SHINGU, Fukuoka -- Seventy-two years have passed since the end of World War II, and Chieko Urano, 98, who is among the shrinking number of war widows whose husbands died in battle, still cannot forget the heartbreak of losing her husband.
"War is despicable. That is something I will never forget," Chieko reveals. Whenever she recalls the time her husband Minoru went to war in 1942, she cannot stop herself from crying. He died in June 1944 near the border between China and Burma.
Born in Colorado after his parents had migrated there, Minoru moved to Japan at the age of 9 to live with his uncle in Fukuoka Prefecture. Later, he acquired Japanese citizenship as his uncle's adoptive child. In June 1939, at the age of 18, he married Chieko, who was two years his senior.
However, having been bullied during his childhood for not being able to speak fluent Japanese, Minoru revealed to Chieko that, "I want to enter the military soon and be accepted as a Japanese person."
When the couple's first son was born in Sept. 1940, Minoru said, "I don't want to have to go to war. I want to be here for my son." However, the following year, at the age of 20, he was drafted into the military. Chieko believed he would return safely, and set about focusing her efforts on agricultural work and raising the child.
In July 1942, Minoru suddenly returned to the family home in the middle of the night. "I'm off to war now. I've come to see your faces," he said.
He looked at the face of his second son, who had just been born, and said with a smile: "Make sure you live a healthy life." Three years later, in June 1945, a message came through saying that Minoru had been killed in the war.
"That was the signal our relationship was over." Chieko says tearfully. "Back then, I thought I would only have to endure two years of him being away due to military service, which is why I only visited him once. I should have gone one more time."
After the war, Chieko worked extremely hard, while raising her two children. Minoru's brother, who was an American soldier, came to Japan as part of the Allied occupation.
While Minoru never really talked to Chieko about his feelings of fighting the United States, where he was born, Minoru's mother later told her, "If I'd known the brothers would go on to fight, I wouldn't have sent Minoru to Japan."
In August 2015, 70 years after the end of World War II, Chieko attended a memorial service in Fukuoka Prefecture with her eldest son and granddaughter, and spoke on behalf of about 1,100 attendees. That was the last time a war widow spoke at a memorial organized by the Fukuoka Prefectural Government. Since 2016, children of the war dead have taken over this role. The number of war widows receiving benefits for the family members of military personnel who died in WWII is expected to fall below 20,000 for the first time this fiscal year.
Looking ahead, Chieko says, "I want young people to listen more about the war. I also want them to know about it. And then I want them to spread the word to other people."