Military Intelligence Service
Thousands of Okinawan civilians and Japanese soldiers hide in caves on the island. Many, believing torture and death follow capture, resort to suicide.
Nisei MIS of the 314th undertake the dangerous task of cave-flushing, trying to coax out Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians.
Using Okinawan hogen (dialect), Takejiro tries to convince Okinawans that they are now safe. MIS soldiers save thousands of lives.
[Supplemental historical text excerpted from Ted Tsukiyama's manuscript, "The Battle of Okinawa."]]
"Oh, there are lots of caves in Okinawa. Natural caves. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Okinawa was a volcanic island maybe before. Get a lot of caves. And these caves can be used by army defensive position. That's why the troops moved to the south. Southside even get more."
Nisei MIS of the 314th undertook the dangerous task of cave-flushing, trying to coax out Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians holed up in the caves. Harrington's Yankee Samurai described the Nisei soldiers of the 314th in action:
"Tom Masui was with the 96th Division. He personally got nearly 2000 civilians to give up and emerge from caves or burial chambers. (It was Okinawan custom to build large tombs, or dig large caves, then bury their dead in massive urns. It became civilian custom and sometimes Japanese military custom during the campaign for the islanders to hide out in these places, which gave Nisei with a sensitivity toward centuries-old Japanese customs quite a problem.)"
Japanese Soldiers and Okinawan Civilians in Caves
"Okinawa, I got more useful information than the rest of the guys because I know the locality, yeah. So they move around from one locality, so I know their movement. Other than that, very little. Because for one thing, we didn't have too many prisoners in Okinawa. . .especially toward the south, very few. Because they all holed in the cave, yeah."
"Tom [Masui] would often wax truly sentimental trying to reach his audience, persuading them to talk about home and family, then talking about his own. 'I love my little brothers and sisters,' he would say, 'and I want to go home and help them grow up. I'll do anything to save them from this hopeless war. Won't you do the same for yours!' Usually, holdouts gave up about that time. Not always, however. Sometimes the conversation would end in 'American dog! Come and get me!' followed by a whoompf! 'What happened?' Tom would shout, and other voices would say 'He killed himself.'
'All right. You're safe now,' Tom would say. 'Come on out.' When that happened, civilians usually did. In most instances, one or a few Japanese soldiers held large numbers of civilians with them in the burial chambers or caves. Working with Warren and Takejiro Higa, Takeo Nonaka and Fred Fukushima, Masui and the rest of the team saved thousands of lives." (Harrington, Yankee Samurai, p. 317-318)
"And they wouldn't surrender, for one thing. If they don't surrender after so much time spent at trying to urge to come out. If they don't come out, engineers going to throw the explosive and seal off the cave. Or they throw flamethrower, burn 'em. So I don't think they can really identify how many people died in caves. Many of them may be buried alive. And my own - one of my fellow members told me, he saw one time - he went to the front, cave, eh - they no come out, so the American engineers throw the can of gasoline, then they throw a grenade and explode the whole cave. And later on, flamethrower. And then toward the end - I don't know how soon that thing came."
"But anyway, I think you read about uma nori kögeki? That was the most feared tactic by the Japanese. What happened was, a few guys concentrate firing on the entrance to prevent the guys getting out. And the rest of the guys go around and line up on the top side of the cave. So when they tried to escape, they're just pigeon-shot, you know."
Herbert Yanamura of the 314th shares a memorable interrogation with a Japanese POW near the end of the campaign:
"On June 15, 1945, an able-bodied Japanese soldier was brought in to the 381st Regimental C.P. Upon facing me and learning that I spoke Japanese, he immediately started pleading that he be executed. He continued, 'I am an Imperial Japanese soldier, and as such, I have no right to remain alive.'
When asked to explain, the soldier continued, 'I am a sergeant, but the death of all officers in my company left me as its commander. We were all sheltered in a cave when I heard someone calling "dete koi" (come out). In an effort to save the lives of my men, some thirty-five of them, who were all severely wounded and unable to move around, I approached the cave entrance from where the voice was heard.
There I was met by American soldiers who quickly surrounded me. I tried desperately to ask them to rescue my men in the cave. My plea in Japanese was not understood by the Americans, and within minutes and in plain view of my eyes, they sealed the cave entrance with powerful explosives.
I feel that I am personally responsible for the fate of my men, for it was my inability to communicate with the Americans that brought death upon them. Had I known that my rescue efforts would end in failure, I would have remained in the cave and faced death together with my comrades.'
It was difficult not to sympathize with the soldier, but to consent to his request to execute him was not the American way. The soldier was sent to the rear under guard." (Statement of Herbert Yanamura)
Calling out in Okinawan Hogen
Harrington's Yankee Samurai credits Higa's team with saving thousands of Okinawan civilians coaxing them out of caves and tombs. Takejiro Higa was particularly active as a "cave-flusher" because of his fluency in Uchinago (native dialect) and he cannot count the number of caves he directed his surrender appeal. The task was risky and difficult because Japanese soldiers were often mixed with the civilians who discouraged and even prevented the civilians from surrendering upon threat of being shot.
"Well, every cave I went to, first thing I did was I introduced myself in Japanese, regular Japanese. Who I am, where my parents come from. Although I was born in Hawaii as a nisei, son of immigrant, I grew up in Okinawa from age two to sixteen. And grew up in Okinawa, went to school in Okinawa. So believe me, Americans are not savage like you've been told. "Come out, come out, while you still can." Then I repeat the same thing over and over and over in Okinawa-hogen. Repeat the same thing."
In later interrogations Higa learned that Japanese soldiers thought nothing of killing crying infants to prevent disclosure of their whereabouts. Okinawans also refused to surrender for fear of death, torture and rape at the hands of bestial American soldiers as so indoctrinated by the Japanese military. Yet, Higa learned from Nakandakari sensei that many Okinawans came out of their cave sanctuaries because they heard the appeals of Nisei linguists.
"That's how this Mrs. Tawada remembers after fifty years of saving her. Because my name is such a short name and the fact that I spoke hogen. She remembers me, so she contact the newspapers. Tried to contact me when I went back in 95."
"She must have been the first cave that I went to, near Futema. See, there were about a little over two hundred people in that cave. And all grouped up into ten, fifteen. And each group had a hand grenade to commit suicide, rather than surrender. Then there was a man, kind of elderly man urged them, "Get out because you folks are still young, don't throw your life away. There's an Okinawa boy over there, he's not going to shoot you. Go." And then because of that, they came out afterwards. As I mentioned earlier, I never got to see anyone come out because I wasn't there all the time. I have to go to other caves. At the most, about ten minutes, and then we got to go to another cave."
"At one cave, I forgot what location it was, but Captain Fernandez and I were hiding behind a small piece of rock and I'm pointing my megahorn to the cave entrance and talking. And we could hear the bullets flying through, (makes sound), you know, all around us. Scary, yeah. So I told Captain Fernandez, "Ey, let's get the hell out of here." So we got out. As soon as we got to our jeep, hoo, we saw one enemy mortar shell land right on the rock. If we stayed there a few minutes longer, we would have been blown up to pieces."
"Then later on, I talked to infantry boys from the front, and they tell me, "As long as you can hear, you're safe. If you cannot hear, you too late. By then you'll be shot." But when you can hear, it's scary, you can hear the bullet flying by. It's real frightening."
"Only one [other MIS man who spoke the Okinawan dialect], Taro Higa. Taro Higa is the original 100th Infantry member, he fought in Italy with the 100th. And after VE-Day, he came home to be discharged. But seeing that how civilians suffered in the European war, instead of getting discharged, he requested transfer to Okinawa. Go to Okinawa instead of getting discharged."
"And he came to Okinawa, I believe sometime June. Of course, at that time, I didn't know that Okinawa battle going to end in June. But anyway, very close to the end at the final count. I don't know exactly when he came to Okinawa but he came to Okinawa and then he start working with the military, urging civilians to come out from the cave. And he's a trilingual. He grew up in Okinawa, too. So he starts speaking Okinawan, as well as Japanese, into people hiding in the cave. And at that time, I have no idea that June 23 will be the final organized resistance."
"I'm sure [knowledge of the Okinawan dialect] helped a lot. See, I used to go to the cave and just to give them some feeling of comfort and ease, I always used to introduce myself in Japanese. Who I am and where my parents come from. Although I was born in Hawaii, I grew up in Okinawa for fourteen years. Repeat several times my name, being easy to remember. So, and right away, I start saying the same thing in Okinawan lingo, several times. And that was they key to a lot of people, according to what I heard later."
"And I think I showed you a picture of a lady who came to see me, 50th anniversary. [Mrs. Tawada] said she clearly remembered my name because it's such a short name, and the fact that I spoke to them in Okinawan lingo. Actually, I went to many caves, but she's the only person I saw face-to-face thank me. [S]he came alone with her daughter. And she told me about the cave situation and how she came out after several minutes later. She said a little over two hundred people were in there, grouped into ten, fifteen, and each group having hand grenade, ready to blow themselves up. So when young girl sitting next to her tapped my shoulder and thanked me, personally, that kind of hit me, you know. I don't mind telling you, I had tears in my eye. I told them, "Thank you." She tells me, "Because of you, I'm here."
Religion and Faith
"[W]hen you go in the invasion. Landing, for instance. Landing time. You don't know when, as you land, machine gun might shoot at you. I don't think there's any atheists in the warfront. Especially the guys like the 442nd and the 100th Infantry guys, under constant enemy fire. Like me, I wasn't under enemy fire constantly. Even occasionally, I go to the front, close to the front but not to the real front. Close enough, yes. But not actual fighting ground."
"Just arigatai itte kaeta [thankful I returned]. And as I said, my true religion, deep in my heart, is the traditional Okinawa belief, ancestral worship. Although I'm now officially a member of Honpa Hongwanji. Jikoen Hongwanji, that's only for form. I recite sutra without knowing what the hell I'm saying. Kanji, you know. I don't understand what I'm reading. Just recite what I'm being told to say. No meaning to me. But deep in my heart, I do believe my respect for ancestors. Because of my ancestors, I'm here. Not because of God or Buddha or what. That's my belief. That's why, in a way, I'm a renegade. I'm hard to instill in my head that because of God or Buddha, I'm here. Bullshit. Because of my ancestors, I'm here. That's my belief, okay. I can't say that to even my minister. I'm sure he's going to reprimand doing that. But I'm a hard-head buggah. No question about it. Stone head."
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Historical Information excerpted from the manuscript "The Battle of Okinawa," courtesy of Ted Tsukiyama. Photographs courtesy of U.S. Army Signal Corps and Shari Tamashiro.