|Born||November 19 1920|
|Died||January 23 1996|
Richard Sakakida (1920–96) was a Hawai'i-born Nisei who was one of the first members of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). As a result of his language skills, he was sent to the Philippines to gather Japanese military intelligence. However, with the outbreak of war, Japanese military officials arrested and tortured Sakakida as they had grown suspicious of his activities. Eventually Sakakida escaped but not before engineering one of the largest prison breaks during the war and surviving in the jungles for weeks before being rescued. Sakakida's actions, though disputed, reveal the critical contributions of Nisei linguists and CIC personnel in the Pacific War.
Born in Pu'unēnē, Maui, on November 19, 1920, Richard Motoso Sakakida was the third son of Isoji and Kiku Sakakida, immigrants from Hiroshima. The family moved to Honolulu when Richard was three years old and they lived in the Palama area. Sakakida attended Ka'iulani Elementary School, Kalākaua Junior High, Central Intermediate School, and graduated from McKinley High School. He was also a top student at Fort Gakuen, a Japanese language school of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission on Fort Street (now Pali Highway).
In early 1941, while working at American Factors, Sakakida was approached by Col. Walter Gilbert, his former ROTC instructor at McKinley High School, who asked if he would be interested in work that would incorporate his knowledge of Japanese language and culture. As he welcomed the opportunity to travel and see the U.S. mainland, Sakakida agreed to take a three-day test. Two days later, the colonel called to tell Sakakida that he had placed at the top of the list of candidates. Sakakida interviewed at Fort Shafter where he was sworn in and accorded the rank of sergeant, even though he had had no basic training. After enrolling in an intensive course in army intelligence, he and fellow Nisei Arthur Komori were shipped off to the Philippines and assigned uncover work. Upon their arrival, the commanding officer of the Corps of Intelligence Police (CIP) detachment ordered them to infiltrate the Japanese community. Sakakida's mission was to befriend and penetrate the Japanese community to identify possible Japanese government and military agents. As part of his cover identity, Sakakida assumed the identity of a draft dodger who jumped ship to avoid conscription. After finding a job with a trading company, Sakakida made contacts with numerous Japanese businessmen and was able to gather a large volume of information for military intelligence.
Work in the Philippines
Immediately following the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, four counterintelligence agents from the Philippine Constabulary took Sakakida to the Philippine Constabulary Headquarters for interrogation, where they subsequently identified him as a member of the U.S. Army counter intelligence. He was assigned to question Japanese aviators, deciphering codes and forwarding intelligence to G-2. However, as the war situation deteriorated and as Japan began landing forces in the Philippines, Sakakida and Komori were ordered to leave the Philippines for Australia. Instead of leaving, however, Sakakida volunteered to let another Hawai'i-born Nisei, Clarence Yamagata, take his place as Yamagata's past activities as a trusted person among the Japanese posed a more serious threat if he was captured.
Sakakida was eventually captured along with other Americans when Corregidor fell and after the surrender, the Kempeitai (military police) took a special interest in Sakakida. He was taken to Bilibid prison where for five months he was interrogated, tortured, and accused of treason. According to Sakakida, he was hung from the rafters with his hand tied behind his back, stripped, beaten, and burned with cigarettes all over his body, "starting around my inner thighs, lower abdominal area and ending with my private parts." Eventually, the Japanese believed that he was a civilian and assigned him work at the 14th Army Headquarters where he was an English interpreter for a Japanese colonel. In this capacity, he studied the colonel's activities and read and memorized the classified material. Eventually Sakakida was sent back to live among the guerrillas held by the Japanese and passed on valuable information through a well-organized group he had contacted.
Taking advantage of the lax security among the Japanese guards, Sakakida made bold plans to engineer a prison break. By masquerading as an officer and barking commands to the guards in authoritative Japanese, he succeeded. It was the largest prison break of the war as 500 Filipino prisoners escaped into the mountains. Through the guerrillas, Sakakida was able to relay some of the intelligence information he had memorized while he worked in the Japanese colonel's office. The information covered troop movements, ship activities, and a portion of the plans of Japanese Expeditionary Forces preparing to invade Australia.
Escape and Postwar Fate
Eventually, when the Japanese army was forced to move further and further into the mountains, Sakakida decided to escape as he was coming under increased suspicion by the Japanese because of the successful American air attacks. He was able to find a guerrilla unit but was soon hit in cross-artillery fire between the Japanese and U.S. forces. For four months he struggled to survive on grass and wild berries. He suffered from malaria, beriberi, and dysentery until he was found by American soldiers weeks after the war ended. After recovering, Sakakida was assigned to the War Crimes Investigation team and helped to identify Japanese war criminals. In 1947, he transferred to the air force and stayed there until his retirement as a lieutenant colonel in 1975. While some have disputed Sakakida's actions in World War II, a CIC report on Sakakida's actions refutes these claims. After retiring in 1975, he lived in Fremont, California, with his wife Cherry M. Kiyosaki of Maui whom he had married on September 25, 1948. Sakakida died of lung cancer on January 23, 1996.
Awards and Honors
For his accomplishments, Sakakida was awarded the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and the Commendation Medal. On July 1, 1988, he was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. On October 23, 1993, the Japanese American Veterans Association awarded the American Patriot Award to Sakakida at the Military Intelligence Service National Capital Reunion for services to his country. Additionally, on April 15, 1994, at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., Ambassador Raul Ch. Rabe presented Sakakida with the presidential award, the Legion of Honor (Degree of Legionnaire). After Sakakida was denied the Medal of Honor that required a recommendation be filed by 1951, Hawai'i Senator Daniel Akaka introduced legislation to waive this condition. On February 17, 1999, Sakakida was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's third highest military award.
For More Information
Akaka, Daniel. "Statement on Award of the Distinguished Service Medal to Richard M. Sakakida." http://akaka.senate.gov/press-releases.cfm?method=releases.view&id=00c25027-5f37-4821-a5bc-dd5811c138b9.
Crost, Lyn. Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994.
Japanese American Veterans Association. "Lt Colonel Richard M. Sakakida." Accessed April 17, 2012. http://www.javadc.org/Hall%20of%20Famers.htm.
Kiyosaki, Wayne S. A Spy in Their Midst: the World War II Struggle of a Japanese-American Hero: the Story of Richard Sakakida. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1995.
Nakasone, Edwin M. The Nisei Soldier: Historical Essays on World War II and the Korean War. White Bear Lake, MN: J-Press Pub., 1999.
National Japanese American Historical Society: Mission in Manila: The Sakakida Story. Documentary video, 28 min. 1994.
Sayer, Ian, and Douglas Botting. America's Secret Army: the Untold Story of the Counter Intelligence Corps. London: Grafton Books, 1989.
"Tribute to the Late Lt. Col. Richard Sakakida." Congressional Record, January 30, 1996. http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/1996_cr/s960130a.htm.
Yamate, Margaret. "Richard Sakakida—Secret Agent." Hawaii Herald, December 20, 1991, A-10.
- Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities.
- Wayne S. Kiyosaki, A Spy in Their Midst: the World War II Struggle of a Japanese-American Hero: the Story of Richard Sakakida (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1995), 25-26.
- Margaret Yamate, "Richard Sakakida—Secret Agent," Hawaii Herald, December 20, 1991, A-10.
- Kirk Spitzer, "Friend or Foe, Fact or Fiction? Vet's WWII Heroism Challenged," Honolulu Advertiser, September 24, 1995, A-1, A-3; Kirk Spitzer, "Spy Never Sought Heroic Role," Honolulu Advertiser, September 25, 1995, A-3; Henry Furuya and Ted Tsukiyama, "Local Veterans Defend Richard Sakakida," Hawaii Herald, October 20, 1995, A-8.
- "Lt Colonel Richard M. Sakakida," accessed April 17, 2012, http://www.javadc.org/Hall%20of%20Famers.htm.