CHAPTER FIVE: MARINE FOR A DAY
It was June 8th, 1945 on Okinawa. The Marines had broken the main lines of Japanese resistance but there were still lots of enemy soldiers scattered here and there; the island was not yet secure. As the Marines patrolled some areas and the Army others, lines were distinct on maps but not always on the ground. A Marine patrol might very well come into an Army zone.
Diane Nakamura, a civilian translator for the U.S. Army, was on her way back to 7th Army Headquarters, where she served on General Robert Eichelberger's staff as his top translator. She grew up speaking Japanese but she was thoroughly an American girl, caught behind enemy lines when the War broke out. She had been at the interrogation center of the 305th Infantry Regiment, assisting Nisei whose Japanese-speaking ability was not always as proficient as desired.
Driving along a muddy road near Tsuyuma, Diane's driver, Private First Class Dwayne Hopkins of Yakima, Washington, mentioned to Diane that the Jeep was very hard to steer. He pulled over and noticed one of the front tires was flat. "We've got a flat." So they both took the spare off the mount, and began changing the tire.
Just as the lug nuts were loosened, a Pop-Pop and then even more pops broke out very close to them. It was the sound of a nearby firefight, as you could distinctly hear the Garands and the Arisakas. Once you're shot at, you never forget the sound of what the enemy small arms sound like. Diane and her driver dove for cover. They slowly stood up when they realized no one was shooting at them but the firefight was coming from a nearby gulley.
"Someone's in trouble," yelled Hopkins. "We gotta go help 'em out! I hear a bunch of Jap rifles and only a few Garands."
Diane grabbed her Thompson submachine gun, which was easier for her to carry than a Garand. She was nervous and did not want to walk into the middle of hot lead. The two ran erratically towards a nearby gulley, which more or less ran parallel to the road.
When they got near the edge of the gulley, the two crouched behind a mound of dirt where they could see fifty yards or more up and down the gulley. All the soldiers and Marines shooting at each other were in the gulley. Diane and her driver had the high point.
Diane and Hopkins saw a squad of 4 Marines about 35 yards away from them, firing at the enemy. Two Marines were down, and they were all crouched behind or beside any protection they could find. North up the gulley were about 10 Japanese soldiers firing at the Marines. Diane peeked South along the gulley and saw 5 Japanese outflanking the Marines at a point where the Marines could not see them; they were going to close the pincers and wipe out the Americans.
Not a moment to lose, Diane said to Hopkins, "You give fire support to the Marines," pointing north, "and I'm going to try and stop those Japs from getting behind them."
Diane had the Japanese dead in her sights; they did not see her and felt safe as they skulked behind the trapped Marines. She yelled in her loudest and clearest voice in Japanese: "Charge, kill them!"
The Japs were surprised but obeyed orders. Now they were totally exposed, away from all cover. The Marines thought more Japs had arrived, and wondered how much longer they could hold on.
Diane squeezed the trigger of her Thompson and three Sons of Heaven flew backwards as bullets struck them. The other two kept charging the Marines and she squeezed again and killed them too. Hopkins was now firing rapidly at the other group of soldiers, and the Marines realized that help had arrived.
Diane redirected her fire at the first group of Japanese soldiers and shot at least one. Suddenly the tables were turned and the Japs were now on the defensive. The firing from the main group of the enemy slackened as they took stock of the situation.
Hopkins yelled to the Marines, "Come on; get up here!" He kept firing at the far end of the gulley.
The Marines carried their casualties to a protected area then crawled up out of the gulley. Diane and Hopkins kept up a steady fire. Once out of the gulley, the unwounded Marines poured hot lead at the enemy. This was too much for the Nipponese and they broke contact and moved away from the gulley; they thought a platoon of Americans were now fighting them in addition to the Marines.
Silence! Always unnatural silence after a firefight. The birds had fled the area. The Sons of Heaven had left, too; they had felt out the lines of the Americans and were returning to their lines to make a report.
"Man, I was never so glad in my life to see an Army uniform" said Lance Corporal Burt Jennings, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, "You saved our necks… Hey where's the rest of your guys?"
Hopkins responded with, "Just us", nodding his head at Diane.
"A Jap girl? Where did you find her?" added Jennings. He stared in astonishment at Diane.
"Let's get your men taken care of, Marine, "answered Diane.
"We've got one wounded and one KIA," Said Private Allen Moore, USMC.
"Well, let's get the hell out of here" barked Diane, "before more Japs come back."
The group put the spare tire on, and loaded everyone aboard the Jeep, as Hopkins headed for the nearest Army aid station he knew of.
On the way there, Diane held the hand of the deceased Marine. She began sobbing, "Dear dear Marine, oh life is so fleeting. I never knew you but I shall always remember you. Duty called and you made the ultimate sacrifice."
Lance Corporal Jennings was stunned by all this: a Jap girl firing a weapon and killing other Japs, then she cries over a dead Marine, and speaks perfect English? Am I in a nightmare?
Hopkins broke the silence with "Diane, I've never seen you cry before. Did you know him?"
"No, Dwayne; it's just that I've never seen or been so close to an American casualty before. Just a few minutes ago, he was alive and breathing, and now….." and she cried quietly.
The Marines stared but kept their silence. They too were upset over the death of their comrade, but wondering why this girl cared so much they could not grasp.
In a few minutes, they arrived at a Battalion Aid Station where the wounded Marine was offloaded first. The deceased Marine was also taken into the tent, in case he still had a spark of life in him.
The other Marines and Diane and Hopkins stood around, waiting for the doctors to give them some news.
Private Moore was determined to find out who this girl was, carrying a submachine gun and ordering the Army guy around. "What's the deal, Miss Tokyo? You decided to join the winning team while your country is blown to smithereens?"
Diane gave Moore a sharp look, but Jennings stepped between them. He spoke, "Moore, we don't know who or what she is. Anyone that runs to a firefight and kills Jap soldiers isn't a Jap." He turned to Diane, "Whoever you are, we thank you for your help. You're a very brave young woman and the Army guy is brave too."
Hopkins volunteered, "Diane is a translator for General Eichelberger. We were on our way back to Regimental HQ when we had to stop and change the tire. Lucky for you that we had a flat, eh?"
"Translator? Then you are a Jap?" Questioned Jennings.
"No, I hate Japs" Diane admitted. Then with a more serious demeanor, she explained, "I was stuck on this island when the war broke out. To be honest, I'm a guerilla fighter, but no longer behind Jap lines; now I'm attached to the 305th. I was born and raised in San Antonio and I'd rather be there than here, but, hey, if I can shorten the war by a day or two, or even an hour, I'll do what I can." It didn't occur to Diane to explain to the Marines that she was an American of Japanese descent, or a Nisei, or a "jap"; in her mind, she was an American, no other words necessary in the description.
"Well, whoever you are, you did a fantastic job," was Jennings' answer to her brief autobiography.
Diane now started shaking. She put out her hand and steadied herself with Hopkins holding her arm.
"Hey, Diane, you okay?" asked Hopkins.
"Yeah, I'm just now feeling the adrenalin."
Jennings assured her that a post-firefight shaking was quite normal, even for a seasoned vet.
Diane and Hopkins resumed their trip. The unwounded Marines had to wait about an hour until their unit sent a vehicle to pick them up. It seems they strayed into the Army zone but it turned out to be a good thing because a reconnaissance team of Japanese soldiers was detected and turned back.
Later that day, when a Marine platoon returned to the gulley, they found blood spots but no dead Japanese. The enemy had already carried off their casualties.
Lance Corporal Jennings told his captain about the brave American girl, but the captain brushed it off with doubtful remarks, such as "she was just there, a guide; she didn't shoot anyone. She's not going to shoot her own people."
A few days later, a report arrived from General Eichelberger's headquarters to the commander of the Sixth Marine Division, which was forwarded to the 22nd Marine Regiment, concerning the shootout at the gulley, which included both USMC and US Army personnel. The report suggested that Diane Nakamura's role be explained in detail as the action was in the Army's area of control.
The Marine Regimental commander requested reports from all the Marines in his command who had been there. It seemed the actions of a young civilian woman were worthy of mention. As a result, and as these things take time, she was nominated for a Silver Star, to be awarded on 3 September, 1945, one day after the official signing of the Japanese surrender.
Diane received an invitation to the ceremony, held at the Marine Barracks near Atsugi airfield, outside Tokyo. Most people had no idea who she was or why she was there. She was called to the front of the formation and the citation read:
"ATTENTION TO ORDERS
On June 8th, 1945, near the town of Tsuyuma, Okinawa, Diane Joan Nakamura, a civilian translator for the Army, and her driver were servicing their disabled vehicle. Hearing sounds of a battle nearby, they grabbed their weapons and proceeded to the center of action. A firefight was had broken out between a Japanese patrol and a U.S. Marine patrol, both finding each other in the same place at the same time.
Arriving at the scene, Miss Nakamura fired her weapon at a flanking squad of five Japanese soldiers, killing all of them. Then, she turned her weapon on the main group of the enemy, situated about 50 yards north of the Marine patrol, killing several more.
With the increased firing from Miss Nakamura and her driver, the Japanese broke contact. Immediately, the Marines were extricated from the gulley and taken to a nearby Army Battalion Aid Station.
For her selfless and aggressive actions which led to the rescue of the Marine patrol, Diane Nakamura is hereby awarded a Silver Star from the United States Marine Corps,
By order of Harold J. Perkins, Colonel, Regimental Commander, 22nd Marine Regiment, Sixth Marine Division,
Dated 3 September, 1945"
Diane accepted the award, and then returned to her vehicle and was driven back to her own area. Never again did Diane spend any time with active Marine units. She might have made a really good Lady Marine.