There are still rusted bayonets to be found in the dirt.
Alongside broken firearms, canteens, and bullet-struck helmets. At times, still attached to skeletons. The deep-sea team would occasionally find a corroded tank or the remains of a submarine acting as an aquarium. Fighter planes would turn up far off in the mountains, a surprise to climbers.
Rare was it that Hisao found letters buried in Saipan.
He dropped his shovel and knelt, the archaeology team at work behind him—industrial lights illuminated the tunnel with a silver glow. Brushing the dirt from his find, Hisao picked up a timeworn book with a withered cover. A loose page stuck out from the side.
I’m going to surrender at dawn… a sentence read.
“I got somethi…”
Hisao trailed off. Curiosity once again bested him. With careful fingers, he opened the book and read off the first page.
June 2nd, 1944.
The Americans can have this island, for all I care.
I’m tired. We’re spending the day digging trenches near the beach. The hot sun beams down on us, and we have little water or rice to ration. If we don’t work hard enough, we get shouted at. One word out of place and we’re beaten.
If there is any silver lining, it is the sun’s reflection on the clear waters. The sound of calm waves on the shore. Even as bugs swarm me, I cherish the view. It is breathtaking.
My candlelight fades. This bedroll does little to cushion the dirt.
I hope the centipedes stay away from me.
Hisao turned to the next page. His crew continued the work behind him, a wheelbarrow rolling by with crushed rock.
June 8th, 1944.
Mashiro’s playing cards were found. An officer brought him outside, and he came back bloodied. I fear this journal will be found as well, yet my thoughts are loud, and the nights are quiet. Nothing I write in a letter home would make it through censors.
June 11th, 1944.
I’ve never been an accurate shot. The bruises from the cane are still sore—the officer threatened to keep rations from all of us unless I improve my aim in practice. Another told us we will target the medics when we see them. Americans would risk one life to save another. I’m going to falter when the time comes.
June 13th, 1944
Despite being surrounded by hundreds of my brethren, it is very lonely.
Not all see the beauty of life as I do.
Hisao turned the page. The handwriting on the next grew shaky, as if written in a hurry.
June 15th, 1944
It’s a habit to number the year, even when I have doubts I’ll make it to the next one.
I’m not going to sleep tonight. Warships bombard the shores. Planes drone overhead, the bombs whistle, and the grounds tremble. Soon it will be me on the front lines.
I fear I don’t want I am ready when the time comes.
June 17th, 1944
One of the Americans is in our captivity. He was shot in the gut.
We I dragged him into our dugout and bandaged him. The officers will question him come morning. With what little English I know, I found time to speak with him.
His voice shook as we talked, as he hung onto threads of life. I told Alan I grew up in a small town in Osaka, while he spoke of Ohio—a sprawling city with tall apartments. He would’ve been sent to Germany along with his friends, but drew the short end of the stick. He laughed at his joke and I laughed too.
Alan is asleep now. His breathing fades—I don’t think he’ll wake up.
I’m glad I could see him smile.
June 18th, 1944
The last thing Alan did was hand me a letter, asking me to deliver it to his mother in any way I could. When I read it over, I could only realize how similar it was to mine.
It made me question,
what am I fighting for?
Hisao exhaled, then pushed the loose page back into place.
June 22nd, 1944
I’m going to surrender at dawn.
I will fake a stomach problem, then run off. The white cloth I carry will state my peace to the Americans. I am terrified. The last man to mention the word ‘surrender’ was beaten until he couldn't stand, left as an example to us.
But I cannot take the trepidation of battle any longer.
I sit alone with my thoughts until the sun rises.
Turning one too far, Hisao stared at a blank page. The entries had stopped. He turned back to the final one, dated more than a week after the last—three days before America claimed their victory.
July 6th, 1944
My right eye is still blackened—I can no longer see with it. The officer who beat me is now leading a reckless charge against the Americans. A final stand for control of the island. I, with a few others, am left behind to burn our documents in the cave.
I will not.
Among the documents are letters. Dozens. Addressed to families and loved ones. Ones that were never sent. Words never spoken. Instead, I shall bury them alongside this journal, and hope for it to one day be found.
The order then is to take our own lives. Grenades have been left for us—we will pull the pin, then hold them to our chest. It will be quick and painless. I can only hope, that in the afterlife, I am set apart from those who took joy in this conflict.
Until my words are read,
Hisao sighed. He closed the book, then reached for a bag to seal it in.
“I found something,” he called. His coworkers stepped forward. Hisao handed one the sealed bag, then reached in front with both hands. He swept back the dirt, promptly hitting the old leather of a satchel.
Cameras clicked around him. Another archaeologist dropped to help. They pulled the satchel from the ground, and the string wrapped around it came loose.
Out rained handfuls of letters.