pocketful of miracles
by Douglas Messerli
Susamu Ito “Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images” at the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles. I attended the show with Deborah Meadows on August 4, 2015. The piece below is also greatly indebted to an interview with Ito and commentary by Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2015.
After visiting the photography show, “Before They Were Heroes,” at the Japanese American National Museum of the photography of Susumu Ito, it is difficult for me to know upon which aspects of the life and career of this phenomenal figure to first focus.
When asked by the reporter what he felt about his family being locked away in Rowher, while he battled on the front, Ito responded in enormous understatement, “It was ironic.”
At the Dachau sub-camp he became friends with a liberated Lithuanian Jew, Larry Lubetski, who had been interned at Dachau. The two became lifelong friends, a testimony to which is featured in the show.
At War’s end, Ito moved to Cleveland where his family had settled after their release, and, finally, the returned solder was able, due to the G. I. Bill, to attend college at Cornell.
Almost as amazing as the first half of his life, was the fact that, attracted to biology, Ito became a noted cell biologist, becoming a professor and researcher at Harvard Medical School, where he specialized in the gastrointestinal system, proving, with William Silen, that the mucosal lining of the stomach could repair itself far more rapidly than ever before thought, a discovery that surely must have had implications for gastrointestinal problems such as Barrett’s Syndrome and other ailments due to Acid Reflux—a condition from which I suffered and was cured by doctors ablating the surface of the esophagus which, as Ito and Silen might have predicted, was quickly restored to its original condition. So, in some strange way, I might toast my own health to the young photographer with pockets full of such miraculous things.
Los Angeles, August 5, 2015