Tommy's Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back
by Howard Fields


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

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Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.


Interview reconstructed from notes taken by Elaine Gallant of the WMBC on October 28, 2015.

1 Was the purpose of your book to clarify how things did go so wrong for Tommy and that such tragedy and trauma would happen to the entire Sarashina family?
HF – My question was how did three males from one family end up in major wrong places at the same time?

2 How would you describe their resilience and to what do you credit it? How would you describe them today?
HF – In Japanese society at that time, not now, they were very stoic…(HF gave a brief explanation of looking at Tommy’s family photos where not one person was smiling, so he mentioned that to Tommy.) He said they were taught, especially during the war that if you are smiling, you weren’t being serious, so you did your best to be taken seriously. Today, Tommy is a very passive man. He’s intelligent. His biggest regret is that he had little education due to his circumstances. But he reads a lot in Japanese and you can discuss a lot with him. He’s very curious.

3 How did you and Tommy first meet?
HF – I’d come with a couple of brothers on golf vacations in January or February for years. I’d just hear things, talk to him and word about him being a P.O.W. got around. I struck up a conversations and used to tease him about the top of the cart where it says “Player’s Assistant.” I kept pumping him for details because I wanted to know his story.

4 How did Tommy’s story reveal itself to you and as a newspaperman and editor, at what point did you decide to embrace and write Tommy’s Wars?
HF – I didn’t know about Junji and his Dad until after I began interviewing him, which had to wait until after his wife died in February 2013. (HF added that he gave Tommy a six-month mourning period before asking him again for interviews.) I considered writing an article but then the information about his dad and brother all came out and I realized I had enough for a book and had to write the book.

5 You state that Takuji means, “you excel”. Now knowing and having written Tommy’s story, can you reflect on this meaning?
HF – He felt it was a challenge being denied an education. He lost out on five-seven years behind his peers. He felt a failure. (HF talked briefly about the competitive nature of post-war Japanese and how Tommy thought that even if he were able to get an advance education, he would never be able to catch up with his peers.) Tommy thought Maui would not be as much of a challenge in achieving a good job and having his own home and moved back here. I guess “excel” can’t be accidental. It’s something you are trying to do. His goal was to come here, get a job, and a home. He was already married. He was denied a family but he achieved his goal in the end. It was a small goal accomplished and he was excellent as a golf course marshal.

6 In what way did you connect to Tommy’s story? Did you serve in Vietnam? If so, what was the war like for you? Were you ever captured or party to the capture of someone?
HR – No, I was never in the war. I got a college deferment. I was drafted five times… I went back and forth. At the last time, she said, “that’s enough” and assigned me 1-Y.

7 Tell us about the much quoted military research you did for Asia and the US, particularly the inside information coming from Japan. Where did you get your information? Did you research the secret records taken by the occupation forces and stamped classified within the national archives that in 2007 were disclosed and became available? Or, is your research based on what Tommy “almost fried his brain translating…?" Or what Eri Hotta translated in “Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy”, Knopf, 2013?
HF – All the references are listed in the back. I don’t like to use footnotes because most readers are put off by them. I think they disrupt the story. (As an aside, HF said he also does not trust Wikipedia, explaining he checks its sources and uses them directly where possible.) But if you look at, I think chapter III, transcripts became available in 2007 at the US National Archives and the Japanese Center for Asian Historical Records. I did run into Hotta’s book and drew on it somewhat for this book…Tommy did all the transcriptions in our book. The Yalta Conference happened in Feb. 1945 and laid out the spoils of war. Germany was on the run. Churchill and Roosevelt wanted Stalin’s help to defeat Japan. But Russia had a neutrality agreement with them (Japan) that expired in April. Japan kept asking the Soviets to renew it but they knew what had been agreed upon at the Yalta Conference. Stalin was a tough dealer. In exchange for signing the agreement, starting that within three months of Germany’s surrender, he would declare war on Japan in exchange for taking 500,000 prisoners for reparations.

8 With regards to Junji, did you rely solely on the two-page report and telephone call?
HF – Junji was in good health then but isn’t now. I talked with him one time and he wrote a two-page letter describing his experience. I used that and several interviews he had given over the years to other publications. But now all communication goes through Tommy.

9 Were you in contact with or visit any other remaining family, like Tommy’s sisters? Where are they now?
HF – No. The older sister died…Kanji was also in bad health. Again, everything goes through Tommy.

10 Did you travel to Hiroshima, Japan, for any type of reference point, such as the US Embassy in Tokyo (chapters IX & X)? If so, what devastation remains? How has the city changed or not? How were you greeted?
HF – No. I’ve travelled the world, seen a lot of things, but never Japan. I would like to have, if just for this book, I’m here now and not much interested in travel any more. It would have been interesting.

11 What was your most memorable moment while writing this story?
HF – I suppose its all…so many steps. Tommy actually told me about his wife’s last days. I was amazed he would tell me. He was okay with me writing about it. I guess he did it as a tribute to her. As a reporter, I try to get answers, sometimes in tough interviews by being unkind but I didn’t have to push on this.


Shinri Sarashina, father and Buddhist priest, was imprisoned because he was issei (firstborn) and had the intention of returning to Japan. Returned home at the end of 1945.

Toshiko Sarashina, mother, took the five children to Japan before the father was interned.

Kanji, first son, was conscripted into the Japanese Naval Air Force. After the war, he had a successful career in the high-tech electronics industry.

Mariko, first daughter and second child worked in the temple, grew vegetables and rice and later, during the war in the clothing factory supplying the military. After the war, (1946) she found other work and left the homestead.

Takuji, third child and second son, was imprisoned after being captured by Russian soldiers. And as a result of the Feb. 4-11, 1945 Yalta Conference, he was taken along with 500,000 Japanese soldiers as POWs to perform hard labor in Siberia. He returned home to Japan in late Sept. 1947. Married Miyoshi. In May 1971, they moved to Maui with their cat named Brownie. Met Howard Fields and worked with him to tell his story.

Tetsuko, sister and fourth child, joined her older sister, Mariko, in the clothing factory. After the war, (1946) she worked for the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima.

Junji Sarashina, fifth child and third son, was a student forced to work in a munitions factory and eyewitness to the Atomic bomb devastation in Hiroshima. After the war, he worked the family food plot and waited for classes to resume. Later he returned to Maui and attended Lahainaluna High School. He ended up working for a major aircraft manufacturer in California and helping radiation survivors of the bomb.

West Maui Book Club interview questions compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
Oct, 2015