‘With Profound Gratitude’

Township resident and Japanese native Reiko McKendry thanks World War II veterans on Armed Forces Day

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 29, 2013

 Photo by Sean Work
Reiko McKendry laughs with guests during a discussion at the Bloomfield Township Senior Center May 18. She was there to speak about her experiences growing up in post-World War II Japan.

Photo by Sean Work Reiko McKendry laughs with guests during a discussion at the Bloomfield Township Senior Center May 18. She was there to speak about her experiences growing up in post-World War II Japan.

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — When Bloomfield Township resident Reiko McKendry speaks of her gratitude for the United States and her love for the American way of life, she does so with tears in her eyes.

They are tears of joy because she loves every part of her life in the United States; they are tears of gratitude for what American soldiers and their families sacrificed in order to rebuild Japan following the end of World War II, with an unexpected level of graciousness and mercy.

On May 18, McKendry gave a presentation at the Bloomfield Township Senior Center on the details of her autobiography, “To America, With Profound Gratitude: My Journey to Freedom and Independence,” to an audience that included World War II and Korean War veterans.

“Having grown up into adulthood solely in Japan, I know what my parents’ generation of Japanese who experienced World War II thought of America,” she said.

“Having lived in America for 41 years, I also know how little is known about the profound sense of gratitude that the Japanese felt for this country after the war. I decided it was time for me to step up to the plate and say what needed to be said — before it is too late. World War II veterans are dying at a rate of over 600 per day — way too fast.”

Although her own father was drafted into World War II and was given a warm sendoff by his family, McKendry said he was sent home a short time later, rejected by the Japanese Imperial Army due to a medical reason.

“To serve and die for the emperor would be the highest honor. I don’t know if you can comprehend that,” she said.

“Japanese society can be very cruel to those who do not or cannot meet its expectations. To not be able to serve and die meant my father had to live the rest of his life in shame.”

The shame, she suspects, was the beginning of her father’s addiction to alcohol and subsequently, violence — with her mother being the primary target of his rage, she said. These traumatic experiences, detailed in her book, led McKendry to develop a passionate dislike for violence, as well as to vow she would never be financially dependent on anyone.

Despite her strict upbringing, she was allowed to watch several American TV programs that were dubbed in Japanese, such as “Lassie” and “Father Knows Best.”  This led McKendry to become enamored with American culture, people and  history.

“Watching these programs, I was fascinated by previews of the next week’s episode because I could hear the original version in English,” she said.

As she grew older, she was especially taken with the words of the U.S. Constitution and the concept of “all men are created equal.” Renowned Japanese author and teacher Yukichi Fukuzawa later translated that phrase into “Heaven creates no one above that individual and no one below that individual,” because, McKendry said, “There is no such thing as equality in Japan — even to this day.” 

Despite having been a naturalized U.S. citizen for decades, McKendry still prefers not to go out in public on Dec. 7, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed more than 2,403 people.

“It is a day which still does live in infamy, and I still feel a sense of shame by association,” she said.

When the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, the death toll was estimated to be more than 200,000.

McKendry said that though some Americans may assume that Japanese people still hate Americans for these events, she has learned that is generally not true.

“Here is what I know: Those who survived the bombs viewed this event as a forewarning to all of humanity. They knew if they chose to perpetuate anger and hatred because of what had happened to them, humanity was doomed to be wiped out. With that knowledge, they chose to accept their fate and promote peace around the world,” she said.

“Can you imagine the world if Japan and Germany would have won? I can assure you, it would have been pure hell for all of humanity. Freedom would have been a thing of the past, even in the U.S. This is why World War II veterans are indeed my heroes.”

Following the horror of the bombs, McKendry said, the general sentiment about the impending arrival of Allied forces in Japan was one of fear.

“To the Imperial Army, for the victor to show mercy to the vanquished was a foreign concept. They expected Allies to treat them with no mercy,” she said.

“Bushido code exalts death before surrender, and the Japanese people were told the enemy would rape, torture and murder them, because that’s what the Imperial Army did to its enemies.”

As a result, she said, many Japanese went into immediate hiding, only to be brought out later by extreme hunger.

“When they came out, they realized that what they were being told did not happen. Instead, they were given food and met with the kindness of American soldiers,” said McKendry, with tears in her eyes.

“Mercy to the vanquished was the American way, the way of the Allied forces. This was a turning point in the perception of the enemy. They became witness to an amazing grace beyond the realm of their comprehension, and this is the reason people hold America to the highest pedestal today.”

McKendry said she knew even as a child that she would eventually come to America and learn English. She listened to the Far East Network in order to familiarize herself with American English pronunciations, and studied Japanese and English versions of the Bible next to each other because it was the only readily available text with verbatim translation.

After meeting and marrying her husband David, who was stationed at an Air Force base in Tokyo, McKendry immigrated to the U.S. at age 23 and gave birth to the couple’s two sons. She went on to pursue her education and earned both an MBA and a BBA, later climbing the ranks at Chrysler and advising former Chrysler President Lee Iacocca on how to compete effectively against Japanese automakers in the 1980s.

Bloomfield Township resident Jack Alexanian said he found McKendry’s presentation “very interesting.”

“There were a lot of areas she covered that I didn’t know about. She took us back 200 years into Japan, and brought us back again,” he said.

“I loved it.”

Resident John Feeney said he has always enjoyed learning about world history and was surprised by what he learned from McKendry.

“I learned some things today that I think were overlooked, and it really makes me want to do more research,” he said.

In closing, McKendry said, she wanted to share the things that drew her to the country she has happily called home for the past four decades.

“What do I love about America? The love. The food from all over the world, the openness to cultural diversity, the natural beauty of the country. That the time for rest, for vacation, is considered sacred,” she said.

“I love the generosity, that we are such a generous country and that we espouse the philosophy that all men are created equal.  Most of all, I love that I have been able to live here in this country, free and independent, for over 40 years.”

For more information on Reiko McKendry or her book “To America, with Profound Gratitude,” visit www.reikomckendry.com or watch her two-minute video at www.ThankYouVeterans.net.