In a few hours, I’ll be on a plane to the Mainland, and then off to help out my aunt whose much older husband is an Iwo Jima veteran (on the American side, just so we're clear). He’s in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and is getting sustenance through a feeding tube. This trip will almost certainly be the last time I see him alive (though that's what I'd thought about my trip in March).
His Alzheimer's was really kicking in around the time of Clint Eastwood's film, Flags of Our Fathers*, about those who fought and died or survived on that crucial island. It sticks out in my head because he and my aunt came to meet us for dinner and he talked about having just seen it and how he really enjoyed it, and how he was there, etc., etc. Over the course of dinner, he recounted that story probably three times, each time as if it had just popped into his head.
In hindsight, I wish I’d videotaped “interviews” of the guy when his mind was still clear. Supposedly he lied about his age to enter the war (or he got permission somehow, depending on who’s telling the story) but he was seventeen, I think, when he was at Iwo Jima. His nursing home care has literally bankrupted my aunt.
* This movie was a two-part film series, with Letters From Iwo Jima being the Japanese-language second installment. This, too, was an excellent movie, told from the point of view of the Japanese soldiers who would mostly die in that desolate place. I had wished that I could persuade my uncle to see it, because I would have been curious about his reaction. Would he have been interested, all these decades later, in seeing the other side, or would it just have brought up negative memories and emotions? Clearly, by the time Letters came out, he was in no cognitive condition to see it and appreciate it on any level, and he had earlier stated he didn't have any desire to see it. It's probably my own selfish conceit to want to have a WWII veteran see this movie, although I think that's what Clint Eastwood intended in part. Sadly, Mr Eastwood's intentions themselves were a bit of a failure: most Americans only saw Flags, and most Japanese only saw Letters, and thus neither side got the big picture Mr Eastwood had hoped.