News: Living by his father's words
Story by Lance Cpl. Daniel Flynn
By Daniel Flynn
III Marine Expeditionary Force
GINOWAN CITY, OKINAWA, Japan - "War is not only shooting and killing, but saving lives."
These were the last words Terry Tsubota's father spoke to him before he left for war. And the spirit of these words would guide his actions then, and they do today.
Terry Tsubota was 22 years old when he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve as a Japanese translator during World War II.
He was born in Pahoa, Hawaii, July 28, 1922, to a Hawaiian mother and Japanese father. Growing up, Tsubota attended a Japanese American High School where he learned to speak English and Japanese.
Following the invasion of Pearl Harbor, Tsubota would leave his job at a local grocery store and fight for the United States -- as his father would have him.
Tsubota underwent basic training in Halemanu, Wahiawa, in central Awahu. After graduating and completing translator school, he embarked on a journey that would lead him directly into the Battle of Okinawa.
Tsubota initially embarked aboard USS Osage for Guadalcanal. Upon arrival, he was assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division. It was with these Marines that Tsubota would share the hardships of war.
His unit soon boarded USS Catskill and headed west to Okinawa.
According to Tsubota, he was one of only five translators to come ashore on Okinawa during the battle. One of the main duties of the translators was to help clear caves of Japanese soldiers in the waning days of the battle.
Tsubota's and other translators would stand at the mouth of a cave where enemy combatants were believed to be hiding and, with a loud speaker, order those inside to surrender.
But remembering the words of his father, Tsubota often dared to go a bit further and entered the caves. He would try and persuade anyone in the cave to surrender to avoid being killed.
According to Tsubota, following the demand for surrender U.S. forces would systematically destroy the caves with explosives to prevent Japanese soldiers from escaping or using the complex cave network to mount a counter attack.
In recounting one event, Tsubota said he arrived at a cave and knew immediately there were people inside because of how quiet it was. He said caves would usually buzz with the sounds of insects if empty.
Tsubota removed his blouse to prove he was unarmed and entered the cave not knowing the impact his actions would have on the lives of the innocent people inside.
While inside, Tsubota recalled hearing the explosions of nearby caves being destroyed. He knew if there was anyone inside the cave, they would have to be brought out quickly.
It was then Tsubota discovered approximately 20 civilians in the cave pretending to be dead to escape what they believed would be certain death if discovered by the American soldiers. After Tsubota pleaded with them to come out, convincing them they were safe, they exited the cave. One small girl who was so scared she could not move, had to be carried out, he said.
But not all Tsubota's stories end as well. Even now, 63 years later, he still has a bit of trouble reliving some memories.
"A week after the surrender of Okinawa ..." Tsubota begins to say, but then pauses and glances back at two swords, one slightly discolored from blood, before continuing.
"Me and a friend decided to go look for souvenirs," he said. "Since most of the people were searching the beaches we decided to look somewhere else."
He and his friend soon came across a seemingly empty cave.
Tsubota went into the cave, and around the first bend, discovered the body of a Japanese soldier. The soldier had taken his own life by impaling himself with his sword. Tsubota decided to take the sword. However, before bending to grab it, he put his hands together and said a prayer for the fallen soldier.
As he stood up with the sword in his hands, he felt the tip of another sword press against his back. A Japanese Naval Officer in the cave had watched him remove the sword from the soldier's body and was now confronting him. The officer told Tsubota the only reason he did not kill him was because he had prayed for his comrade.
The officer ushered Tsubota out of the cave with his sword still at Tsubota's back. Once outside, the officer faced Tsubota and surrendered his own sword. The officer then said he needed to relieve himself and disappeared down a nearby path.
After waiting ten minutes, Tsubota and his friend started down the path the officer had walked searching for him. They found the path ended at a cliff leaving little doubt as to the fate of the Japanese soldier.
Today, both swords hang on Tsubota's living room wall, resting behind a pane of glass on green felt, framed in a wood case adorned with gold trim.
Tsubota spent two years in the Army before getting out and working with the civil service as the first interpreter for Air Force units on Okinawa.
In 1947, Tsubota married his wife Kiyko who later bore one daughter and two younger sons.
After 46 years and two months of government service, Tsubota retired on Jan. 8, 1993.
Today, Tsubota keeps himself busy by practicing the art of glass blowing in a work shop he constructed at home. With self-built machines, Tsubota says he has all he needs to keep himself busy in retirement while also making a little extra money selling the finished product.
And even to this day, he makes his way to every Battle of Okinawa memorial ceremony he can in respect of the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in the fighting.
Perhaps he also goes in honor of his father's wisdom - that war is not only about death, but life - knowing that more would have died, were it not for his efforts, and the efforts of other translators, to call into the darkness of the caves and lead those inside to the light.