Roland “Jack” Rominger has lived in Pittsburgh for many years. But he grew up during the Great Depression in rural Lawrenceville, Indiana; it was a different experience than in urban, industrial Pittsburgh—then and during the war years. His family was in the retail shoe business, and Jack spent his high school days casually working for his father and not thinking too much about the war. All that changed in the winter of 1944 when he was drafted by the Marines.
Jack served in the Pacific with the 2nd Marine Division, landing on Okinawa before the main battle broke out. It was peaceful, beautiful even. Then the 2nd Division left the island and repositioned itself on Saipan. It was after the horrific battle for control of the island, so its job was to keep the island in check and to stop the infamous civilian suicide epidemic. Patrolling the dangerous seaside cliff areas was a regular duty assigned to Jack.
Although Jack was always somewhere near the most dangerous engagements with the enemy, he never saw a Japanese soldier in combat. The 2nd Division was lucky; it had avoided direct combat for a long time. It was a fresh and well rested unit. But as the US prepared to invade the Japanese mainland in late 1945, that meant only one thing for the young Marines of the 2nd Division—they were scheduled to be in the wave of troops to invade Japan. “They told us to expect up to a million casualties,” Jack recalls. But as luck would again have it for the 2nd Division, President Truman’s timely decision to devastate Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed everything. “The atomic bomb saved my life,” Jack says without a trace of hesitation.
Jack Rominger and the 2nd Division would eventually land on Japan, but as part of the Occupation; like Saipan, it was another peace keeping mission. This time Jack’s duty was to patrol the civilian neighborhoods and to keep the Japanese safe from stray American violence. On patrol in Nagasaki, Jack and his buddy Roland “R. K.” Jennings encountered a Japanese man teaching English to several children by using a short story that he had written called, “The Family of My Elder sister.” “It’s a morality play about the horrors of war,” Jack says, “but it doesn’t mention the Americans and the awful thing that we did. If I were writing such as story, I doubt that I could keep my feelings about the enemy out of it as this does.” Admiringly, Jack recites the ending of the Japanese children’s story: “What’s more terrible? It is the atomic bomb. What is most inhumane? It is war. What is best then? It is peace.”
After the war, Jack stayed in touch with R.K. Jennings and took advantage of the GI Bill. He first studied to be a veterinarian, then a businessman. He eventually graduated from Florida Southern University in 1951, just as the dawn of television broadcasting was breaking. Jack proudly asks, “Ever hear of the Dave Galloway show? I got my start in television working for Dave in Tampa.”
I Have the Original Story
In this audio short adapted from Jack Rominger’s interview, we hear a Japanese story. It was written in English by Yoshuishi Okaburo, the brother-in-law of the story’s protagonist.
The story is called, “The Family of My Elder Sister,” and it describes the awful plight of one Nagasaki family from the point of view of the father (and brother-in-law of Yoshuishi). Jack first heard it one quiet night while on patrol duty among the surviving homes of Nagasaki. It was being used to teach English to Japanese children–a language primer of sorts.
The actual text of the story was presented to Jack as a gift from Yoshuishi Okaburo, who eventually became a lifelong friend after the war.
“I’d call this a morality play,” Jack says while holding the precious yellowing papers that he has preserved for over sixty-five years. “There’s no mention of any hatred for us, the enemy. What’s most important in the story, through the ashes, deaths, and terrible destruction, is the importance of peace.”
In My Own Words
Listen to Jack Rominger’s complete audio interview. An archival version of this interview is available upon request for research and educational purposes.