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Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Harry Akune Interview
Narrator: Harry Akune
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Monterey, California
Date: July 1, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-aharry-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

gky: This is the first tape with Harry Akune, A-K-U-N-E, on the 13th of December, the year 2000 in L.A. and this is a solo interview with him. Harry, can you recount a story where you interrogated a soldier who was very weak, and you heard this round of machine fire? Can you recap that story to me?

HA: This Japanese soldier was brought in, and I was told that he stuck his head out of the cave, pointed at his forehead and says, "Shoot me," to the American soldier. I guess he was just too weak to fight, so he wanted to be shot. So, the soldier naturally brought him in. He was in such a state that he could barely walk, and the span of attention was very short. He just could not function when they brought him in, and so since he was not going to be a viable prisoner for me to interrogate, I felt that they would send him on to higher headquarters where they could probably feed him and strengthen him and get other information. But my particular function was trying to get any information that would be useful for our frontal combat that we had at the moment. So seeing that I figured that it would not be of any value, I thought well, maybe he's just play-acting. So I thought well -- I was just wondering how am I going to get this guy to say anything, you know. Just then a machine gun burst came across, rapid fire. And so I said to him, said, "You know, guys like you who can't talk to me, they go out there and you know what happens," implying, figuring that I might scare him into saying something. Well, he just sat there just blank. It didn't bother him one bit. I knew that this guy was really not able. But then, after I told him that, he showed me something that a true Japanese soldier was made of. I told him to stand up. He could barely stand up, but he stood up, very erect, proudly, you know; very erect, proudly, and I told him to turn and start walking. We were on the second floor of this big building that was bombed out. I told him to go down the stair. And you know, he marched down that step, pretty long ways. I told him to make a right turn, and made him march again. Now, I was at the -- I was in the second story watching him, see. And he marched all the way across in front of me, and turned toward me and I told him to relax, and he just collapsed to the ground. Now, I don't know whether I should tell you this story that accompanies that because it was something that would be derogatory to an American sailor.

gky: The one who -- the sailor who wanted to cut off the ears?

HA: Yeah, yeah. I don't know if I should say that or not, but...

gky: Actually, I thought that was pretty interesting how you stopped it though.

HA: Yeah, right. Well, what happened was that while he was sitting there, I was trying to get him some water; I went down there to him and see if I can feed him something, too, but he was just too weak to do that. And it probably would have been the worst thing for him to have. But while he was sitting there, of course, out of curiosity, some guys are gathering, and I don't know how this sailor happened to be on the island. I think he was one of the crew members of the PT boat that was patrolling around the island there. He came up, probably more in jest, pulled on the prisoner's ear -- he wanted to be something, he wanted to be a big shot I guess, you know, among other soldiers, I guess. So he pulled on his ear and says, "I want to cut your ears off and send them back, send it back as a souvenir." And I saw him do that and say that, and I knew in my own heart, I don't care what anybody says, you don't mistreat even the enemy if he has given up. So I just went over there and told that sailor, "Hey, this is my prisoner. Don't abuse him. Don't touch him. Leave him alone." And then all the other GIs around there, paratroopers, they jumped on him. Yeah, really cussed him out and telling him, "What the hell is the matter with you? This guy can't defend himself any more, what are you doing?" you know. And I think it really, really found -- he found that he was in the wrong company. In other words, these people die because of the enemy, but they're willing to defend the enemy once they give up. And so this guy here tried to offer cigarettes and everything, tried to make peace, you know. But, you know, when I think about it -- I thought about it later -- the outburst I made against that guy, I'm Japanese appearance, right. The enemy is Japanese, right. And I was defending him. Yet, my paratroopers defended me by telling this guy off too, see. So I thought at that time, how lucky I am, how fortunate I am, to have served with men like that, that would, in other words, know the difference between what is good and bad. And then, at the same time, not put the onus on me to prove that I was American. They accepted me as an American, though I still look like the enemy. So those memories of the people that I served reinforces my belief that I am really an American, and truly proud to be an American. That's what I thought.

gky: Do you -- you said at the end of that story, when you told me before, it was a matter of trust.

HA: About?

gky: Your fellow paratroopers trusted you.

HA: Yeah. Yeah. You know it's funny, but it was something that -- I don't know if they were that way to begin with or what, but for instance, one of the things that happened was once I got on the airplane without a rifle or helmet or anything, I asked this Captain Donovan to loan me one of his weapons. He had a 45-caliber pistol and a carbine. I said, "I just want to protect myself so can I have one of those?" And his reply was, "If I don't need it after I land on the island, I'll give it to you, whichever one that I'm not using." So, there was a finality to that final statement by the officer that's supposed to be, you know, over me. So I just kind of thought, "Well, I guess I'll just have to go out without anything." Then the paratroopers are all lined up in a row, about 24 of us. The fellow across the way was just another soldier, heard that, because the door is opening and you have to more or less shout at the guy next to you even, you know. He became concerned for me, and he got a weapon for me from the airplane crew. I thought, here was a harrowing combat parachute jump on an island, and, you know, there was a great deal of concern for their own safety, and yet that person would turn around and, you know, worry for me. And that is the kind of thing that that troop had. They cared for each other. Even though they didn't know me, they cared for me. And I think that transcends all the differences that we have, you know. And so, therefore, I feel that was a reason why I didn't really have to worry about my own safety among our own troops although I didn't have anybody or anything with me.

gky: And you didn't know those paratroopers before you...

HA: I just got on the plane. That's the first time I met them.

gky: And you were the only linguist, the only...

HA: I was the only linguist with the unit, yeah.

gky: So, that's pretty incredible, your value to the unit as the only linguist, too.

HA: Yeah, that's true. That's true.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.