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

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<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.

<Begin Segment 2>

gky: What was it like parachuting onto Corregidor?

HA: By all -- I was lucky, very, very fortunate. A lot of guys, maybe about 20 percent of the people, were casualties before they even landed on the -- I mean, on the landing itself. They either got shot coming down, or shot in the plane, or landed. It was very, very rough terrain, lots of shattered trees, stumps. In fact, I felt like I was going to be impaled one instant before, you know, that kind of situation. Despite all that, despite making all the mistakes, I came out smelling like a rose. Then when I got finally down to the end of this hill, I missed the area that I was supposed to go. So I'm in-between the enemy and my own forces. Only thing is, enemy is further down and I'm in between there, up this hill. So I knew that I was supposed to be up on top, so I got rid of my parachute and started running toward the top as fast as I could, looking also at same time around me, because I never knew whether it was enemy or not either. And of course there was some small arm fires ricocheting, you know, and so forth. So when I got running up there and I got maybe about 100 feet, 150 feet from the top, I saw this line of rifles and they were facing me. I thought, "Oh, my God, if one of them let go, all of 'em is going to let go." I thought "Oh, I will be full of holes." But then the only thing I could think of was I didn't have a helmet. Only thing I had was a fatigue and a rifle. So instead of carrying my rifle down, I lowered it, raised my arm and ran up to them, you know. Well, it so happened that there was one guy, a sergeant, who had seen me around headquarters, and he held them from firing. So, therefore, that guy really saved my butt simply because he was patient enough to see me and recognize me. Until then, he didn't even know who I was, see. Well, the ironic thing about that story is that that guy got killed on that island, and for years I tried to find out who it was. And, finally, when I found out, he was killed two days later. So, I couldn't even thank him, you know. I couldn't even thank him later for doing that for me. But from there I joined kind of a group, you know, they're all scattered the group, moved forward, and naturally I wanted to be identified as an American. So finally I found a helmet. I put it on my head in haste, you know, because you're trying to find shelter or something. So, in haste I'd be running along and suddenly there'd be some ricocheting bullets and I'd hit the ground, you know, and the helmet would fall off. So I'd go running over there to pick it up and put it on -- it was like a comedy. I did that about two, three times, you know, and finally we got to this building and I crawled into this building, there were some other guys in there too, you know, and the walls are being peppered by small arm fire, but me, I'm sitting there trying to fix the helmet. The other guys are firing, I'm trying to fix the helmet so it won't come off my head. [Laughs] But it was really kind of comical.

gky: When was this that you got onto Corregidor?

HA: Pardon?

gky: When was this? What was the date?

HA: February 16, around 8 o'clock.

gky: Nineteen forty...

HA: Forty five.

gky: Forty five.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

gky; What were you all supposed to do on Corregidor?

HA: Well, originally, there was very little intelligence. So they thought it was manned by maybe 850 soldiers, and the soldiers they thought were more or less like stationary people who just were there, you know. So, the paratroopers went in with a thousand men on the first jump, first drop, and there were 850, right. And then, a few hours later, they came back again and made the second jump. So then they had 2,000. But one of the things that happened on that island was that the commanding officer of Japanese forces was a navy captain, which is similar to a colonel. And he was killed right after we landed. He never expected a parachute jump. The terrain was so bad, they figured that there would -- no one would dare to drop by air. So he was not prepared for paratroopers, and he got surprised and he got killed. Well, I remember, as far as I'm concerned, that this captain or colonel -- the Japanese call him colonel, even if they're navy -- but I think I reported that information. I think it was a little note to next in command, like, you know, they picked it off that guy. I think he got killed. And I think, when I reported that to the commanding officer, knowing that a colonel commanding 850 men was, you know, something you wouldn't think of doing. So, I think, the way I understand it, he had turned around and went into a defensive posture. They went in with 850 with an offensive posture, but then they saw this colonel and they only had 2,000 men. And a colonel will usually command maybe four or five thousand men, so he went into to a defensive posture. I think that's probably why it's been one of the best information that I could have given him.

gky: So, in other words, there weren't 850 people, there were...

HA: There were more than five thousand.

gky: So that was a way in which you, as a linguist, made a difference?

HA: Could have been because of the fact that at that early stage, he would know that there was a colonel in command and he would have to, I think, assume. Now, all these things that are bits and pieces that go through my hand, I have to scan it and see if there is any immediate value. And if there's anything that identifies a unit, or identifies weapons where it is, and so forth, that becomes very important to the commanding officer. So those are the things that I would pick out of all the documents that come in. And then as soon as I got through with that, I would send them back to higher headquarters which is off the island, who had other linguists, corps headquarters or something, 11th Corps headquarters. They had maybe about fifteen guys. So whatever I might miss, I knew they would pick up. And that's the way we did it. We did it quickly, got it back, and let the guys in the rear look at it. And they're top translators too, you know, with the headquarters. And, so, they might catch something that they're looking for, or if I missed anything, they could repeat it, you know. So, that's the way it worked out and so when I got back to army headquarters. Incidentally, I was very fortunate because the deputy commander was from army headquarters, and he knew in army headquarters how valuable we were. So instant credibility for me. If I had a captain as a credible person, I would have been able to do nothing. And the commanding officer is a West Point buddy of the guy, the deputy commander, Tolson. So, the fact that I land, I give them information, it became instant credibility. So anything that I might have sent, regardless, I don't know all the tactical things anyway, so whenever I found anything that would possibly affect the front right in front of us, which was maybe 100 yards, or 150 yards, you know. So anyway, when this colonel went back to army headquarters, later I found out when I went back to army headquarters, man, they treated me like a hero. He went back and that's why the New York Times reporter wanted to interview me, and all that kind of stuff because of him.

gky: But you said that there's very little difference between someone who's a hero and someone who's not.

HA: I don't think there's a line at all. I think everybody really is a hero in their own way, you know. They serve their own way and it just happens, it just happens that you might be the person that would get credit. So there's a lot of people who never get credit, even though they may be a hero, they never know about it. Maybe he knows, but nobody else knows. So, I think, basically, I think if you're happy with what you had done, I think that's about the ultimate in your own feeling, you know. If you did what you were supposed to do and did it right, and did it to the best of your ability, I think you should be really happy for yourself, you know.

gky: Let me just get this straight. You knew, you got some tactical information that was important on Corregidor. You knew that a Japanese colonel would not be commanding 850 people, that they would be commanding a greater number.

HA: Yeah, so, that's why that was a very important message. But I don't know what the commanding officer will do with it. Only thing is, you just pick up something that might be of importance and they decide on what, you know, how important it is to them, see.

gky: Can I go back to the guy in the cave? What, where were you when you got that soldier out of the cave?

HA: Oh, I was...

gky: It wasn't on the Philippines, was it?

HA: Yeah, it's on Corregidor.

gky: Oh, okay.

HA: Yeah, it's on Corregidor.

gky: So, that POW was on...

HA: ...Corregidor, yeah.

gky: Can you talk a little bit about what you call the "willing to die" spirit in Japan?

HA: Yeah. It probably goes way, way back in their bushido culture. Even the gangsters had -- not gangster, but they're called, not gangster...

gky: Yakuza?

HA: Yeah, yeah, Yakuza. Yakuzas even had their code of ethics. Yakuza would even say, "If you give me one bowl of rice, I owe my life to you." In other words, maybe they're taking their life lightly, but they feel the gratitude can be expressed even with them. And I think that feeling is nurtured in Japan, and really taught in various ways to the Japanese children. So, in some sense, our willingness to volunteer might have some of that kind of feeling in it, too. Because, like Mr. Aibara says, they have been loved and cherished trees and they should bloom and beautify America. Isn't that the same kind of scenario that the Japanese probably give to theirs, that they should go and beautify Japan, don't you think? So, it might be something that is part of the Japanese culture. Now, I don't know what it is like today, but at the time when we were in Japan, that's the way it was.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

gky: Can you tell me a little bit about -- Occupation trains were special trains for the service people, for the American military. Can you tell me about helping the Japanese women and children who were on the crowded part of the trains?

HA: Oh, yeah. Well, maybe Ken could tell you. It just so happened that we were going to Kagoshima, and it also happened that I was a second lieutenant at that time. But anyway, when we came across into Kyushu, there was no allied troop train that we could get on, so a lowly second lieutenant went to the stationmaster and asked him to put an allied troop train on it. And, of course, there were several other American air force people traveling too. So they put the train on for us, held the train up and put it on, and we had a whole car and people, native Japanese, were just practically popping out of the windows, you know. They're just so full and looked so dangerous between trains and everything. We saw women and children in that kind of condition. So, Ken and I thought well, gee, we don't need all of this, and the other officers don't need it, so I went over to the air force officers and asked them, say, "There's a lot of people out there on the train endangering themselves. Do you mind if we let them in, women and children?" And they said, "Sure." So, we kind of roped off half of it, and Ken and I went back there to tell them, you know, that we would be willing to open this up for women and children. And, you know, the men, the first thing they think about was, "Yeah, American soldiers, they like women," you know, things like that; made really snide remarks at us. They even tried to get in; we'd keep them out, you know. But I don't know if it was the war that created that kind of atmosphere for those people, but from our point of view, we were just trying to be kindly to these people who couldn't probably do anything for themselves, see. So, that's why we invited them to come in, but we really got a lot of static doing that, yeah.

gky: And from Japanese, not from...

HA: Yeah, Japanese, yeah.

gky: How long were you in the MIS?

HA: Three years.

gky: So, from '42...

HA: Yeah, '42 to the first of '46, January '46.

gky: So, three years. And you -- or it was a little over three years, and then you got out of the army?

HA: Yes.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

gky: How, exactly what did you do with the Occupation after the war?

HA: I was with, again, another special group which is called the Allied Prisoner of War Recovery Team. And they had -- each country is represented by an officer, and I was supposed to be the guide. So I went in to Japan with the 11th Airborne Division when they first went in by plane into Atsugi airstrip, and we proceed to process any prisoners in Japan, American prisoners or allied prisoners in Japan back to Okinawa so that they can, in other words, be rehabilitated and so forth. That was my duty, to be the guide. And I think we spent a month or so doing that. And I ended up in Sendai and I came back and I was assigned to this Supreme Command Allied Powers Economic Scientific Division, and I was in the rationing and price control. So I was the language officer for that section for so many months, and then I came home. So I didn't do too much, but I noticed that the rationing price control had enough influence where, you know, it could make it easier for the Japanese public. As you become an interpreter, rather than an interrogator, an interpreter, you try to get each side to talk to each other and there is some influence that you could place. And I guess as a Nisei, you always kind of try to help the Japanese look a little better. Their viewpoint is a little bit, you know, more sympathetically looked at. So, we really did have a lot of sympathy for the Japanese because we'd seen how much they had suffered and how much they were suffering then.

gky: Japanese is very much a language of nuance and class, which some people, some non-speaking Japanese, or non-speak -- people who don't speak Japanese might not understand. You know, like men talk differently than women...

HA: Yeah, yeah.

gky: ...and lower class talks different, you know, there's polite Japanese, there's not so polite, so...

HA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

gky: So, it was those nuances that you were trying to get across?

HA: No -- well, when you, like an attorney does. He always makes his client look better than the opposition, right? So what you do is you kind of have certain influences in how it's being presented. And I really believe that the Niseis did a lot of that, which the Japanese public probably don't know about. I think it wasn't for personal gain, it was trying to help somebody else who was less fortunate. So, I don't feel bad about doing that, yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

gky: You said that being in the MIS meant confidence. That's what you told me before. Can you kind of expand on that?

HA: Well, you know, the fact that I had served under the circumstances, we served, I think very proudly, and I think we were really valuable to our country. In fact, MIS was not the regular kind of soldier where you go out to eliminate the enemy physically. But MIS helped eliminate the enemy by giving information, and that information, properly used, saved many American lives, American soldiers' lives. And, in my mind, I just feel that I was in the business of saving lives. So, my paratrooper friends go even as far as to say, "You know, if you weren't around maybe I wouldn't have come home." That's the kind of compliment, you know, I receive from time to time. So it's a different kind of saving a life. You don't go out there knock out the enemy and to save a life, but you're getting information to save lives. And I think that's the part that gets overlooked. But for people who know and they really appreciate what we did.

gky: What kind of a legacy with what you did with the MIS? How did the -- what kind of legacy do you think the MIS leaves?

HA: Incomplete. Most people don't know about the real value. I, myself, was in a position to look spectacular. What I did became more noticeable. But the people who translated and interrogated prisoners in a higher echelon, gathered much material that they themselves didn't know was valuable. But then, like a puzzle, all those little information put together by the planning of higher echelon, made it possible to be far more effective as a unit, as a force against the enemy, and at the same time saved lives because of the prior knowledge. I say maybe General [Douglas] MacArthur was credited, or the leading people were credited, with accomplishing a great feat, and they get recognized for it. The MIS guys got nothing. They don't know anything about it. And so, to this day, you know, I have conversation with my MIS friends were with higher echelon, say, "Oh, Harry, you did lots, you know, you accomplished a lot because it's visible." But then I tell them, say, "No, the stuff you did made a difference in the war. You made it so that the war was won." I might have been involved in a battle, but not very significant as far as the war is concerned. So, I really do feel that those people, because they don't know the part that they played in, because, you know, it was just a piece of the puzzle and they're just doing one piece of the puzzle, and they don't feel like they accomplished anything, but they did. They really did, and I really appreciate that too, simply because I wish they would be more proud of what they did. Just like I'm proud of what I accomplished, I want them to be proud too. Because, without them, my effectiveness would not have been any good either, you know. Battles don't win war.

gky: Okay. Anything else that you can think of that you want to add?

HA: Well, I think I talked long enough. [Laughs]

gky: Okay. Thank you.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.