December 23, 2011
Peace on Earth
~ written by Lloyd E. Fisher, Jr.
The date was December 24, 1945. The place was a small Japanese town about 100 miles northwest of Tokyo. That’s where we, the men of the 303rd Field Artillery Battalion of the 97th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, were stationed on occupation duty.
Thousands of miles from home, strangers in a strange land, still haunted by memories of a combat campaign in Europe, we gathered in the assembly hall of a former Japanese Army barracks for a Christmas Eve service. Catholics, Protestants and barely-believers, we stood in the dimly-lit room to honor and celebrate something we vaguely remembered --- a world without war.
The units of the 97th were dispersed over a wide area and the Army chaplains could not reach every location. The service for our battalion was conducted by a German Roman Catholic missionary who had been interned in Japan since the beginning of the war. The music and the responses for the Mass came from a young Japanese girl who played a squeaky Army portable pump organ.
The ceremony had a mystical quality about it --- the ancient Latin words of the Mass, the flickering candles, the sing-song responses of the young woman. At the end of the Mass, the priest began a homily in halting English. He spoke of “Peace on Earth” and our common desires to return home. He mentioned the name of his home town in Germany. That name jolted me out of my reverie. Months before, the name of that village was on a map that I was using to direct artillery fire. My target had been in the hamlet where the priest had spent his childhood.
"Peace on earth." Will we ever learn?