Former Marine returns Japanese sword he took as WWII souvenir 60 years ago
By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 28, 2005
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Sixty Easter Sundays ago, James Beaudet leaned on the railing of a troop ship off Okinawa and watched World War II’s biggest Pacific beach landing go on all around him.
“It was quite a show,” the 79-year-old retired engineer said during a recent visit with his granddaughter’s family on Kadena Air Base. Ships stretched to the horizon; smoke from the bombardment blanketed the beaches, he said.
“We’d stand at the rail and wonder what was happening down on the beaches and then a kamikaze would come out of nowhere and we’d run to the other side of the ship hoping it wouldn’t hit us.”
Beaudet, a radioman, was a specialist working with a new communications system that used a four-channel radio carrier, eliminating the need for stringing telephone lines to the front. A private first class assigned to the 3rd Marine Amphibious Corps, he said, he experienced no close combat although Japanese artillery units did take potshots at the 60-foot tall radio antennas whenever his team set up a new one closer to their lines.
“Oh, I got shot at a couple of times and threw a grenade into a cave but that’s the extent of my battle experience,” Beaudet said. “The command kept a pretty tight rein on us. Not too many people were trained on our equipment, so they wouldn’t let us out of their sight. ... They were very protective of us. We weren’t scheduled to land until the second day.”
He spent the entire three-month battle on Okinawa, leaving in June 1945 to prepare for the coming invasion of the Japanese mainland.
Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki eliminated that prospect; he spent the next year in northern China before being discharged in June 1946.
This month marks the first time Beaudet, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M., has returned to Okinawa.
“I don’t recognize anything,” he said. “It’s all changed. Okinawa is ... beautiful, modern.”
Besides visiting his granddaughter, Rachel Marie Smith, and her husband, Capt. Scott Smith, a 44th Fighter Squadron pilot, Beaudet had another mission. He wanted to return a Japanese officer’s sword he took as a souvenir when he left Okinawa in June 1945.
“For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly how I acquired it,” he said. “I think it was given to me by someone as they were shipping out.” He said he kept it hidden all these years; “when raising seven kids you don’t leave anything like this just lying around. My wife and I discussed returning it some day.”
His wife, Lorna, died a year ago; Beaudet decided this would be a good time to bring the sword full circle.
It belonged to 2nd Lt. Hiko Juro Ono, a medical doctor, according to an inscription on the scabbard.
Beaudet’s efforts to find the soldier’s family failed. “Still, I knew it was something considered pretty special by the Japanese people,” he said. “I was happy to give it back.”
Last week he presented it to the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum in Itoman, where the Japanese Imperial Army made its last stand in southern Okinawa. It’s to become part of the museum’s permanent display.