Lanesboro man fulfills wish to return sword 'in peace, with honor'
Wednesday, October 09, 2013 6:11 AM
To paraphrase an old song, the ceremony's over but the memories linger on. That's the feeling at the Amdahl home in Lanesboro, where Orval and Marie are basking in the afterglow of a major event in their lives: the Return of the Sword Ceremony.
The second gift from Japan given to the Amdahls looks perfect on their living room sofa. DR. JAN MEYER/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Timeline of the Return of the Sword
Orval Amdahl has sword's I.D. tag translated; efforts to locate the family fail.
Encouraged by his son-in-law, Michael O'Loughlin, Orval records his WWII story for the Minnesota History Center's "Greatest Generation" oral history project.
Writer Caren Stelson travels to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to research book. Trip overlaps with Clifton Truman Daniel's visit to Japan. Caren returns home and searches Minnesota History Center's "Greatest Generation" Oral History Database for WWII veterans first into Nagasaki after surrender. Orval Amdahl's name pops up. Caren interviews Orval in Lanesboro. During interview, Orval shows Caren the sword and tells her of his wish to return the sword "in peace, with honor." Caren emails Fumiko Yamaguchi, Vice-President of Nagasaki-St. Paul Sister City Committee with photos of the sword and I.D. tag. Fumiko's first cold call finds Mr. Tadahiro Motomura, son of the owner of the sword. Orval Amdahl and Tadahiro Motomura exchange letters, thanks to Fumiko and Keiko Kawakami from the University of Minnesota. Motomura family decides to come to Minnesota to accept the sword.
JoAnn Blatchley confirms that the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee will support the "Return of the Sword" effort. Caren contacts Clifton Truman Daniel to share research and tells about Orval's sword. Clifton flies to Minneapolis. Caren and Clifton visit Orval in Lanesboro. Preparations for the ceremony begin.
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory agree to host ceremony. Japanese sword specialist, Bill Rannow, finds age of sword by reading the "tang" (December, 1941-Pearl Harbor). Caren and JoAnn meet with former Vice President Walter Mondale and Mirja Hanson to discuss Japanese customs to help return the sword. Clifton travels to Nagasaki and meets Fumiko and Mr. Motomura. Daikin McQuay agrees to support the ceremony weekend. Plans continue.
September 21, 2013
Orval Amdahl returns the sword to Tadahiro Motomura "in peace, with honor." A wish fulfilled.
During the weekend of Sept. 21, Orval was able to bring closure to his long hunt for what he considered the rightful owner of a Japanese Samurai sword he had acquired in Japan at the end of World War II.
See "Timeline of the Return of the Sword" reprinted from the program for the Return of the Reward Ceremony.
His wish for many years had been to return the sword "in peace, with honor" and that happened at this ceremony. Getting the sword back to the grandson of its previous owner, Mr. Tadahiro Motomura, was not a one-way street, however. In place of the sword, the Amdahls now have other reminders in their home of this moving odyssey.
Japan is a gift-giving culture. So Marie asked the Amdahls' contacts at the Japanese-American Society in St. Paul if she and Orval should be bringing a gift for the Japanese family who was coming to receive the sword. The answer: "You already are!"
In return, instead of a sword respectfully stored for more than 60 years on their closet shelf, they now have a Japanese lady sitting in their living room. She is in the form of a figurine about 16 inches high, painstakingly painted in exquisite detail, in traditional Japanese garb.
When asked about the lady, Marie said, "It's his project, not mine."
Orval quickly added, "But she (Marie) is my 9/10ths half!"
Marie responded, "But I'll dust her!"
At first, Marie had not thought of what to call the lady. But she said when the name came to her, it was just perfect. When Orval came home from World War II, he had picked up a little Japanese; one word that stuck with both of them was one of the ways to say hello, which is "ohayo." Then-Captain Amdahl had a driver and when they were out and about in Nagasaki, the local people would greet them shouting what sounded to the Americans like "Ohio! Ohio!" At the driver's first experience hearing that, he grumbled, "Why are they saying that? I'm not from Ohio; I'm from Indiana!"
Now, so many years later, that is what came to Marie as the best name for the figurine. After all, she has a special spot in the house and, Marie said, "She is sitting there greeting people as they come into our home."
The Japanese lady is not the only item brought by the Japanese for the Amdahls. Fumiko Yamaguchi, vice president of the Nagasaki-St. Paul Sister City Committee who travelled to the U.S. with the Motomura family and served as interpreter, brought the second gift. Marie's favorite color is blue and that is reflected in the Amdahls' home. In fact, one member of the family once said, "Is there any other color?" The gift of a large square cloth, likely intended to be a small table cover in Japan, is a piece of art rendered in many shades of blue with white. It looks perfect draped over their blue sofa. It "pops" right out when visitors walk in the door.
The third gift is one that Marie plans to wear. It is also an artistic work rendered on very fine cotton; it depicts the ancient walled city of Nagasaki. She thinks it will look great filling in the neckline of a suit she enjoys wearing, which is blue, of course.
Another important memento for the Amdahls is the program from the ceremony, printed in both English and Japanese. The cover features an enlarged view, in color, of the detail on the sword itself. The timeline describes the history leading up to the event. The acknowledgments section included a long list of both individuals and organizations "who made this event possible."
In talking about the St. Paul weekend, they have fun memories to relate. Orval spoke about being in a small room with just the interpreter and Motomura himself so they could start to get acquainted. There they got to talk informally about anything that came up. Amdahl related he mentioned that he likes coffee, especially first thing in the morning when it helps him get going. He said he calls it "Norwegian gas." Motomura responded that it is also "Japanese gas."
One of the dinners as part of the festivities was hosted by the City of Nagasaki at a local church and it was a full traditional American Thanksgiving menu. The Amdahls' niece brought lefse to the meal, wanting the Japanese to try it. Marie said they liked it, eating it with a little butter but declining the sugar.
Orval stressed that he views the sword as a "sword of peace." During the ceremony, he said he told Motomura that "we are now brothers of the sword." He showed his feelings in a very un-Japanese manner when he gave him a big American bear hug.
The sword itself is still in St. Paul waiting for the proper permissions from the Japanese government to take what is still considered a weapon into its country; it is hoped that will happen on Oct. 21 when it is planned that two Japanese government representatives will travel to the U.S. to take it home.
The return of the sword has become more of a process than a single event! The Amdahls said "it just goes on and on" and the news has apparently traveled around the world. A story appeared in the Japan Daily Press, which might be expected, and Caren Stelson, their connection to the Sister City Project of Nagasaki and St. Paul, got a call from someone in India who had read about the ceremony. Orval got two letters from Belgium, each with a US$1 bill and asking for information and a photo of him.
The Amdahls have also gotten a lot of letters from people in the U.S. Marie added that the amount of interest this has stimulated "just amazes me and it seems to just continue!"
That will likely keep on happening because Orval has vowed that he will stay in touch with not only the Motomura family, but also all of the people who were involved in finding the descendants of the previous owner of the sword.
He also plans to answer the letters that they have received since the event. That may take awhile, because the letters just keep on coming. When Marie mentioned being sometimes uncomfortable with all of the publicity, she was assured that it and all of the letters simply meant that people wanted to share their joy.
To quote another old song, the Amdahls just might be humming "thanks for the memories." That sword moved with them five times over the many years it was in their closet, they said. Their sons liked to look at it when Orval would take it out to clean it. Orval and the family has a history with it.
Now, Orval is grateful that it is in the hands of its rightful owner, returned "in peace, with honor." In its place, though not on the closet shelf, Ohio (or Ohayo), a Japanese lady, is welcoming every visitor to their Minnesota home.