THE GIRL FROM OKINAWA
The Gem of the Pacific
CHAPTER 1: THE ROAD TO OKINAWA
Diane Nakamura looked Japanese and spoke Japanese although she had never been outside the United States. She was an American girl, born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. In a few days, she would graduate from high school; in a few months, she would have to become Japanese in order to survive.
At Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, a small group of friends was sitting outside during lunch. It was May, 11, 1941 and they were discussing what they wanted to do after graduation.
Lee Hernandez spoke up, "I plan to join the Navy and travel. It's a way to make some money and see the world. I just hope things stay calm with so many countries being led by hotheads. The first thing I'm gonna do, though, is to spend all next week on the beach at Corpus Christi."
Margie Kenner said, "My Dad wants me to go to college, but I'm not sure. I want to work, helping others. I could become a nurse, or maybe a camp counselor; I'm just not sure. What about you, Diane?"
Diane shared her feelings with her friends, "Well, I've got a year to think about it. It's customary in our family to go to Japan for a year after graduation. My mom wants us to learn to appreciate our heritage, that sort of stuff."
Margie asked her, "but is it safe? The leaders seem to be heading towards a clash with us."
Diane answered, "Yeah, I know. It makes me a bit nervous; I just hope I can get there, stay with my auntie Ryuko, then get back. We pretty much speak Japanese at home, but Mom says that's not enough. Heck, I'm an American, not Japanese, and I'd rather just stay here, but…..it's a family custom. "
Lee questioned her, "Why don't you just wait until you turn 18, then you can go where you want?"
"Oh, Lee, I can't. I gotta do it, just like 2 of my brothers have. They came back, speaking excellent Japanese, but they're still red
blooded Americans. That won't change; Mom just wants us to experience our ancestors' culture, not turn us into Japanese."
"But, you don't consider yourself Japanese?" Lee asked.
"Dammit, Lee, NO; I'm not. I'm an American and proud of it. If I wanted to be Japanese, I'd go live there, willingly." Then Diane laughed, "Ya know, here at TJ High, we don't all look the same, but we're all Texans and Mustangs, yeahhhhhh!"
As they laughed and talked, it seemed to be the best of times. Here they were: young, carefree, and the whole world was waiting for them to begin their careers. As with all of us, we often go much further than we ever dream we could, and, sometimes in a direction never believed likely. With war clouds ahead, things were going to change, quite abruptly for Diane.
On the other side of the planet, between Japan and Formosa, if you look carefully, you can find the island of Okinawa. There is a dirt road that passes by some village huts on the Kunigami Road. The Road originates in Naga, and goes Northeast, through various villages. It is unpaved but reliable in dry weather. If you stay on the Road, you come to the Fukuchi River (some would call it a creek bed as you can easily get across the trickle of water by stepping on the larger rocks in the bed). The Punta Gorde Bridge crossed over the River, here. The Bridge was built by the Japanese Army in 1938, to ease military traffic moving north, and to make crossing the river faster, more so than using the old low water crossing about a mile north of the Bridge. It got its name from a Spanish design used in old colonial days. Simple and cheap, such bridges were often constructed of wood from trees found in the area. They were meant for a good four or five years of use.
About 9 o'clock in the morning of April 11, 1945, Diane Nakamura, wearing Okinawan clothing, was walking down a dirt road, towards the intersection of the Punta Gorde bridge and Kunigami Road, coming from the direction of the old crossing. She was carrying bread and onions in a bag, and she was 4 years and 5000 miles away from her high school days in Texas. She noticed several Japanese army trucks lining up to cross the Bridge. There were 7 vehicles and about 30 soldiers involved.
"Should I avoid the soldiers and go around them, by way of some back trails?" She asked herself.
The soldiers began working rapidly, to get the trucks over the bridge. The bridge was small and wooden, so they could not move really fast.
About then, the girl noticed the sound of airplanes coming from somewhere not too far off. It was getting louder as they got closer.
The soldiers scrambled for cover, leaving the trucks behind.
She looked up, to locate the sound. Several thousand feet above her, airplanes flew in formation, going north. They appeared so high that she felt sure the trucks and the people below must appear the size of ants.
The planes flew on and the soldiers came out of the woods and resumed moving the trucks across the river.
She kept looking upwards, as did some of the soldiers. She asked one of the soldiers, in Japanese: "Whose planes are those?"
He replied, "They're Americans. They're bombing further north, in the direction we're going. " The soldiers paid no further attention to her as they got back into the trucks and drove across the Punta Gorde bridge.
She felt her heart skip a beat and her excitement increase. At last! After three and a half years that she had spent on Okinawa, the Americans were coming! Diane knew the USA was winning the war. All the propaganda and radio bulletins were just lies about the heroic victories of the Imperial Forces.
Here was Diane Nakamura, caught up in the backwater of a world war. Although she lived like an Okinawan, and by this time spoke fluent Japanese, she had not wavered in her loyalty to the Stars and Stripes. She had heard the naval bombardment guns several days ago, and with the way Japanese forces were moving hurriedly, she knew things were not normal. However, this was the first indication she had that liberation was only days away, or sooner. How and where she might encounter American forces, she had no idea. She was determined, however, to survive, and to see her home in San Antonio again.
She was alone now. The soldiers were across the bridge. There were a few houses close by, but most of the locals had fled to the countryside.
Diane was thinking, about what was going on. Were the Americans minutes or days away? How many more Japanese troops were headed this way to cross the bridge? An idea fermented in her head: if rescue was near, she should do something to interfere with the Japanese' evacuation. "What could I possibly do? I don't want to get shot, or hurt any of the locals."
Diane stood looking at the bridge, thinking… "Ah, the bridge!"
She looked around. No one was in sight. The few remaining villagers had fled to the countryside. Everyone was afraid of the Americans. Of course, she wasn't, but, she had also been pretending to be Japanese, ever since December of 1941.
Diane had arrived in Nagoya, in June of that year, to take up residence with her aunt Ryuko, who welcomed each of the Nakamura children for their year long stay in Japan. Unfortunately, Diane had become quite ill in late November, with an intestinal illness that kept her at her aunt's house. This proved to be a good stroke, when, a few days after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Kempetai came looking for Diane. They were rounding up all aliens of hostile countries. Aunt Ryuko had already sent Diane to Okinawa. She told Diane to go to the village of Ogimi,
where a former housekeeper lived, and to tell the old lady that she had tuberculosis and was forced to leave the main Islands. At that time, Okinawans were considered not fully Japanese, and spoke a slightly different dialect. The housekeeper was a widow, and allowed Diane to live there, as she needed a younger person to help her with the daily activities. When the Kempeitai came to Aunt Ryuko's residence looking for Diane, she told them that Diane had left abruptly the day of December 8th and she had no idea where Diane was. So far, the ruse had worked for three and a half years. The Okinawans didn't ask questions; they were too busy trying to feed themselves, and, with the war now on their doorstep, they wanted to avoid being involved in any shooting between the two armies.
For years, Diane had resignedly lived on Okinawa, wondering if she would ever see home again. The only news about the War was, of course, from the Japanese government, and it always showed the Imperial Forces as winning. She didn't know how much longer she could go on, until, weeks earlier, the first American planes had bombed targets on the island. Then, she knew, liberation would come soon; it had to.
The civilians had fled when the first American tanks and troops had appeared in their area. They either hid in caves or wandered around the countryside, trying to stay out of harm's way. The Okinawans were afraid to return to their houses, or, to be more accurate, their shacks. Some shacks had caught fire when shells landed too close, as they were mostly made of grass and wood. The local refugees were hiding in a clump of trees about a half mile away, and just off one of the roads. They weren't sure what to do: to flee towards Japanese lines or to stay and salvage what they could, if the Americans wouldn't shoot at them. Time would answer all questions. Diane had been living in one of these shacks, pretending to be a Japanese girl.
An idea then popped into Diane's head after the soldiers had driven away. "Why not take out one of the support beams under the bridge?" she considered. Right now, no one was around. She climbed down carefully, and got underneath the bridge. Then, finding a rock big enough for her to lift, she began hitting the midway point of one of the support arms. She hit it 15 times, 20 times, … this was very tiresome. There was a little damage, but not enough to bring down the bridge.
So, puffing and straining, Diane climbed out of the creek bed and walked back up to the roadway. She hadn't done exercise like this in a long time, and her arms were very tired.
It was only a few minutes before some more Japanese trucks came down the road. Diane simply stood there, waiting and watching. Hopefully, the bridge would not hold the weight of the first truck attempting to cross, and it would collapse. Also, would the Japanese soldiers know that she was responsible, or would they simply see her as a local villager, merely waiting for the trucks to go by?
The troops did not dismount this time, as they appeared in a hurry. The first truck drove across the bridge, and it seemed to shake a bit. When the second truck got in the middle of the bridge, it suddenly gave way with a loud crash. Other troops jumped down to help their fellow soldiers. Diane stood watching; no one paid heed to her presence.
One truck had fallen through and was actually in the creek bed. Another was tottering above, its front wheels on the first part of the bridge. The first truck's gas tank had ruptured and gasoline was dripping out, flowing towards the still running engine of the lower truck.
Suddenly, the gas ignited and the trucks exploded in a yellow ball of flame. With the explosion, parts of the trucks flew everywhere. Some boards were ripped off the back of the exploding truck, and they flew directly at Diane, hitting her in the head. It knocked her backwards, cut her face and hit her hard enough to knock her senseless. The two men in the first truck were killed instantly. Several others were killed by flying debris or flames. Several more were wounded, and their comrades put them on the remaining trucks and drove north, along the creek, looking for a place to cross.
Diane lay there for several minutes, trying to regain her senses, but not quite realizing what had just happened.
"This one's still alive!" These words somehow penetrated the semiconscious state of Diane as she lay sprawled out beside the road and the burning trucks. They made an impression because someone was speaking English. She hadn't heard any English in nearly 4 years.
Elements of B Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 305th Infantry Regiment had been moving north, towards the Fukuchi River, hoping to secure the bridge before any Japanese might be able to destroy it. Pfc. Ronald Ware, a Bronx native, was point man who had seen the dead Japanese soldiers in and around the two burning trucks. Assured of his safety, he called the rest of the company forward.
A quick glance at a blood spattered female lying on the far side of the road told them she was also a casualty. The medic, Jesse Guerra, knelt down beside Diane and took her carotid pulse. "She has a strong pulse."
The platoon leader, Lt. Reggie Martin, said "Be careful. Sometimes dead Japs are booby trapped."
"THIS one's not dead" replied Guerra.
Diane managed to open one eye and tried to wipe the dried blood away from her other eyelid so she could clearly see whoever was speaking. Several soldiers stood around her, watching her struggling to see them. All but the medic kept their rifles pointed at her.
She looked at them and they stared back.
"Who are you guys?"
Several were taken aback to hear perfect English coming out of this Okinawan girl's mouth.
Pfc. Ware spoke to her : "We're Americans. U. S. Army."
There was an awkward silence for about two seconds, then, Diane said "Thank god, thank god, you've finally come !... I've been on this damn island for almost 4 years…" and she began to sob quietly.
These combat hardened men were taken totally by surprise to hear one of the enemy thanking god for their arrival. They did not yet comprehend that one of their countrymen lay injured at their feet.
Diane reached out to Guerra with her right hand, "Help me get up." Not knowing what to do, Guerra and another man helped her get to her feet. She was a bit dizzy and unsteady. There was considerable blood on her face and the front of her clothing; however, she was able to walk. They half-carried her to a tree stump where she sat down. She related what she remembered about how she had damaged the bridge and had a vague remembrance of some trucks trying to get across it.
"This is really strange, a girl is just walking down the road, decides to take out a bridge, and gets injured in a blast?" observed Ware. "This just doesn't happen everyday."
"She's a JAP! You don't believe anything she says." angrily answered Sgt. John Givens, another young man from New York City.
"I AM NOT A JAP!" Diane shot back, even louder. "I'm an American, trapped on this damn island. Don't call me a Jap. Besides, I just stood there, watching, when the truck exploded. I should've ducked."
The group again gazed at her in a mild state of surprise.
Lt. Martin spoke: "You speak good English, but if you look like a Jap, and you're dressed like a Jap, and you live on a Jap island, that pretty much makes you a Jap."
"I've been hiding here. If I had it in my power, I'd have left Japan when the War broke out."
Lt. Martin continued: "Okay, you say you're an American? Who won the World Series last year?"
Diane rebutted with "Do you think the local radio stations keep up with American baseball scores? Come on, Lieutenant."
Ware volunteered: "Lieutenant, she does speak good English."
Lt. Martin answered him with "That doesn't mean anything. A lot of Japs went to college in the states and speak perfect English."
Diane realized that these men really thought she was an Okinawan, who spoke good English. "Look, Lieutenant. I have my passport hidden nearby. I can go retrieve it."
"No, you just stay here and answer a few questions. Like: how did that bridge get destroyed? We heard an explosion about 15 minutes ago."
Now Diane began to remember more details: "I told you: I took a large rock and damaged one of the support beams. Thing is, I didn't expect it to give so easily when the first truck rolled across it."
"You did that?" asked Lt. Martin, incredulously.
"Yeah, I did that, at least I like to think so. I got hit by flying debris, when one of the trucks exploded. I shouldn't have been standing so close when the Jap trucks started crossing it."
"It checks out, Lieutenant. Part of the support beams are under the truck that caught fire," chipped in Pvt. Tony Moreno.
Ware again made a comment: "Where are you from?"
"I grew up in San Antonio."
By this time, Lt. Martin and most of the others were starting to believe this young woman sitting before them. Although she was wearing typical Okinawan clothing, her face covered in blood, and her facial characteristics showed her Japanese ancestry, there was
no doubt that someone, somehow, had sabotaged the bridge. Her explanation was the only one available.
"Where's your passport?" asked Lt. Martin.
Diane told him where it was hidden, in a wooden box, in a hole, under the house she had lived in since coming here.
Lt. Martin again: "Why didn't you have it with you if you were expecting liberation by Allied troops?"
"Are you crazy? If the Kempeitai caught me with a U.S. passport, they'd kill me on the spot."
"What's the Kempeitai?"
"The Japanese secret police" explained Diane.
Lt. Martin sent two of his men to retrieve the passport, while he continued to question Diane.
While they waited, Diane told them how she had come to live in Nagoya until war broke out in December, 1941, whereupon she had fled to Okinawa, where she had been quite unnoticeable. The locals all thought she was a sick girl, who had come here to get away from the city, and to live on Okinawa until tuberculosis took her. Well, she didn't really have TB, that was just her story, her reason for not living on one of the main Islands.
Also, it seemed Diane had incurred an additional injury. When she fell backwards, she had unconsciously put out her left hand to break her fall. Unfortunately, she had sprained her left wrist when she hit the ground. Now, her wrist was swelled up, and painful.
Here they were: a young girl from San Antonio, Texas and a party of combat veterans, half a world away, not of their choosing, and trying to stay alive. This day alone, Diane had seen more death and destruction than all her previous years. Uppermost in her mind, however, was reuniting with her family.
The soldiers returned with the contents of the box, including Diane's passport and some American money, along with photos of her family back in Texas.
Lt. Martin finally spoke: "Well it looks like you are who you say you are. It's a most unusual story, but, hey, who am I to say what should be. War is insane, no matter where you find yourself.
Pfc. Ware interjected: "By the way, Lieutenant, I suppose she gets credit for killing those Japs and destroying two trucks? "
Diane looked at him, then at Lt. Martin, thinking that the issue should be her rescue and not a body count.
"Yeah, Ware, that's right, but, we sorta wanted the bridge intact" spoke Lt Martin, in a disappointed voice.
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. Had I known you needed the bridge, I would've run away and hidden in the woods, and not tangled with those Japs."
"Don't worry about it now. We'll adjust to the situation. -
Ware! Get a message back to Battalion HQ that we've recovered a Japanese speaker that we'll send back to them, and that the bridge is no longer useable."
Guerra took a bandage and put Diane's left arm in a sling. "How's that, girl?"
"You habla espanol?" asked Guerra.
"Si, senor. When you live in San Antonio, you learn some Spanish."
Lt. Martin made the decision to send Diane to the rear with Pfc. Ware. The company radioman was with another platoon, and Ware was to find them, leave her with them, and return to his platoon.
Before they left, Diane asked Lt. Martin "Do you want me to bring in some civilians? I know where they are."
Lt. Martin agreed to let Diane and Pfc. Ware bring nearby civilians in, as long as they made progress towards the other platoon, which was about 300 yards behind them.
As they progressed to the rear, Diane kept calling out "dete kinasai", which means: come out.
In about 5 minutes, the two had gathered in 11 peasants, including the lady who had taken her in. It was now necessary to
pretend to be Japanese once again, because if the villagers discovered Diane was American, they might do her housekeeper friend harm or not be very willing to go with Diane. So Diane whispered to Ware: "Sorry, but I have to stop speaking English. If these people think I'm not Japanese, they're liable to stop cooperating."
Ware had his doubts about her sincerity but he continued to move the group towards the other platoon.
The party of Okinawans walking in unison came towards the other platoon, except for one girl, walking off to the side. She had her left arm in a sling and walked beside the party. As she barked out directions, it was obvious that she was in charge of these people. She told the civilians to stop and raise their hands (in Japanese, of course). They complied. Next, she told them to walk slowly towards the Americans. As they moved closer, Pfc. Ware yelled "HALT!". The girl told her people to stop, and they did.
Ware went forward to a Sergeant Toomey, and told him what was going on with the civilians being brought in. He then added, "..and I think the girl with the arm in her sling is just pretending to be helpful. I don't trust her."
"Never trust a Jap." Answered Toomey.
"Anyway, Toomey, Lieutenant Martin wants this radio message sent to Battalion. I'm gonna head back." Ware gave the written message to him. Thereupon Ware turned and walked past the civilians, glaring at Diane, who only looked back without saying anything.
She then hobbled towards Toomey until she was within ten feet of him. His rifle was pointed at her belly, but she stood there, telling him, in Japanese, that these were civilians who only wanted to return to their houses and see what was left that was of any use.
"Stupid Jap! I can't understand you. Shut the hell up."
She turned silent and slowly gazed back over her right shoulder at the party. She turned again towards Toomey, giving him a patient and resigned look.
Sgt Holland stepped up and addressed Toomey: "Looks like a gaggle of hungry Japs. Toomey, check out that girl's sling, she may have something hidden in it."
Toomey did so while several of the other soldiers kept their rifles pointed at the group.
Sgt Holland radioed his higher headquarters for instructions and passed Lt. Martin's message to them. They told him to detail 3 men and walk the civilians back to Camp Kelley, the temporary location of Battalion HQ, about 2 miles south of the present locale.
Sgt Holland only had 12 men, including himself, for their mission. He had no better option, so he detailed Toomey and two others to walk the civilians back to HQ. "Toomey, take a couple of privates and walk these monkeys back to Camp Kelley. Shoot any of 'em that give you even a hint of trouble."
Diane was once again Japanese.
Sergeant Hollister knocked on Captain Davis' door.
"Sir, you better come see this."
"What is it, Sergeant?"
"Sir, Sergeant Toomey is back from patrol, and it looks like he brought half the Japanese army with him."
"They're bringing in about 100 Japs, Sir. Come see for yourself."
Sergeant Toomey and his men arrived at Camp Kelley with 4 Japanese soldiers and 98 Okinawans in custody. The Japanese soldiers all had their hands on top of their heads. They were guided by a girl with her arm in a sling. When she told them to halt, they all stopped.
Capt. Davis walked outside and observed Sgt Toomey and his men with the Japanese in tow.
When the group stopped walking, Sgt Toomey went up to Capt. Davis: "Sergeant Toomey, Sir, with 103 Japanese in custody, reporting as ordered."
Capt Davis stood there, speechless, and observing more Japanese in front of him than he had ever seen in his life. "Good work, Sergeant Toomey. …and you captured these soldiers, too? Excellent. I hope none of your men need medical attention."
"No Sir. We are fine… actually, Sir, the girl brought in the soldiers", pointing to Diane.
"SHE brought in the soldiers?"
"Yes sir. We were walking back here, and she kept calling out something in Japanese and civilians came out of the tall grass and fell into our column. Then, at one point, she suddenly dropped to the ground, and said something to us, I didn't understand… she got up and walked into the woods, and, in a few minutes, came back with the 4 prisoners you see here."
"Who is she?" asked Capt. Davis.
"I don't know, Sir, we were tasked to escort her and other civilians back to here. We picked up the others along the way."
"Yes Sir, she apparently found the soldiers and talked them into surrendering. For a Jap, she is sure helping us out a lot."
"Well, whatever, Sergeant Toomey; get the soldiers to sit down and move the civilians to behind the mess hall. We're putting up barbed wire for a detention center now, but it's for civilians. We didn't expect to take any military as prisoners. I'll get a Nisei interpreter over here from Battalion headquarters."
Sgt Toomey moved all the civilians to the area designated, except that the girl with her arm in a sling refused to move.
Capt Davis had returned to his office and didn't see the confrontation unfolding here.
"MOVE!" yelled Pvt Carter to the girl with her face all bloodied and her arm in a sling, pointing his rifle towards the mess tents.
Diane stood there, alone, saying nothing. Then, she pointed to her left arm and said "Isha", which means : doctor.
The standoff continued for about a minute, both persons repeating their words.
"Sergeant Hollister, what am I gonna do?" cried Carter. "She won't go with the others; she just stands there, pointing to her arm and saying isha."
Hollister just shook his head, thinking : "How do I manage to get in these situations?" Finally, the response dawned on him: "I think she wants to see a doctor. So, Carter, take her to the medical tent."
Pvt Carter kept his rifle pointed at Diane as he guided her to the medical tent.
Several medics were at the tent, and looked at Carter as he brought the girl to them. "What you got there? Miss Okinawa?" and they laughed loudly.
"Sergeant Hollister said to have her checked out."
"Okay, Miss Tojo, come right in and have a seat" Cpl Reed said to her.
Diane sat down and looked around at the soldiers who thought they had one of the enemy in their midst.
"I'll fill out the Sick Call Request for her, as she obviously don't speak English, right. Ah so, japnee, so solly?" teased Cpl Reed.
Diane said nothing but scowled at him.
"Look at her face, Reed. She knows what you're saying, I bet she speaks English" offered Carter.
"Fine if she does. She's not gonna get anything special from us." Reed filled out the request and carried to the physician's station for evaluation.
In a few minutes, Sergeant Carmino came forward to bring her to the doctor. "Damn, guys, she's covered with blood. Did you take her vitals? I'm surprised she can even walk. What if she needs to be on a stretcher and not in a chair?"
"I'm not gonna put any damn Jap on a stretcher when our guys might need it" rebutted another young medic.
Sgt Carmino reminded him: "She's a patient and the patient comes first." Then he motioned for Diane to follow him.
Several chairs were in a line where Japanese soldiers and civilians were being examined by army doctors for their injuries and complaints, none of which was life threatening. When Diane came forward, all stopped to look at her, as her face and the entire front of her shirt was covered with dried blood from her injury earlier.
Pvt Carter stood nearby, guarding her.
In a few minutes, Dr. Albert Smith came over, took her chart, looked at her, and said to Sgt Carmino: "What happened with this one?"
"We don't know, Sir. Apparently, she has her left arm injured."
"I can see that, Sgt, but do you know how she was hurt?"
"No, Sir, no info on her."
"Her name is ' Princess Tojo?' " asked Dr Smith, when he read her sick call form.
"Uhhh, No Sir, the guys must have been having fun with her…"
"NO FUN WITH PATIENTS! Carmino. Regardless of her nationality, she is to be treated with respect. Is that clear?"
"Now, get her cleaned up before I examine her. I want all that blood washed off."
Sgt Carmino and another medic washed her face and hair. She sat there, emotionless. When they were finished, Diane noticed an Army shirt and pointed to it and asked, in Japanese, if she could wear it. She picked it up and held it chest high. The medic said "Yeah, go ahead, it's yours." They stared at her, but she said, in clear English: "Just look the other way, guys." Diane took off her bloody shirt and tossed it aside. She then put on the Army shirt. She smiled at the two men and said "Arigato", which means "thank you".
Carmino looked at the other medic: "Did she just speak English?"
The medic didn't reply, but just stared at her.
As Dr Smith examined her and moved her wrist, she emitted small outbursts of pain, but nothing in English. He also noticed a deep cut above her left eye which had caused the severe bleeding.
"Put a splint on her wrist and put her arm back in the sling. Then send her back to where she needs to be."
Diane and her escort came back to the area where the detainees were waiting. The interrogation team had arrived and had begun to query the soldiers.
"Well, Princess, you look a lot better now that you have some clean clothes and you got that blood washed off" observed her guard.
Diane sat down without saying a word. She looked around to see where everyone she had arrived with was now located.
An Interrogation Team had set up a table and chairs outside of Captain Davis' office. The interpreter was Sergeant Yamazaki, a Nisei from Long Beach, California. Along with Captain Wilson, he was assigned to examine detainees.
Diane merely observed the questioning. She noticed that the Nisei interpreter finally got around to asking the locals, in Japanese, where army units were and what defenses had been built. Unfortunately, Sgt Yamazaki must not have realized that the Okinawans spoke a different dialect of Japanese. He was getting frustrated with his inability to make sense of the responses he was getting from the civilians.
Finally, Diane got up and walked over to the table where Sgt Yamazaki and a Capt. Wilson were seated. Yamazaki looked at her and said, in Japanese: "Go sit down."
Diane responded with "Iie", which means simply "No."
Yamazaki was startled and didn't know how to respond. He was not used to detainees acting in such a manner. Usually they were grateful not to be killed, and even more so to be fed.
Capt. Wilson asked "What's the problem?"
Yamazaki answered back: "This girl, Sir, she's a bit brash, I told her to sit down and she told me 'No'. "
Capt. Wilson turned to one of the soldiers guarding the civilians and said "Private, make that woman go sit down over there", indicating an area not directly in front of their table.
"Wait a sec, Captain, there's something about her, something's not right" replied Sgt Yamazaki.
Capt. Wilson indicated for the private to wait. "What does that mean, Sergeant?"
"Sir, look at her. She's …meaty"
"She's not scrawny like the other Okinawans. She's muscular, like she's eaten well all her life. She's also bold and dominating. Japanese women are docile, but she definitely isn't. She's also got her hair long; that's not typical Okinawan style. In fact, NO ONE in Japan wears their hair like that. I think she needs to be scrutinized closely; she doesn't fit; in fact, she might even be Japanese royalty."
Capt. Wilson looked at Diane, then back at Yamazaki, "I wonder if she was trying to hide among these people when she couldn't get back to Tokyo?'
"Could be, Sir. I just know something's not right about her; she is not Okinawan."
Diane told Sgt Yamazaki, in Japanese, that the Okinawans spoke a different dialect and they might be having problems understanding him, but she would act as interpreter.
"Well, Capt. Wilson, she more or less admits she's Japanese and not Okinawan. She speaks the mainland dialect. I think she bears checking out; she is definitely out of place."
In a short time, all the Okinawans had been moved to the area behind the mess tent. The barbed wire enclosure was still being constructed. The captured soldiers were sitting in a semi-circle about 80 yards away, in a clear area. Diane was being more thoroughly interrogated by the Team.
At that moment, Lt. Colonel Nash came to the table and said "Gentlemen, we have a problem. This morning I got a radio message from B Company that they had captured an English speaking Jap. I told them to bring him here. So far, I haven't seen such a person. Now, WHO did you interview today, that speaks English?"
"No one, Colonel, at least, not to our knowledge" said Capt Wilson.
Continued Colonel Nash: "Well then, where is this Jap? IF we don't find him, that means that somewhere between B Company and here, there's an English speaking Jap wandering around, and that's not good.
Diane took a breath in before she spoke: "Uh, Colonel Nash, I think I can clear this up. I'm probably the one you're looking for" and she raised her hand slightly in the air.
All three men stared at her, speechless.
She went on: "I was with B Company this morning: Lieutenant. Martin's men. I didn't see any Japanese that spoke English. The only Japanese they encountered were already dead."
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?" barked Lt Col Nash, more out of surprise than anger.
"You speak English?" asked Sgt Yamazaki.
"Of course I speak English; I'm an American. Lieutenant Martin's men liberated me this morning. The medic put my arm in a sling, then PFC Ware and I went to find a radio, to send you a message that I was on my way here."
"Liberated?" You're an American?" questioned the Colonel.
"Yes, I really truly am" and she offered her passport to them for examination. "I've been hiding on this island for almost 4 years."
The men looked over the passport and looked at her, repeatedly. This event was totally outside their consciousness of possibilities. Finding an American girl on Japanese soil was most unlikely. Finding an American that was fluent in Japanese was unbelievable.
"Why didn't you speak English earlier?" asked Capt Wilson.
"Because the Japanese soldiers and locals need to believe that
I'm one of them. They never would have come in if they knew or even suspected I was an American. Even now, the woman I lived with here is in difficult circumstances, if her neighbors are anti-american. However, gentlemen, you are actually quite fortunate."
"Fortunate? How so?" shot back Col. Nash.
"As the Okinawans are not considered Japanese and have been mistreated by them, they tend to be more cooperative and less resistant to American presence, than on the main Islands. They are mostly just scared of being in a war, and don't want to be on either side. Most of them are not fanatics who will willingly die for the Emperor." Diane went on to explain some of the history of Okinawa, and also customs and language differences.
"So, you're a college professor, lecturing me on the culture of Okinawa? This is either the most fantastic lie someone has dreamed up in this war, or you're telling the truth," stated Col. Nash.
"Colonel, I've already proved myself this morning. Ask Lt. Martin. If I were Japanese, I wouldn't have been around the bridge, but in hiding with the others."
The Colonel sent a messenger to Lt. Martin's platoon to bring back someone to confirm her story.
While they waited, Diane and the Interpreting Team talked about the War and how the end was near. "So, you've been here ever since Pearl Harbor?" asked Sgt Yamazaki?
"What's Pearl Harbor?"
The two men filled Diane in on many things she had missed out on.
Finally, the messenger returned with Pfc. Ware, who confirmed her story, and that Lt. Martin was convinced that she was truly an American.
Lt Colonel Nash invited Diane into his office, and spoke: "You are a very brave young woman. What you did was incredible. I thank you very much, although we did want the bridge intact, that's a minor difficulty. What could I do to make your visit here
more comfortable ?"
"Well, Colonel, I'd love to eat some American food, for starters. Then, I'd like to go home."
In the next several days, Diane became a familiar face in camp. The civilians were released and allowed to return to their homes. Diane obtained an army uniform, and wore it after modifying it. At night, she slept in a tent. In the daytime, she helped translate documents, as she was more adept at it than Sgt. Yamazaki. She ate every meal with the troops, and she became a familiar sight. All knew of her "combat action" and were proud to have her with them. The number of Japanese she killed and the trucks she destroyed increased with each passing day, as more and more, her story went from shore to ship to shore, and back again.
Word of her exploits made the rounds, and went up the chain of command. A reporter from Stars and Stripes arrived to interview her and take photos. He also brought her some WAC clothing.
Major General David Brand sent a note to Lt. Colonel Nash, requesting that Diane stay on until the war was over, as there was a desperate need for Japanese speakers by the Allied forces. She agreed, reluctantly, but insisted that a letter be sent to her family, informing them that she was alive and thriving on American food.
When Lt. Colonel Nash's battalion was sent forward, she went with them, helping to strike tents, carry boxes, and load trucks, as much as she could, until her wrist was completely healed. The men respected her, not only for that, but also that she had seen combat and shed her blood for her country.
The soldiers would say, "Diane, you deserve a Purple Heart; you gave your blood for your country."
She would give a faint smile and reply: "Yeah, a gift from the heart."
She continued on to Japan with the Regiment, assisting in the Occupation by providing interpreter services.
************ End of Chapter One *********************
Diane returned to the USA in late October, of that year, having sailed on a ship from Japan to Hawaii, then on to San Francisco on another ship. She declined to take a plane, as she said there were soldiers who should be on a plane going home, and she was content to give up her seat and take a ship.
Despite the many unfriendly looks she received on her return to the USA, she held her head high and proudly, for she had done so much for her country.
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1945, Diane was invited by the Fifth Army Commander to attend an Awards Ceremony on the Parade Ground at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
After awards were handed out to U.S. Army personnel, the final recipient was called forth from the crowd of civilians.
"The following individual, front and center: Diane Joan Nakamura".
Diane rose from her seat and with an army sergeant escorting her, made her way to a position in front of the Post Commander.
"ATTENTION TO ORDERS:
The President of the United States takes great pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Diane Joan Nakamura, for her actions in support of the United States Army during the Battle of Okinawa.
On the morning of April 11, 1945, on the island of Okinawa, Diane Nakamura, an American civilian from San Antonio, Texas, did, of her own choosing, expose herself to great danger from enemy soldiers. Acting alone and behind enemy lines, she attacked a column of Japanese vehicles, destroyed two trucks, killed several of the enemy, and halted the column, causing it to be delayed and flee in another direction from approaching troops of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 305th Infantry Regiment. She continued to resist the enemy until her wounds rendered her unable to continue the fight. This action was instrumental in helping the 305th Regiment achieve their goals, going far beyond what would be expected of a civilian in a combat zone. Miss Nakamura is a credit to both herself and her country. For this action, Diane Nakamura is hereby awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, for gallantry in action against an armed enemy of the United States.
"President of the United States"
The award was handed to her somewhat awkwardly. Then,
the speaker continued:
"ATTENTION TO ORDERS!
On the date of April 11, 1945, Diane Nakamura, an American civilian on Okinawa, while in the company of American soldiers of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 305th Infantry Regiment, detected and approached a group of armed Japanese troops who had infiltrated behind allied lines. Seriously injured, blinded in her left eye and with her left arm broken and a severe laceration to one knee, she confronted the enemy troops and persuaded them to surrender. This was an extremely hazardous action on her part, which, fortunately, did not result in any casualties. Gaining custody of the enemy soldiers, she turned them over to troops of the 2nd Battalion, 305th Infantry Regiment. For unusual valor at the extreme risk of personal harm, Diane Nakamura is hereby awarded the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star.*
(* Diane had already been awarded a Silver Star by the Marines on Okinawa. See "Marine for a Day")
Major General David Brand, XV Corps, Commanding
ATTENTION TO ORDERS: SPECIAL ORDERS!
During the period of May 11, 1945 to August 15, 1945, Diane Nakamura, an American civilian from San Antonio, Texas, was a major asset in translating documents and guiding American troops in their tasks, due to her intimate knowledge of the Japanese language, and her knowledge of local geography and customs in the operational area of the 305th Infantry Regiment. Disregarding her personal wishes to return to the United States, Miss Nakamura continued to assist Allied forces until all operational objectives were met in the Okinawa Campaign. For her assistance, Miss Nakamura is hereby awarded an Honorary Army Commendation Medal, with all rights and privileges appertaining thereunto.
Lieutenant General Robert L. Swiss, 7th Army,Commanding
ATTENTION TO ORDERS
On April 11th, 1945, during the invasion of Okinawa, Diane Nakamura, an American civilian, was behind Japanese lines, destroying a bridge. Several Japanese trucks appeared and drove onto the bridge, which collapsed. An ensuing explosion seriously injured Miss Nakamura, rendering her unconscious with severe head and body wounds. She was found by elements of the 305th Infantry Regiment, who transported her to their Medical Support Battalion. As a result of being wounded during conflict with an armed enemy of the United States, Diane Nakamura is hereby awarded the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Purple Heart.
Major General David Brand, XV Corps, Commanding"
In addition, she was awarded the World War Two Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the American Campaign Medal, in addition to medals awarded to her previously. She was also made an honorary member of the 305th Infantry Regiment, making her the most decorated civilian of World War II.
She gracefully accepted the awards, then quietly returned to the house where her father lived, in San Antonio. The medals were put away and never looked at again for years.
Diane lived a quiet life for many years: she married and raised two sons but never saw a need for discussing her time on Okinawa. She died on February 14, 1985, and was buried in Our Lady of the Lake Cemetery in her home town of San Antonio.