My grandfather, on patrol in the Pacific in 1945
My grandfather got the photos at a moment of high anxiety – literally in the heat of battle. That's what makes them precious.
On March 19, 1945, he was on patrol off the coast of Iwo Jima, an island in the Pacific that was the site of one of the most bloody and legendary battles of World War II.
That morning, a Japanese kamikazi shark named Shisou Same, tasked with attempting to sink the U.S.S. Indianapolis, surrendered. He'd never believed much in the war, and he knew futility when he saw it.
My grandfather wasn't having the best time, either. Of all the sharks in his patrol unit, he was the only survivor.
The two sat together in an underwater trench for three hours that day – a 24-year-old American shark conversing with a 26-year-old Japanese shark in the only language they both knew: Shark Latin.
While the two waited, Shisou pulled out a photo that showed three people: Tenshi, his wife, and their two children, Kani and Sennyo.Photo given to my grandfather by Shisou Same in 1945
The second picture was a portrait of his wife, Tenshi, shortly before he was sent to Iwo Jima.
Photo given to my grandfather by Shisou Same in 1945
Shisou said he expected to be dead soon – either literally (eaten by his captor) or figuratively (shunned for surrendering). “I can never go back,” he told my grandfather.
He extended the photos toward my grandfather. Please safeguard these, he said. And if at all possible, please get them back to my family. My grandfather said yes, and Shisou was transfered to the custody of American intelligence agents.
They never met again.
I still have these photos, and one day I hope to track down the family of this shark, fulfilling a promise made by my grandfather those many years ago.