Military Intelligence Service
Interrogations: Teacher and Colonel
Often Takejiro is ordered to interrogate men suspected of being Japanese soldiers.
On one occasion, a suspicious character turns out to be his former grade school teacher.
On another occasion, Takejiro's Okinawan hogen (dialect) and knowledge of Okinawa expose a Japanese colonel eluding capture in an evacuee camp.
Interrogating Former Grade School Teacher
I think it was within the first ten days after landing, the MP [military police] guarding the civilian evacuations center. So, one man, kind of nice physique and well mannered, he suspected he might be a Japanese imposter, Japanese soldier. So called for interrogator. And I believe the camp was very close to our division headquarters so I was sent. I often was asked to go to camp because I can speak the language - both Japanese and Okinawan native language. For some reason, I was ordered to go to the particular camp to interrogate this suspected imposter.
The minute I saw him, I recognized him. So I just looked in surprise and say, I yell out, "Sensei," teacher. So he look at me in equal surprise, "Oh, it's you." And between the two of us, so choked up, we couldn't say anything else.
So I told my escort officer, Captain Fernandez, "This man used to be my teacher during the seventh and eighth grade in the grade school. He's not a Japanese soldier, so please send him back to the camp where his family is retained."
And then I never saw him until after the war when I first visited him about either 47 or 48. After that, each time I go to Okinawa, I visit him and we talk about old, good old days, including the hardship, hard training, or the hard discipline he imposed on me during the school days.
On the day of invasion, April 1, [my teacher] said he was atop the hill known as Kakazu Hill. It's a few miles, a few hundred yards away from so-called Futenma area, high ground. See, he was watching the invasion, beachhead, and never dreamed that one of his former students would be among them. So he took me over there to the site and then sure enough, from there, you can see the entire beachhead as if you're looking down Ala Moana Beach from the high ground. So I can just imagine his shock when he saw the fleet, invasion fleet, just literally cover the entire west coast of Okinawa. Hundreds of 'em. Ships. Various types. And he's not the only one who said that. It was so thick, you can almost step one ship to the other, one by one. Covered, entire beachhead was covered with black spots.
All the civilians were being rounded up and they put 'em in a camp. Must be near the beachhead. Just temporary shelter. There were hundreds of them over there in the camp surrounded by barbed-wire fence. And the MP posted here and there.
Exposing a Japanese Colonel
I don't know exactly what time of the period it was, but one day, MP suspected one man in the camp being a Japanese imposter because of his behavior, very straight and rigid, very disciplined behavior. So called for interrogator and I was selected to go. And I went to start interrogating and first thing I ask him was his name. And he gave some sort of Okinawan name. And then, knowing that he was a suspected imposter, I didn't ask him any military questions. Just ask his name, what village in Okinawa he come from.
At that point, he made the fatal mistake of telling me he's from village known as Yamachi, which happens to be the very next village that I grew up for fourteen years. So I know the village like the back of my hand. So as if I don't know anything about the area, I start asking him a lot of questions: location relative to known area, like in relation to Naha, what direction is it. Is it south, north, or east, or west, you know, as if I don't know anything about the area. And, doesn't match. So then I say, "Oh, is there any small town nearby?" There's a little town known as Futema. "Is it far from there?" Again, the story doesn't match. And there's another town slightly farther away, Awase. So I asked him again. All wrong.
So I couldn't stand any longer. So I look at him straight in the face, in Okinawan lingo, "Just tell me, exactly who are you?" He said, "Huh, huh, huh?" "That's right, you didn't understand a word I said to you because I'm asking you in Okinawan lingo, 'Who are you?' So far, your answers all wrong. You say you're from Yamachi, all wrong. See, for your information, I grew up in the next village known as Shimabuku, so I know Yamachi like the back of my hand. I know exactly where that location is, what the place looked like."
Then at that point he said, "Shimatta. Damn, I met the wrong guy." And he confessed.
He said actually, he's a full colonel in the Japanese army. And, unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to verify that but knowing that he tells me he's a ranking officer, Japanese army, I figured, no sense ask him all kinds of military questions, he ain't going to tell me the truth anyway. If he does tell me, going be all baloney, you know.
So I said, "Ah, okay." So next question I asked him, "Why were you among the civilian evacuation camp?" He said, "Oh, if I stayed with the civilians, I might get better treatment than the PW [Prisoner of War] camp."
So at that point I told him, "You know, America does not give any wrong treatment to prisoners or civilians. We treat 'em according to the Geneva convention. We treat 'em all equally. Since you are a military man, I have no choice but sent you to PW camp." So I called MP, "Take this guy to PW camp." That was the end of it. I wish I had the chance to verify whether he was a real full colonel or what, but I didn't have the time, nor the opportunity to verify.
If he was a real full colonel, I'm sure it was a shock to him, too. His face, I tell you, I can't forget it. "Shimatta. Wrong person I met." (Laughs) Now, if he said somewhere else, a village I don't know anything about it, he might have got away. But as I say, he made a fatal mistake of telling me he's from the village of Yamachi, which I know very well. (Chuckles) So, that's another coincidence, you know, just luck that I was able to bust him. Yeah, if he said something somewhere else that I don't know anything about the village, he might have got away.
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of U.S. Army Signal Corps.