October 23rd–Heading Back to Bruyères

Today we woke up to a cold and foggy morning.  We have loaded our luggage onto our bus.  We are first heading back to Bruyères for a final farewell to the city and the 100/442nd monuments.  From there we will travel to the American Cemetery in Lorraine to pay our respects and conduct a memorial service.

As we say goodbye to Geredemeyer a beautiful white stork flys by our window and over the lake.  As we approach Bruyères for the last time the sun is shining and we see more blue sky than clouds.  Once again off in the distance we can see Hills B and C.

In 1945 the JACL offered a plaque to the city of Bruyères commemorating the 100th/44nd.  They were able to erect that monument.  However as you can imagine the town had just come from a devastating war and had little money or resources so the marker on Hill 555 was a simple wooden marker. In 2011 Carl Williams visited the site and saw that it needed repair.  He contacted the mayor (who is the current mayor) who was happy to work with Carl on restoring the site.  Together they decided to add elements to the site, and began collecting donations and eventually built a new monument that we see today.

We arrived at Hill 555 and were greeted by Mayor & Mrs. Yves Bonjean and daughter Anne.   The hill is much quieter today which allows us time to quietly visit and contemplate.  I had time to visit the small sculpture nearby by famed artist Shinkichi Tajiril.  Tajiri was born in the Watts area of Los Angeles. He was interned in Poston from where he volunteered and joined the 100th/442nd with his brother Vincent. Wounded here in Bruyères he returned to the US and attended the Chicago Art Institute.  Racism and prejudice drove Tajiri to the Netherlands to live.  He became a world famous artist, sculptor and film maker.  The “Knot” is here on hill 555 in memory of the 100th/44nd.

After a beautiful and moving rendition of Amazing Grace by Anne Bonjean and her mother we departed hill 555 and said goodbye to Bruyères and began the 2.5 hour drive to Lorraine.

We arrive in the American Cemetery in Lorraine and are met with an imposing site of the monument and surrounding headstones. Lorraine is the largest American Cemetery covering 1135 acres.  There lies here 10,482 soldiers killed in WWII.  Most died while driving the Germans from Metz toward the Rhine River.  The cemetery was dedicated in 1960. There are 444 names on the wall of those missing in action, 4 Medal of Honor winners, 151 unknown soldiers, 11 women, and 30 sets of brothers.

Included in the brothers are the Akimoto brothers, Victor and John of Idaho. Victor was the older brother who was in the army when the war broke out.  He had attained the rank of Staff Sargent when his brother enlisted from camp.  Victor requested that he be allowed to serve with his younger brother, but was told that as a Staff Sargent that was not possible.  Victor then volunteered to lower his rank to private so he could be with his brother.  They died here in France and now are buried side by side.

Here is my talk to our group today:

“At my temples I conduct memorial services each month called Shotsuki Hoyo or monthly memorials. At these memorials we read the names of all who have died in that particular month.  I am insistent that we read each and every name.  When we hear the names they come to life.  In Epinal and here we say the names of those fallen soldiers and they come to life, their hope dreams and their deeds.  We then see that their lives were real just like ours.

“Names have a power and a function.  When I say the word Mom, Dad, brother it conjures up memories and feelings for each of you.  You can see the face of your mom, you can hear her voice.  These young men most of them in their 20s called out to their mothers and they found comfort, warmth and security.  They knew they were embraced and accepted just as they were.  Although thousands of miles away at that moment of calling out the distance disappeared and they were one.  All sense of time and space were erased.

“That is the power and function of a word like mom.  That is why we read the names of these soldiers because it reminds us of their life, their hopes and dreams.  In our tradition we say Namoamidabutsu.  It is just a word, but it has a power and a function. It connects us to all beings past and present.  It affirms that we are all accepted just as we are.  They who lie here are never alone, never forsaken even when we are thousands of miles away.  So today we call out their names and become one with them.”

After leaving Lorraine we drove into the town of Reims.  We had time to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims. A 13th century church where the kings and queens of France were crowned.  It is both beautiful and imposing.  It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  While visiting we saw devotees visiting making it clear that it is not just a beautiful and historical building, but a living and breathing church with parishioners.

At 7:30 pm we had our farewell dinner at the hotel.  It was nice to have an opportunity to thank Carl and June Williams for all their hard work in putting together this trip. Tomorrow we return to Paris.

Rev. Shinseki