published Oct 15, 2018

An Oral History

Higa Takejiro

Toward the end of his tour in Okinawa, Takejiro interrogates two enemy soldiers who for fear of being poisoned refuse to eat or drink. To Takejiro's surprise and the soldiers' relief, all three learn they were classmates. It is a tearful reunion.
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of U.S. Army Signal Corps and Takejiro Higa.

Interrogations: Classmates

Toward the end of his tour in Okinawa, Takejiro interrogates two enemy soldiers who for fear of being poisoned refuse to eat or drink. To Takejiro's surprise and the soldiers' relief, all three learn they were classmates. It is a tearful reunion.

The very last instance I had in Okinawa was, again, very close to the end of the battle. Of course, at that time, I had no idea battle's going to end. About a week before the actual end of the incident - two shabbily-looking dressed [Japanese soldiers] were brought into our headquarters for interrogation. Very shabby, you know, all broken uniform, and shredded. And so I look at them, pitiful sight.

I give them water, and I try to give them chocolate candy, D Ration, we called it. D Ration, about the size of a quarter pound butter. Very hard chocolate. And this chocolate, each guy has two apiece before we land. And I was told that one of those of D Ration, if you eat that and drink sufficient amount of water, it's equivalent to one meal. Very nutritious high-energy bar. So I try to give them one apiece. They wouldn't eat. So I look at them, "How come you don't eat?"

They say, "Maybe it's poison."

I tell them, "Stupid!" I yell in Japanese, you know, "Bakatare!" I show them that it's not poison. I nibble a little bit. They look at me nibbling, so I give back. They gobble up in no time. You know, one big chocolate, you know. Hard chocolate. So, after gobbling up one, I told my brother, "Eh, you guys still get the D Ration left?"

They say, "Yeah."

"Okay, give me two." Two guys, you know, from two guys, I get one each. I give 'em, let 'em eat. Give them all the water they want to drink.

And I start question: name, rank, serial number. That's military standard interrogation. So name is Okinawan name. I recognize the name. So I say, "Oh, what village you come from?" And certain village. "You?" Same village, you know. And the same village, very familiar village to me. It's the same village from which we assembled in the same school. Same school district. So, "What school did you go to?" Same school, yeah. Everything, answer, lead to me saying that they are my classmates. Indication. So I look at him. "Was there a teacher named Nakandakari Shunsho in your school?"

They look at me, "How come you know him?"

I tell you, "I am a graduate of a United States Military Intelligence Language Service school. I know everything about you guys, so don't lie to me." You know, I'm straight-faced, now. "Don't lie to me." So next question I ask, "Was this student from Shimabuku, Takejiro Higa, in your class?"

"Huh? How come you know about him?"

"Didn't I tell you, I know everything about you guys?"

"Yes, there was one," so-and-so.

"Where is he now?"

One of 'em said, "I think Higa went back to Hawaii, I don't know."

The other guy said, "We haven't seen each other for some years now, I don't know where he is." So I look at two of them, and say, "If you look at him today, you would think you would recognize him?"

They say, "We don't think so," you know, shaking their heads, see.

At that point, I couldn't stand any longer. So I look at, straight in the face, "You stupid, don't you recognize your own classmate?"

"Huh?" In Japanese, of course, you know. Then they start crying. "Why are you crying?"

"You know, until now, after this interrogation is over and our usefulness is over, you guys might take us over the hill and shoot. But now that my own classmate is on the other side of the fence, we figure our lives will be saved. We are crying for happiness."

And at that point, I couldn't stand it any longer, too. To tell the truth, three of us grabbed each other's shoulder and I cried, too. Because if I didn't run away when I was sixteen years old, I may be in the same boots as they were, somebody may be interrogating me. I couldn't hold back any longer. And to this day, when I think about it, I get cold sweat.

Higa questioning a Japanese soldier on Okinawa

So after the war, I visited Okinawa many, many times. Each time when I go to Okinawa, Ryukyu Shimpo used to write about me looking for a little girl and the old lady I met in the beachhead. And if they're still alive, I want to meet 'em, you know. And I was looking for my classmate. I never go to see 'em. At the 50th anniversary, the son of one of the deceased classmates saw the article, contacted the newspaper, and [I] arranged to meet with him. And then so the newspaper reporter, my cousin who was driving me around, and I think was Nakandakari sensei, too, who went to see this boy, one of the sons of the classmates that went to hakamairi [visit graves].

Higa, in 1995, visits the grave of one of the soldiers he interrogated.

The other one, nobody seems to know what happened. They think after the war, he got crazy. Nobody knows what happened to him. Every time I go to there, I'm looking for them. And newspaper article writes up about my visitation. But I never could meet them. Nobody knew what happened to them. Maybe nobody even talked about it, being a prisoner, or, you know, shame. Nobody knew. Except the son, you know, fifty years later, he remembers his father talking about it. So that was the last time I saw any of the people that I was connected with the civilian Okinawa battle.

Imposter? Sensei!

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 [19]47 or [19]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.

Prisoner of war camp during the last stage of Battle of Okinawa

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.

Nisei interpreter interrogates a Japanese commanding officer

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.

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