Military Intelligence Service
Invasion of Okinawa
On April 1, "Operation Iceberg" commences and the U.S. invades Okinawa.
Takejiro lands in Chatan. Somber thoughts of nearby family and friends fill his mind.
In a makeshift office in a haka (tomb), Takejiro's MIS team translates documents for three days with no sleep.
[Supplemental historical text excerpted from the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) and Ted Tsukiyama's "The Battle of Okinawa." (TT)]
"Then we left Leyte to the invasion of Okinawa, the late part of March. I forgot the exact date. Two days out from Leyte, an announcement came over the radio - I mean, ships announcement PA system, that we're heading toward Okinawa."
On 3 October 1944 American forces in the Pacific Ocean Areas received a directive to seize positions in the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawa is the most important island of the Ryukyu Group, the threshold of the four main islands of Japan. The decision to invade the Ryukyus signalized the readiness of the United States to penetrate the inner ring of Japanese defenses. For the enemy, failure on Okinawa meant that he must prepare to resist an early invasion of the homeland or surrender. (CMH)
"So I told my brother, "Eh, Warren, now I can tell you what I was doing." He looked at me, said, "I kind of felt it must be Okinawa." Because then he told me the incident that happened to him at Leyte."
Operation ICEBERG, as the plan for the Okinawa campaign was officially called, marked the entrance of the United States upon an advanced stage in the long execution of its strategy in the Pacific. Some 4,000 miles of ocean, and more than three years of war, separated Okinawa from Pearl Harbor. In 1942 and 1943 the Americans had contained the enemy and thrown him back; in 1944 their attack gathered momentum, and a series of fierce island campaigns carried them toward the Japanese inner stronghold in great strides. (CMH)
In the early pre-dawn twilight of April 1, 1945, Sgt. Takejiro Higa of the 314th Language Detachment of the U.S. 96th Infantry Division peered out at the familiar Okinawan coastline from the deck of an invasion ship with a sinking heart. Conflicting emotions churned within him: "I have a duty and responsibility as an American soldier. But why must I invade the home of my ancestors?" He stood on deck facing the approaching island with tears streaming down his cheeks. (TT)
"And the worst part is, I couldn't even say anything to my brother. And I just. . .You know, when people tell you don't talk, it's hard to keep, you know. Don't say anything. It's the hardest thing to do. I found it very difficult to keep my mouth shut. Usually, I'm a real talkative guy. And when I was under strict orders, I couldn't say anything to even my brother about what I'm doing. So I couldn't even give hints. I could easily give hints if I wanted to. Say I saw uncle's picture or uncle's house, like that. But no way. I'm a hardheaded buggah [fellow]. So when they tell me, "Don't say anything," I wouldn't say."
The April 1st invasion was preceded by 7 days of "softening up" artillery fire of 13,000 rounds by U.S. Navy guns and 3,095 sorties by carrier planes from Task Force 58 at the proposed landing sites at Hagushi and Chatan beaches. Then on the morning of April 1st, navy ships rained a prelanding bombardment of 44,825 shells, 33,000 rockets and 22,500 mortar shells plus napalm attacks by carrier planes on the invasion beaches. This was the incendiary prelude to the Battle of Okinawa which Masahide Ota was to aptly and vividly describe in his book as "the typhoon of steel and bombs!"
As the U.S. forces prepared to make land, little did Higa realize that he was to witness and participate in "Operation Iceberg," the bloodiest and most bitterly fought battle of the Pacific War where almost 240,000 American, Japanese and Okinawan lives were lost and the island of Okinawa left devastated and ravished. (TT)
"I knew exactly where we were going to land and what units were involved. The only thing I didn't know was exact day of landing. April 1. I knew where we were going to land because I looked at the map and I'm telling them, by general area, what little I know. And one part of the beachhead, I know quite well, too, see, because it's only about a mile and a half from my village that grew up in. Down the slope. So I knew quite a bit about there."
The American attacking force consisted of 183,000 troops of the U.S. Tenth Army and Marine Divisions commanded by General Simon Bolivar Buckner, supported by Navy and Air Force fire and bombardment. Okinawa was defended by 77,000 troops of the Japanese 32nd Army commanded by Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, assisted by Lt.Gen Isamu Cho and Col. Hiromichi Yahara, and augmented by conscripted 20,000 "Boeitai" (Okinawa Home Guard) as labor and service troops and 750 middle school boys organized into the "Tekketsu Kinnotai" (Blood and Iron Corps).
For "Operation Iceberg," Pacific Commander Admiral Nimitz had assembled and launched the greatest amphibious invasion force of the Pacific War, as the horizon of the offshore sea was almost obliterated with hundreds and hundreds of ships moving toward the invasion beaches. As the pre-H Hour bombardment lifted, an 8-mile long line of amphibious assault and landing craft moved shoreward onto the Hagushi and Chatan beachheads landing 60,000 assault troops, surprisingly without any enemy fire or resistance. (TT)
"[My division landed in] Chatan. Extreme western end of the beachhead. See, four divisions landed on the main island of Okinawa. Two marine divisions took the northern sector. Two army divisions, the southern sector. And we landed primarily in the narrowest point of the island, Isthmus of Ishikawa being the center, yeah. It stretched from near Yomitan all the way to Chatan."
Combat for the Nisei was unlike any others. Each MISLS graduate all had to find some way to tote the extra gear essential for linguists. They had to find room for three pocket dictionaries along with their essential gear. Team equipment included fourteen additional dictionaries of kanji characters and compounds, nautical terms, aeronautical terms, military terms, Japanese surnames and first names, and a copy of Websters. Added to this were a portable typewriter, stationary, rulers, paper clips, pencils, pens, staplers, magnifying glasses, and other office supplies. (Harrington, Yankee Samurai, p. 136)
MIS Role in the Invasion
"From the temporary position near the beachhead - I think we were there about three, four days, I forgot the exact date - we worked in somebody's grave, haka. (Chuckles) Okay, let me explain that a little bit. For some reason, as soon as we landed and started moving upward to the hill, I saw something moving on the side of the small dugout. I jump back, I aim my carbine and start yelling, "Whoever it is, come out, come out." Under such excitement, I don't know exactly what I said, in Japanese or Okinawa-hogen or maybe some Hawaiian pidgin, I don't know. But I was so excited. Anyway, that something moving but I didn't see anybody come out so I was about to squeeze my trigger. Then I saw a small leg come out. A thin, small leg. And no matter how I look at it, it cannot be a G.I.s, yeah. So I stop my trigger finger and continue to yell. And this time, I think start yelling Okinawa-hogen, "Come out, come out." And out came a small young girl, I would say about four or five years old. And then followed, one old lady came out. So, knowing that they're not GIs, I kind of cooled down a little bit and composed myself and I start asking questions. So I asked, "How come you folks are hiding in this place?"
"The old lady said, "Well, family all ran away up in the hills. But I cannot keep up with them, so I decided with my granddaughter to hide inside here."
"So I told them, "Don't you ever go back in there. Now stay here. Somebody else is going to come and take you to civilian compound." Not prisoner camp, but you know, relocation camp or refugee camp. "So don't go inside now, just stay here."
Working in a Haka
"So keep moving. And then, short distance, we came close to somebody's haka. For some reason, the gate was open. I guess somebody was in there first and just scram out, you know. So as soon as we go inside, one GI wanted to go in, see. So I told him, "Wait. Give me your flashlight." I look inside. "What you doing?" "Never mind, I tell you bumbai."
"So I check and make sure there's no snake in there, yeah. Because I was told that you can find snakes often inside the grave. So I make sure there's no snake. So I said, "Okay, we'll go inside." So we go inside, we set up a temporary office. A small, mobile field desk with the gas lamp. And in the backside, see, the Okinawan haka is, as I told you, is built in the shape of a woman's womb, see. Entrance is, I would say. . .Big enough for two men to carry the casket inside during funeral time. And inside is quite large. Even five-foot, six-footer GIs can stand around without bending your head. Exact measurement, I cannot tell you. But it's wide enough, I would say, from here to there easily, yeah. Height is about, I don't know how many feet. Maybe five-and-a-half feet, I don't know. And square, just a square."
"On the backside, there's a two-mound shelf-like. And on top there, there's a container, bone container. In Okinawa-hogen, they call it jishigami. It's a very beautifully decorated ceramic container. After the number of years, or number of period, they take out the casket out in the front, and meticulously wash the bone. And the lady's bone in the container from feet down, build up, and the skull on the top. And preserve that in the backside for generation after generation, I guess. How long, I don't know."
"Anyway, family tomb is the oldest there. I guess there's some kind of sequence. That, I don't know. Anyway, usually there are two shelves. Dirt mound, yeah. And, of course, some of the graves are built by concrete and stone. But many of them built into the hillside. Clay. Very solid ground. My own family grave was built into the mound. And, if possible, they can always build facing the ocean with the nice view. In fact, Okinawa tradition was that they considered the haka as a permanent home. So they even spent more money to construct the haka than their own residence. Beautiful, yeah. They spend a lot of money. And not everyone can build a haka facing the nice view of the ocean. So if you cannot, why, they still build haka with the nice view to the front. In the valley, usually. You know, hillside. Valley. And I think, if possible, they always face east. And, as I said, not every haka can be built in the same way. So they take the next alternative with the best view. South or whatever."
"I think, according to Donald Keene, our navy language officer assigned to us, we spent three days [working in haka]. But I don't remember exactly. I thought was two nights, but two days we worked continuously without any sleep, I know. And as the captured documents come in, we have to translate. Especially maps. I know I worked throughout the night. And every now and then, we got to put the lamp on the side so you cannot see from outside. Open the curtain and exchange the air. You cannot continuously work in the enclosure, yeah. So every now and then we open the curtain and circulate the air."
American GIs - about five o'clock, they quit fighting, yeah. Set up a base, defense position. And then in Okinawa, first time they used the snoopy scope. You can see at nighttime. It's an infrared sight mounted on a rifle. Not everybody had it but few in the company platoon had it, eh.
What I heard was, they placed these guys with the snoopy scope in a strategic position. And they would be the watchdog.
Darker the night, you can see better. If it's an ordinary night, moonlight, probably can see better than the snoopy. The darker night, up to about fifty yards, you can see the difference between human being and a pig running loose. Only thing, you cannot tell is what kind of human being; Japanese or haole or native. Human being shape, you can tell. . .compared with the domestic animal, yeah. You can see the difference.
Late in the afternoon, [the infantry boys] quit fighting. Avoid night fighting. Then set up a defensive position for the night. They set up this guy with the snoopy scope every so many yards and then cover him. They have machine guns, yeah. So when the enemy penetration comes through, this snoopy scope operator shoots a tracer bullet. And then crossfire yeah.
So at that point, the machine gun opens up and slaughters all the guys coming through. So in fact, they said - it's kind of not nice words to use - but they welcomed the suicide charge. That way, they can slaughter more Japanese than individually. And by then, they're kind of used to banzai charge terms so they weren't too upset. They were mentally prepared for that.
[Hearing the banzai charge]. . . it's real scary. Very uncomfortable feeling. You know, sort of an insufficient, or what, unprotected-like. Even though we know it's quite a distance away from us but still, funny kind of feeling. You don't feel good hearing those words. And especially when soon after that, machine guns open up and bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. You know, just like firecracker, no more end.
I mean, in school, yeah, tenno heika banzai is a happy occasion, eh. This one is not a happy occasion. So the feeling is different. This one, fear attached to that banzai charge, yeah.
So to the haoles, so far, in South Pacific, every time they have a banzai charge is severe fighting. And a lot of casualties. So because of that, probably, they had a fear in their mind.
Same thing with the Tokyo Rose. Beginning part, when Japan was winning the war, there was a demoralizing effect on American troops. But when the tide turned, it became like a joke. So, in fact, toward the end, I think was acting like our entertainment. We used to look forward to that hearing. And that hearing, oh, bullshit again. Because from New Guinea to the Philippines, according to Tokyo Rose, we were sunk about three times. (Chuckles) And the ship's radio would put it on once in a while, eh, for entertainment purpose, really. We used to laugh at each other, "Hey, we sunk again. How come we're still alive?" (Chuckles)
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Historical Information courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) and excerpts from "The Battle of Okinawa" courtesy of Ted Tsukiyama. Photographs courtesy of National Archives, Shari Tamashiro, and Sgt. Alfred 'Eddie' Seamands via Adam Lewis.