Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I found myself in Germany on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. A long-time friend picked me up at Frankfurt Airport and told me we were making “a stop” on the way to his house. The stop was the home of an older couple that I met last October when my wife and I hosted them along with my friend for a few days when they were traveling in the eastern US. They wanted to have lunch with their recently minted American friend and “speak English”. We sat outside under a bright blue sky on a perfect, peaceful June Day. Both German and American flags were flying in the backyard. It was hard for me to imagine the adrenaline rush that my father was having 70 years earlier as he anticipated crossing the English Channel.

My Father - "Thanks Dad"

The topic of D-day came up and I gingerly took out my IPhone and went to my camera role where I had two pictures of my Dad in a screen shot I saved of pictures that my sister had posted on Facebook earlier in the day. As my hosts glanced at the image of a college age American in uniform from decades before, I began to ponder how odd the world I inhabit would have seemed to the young man in the picture. My father was part of the invasion force coming over on the second day and like most of “the greatest generation” never talked about it until late in life and then only when asked.

The final destination of my trip is China – Germany only a stopover to see a friend. D-Day was not in my mind when I booked the ticket. The timing of the trip was driven by an invitation to speak at a lithium battery forum in western China. The invitation was officially from the government of the province but was really the doing of an old friend who was tasked to invite some “foreign experts”. I definitely qualify as a foreigner and I think they were “rounding up” on the expert part. It would have been hard for either of my parents to imagine me being invited to China as a guest of the government.

The only other “major” anniversary of D-Day I remember was 40 years. What I recall was President Reagan’s speech. I was in the midst of graduate school on that June day. I had never been outside North America and the idea of ever living in Japan would have been “not impossible but not very likely”. Living in China would have been “impossible”. I was with my Dad but there was no discussion of his part in the D-Day invasion force. He wasn’t ready – even after 40 years.

The week before my current trip, American TV was rife with comments about the 70th anniversary. Of course, as times passes, there are less and less D-Day participants around to interview about one of epic battles of all time. 

Yesterday, we didn’t dwell on the topic of D-Day over lunch but the brief discussion stayed in the back of my mind as we drove through the German countryside to my friend’s home. I am old enough to remember the cold war and Viet Nam. I turned 18 just as Saigon was falling so I was never faced with being in armed conflict. My nieces and nephews went to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I was born in the era that fell in between wars. Maybe because of this, I often think about the sacrifices of the generations on either side of mine. 

I have spent more time in the past twenty years in Japan and China than in the US. Now I make my living largely because of my experiences and relationships in Asia. My Uncle was part of the battle of Iwo Jima – we didn’t learn the details until after his death a few years ago. In the early 1950s, my Uncle was an ex-pat in Japan working for Pepsi. After his death I was given pictures taken of him at parties in Ginza and other parts of Tokyo I am very familiar with. I have always regretted not having the chance to talk to my Uncle about the experiences he kept to himself.

The year I graduated from college I had dinner with my Uncle. He asked about my future which was very uncertain. That night he told me to consider living overseas. His advice was quickly forgotten but came back to me 20 years later when I was offered the chance to move to Japan. The opportunities I have today to travel the world are due to the sacrifices of those who were born before me and after me. I can only say "thank you".