Contest #139 winner 🏆

buried in saipan

Submitted into Contest #139 in response to: Format your story in the style of diary entries.... view prompt

193 comments

Sad East Asian Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

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,

Koji.


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.

March 29, 2022 01:45

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193 comments

Felice Noelle
22:56 Apr 01, 2022

Alex: Oh, WOW, another warfare gem! Lots of interesting turns of phrases and universal truths in this one. Very well researched, too. As a reader of every post WWII book my younger brother brought home, I became an avid reader and fan. Thanks for another story, with a light touch to some parts that are usually treated with heavy hands, like the torture and punishment. You did GOOD. You definitely succeeded in turning the prompt into an interesting POV. Thanks, again, for a heartfelt read. You deftly combined a lot of literary device...

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Alex Sultan
16:19 Apr 05, 2022

Thank you for reading this one, Felice. I definitely wanted to portray the more grim side of Imperial Japan in this story, and I'm glad it came across right. I appreciate the kind words & comment as always.

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L.M. Lydon
14:20 Apr 01, 2022

The end is so moving, with how all of the letters are preserved (many of which probably say similar things regardless of side). There are several vivid phrases ("submarine acting as an aquarium" and "the night is quiet and my thoughts are loud") that I particularly enjoyed.

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Alex Sultan
15:45 Apr 05, 2022

Thank you for the comment! The aquarium line is one of my favourites too, and I'm glad it stood out. I appreciate the kind words.

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Lavonne H.
05:38 Mar 31, 2022

Alex, you capture the real issue "aren't we all the same?" What bravery to stand up to one's own culture and race to say that! And from what you have written, I now wonder what archeologists will find in Ukraine in the future? Keep us thinking, Alex! Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Alex Sultan
01:34 Apr 01, 2022

Thank you, Lavonne. I appreciate the read and kind words. Let us hope the conflict in Ukraine will soon come to an end, as they continue to hold their ground.

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Michał Przywara
20:43 Mar 29, 2022

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.

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Alex Sultan
02:08 Apr 01, 2022

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 🙂

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Kit Desjacques
16:01 Apr 08, 2022

I agree. It's a beautiful story.

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Chris Campbell
03:55 Mar 29, 2022

Alex, I love this story. It reminds me of Spielberg's "Letters From Iwo Jima." It is so easy to demonise an enemy, to stir hate and resentment. We are all the same on this planet. We love, we grieve, we all want peace (well, except for one in Moscow). Beautifully written and excellently told. Well done! War is one of my favourite subjects. I also wrote a piece on the South Pacific War called, "A Necessary End." It is so easy to forget the human element in conflict. In the end, everyone is a victim.

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Alex Sultan
01:30 Apr 01, 2022

Thank you for reading, Chris. 'Letters from Iwo Jima' is my favourite anti-war film, and I've seen them all - I'd say this story is partially inspired by it. I'm glad you've seen the movie too. Writing on war is one of my favourite subjects as well. I appreciate the kind words. I'll read your story when I get the chance.

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Calm Shark
03:06 Mar 29, 2022

I really like the story and I was so deep into it. I liked how it was set during the war and how the entries depicted the lives of a soldier who had to face many trials. I also liked how it is East Asian because I love reading East Asian stories. I don't have that much feedback to tell you. Overall, keep up the good work!

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Alex Sultan
01:31 Apr 01, 2022

Thank you, Calm Shark. I seem to write East Asian stories well. I appreciate the read and kind words.

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Calm Shark
02:44 Apr 01, 2022

Hope you do more East Asian stories (it's fine if you don't want to) :)

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Ziyad Elmelige
21:57 Nov 07, 2023

interesting

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