This is Mr. Tomimatsu Ishikawa (2/28/1918 – 7/17/2013), WW2 veteran, fighter for soldier’s rights, and scuba diver. He served on a fleet oiler, the Irō, during the war and was one of the few survivors when she was sunk by an American air raid as part of Operation Desecrate One. In his later life, he advocated for the Japanese government to properly recognize and inter the remains of his comrades who had died aboard the Irō. On March 30, 2004, at the age of 86 years old, Mr. Ishikawa dove 90 feet to the ship’s wreck and performed a memorial ceremony for his friends. Partly, the reason for this dive was personal. He wanted to pay respect to his friends. The other reason for the dive was to generate media attention and broader awareness about the situation of the Irō.
The guide who helped him complete his mission was my friend Yoko Higashide. She was very close to Mr. Ishikawa and regarded him as a grandfather. Before her meeting Mr. Ishikawa, Yoko had limited knowledge about the shipwrecks of Palau. She had worked there as a dive guide for two years without knowing that there were any shipwrecks. It was only when she started working at Fish ‘n’ Fins, an international dive shop, that Yoko started to know about the WW2 history of Palau. Even as she would lead dives to the wrecks, she always felt bad to be diving on them. In her words, “It’s like we are playing at a graveyard”.
In the summer of 2007, I had the privilege to go diving in Palau. One of the dives I went on was the Irō. It was not the first time I had been there, but this time was different because my guide was Yoko. She explained to me about the ship’s history and told me Mr. Ishikawa’s story. I was inspired by his determination to return to the Irō, even though it was deep and he was 86 years old. I asked Yoko if she could help me write a letter in Japanese to Mr. Ishikawa. I wanted to let him know that I was an American who was moved by his mission to pay respect to his fallen comrades. You can see my letter to him at the bottom of this blog post. To my surprise, he wrote me back a long letter. Although I mailed him again in 2009, that was the end of our correspondence. For me, though, the one letter was enough. Our lives were connected from then on.
Now, when I dive on war wrecks I am reflective of the human suffering that led the ships to be where they are. So I do not consider wreck diving to be a leisurely activity like diving on a reef. It is a somber activity like visiting a graveyard or the site of an old battle. It is important to go there to remember our history. Regarding my experience of writing a letter to Mr. Ishikawa, I think it is a truly great thing that even though Japan and the USA fought bitterly within his lifetime, he still lived to see the day when Yoko and I could be friends and enjoy scuba diving together. I hope that I can always be a peaceful person and make him smile down from heaven.
Please read Mr. Ishikawa’s story by Yoko. It is the second link in the Related Media below.