An Iwo Jima Relic Binds Generations





FOR many of his 85 years, Franklin W. Hobbs III has managed to distill good fortune from bad luck. Orphaned at 10, he wound up in the care of loving — and wealthy — grandparents. After World War II snatched him from Harvard, the G. I. Bill sent him back for a master’s in business administration. Rocky moments in his career often led to lucrative, fulfilling opportunities.

And so it was on Iwo Jima in the winter of 1945.

Mr. Hobbs, an untested corporal in the Army Signal Corps, doubted he would survive the barrage of mortar shells and gunfire awaiting him on the Japanese island’s besieged beach. Then he met a streetwise Detroit schoolteacher named Schnarr, who tossed four words his way: “Stick with me, Frank.” The unlikely pair clambered off the boat together and stepped past scores of slain and wounded Marines.

“I had never seen a dead person before,” Mr. Hobbs recalled in a recent interview. “It was awful. They were in the water. They were on the beach.”

His gun had slipped into the sea, so he bent down and scooped a weapon from one of those killed. Then he and Schnarr, on orders to stay alive long enough to set up communications, dug a hole off the beach where they stayed, ducking rounds of fire and eating raw bacon, for two days. When the fighting moved farther inland, they got to work laying wire.

Driving a truck a week later, Mr. Hobbs stumbled on a Japanese soldier — a tall man, like him, with no visible wounds, lying dead near a cave. The man wore a helmet and a military jacket. A white envelope peeked out of his chest pocket. Mr. Hobbs, then 21, opened the envelope to find a child’s colorful drawing — of youngsters lined up for an air-raid drill with buckets and padded garb — and a photograph of a baby. He asked an intelligence officer nearby if he could keep it.

“I thought I would like to take it home, as a souvenir, to remember I have been in this battle,” Mr. Hobbs said. “I don’t know why I did it, other than I saw it there and I thought that was an interesting thing to get.”

For more than six decades, he largely kept the envelope, the drawing and the picture — and the war — out of his mind. He was not a man given to ruminating over uncomfortable memories.

Years later, Mr. Hobbs’s wife, Marge, stumbled across the envelope. Moved by its simplicity and its World War II pedigree, she framed the drawing, and, belying her frugal nature, put a second piece of glass on the back side to protect the envelope and the photo. It hung for years in the bedroom of their youngest son, who thought maybe his mother had drawn it in kindergarten.

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Matsuji Takegawa never met his younger daughter; she was born after he left to fight in what the Japanese called the Pacific War, so he asked his wife to name her Yoko, which means “ocean child.”

As a girl growing up in Sanjo City, Japan, and even as an adult, Yoko Takegawa had no curiosity about his death or life. She preferred not to think about him at all, other than being grateful for one thing: His government pension paid for her schooling.

Yoko had always dreamed of going to America, but the only Americans she knew in Sanjo City were missionaries. So in 1973, at 28, she left Japan and came to New York to spread the word about the Unification Church.

Ms. Takegawa wound up in Albany, married and had a daughter of her own, Keiichi, or “blessed one.” But life did not always go smoothly. Yoko divorced, and had to fend for herself financially. She settled in northern New Jersey in 1986, and eventually bought a tiny apartment in Fort Lee. Now 65, Ms. Takegawa hopes to retire soon from her job as vice president of Kokoro International, a small business selling Japanese-themed promotional items.

A year ago, Yoko’s older sister, Chie Takegawa, called from Japan with unexpected news. Sanjo City officials had come to Chie’s house with photocopies of an old envelope, a photograph and a child’s drawing. Chie recognized the drawing at once. It was hers, set aside for her father after her second-grade teacher had praised it. She recognized the photo, too: her little sister, Yoko.

The items, the city official explained, had belonged to their father, Matsuji, who the family knew had died in the Battle of Iwo Jima. A Japanese-American woman in Connecticut had brought in the photocopies, and the officials had tracked down Chie using the address on the envelope, though she had moved to a different neighborhood. An American veteran, a man who had fought on Iwo Jima all those years ago, was searching for the Takegawa family because he wished to return the mementos.

Later, after Yoko Takegawa had hung up with her sister in Sanjo City and had telephoned this stranger in Connecticut, it began to sink in. Her father had seen her face before he died; he had held her image near his heart during the battle. This realization, even so late in life, lessened a hurt she never knew she harbored and softened a sadness that had hardened long ago.

“My daddy carried that letter with my picture in his body, in his bosom,” she said during a recent interview at her home. “I felt something, a spirit, come down in my body. This is treasure, a treasure that carried so much love to me. Before, I go to school with his money. But now, he sends his love to me.”...

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