Honor Flight Reunion in full swing

HARRIS – The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.

On one hand, author/speaker Reiko McKendry showed the iconic photo of a sailor spontaneously kissing a nurse taken in Times Square in New York City by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt after the announcement of Japan’s surrender and the formal end of World War II.

On the other hand was a photo of a handful of Japanese citizens bowing on their knees in shame and disgrace as they faced the loud speaker that announced the words of the unconditional surrender by the Japanese by Japan’s leader, Emperor Hirohito.

Viewing the contrast, one might have thought that the Japanese people – particularly those who lived and fought for their country during World War II – still resent the shame and despise Americans accordingly.

Not at all, according to Reiko, who was the featured speaker at the first of two U.P. Honor Flight Reunions held at the Island Resort and Casino on Sunday afternoon. In her new book, “To America – With Profound Gratitude: My Journey to Freedom and Independence,” Reiko, who makes her home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., relates her story of growing up in post-war Japan and subsequently deciding to come to America after her marriage to her husband, David McKendry.

Born in Tokyo in 1949, Reiko described what it was like growing up, along with a brother, in a home with an alcoholic and abusive father.

Reiko learned the English language by listening to a Far East radio network and eventually studied English and American literature in college in Japan. She eventually left Japan in 1972 at the age of 24.

“I deliberately decided to become a part of the American culture,” she said. “I was fascinated with everything about America.”

She holds a BBA and MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her thesis on the differences between American workers and Japanese workers led to a job offer from Chrysler Motors. In her work with Lee Iococa, president and CEO of Chrysler, with whom she had distinct disagreement over his marketing methods vs. those of the Japanese, she showed how the American automaker could compete with those from Japan.

As a product of post-war Japan, Reiko said the biggest difference between the Japanese culture and the American culture, according to Reiko, is the American belief in true equality and the Japanese mindset in a “heirarchy” that doesn’t comprehend that belief.

“Americans believe that heaven creates no one above an individual and no one below an individual,” she explained. “That was difficult for the Japanese to understand. Their belief was

that the heirarchy is the emperor and everyone else is subject to him. When he announced the surrender, people were shocked by the reality that the Emperor was not divine.”

The American culture promotes love, compassion and justice, according to Reiko. In contrast, the Japanese culture promotes duty, honor and shame, she said.

“In Japan, love is not front and center in everyday life,” she said. “In Japan, the feeling is that group needs are far more important than individual needs. Their highest honor was to die for the Emperor. I believe that when my father’s service was rejected, he lived the rest of his life in shame. I believe that was the cause of his drinking problems. But I still take solace in the knowledge that my father was not allowed to be in the military and was not a part of the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Despite the fact that her family was not involved, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 is still a cause of shame for Reiko.

“I still prefer not to be in public on that day,” she said.

But Reiko firmly believes that the Japanese invasion was the beginning of a new Japan.

“It is my assumption that the bombing by the Japanese was a forewarning to all humans,” she said. If the Japanese or the Germans had won, she maintains, they would have stopped at nothing to control everyone everywhere and the Americans Constitution would no longer exist.

“I know how grateful my parents’ generation in Japan was to the Americans after the war,” she said. “After the war, General MacArthur defended the Japanese and ordered all his troops to treat them with respect. But in Japan, many people committed suicide from shame and many went into hiding because they feared what the Americans would do to them. But when they came out of hiding to get food, they were astonished at the kindness they were shown by the American soldiers. Despite what they were told, the Japanese people became witnesses to the amazing grace that was extended to them.”