“I have my family in Japan.  [Now] I can pick up the phone, and dial it, and talk to them.”

Yoko is a Japanese native.  At the time of our interview, I’d already interviewed with Marion Graff, who was on the USS West Virginia at the time of the signing of the treaty between Japan and the Allies, and he had given me a copy of the Articles of Surrender with each nation’s leader’s signature.  I keep it with the folder I use to stay organized, and at the end of Yoko’s interview, I decided to show it to her.  I wasn’t sure how she would react – I was worried it would upset her.  Instead, she asked to make a copy, and clearly appreciated it.

Yoko (Ito) Mossner was born in Toshima, Tokyo, Japan in May of 1933.  She lived in Tokyo with her parents until they both passed away – her father from a supposed ulcer when she was seven, and her mother from breast cancer when she was eight – at which point she moved to her grandparents with her older brother and sister.  She loved to read, fold origami, play with her siblings with a rubber ball against the wall, and coloring.  She was six when the war started, and ten when Tokyo was evacuated in lieu of bombing.  The government moved the youngest children to Nagano Prefecture in the mountains to shield them from the activities of the war (Aug 1944 – Oct 1945).  Yoko described it as a kind of boarding school set up in the resort.

“Some terrible bomb was dropped … We have to surrender.”

I asked Yoko what it was like during the war, to live in the country that experienced the bombings.  She told me that she was very protected from the war being that she was so young.  The schools became somewhat militarized – they marched and did trainings – everything was controlled by the military. The authorities reported that they were winning, and maintained that story during the majority of the war.  But after a while, things became rationed.  All the men were gone, having been drafted.  She remembers that every few days families would gather to send yet another son or father away.  One evening in 1945, she heard their caretakers whispering that a terrible bomb had dropped, and they supposed they’d have to surrender.  That was a shock because Japan had never surrendered before.

When she returned to live with her grandparents and siblings (her siblings were too old to go to the school outside Tokyo – Yoko later commented that the war didn’t effect her much, at least not compared to her siblings who lived through the bombing of Tokyo), they moved to Odawara, her mother’s hometown.  Food was still rationed for a long time – it wasn’t until high school that she noticed things getting better.  There she finished school, during which her grandparents passed away.  Upon graduating, she went to vocational school in Yokohama, and then got a job there.

The job was at an American Army Base where, from what she told me, there was an office and laboratory that worked with petroleum.  It was there that she met her husband, who was from Saginaw, Michigan.  He had been drafted during Word War Two, and sent to Japan.  In 1957, Yoko moved with her husband to Saginaw where she still lives and works as the curator of the Saginaw Japanese Gardens and Tea House.  That is where we met, and she served me tea at the beginning of our interview.

“In High School, we took a school trip from Tokyo to Osaka… it took all night to get there by train… Now, a bullet train [gets you] there in three hours.”

Yoko has been back to Japan since she moved to the United States.  She says it’s completely different.  The high rise buildings and overpass highways stunned her – Tokyo was never like that before.  And the bullet trains are phenomenal.  She couldn’t believe the comfort they provide during their quick journey.  She said it was like sitting in a living room.

“When I came here, the people didn’t know much about Japan… They thought we only eat raw fish.”

When asked how things have changed over the 50 years Yoko has been in the United States, she started by saying people understand Japanese culture better, now, and then marveled at the technology.  She and her husband didn’t have a television at first, and purchased a black and white one to start.  She loves the ease of cooking her microwave provides, and noted that computers are changing things, now.  What she really got excited about, however, was a washer and drier – especially the drier.  While she lived in Japan, they washed clothes by hand, and during the rainy season it was nearly impossible to dry them.

Yoko had some wise words in regards to the changes we’re seeing due to technology and what we should mind as it grows.

“We don’t have enthusiasm for the future, or hope.  Because we are too affluent, and we have everything.  It comes so easy, so I think we probably lost the spirit and desire to do something to better yourself, or better your country.”

“Between ten of us, we had keys to everywhere on that ship.  We made wine on that ship, and they never found the distillery.”

Marion Graff reminded me of an 18 year old in a 92 year old’s body.  He was very cavalier with me during my entire visit, immediately making me feel a part of his life.  “Come on in, sit down,” he instructed immediately as I entered his home.

Marion was born on August 19, 1922 in Ironwood, Michigan – along the border of the Upper Peninsula Michigan and Wisconsin.  His family moved to the Grand Rapids Area when he was three years old.  In 1942, he chose to put college on hiatus and enlisted in the United States Navy.  He was assigned as Pharmacists Mate Second Class on the USS battleship West Virginia.

I could tell Marion was proud to have been on the West Virginia.  He led by telling me that the ship had just been serviced and updated before deployment, making it the most advanced in the fleet.  Its battle stations could hit any coordinates given within range with only one test shot for calibration.  The ship was so valuable and kept at sea so long it once ran out of fuel and had to be re-loaded while still at sea.

During the course of 1943 – 1945, Marion traveled 71,615 miles on the USS West Virginia, which spent 223 days in combat, sank one Japanese Battleship, and shot down 23 Kamikaze / Japanese planes.  The ship spent a total of 3,000+ 16″ projectiles, approximately 30,000 shells, and over 200,000 rounds of small caliber shot.  That totaled 5,500 tons of ammunition.  Losses included four killed due to a Kamikaze attack, four in observation planes, and four others.  31 men were wounded during its mission, with two men MIA.

Though it was a serious tour, he admitted it was what you made of it.  In his words:

When Marion returned to Grand Rapids, he re-enrolled at Aquinas College, finishing out a Business and Finance degree.  He went on to work, first for John Hancock Insurance, then started his own venture as a General Agent selling insurance.  He sold his business to Steenland Insurance Agency after retirement and disinterest in running the business (though not disregard) from his five children.

When asked about the youth today and the upbringing of his grandchildren, he responded, “It’s a whole different world.”  He worry’s about their ability to make their way in the world, especially due to the affects of the credit card.  “They should have never invented it,” he said.  He’s shocked at how many spend far beyond their ability, compared to his upbringing at a time when one spent only what he had.

He also is concerned with the culture of the College Degree.  “It’s coming to the point where if you don’t have that piece of paper that says ‘Degree’ on it, you’re lost.  You’re going to work for an $8.50 or $10 job.”  What to do about it, well that’s a whole other conversation.