HONOLULU – Seventy years ago, during the Battle of Okinawa, two brothers of Japanese descent ended up fighting on opposing sides — the elder as a soldier in the U.S. Army and the younger as a member of Japan’s student corps.
Shinei Gima, 90, who now resides in Hawaii, and his younger brother, Noboru, 87, who lives in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, were born to Okinawans on Oahu Island before World War II.
When Shinei Gima was a second-year elementary school student, his family wanted to send him to live with his grandparents in Tamagusuku, then a small village in Okinawa and now part of the city of Nanjo.
He refused, telling his parents he did not want to leave his friends. So his grandparents instead took in his younger brother, Noboru.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, declaring war against the U.S. Their parents tried to secure Noboru’s travel back to Hawaii, but it was too late.
“Have I been abandoned by my family?” Noboru thought at the time.
Shinei heard of his despair years later: “We were taught that there’s no way Japan would lose the war,” Noboru told him.
His comments suggested the atmosphere in Japan at that time prevented him from saying openly that he wanted to return to Hawaii.
Anti-Japan sentiment in the U.S. then was high, fueling racial prejudice and discrimination against people of Japanese origin.
Shinei volunteered for the U.S. military to show his loyalty, and on April 29, 1945, about a month after U.S. forces landed on mainland Okinawa, he landed at Yomitan village as a part of the Military Intelligence Service.
He felt guilty that Noboru had been dispatched in his stead and was determined to find him. But in late May, the fighting worsened and Shinei left Okinawa without any clue of his brother’s whereabouts.
Months after the war ended, Shinei spotted a familiar face among prisoners photographed at a camp in Hawaii.
“That’s my brother,” he thought.
Noboru had been taken prisoner along with other students who formed the “Blood and Iron Student Corps” and had been sent to the camp in May.
Shinei filed documents to treat Noboru as an American citizen and this led to his release.
For them, that was the moment the war ended.
Shinei recalled tapping his brother’s shoulder, saying, “I’m glad to see you again.” He doesn’t remember how his brother responded.
“There never was hatred, because we’re brothers,” Noboru said.
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