Harriet Hanako Hanzawa/Kondo’s Instructions for War
By Dwight Kondo
by Dwight Kondo
Puna, Hawaiian Kingdom
My mother’s instruction, as my father and she waited with me at Honolulu International Airport, was simple though incongruent with sending a son to War. As the other soldiers began to line up to board, she broke her silence and seemed to search with teary eyes for a message that would protect and bring me home safely from Vietnam. I had volunteered to go.
She then became momentarily stern. Seriousness veiled her fears and she gave me her orders in a tone she might have used when I was leaving home as a child to visit and stay with a significant aunt. I was her first and only to go to War.
Mother’s instructions, as I think back now, were profound. Perhaps, if more mothers had given the same instructions to soldier/sons over the last 10,000 years, things would not be as they are today.
Breaking the silence she turned abruptly to me as other soldiers began shuffling past. This was her transmission:
DON’T KILL ANYONE.
DON’T GET KILLED.
And finally, spoken as a wizen Nisei daughter of the War years with the US Fleet in Pearl Harbor:
And…DON’T DO ANYTHING DIRTY!
I realized when I arrived ‘In Country’ and looked around a bit, Mother meant for me to stay out of the brothels so common to War. During her War, her family lived on School Street less than a thousand feet mauka up Nu’uanu Stream from the brothels of Smith and Pauahi Streets in Chinatown and infamous Hotel Street. Mother told me that the girls who served there, especially the Japanese ones, pitifully, were referred to as Kamikazis
When I got my ‘boonies hat’ I took it to the seamstress at Long Binh and had her embroider a title from Three Dog Night: MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO COME.
I never realized its double meaning.
My father, that night mostly quiet, stepped forward, shook my hand and advised me to take care of myself and said, “Good Luck”. I boarded the chartered United Airlines jet full of soldiers. I wondered, as no doubt all the others on board, how many of us would be coming home in a year. There seemed no friendships starting here and, aside from the kindness of the older stewardesses, it was a quiet and introspective flight. Bewildered. In less than a day, the doors of the jet opened up to the blast of the tropical heat of Ton Son Nhut Airport, Saigon. We had each come alone to Vietnam to experience the mystery of War. In some 364 days, we each had to go back home alone, if at all.
Legend has it that in War, the seriously wounded or dying cry out to their mothers. I can only imagine that ultimately, the sins and horror of War most deeply offends any mother. More than any other, She has brought forth our lives and patiently taught the toddlers to walk. And when these babies march off to War, I bet she worries most if she will ever hear those footsteps again.
Deep down, more than our warrior machismo dares admit, we know this. If and when we are ever afraid of dying, we know it is She that will be hurt the most.
Mother recently related a conversation she had in the Hawaii Kai Long’s Drugs. While talking to a man in US Army uniform, she related to him that her son had gone to Vietnam. When he asked how I had fared, she said I was unscathed. Then she added that I never really came home, either. The older soldier said, maybe to comfort her to know that as a Mother of a soldier, most of us never do. I believe I would say the same thing, too, if it were me explaining War gently to a Mother.
My mother’s instruction for me in War was Mercy. I am so grateful that I could heed her instructions. When I see her now I know when she reviews Life, if there is such a place, she will not be ashamed of what her child did in times of War. That the child she bore did not become one of the monsters that have too long humiliated us all. That she, as a Mother, had done her duty.