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.
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This one was tough - I wanted to write a unique take on the prompt, but I'm not all too sure how it turned out. All feedback appreciated. 🙂
You did a great job of keeping the story simple and yet impactful. I would love to read an elaborated version where we(the reader) can travel with the characters a lot more.
A really great and unique take on the diary prompt! I think its easy for diary entry stories to become quite one-dimensional due to their very solitary view-point but adding the dual perspective really took this story to another level! As someone who loves 20th century historical fiction, that aspect also led me to read on and on! I found the crossed out pieces very poignant - especially 'I fear I don’t want'. Heartbreaking! (I'm also a bit jealous you found use for the strikethrough tool as I've been eyeing it for years and have never had ...
Thank you, friend. I appreciate the comment - it is very kind of you. It's nice to hear the dual perspective worked. I knew when I saw this prompt I wanted to write something unique with it, and I'm glad you liked it. I'm looking forward to your next story 🙂
Congrats on the win! It really is a fantastic story!
Hi Alex, I really like how you focused on the characters in this one, helping us to feel empathy for others. A few phrases really stuck with me: "It’s a habit to number the year, even when I have doubts I’ll make it to the next one." (ouch) "It made me question, what am I fighting for?" (whoa) "Alan is asleep now. His breathing fades—I don’t think he’ll wake up. I’m glad I could see him smile." (heartbreaking) I always enjoy your historical fiction pieces, especially your careful thought about the POV to take. I also like how you ended...
Thank you for reading, friend. This is my fourth story on Imperial Japan, and while that time period was one of the world's darkest, I'd also like to think that somewhere within, people kept their humanity. I appreciate the comment.
Popped in to congratulate you. Well-deserved win!!!
Wow Alex this was great. Having Hisao reading the diary entries was a brilliant way to frame them and added a whole layer of depth to the story. Loved it.
Thank you, Rachel. My first thought with the prompt was how I could frame it to be unique - I'm glad you liked it.
If there is one thing I like about your writings is the pace. You don't dabble on unimportant thing and carry on with the story. I'm looking forward to reading a printed novel by you someday. Good job!
Thank you for reading! I'd really like to think I've gotten better and better with each war story I write. I appreciate the kind words.
What a great story highlighting the futility of war and the humanity within most of us. Most relevant in these times with a European conflict we all are struggling to understand and where humanity seems to have lost its way.
Thank you for reading, Chris. I appreciate the comment and insight 🙂
Hello Alex! I love this story sooo much!! I really liked the part at the end where they found all the letters. Congradulations on the win!!
Thank you, Diego. I appreciate the kind words! I'm glad you liked the story.
The diary itself already tells an interesting story, but I really like how you framed it with the archeological expedition! Not only is it a bit of a hopeful counterpoint to the heaviness, but it also kind of reinforces the pointlessness of the fighting, since the world has moved on dramatically from whatever reasons there might have originally been.
Thank you, Michal. I appreciate the read and comment. I thought that a unique take on the prompt would really stand out, and it is nice to hear it worked 🙂
I agree. It's a beautiful story.
I love this story, it's so well written. Although I'm not attracted to war stories, this one made me wanting to read more. Well done!!
Thank you, Evina. War stories definitely are not for everyone, so I do appreciate the kind words from someone who does not always read the genre 🙂
Wow, it's a lovely read. Poignant and straight forward.
how do you write your own ?
Interesting plot idea. A nice read.
great story but the ending wasn't my favorite but overall great story
Thank you! I appreciate the comment. I'd love to hear what you thought was off with the ending, if you wouldn't mind?
The story depicts the harshness that American military men underwent in the past old days, both being bruised brutally having no food and having to lead a solitude life leaving their near and dear ones in far off lands. Also one man's meat could be another man's poison-the unheard letters of the war men were a way of survival for the archaeologists. Koji is evidently someone who bore the threshold of toughness and suffering by withholding himself from lack of food and accepting nature's beauty to be his only resort. Letters are a way to l...
This was really good, Alex. A diary found decades later and the reader knows all that passed in the mean time. A very human and humane picture of war's ravages and how, regardless of the side fighting, we have more in common than not. Well done.
Oh my Alex, this story is amazing and the fact that you were able to keep it simple and small but impactful, you really gave us a chance and a glimpse into this story!
Thank you, friend. I'm glad you liked the story - your kind words are inspiring.
So good. The horrors of war are sadly-timeless. I’m glad that Koji found the strength to defy the order, and saved all those letters. I will have to read more of your work.
this story was good and had a lot of detail and was sad but interesting good job
Ironic... I entered a story not too long before this prompt popped up, and it's written, and formatted almost the same. In letter format about a Japanese Kamikaze pilot in early 1945 WW2, and yet mine didn't get as near as much attention as this one did... Funny.
Can't win them all - go check out my story 'Zero'. I took the spotlight for the kamikaze topic before you.
I never said I did the kamikaze story first. I said I created a story in the same formatting, with similar writing before this was posted. If you haven't seen mine, you should check it out. It's called 'Letters of a Kamikaze'.
This is so well done! There is so much depth in this despite it being a short story. I could picture the scenes and the expressions of the characters, which is a testament to your writing and word choice. You got some serious writing skillz!