Military Intelligence Service
Pre-Invasion of Okinawa
Officers find "Takejiro" too difficult to pronounce; "Junior" becomes his nickname.
General Claude Easley treats Takejiro like a grandson. When the general is later killed in battle he is devastated.
One day, Takejiro is ordered to report to corps headquarters. There he sees a huge map of the southern half of Okinawa. He freezes as if doused with a bucket of ice water; he realizes the next target is Okinawa.
Before that, there was a tremendous air raid in Okinawa, October 10, 1944. A big carrier base plane air bombing of Okinawa. And after that bombing, they took hundreds, perhaps thousands of aerial pictures, entire island.
Before I got called into corps headquarters, my brother, who was in the Philippines, Leyte, one day happened to go to G2 tent, right next to our tent. And on Master Sergeant Duffy's desk, he saw one big book, Ryukyu. Thick book. Being a son of an Okinawa immigrant, he was curious what the Ryukyu book was all about. So asked Sergeant Duffy, "Eh, Duffy, let me take a look at that book." And Sergeant Duffy, think nothing of it, "Yeah, take 'em."
So my brother brought the book back to our tent. About to open - he just had the chance to open the front cover - Sergeant Duffy run in, came in, "Hey Warren, where's the book I just loaned you?"
So Warren pointed at the book on his desk. And then Duffy grabbed the book and started going out of the tent. From behind, my brother told Duffy, "Eh, Duffy, if we go into Okinawa, maybe my kid brother can help, you know, he lived over there for fourteen years."
[Warren] didn't tell me that until. . .two days after we left Mindoro, he didn't tell me all those things. Anyway, about a few hours later, I get a call from. . .Colonel Lindsey, my G2 colonel. "Junior, go to corps headquarters with Captain Fernandez right away."
By the way, "Junior," there's a reason for it. My brother and I were assigned to the same division headquarters. My brother has an English name, Warren. I don't have. So the officers and the non-coms in the division headquarters get hard time to pronounce my first name. Take. . . . You know. So, I forgot which sergeant, but one sergeant, one day, said, "Oh shit," pardon my language. But, "Oh shit, you, from now, Junior. Junior Higa." So I was known as "Junior," you know, division headquarters.
Anyway, colonel called me on the phone and said, "Junior, go to corps headquarters with Captain Fernandez right away."
So, I was ordered by Captain Fernandez and I went with one Filipino jeep driver. Go in the jeep, went to corps headquarters. And on the way, I was wondering why the hell corps headquarters wants me. You know, only staff sergeant. Why they wanted me in the G2 in corps headquarters. I was kind of worried. So, anyway, ordered, so I had to go. I went, and I reported to G2 tent.
And in the center of the tent, there was a huge blown-up map of the southern half of Okinawa, see. When I saw that, I kind of froze in front as if somebody poured a bucket of cold ice water on my head. I froze to realize, "Oh, next target," you know. Quick conclusion, eh. I was just looking dumbfounded, looking at it. Then the G2 officer called me, "Junior, come, sit down. I understand you lived in Okinawa for a number of years." "Yes, Sir. Fourteen years." "Sit down."
So he pulled out one picture, blown-up picture, about this size, you know. Showed me in front. I looked at it. At first glance, I didn't recognize. Just burned out, everything burned out, yeah. Then after I look real carefully look at it, it's part of Naha, main part of Naha. All burned out, October 10 bombing. And a few landmarks are remaining. Like a torii [shrine gate] in front of Naminoue Jingu. And one small wall of one school. I'm quite familiar with those areas because, as I told you, three or four times a week I used to go to Naha, transporting black sugar. So after a careful look, I recognized what it was. So I described to the G2 officer what it was.
And then I even described Naha Harbor. How narrow, how small it is. Afterwards yeah, after they show me the special glass, I felt myself like a stupid asshole you know. Because I was describing to him, in detail, what the place looked like. How wide, how narrow the place is. Everything. Freighters and regular passenger ships coming in. The harbor is too small so cannot turn around by itself. So two tugboats push each other and turn the boat around. And then push toward the pier. And deep inside the harbor, there's a small island. Harbor is kind of long, just like Pearl Harbor. Inside there's something like Ford Island, small island. And there's a bridge between the island and the northern half of the harbor to the southern half. Oroku Peninsula. And okay, that, they all right. And the entrance, this Naminoue, rock formation. On top, we used to have a shrine, this and that, see.
Then next, he showed me - oh, he asked me, "Where did your grandfather used to live?" So I pointed in the general area of the map. And then he pulled out one big picture again. And this entire block of my village, exactly how I remember, 1939. Because this village has no military value, so no bombing, no nothing, no shelling. Entirely as is. So I quickly located my grandfather's house. And from there, I finger traced all my relatives homes. All intact. Okay, I feel good, you know. Anshin [relieved]. Then third one, he pulled out one more map.
One more picture, showing a bunch of Okinawan haka facing the ocean. Beautiful scenery. So I look at that, I guess I look at the G2 officer, "What's the big deal about this picture" kind of face, I think. Ho, he scold me, "G*dd*mnit, look at it carefully, we think the whole island is fortified."
Quickly realizing they had a misconception, so I said, "No, no, no, no. Chigau, chigau [You're mistaken].This is the Okinawa special grave above the ground burial tomb. And then I described to him how it's made, what the inside looks like, what its shape, all this for. And I explained to him it's shaped like a woman's womb. And the entrance is where the baby comes out. And in front of the entrance, there's a square mound, see. That represents the woman's breast. And in front, get the small opening where families get together on special occasions. Obon [Buddhist summer festival] like. And then celebrate, offer senko [incense] and whatnot. I explained to him and what the inside looked like. So this is not fortification.
So at that point he tell me, "Junior, you're going to help us from here on. Every day. For that, whatever you see, whatever we talk about, whatever anybody else talks about, not a word to anybody unless on a need-to-know basis. You understand?" "Yes, Sir."
General Claude Easley
I was assigned to the corps headquarters intelligence team during the day time. Ever since either very late October 44 or very early November 44. And during the daytime, I worked at corps headquarters intelligence office, helping intelligence officers. And during the evening or the afternoon, go back to division headquarters for dinner as well as sleeping. And overseas, officers and men take the same shower, out in the open shower. Not like regular camp. Regular camp, you have segregated facility for the officers and men. But overseas, generals, down to the buck private, take the same shower room, out in the open. One day, I was minding my own business taking a shower. And here comes a little old man. I didn't know who he was. And he starts talking to me, "Junior, what did you do today?"
I look at him, I didn't recognize him. So I pretend as if I didn't hear him. I took a real fast shower and scrammed out and went back to the tent. And I described it to my brother. So my brother hit the table and said, "G*dd*mn, don't you know who he is? He's a one-star assistant commander general."
I said, "What?" Yep, assistant commander general, General Easley.
So, oh my god, I think I'm going to be court-martialed. So I ran to Colonel Lindsey's office. Colonel Lindsey is our G2 officer. So I went to Colonel Lindsey's office and I told the colonel, "Colonel Lindsey, I might get court-martialed." So he look at me, "Now what did you do, Junior?" "Sir, it's not what I did, it's what I did not do." So I described to him what happened in the shower room.
So he kind of smiled at me, "Don't worry Junior, he might even give you a medal for that." I said, "Why?" "You did exactly what you were told to do. Not to say a word to anybody unless on a need-to-know basis. You didn't know him. It's for you not to say anything."
Ho, that kind of - gave me a good feeling. I went back to my tent. And about fifteen minutes later, here comes the general with the star on his shoulder. Ho, I stood up and salute him and apologized to him what happened in the shower room. So he looked at me, "No big deal, Junior. Nothing, no big deal."
So from that time on, he and I became a real good acquaintance. You know, it's kind of farfetched to say staff sergeant and general talking on an equal term. But he and I became such good friends. And he treated me like a grandson. So from that time on, very close. So every time we ended up in the shower room together, alone, I used to bring him up to date what happened at corps headquarters. To the colonel, I used to report every afternoon because he is the man who needs to know. My brother asked me, "What did you do today?"
"Don't ask me, I'm being under strict orders not to say anything to anybody unless on a need-to-know basis. And you are not one of them."
[General Easley] treated me so nicely. And I was attached to him. So one day, almost toward the end of the battle, he got shot in the front line by a sniper. And he got killed. When his helmet was brought back to the division headquarters, I looked at that and I cried. Because just like losing my own flesh and blood, yeah. And I looked at the general's helmet. Bullet entered right below the star. And no marking behind. So I assumed the bullet was still I his head, or unless penetrated out. I never got to see the body, of course. So that really put me in a sad moment. As if I lost my blood relative.
So whenever I go to Okinawa - I've been back to Okinawa many times after the war - and there is a memorial at the southern tip of the island called, "Heiwa no Ishiji," or Peace Memorial Park. And over there, they have on the marble, something like the Vietnam Wall. All the dead person's names inscribed, including the civilians, Japanese army, known dead, and the Americans. All in there, all different sections. So I looked for General Easley's marking. I go over there and I put - I know he's not Buddhist, but hell, this is the closest I can pay my respects. The first time I went, I even took a pencil marking of the name on the stone and I brought it home. So I know exactly where his name, inscribed names are. So each time I go, I go over there. If there was an incense-burning container, I would have put incense, but (chuckles) no such thing. So the closest I can do is just put my hands together. He was such a nice man, I tell you. Even to this day, when I think about him, I get near tears.
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of National Archives, U.S. Army Center of Military History, and Shari Tamashiro.