Editor's note: As told to Ray Palmer's granddaughter, Tricia Fuhriman
Christmas of 1945 started out as one of my worst. In retrospect, I am grateful for the lessons I learned, and it has become one of my best.
March of that year I departed America as a Marine aboard a naval transport ship assigned as a Japanese code intercept operator. I left behind my pregnant young wife and toddler son. Just as most of the world was experiencing, my life was uncertain and torn apart. I felt pride for my cause and righteous indignation for the great enemy — the Japanese.
After spending a few months in the South Pacific islands, our ships headed to Japan. On Aug. 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped, followed a short three days later by the second. Our mission that started out with the intent of invasion turned to occupation. Our fleet arrived at Japan’s Sasebo Bay in September. The next few months, we labored tracking down the remainder of the entrenched Japanese forces.
News from home was slow to arrive. The due date for my new baby had come and gone. It was six weeks after her birth that the happy news finally came, I had a new baby girl. She and mother were doing well. Being separated from my family was difficult. My conditions were uncomfortable and I still had a great amount of frustration toward the Japanese.
Christmas Day arrived. It was chilly, cold and desolate in Nagasaki. It was time for the greatly anticipated Christmas feast. My division headed off to the mess hall with visions of turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. Much to our dismay they had run out of food! We were handed more K-rations instead. I felt hard-pressed to be so neglected on Christmas.
To our relief, high command became aware of our circumstances. Additional food was gathered and prepared. Later that evening, we returned to the mess hall. This time there was the scent of juicy turkey, rolls, gravy and all that made it feel like Christmas.
After eating our fill we began to file out, back into the cold and dark. As we went to dump our food trays in the bins, we were met with the hollow but anxious eyes of several Japanese citizens, including children. They were dirty, poorly dressed (most without anything to cover their bare feet). They tentatively and humbly collected what scraps of bones or potatoes they could, in an effort to sustain life.
These poor people were not the great enemy I had come to fight. They were a beaten, destitute and hungry people. I had pitied my situation without realizing how truly blessed I actually was. I was separated from my loved ones, but I knew they were safe and secure and had the necessities of life. I knew we would be reunited. My current situation was not ideal but, I had three meals a day, a warm dry bed and security. I knew a great future lay ahead of me.
The realization of the immense suffering of these people humbled me and changed my outlook on life. A calm came with realizing these people were not my enemy but fellow human beans with families and heartaches. The feelings of fear and hatred were replaced with love and compassion. Under the direction of great American leaders, the soldiers rallied to help rebuild the Japanese communities and ease the suffering as much as possible.
Every Christmas I take a moment to ponder on this experience. The memory of what I learned becomes dearer to me each year. The Christmas of 1945 has become one that has meant the most in my life.