Have a Seat

by Bill Carrell
Memphis, Tennessee, USA

One day in Japan, during the early days of the occupation following World War II, two of my friends and I boarded a train. After I sat down, I noticed that only the men were seated. All the women with all their baggage and babies on their backs were attempting to keep their balance by hanging onto the overhead straps.

When an older woman boarded with several heavy packages, I started to give her my seat. But before she could move, a young man pushed his way in and took the seat. Without thinking, I just grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him to his feet. Then I took the woman’s elbow and directed her to sit down.

As we say, I was “on a roll” and I simply reached for the next man. I assisted him to his feet also and gave his seat to a woman. We three looked at each other, grinned, and all together started for number three. But he did not wait. He jumped to his feet, and I thought momentarily he might start a fight — in the heat of the moment I had probably gone too far. But I was only 20, and in those days servicemen could get away with almost anything.

Have a SeatSuddenly another stood up, then another and another, until every man on the train was standing and every woman was seated. Everyone acted as if it were the most natural thing in the world. No one spoke. One very old man gave his seat to a little girl.

Forty years later, after spending 15 years as a missionary in Japan and later working in the States for nearly 20 years as a computer programmer, I was back in Japan visiting with my son Stephen. By that time he had received a Masters in Missions, and was back in Japan himself as a missionary. The event on the train was far from my thoughts as we visited in the home of a Christian lady in the northern part of Tokyo. To pass the time I thought it might be interesting to tell some of our experiences from the great War. She explained that as the war was ending, the Japanese government, trying to sustain the will to fight, warned that if Americans invaded Japan they would rape all the women. “But one day”, she said, “three Americans got on a train and made all the men stand up and let the women sit down. We knew then that we had nothing to fear from the Americans.”

I was dumbfounded. She had not even been born when that happened. She had heard it from a television anchorman who had been a boy on that train and told the story one day on the air. I felt certain we had been the perpetrators. Perhaps he was the one I had pulled to his feet. It had been almost a prank on our part. Yet it still affects people to this day.

Originally published as HeroicStories #14 on Oct 13, 2000
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

7 thoughts on “Have a Seat”

  1. The beginning of this story made me smile, but the ending gave me chills. How amazing that an act in the moment had such a huge impact on people, literally for years to come. Than you for sharing!

  2. Great story sharing the impact of an action, and the ripples spreading out to affect many others, possibly for generations! Thank you!!

  3. What a great story. I love reading articles that show the good in mankind. I especially loved the part where all the other men stood up by themselves, without having to be forceably pulled up. Thank you.


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