Okinawan Traces of War: Telegraph from the Past

 “There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”  ~ Dwight David Eisenhower

Carrier aircraft attack Ishigaki-jima in the Ryukyus

Carrier aircraft attack Ishigaki-jima in the Ryukyus

Kamikaze-Attacks-of-World-War-II-Okinawa-Ryukus-MapIt was probably a lazy day at the office in the fall of 1944 or spring of 1945.  Having finished a shift full of mundane duties and boring watches, perhaps a few decided to enjoy the sandy beach and pristine waters immediately adjacent to this wooded site.  Others were probably enjoying their time off, tending to personal business nearby.  Being stationed on a remote island far in the southern reaches of the Ryukyu Chain, and then being billeted to such a small, isolated communications station in a completely rural part of the island, the War in the Pacific seemed many thousands of miles away, if not of a different time.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), bullet scared WM

Then, without warning, death rained down from above.  And nothing was ever the same again.

Death came from above by means of the Navy's "Avengers"

Death came from above by means of the Navy’s “Avengers”

Sakishima%20IsIshigaki Island is the most inhabited and developed island of the Yaeyama Islands (Yaeyama-shoto) in the deep southwestern waters of Okinawa Prefecture (Ryukyu Islands) and the second of this grouping of sub-tropical isles.  The Yaeyama Islands are, at the same time, the mostly southerly and westerly parts of Japan, located approximately 430 kilometers/260 miles south of Okinawa.

Ishigaki's relationship to Okinawa, the Ryukyu Island Chain

Ishigaki’s relationship to Okinawa, the Ryukyu Island Chain

Japanese-WWII-key-capturedOn a small peninsula out to the west of Ishigaki-jima is a former Japanese Military Undersea Telegraph Station, built at the turn of last century (1897), which operated until attacked during World War II.  While not the easiest place to find, and certainly not a well-visited “touristy” destination, the unimproved road leading to the coastal site is well signed off the primary road in the area.  Be prepared though; the long and winding path leading down to the facility can be very rough on your vehicle!  We had a rental (wink).

Telegraph Lines converge at Ishigaki

Telegraph Lines converge at Ishigaki

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), now defunct and dead station on the beach WMDuring the time in which Taiwan (then Formosa) was administered by Japan, this small structure served as a critical node in the larger Japanese Imperial Army communications system between Taiwan and headquarters in Honshu.  Numerous relay stations were located all the way from the Japanese mainland to Taiwan, all connected by huge undersea cables.  From the Sino-Japanese War until World War II, this station, known as Denshinya, was used by the Japanese military.

Attacks on the Japanese airfield at Ishigaki-jima.

Attacks on the Japanese airfield at Ishigaki-jima.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), old wooden signage WMDuring WWII, it was attack by carrier-based aircraft, was abandoned, and has been in this damaged state ever since.  Severe damage can be seen, and although it appears the building escape a direct hit by bombs, it certainly was well-strafed with heavy machine gun and aircraft cannon fire.  Some locals claim that many ghosts haunt the area, but on the bright, warm sunny day of our visit, we unfortunately (fortunately for my wife) encountered none.  I cannot find any reports of casualties or of the actual attack in my research (read about the frequency and magnitude of attacks across Ishigaki-jim).  Ishigaki was frequently attacked in the lead-up to the Battle of Okinawa, particularly its airfield.  Read about an unfortunate American crew that was shot down perhaps at the same time this station was attacked in Beauty and Honor Entombed, and about their particular story Shipley Bay.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), bullet scars remain WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), now defunct and dead station WMThe facility was never repaired or reclaimed, and continues to deteriorate.  The day we visited there was some archeological study going on, where a Japanese man was taking meticulous measurements which annotated some amazing sketches of the facility he had done.  There is no English here, but there are what appears to be a couple of memorial plaques in Japanese.  As simple and small as the building may appear, it was once played a key role for the Japanese Imperial Government.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), war-torn decaying structure

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), ruined interior WMSurveying the scene today, one can only imagine the horror of the day when the facility was attacked.  Set in a rustic yet beautifully bucolic setting, I’m sure the death from above was both a shock and a surprise to the Japanese that were pulling duty here.  The remoteness of the site, along with the preserved state of battle-damage and ensuing decay, allows this particular location to certainly convey somber and silent commentary on the darker complexion of war.  There certainly was no glory here at this station, even though blood was surely shed.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), Jody modeling the Army's Station

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), station's beach & ocean warningsTo Visit: Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph) 556, Sakieda, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture.  There is no fee, nor hours; the site is not lighted, and no facilities are anywhere nearby.  Easy beach access is adjacent to the site, but parking is very limited.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), looking back through time to WWII WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), Jody on the beach-front property 2 WM

Beauty & Honor Entombed: Ishigaki’s Toujin Grave Site

“At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.”  ~ Simone Weil

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Stunningly beautiful.  Emotionally moving.  Serenely set.  Imagine, at great expense and personal effort, accepting the wrongs of those far-removed and in the past so that future generations can realize a nobler future through such splendor.  On Ishigaki Island, this happened not just once, but twice, with amazing effect.

Shisa Lion Dog at Toujin Tomb

In 1852 the American-flagged ship Robert Bowne was carrying Chinese laborers – “Coolies” as they were known at the time, a derogatory slang term for unskilled Asian workers, usually of Chinese or Indian descent – from mainland China to California.  The 410 Chinese indentured servants, realizing during the voyage that they were essentially slaves, successfully mutinied and made a break for the Southern Ryukyu Islands, landing on the beaches of Miyako Island.

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America's Railroad

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America’s Railroad

After most of the Coolies had found refuge ashore, some of the remaining members of the crew took back the ship and set sail without haste, abandoning those left behind, including some of the ship’s crew.  The Ryûkyû Kingdom, seated at Shuri Castle on Okinawa Island, long had a proud tradition of aiding castaways, and ultimately welcomed the Coolies, even at great risk of further Western involvement in their island archipelago.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, stunningly beautiful Chinesel tomb WM

Initially, the people of Miyako cared for these hundreds of castaways at great burden for such a small and lightly populated island.  Weeks later, the warships USS Saratoga, HMS Riley, and HMS Contest appeared on the horizon, bent on retribution.  After making port, American and British troops seized as many of the Coolies as they could find, though some escaped and fled elsewhere.  Being hunted as mutineers, 128 of the accidental Chinese immigrants were shot dead or committed suicide over capture and slavery.  When the three warships departed the Ryûkyûs, it was with only 70 captives of the original ~380 who escaped.

Chinese Coolies

Chinese Coolies

While the survivors eventually received protection from the royal Shuri government, many quickly caught the plague, for which they had no exposure or immunity, and died one after another, suffering and afraid far from their native homeland.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon's head WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon and characters 2 WMThe local Yaeyamians, being an open, friendly, peaceful and very superstitious people, erected the Toujin Tomb (or Toujinbaka in Japanese) in 1971 in memory of and to help console any restless and cheated spirits of those Chinese who so distraughtly agonized and perished.    Toujin is an archaic Chinese term for continental Asian peoples; the tomb can also be referred to as the Tang People’s Memorial, echoing the southern Han ethnic makeup of the Chinese entombed there.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, visitors to the beautiful tomb WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Jody poses in front of the most beautiful monumentIt, by FAR, is the most beautiful burial place that I have ever visited.  The mausoleum, conceived with unmistakable Chinese influence, is intricately decorated with brightly-color and heavily-lacquered tiles depicting dragons, horse riders, and other Chinese appeals, amidst well-maintained gardens along with a few other gravestones and monuments.  The structure is amazingly well-maintained, and in the right light of day (we visited about 5 pm in July), it has the appearance of being brand-new.  The vault is immediately emotionally moving, even though there is no English provided to enhance a Westerner’s understanding.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Chinese wise men adorn the tomb WM

But that is only half the story of the Toujin Tomb site.  Although the kindness shown to the fleeing Chinese slaves is a testament to the benevolence of the Yaeyama people, the same can’t be said concerning three Americans who crash-landed just off the coast of Ishigaki in the spring of 1945, less than four months before hostilities ended with Japan.

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

15 April 1945 0730H:  On this day, USS Makassar Strait, a US Navy aircraft carrier, launched ten strike mission against Ishigaki airfields using bombs, napalm, and high-explosive rockets.  Heavy anti-aircraft ground fire resulting in the shoot-down of Avenger #31 (Bureau No. 68767).  The crew consisted of pilot Lieutenant Tebo, and his two enlisted crewmembers:  Loyd and Tuggle.


All three suffered horrendously.  Two were quickly beheaded after being tortured, but for Radioman Loyd, his terrifying ordeal had only begun.  Flaunted through the city center of Ishigaki and castigated by an angry mob eager to place blame for the death and destruction raining down from above, in Loyd was taken out personal and dreadful vengeance.  He was publicly executed by multiple stabbings from the bayonets of numerous Japanese soldiers and sailors, many of whom would go on to face war crimes charges.

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

The summary execution of these American Prisoners of War (POW) led to the conviction of 41 Japanese soldiers and sailors on war crimes charges, seven of whom were eventually put to death.  It may strike some as an injustice and undue escalation of violence, but like General LeMay is often quoted, if the United States had lost the war, then most of the American military and civilian leadership would have been likewise tried as war criminals [quote paraphrased].  To the victor go the spoils, but in this case, it seems that everyone involved eventually suffered.

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Decades after this dark affair, a local professor, Takeo Shinohara, recognized the collective need of the Ishigaki people to remember this black chapter in their history and attempt to make amends, much as was the case of the Coolies in the Toujin monument.  Thanks to these active pacifists, the fate of these three Americans is now openly acknowledged in an attempt to console the wounds of both East and West.  A fitting memorial honoring the memory of the Americans who were killed was christened in 2001 on the very same grounds as the Toujin TombTwo engraved plaques, in English and Japanese, describe the events that befell Ishigaki in the spring of 1945.  The English text reads:

On the morning of April 15, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, a Grumman TBF Avenger, assigned to the carrier USS Makassar Strait, was shot down off the costs of Ishigaki Island by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The three aviators parachuted in to the water near Ohama and swam to a coral reef where they were captured by Japanese sailors.  After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night at the foot of Mount Banna, at the Imperial Navy Headquarters.  The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention, the rules of war signed by the international community in 1929.  Vernon L.Tebo and Robert Tuggle Jr. were beheaded.  Warren H.Loyd was beaten and stabbed with bayonets by numerous numbers of sailors and soldiers.  This incident was a tragedy which took place during war.

LT Vernon L.Tebo, 28, a Navy pilot of Illinois

Aviation Radioman 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, 24, of Kansas

Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Robert Tuggle. Jr., 20, of Texas

To console the spirits of the three fallen American service members and to honor their deaths, we jointly dedicate this monument in the hope that this memorial stone will contribute to the everlasting peace and friendship between Japan and the United States, and that this monument will serve as a cornerstone to convey to future generations our keen desire for eternal peace in the world and our determination to renounce war.

August 15 2001

The Joint Committee of Japanese and American Citizens to Honor the Three Fallen Servicemembers During World War II.

If more peoples of the world would similarly concede, perhaps not their direct culpability in the past, but in their collective inheritance of wounds good and bad, we all could, perchance, realize better futures.  I remain overwhelmingly affected by both these monuments, and have gained a new-found respect for those Japanese, Okinawans, and Yaeyama who truly wish to positively transform the world.  One monument at a time.

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Address: Toujin Grave/Kannondo Temple 1627, Arakawa, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture 907-0024, Japan, Tel: 0980-82-1535.  The site is positioned right across the road from the Kannonzaki viewpoint (with its disappointingly small and closed-off lighthouse), and Fusaki beach lies just a kilometer further up the road.

For more information, see: