war and social upheaval: World War II Pacific Theater -- Okinawa personal experiences
World War II Pacific Theater: Okinawa--Peronal Experiences
Figure 1.--This is one of the best known images in Japan of the Battle for Okinawa. The child is 7-uear old Tomiko Higa -- 'the girl with the white flag'. Tomiko spent weeks alone trying to survive amist some of the fierest fighting of the Pacific War. She finally bravely 'surendered' to the Americans. Here she waves, hanging on to her white flag, and thinking she is about to be shot. She does not yet know that she is finally safe and the Americans are not monsters. Source: U.S. Army photo.
One of the most moving persoinal accounts from the Pacific War comes from a little 7-year old Okinawan girl -- Tomiko Higa. Tomiko was the youngest of nine children in a samurai family. She lived on a farm near Shuri, the ancient capital of Okinawa and the central point of the Japanese defene of the island. At the time, Okinawa was the most dangerous place in the world and Suri was the most dangerous place in Okinawa. The Amnericans spent more than amonth trying to crack through the Suri Line and throwing all of the massive fire power at their disposal at the deeply entrenched Japanese forces. And little Tomiko waa all alone and in the middle of it. Tomiko's mother has died when she was only 3 years old. Her father raised her amd her sisters alone. The children are on their own after their father doesn't return home from work. Her brother was killed beside her while they slept one night on the beach where they had dug holes in the sand for refuge. She then she becomes separated from her and sisters in the confusion and horror of Battle for Okinawa. Tomiko struggles to survive on the battlefield amist some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific War. She has to live alone for weeks, with nothing to fall back on but her own wits and daring. Fleeing from advancing American forces, searching desperately for her lost sisters, taking scraps of food from the pockets and knapsacks of dead soldiers, she mamnages to hang on.
The Japanese soldiers told the civilkians that vthe Americans woukld commit terrible crimes. "They’re going to put us all in a big hole, pour gasoline on us and set us on fire!' one adult cried. Another rumor spread nby the Japanese soldiers warned that U.S. soldiers were butchering children by ripping them open at the crotch. Accounts of Japanese soldiers stealing food from starving civilians, driving them from places of refuge, murdering alleged spies, and raping women, failed to inspire Okinawans with trust.
She remembered what her father told her 'never just copy what other people do, always think things over for yourself'. She realizes in order to survive she had to be on her own. She finally becomes attached to an elderly, disabled family. She emerged from her hiding place with a group of surrendring Japanese soldiers. She has a white flag and innocently waves to the American soldiers who have guns our, wary of the surrendering soldiers. In the final days of thge camapign, the small number of exhausted Japanese soldiers who had survived, actually began surrendering. Tomiko is known today as the 'girl with the white flag' -- the title of her book. The photo of her surrender with a white flag is an unforgettable image of war and childhood. Tomiko, in her book describes adults screaming out in fear of American oldiers. Tomiko was brave enough to approach the Americans with her white flag. An Army combat photographer named John Henrickson happened to be on the road when Tomiko stumbled up. She was smiling because her father had told her to smile when she was about to be shot; she thought the photographer's bulky Graphlex moviue camera was a weapon and she was about to be shor--but at long last she was safe.