My Grandfather's Legacy of Forgiveness

Among the elderly in my home town, Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) is still recalled with anger, the Japanese still disliked. So when I accepted an English teaching position in Kyoto, Japan, more than mere grumblings arose from many of my older friends. Before I left America, veterans cornered me and recounted stories of bloody South Pacific battles. I would listen politely until they inevitably shook their heads and sighed, "You're too young to understand."

But my grandfather, a chaplain in the United States Army in World War II, did understand. He was in the Philippines and the jungles of New Guinea from 1943 to 1945. I read his diaries: The entries were poignant and unsettling. The war I'd seen in the movies was not the one he recorded.

When I was well into my sixth month of teaching in Kyoto, I received a letter from my mother with the name and address of a retired Japanese minister and theology professor, Taizo Fujishiro.

"He was your grandfather's friend," she wrote. They had met in 1950 at the University of Chicago's Theological Seminary. After Taizo returned to Japan, the two wrote for many years. The address is in Kyoto, she wrote, why not look him up?

It took me weeks to gather enough courage. Would he remember?

The telephone rang and I waited. A soft voice answered, "Hai (Yes)!"

"Hello," I said slowly and clearly. "My name is Connie Wieck. I am the granddaughter of Marvin Maris."

That was all the introduction I needed. Taizo's exclamation of surprise told me that he remembered.

We arranged to meet for lunch the following day. I wore a skirt rather than my usual worn-out jeans, and arrived 20 minutes early. I sat nervously with my hands clasped tightly on my lap and my eyes glued to the hotel's front door.

A distinguished, tidy gentleman with thick, graying hair and bushy eyebrows entered. He smiled warmly and approached.

"You must be Connie," he said as I rose to meet him.

"You surprised me," I said, shaking his hand. "I thought you'd look much ... older."

He laughed with such amusement that I felt my nervousness slip away.

We ate lunch and talked for nearly three hours. My grandfather had been Taizo's first American friend. He had typed his class notes for Taizo, who often struggled to follow the professor's rapid lectures. Taizo had spent Christmas with Grandfather's family; my grandfather had taught him how to drive. But what truly surprised me was that this gentle man had been a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Guard. Growing up in a town whose veterans were still bitter toward the Japanese, I had come to believe that forgiveness was beyond any first-hand witnesses to that history.

The lasting friendship between my grandfather and Taizo proved otherwise.

AFTER lunch, Taizo and I resumed our conversation in Kyoto's ancient imperial palace grounds where cloistered emperors once walked. We strolled, and spoke about our families, my work.

The late-afternoon sun signaled the end of our time together. We exchanged many warm thank-yous and promises of future meetings, which we kept. Today, seven years later, Taizo and I still keep in touch. Our correspondence is a privileged legacy from my grandfather, one I hold very dear.

And when I am surrounded by others' vivid memories of World War II, I share my memories, too. They begin with the walk Taizo and I took that day, where I felt the presence of my grandfather join us as we walked side by side, with peaceful steps.

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