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The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

Article about: In late 1992, I was contacted by a long time friend, Dr. Robert Pickering, a forensic pathologist with the Denver Museum of Natural History. While attending a convention in Boston, he was in

  1. #1

    Default The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    In late 1992, I was contacted by a long time friend, Dr. Robert Pickering, a forensic pathologist with the Denver Museum of Natural History. While attending a convention in Boston, he was invited for dinner to the home of the mother of one of his colleagues. Following dinner, the woman brought out a 3" x 3" x 3" wooden box that was covered with a course cloth on which was written Japanese kanji characters. Inside the box were the cremated remains of Private 1st Class Shozu Owikawa. The woman asked that he take the remains as she no longer wanted them in her home. Her late husband, an engineer who worked for the US Army as a consultant, brought them back from New Guinea following WW2.
    When Bob returned to Denver, he contacted me regarding what the possibility was of returning the remains to his family, if any existed. Shortly thereafter, the box arrived in the mail. I immediately recorded the information with the assistance of my wife and wrote several individuals I knew in Japan who were people of note. Unfortunately, none of them wanted to become involved in reopening what might be old war wounds.
    My next attempt was to go to a Japanese language newspaper printed in Chicago. Within a few weeks, I was in the area of their offices while on a business call. I met reporter Ms. Kayoko Kawaguchi, who expressed interest in writing a story. She took my information and promised that I would hear from her soon.
    Time went by and nothing further materialized. We moved our business a few months later. Private Owikawa remained stored safetly in my desk drawer for years.
    In late 1997, I suddently received a call from Ms. Kawaguchi. She explained that the day after we met, she had a verbal altercation with the wife of her employer. She left the newspaper and misplaced my information, which she had found recently. She inquired what had happened and replied nothing. She was now working as a reporter for a newspaper in Japan that had nationwide distribution. She requested an appointment with me and one was made. The following Saturday, she and a photographer came to my business, took my information and photographs of the box. Within a week, the story was on the front page of the newspaper. Less than 24 hours later, the paper was contacted by two of the three surviving members of Owikawa's unit. Both lived in the same rural area where Owikawa lived. He had been a farmer conscripted at the age of 32. He left behind a wife and four children. The wife was still alive and 82 years old. She had never remarried and all four of their children were alive This was wonderful news!
    Several days later, I received a call from the Chicago Japanese Consulate. They wanted to send a representative to my business to examine the remains. In the past I was hesitant to entrust the box to a bureaucrat. I have always felt that th diplomatic corp of all countries was staffed by the children of rich families who did not have what it takes to survive in the real world. I was not disappointed in my thou ghts. The gentleman came in to my office and I brought out the box. He wanted to open the lid of the box that was tacked shut with two small brads. Inside were ash, bone fragments and two crumpled pieces of paper. The representative of the consulate took out the two pieces of paper leaving about 60% of the ash and bone on my desk top. I said in a very strong voice, "Sir, you are spilling Private Owikawa on my desk. The twit then took the box to the edge of my desk and used his hand to sweep all of the scattered remains back in to the box. The papers turned out to be notes from the man's company and battalion commander. After copying the letters, i placed them back in the box and reanchored the brads. At this point, I was told that he was ready to take the remains and that the legal guidelines said it would take 13 months to complete the transfer. At that point, I told him that in 13 months, the man's widow might be dead. I would make my own arrangements to return the remains, likely in person.
    Several weeks passed and one morning, I received a call from the personal secretary to the Japanese Consular General. If I was in agreement, within one week, they would have two employees of the Japanese Ministry of Health fly from Tokyo to Chicago to take possesion of the remains. I was promised that the transfer to the family could be accomplished in one month. On February 27, 1998, Shozo Owikawa was returned to officials of the country for which he had given his life.
    One month later, a formal ceremony was held in the farming village from which Mr. Owikawa had come. The same to officials that came to Chicago accompanied the remains to his home town and officially transfered them to his widow and their four children.
    Shozo Owikawa had a long journey. He left Japan and went to Hollandia, New Guinea, where he died in an explosion while unloading aviation fuel, went from their to a closet in Boston for nearly 50 years, from Boston he went to Denver, Denver to the suburbs of Chicago and finally home.
    Attached are pictures of the ox in which the remains were held, a picture of Private Owikawa and yours truly from a nespaper article and a picture of the Consul General holding the remains which had been placed in a special container.
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    BOB

    LIFE'S LOSERS NEVER LEARN FROM THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS.

  2. #2
    ?

    Thumbs up Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    No matter what Nation they fought for, A warrior always deserves to go Home!

    Good Job Bob

  3. #3

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    Very nice history ! and great job! is noble to you !

    Pierre

  4. #4

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    There are a couple of related stories that accompany this thread. After the remains were returned, we received a letter of appreciation from the man's widow. She related that the IJA had given her a box with what was purported to be her husband's remains. The box rattled. Out of curiosity, she opened the box to find only a twig inside.
    A more amazing tale came from the son of one of the two men who contacted the newspaper. His father had been a doctor in the IJA and continued in that practice after the war. Only eight men returned from their unit. The son related to the newspaper that his father had never had a full night of sleep since returning from New Guinea. The evening he read the story of the forthcoming return of Owikawa's remains, the retired doctor slept his first night since 1945. It seemed to put his mind at peace with his life and he passed away three days later.
    BOB

    LIFE'S LOSERS NEVER LEARN FROM THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS.

  5. #5

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    A very interesting story Bob. Indeed this soldier had a long journey that covered thousands of miles before he would finally get home. It is a shame that countless numbers of soldiers of all the wars were not as lucky.

    rgds, Ty

  6. #6

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    Excellent story Bob. Was that a typo of his name in the article or is it the way it's spelled in some Japanese dialect? Great job in your efforts and a great job in presenting it here. Thanks!! Ron

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    Quote by packin9 View Post
    Excellent story Bob. Was that a typo of his name in the article or is it the way it's spelled in some Japanese dialect? Great job in your efforts and a great job in presenting it here. Thanks!! Ron

    They will never admit it, but newspapers havebeen known to make mistakes.
    BOB

    LIFE'S LOSERS NEVER LEARN FROM THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS.

  8. #8

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    This is a wonderful story, and although I had heard about before from Bob, I was still moved to read it again.

    Cheers, Ade.

  9. #9

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    Bob,

    Nice story, quite touching. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Regards,


    Gus

  10. #10
    ?

    Default Re: The Long Journey of Shozo Owikawa

    Thanks for relaying this story Bob- it was very interesting to read; I suppose one should focus on the good people involved and the positive outcomes and not the ineptitude and apathy from so many quarters that's rather disturbing. It's indeed very good that the the right side won out. I can't help but wonder though just why this colleague of your friend would bring back a box of cremated remains from the war...
    Ohhhhh- pillage then burn...

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