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War memorial ceremony representative works to find and return father's remains

Kokichi Morimoto is seen holding pictures of his father Toshio at the government-sponsored memorial ceremony for the war dead where Morimoto gave the address on behalf of bereaved families, at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Aug. 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- Kokichi Morimoto, 77, who delivered the address on behalf of the bereaved families at the government-sponsored memorial ceremony for the war dead held on Aug. 15 to mark the 74th anniversary of the end of World War II, lost his father to the conflict.

Aged 1 when his father Toshio left for the battlefield he would never return from, Kokichi has almost no memories of his dad, who died at 30. For Morimoto, his recollections of war are the hardship his mother, Hatsu, went through to raise him and his younger sister, now aged 76.

Morimoto's father worked in the printing industry in Seoul, which was then under Japanese rule. He was called up to fight at the end of 1942. His family believed he would return home alive, and moved to Mie Prefecture, where his father had his legal domicile, three months after the war ended.

But the following summer, they received an official notice that he had fallen in December 1944, in the eastern part of New Guinea Island.

Morimoto's mother, who had up until that point been working as a full-time homemaker, found work in a municipal government office in the countryside to take care of the children. She was often sick and missed work, but she never complained in front of them.

She also tried not to talk to them about their father. But when they all prayed at the family Buddhist altar without fail every morning and evening, the sight of her bond with their father stayed in their young hearts.

Hatsu died at 88 in the summer of 2001. Around half a year earlier, Morimoto visited Papua New Guinea where his father died as part of mourning activities with a group for bereaved families. He took a stone from the area, and was able to bring it back to his mother. She wept when he gave it to her.

In the only photo of father and son together, the back reads, "Taken on the day Toshio went to war." Morimoto, held by his father, wears an innocent expression. When his first grandchild was born, Morimoto could acutely feel his father's sorrow from leaving such a young child behind.

In July, Morimoto visited the eastern part of New Guinea for the 35th time as a bereaved family member engaged in collecting the remains of the fallen.

He tells himself that he doesn't think he will find his father's remains, while wishing to return as many of the dead as possible to their home country. But if he were able to put his father's bones to rest next to his mother, instead of the stone he handed her, he believes it would be the greatest thing he could do for his parents.

(Japanese original by Masahiro Sakai, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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