Many years ago, before Annelies and I were dating, I bought my grandmother’s house. After she moved to the retirement home, I started to go through everything in the house and clean it out. She lived in a sizeable house and she was a hoarder. During the course of cleaning the house I found an old silk Japanese kimono. It had dry rotted over time and was worn and stained, the whole thing crumbled to the touch. It was a curiosity in a museum of my grandparent’s lives. It was only years later that I learned the significance of what this garment meant to my family.
Like so many other people of his generation, my grandfather served in WW II. He served aboard the transport USS Crosley. After the end of the war, his ship was patrolling off the coast of Busan when they noticed the Japanese junk Anto Maru with 45 people on board. The ship had recently left Korea with over 150 people on board, escaping possible internment in Korea. After they left the island they were overcome by a storm that badly damaged the ship and swept over 100 people overboard. The ship was sinking and the Crosley came to rescue the survivors. My grandfather was one of the crew of the Crosley helping the survivors get off the doomed junk. One of the survivors was an 8 year old girl who was severely dehydrated and barely conscious. My grandfather, reminded that he, too, had an 8 year old daughter at home was moved to aid this young girl. He stayed up all night, giving this girl, who’s nation until just a couple of months before, had been a citizen of a nation the US was at war with, water and aid. She survived the night and started to recover.
After he left the service, he returned to civilian life and the family business. The girl, however, had not forgotten the man that had saved her life. Years later, she found the captain of the Crosley and he, in turn, was able to find my grandfather. She and my grandfather met and she gave him the kimono as a thank you gift for rescuing her.
Even in the face of conflict, we can find acts of kindness, mercy, and humanity. I would like to hope that even in the most dire of circumstances, we can still reach across boundaries and touch the basic humanity of the people we may be at odds with.