Connect with us


Friendship from the Ruins: An American Family Shares Its Story as New Generations Deepen Connections With Japan

Out of the hard lessons of Pearl Harbor and through the kindness of one American reader, we learn new stories of the ongoing work of history and reconciliation.



Sheila Delaney Griffin (in black polka-dot dress) introducing a group of University of Nebraska students to Their Imperial Highnesses Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in 1989. (Photo provided by Karen Griffin.)

In September 2023, I interviewed several members of the Delaney family, descendants of the late Thomas Ronald (TR) Delaney. TR Delaney was an American lawyer. Soon after the war he had been a member of the prosecution at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). More commonly, the postwar court was known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Two members of the Delaney family participating in the interview, Susan and Jerry, had lived with their parents in Occupation-Era Japan. They shared with me their American life lived in tandem with Japan.

Last part

Read part 1: Friendship from the Ruins: Behind an American Family's Remarkable Multigenerational Relationship with Japan


A Conscience Honed in Postwar Suffering

Jerry Delaney, aged 92, is the oldest child of the late TR Delaney. As a young man, he lived with his parents and siblings in occupied Japan.

While TR Delaney came to Japan as part of the judgment against a defeated nation, Jerry's moral compass had to navigate a landscape much more complex than one characterized by the dichotomy between victor and vanquished.

At a Catholic Mass in Hiroshima, Jerry recalls, he caught a glimpse of a praying woman with keloid scarring on one side of her face, almost certainly from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Jerry was a senior in high school then. Those and other experiences in Japan sharpened his desire to see all sides of a conflict. He became deeply opposed to war.

Reckoning With a Fraught Historical Legacy

As an adult, Jerry wrote powerful pieces about American history and foreign affairs in which he wrestled with the problem of finding justice in a world shaped largely by national interests.

In an incisive 2016 Foreign Policy article, Jerry Delaney writes of his struggle with the moral dimensions of the Trial. He adds in a follow-up interview with JAPAN Forward:


My father didn't talk much about the Tokyo Trial when it was happening. He was more interested in hearing about his children's studies at school… In just the past few years, my adult daughters began to ask questions about my father's role in the trial. They rattled the cage, letting loose in me what the French writer Albert Camus called "the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart."

Personal Connections, Lasting Ties

As Jerry Delaney's moral reappraisal of the American Century indicates, Japan has had a lasting effect on the family of Thomas Ronald Delaney.

Jerry Delaney, for example, was lifelong friends with Japanese businessman and sailing enthusiast Kaoru Carlos Ogimi.

Julie Cline, an attorney who lives outside of Portland, Oregon, is Susan Delaney Cline's daughter. Spurred by writings of, and conversations with her Uncle Jerry, Julie also grapples with the moral complexities of the mid-century Pacific War. She shares that she has been reading a 2011 edited volume titled Beyond Victor's Justice as a way to work through the bigger philosophical picture of what her grandfather TR Delaney was a part of in Tokyo in the late 1940s.

From left, Michael Delaney, Susan Cline Delaney, Sharon Delaney O'Connell and Jerry Delaney in 2012. (Photo provided by Karen Griffin)

A History Extending Generations

Karen Griffin is a geologist and Sheila Delaney Griffin's daughter. She joined the September 2023 interview to share her extensive knowledge about the Delaney journey to, and with, Japan. Karen hosted a Japanese foreign exchange student in Nebraska for five years and has helped spread the word about Japan's history through public speaking and family engagement.

Bill Griffin, an attorney in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Sheila Griffin Delaney's son remember with fondness the times when his grandfather, TR Delaney, would come to stay with the family for a month each summer. In the September 2023 interview, Bill recalls:

"My grandfather would spend hours sorting through his documents from the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in the attic. His dedication to preserving his files while working in the un-air-conditioned attic piqued my curiosity in the law. I had no idea how significant the paperwork was. In retrospect, it is amazing that we had the authentic, original historical documents from the trials."

'Scatter My Ashes in the Sea of Japan'

Michael Delaney (1940-2020), the second of TR's sons, returned to live and work in Japan, where he was a general partner and co-branch manager for Goldman Sachs in Tokyo. Growing up in Japan, Michael understood and loved Japanese culture. This helped him succeed at negotiating cross-cultural financial partnerships.

For several years, Michael Delaney was on the board and board president of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. Senator Mike Mansfield is the one who originally arranged for Michael's father, TR Delaney, to work on the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

"The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation," the organization explains, "is an independent 501(c)(3) organization that promotes understanding and cooperation among the nations and peoples of Asia and the United States." Michael Delaney and his wife, Charlotte, hosted at least one Mansfield Foundation meeting in Montana, TR Delaney's former home territory as a young lawyer.

Michael passed away in 2020. At his request, his ashes will be scattered in the Sea of Japan.


Unlikely Connections Born from a Day of Fighting

Readers may wonder how I came to learn about the Delaney family's deep connections to Japan. In June 2023, an Omaha man named Greg Perry contacted me about my JAPAN Forward interview with Masamitsu Yoshioka (105). 

Yoshioka was an Imperial Japanese Navy veteran who bombed the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor early one Sunday morning in December 1941. Greg Perry's great-uncle, Forest ("Buster") Perry (1919-1941), was a ship's cook 3rd class aboard the Utah. He died in the bombing. His remains are interred with his shipmates in the blue waters of Pearl Harbor.

Forest ("Buster") Perry (photo provided by Greg Perry)

In my interview, Mr Yoshioka stated his regret that his bombing the Utah caused the deaths of sailors on board. After reading the article, Dr Perry graciously wrote to me. "We have no ill feelings toward Mr. Yoshioka or to his country," Dr Perry wrote.

During our interview, Dr Perry shared that his stepfather, Melvin Simpson, had been the navigator aboard a B-29 aircraft ("Snugglebunny") based on Tinian Island. Simpson took part in the firebombing of Tokyo.

Tinian Island was home to the airstrip from which the "Enola Gay" B-29 crew took off in August 1945, headed for Hiroshima.

"I'm sure [my stepfather] knew [Colonel Paul] Tibbets and the rest of the Enola Gay crew," Dr Perry wrote in a follow-up interview. "He may have even witnessed the take-off and landing of that mission."

Exchanges Bridging History

But the Delaney family story is a reminder that the darkness of war is not the last word in Americans' relationship with Japan.

"My family here in Omaha, Nebraska has hosted two Japanese exchange students, Megumi Ishimoto and Sakura Hara, both from Kumamoto University," Dr Perry continued. "We enjoyed our time with them both and were happy to learn more about Japanese culture during our interactions with them."

It was thanks to Greg Perry, a member of the extended Delaney family, that I learned about TR Delaney. He helped me to make contact with some of the Delaney children and grandchildren. Out of the hard fighting at Pearl Harbor, and through the kindness of one American reader, a further unfolding of the ongoing work of history and reconciliation was born.

Japan and America in History and in the Present

Thomas Ronald Delaney passed away in 1989. Toward the end of his long life, TR Delaney donated several boxes of papers from his personal collection to his alma mater, Creighton University School of Law. The Creighton Law Library has digitized much of that donation and made it available to the public online.

As the Creighton papers attest, TR Delaney was part of the team of lawyers prosecuting former general and prime minister Hideki Tojo. Tojo was the wartime military and political leader of Japan. However, out of that trial, and out of the war that gave rise to it and the occupation that followed the war, grew a trans-Pacific story of mutual admiration and respect.


It started with TR Delaney himself, who helped one of the Delaneys' former house servants in Japan, Susumu Ushio, attend university in Los Angeles. Mr Ushio remained friends with the Delaneys for the rest of his life.

And the story continues. Takato Yabe is the exchange student whom Karen Griffin, TR Delaney's granddaughter, hosted in Nebraska while he attended high school in 2013. Mr Yabe returned to Lincoln the following year and in 2018 graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University. He also got married in Japan in March 2020. Although unable to attend the wedding due to the pandemic, the Griffins joined in spirit in Mr Yabe's joy.

Takato and Azusa Yabe at their Wedding Ceremony in Kyoto, March 2020 (photo provided by Karen Griffin)

Mr Yabe met his wife, Azusa, while both were attending Nebraska Wesleyan University. When the couple welcomed their first child, Yui, in 2022, the Griffins sent a gift of a toy Nebraska Sandhill crane. A new chapter in the Delaney-Japan friendship has already begun.

'The People of Japan Are So Dear to Us All'

Thomas Ronald Delaney uprooted his family from rural Montana and took them to war-ruined Japan in the late winter of 1947. At the time, the cataclysm of Japan's defeat in a hellish war lay less than a year and a half in the past. The effects of that war were still visible everywhere. Widows, orphans, homeless children, rubbled buildings, black markets.

In 2023, though, the members of TR Delaney's extended family look back on lifetimes of positive encounters with people from Japan. During our September interview, the Delaneys told me that the Tokyo Tribunal and the Delaney children's time in Japan affected everyone in the family, across multiple generations. 

TR Delaney's oldest daughter, Sheila, was the lifelong friend of Michiko Shoda, who became the Empress Michiko of Japan. The rest of the extended Delaney family has carried on this cross-Pacific family tradition.

Susan, Sheila's sister and the youngest of the Delaney children, talks about this during the interview. "The Japanese people, Michiko, everyone in Japan–they have all meant so much to me in my life," she tells me.

"We grew to love the people of Japan during our years there. The people of Japan are so dear to us all."


Author: Jason Morgan, PhD

Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.


Our Partners