The eight-year-old boy had been sobbing into his mother’s lap for fifteen minutes. Now he straightened up. He and his mother and father stood on the gently rocking deck of an oceangoing fishing boat that was moored some distance offshore in Chichi-Ima’s Futami-Ko harbor. Around them rose up the green mountains of this Pacific island that is close to Iwo Jima and 650 miles from Tokyo, Japan. It was September 4, 2006.
As the crew watched in rapt, awed silence, the boy picked up a bouquet of flowers, walked to the boat’s side, and threw it overboard. He returned to his mother and sobbed for a few minutes more.
The bouquet floated in the dark-blue choppy waters. Far below, on the bottom of the harbor, lay the rusted hulk of a World War Two FM-2 Corsair fighter plane. Inside rested the bleached bones of 21-year-old ensign James McCready Huston Jr., VC-81, killed in action on March 3, 1945, during a fierce battle with the Japanese.
The eight-year-old boy was James Leininger, of Lafayette, Louisiana. He believed he was the reincarnation of the gallant warrior whose earthly remains lay hundreds of feet below. In tossing him the bouquet, the boy was bidding farewell to his previous self of whose presence he had been aware, as if it were a second personality, since he was two years old.
Now James felt bereft but finally freed from a beloved burden.
This heartrending if unparalleled scene is the culminating event in Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot, by James’s parents Bruce and Andrea Leininger (June 2009). It tells how, six years before, James began to have frequent nightmares in which he screamed and from which he awoke with words like, “Airplane crash on fire, little man can’t get out.” James became obsessively interested in fighter planes, identifying obscure parts like drop tanks. He made crayon drawings of crashing planes, signing them “James 3” and insisting the pilot was “James 2.” His mother and grandmother wondered if a previous reincarnation were involved. Carol Bowman, a therapist skilled in enabling children to remember and accept their past lives, was consulted and helped James became calmer and more open. He said his fighter plane, a Corsair, had been shot down by the Japanese, crashing in a bay near Iwo Jima. He described features of the Corsair and said he had flown from the ship Natoma. He mentioned a name: Jack Larsen.
His father, Bruce, was as stubbornly skeptical about reincarnation as he was stubbornly determined to get to the truth. He scoured the Internet, combing through military records. He discovered that an aircraft carrier, Natoma Bay, had been stationed near Iwo Jima in March 1945. He tracked down pilots who were on Natoma Bay or near. Attending a reunion of the carrier’s veterans, he learned that a pilot named James Huston Jr. had gone down on March 3, 1945.
Bruce found and interviewed a real Jack Larsen, who knew where James Huston had gone down. The younger James told him that “Billy, Leon and Walter” had “met me when I went to heaven;” Bruce discovered that three pilots with these names had known Huston and been killed at Iwo Jimo some months before him.
James’ mother, Andrea, tracked down James Huston’s family. His sister, Anne Barron, was still alive at 84. She visited the Leiningers. She and James shared intimate details of the family that no one else knew. Bruce took his son, now six, to another veterans’ reunion. Without prompting, he identified many of James Huston’s friends. He became sad, telling his father this was because “everyone is so old.”
The family appeared on nationally-syndicated ABC Primetime on April 15, 2004. The program provoked great interest, including phone calls from other vets who were able to give Bruce additional information and further support James’s belief that he had once been James Huston. A Japanese network invited the Leiningers to Tokyo to film an interview; the producers would cover all costs and pay a fee. After the filming came the 650-mile sea voyage to Chichi-Ima; and, at its end, James’s absolution from his former life as Huston.
Was James Leininger really James Huston? The evidence in favor seems overwhelming, though a determined skeptic can always find much to criticize. But there have been other instances where evidence has emerged, sometimes in a strange and unexpected fashion, that some traumatized children—often they are autistic—are this way because they suffered a violent death, usually in wartime, as children in a previous life.
Eve Hanf-Enos is an autistic woman now in her 30s and living in the Netherlands. She has rarely spoken; but, at age 16, aided by her mother’s hand via the technique of Facilitated Communication, she was able to write passages like: “To mollify the world must one play host to its insane, lost soul-massacring mores, or taste the adverse—the fight to loosen oneself from its welding wrought wretched safety? I am for the desolation of silence at the expense of feasts and friends, taking festive isolation over solitary festivity. I am a different direction from you. I am a didactic early born specimen of some new deeply unknown developmental stage in badly wrong homo sapiens.”
When Eve Hanf-Enos was one year old, her mother left her for seven weeks to go on a business trip with her husband. When Brigitte Hanf-Enos returned home to Cornwall, Connecticut, her daughter had become autistic. Eve didn’t speak for thirteen years. She didn’t dress herself. She seemed unable to learn. When she was 13, a psychiatrist/ neurologist urged Brigitte to try “holding therapy” with her daughter. For two years, for close to 24 hours a day, Brigitte held Eve in her arms to recreate the shattered bond between them. Finally, in exasperation and anger, Brigitte grabbed her daughter’s hand, thrust a pencil into it, and screamed at her to write something—anything. Eve wrote in huge sprawling letters: “Eve.”
This uncorked an avalanche of words. In the days and months to come, with her mother’s hand on hers, Eve wrote prodigiously. She wrote in a poetic language all her own, sprinkled with foreign words and some of her own making. She revealed that from before her birth she had lived a rich inner life. She described the fetal monitor that had guided her birth by Caesarian: “A dangerous wondering eager and looking machine sees wooden heart beat but not feelings of child—searing fear—I remember some wiggly movements of eerie…enveloping water. It felt decidedly eerie…I felt so alone.” She hadn’t wanted to be born because “I didn’t do decisive things easily.”
From birth on, she had maintained a telepathic connection with her mother. Many of her reactions—seizures, bedwetting, etc.—were in response to her mother’s unvoiced fears. “I can’t help it…I often taste yonder your words afar…wrong I dug in when you hyper doddering thoughts have…ESP droops me.” Her mother went on a trip to Germany to visit Eve’s dying grandfather. When she returned, Eve described to her, accurately and in poetic prose, what she had experienced telepathically while Brigitte was several thousand miles away: “Again I heard the women’s words once more at my grandfather’s bedside. I was hearing their wanting to help him to speak final words of wide opening to himself, but the words wouldn’t come. I saw his life waning fast, freeing him from his weak body. The women at his bed saw it too. My mother leaned over to feel for his hand and put warm love into the touch. Her words of love drowned in his bogged heart.” There was much more.
Eve, who said she’d taught herself to read at four and her favorite authors were Thomas Mann and Dostoevsky, struggled to explain her autism: “When scholarly doctors words describe about autism they are full of dopey garbage. What causes autism is sorrowful soon after birth or during birth despair……I was so mad at the wooly headed sordid simpletons who said I was retarded. Some of them saw through my act….I feel born stuck now.” She tied to explain why she was born, referring to reincarnation as if it were a fundamental truth: “I am choosing separate lives wending so I can censor past inequalities. They were segregating you and me … One life made dead you and I wanted a new chance with you. One life waned before I sensed I was willing to experience it. One life west endured when I wanted east. I was yearning to be words saying wishing to you yell with desire but I was only English and you were Japanese.” In what her mother called a “period of intense disturbance fraught with seizures,” Eve described her previous lifetime as a child in a concentration camp. She had been caught trying to escape with her starving brother on her back, and thrown into a gas oven onto a heap of burning bodies.
Eve still speaks little, though she writes poetry. She tries to help other, autistic children with that poetry.
Tineke Noordegraaf, of Hoeven, near Amsterdam, Netherlands, is a past-life regression therapist who works with children. She believes a horrific death as a child in a former lifetime, such as death by torture in a Nazi concentration camp, can cause a child to be reborn with so much reluctance that he or she can never fully mature in this lifetime. This dynamic may be a factor in the abortion of the fetus carrying the reincarnated soul, she says. Though it’s the mother who chooses to abort, the reincarnating soul may be attracted to the vibration of the impending abortion. Such tormented souls seek “mothers who will give them the opportunity to die before they’re born,” Noordegraaf believes.
Noordegraaf first planned to be a pediatrician. She passed her medical exams but then decided to be a past-life regression therapist specializing in the treatment of children. (Past-life regression therapy assumes that some ailments in this lifetime may be caused by difficulties in a previous lifetime and that bringing the client to a conscious awareness of those difficulties may effect an alleviation of the ailment in this lifetime and even a cure.)
The Dutch therapist employs a smorgasbord of techniques—i.e., children draw their supposed past lives or identify totem animals, mascot and puppets—to come up with clues as to the presence and nature of an interfering past life. In the 1990s, she achieved a high degree of success with these cases, among others:
Nine-year-old Teresa (an assumed name), born in Brazil and adopted by Dutch parents, looked like a fouryear-old when she began therapy. She did little more than repeat the words, “I don’t want it.” After several sessions, it emerged through the girl’s comments and drawings that as a child in her previous lifetime, she had been the subject of medical experiments in a Nazi death camp. The doctors wanted to know how much poison it took to kill a child. With Teresa they succeeded on the ninth attempt. Her soul reincarnated in the body of a Brazilian woman who tried several times to abort her. Once she was born, the mother gave her up for adoption. Noordegraaf guided Teresa’s adoptive Dutch mother in “re-bonding” with Teresa by constantly telling the child that she was overjoyed to have her. After several sessions, Teresa began to look and act like a nine-year-old. For a year after therapy ended, she periodically phoned her former therapist to exclaim: “I’m still breathing! And I’m growing!”
Ludovic was a 12-year-old Belgian boy who, it emerged from past-life regression sessions, had been killed when, as a child in his previous life, the A-Bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Noordegraaf writes: “When Ludovic came into my office his legs trembled so much and he was so afraid of falling that he was walking on crutches.” Ludovic told her repeatedly there was something terribly wrong with the world and himself; he didn’t know what. Slowly, he recalled playing on a street in Hiroshima when, with a blast of thunder and lightning, his world turned black. His final memory, before being incinerated, was that his legs were trembling hysterically. Noordegraaf believed the held-over trembling was a security blanket connecting Ludovic to his previous life. Moreover, he wasn’t just Ludovic; Noordegraaf concluded that he was “part of a cluster of people who never realized they had not survived that terrible disaster.” Their terror and confusion had prevented them from leaving the earth plane, so that they hadn’t been able to reincarnate; they still clung to Ludovic for safety. Noordegraaf writes: “We brought them all to a place where it was quiet and where they could process what had happened to them all. They didn’t want to go to the so-called ‘Light’ because the Light, and light and lightning, meant something terrible to them.” She eventually persuaded the terrified entities that the light of God was entirely different from the blinding flash of an atomic explosion. They were able to depart. Eventually, Ludovic gave up his crutches. His legs stopped trembling. He quickly learned how to swim. Brigit (an assumed name) was severely anorexic. Noordegraaf quickly learned that her father in this lifetime was abusing her, to the extent that she didn’t want to look like a female. Noordegraaf resolved this situation. Then it emerged in regression sessions that in a previous lifetime Brigit had been a child chimney sweep in nineteenth century Italy. One day she got stuck in a chimney and died. This appalling demise set up a karmic resistance in her to being reborn as anything but small. It developed that in an earlier lifetime, Brigit, then a male child, had worked as a pyramid cleaner in Egypt. This made it possible for him to ferret out buried gold for pyramid robbers. When the child grew up, he used the knowledge he’d acquired to steal gold for himself. One day a door in a pyramid corridor jammed shut behind him, and he died after several days. This individual’s soul, writes Noordegraaf, “developed [in-between lives] a program: Growing up means I’ll be killed. So I have to develop a slim, anorexic body.” Through the logic of karma this eventuated, two lifetimes later, in Brigit, a child with anorexia. In large measure through the use of these many insights, Noordegraaf was able to cure Brigit of anorexia.
In Beyond the Ashes: Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust (1992), Rabbi Yonassan Gershom tells us how, in conducting past-life regression therapy with 250 clients, he determined that child victims of the Holocaust very often reincarnated almost immediately because of their desperate longing for human warmth. He says many clients were still suffering in adulthood from the traumas they’d suffered as children, because, in a previous lifetime, they’d experienced a horrific death as a child in a Nazi concentration camp. In many cases, Gershom was able to help these clients.