Thomas Taro Higa

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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.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Okinawa Prefecture Prefecture of Japan

Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It encompasses two thirds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long. The Ryukyu Islands extend southwest from Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu to Taiwan. Naha, Okinawa's capital, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military. With its forerunner, the Badge of Military Merit, which took the form of a heart made of purple cloth, the Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to U.S. military members – the only earlier award being the obsolete Fidelity Medallion. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is located in New Windsor, New York.


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 1900's, 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.

Honolulu State capital city in Hawaii, United States

Honolulu is the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi. It is an unincorporated part of and the county seat of the City and County of Honolulu along the southeast coast of the island of Oʻahu. The city is the main gateway to Hawaiʻi and a major portal into the United States. The city is also a major hub for international business, military defense, as well as famously being host to a diverse variety of east-west and Pacific culture, cuisine, and traditions.

Japanese 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.

Shimabukuro or Shimabuku is a Japanese surname from Okinawa. Notable people with the surname include:


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.

Osaka Designated city in Kansai, Japan

Osaka is a designated city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and the largest component of the Keihanshin Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan and among the largest in the world with over 19 million inhabitants. Osaka will host Expo 2025. The current mayor of Osaka is Hirofumi Yoshimura.

Wakayama Prefecture Prefecture of Japan

Wakayama Prefecture is a prefecture of Japan on the Kii Peninsula in the Kansai region on Honshū island. The capital is the city of Wakayama.

University of Tokyo national research university in Tokyo, Japan

The University of Tokyo, abbreviated as Todai or UTokyo, is a public research university located in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan. Established in 1877 as the first imperial university, it is one of Japan's most prestigious universities.


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.

Kerosene lamp

A kerosene lamp is a type of lighting device that uses kerosene as a fuel. Invented by the Polish pharmacist Ignacy Łukasiewicz in 1853, kerosene lamps have a wick or mantle as light source, protected by a glass chimney or globe; lamps may be used on a table, or hand-held lanterns may be used for portable lighting. Like oil lamps, they are useful for lighting without electricity, such as in regions without rural electrification, in electrified areas during power outages, at campsites, and on boats. There are three types of kerosene lamp: flat-wick, central-draught, and mantle lamp. Kerosene lanterns meant for portable use have a flat wick and are made in dead-flame, hot-blast, and cold-blast variants.

Electric generator device that converts other energy to electrical energy

In electricity generation, a generator is a device that converts motive power into electrical power for use in an external circuit. Sources of mechanical energy include steam turbines, gas turbines, water turbines, internal combustion engines and even hand cranks. The first electromagnetic generator, the Faraday disk, was invented in 1831 by British scientist Michael Faraday. Generators provide nearly all of the power for electric power grids.

Waseda University Private university in Tokyo, Japan

Waseda University, abbreviated as Sōdai (早大), is a Japanese private research university in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Founded in 1882 as the Tōkyō Senmon Gakkō by Ōkuma Shigenobu, the school was formally renamed Waseda University in 1902.

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.

100th Infantry Battalion (United States)

The 100th Infantry Battalion is the only infantry unit in the United States Army Reserve. In World War II, the then-primarily Nisei battalion was composed largely of former members of the Hawaii Army National Guard. The 100th saw heavy combat during World War II, starting in September 1943 and continuing after being attached as a battalion of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, another mostly Nisei military unit, in June 1944. The unit was unofficially nicknamed the Purple Heart Battalion, with the motto "Remember Pearl Harbor" and "Go for Broke", which was later adopted by other Japanese-American units. Based at Fort Shafter, Honolulu, Hawaii, the 100th Battalion continues the legacy of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, officially designated as 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry Regiment. The 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry Regiment has maintained an alignment with the active 25th Infantry Division since a reorganization in 1972. This alignment has resulted in the 100th's mobilization for combat duty in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. The 100th Infantry Battalion is staffed with reservists from Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. In 2014, under the U.S. Army's new "Associated Units" program, the 100th Infantry Battalion has been aligned under the Regular Army's 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, under the 25th Infantry Division.

Japanese American Citizens League organization

The Japanese American Citizens League is an Asian American civil rights charity, headquartered in San Francisco, with regional offices across the United States.

Internment imprisonment or confinement of groups of people without trial

Internment is the imprisonment of people, commonly in large groups, without charges or intent to file charges, and thus no trial. The term is especially used for the confinement "of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects". Thus, while it can simply mean imprisonment, it tends to refer to preventive confinement, rather than confinement after having been convicted of some crime. Use of these terms is subject to debate and political sensitivities.

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.

Brigadier General Kendall “Wooch” Jordan Fielder was an influential World War II veteran, who settled in Hawaii, and testified before Congress in favor of statehood. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, then Lieutenant Colonel Fielder was the U.S. Army G-2 Chief of Intelligence and Security, under Col. Walter C. Phillips.


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



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]

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