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Kazuko Higa postwar
Anatahan Island is a large extinct volcano with two peaks in the Mariana Island Group (Mariana Islands). To the south 75 nautical miles away is Saipan Island. A landing beach is located the northern and western shore. The southwest shore has a small sandy beach. Today located in the Northern Islands Municipality at the northern end of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in the Mariana Island Group (Mariana Islands) in the United States of America (USA).
During June 1944, thirty Japanese survivors from three Japanese ship sunk nearby managed to reach Anatahan Island. One of the survivors was an Okinawan woman Kazuko Higa. The survivors lived on the island in palm frond huts with woven floor matting made from pandanus leaves. They survived eating coconuts, taro, sugar cane, fish and lizards. They smoked crushed, dried papaya leaves wrapped in the leaves of bananas and made coconut wine called tuba.
Personal aggravations developed as a result of being too long in close association within a small group on a small island and also because they were drinking coconut wine. The presence of only one woman caused great difficulty as well. Six of eleven deaths that occurred among the holdouts were the result of violence. One man suffered thirteen knife wounds. Higa would, from time to time, transfer her affections between at least four of the men after each mysteriously disappeared as a result of "being swallowed by the waves while fishing."
Meanwhile, American forces ignored Anatahan believing it was uninhabited but occasionally flew strafing missions.
American missions against Anatahan
August 19, 1944–September 22, 1944
On January 3, 1945 B-29 Superfortress 42-24748 crashed on the island. Afterwards, the Japanese recovered materials from the crash site including weapons. During February 1945, a group of Chamorros were sent to the island to recover the remains of the crew from from the crash site. Returning, they reported the presence of about thirty Japanese including an Okinawan woman, Kazuko Higa.
In July 1950, Kazuko Higa went to the beach when an American ship Miss Susie appeared offshore and hailed the vessel and asked to be taken to Saipan. When she arrived, she informed authorities that the men on the island did not believe the war was over.
By 1951 the Japanese holdouts on the island refused to believe that the war was over and resisted attempt by the U.S. Navy to locate and repatriate them. Pamphlets were dropped informing the holdouts that the war was over and that they should surrender, but these requests were ignored.
Meanwhile, officials of the Japanese government became interested in the situation on Anatahan and asked the U.S. Navy (USN) for information "concerning the doomed and living Robinson Crusoes who were living a primitive life on an uninhabited island" and offered to send a ship to rescue them. The families of the Japanese holdouts on the island were located in Japan and the U.S. Navy requested them to write letters advising them that the war was over and that they should surrender. In January 1951, the letters plus a message from the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture was delivered to the U.S. Navy.
On June 26, 1951 the letters were air dropped onto the island and finally convinced the holdouts that they should give themselves up. On June 30, 1951 in the morning U.S. Navy Tug USS Cocopa (ATF-101) under the command of Lt. Commander James B. Johnson, USNR with interpreter Ken Akatani went ashore a rubber boat to formally accept the surrender of the Japanese holdouts. This date was also the last day of the U.S. Naval Administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
B-29 Superfortress Serial Number 42-24748
Pilot Stickney crashed January 3, 1945
Anatahan (1954) by director Josef von Sternberg was released inspired by the events on Anatahan.
Saipan Oral Histories of the Pacific War (2001) pages 78, 119-120
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