Father's last wish in WWII: Let my daughter go to school
"If I die in the war, please let my daughter receive an education."
So wrote Toichi Handa, who died in battle in the Philippines at age 35, leaving only letters filled with feelings for his 7-year-old daughter. Years later, Sumiko Noichi of Tsurugi, Japan, fulfilled her father's wishes by becoming a teacher.
Noichi, now 77, spoke about her father before attending a memorial service in Tokyo on Friday to mark the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II. It was her first time to attend the annual event.
Her father died on Luzon Island in the Philippines on June 29 in 1945.
Noichi has few memories of her father, who was called away many times for military service. She has only one photograph of herself together with him, taken with an accordion camera. Photography was her father's hobby.
Her mother, Yaeko, had told her of the existence of a bundle of letters, including one written just before Handa joined the military, to show his preparedness, along with those written at the battlefront. Yaeko died in 2005 at 93.
Busy with work and raising children, Sumiko never read the letters when she was younger. She ended her career as a primary school principal in 1998, having reached the mandatory retirement age. In 2010 and 2011, she made trips to the Philippines to remember her father. It was before her first trip to the Philippines that she opened the letters for the first time.
"Once I am called up for military service, I must think as though I've already died. I am fully prepared. I have regrets about Sumiko. I have to leave the child, who still does not understand things well, to my parents and others," he wrote.
Handa, who worked for Japanese National Railways, rejoined the army on Nov. 12, 1937, after being called up for military service a second time. In a letter written that morning, he wrote about his daughter with great feeling.
"Please tell Sumiko that her father died with honor; tell her enough that she can develop the self-esteem necessary, beyond that of other children, to bear the loneliness of being without a father."
In 1944, while in the Philippines on military service after being called up a fourth time, Handa was killed by a land mine. Neither his remains nor his belongings were returned to his family, so they placed in a tomb hair and nail clippings that he had left before going to war.
After the war, Yaeko assisted with her father-in-law's business and also worked on a farm while raising her daughter. "I never felt hungry or lonely," Sumiko recalled. From time to time, Yaeko told her daughter how her father had lived: "Never be cowardly, and act with integrity towards others."
"If I die in battle, I hope that if possible Sumiko will become a teacher. Please let her receive an education adequate for her to be able to attain financial independence."
At that time, the four-year college advancement rate for women stood at just 2.4 percent. "I really appreciated that I was able to receive an education," Noichi said.
Unable to attend a college with a literature department as she had hoped, she went to the Faculty of Liberal Arts, now the Faculty of Education, at Kagawa University at the recommendation of her mother, who knew her father's wishes.
After graduation, Noichi became a teacher. When she retired, she was the principal of the primary school both she and her father had attended. "It was wonderful work, connecting people's minds," she said with appreciation for her father's guidance.
"If I die in the war, my soul will return to Sumiko for sure. I will protect Sumiko's future always."
Noichi had rarely been aware of the presence of her father. In the Philippines, she offered incense at a location close to the area where her father had died, and imagined his grueling final moments. Thinking about the resolve of her father, who had to go to war leaving behind his parents, wife and small child, she cried while reporting her trip to the Buddhist altar after returning home.
For Noichi, Aug. 15 is a day to pledge an end to war. She hopes never to have to send her children or grandchildren to war, and believes protecting peace to be the greatest memorial for her father.