Thomas Taro Higa

Last updated

Thomas Taro Higa (September 22, 1916 – February 11, 1985) was a wartime hero both in the United States and Okinawa. He earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star. In 2015, NHK produced the docudrama Nikkeijin Who Saved Okinawa (沖縄を救った日系人, okinawa wo sukutta nikkeijin) in Higa's memory.

Contents

Early life

Thomas Taro Higa was born on September 22, 1916 in Honolulu, Hawaii to immigrant parents Kana and Kamezo Higa. He was the third child of twelve children. During the early 1900s, many people from Okinawa and western Japan would immigrate to Hawaii in hopes of creating a lifestyle as "immigrant laborers." Their goal was to work hard and return to home with honor. Higa's parents did not have time to rear their children, so they sent the children that were born in Hawaii back to Okinawa entrusted by close relatives. Higa was sent with his older brother and older sister to their ancestral home in Shimabukuro, Kitanakagusuku, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa-Ken and was raised by his grandparents until he was 9 years old.

Career

After childhood, Thomas Higa went with his cousin and his cousin's wife and children to Osaka to fulfill his cousin's dream of living in a new land. Higa's first job was at a store called the Daimaru Shoten in Nomura-cho, which was owned by someone from Wakayama Prefecture. [1] Higa then left to work as a "live-in" apprentice at a wholesale cosmetics store called Horikoshi Kotetsu Sha which was owned by an Imperial University graduate from Toyama Prefecture. He was also employed at Fuji Denro Kogyo Ltd. under Yasutaro Goto, which manufactured iron hardening kilns for military use. Back in Hawaii, Higa's father had a large farm and needed more help. Higa returned to Hawaii when he was old enough to help.

Invention

Thomas Higa first became interested in electricity when he first read about it at the Horikoshi Kotetsu Sha. When he came back to Hawaii, he wanted to replace the kerosene lamps with an electric generator. He created this generator by utilizing the water from the stream by his house to power it. He used waste materials and an abandoned car to create a generator for his house. Word spread and Professor Tadaoki Yamamoto, the Department Chairman of the Faculty of Science & Engineering at the Waseda University, came to meet Higa and asked him to come to Japan and study. Since then, he completed 15 other inventions and applied for several patents at the Patent Bureau in Tokyo. He often had to go to the American Embassy to prove his American citizenship.

World War II

During World War II he served in the 100th Infantry Battalion for the United States Army, where he received a Purple Heart after being shot while serving in Italy. From June 1944 to January 1945 he was sponsored by the United States Army Relocation Authorities and Japanese American Citizens League to go on a seven-month lecture tour to 75 relocation camps throughout the United States. The purpose of the speaking tour was to raise awareness and gain support for Japanese American troops.

Since Higa was able to speak English, Japanese and Okinawan, he was a valuable asset to the United States military. General Kendall J. Fielder asked Higa to go to Okinawa during World War II to help convince the people of Okinawa to come out of the caves and surrender because Higa would be able to make a personal connection with them. Higa risked his own life entering these caves unarmed and saved several villages. After the war, Higa helped with efforts to rebuild Okinawa, sending pigs donated from Hawaii to replenish their depleted stock. In May 1983, Higa was honored by the Okinawan government for his contributions to the Okinawan people during and after the war in the Pacific.

Marriage

Higa married Toshiko Chinen on November 22, 1945 in Kauai where his wife was born. Higa was first introduced to Chinen after she wrote a letter of encouragement to him. She frequently wrote him letters and he had hoped to meet her in person. She would write about her family and friends in Okinawa and soon they wrote about their health and more personal stories. They developed a relationship and decided to wed as soon as Higa would return home from the war. This was a large gamble because they had never even seen each other before. Higa was doubting the marriage until he received a letter from his previous teacher who wrote, "An evil may sometimes turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Do not feel downhearted. One's mental power controls his bodily condition. Let your mental strength heal your wounds. I have no doubt that you can do this." [1] This letter was dated on December 18, 1943 and two years later he married Toshiko Chinen.

Thomas Taro Higa died on February 11, 1985 in Honolulu, Hawaii. [2]

Post-World War II effort

Contributions

Awards

Thomas Higa was also the recipient of the Silver Star for his great and brave service to the United States Army during World War II. The honor was awarded for his action during heavy fire in Italy on November 5, 1943. Higa was wounded from the back but continued to aid his fellow soldiers by carrying two men to a sheltered area. He then went back into the war zone to offer more aid. The heroic acts of Thomas Higa exemplifies the significance behind the honor of the Silver Star. [3]

Related Research Articles

Japanese in Hawaii The history of Japanese people in Hawaii

The Japanese in Hawaii are the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii. At their height in 1920, they constituted 43% of Hawaii's population. They now number about 16.7% of the islands' population, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The U.S. Census categorizes mixed-race individuals separately, so the proportion of people with some Japanese ancestry is likely much larger.

The Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California, commemorates Japanese Americans who served in the United States Army during World War II. It was created by Los Angeles architect Roger M. Yanagita whose winning design was selected over 138 other submissions from around the world.

People from Japan began emigrating to the U.S. in significant numbers following the political, cultural, and social changes stemming from the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Japanese immigration to the Americas started with immigration to Hawaii in the first year of the Meiji period in 1868.

Shinyei Nakamine United States Army Medal of Honor recipient

Shinyei Nakamine was a United States Army soldier. He is best known for receiving the Medal of Honor because of his actions in World War II.

Yeiki Kobashigawa

Yeiki Kobashigawa was a soldier in United States Army. He is best known for receiving the Medal of Honor in World War II.

Military Intelligence Service (United States)

The Military Intelligence Service was a World War II U.S. military unit consisting of two branches, the Japanese American unit and the German-Austrian unit based at Camp Ritchie, best known as the "Ritchie Boys". The unit described here was primarily composed of Nisei who were trained as linguists. Graduates of the MIS language school (MISLS) were attached to other military units to provide translation, interpretation, and interrogation services.

Teruto Tsubota

Teruto "Terry" Tsubota was a second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) and a former United States Marine. Born in Pahoa, Hawaii, Tsubota was credited with valiantly saving hundreds of civilian lives while serving as a Military Intelligence Service (MIS) combat translator with the 6th Marine Division during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, when he was attached to the 4th Marine Regiment.

Masami Chinen was an Okinawan martial arts master who formed Yamani ryu. He taught Bōjutsu privately at his home in the village of Tobaru, in Shuri, Okinawa.

Gikaku Steere Noda was a Japanese American politician, lawyer, and baseball player in the State of Hawaii.

Yōen jihō, also known as Koloa Times, was a Japanese language newspaper published from Koloa, Kauai County, Hawaii. The first issue of the publication was issued on February 2, 1921. It was launched by the Kaua'i branch of the Federation of Japanese Labor in the aftermath of the 1920 sugar strike.

Kendall J. Fielder U.S. Army Brigadier General

Brigadier General Kendall “Wooch” Jordan Fielder was an influential World War II officer in the United States Army, who served in Hawaii at the time United States' entry into World War II, and testified before Congress in favor of statehood.

Masaji Marumoto was the first Japanese American Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii. He served from 1956 to 1973. He was the first Japanese American to graduate from Harvard Law School, and the first Japanese American to serve as president of the Hawaii Bar Association.

Wilfred Chomatsu "Tsuky" Tsukiyama(築山長松) was an attorney, Territorial Senator, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii. He was the first Japanese American elected to the Territorial Senate of Hawaii, and the first to serve as a state Supreme Court Justice in the United States.

Shunzo Sakamaki was a Japanese studies professor at the University of Hawaii. Sakamaki Hall, where the History department at the University of Hawaii is housed, was built after his death and named in his honor.

Takie Okumura(奥村 多喜衛) was a Christian minister from Japan. He was the founder of the Makiki Christian Church in Honolulu, Hawaii, the "Okumura Boys and Girls Home", and some of Hawaii's first Japanese language schools.

Seikan Higa(比嘉静観) was a Methodist minister who was active in Hawaii. He was the first Okinawan minister to practice there.

The Okinawans in Hawaii are a Ryukyuan ethnic group, numbering anywhere between 45,000-50,000 people, or 3% of Hawaii’s total population.

Chinyei Kinjo (金城珍栄)(December 21, 1899 – March 3, 1987) was an Okinawan journalist. He ran the Yoen jiho for most of its 49-year history.

Tetsuo Toyama was an Okinawan journalist.

References

  1. 1 2 Memoirs of a Certain Nisei
  2. "Thomas Taro Higa | Densho Encyclopedia". encyclopedia.densho.org. Retrieved 2018-08-04.
  3. Valor awards for Thomas Higa | Military Times Hall of Valor