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Livingston: The Story Of The Sword

12/01/09 5:55PM By Judy Livingston
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(HOST) The recent National Day of Listening reminded commentator Judy Livingston of the story her father used to tell about how he came to be presented with a magnificent Samurai sword.

(LIVINGSTON) Of my Dad's many funny and poignant stories from wartime, this remains one of our family's favorites.
He was fresh out of the Coast Guard Military Academy when he was assigned to duty on a Destroyer Escort in WWII. As the war ended his ship was ordered to secure a small Pacific island still in Japanese hands.
So Dad was to lead the first scouting party. He nervously stood in the bow of the landing craft as it approached the beach. A lifelong Bostonian unfamiliar with tropical water, he spotted the bottom sand below, and holding his pistol high over his head yelled in his best commanding voice, "Follow me men!" He stepped off the bow - and disappeared - into 20 feet of ocean! The crew patiently waited for him to surface, and hauled the embarrassed young Lieutenant back on board.
They proceeded to the beach, and Dad, dripping wet, crept with his armed crew toward the tropical jungle. Suddenly, a Japanese officer emerged from the foliage. Everyone tensed. He stood still, signaling surrender. Nobody moved. Then he saw my father and moved toward him. The men waited, guns drawn. As he approached, he drew a large sword from his belt. The crew started but stood their ground. The Japanese, obviously the Commanding officer, bowed formally and held the sword out to Dad. After a long moment, the Americans, still tentative, all bowed back.

The young Lieutenant, obviously of much lower rank than his enemy counterpart, saw the significance of the gesture and took the sword. More bows all round. Then Dad handed the beautifully decorated sword back to the officer saying he wouldn't keep it - as it was obviously a valuable family heirloom. The officer, in perfect English explained that it was a point of pride to his family and country, and my father must accept it or he would return to dishonor. They argued back and forth for a while, and Dad reluctantly gave in. With that the Japanese forces appeared from the trees with their hands up.
It soon became obvious that the abandoned Japanese soldiers were starving, so the ship's galley crew moved ashore, set up a camp kitchen and fed both sides. Dad and the Japanese officer, who it turned out, graduated from Harvard, chatted about Boston and became fast friends. Dad always referred to his new pal as "A great guy." And the beautiful sword has become a Bostonian family's heirloom.


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