First Mission

This was a homework assignment at the Golden Pen Writers Guild in 2013. We were tasked with creating some historical fiction and as I had been recently reading up on Manchukuo and the Japanese involvement in Manchuria, I chose that as my topic. Only one of the characters I used was an actual historic person (see notes at the end).

This was a lot of fun to write and an interesting challenge. Click over the jump to read more:

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It was already after 10:00 PM, but Tetsuya wasn’t tired—he was too hyped up on adrenaline since this was his first mission after being posted as a private with the Kwantung Army. After five grueling years of Military High School here in Manchuria, he was more than ready to be out in the field serving the Emperor of Japan.

The September evenings were already quite chilly, and Tetsuya pulled up the collar of his uniform jacket, trying to keep a cold draft from blowing down the back of his neck. He gripped the stock of his Arisaka rifle tighter as he hunkered down behind the embankment with the rest of the members of his squad.

“Sergeant Takahashi, sir,” he whispered to the man next to him, “how much longer before the mission begins?”

Sergeant Takahashi Keisuke was just a couple of years older than Tetsuya. “Quiet, Itou-kun*. The operation starts when it starts and not a moment sooner. Didn’t they teach you how to be patient in school? Just relax and don’t worry—I’ll make sure you don’t miss any of the good part.”

The sergeant flashed his trademark toothy grin, then spit out some tobacco juice. He usually had a cigarette in his mouth, but that was obviously forbidden during night maneuvers so he’d opted for chewing tobacco. He reached over and gave Tetsuya a quick pat on the shoulder, then raised up on both elbows to scan the horizon in the moonlight.

Tetsuya relaxed a little, rolling over onto his back to look up at the stars. It was always comforting to stare up into the clear, Manchurian sky. It reminded him of home and spending time with his little brother Minoru. Only last month the two of them had been lying on the grassy hill overlooking the Itou family’s soybean fields looking up at these same stars.

“I can’t wait until I grow up so I can work on the South Manchurian Railway, Onii-chan**. Then it’ll be you defending us in the name of the Emperor and me helping the Empire grow,” Minoru had declared, obviously quite pleased with himself. Tetsuya was proud of Minoru and amazed that he was so level-headed for a middle school kid.

Suddenly, Tetsuya heard the crunch of footsteps coming up the ravine behind their position. He instinctively sat up and brought his rifle to his shoulder before Sergeant Takahashi reached out and pushed the barrel toward the ground.

“It’s just the Lieutenant, you idiot. Calm down before you hurt somebody,” Takahashi scolded.

Their unit’s commander, First Lieutenant Kawamoto Suemori, came around some brush and dropped prone next to the Sergeant who had raised up on one elbow to give an awkward salute.

“As you were, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Kawamoto responded, pulling out his field glasses. “Are all the men ready? It’s almost time.” He raised the field glasses to his eyes and peered through the darkness in the direction of the SMR railway tracks.

“Yes, Lieutenant sir,” Sergeant Takahashi replied. “The platoon is deployed in skirmish line along the embankment and ready to advance on your orders.”

“Very good, Sergeant Takahashi.” The Lieutenant took out his pocket watch to check the time. “Pass the word along the line that the men should take cover and keep their heads down. They’ll know shortly when they should advance,” Lieutenant Kawamoto said, somewhat cryptically.

Tetsuya dutifully whispered the message to the man next to him and it was passed down the line. He then rolled onto his belly, pressing his face into the dusty soil. His heart was pounding furiously now, his mind racing with what was going to happen next, wondering how much longer the waiting would continue.

He didn’t have to wait long. An explosion lit up the sky in front of their position, near the SMR tracks, shaking the ground and throwing up clouds of dirt and rocks. Tetsuya almost leapt up to start running forward before he felt Sergeant Takahashi grab him and press him back down to earth.

“Don’t be in such a hurry, Itou-kun. There’s still plenty of time before we move out,” the Sergeant shouted.

Tetsuya looked around and noticed some of his fellow soldiers peeking over the embankment, trying to see what was going on. He ventured a glance himself and saw a large, smoking hole next to the southbound tracks, illuminated by a small grass fire started by the explosion. It looked like the tracks were undamaged, but he wasn’t sure from this distance.

Then he heard Sergeant Takahashi blowing his whistle, signaling the start of the platoon’s advance. “First and second squads advance,” the Sergeant was yelling, “we’re moving south toward Mukden!”

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  • All names are in proper Japanese order: Family name first, then given name
  • SMR – South Manchurian Railway
  • * The Japanese honorific -kun is used with males younger than or junior to the speaker
  • ** Onii-chan is an honorific expression of endearment used to address an older brother

Historical Background (from

The Mukden Incident, also known as the Manchurian Incident, was a staged event engineered by Japanese military personnel as a pretext for invading the northern part of China, known as Manchuria, in 1931.

At 10:20 PM on September 18, 1931, a small quantity of dynamite was detonated by Lt. Kawamoto Suemori close to a railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchurian Railway near Mukden (now Shenyang). Although the explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the lines and a train passed minutes later, the Imperial Japanese Army, accusing Chinese dissidents of the act, responded with a full invasion that led to the occupation of Manchuria, in which Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo six months later. The ruse was soon exposed to the international community, leading Japan to diplomatic isolation and its March 1933 withdrawal from the League of Nations.

© 2013 Douglas P. Kendrick, all rights reserved

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