Days of the North American Post
"The Sun Sets on the Queen of the Seas: The Story of the Hikawa-maru"
Original Issue Date: September 13, 1960
Reissue Date: September 21, 2011
Although the article penned by Goro Suzuki, "The Story of the Aging Queen of the
Sea, the Hikawa-maru." was featured in the September issue of the magazine "Special
Edition” with the coming departure of the Hikawa-maru from the Port of Seattle on
the 17th, her final departure from Seattle, after which she will disappear from the
sea lanes of the North Pacific - here, we once again introduce the history of the ship in
order to renew the memories of the beloved "Queen of the Sea."
As the clouds of war trail over the Pacific, a single, large transport ship races atop the ocean. There are no escorts flanking it. It’s a daring maneuver in waters where enemy submarines lurk just beneath surface. But wait; look closely at the bottom of the boat. In a square of white is painted a red cross; she's actually a red-cross hospital boat. And on her tail, in white letters, is written “Hikawa-maru.”
Her destination is the base on Saipan, enroute from Rabaul - far to the south, below the equator - and carrying with her wounded Japanese soldiers. It is close to summer of the 18th year of the Showa Emperor (1943); our outlook on the war is already growing bleaker by the day, and a decidedly pessimistic atmosphere is springing up amongst the wounded soldiers, many of whom have suffered on the front lines.
The time was sunset on the day she had crossed over 10° north latitude line, when the lookout cried out sharply. “A live one! Port side!” Wasting no time, the Captain gave his orders. “Hard to starboard!” Beneath the water, a white trail marked a single torpedo as it sped forward towards its target. “ hoot, who in the world would do something like shoot a torpedo at a hospital ship?” The deck of the Hikawamaru had come alive like a hive of bees, but thankfully, the early detection allowed the ship to veer away at the last moment, the torpedo just grazing the hull and hurtling onwards into the depths.
In war times, attacks on hospital ships were a rare incidence. During attacks from airplanes, it was easy to tell hospital boats apart by the large, red cross painted on their decks; however, during submarine attacks, which often happened during the evening, night, or day break, it was difficult to discern the markings on the bottom of the boats from afar, and there are cases of torpedoes being fired by mistake...
When the Hikawa-maru docked at Saipan, the entire base would resound with voices all at once. “The Hikawa-maru’s here! Anyone who wants to send messages back home, you’d better get moving!” For every person who entrusted letters to their wives, children, friends and loved ones back at home, there were also those who thought to themselves, “I can finally go home after all this time thanks to these wounds of mine.” At any rate, wherever it went the Hikawa-maru would always bring to life the familiar images of home away from home, and a deeply felt sense of peacefulness and calm. Former soldiers would often reminsce about the Hikawa-maru. "She was the queen amongst hospital ships. We would shed tears when we saw her on the front lines, because it was as if we were seeing a part of Japan."
This article is a part of five series article about Hikawa-maru. The ship had served for NYK's Seattle-Yokohama-Kobe Line from 1930-1960 helping many local Japanese immigrants cross Pacific Ocean. This is still stationed in Yokohama Bay as a museum.