August 19, 1945: the end of the Pacific War is at hand. The Japanese have agreed to send a delegation to Manila to meet with the top Allied Commanders. The Japanese will fly in specially marked planes to Ie Shima, and transfer to USAAF C-54s, which will fly to Nichols Field, the Philippines. Upon debarking, the Japanese delegation will be assigned to quarters at the Excelsior Hotel. The surrender talks will take place in the banquet room of the Hotel.
General Douglas MacArthur called on his Generals to send their best translators to the talks who would also draw up the Document of Surrender, to be signed on September 2nd. He wanted a team of 5 translators, led by Frank Bowers, an American who was fluent in Japanese, present at the talks. Selection was to be made on the criteria of abilities, willingness to stay on duty past the Surrender, and knowledge of Japanese customs.
General Robert Eichelberger considered Diane Nakamura his best translator. She had grown up speaking both Japanese and English, as well as reading and writing both languages. She had unwillingly lived on Japanese soil since July, 1941, where a visit to an aunt had become a prolonged residency on Okinawa, waiting for Allied troops to liberate her. Currently, she was working with the 305th Infantry Regiment on Okinawa. As the fighting on Okinawa had ceased, Diane worked with local villagers in her area to help provide them with basic services.
Diane walked into Building 126, and was greeted by her co-workers:"Good morning, Diane. Better pack your bags."
She addressed Lieutenant Andrews: "What gives? Where am I going?"
He replied: "They want you in Manila; seems you will be working with General MacArthur on some documents."
"General MacArthur?" she slowly spoke, as his name was never uttered without somber respect.
The room turned silent as all eyes moved towards Colonel Billingsley, who was standing in his doorway. "Good morning, Diane. I need to see you in my office" he addressed her in a pleasant manner.
Diane went in and sat down.
"Diane, how would you like to go to Manila for a few days?"
"Well, yeah, sure, I guess? Why? What's going on?"
"General MacArthur is building a team of translators to work on a project. He wants the top people to write it up. General Eichelberger put your name in the hat. You would be ideal for this. You'll be there about a week, depending simply on how long it takes to finish this project."
"I've never been to the Philippines. How do I get there?"
"Lieutenant Andrews will drive you to the Navy landing point up the beach. Then he and you will go over to Ie Shima. There's a flight of Japanese planes coming in with their top brass. They will land and the generals will change over to a C-54, which will fly to Nichols Field. You'll ride with them.
When you get to Manila, report to Colonel Cooper, who is on General Eichelberger's staff and he'll take care of you, for the talks. See, the brass are going to discuss something big, then the translation team will write it. It won't be finalized until September, though. Colonel Cooper will go over what they want you to do, when you get there."
Diane rolled her eyes, "What do I need to do to prepare?"
"Go get clothing for 5 days-no, get all your stuff. You might be there awhile, and you might not even come back here. Once your part is done, you might be on your way home."
Diane's face fell a bit." But, General, I'm at home with the 305th, at least until the War is over. I don't feel right, leaving them in such a manner."
"Well, you may be back and you may not. I have no control over it; that's up to General Sutherland, MacArthur's chief of staff… You don't HAVE to go, you know, but General Eichelberger has put your name down as a prospect. It would embarrass him if you were a no-show."
"I'll go, then. What else do I need to know to get ready?"
"You have about an hour to get your stuff; the Japanese delegation will land on Ie Shima in about 2 hours; the C-54 crew cannot wait for you. Oh, by the way, here's $200, for expenses. You'll need some civilian clothing, at the talks; you can't wear that modified female uniform; you will be mixing with the highest brass in the Pacific. Look your best and do your best; this calls for both language and diplomatic skills."
Forty five minutes later, Diane and Lt. Andrews arrived at the navy's landing point near Kunigami. They took a craft over to Ie Shima, then proceeded by jeep to the landing strip just a moment before the Japanese "Betty" bombers arrived, with Lt. General Torashiro and the Japanese staff members.
Several people looked at Diane, but the attention was centered on the Japanese arrival. Most of the men there had never seen a Japanese up close, much less some of their aircraft.
Diane wasn't that interested in the airplanes. She was concerned that everything might not go okay at the other end, and that, hopefully, someone would be at the airfield in the Philippines to greet her, and take her to a hotel. She had her Identification Badge and her passport, but she knew that, somewhere, was a hard-headed officer or NCO that would try to put her with Japanese, based solely on her facial characteristics.
In a few minutes, the Allied and Japanese officers boarded a C-54. Diane also climbed aboard after saying good-by to Lt. Andrews. Inside, an NCO pointed to a seat for her, next to a Japanese officer. She pointedly sat in the seat behind him. The NCO pointed at the seat again, as her assigned seat. Diane told him "I'm not sitting next to a Jap." He recoiled in surprise as a Major Tompkins looked at her, and asked "Who are you?"
"I'm on my way to meet with General Eichelberger; I'm just hitching a ride."
The Major looked at the NCO and said "Is she on the flight manifest?"
The NCO asked Diane her name, then searched for it on his list. "No, Sir; I don't see it."
Major Tompkins turned to Diane and said "You'll have to get off the plane if your name isn't on the list, unless…you really are Japanese?"
Fortunately, the co-pilot was standing nearby and said "No, it's okay. We got word that she was to board here, to accompany us to Nichols Field. She's on General Eichelberger's staff. Sergeant Fowler, put her name on the manifest."
With that problem tackled, the flight began. Most of the passengers sat and looked out the windows. The Japanese chatted quietly among themselves. No one spoke further to Diane, although several American officers looked sidelong at her.
When the plane touched down at Nichols Field, everyone was looking out the windows. This was the first time Diane had been to the Philippines. The airfield was located just outside Manila in a lightly populated area.
The escort vehicles arrived for the Japanese delegation, to take them to the Excelsior Hotel. No one was looking for Diane, so she asked a driver of one of the Jeeps if she could hitch a ride into town, to General Eichelberger's Headquarters. Corporal Lary motioned for her to take a seat, and they set off, trailing the convoy into Manila.
They chatted pleasantly, as Lary was surprised to find an American girl in the party. Diane told him she needed to get to some clothing stores, and asked if there were any in Manila?
"Well, yeah, sure…I guess. I can't say that I've had to go to one. Why? Do you want some civilian clothing?
"Yes, I'll need it for tonight. All I have is these modified WAC uniforms, quite unfit for the importance of my task."
Diane asked him to drive her to the business district, but he explained he couldn't do that. He had to drive to the Hotel Excelsior, but he could drop her by the General's building.
That is exactly what happened. They passed by General Eichelberger's HQ where Corporal Lary let her off. He then drove away.
Diane stood there, looking at the Hotel Granada as a lone sentry looked back at her. She approached him and said "Hi. I'm here to see General Eichelberger."
The sentry exhaled and shook his head. "Yeah, and I'm Walt Disney. So, what are you selling?"
"I'm not selling anything. I'm here to see General Eichelberger."
"Pfffffttt! Stop wasting my time; hit the road, Jap."
That was the wrong thing to say to Diane. "Excuse me, Private. I'm not a Jap; I'm an American and I'm on the General's staff. If you won't call the Duty Officer, then let me go by"
"I'm not calling any—"
"GET YOUR SERGEANT OF THE WATCH, THEN; I don't have time to play games!"
This outburst surprised the sentry and he pulled back. At that point, he decided to call the duty Sergeant.
In a few moments, Staff Sergeant Tyler arrived and they discussed the problem with Diane.
She was insistent that she be allowed in to see the General. They were insistent that she was not going to be allowed in.
As the standoff continued, a window on the second floor opened, and a Colonel Cooper leaned out and yelled at the party below: "Hey, is that you, Diane?"
"Yes, who's that?
The sentry and Sergeant Tyler looked up.
"It's me: Colonel Cooper. Guard: let her pass; she has a meeting to attend shortly."
Sergeant Tyler looked at Diane and said "Well, I don't know who you are, but, go on inside" and he gestured at the door.
As she walked towards the door, the two army men looked at each other with puzzled expressions.
Once inside, Diane walked slowly down the hall. Colonel Cooper came down the stairwell and greeted her: "Hi, Diane, we were expecting you. How was the trip?"
"It was okay, but, I do really need to get some dress clothes."
Colonel Cooper looked her up and down, and said "Yeah, I suppose you do. But, first, you need to come with me. There's a meeting of the translators starting in a few minutes, in Room 202. You need to get there and get briefed on what your duties will be. I'll walk you there. When you get done, come to my office, Room 210, and I'll arrange transportation."
Diane nodded agreement as they walked to the designated room.
Room 202 was a modified classroom, with a teacher's desk, student desks, blackboards, and a coffee maker and selection of soft drinks. There were twelve translators seated, chatting with each other when Diane walked in. They all turned and looked, and two of them let out a whistle. Diane stood there, looking them over, unsure as to whether or not to be friendly.
Corporal Hariuchi of the 307th Infantry Regiment recognized Diane and greeted her. "Hey, Diane, we were sorta expecting you." He pointed to Private Nishiyama of the 307th, and Sergeant Abe of Division Headquarters G-2.
"So, what's going on, guys?"
"Well" continued Corporal Hariuchi, "we are waiting for an officer to come out and tell us what we're going to be doing."
Apparently, they didn't know that they had been selected to work on the Surrender Document. Diane kept quiet about it.
About then, Colonel Hampton and Captain Forsby opened a door and walked into the classroom. All the translators jumped to attention, except Diane, who was already standing.
Captain Forsby addressed the translators : "Take seats. Men, and, uh, ladies, you've been sent here for a special assignment. The job before you requires secrecy, accuracy, and hard work for the next few days. Even if you are not selected for the team, you are not to discuss anything about this with anyone, not anyone in your barracks, not with any superior officers, not with anyone. Understood?"
The men nodded their agreement or answered verbally with "Yes, Sir."
Captain Forsby looked directly at Diane and continued: "It also requires a Secret clearance. If you don't have one, you will be asked to leave."
Diane said to Captain Forsby: "I don't think I have one; I'm just a translator for first level documents, and for civilians and soldiers that have surrendered."
Colonel Hampton chimed in with: "There's always someone that's not supposed to be here."
Corporal Hariuchi announced to the room: "Well, Diane's the best translator in the room. If she's not qualified, who is?"
Colonel Hampton coolly answered : "Mr. Bowers is, and will choose the team."
Captain Forsby whispered to the Colonel: "What should I do about the girl?"
Colonel Hampton answered, "Don't worry; I'll tell Mr. Bowers to disqualify her. We only want Army translators; our boys are good enough. She's one of those that slipped in through the cracks." He then left the room and went back through the doorway he had entered by.
Captain Forsby continued: "Does anyone have any questions?"
No one did.
"Okay", he went on, "You will go in to the other room, when called, one by one. You will be interviewed by some people, to determine your level of capability. I repeat, do not mention any of this to anyone, until…well, until 1947. Things should be settled by then."
The men and Diane chatted about odds and ends for a few minutes.
The first person called in was Corporal Hariuchi. The others continued chatting about nothing of importance. In 4 minutes, he came out and left the room, without saying anything.
The next person called went in. He stayed in the interview room.
Three more translators were called, and each one came back out and left the building.
Then Diane was called. "Nakamura, Diane J." She got up and went into the interview room.
At a table sat Frank Bowers, the top translator on General MacArthur's staff, Colonel Hampton, two enlisted soldiers, one of which had been in the main room with the group, and three officers who did not wear name tags.
Colonel Hampton shot questions at Diane, in Japanese : "How did you get here?"
"I flew on a C-54."
"What's your home town?"
"San Antonio, Texas."
"Tell us how you came to be on Okinawa."
Diane related how she had fled Japan when the War began, and she had lived with a peasant woman, while she pretended to be Japanese and dying of tuberculosis.
The men just stared at her. None showed emotion.
Finally, Mr. Bowers shoved some documents in Japanese at her and said "Translate them,"
She read off what they said. No one made any comments.
One of the unidentified officers asked her to write a description, in Japanese, of her breakfast that morning (not saying which lettering, but Diane took it upon herself to write it in Kanji, one of the Japanese alphabets.
When she submitted the letter to Colonel Hampton, he didn't even look at it, and said to her, "Well, Miss Nakamamba, I don't think we can use you. Your Japanese language skills are quite lacking."
He continued, "How you pronounce your name isn't my concern. I don't know how you got here: you don't have any education, you don't have a Secret clearance, and you don't speak good Japanese."
She came back with: "I do a pretty good job interviewing prisoners and translating documents."
At that point, one of the unidentified officers said "That's street Japanese, not academic Japanese. That would be like asking a Brooklyn truck driver to write a speech for the president; it would have a lot of bad English in it."
Frank Bowers sat there, saying nothing, just looking at Diane, with his hand pressed together and his fingers touching his lips.
Finally, Colonel Hampton said "Thank you; good night. Please leave the building and don't say anything to anyone."
Diane got up and walked back through the door to the other room.
Colonel Hampton grinned the whole time. When she finally was out of their room, he exhaled and said "Whew. I guess we took HER down a peg or two."
Diane walked to Colonel Cooper's office. Without violating security, she told him she wasn't accepted for the assignment, and she'd like to return to her unit on Okinawa.
Colonel Cooper sat quietly, looking at her. Then he told his assistant to provide a vehicle for her, and take her anywhere she wanted to go. "Diane, you're staying in the Excelsior Hotel. Get some dress clothes; you will be General Eichelberger's guest at dinner there tonight."
"Yeah, I know I'm supposed to be there. Is it just for dinner?"
"Well, the Japanese delegation will be there, too. I think he wants you to be available as a translator."
"But, Colonel, according to the people I was just with, I don't speak good Japanese."
"Diane, I'll look into that. They are rather critical in their evaluation of team members. I think they only wanted one or two additional people for… well, for …..you know: just to say they interviewed some candidates."
"Yes, Sir. I'll be on my way."
Okay, Diane, see you tonight."
Diane went shopping and found some dresses that were within her budget. Then, her driver took her to the Excelsior Hotel, where a room was reserved for her.
It had been a long day so far, and wasn't near over.
Dinner was at 7:30, in the ballroom. Diane wore a shiny blue and silver dress, looking more like a nightclub diva than a young girl employed as a translator. When she entered the ballroom, all eyes turned to look at her. This was the first time she had dressed up since 1941, but she did not realize she was a beautiful young woman.
One of the generals whispered to General Eichelberger, "What a beautiful Japanese woman! She's not with the delegation, is she?"
General Eichelberger grinned and replied, "Well, she's one of us, actually; a very brave young woman we found alive on Okinawa…" He then addressed the table: "…and has proven to be an excellent translator for us." Several of the officers at the table looked at one another then looked away.
She sat at a table with some of the Nisei translators she had met earlier. They chatted about the units they were with, the situation back home, and what they would be going back to.
The Japanese delegation sat at a separate table, but in the same room. Corporal Hariuchi was assigned the task of translating for the Japanese delegation, so he was frequently up and down at the table.
After dinner, Colonel Cooper walked her to the second story veranda. He obviously had something on his mind. "Diane, I'm sorry you weren't selected for the team. You come highly recommended by General Bruce and HIS team of translators. He told me you'd been helping the Nisei translators with Japanese translations. However, as you go higher up in a bureaucracy, you encounter more of the 'Old Boys Network'. Your abilities were secondary to their goals. You see, they didn't want you because they already have their team picked out, and they only want Army people."
"Are you sure it's not because I'm a girl?"
"I'm sure. I sat in on a few of the discussions. The Bowers' team has pretty much been together for about two years. Newcomers are kept at a distance. The Navy doesn't even have translators here, and the Marines have a few, so, this was to be an Army show. Virtually all the team members have studied the Japanese language for years, or are a graduate of the MILS army languages project in Minnesota. You are a free-lancer, and, therefore, an unknown quantity. There was no personal prejudice against you; they merely prefer Army people. The interview was a courtesy to General Eichelberger."
"They sure wasted a lot of money, then, just to perform a 'courtesy'."
"Diane, there's always a lot more involved than meets the eye; there's a lot of 'politicking' at higher headquarters, in any military unit. Like it or not, people sometimes make decisions based on what they want, or who they want, and not on what's best."
Diane gave an exasperated look to Colonel Cooper, and sat down. They gazed over Manila, once again a free city. She was relaxed, for the first time in years. She was totally free, and, being a civilian, was accountable to no one. "Well, I'm not deeply offended. It was so hectic to get here, for …nothing. On the other hand, I got to visit Manila and do some shopping."
Colonel Cooper asked her, "What do you want to do for the next several days? You can stay here, and just do some shopping and relaxing if you prefer, while we make arrangements to send you home."
"What does that mean?"
Colonel Cooper slowly explained, "General MacArthur doesn't want any females in the theater, none. Not in any capacity. His Chief of Staff General Sutherland has told me to get you out of the Area of Operations. It seems they only heard of you in the last few days and had thought you would be going home. When your name was added to the list of interviewees for the, ahem, 'project', General Sutherland wouldn't have it, and expects you to be on the next flight to the States."
"Oh, so THAT'S why I wasn't chosen? Because I am a girl?!"
"Not entirely. No one except General Eichelberger would speak up for you. He said you should be given an interview. Had you been selected, you would be allowed to stay on. The Team, however, decided to not have a dispute with General Sutherland. It was just getting too complicated, as they have their hands full with their assignment. No one on the Team would justify you being selected if it meant facing criticism from him. So, it was just easier to handle it they way they did."
Diane sat there, thinking about what she was being told. "So, Colonel, what happens next? My friends are on Okinawa. My work there isn't finished; it won't be finished until Japan formally surrenders."
"Tell you what I'll do: go on back to Okinawa tomorrow, and I'll say that arrangements are being made for your return, but I won't hurry it up. I know you'd like to see the Japs surrender; you have waited a long time for this. Just go back to where you were, and I'll contact you in a few days to see where things stand."
"Explain what you mean, please."
"There are a lot of troops that will be going home after the Surrender. Your paperwork could easily be put on the backburner, in order to get those soldiers sent home with their units. It might take a few days or weeks to place you. In fact, translators will still be needed for the occupation. We can always use your help, but, Diane, don't you want to go home?"
"Yes, I do, but, like I said, 'my work isn't finished'. I want to go home after the Surrender, not just yet."
"Well, actually, you're not in the Army. Seeing as you are a civilian employee of the Department of the Army, you can't be bounced around at anyone's whim. A permanent change for you would involve paperwork being redone, in Washington, and that takes time. For now, you are assigned to Eighth Army, as a translator and General Sutherland can't really do much about it. So, just sit on it until I get back to you."
With that, the two parted company. Diane returned to her room and Colonel Cooper sat outside, smoking and thinking about solving this dilemma.
Diane returned to her friends in the 305th Infantry Regiment the next day. She resumed her previous work until, a few days later, she took her next assignment, and flew to Atsugi Air Base just outside Tokyo, to begin a new project: Liberation of POWs and the Occupation of Japan.