Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 8

August 22, 2012


Halha River, Mongolia



I often traveled with Masaru into the war zone. Along the border of Mongolia and the Soviet Union, where thousands of our troops had been slaughtered along the bank of the Halha River, Masaru and I sat in an army jeep, a case of chocolate bars rested at the Colonel’s feet.

He had convinced the Army command to stage a counter attack at Halha and we were leading a contingent of 100 men who would install water filters in the war zone so that our troops could enjoy a clean water supply.

“It is crucial to provide clean water to our troops in the theater of war,” Masaru argued and our superiors authorized the expedition into Mongolia. What Masaru didn’t say was that our water filters were necessary to inoculate our troops from something Masaru had planned for our enemy.

“My suicide squad.” Masaru described his secret contingent of Japanese troops like they were something out of a spy novel. The more I learned about his squad the more I realized that’s exactly what they were – a group of spies ready to engage in biological sabotage. A covert operation so dangerous they may never return, that could likely kill them with infection if they ever did.

This was the business I had chosen.

I looked to the shoebox-sized case of chocolates at Masaru’s feet. “Are you sure you need those?”

He followed my glance and smiled when his eyes found the chocolate. “Pathogens are good. They don’t kill good people.”

Are you going mad? Pathogens are good? They don’t kill good people? What kind of logic is this? I remembered the piles of dead bodies sent to the incinerator and wondered where Masaru would place them on the scale of good and bad.

As we waited in our jeep near the river, waiting for the sun to set, I thought of my wife Kimiko in Nagasaki. What would happen if I were to abandon my duties at the facility and take her away to another place? To retire and forget about the epidemic prevention bureau of Imperial Japan.

“We’ve gathered a wealth of scientific information,” Masaru said as he opened his arms towards the Soviet land, which faced us just across the river. “We’ve discovered and developed methods to protect humans from contagious diseases.” He peered my direction. “This idea of yours has led to some very prestigious work, Major.”

He wants me to thank him but why does his compliment feel more like a curse? Sure, we were providing drinkable water to our Japanese soldiers but only because we were about to conduct biological warfare against our Soviet enemies.

The sun set, darkness fell and the river became quiet. We waited in the darkness until a young captain of the army approached our jeep. “The squad is ready to deploy, Colonel.”

Masaru had been napping quietly and now he sat up straight, adjusting his uniform and touching his hair. “Of course, Captain. Thank you, and proceed.”

The captain nodded and disappeared into the darkness.

Masaru lit a cigarette and handed another to me. “Come on,” he said as he hopped out of the jeep and walked towards the river. “Bring the chocolate.”

I complied and followed the colonel.

“Just imagine, Major, soon the land on the other side of that river will be in Japanese hands!”

And it will be polluted by anthrax and the plague.

We approached the river where a small fleet of rowboats was being tended by Japanese soldiers clad in black. I counted twelve boats in total, though in the darkness it was difficult to see across the black water. Soldiers on shore quietly handed wooden boxes to their counterparts on the boats. Some of these boxes were packed with metal tubes each the size of a thermos, which the soldiers handled carefully. The rest of the boxes were animal cages; inside were dozens of living rats.

The men were methodical as they loaded their cargo, only speaking when necessary and pointing or using hand signals whenever they could. I made it a point to remain as quiet as possible.

Once the cargo was packed, silently and stealthily the soldiers boarded the boats and set off rowing upstream.

“Captain!” Masaru called with a graveled whisper. “You forgot the chocolate!” Masaru pointed to the case of candy in my hands and the captain jumped from his boat and ran to take the package from me.

“Good luck, Captain,” Masaru said as the captain tossed the chocolates to a soldier on his boat, boarded the dingy and started rowing upstream. Five minutes later the boats had disappeared into the darkness leaving only a thin ripple of water in their wake.

Masaru watched contemplatively, ignoring the cigarette that dangled between his fingers as its orange glow dimmed and darkened. He flicked the butt into the river.

“Come,” he turned and walked back to the jeep. I sat beside him, said nothing and waited for Masaru to talk. Instead he opened the glove compartment and removed a sizable flask of brown liquid. “Have a drink, Major,” Masaru said as he unscrewed the cap and took a hearty swig before handing the bourbon to me.

I did as I was instructed and then sat quietly and watched the darkness. Half an hour passed without a word. I strained my ears for any sound of the boats, the paddle of an oar in the water, the voices of our men, the report of rifles being fired. But there was nothing. Only silence and blackness.

Finally Masaru spoke. “We are building another facility off an island in the Hiroshima Prefecture.”

I know this island: Ōkunoshima.

“Our mission will be to manage a poison production factory that will create mustard gas for the Imperial Army. Ōkunoshima was chosen for its secrecy, its isolation, and its distance from Tokyo. The island has already been removed from maps,” Masaru took another swig.

Most scientists would see any expansion of their work as a success, a great honor. Instead I took the flask from Masaru and swallowed a pair of mouthfuls. The sweet bourbon coated and burned my throat on the way down. I lit a cigarette.

Earlier that month I had conducted a vivisection on a young Chinese soldier, Log 897. I had removed his stomach while the subject was still alive. I had connected his esophagus directly to his intestines to observe how such a modification would affect the behavior of a man’s digestive track, and to time how long he could survive. Not long, it turned out. Within minutes Log 897 had expired.

Your work is a great honor for Japan. I imagined Masaru telling me in order to reassure me, to keep me invested in the business of Unit 731.

We remained quiet for another hour, finishing the flask and with it an entire pack of cigarettes. Eventually we heard a soft trickle of water from upstream and alerted ourselves for a possible attack, relaxing only when we saw our boats returning.

Masaru slid quietly from his seat in the jeep and approached the shore. The captain stood at the bow of the lead boat and with a long stride, he stepped onto the shore. “Mission accomplished, Colonel.”

Masaru grinned. “Good, good work! Join us in the jeep. We will debrief you on the ride back.”

The captain was straightforward and precise in his reporting. The metal canisters had been filled with a powder heavily laced with cholera, which had been dropped into wells and water mains around the Russian base. The rats had been released as planned and the captain described how they scurried into the base, a nearby village, into tents and alleys and buildings. These rats carried fleas infested with a potent form of the plague.

“And the chocolate. Tell me about the chocolate!” An excited Masaru could not contain his joy. The case of anthrax-laced chocolate bars had been his idea.

“We left it on a Russian railcar that was loaded with cargo. It will find its way into the supply line, Colonel. And hopefully into the mouths of hundreds of Russian soldiers.”

Masaru threw his head back and cackled. His bourbon-flavored breath infected the evening air. I had never seen Masaru so delighted.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.

Seventh Avenue Productions Announces Release of “Kmart Shoes” by Lance Ward

August 17, 2012

“Obviously, I didn’t kill myself” – Lance Ward

Now available for pre-order for $9.99. Click here to order and be one of the first to receive a copy!!

This is the true story of Lance Ward’s journey in and out of high school and his fights against abusive and uncaring family members, school yard bullies, and his own sense of self-worth. With his family in poverty, Lance grew up on sardine sandwiches and cabbage soup. He wore $8 shoes and tolerated hostile classmates and the nickname Kmart Shoes. On some days, Ward battled drug addiction and felony charges, on others he just needed to find a place to sleep in his own home. A con man screwed up his life, Ward’s mother kicked him out, his father didn’t want him, and the military wouldn’t take him. Only one thing kept him going – he could draw. Now, years later, Lance looks back and tells us his story in raw, honest detail. An in-your-face story of struggle and survival that is heart-breaking, comical, sad and triumphant.

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“There’s a fantastic rawness to both his storytelling and drawing…Ward had a resiliency to him that allowed him to fight back against his tormentors and carve out an identity for himself…a bold, unadorned, and powerful autobiographical voice.”

-The Comics Journal

Lance Ward is a national editorial cartoonist for Crowded Comics.com and the author of KLONKO, One Day in 1978 and Stovetop (Creator’s Edge Press). His cartoons have appeared in The Pulse magazine, The Cedar magazine and City Pages. In 2011, he was featured artist for the “Just Add Ink” art show at Altered Esthetics Art Gallery.

Kmart Shoes will be released October 6th, 2012 by Seventh Avenue Productions.

6 x 9, 156 pages, black and white, soft cover

ISBN: 978-0-9838854-4-3

$14.95 US

1. Lance grew up with “Jim” as a father figure.

2. New Year’s Eve 1986 was a pivotal moment in Lance’s life. Obviously, he didn’t kill himself.

3. Lance was lucky to meet lots of very helpful people…

Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 4

August 2, 2012

Ping Fan, China


We turned Manchuria into a gigantic chemical and biological warfare laboratory. Nearly eighty buildings were constructed on the compound including an administrative building to house laboratories, dormitories for the civilian workers, barracks for the military, and a collection of barns and stables to house test animals.

Masaru was proud of the special prison that would house our human subjects and I was tasked with overseeing construction of a facility that could conduct frostbite experiments year round.

There was a power plant, a group of furnaces used to discard human and animal carcasses and a recreational facility that Masaru himself oversaw. I wasn’t surprised when I learned it would be staffed with what Masaru described as “a healthy collection of comfort women.”

A railroad connected the facility to the city of Harbin and a private airfield was constructed where newly developed  chemical and biological weapons could be tested.

I would later learn that the facility’s perimeter rivaled that of our German ally’s Auschwitz.

“Japan needs to expand in order to survive as a great nation,” Masaru told me as we stood in a corner watchtower and surveyed the completed facility. “The Home Islands are simply too limited in resources.”

Total war with China was underway and our government believed Manchuria to be the most obvious place to fill our needs.

“This is the most advanced weapons research facility in the world,” Masaru proclaimed, his arms opened wide and his face frozen into a grin like a father admiring his beautiful children. “It is time we started to experiment.”

Our prisoners were mostly Chinese, yet we didn’t call them prisoners. We never referred to any of them by name. “Logs,” Masaru decided they would be called. Nothing more than a word used by the military to dehumanize each of our test subjects. As far as we knew, these prisoners never even had names. Only numbers.

Log 741. Log 622. Log 881.

We fed them biscuits laced with anthrax and measured how long it took them to die. We tied them to poles on the bombing range and detonated cluster bombs filled with plague-infected fleas, observing the ability of the fleas to survive and infect our human subjects.

When a log reached the end of its use, it was terminated, then either burned or dissected.

I trembled during my first dissection. I could hear Masaru whispering into my ear. “Remember, it is an honor to be serving the Emperor,”

I wanted to discuss the honor in testing poison gas and contagious diseases on human subjects. Or was their sacrifice also an act of honor?

“Remember,” Masaru said. “We would not have this facility if not for your research.”

I thought back to the demonstration in Tokyo, when Masaru had purified and downed his own piss in front of Prince Hirohito. Afterwards I was swarmed with handshakes and accolades.

“Remarkable work, Captain,” one general had said to me.

Another patted my shoulder. “Your work on this water filter will halt the spread of encephalitis which has already claimed too many lives.”

I bowed politely. Honorably.

Masaru named me his second-in-command and I was promoted to Major, given a raise and a generous bonus. I moved my wife and child into a newer, roomier home in Nagasaki.

I kept my mouth shut and did my work.

Log 321 was brought into the operating room by a pair of Japanese guards. A middle aged Chinese man, shirtless, with gaunt, pale skin textured with a boney ribcage. Log 321 did not fight. He had already tried fruitlessly to escape form captivity weeks ago. He was weak, malnourished, his eyes were blank and seemed to accept that his life would end here. But when he saw the flat, aluminum operating table, the overhead lights, Masaru and I wearing smocks and latex gloves, his eyes came to life and flickered with fear. Honorable fear.

Log 321 used no words. He made no sound as he thrashed pathetically, unable to break the grasp of the guards. He was laid on the table on his back, his hands and ankles fastened in leather straps – the ultimate symbol of honor.

I studied Log 321, his bony torso, the scrawny arms and legs. His face was a skull wrapped in skin already dead. I would later learn to never look them in the eye. There was nothing to see. These were not humans, they were numbers.

Masaru would lead the dissection. He said to me, “We must time the first incision just right to control the amount of blood loss.”

I felt sick to my stomach. There would be no anesthetic for this man; we wouldn’t even put him out before we cut him open. His heart still beat, his lungs still breathed.

I reminded myself: my research had made this possible. I reminded myself: do not look him in the eye. Focus on the dissection itself. This is a test subject. This is a science experiment. This is for the good of your country.

I swallowed hard and handed the scalpel to Masaru.


Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.