by John Wukovits

Lieutenant General Ushijima heavily depended upon two staff officers who, although differing in temperament, formed along with the general as effective a commanding trio as the Marines faced in the Pacific.

Lieutenant General Isamu Cho, his chief of staff, was the antithesis of Ushijima. The 51-year-old loved fine liquor and beautiful women almost as much as he enjoyed his participation in murky military plots. In 1930, Cho joined a secret Japanese Army clique called the Sakurakai, or Cherry Society, an avid patriotic organization with a deep-seated hatred for Western influences upon Japan. One year later Cho helped devise a plot to murder the prime minister. After it dissolved in the initial stages, Cho developed a second plan calling for aircraft to bomb the prime minister’s residence. Fanaticism proved his undoing when the Kempei, the Japanese military police, arrested Cho for boasting he would personally stab the Emperor if that was what it took to make the operation succeed.

Cho played a major role in the infamous “Rape of Nanking” in 1937. On Cho’s orders, thousands of Chinese prisoners perished. The next year, he inflamed already sensitive relations with the Soviet Union when he attacked a Soviet force without orders.

Once ensconced on Okinawa, Cho dared the United States to invade the island. The fiery Cho brought a fervor to his post that complemented the more sedate Ushijima.

The second staff officer advising Ushijima, 42-year-old Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, had traveled more extensively than his two cohorts and thus understood the Western world. After graduating from the Japanese Military Academy in 1923, Yahara attended the Japanese War College before spending 10 months at Fort Moultrie in the United States. Stints in successful campaigns in China, Thailand, Malaya, and Burma honed Yahara’s knowledge of strategy and tactics, and he arrived on Okinawa with a reputation as a superb tactician and thinker. He provided Ushijima with the calculated intelligence that the tempestuous Cho lacked.