Kiichi Kobayashi has always enjoyed Guam’s weather.
The Japanese elder has returned to Guam at least six times in the last 50 years because he loves the warmth of the islands. Through a translator, Kobayashi explained that he hails from Nagano prefecture, and it’s very cold there.
“Guam’s weather is perfect,” he said, smiling. At 93 years old, the World War II veteran is still lively and spirited, and he walked up a fairly steep hill unassisted. It was easy to see signs of the man who wanted to fight for his country, the man who joined the Japanese military at age 17.
Kobayashi’s first trip to Guam was in April 1944, as a 21-year-old airplane mechanic. He was transferred from Saipan and he was with the 321st Division, Japan Air Force. He stayed on Guam for the end of the occupation, through the liberation and for part of the recovery – two and a half years.
He was the guest of honor at a memorial service held at the South Pacific Memorial Park, where in 1970 the Japanese government erected a 50-foot statue in the shape of praying hands, built to honor all who lost their lives in the war, and commemorate friendship and peace.
It sits in Mataguac, Yigo, on the same site once used as a concentration camp late in WWII. Some of the caves built by Chamorro prisoners of war are there still, along with shrines, offerings and a temple built since.
It is also the site of one of the final battles to recapture Guam; and the site where Commander Lt. Gen. Hideyoshi Obata of Japan’s 31st Division – facing an insurmountable American attack – chose suicide over surrender.
Sunday’s ceremony was co-hosted by the Japan Club of Guam and the Peace Ring of Guam. Kobayashi followed that with a visit and prayer at the Last Battle Field Monument, near the back gate to Andersen, and another prayer at the Agat Memorial Monument.
Monday, Kobayashi is scheduled to visit the caves at Pago Bay with Frontier Tours of Guam – about a mile-long hike from Pago Bay beach.
Monica Okada Guzman, president of the Guam Nikkei Association, which is made up of residents of Japanese ancestry, was there for the first ceremony along with a few other prominent Guam residents and fellow Nikkei members.
“To me it felt like there was closure. War is war and although there were atrocities, we are able to come together as a people. It was very touching and what better place than to have him than at the Peace Ring Memorial, to honor those who died in war whether from the U.S. or Japan,” she said. “It was real personal and emotional to see him there. We’re very grateful to the Japan Club of Guam and Guam Peace Ring Foundation for allowing us to participate in their ceremony, and to also meet Mr. Kobayashi.”
About three dozen members of the Peace Ring Foundation, Japan Club and Nikkei Guam associations were there for the first memorial service. It started with the semi-annual cleanup of the memorial site.
Luckie Sakamoto of the Peace Ring was one of the main organizers for Kobayashi’s visit but was unable to attend.
“We are very honored by his visit. He is 93 years old! So he is one of the last Japanese soldiers on Guam during the war,” said Sakamoto. “Perhaps he is the last.” PACIFIC DAILY NEWS [/restrict]