In February 1947, an American lawyer named Thomas Ronald ("TR") Delaney (1905-1989) arrived in occupied Japan. He had been sent by Washington, DC to take part in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), more commonly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (1946-1948). Attorney Delaney's family–wife Julia and six children–soon joined him in Japan.
TR Delaney had gone to Japan as part of a judgment against a defeated nation. But when he and the Delaney family returned to the United States, they took with them a much more nuanced understanding of their host country.
Today, the Delaneys and their extended family are a living testimony to the power of friendship across national, and even wartime, divides.
First of 2 parts
Wartime Spent in Montana
Thomas Ronald Delaney was born in Marcus, Iowa in 1905, the son of Irish immigrants. In 1930, TR Delaney graduated from Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska. He and his wife Julia (1909-1979), who also hailed from Iowa, lived in Omaha for several years. Then they moved to Polson, Montana. There, TR practiced law for the Lake County government and rode out the Great Depression with his growing family.
When war broke out between the United States and Japan in December of 1941, TR wanted to join the fight. He did not pass the medical exam for military service, however, so he remained in Montana.
From the American Heartland to Tokyo
While TR was not to see combat in World War II, his political connections–he had run unsuccessfully for local office in Montana on the Democratic ticket–helped him serve his country in another way. Delaney's friendship with powerful Montana senator Mike Mansfield (1903-2001) opened a door for him when the fighting was over.
Senator Mansfield served as United States Ambassador to Japan for more than a decade under presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (1911-2004). Long before that service, he was able to secure for TR Delaney a position at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribuna. In February of 1947, TR Delaney went to Japan to start work as part of the prosecution. His wife, Julia, and their six children soon joined him.
Family Life in Japan
From a small town in rural Montana, the Delaney family arrived in the war-ruined capital of America's erstwhile enemy in the Greater East Asia War. They lived in the Tokyo district of Ochanomizu, in a house replete with a Japanese garden and servants.
After his work with the Tokyo Trial, TR Delaney worked as a judge in Okinawa, which remained under American occupation after the rest of Japan had been returned to formal sovereignty under Tokyo. The Delaney family returned to America in 1956. They had stayed in their adopted country for nearly ten years.
A General's Children and a Future Empress
In September 2023, I interviewed TR Delaney's two surviving children, daughter Susan Delaney Cline (77) and son Jerry Delaney (92). Also joining the interview were granddaughters Karen Griffin and Julie Cline, grandson Bill Griffin, and Greg Perry, whose wife is the niece of the late Sheila Griffin, the oldest of TR Delaney's four daughters.
The interview opened a window into daily life in occupied Japan. For example, while they were living in Tokyo, TR Delaney's children used to play with the children of other members of the American Occupation. In an interview recorded before her passing, TR's second-oldest daughter, Sharon Delaney O'Connell (1936-2013), recalled going to play "at the MacArthurs' house."
"The MacArthurs" means the home of General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964). General MacArthur was the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), the head of the American Occupation, and the leader of the American military campaign in the Pacific.
Delaney sibling Sheila, who passed away in 1995, also made the acquaintance of someone of great importance.
"Sheila attended the International Academy of the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school in Tokyo," Susan tells me during the interview. "She used to play tennis there. She got to know a young woman who played tennis and attended the Japanese program at the same school. Her name was Michiko. They became lifelong friends."
"Michiko," Susan confirmed when I went agape, is none other than Michiko, née Shoda, who in 1959 married Crown Prince Akihito, the heir apparent to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Michiko-sama, now the Empress Emerita, reigned from 1989 to 2019 as Empress Michiko of Japan.
Michiko-sama's American Friends
The relationship between Sheila and Michiko-sama deepened over the years.
In 1993, Sheila and members of the Delaney family went to the Imperial Palace, where they had a personal audience with the Empress. It was a time when Her Imperial Highness had temporarily lost the power of speech due to the pressures of her highly public role. Even so, Susan remembers that the Delaneys spent the rest of the day in awe of the aura of Michiko-sama.
In 1994, Sheila had an even rarer experience. She met Michiko-sama for a one-on-one reunion during the Empress' visit to the United States. The two met at a hotel room in St. Louis, where they caught up on a lifetime of friendship.
In a personal note from Empress Michiko to Sheila after that visit, Her Imperial Highness writes, "As the years go by, I realize more and more what a precious gift to be treasured true friendship is. … Thank you, dear Sheila, for being what you are. I send you and your family my love and sincere best wishes."
1995 Letter from Empress Michiko to Sheila Griffin (provided by Sheila's daughter Karen Griffin)
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Author: Jason Morgan, PhD
Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.