Drawing found on fallen father finds its way home

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 October, 2010, 12:00am

Sixty-five years ago, US soldier Franklin Hobbs pulled an unlikely souvenir from the breast pocket of a dead Japanese soldier on the blood-soaked island of Iwo Jima.

The simple drawing, obviously by a child's hand, must have moved the 21-year-old Hobbs, plucked from his studies at Harvard University to go to war in a far-off land, because for 60 years it would hang on the wall of his own son's room.

Now Hobbs has met Chie Takekawa, who as a little girl drew the picture of an air-raid drill outside her home for Matsuji Takekawa, the father she barely knew.

Chie Takekawa is now 73. She travelled on Thursday from her hometown of Sanjo, in rural Niigata prefecture, to Tokyo to meet Hobbs, 86, who served in the US Army Signal Corps during the invasion of Iwo Jima in early 1945 but was paying his first visit to mainland Japan.

Although they were meeting face to face for the first time, they did so as firm friends, having corresponded since Chie Takekawa learned 18 months ago that the memento had been discovered in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill.

'I must admit that I do not remember drawing this picture, but when I look at it I can clearly recognise our house and the women are wearing their home-made air-raid hats,' she said. 'All the women are passing buckets of water in a drill, which is what we did every day.'

On the reverse, her teacher has written 'well drawn' in faded red characters. Alongside the words are a black-and-white photo of an infant girl, Yoko, who is Chie Takekawa's younger sister, marking the 100th day since her birth.

'The photo and my picture were sent to my father by my grandfather, who I think wanted him to know that we were all well,' Chie Takekawa said. 'You can still see the creases in the paper where my father folded it and kept it in his breast pocket until the day he died.

'When I saw that for myself, it made me very emotional,' she said, struggling to keep her self-control.

Still in his teens when drafted, Hobbs fervently hoped to avoid combat. He followed the initial waves of assault troops that landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima. He lost his rifle in the confusion and dug a hole with a comrade to escape the gunfire.

'It was just terrible,' he said. 'There were people lying dead in the water and it was the first time I had seen dead bodies. I hated the whole idea of being there. It seemed a terrible thing for people to be dying on this little island.'

After the initial furore had died down, Hobbs and his unit were given the task of putting up telegraph poles. One day, he saw a group of soldiers rifling the bodies of dead Japanese for souvenirs.

'I saw this letter sticking out of one man's top pocket, and by chance, I stopped,' he said. 'I never wanted a sword, like most of the other guys, but I grabbed this letter. I'm not quite sure why. I saw the picture and the photo of the little girl and just put it in my pocket.'

After serving eight months on the island, by which time the war was over, Hobbs returned to the United States, where his wife discovered the letter and put it in a double-sided picture frame, one side showing the drawing, the other the envelope and the photo of the baby girl. And for 60 years, it hung in their son's room, while Hobbs went on to a successful career in the clothing industry.

Two years ago, Hobbs' second wife, Marge, suggested that it might be time to return the mementos to their rightful owners.

Through friends in the Japanese community, assisted by the Japanese government's pensions bureau, the two sisters were located.

The younger sister never met her father, who was posted to Iwo Jima before she was born, but by a stroke of chance she had moved to the United States in 1973 and lived in New Jersey. Hobbs gave her the framed picture but never had any intention of travelling to Japan, until he was invited to the annual fund-raising event for the Japan Society in Boston. His wife won the event's grand lottery prize - a return trip to Japan.

Hobbs says he was delighted to have the chance to meet Chie Takekawa, but has no plans to return to Iwo Jima, the place that brought them together. 'I felt very lucky to be able to come home because so many didn't make it. Death was everywhere and I just hated it.'

Chie Takekawa paid her first visit to Iwo Jima in March. In his last letters home, her father had complained of raging thirst, so she took five bottles of water to bunker number 309, where he had been posted, and left them as an offering.

Around 7,000 US soldiers died in the assault on Iwo Jima, while losses on the Japanese side are estimated at more than 21,000.

Matsuji Takekawa was 36 when he died and is among those whose bodies remain unaccounted for; his family never received the traditional box of ashes for men who had fallen in battle for the emperor.

'I will go back to Iwo Jima each year, for as long as my health allows,' Chie Takekawa vowed. 'The last time I was there, it felt as if I was walking on the soil that held my father's body. All I wanted to do was to put my hands in the soil and dig him back up.'