The Nisei war hero endured torture and near-starvation, yet passed valuable intelligence to the U.S. Army
It was 1942, not long after the fall of the American stronghold of Corregidor that guarded Manila Bay in The Philippines.
U.S. Army Sgt. Richard Sakakida was in the hands of the dreaded Kempeitai, the Imperial Japanese military police. Sakakida was an undercover agent of the Corps of Intelligence Police, the forerunner of the Counter Intelligence Corps that oversaw the U.S. Army’s spy-hunters during World War II and the Cold War.
n The Philippines, he had questioned captured Japanese aviators, deciphered codes and papers and passed information he gathered covertly to the Army’s G-2 intelligence staff officer there.
But he had long been under suspicion as far as the Japanese were concerned. Captured and imprisoned at Bilibid Prison, he faced weeks of torture.
“I was strung up with my hands tied behind my back and the rope tossed over the ceiling beam,” Sakakida recounted. “The rope was pulled until I was dangling on my toes when the questioning began and the beatings started. The questions they kept asking were, ‘What were your duties in the military?’ and ‘What was your military rank?’”
He refused to break, sticking to his cover story that he was a draft-dodging U.S. civilian Nisei, the child of Japanese immigrants, trapped in The Philippines because of the war.
When it became obvious that the ropes weren’t working, his Kempeitai interrogators turned to pressing lit cigarettes into his flesh. They even forced a rubber hose down his throat and pumped water into his stomach.
I could feel my stomach being bloated. It felt as if it was ready to explode,” Sakakida said.
It went on for five months. He never broke. What’s more, the Japanese eventually believed his story, released him, and then assigned him to the Imperial Japanese 14th Army Headquarters as an English interpreter for a Japanese colonel – where he collected intelligence on the colonel and memorized the contents of classified documents.
“Of all the unsung heroes of World War II, Richard Sakakida must rank as one of the most remarkable,” wrote Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting in America’s Secret Army: The Untold Story of the Counter Intelligence Corps. “For courage, fortitude and loyalty to his adopted homeland there were few to rival him. Yet outside a small circle of veteran CIC agents Sakakida’s name is almost unknown, and his extraordinary story has never been fully told.”
Some believe he should have received the Medal of Honor. Others questioned his story – and his loyalty to the United States – describing him as “an opportunist who embellished his own history, and betrayed his country in the process.”
A CIC report refuted accusations that Sakakida had committed any wrongdoing. Veterans who knew him vigorously defended him.
“Richard Sakakida was captured by the Japanese, tortured and forced to work for the Japanese army in the Philippines,” Dr. James McNaughton, a U.S. Army historian and author of Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II, said during a 2015 re-union in Hawaii of the last surviving Japanese-American military intelligence veterans of World War II. “What did he do? He used his position of influence to get information about the Japanese military operations and give it to the Philippine guerrillas. Very, very brave. If he was ever discovered, it would have cost him his life.”
Read the Remainder at War is Boring