IN THE MILITARY
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Takejiro Higa, 83, posed for a portrait in his Kalihi home. The World War II veteran will be honored tomorrow by the Okinawan government for their role in saving lives of Okinawa citizens in the battle of Okinawa.
Interpreters earn overdue praise
86 isle Japanese will be honored for their roles in saving lives in WWII-era Okinawa
For nearly a decade, Mike Miyashiro has sought recognition for Hawaii Japanese Americans who served as interpreters in the bloody battle for Okinawa in 1945, saving the lives of countless civilians.
"We were the only unit in the U.S. war effort whose sole purpose was to save lives. Our job was to go over to help people for humanitarian purpose," said Miyashiro, 82.
Adm. Chester Nimitz recruited these Hawaii Japanese Americans as interpreters because he realized that civilians living on Okinawa would more than likely commit suicide rather than surrender to allied forces, Miyashiro said.
After years of setbacks, 86 of these Japanese-American interpreters will be officially recognized by the Okinawan government at a special ceremony at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Hawaii Okinawa Center in Waipahu. Keiichi Inamine, governor of the Okinawa Prefecture, will present letters of appreciation to these Japanese Americans.
Miyashiro said it was hard to track many of the interpreters since many had moved to the mainland, died or did not have an address here.
Since the end of World War II, much has been written about the exploits and valor of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service, two large Army units comprised mainly of Japanese Americans who volunteered to fight to prove their loyalty.
However, almost nothing was written for years about the exploits of another group of Japanese-American interpreters, all from Hawaii. In December 1944, 80 of them were assigned to a group later designated as the 1st Provisional Military Government Detachment.
Two months later, they were parceled out to four Army infantry divisions -- the 27th, 77th, 96th and 37th -- and two Marine divisions -- the 1st and the 6th -- and participated in Guadalcanal, Guam, Saipan and the Philippines campaign.
A second group of 91 Japanese-American interpreters were trained at Schofield Barracks as members of 6205th Interpreters Special Detachment, Navy 3256, and were flown directly to Okinawa from Hickam Air Force Base in April 1945.
James Tanabe, a longtime spokesman for the Military Intelligence Service, said the Japanese Americans drafted into the MIS received formal training in Minnesota before being sent to the Pacific, while members of the 6205th and the 1st Provisional were sent directly to war after basic training at Schofield Barracks.
Miyashiro, who spent 18 months on Okinawa from May 1945 to October 1946, is reticent to take any credit for the recognition, but Tanabe said it was through Miyashiro's efforts that these interpreters will finally be recognized.
Miyashiro said soldiers like Charles Otsuka deserve more recognition. Otsuka was the area supervisor and interpreter for the district of Chinen, resettling 42,000 civilians in seven villages.
Another 6205th member, Arthur Kubota, recalled being pulled off Schofield Barracks pistol range after he was drafted in 1944 and taken with 40 other soldiers to an Army barracks, where he was told by a Navy lieutenant that the group "was handpicked by Adm. (Chester) Nimitz to be interpreters."
"Two months after being drafted, I found myself in a war zone and stayed there for 18 months," Kubota said. "I had to help civilians get resettled. A lot of their homes were destroyed and we tried to get them things like lumber. The people there also needed food and other rations." The battle for Okinawa, which began on April 1, 1945, resulted in the deaths of 15,000 Americans, 60,000 Japanese and 120,000 civilians.
Miyashiro remained on Okinawa after the war and worked as a general contractor before returning to Hawaii in 1971.
Among the MIS veterans who will be honored tomorrow will be Takejiro Higa, 83, who with his brother, Warren, won the trust of Okinawans who feared being tortured and killed by Americans. They were credited with saving more than 30,000 Okinawan civilians by persuading them to leave heir hiding places in caves and family tombs.
Higa was born in Hawaii but lived on Okinawa between the ages of 2 and 16, returning to the islands to avoid being drafted into the Japanese army. He helped the United States avoid destroying burial crypts and tombs that were mistakenly marked as fortifications.
Higa said he never expected any type of recognition from the Okinawan government: "We did what we were expected to do. It wasn't anything special, but we are grateful for the recognition."