Surrenders Rise on Okinawa, June 1945

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 484-485, 519-520, 548-550:

In mid-June, a week before the official end of the campaign, Japanese began surrendering in sizable numbers. Until then, the average had been four men daily. Many American companies fought for eight or ten weeks without taking a single prisoner. Many saw no enemy soldiers at all apart from dead – certainly never saw one try to surrender or allow himself to be taken unless he was physically or mentally disabled by bombs or artillery shells. But the 32nd Army’s teetering morale [after their withdrawal from the Shuri Line] began going over the edge in some units whose last lines of communication were gone. White flags, or substitutes, became a common sight….

The daily average rose from the four in mid-June to fifty during the third week of the month, soaring to 343 on June 19 alone, a huge number by Japanese standards. One four-man patrol captured 150 prisoners after their officers bowed, surrendered their swords, shot some Okinawan women who had been accompanying them, and killed themselves. In all, almost three thousand Japanese were taken prisoner during the second half of June, about a third of the number killed during the same period….

Such surrenders were new in Japanese history. Although the percentage remained very slight in relation to those killed in action, the absolute count leaped to nearly a thousand – probably half of them conscripted Okinawans – on June 20 and 21. That was the number of prisoners taken. The number shot will never be known….

It is worth repeating that Japanese who wanted to capitulate faced perhaps a greater chance of of being killed by Japanese bullets than American, and General Buckner’s men came to realize that when they saw Japanese throw grenades at other Japanese who carried surrender leaflets. One Japanese lieutenant who had graduated from an Ivy League college gave himself up with one of his sergeants. Soon a sniper started firing, apparently more at them than at the Marines to whom they surrendered. The Japanese calmly took the fire until one of the Marines to whom they surrendered told “you dumb bastards” to take cover, whereon they did what they were ordered and were saved.

Language provided moments of comic relief. At one large cave thought to contain natives [Okinawans], bullhorns insistently blared that no one with his hands up would be hurt. “We’re sorry for you civilians, so please come out right now.” Finally, women, children and old men did emerge. The cave mouth was on a slope below a small plateau. Gripping his weapon in one hand, a Marine Hercules stood above the mouth to snatch the civilians with the other and lift them, one by one, to level ground. “Up you go, Mac.” “That’s right, Mac, out you come.” When a Japanese [soldier] appeared at the mouth, the trigger fingers of the Marine fire team instantly tightened on their rifles and automatics. “Easy, Mac, no trouble – okay?” proposed the big Marine. “My name’s not Mac,” the Japanese soldier answered in startlingly clear English. “My name’s Yoshio and I’d rather be in Texas, where I should be.” To the astonishment of the watchers, who included General Lemuel Shepherd, commander of the 6th Marine Division, Yoshio explained that he had traveled from his San Antonio home to visit Japanese relatives in 1941. This was his first friendly contact with Americans since Pearl Harbor stranded him in Japan, where he had been drafted.

Kojo finally reached his cave on some high ground about five miles north of Shuri in the dark of an early September night. Overjoyed to see each other alive, the two twenty-four-year-old captains held hands while Shimura announced he was going to surrender that morning. The war, he explained, was over; Japan had been defeated.

Kojo went into shock. Staring at Shimura, he thought of his months of hunger, misery, and frantic efforts to stay alive in order to reach his trusted comrade. When he fought off his faintness, he still could not formulate an answer. Shimura quietly elaborated that he felt he must obey the Emperor’s will and an Imperial order. “You’re right,” Kojo replied at last. “You have three hundred men to feed and you should surrender. But I’m responsible only for myself. I’m going on alone.” Part of him believed that Japan was defeated; a stronger part could not accept it….

More months passed in the dark of various caves. Later in the autumn, Okinawa’s civilians freed from their internment ventured into one of them. Kojo almost shot them for trying to persuade the men to surrender, but he realized other civilians would report them sooner or later. Sure enough, a jeep appeared before he had time to find another hiding place. The search party consisted of an American driver, two Nisei interpreters and a Japanese officer using an assumed Okinawan name. They spoke in a friendly way about the end of the war and the folly of further resistance. Kojo stood apart when a second visit convinced most inhabitants of the cave they would not be killed if they submitted. The men had an absolute right to surrender, but he had his own code.

However, something intrigued him about an enemy who conducted himself without the slightest hint of a victor’s haughtiness or display of superiority, even in weaponry. Maybe the truck that accompanied the jeep hid a machine gun, but the curiously relaxed Americans didn’t carry even pistols. Kojo had never seen a “blue-eyed devil” outside of combat…

He was prepared for Americans flourishing guns and for insults to his honor. He would have shot anyone like that who entered the cave, then shot himself – but would such a display make sense now? The first party had asked the stragglers to please give up their weapons. Some now did; others had buried theirs. Kojo told himself it was the responsibility of the senior Japanese present to observe closely. He inched closer. Then, in a kind of daze, he handed his pistol to an American lieutenant outside – which the latter returned, asking him to unload it. Was he an enemy or a wiser man? Kojo’s realization of how easily he could have shot the lieutenant forced him to accept that the war had ended. He returned the pistol to the American, who invited him into the jeep. After five months of nocturnal existence, the sunlight blinded him. When the men were in the truck, all were driven to a military police post and [given] cigarettes, then to a POW camp in the north.

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