Unforgettable Encounters:  Battle of Okinawa by Takejiro Higa, T/3

I enlisted in the first group of volunteers for MIS from Hawaii in July 1943 and attended MISLS Camp Savage. After graduation we shipped out around May 1944 to join the 314th intelligence Detachment of the 96th Infantry Division and participated in the Leyte and Okinawa invasions. Our team was led by my brother, Warren T. Higa, and consisted of Rudy Kawahara, Haruo Kawana, Thomas Matsui, Akira Ohori, lsamu Yamamoto, Herbert K. Yanamura. and myself from Hawaii and Fred Fukushima and Fred T. Non aka from California.

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In late November 1944, I was ordered to report to the 24th Army Corps HO, G~2 Photo Interpreters Section. The minute I entered the tent my heart nearly stopped beating as I saw hung before me a large blown-up map of the southern half of Okinawa. Chills ran up my spine as I realized the next target would be that part of Okinawa where I had lived for 14 years and left merely 6 years before.

The Photo Interpreter Officer pulled out a large aerial photo of the village of Shimabuku, which I recognized instantly. I located my grandparents' home right away and saw that none of my other relatives' homes were damaged. The Captain then pulled out another large photo which showed many turtle-back shaped concrete structures, which he thought represented fortifications or pillboxes. I explained to him that they were Okinawan burial tombs and crypts and recounted other significant Okinawan customs with which I was most familiar. I worked in the Photo Interpreters Section for several months and was sternly warned not to discuss the work I was doing there.

As the huge invasion armada "Operation lceberg" sailed northward toward Okinawa, I could hardly sleep as I thought of the many relatives and friends. As H-Hour approached and we began assembling on the top deck of the ship, I could see the outline of Okinawa. I felt very uneasy and sad, for I was about to participate in the invasion of my parents' homeland.

On D-Day April 1,1945, I went ashore near Chatan with the advance unit of the 96th Division HO. When I landed, I saw nearly all the farm buildings afire and dead farm animals lying everywhere. As we pressed inland and toward high ground, I noticed something moving inside a small dugout. I trained my carbine on the dugout and shouted "dete koi" in Japanese and then in Okinawan. Seeing no response to my command, I started to squeeze the trigger when a thin leg appeared. Because of the thinness, I was quite sure it didn't belong to a man; so I continued to urge that person to come out. Finally there emerged a very old lady and young girl of about five to six years old. They had hidden in the dugout and were frightened and flabbergasted when they saw me. I reassured them. I was very glad that I did not pull that trigger. These two tragic figures were probably the very first civilian prisoners of the Battle of Okinawa.

A few days later, the MPs called me to question a suspected impostor. Upon seeing him, I could not believe what I saw and uttered in complete surprise, "Sensei!" for he was none other than Shunso Nakamura, my 7th and 8th grade teacher at the Kishaba School. He looked at me and simply said, "Oh, Kimika" ("Oh, it's you") but, after that initial exchange, neither of us could say much in that very emotional encounter. He was dumbstruck, never dreaming he would see one of his former students with the invading forces. He had been drafted by the Japanese to perform construction work. I told the MP to take care of him; so, he was sent to the same camp to rejoin his wife and children. Today, at age 83, Nakamura Sense remains in good health and keeps active. It is a great joy to see my "sensei" every time I visit Okinawa.

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I went out on a cave flushing mission in the Mashiki village area, west of the Ginowan kakazu Ridge, where the real blood and guts battle for Okinawa started. I called on a bullhorn to urge the soldiers and civilians holed up in the caves to come out, but small arm fire, machine gun blast and mortar shelling accelerated to intolerable intensity. I urged my escort officer, "Let's get the hell outta here." As we got back to our jeep, we saw a mortar shell land directly on the boulder where we were. Had we stayed a minute longer, we would have been blown to pieces!

As the Okinawa invasion pushed toward the southern tip of the island, two shabbily-uniformed young men were brought in to be interrogated. They were very hungry and fatigued. I offered them a D-ration candy bar, which they refused because they feared it was poisoned, I yelled "bakayaro" ('you idiot!") and nibbled a portion to show it was safe. They gobbled up two candy bars each and gulped down a lot of water before I started my interrogation.

As the two men responded to the standard interrogation questions of name, rank, age, and hometown, I began to realize that they were my 7th and 8th grade classmates at Kishaba Shogakko. I asked them about Nakamura Sense and also what happened to our classmate, Takejiro Higa, from Shimabuku.

Surprised that I should be familiar with them, they said Higa had returned to Hawaii. I asked, "If you saw Takejiro Higa now, would you recognize him?" They answered, "Not sure."

At that moment I yelled at them, "Bakayaro, dokyusei 0 mite wakarana no ka?" (You idiots! Don't you recognize your own old classmate?") They looked up at me in total disbelief and then started crying. They thought they would be shot when the questioning was over, but they realized that with a classmate as the interrogator, their lives would now be spared. They cried in happiness and relief. That hit me very hard and I, too, could not help but shed some tears.

(Courtesy of "Secret Valor" by Military Intelligence Service Veterans Club of Hawaii.)