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Colorado Springs man's book tells little-known story of Japanese after WWII

December 8, 2014 Updated: December 8, 2014 at 4:05 am
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Paul Maruyama discusses his book, Escape from Manchuria, which tells the story of his father and two others escaping Manchuria during World War II and rescuing 1.7 million noncombatant Japanese, on Monday, November 17, 2014. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

What the Monument professor remembers most about those desperate days at the end of World War II in Manchuria was the constant hunger.

As a 5-year-old boy, Paul Maruyama, his mother and three siblings - all Japanese-Americans - and his father, Kunio Maruyama, were among 1.7 million Japanese civilians held in Manchuria by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II, seemingly abandoned by Japan and the Allied forces.

Conditions were so dire that an estimated 2,400 people a day - mostly the elderly, children and women - were dying of hunger, cold, disease and brutality. To this day, many Japanese are still trying to find out what happened to their relatives. Others who left as orphans to grow up in China, did not know they were really Japanese.

Over the years, Maruyama heard bits and pieces about how his father, a Columbia University educated Japanese civilian, and two others made a daring escape from Manchuria through China. With help from the Catholic Church and Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist underground, they risked their lives escaping to tell Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Allied commander in Japan, about the horrendous conditions.

It was his mother Mary, a Seattle native, who mostly talked about those times to her children.

"My father didn't say much," Maruyama said. "It was too emotional.

"She would say, 'Your dad rescued 1.7 million Japanese in Manchuria.' But I like to also say my mother was also a hero. She rescued the four of us. She protected us while he did what he had to do."

Paul Maruyama graduated from San Jose State University and became a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. He served in Vietnam, taught Japanese and judo at the Air Force Academy and Colorado College before retirement. He also was on the 1964 Olympic U.S. judo team and coached the 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic judo teams.

Although Maruyama had a successful life, there was something missing. The past gnawed at him because, as an academic, he was surprised that the Manchurian atrocities to civilians was barely a footnote in the history of World War II, particularly in America. It was also a personal story he wanted to preserve for his two daughters and three grandchildren.

He often said someone should write a book about the subject.

"No one knows the story," Maruyama said.

One day a friend told Maruyama he should tell the story.

"It shook me," Maruyama said. "I realized it was my responsibility. In the back of my mind, I thought maybe a historian or one of my brothers would. But I was the only one who could read Japanese."

"Escape from Manchuria" was recently released by Tate Publishing, although Maruyama self-published the book in 2010. Colorado College provided him a grant for research.

Maruyama spent more than six years on the project, unearthing information buried in the National Archives, the MacArthur Memorial Library, Catholic Maryknoll archives, reports to Pacific Theater Commanders, Supreme Command for the Allied Powers, old Japanese language newspapers, books and trips to a museum in Nagano, Japan, where he found personal stories of the Japanese in Manchuria.

His most memorable interview was Masamichi Musashi, who along with Hachiro Shinpo made the escape with his father. Musashi and Maruyama's father had written memoirs in Japanese language and published in Japan years ago.

In interviews with The Gazette, Maruyama laid out the intriguing tale told in much detail in "Escape from Manchuria."

His story began in the mid-1930s when his parents met and married in Seattle. Mary was second-generation Japanese-American. Kunio was a Japanese citizen who attended University of Puget Sound and later received a master's degree from Columbia.

Kunio Maruyama, a Japanese citizen, moved the family to Japan in the late 1930s, wanting to be a university professor. But he found that the Japanese military had tight control of what was taught. He spoke fluent English and was hired by a steel company in Manchuria to translate and be a liaison for various businesses.

During World War II, the company, which produced steel for the war effort, was bombed by the Allies. Kunio Maruyama barely missed being killed in the raid, Paul Maruyama wrote in his book.

By the end of World War II, the Japanese military presence in Manchuria eroded as the troops were moved to lagging military fronts. Left behind were mostly civilians, including the Maruyama family.

The oldest child, Robert, was born in the U.S., but Paul and two other brothers were born in Japan. Because Mary was a citizen, they were, too. Two daughters were born later.

Germany surrendered in May 1945, and after atomic bombs killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered Aug. 15, 1945. But days before Japan surrendered, the Soviets, who had a neutrality pact with Japan, declared war against the country and moved into Manchuria with an estimated 1.5 million troops.

"They knew Japan was going to surrender, and they wanted to be in on the rewards of war, the Kuril Islands and other things that were promised to them at Yalta if they went to war against Japan," Maruyama said. "They waited until the last minute." (At the Yalta Conference, held in February 1945, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill of Great Britain and Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union planned postwar strategy.)

"The Soviets walled off Manchuria from the rest of the world, including the Allies and dismantled and transported all sorts of industrial equipment and products back to the Soviet Union to build their country back up," Maruyama said.

Some Japanese were placed in labor camps or sent to Siberia. Japanese civilians were killed by Chinese mobs, and those who remained suffered from hunger, illness and the cold. To make matters worse, the Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong's communists helped the Soviets.

Manchuria was cut off from the rest of the world.

"They were completely helpless," Maruyama said. "And nobody knew what was happening to them.

"My dad decided this could not go on. He thought that soon all the Japanese civilians would be wiped out."

Kunio Maruyama, Musashi and Shinpo escaped to get help. They took with them, sewn in their clothing, reference letters and documents from American Bishop Raymond Lane and other officials to ensure the three men would be believed.

Mary Maruyama and the children stayed behind, living near a Catholic mission, where they could take refuge with nuns. She changed her last name in case her husband was captured.

The three men dressed like Chinese peasants and headed south over the Great Wall of China. They were aided by the underground Nationalist Chinese. Two officers, who dressed as civilians, helped them make their way through China. They were warned not to speak Japanese on the trip.

They reached the port of Tanggu where many Japanese who were living in China (not Manchuria) were being evacuated. Kunio Maruyama and the other men returned to Japan on a U.S. Navy ship in March 1946.

They immediately worked to draw attention to the situation in Manchuria. They held a news conference, but Japanese newspapers refused to print the story, fearing Soviet representatives at Allied headquarters in Tokyo would retaliate. They met with the Japanese prime minister and Catholic Archbishop Paul Marella, who made a report to the Vatican. He paved the way for their meeting with MacArthur.

Kunio Maruyama and his companions told MacArthur of the bad conditions in Manchuria. On their escape south, they had done reconnaissance of the port of Huludao, China, and told MacArthur that it was the best port for Manchurian evacuations because it was controlled by the nationalists, not Soviets or communists.

While researching his book, Maruyama found that President Harry Truman wanted to evacuate Manchurian Japanese as early as 1945. Maruyama also found a once-secret March 20, 1946, Joint Chiefs of Staff report in the National Archives that Truman had intended to repatriate the Japanese in China, including Manchuria. But it wasn't until weeks after Maruyama talked to MacArthur that the effort began.

"Many Japanese think their own government repatriated their citizens, but it was MacArthur who sent American ships with Japanese crews," Maruyama said. "I want Americans to realize the role that MacArthur played in saving the Japanese in Manchuria. It is one of the things that has caused the relationship between the U.S. and Japan to endure all this time."

Meanwhile, Mary Maruyama learned that her husband had reached Japan safely when mission officials heard a radio broadcast Maruyama had given on a Japanese radio station.

"I remember the elation she had and the happiness because it gave us renewed hope that we would make it out alive, and so we remained courageous," Maruyama said.

But they were in an area heavily guarded by the Soviets and were not allowed to leave until January 1947 after the U.S. negotiated with the Soviets to open the northern port of Dalian for evacuations.

"My dad was waiting for us," Maruyama recalled. "Before that, all that time he didn't know if we were alive or dead. He started to call out to us and was too choked up. I remember he kept praising my mother for keeping us safe."

Mary Maruyama later got a job with the Department of Defense, which allowed her children to attend schools on U.S. military bases. Paul and his siblings, who eventually numbered six, and all U.S. citizens, came to the U.S. to go to college.

His father, who continued to help with the repatriation effort, later became an economics professor at Meiji University in Tokyo, He died in 1981. His mother, who remained in Japan, died in 1991.

Kunio Maruyama received the Japan Imperial Decoration, the Order of the Rising Sun, for his work in fostering Japanese and American relations. Last year, Paul Maruyama received the same award.

Maruyama didn't find much about Shinpo's life after the war, except that he evidently started a business but died fairly young, Maruyama said.

Musashi created a successful construction business, and while researching the book, Paul Maruyama met twice with him.

Musashi told him that while Kunio Maruyama had worked on the evacuation efforts from Japan, Musashi had gone back to Manchuria to take supplies and help from that end. However, he was jailed and tortured for weeks by the nationalists, who feared he was a communist spy.

"Meeting him was very emotional," Maruyama said. "He told me about my father, things I did not know, about his admirable character, which I had not fully appreciated.

"The saddest thing to me, I was going to give him (Musashi) the very first copy of my book. But he died a month before it came out."

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371

Twitter @mcgrawatGazette

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