 survivors, many of whom gave false names -such as movie stars, poets and historical figures-when they were captured, and many changed their names after the war to avoid the stigma and shame of being a prisoner of war. There is no accounting for how many are alive today as very few will speak about their experience, and time and illness have claimed many who would be in their mid to high 80's.

The last page of the letter written to 1st Lt. Genichi Hattori in which his mother, Machiko, asks him to do his best for the Country. She closes stating that Hattori's wife, Sawako is by her side as she prays for him.

In the "Matsushita Unit" (units were named for their commander) there were 303 officers and men but only 6 survivors including Major Matsushita who, after the war, visited the homes of the men in his unit and reported to their families. He visited the parents of 1st Lt. Hattori on Dec 17, 1945 to inform Hattori's parents of his last hours as he knew them.

Hattori's funeral was held, sans remains, in his family home in Dec 1945 shortly after confirmation of his death by Major Matsuhita and a notice from the government.

On a closing note, upon his death, as was customary in the Japanese Army, Hattori was promoted one rank to that of Captain.

Hattori's daughter, Sachiko who is mentioned in the letter as "running happily around carrying the picture of Daddy riding his horse" is still alive and deeply appreciative of the people in the US and Japan who worked hard to find her father's family and return the letter as it is the only physical proof that her father once walked the earth.

Motoki Hattori hands the actual "Letter from Iwo Jima" to the deceased Army 1st Lt. Genichi Hattori's daughter, Chikako, who is mentioned in the letter that was sent from the Officer's mother to him on Iwo Jima. Motoki is the grand-nephew of the dead officer. This event occured on May 5, 2011 during a Buddhist ceremony/funeral rites to pray for the soul of the departed. The letter acted as a replacement for the decendants' remains which were never recovered after the battle and are presumed to be entombed on the island in an unknown grave or cave.

On May 5, 2011, the Hattori family conducted a Buddhist ceremony (at the same temple as in the 1944 photograph above) for 1stLt. Genichi Hattori to lay his soul to rest. In the photo are L-R:

  • Mihoko Hattori
  • Motonari Hattori
  • Chikako (1stLt Hattori's daughter who is mentioned in the letter)
  • Hisako Hattori
  • Motoki Hattori
  • Gentaro Hattori (the dead officer's nephew)