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Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi
Tatsuguchi soon after his induction into the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941 and his initial assignment to the First Imperial Guard Regiment in Tokyo.
Born August 31, 1911
Died May 30, 1943
Place of birth Hiroshima, Japan
Place of death Attu, Aleutian Islands
Allegiance Japan Empire of Japan
Service/branch War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army Imperial Japanese Army
Rank Sergeant major
Battles/wars World War II
Battle of Attu

Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi (辰口 信夫 Tatsuguchi Nobuo?), sometimes mistakenly referred to as Nebu Tatsuguchi (August 31, 1911 – May 30, 1943), was a surgeon in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during World War II. He was killed during the Battle of Attu on Attu Island, Alaska on May 30, 1943.

A devout Seventh-day Adventist, Tatsuguchi studied medicine and was licensed as a physician in the United States (US). He returned to his native Japan to practice medicine at the Tokyo Adventist Sanitarium, where he received further medical training. In 1941, he was ordered to cease his medical practice and conscripted into the IJA as an acting medical officer. In late 1942 or early 1943, Tatsuguchi was sent to Attu, which had been occupied by Japanese forces in October 1942. The United States Army landed on the island on May 11, 1943 intending to retake the island from the Japanese.

Throughout the resulting battle, Tatsuguchi kept a diary in which he recorded the events of the battle and his struggle to care for the wounded in his field hospital. He was killed on the battle's final day after the remaining Japanese conducted one last, suicidal charge against the American forces.

Tatsuguchi's diary was recovered by American forces and translated into English. Copies of the translation were widely disseminated and publicized in the US after the battle. The American public was intrigued by a Christian, American-trained doctor serving with Japanese forces on the island and by his apparent participation in assisting with the deaths of wounded Japanese soldiers in his field hospital during the battle's final days. Translated excerpts from Tatsuguchi's diary have been widely quoted in Western historical accounts of the battle, especially his final entry in which he recorded a farewell message to his family.

Parents and birthEdit

Tatsuguchi's father, Suichi Tatsuguchi, was born and raised in Hiroshima, Japan, before leaving for the US in 1895 to "explore the new world."[1] He attended Heraldsburg College, later renamed Pacific Union College in Angwin, California. While attending the college, he was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1907, after completing a course of study in dentistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco, Suichi Tatsuguchi returned to Hiroshima with plans to serve as a medical missionary.[2]

In Hiroshima, Tatsuguchi established a prosperous dental practice and promoted the establishment of the Hiroshima Adventist church. He married Sadako Shibata who was also familiar with the US and spoke fluent English. Suichi and Sadako had three sons and three daughters. All three sons would eventually attend school in the US.[3] The middle son, born on August 31, 1911, was given the English name of Paul and the Japanese name of Nobuo, although he was called "Joseph" at home.

Schooling and marriageEdit

Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi graduated from middle school in Hiroshima on March 16, 1919. On March 2, 1923, he graduated from Travier English Academy. Paul traveled to California and entered Pacific Union College in 1929 and graduated on May 22, 1932. When Suichi and Sadako both died unexpectedly in 1932, Paul returned to Japan to help settle the family affairs. He returned to California in 1933 and entered the College of Medical Evangelists at Loma Linda University, completing the course of study in June 1937. Paul Tatsuguchi then accepted a year's internship at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. While studying in America, Tatsuguchi was regarded by his classmates, who called him "Tatsy" or Paul, as a serious student, friendly but not gregarious. Classmate J. Mudry, a year behind Tatsuguchi at Loma Linda University later said, "I know him well. I always thought Tatsuguchi – we called him Paul – was quite an American."[4]


Paul and Taeko soon after their marriage in 1938

On September 8, 1938, Tatsuguchi graduated as a Doctor of Medicine and was awarded a California medical license. That same year, he accepted a position at the Tokyo Adventist Sanitarium, an institution founded in part by his father in 1928. As he would be working with tuberculosis patients in Tokyo, Tatsuguchi spent several more months undergoing postgraduate medical studies in California. Also in 1938, Tatsuguchi married a childhood friend, Taeko Miyake. Taeko's parents were serving as Adventist missionaries in Honolulu, Hawaii while Taeko pursued studies in California. Paul and Taeko departed the US for Japan in 1939.[5]

Early military serviceEdit

In Tokyo, Tatsuguchi was aware of the rising tensions between Japan and the United States. Although he was strongly loyal to his native country, he also shared with Taeko a love of the US, to which they hoped to return to live someday. Tatsuguchi concentrated on his work at the sanitorium, and, with Taeko, supported activities for the Adventist church, of which they were devout members. In 1940 their first daughter, Joy Misako, was born.[6]

Early the next year, the IJA – the conscription authority in Japan – ordered Tatsuguchi to leave his medical practice and report to the First Imperial Guard Regiment (FIGR) in Tokyo, where he was inducted with the rank of private on January 10, 1941. As he was stationed in Tokyo, Tatsuguchi was occasionally able to visit Taeko and Misako when his duties allowed. Misako said of this time that, "I only have one memory of my father, and that was playing hide and seek with him."[7]

In September 1941, Tatsuguchi entered the IJA's medical school. He graduated in October and was promoted to sergeant major, rejoining the FIGR in January 1942. In the meantime, in December 1941 the Japanese attacked the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor and declared war on the US and its allies. Suspicious of Tatsuguchi's American background, the IJA never gave him officer status, instead designating him as an non-commissioned acting medical officer.[8]

Over the next several months, Tatsuguchi was deployed to the South Pacific in support of IJA units in the Dutch East Indies. During his service, Tatsuguchi kept a diary, recording his first-hand observations of military service as well as his thoughts and feelings about the events in which he was involved. In September 1942, after learning that he would be reassigned to a combat area in Rabaul, New Britain, he noted in his diary, "I feel very happy and I am determined to do my best," adding that he was "determined to destroy the enemy force to the very last soldier."[9]

Tatsuguchi reached Rabaul on October 4, 1942. His stay there was probably short, for his wife recorded that he joined her in Tokyo that same month prior to being redeployed. Tatsuguchi was unable to tell his wife, now pregnant with their second child, where he would be assigned, but she noticed that he studied maps of the North Pacific area. At one point, he remarked to Taeko that he was going to an area where he might meet some of his former classmates from California.[10]

A few weeks after Tatsuguchi left for his new assignment, the IJA delivered a lock of his hair to Taeko. The IJA did this whenever soldiers were sent to a high-risk combat area in case the soldier was killed and it proved impossible to repatriate the remains for proper funeral rites.[11]




Japanese troops on Attu

Japanese forces had first occupied Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands on June 7, 1942. They abandoned Attu in September 1942, but then decided to reoccupy it. A regiment of IJA soldiers from the Northern Sea Detachment (北海 Hokkai?), a detachment of Imperial Japanese Navy Special Naval Landing Force troops, and support personnel, began arriving on Attu in October 1942. The total number of Japanese on the island would eventually be between 2,500 and 2,900 men. Exactly when Tatsuguchi arrived on Attu is unclear, because he was forbidden from specifying dates in the letters he wrote to Taeko, but it was probably between November 1942 and January 1943. He was assigned to the Northern 5216 Detachment North Sea Defense Hospital.[12]

With an American naval blockade in place, mail between Attu and Japan was infrequent and unscheduled. Tatsuguchi received several small packages from Taeko containing cookies, and ointment for his skin, which was chafed by Attu's severe winter winds. Four letters and several postcards from Tatsuguchi reached Taeko. As he was forbidden from discussing his unit's exact location or mission, Tatsuguchi wrote about the weather, the beauty of the snowy and mountainous landscape around him, and his success in catching fish. He was cheered by the news from Taeko that their second daughter, Laura Mutsuko, was born in February. Tatsuguchi reminded Taeko in his letters to play classical music for their daughters. Whether he kept his diary during this time is unclear, for the only known diary entries by Tatsuguchi began in May, after the American landings to retake the island.[13]

Battle of AttuEdit

On May 11, 1943, the American Seventh Infantry Division began landing on Attu to retake the island from the Japanese. Attu's commander, Yasuyo Yamasaki, positioned his troops – who were outnumbered five to one – in the mountains from where they temporarily delayed the Americans' advance inland. Tatsuguchi's diary entry on May 12 records the Japanese move into the mountains after the American landings, stating simply "evacuated to the summit. Air raids carried out frequently. Heard loud noise, it is naval gunfire. Prepared battle equipment."[14]

Attu Invasion 02

American troops land supplies on Attu on May 12.

On May 14, American artillery fired phosphorus smoke shells to mark Japanese positions in the mountains. Many Japanese, and many Americans, believed these were poison gas shells. Tatsuguchi noted in his diary that, "In the enemy the U.S. Forces used gas but no damage was done on account of strong wind."[15]

Tatsuguchi recorded in his diary that he was forced to move his field hospital into a cave to escape American naval and aerial bombardment. He relocated the hospital and patients several times as the Japanese forces were pushed back by the Americans. His May 17 entry describes one of the moves:

At night about 11:30 o'clock under cover of darkness I left the cave. Walked over muddy roads and steep hills of no-man's land. No matter how far or how much we went we did not get over the pass. Sat down after 30–40 steps would sleep dream and wake up, same thing over again. We had few wounded and had to carry them on stretchers. They got frost-bitten feet, did not move after all the effort. After struggling all the time, had expended nine hours, for all this without leaving any patients.[16]

Tatsuguchi refers again and again in his diary to the constant, intense attacks by American aircraft and artillery on his comrades' positions. On May 21, he noted that he "was strafed when amputating a patient's arm" and on May 23 that "by naval gun fire a hit was scored on the pillar pole of tents for patients and the tents gave in and killed two instantly. No food for two days."[17] On May 26, Tatsuguchi recorded that "there was a ceremony of granting of the Imperial Edict. The last line of Umanose [Japanese defensive position] was broken through. No hope for reinforcements. We will die for cause of Imperial Edict."[18]

Final attack and deathEdit

By May 28 about a thousand Japanese remained, compressed into a small pocket. Yamasaki, apparently realizing that help from Japan was not forthcoming, decided on one last, desperate measure to try to save his command from destruction. On May 29, Yamasaki organized a surprise attack on American positions. Yamasaki hoped to break through the enemy's front lines and seize the American artillery batteries, which would then be turned on the rest of the American forces and their ships offshore.[19] Tatsuguchi's last diary entry records Yamasaki's order, the disposition of the wounded in his hospital, and a farewell message to his family:

Today at 2 o'clock we assembled at Headquarters, the field hospital took also part. The last assault is to be carried out. All the patients in the hospital were made to commit suicide. I am only 33 years old and I am to die. Have no regrets. Bonsei [Banzai] to the Emperor. I am grateful that I have kept the peace in my soul which Enkis [believed to mean either Christ or the Edict] bestowed on me at 8 o'clock. I took care of all patients with a grenade. Goodbye Iaeke [Taeko], my beloved wife, who loved me to the last. Until we meet again grant you God-speed Misaka [Misako], who just became four years old, will grow up unhindered. If I feel sorry for you Takiko [Mutusko] born February this year and gone before without seeing your father. Well goodbye Mitsue, Brothers Hocan, Sukoshan, Masachan, Mitichan, goodbye. The number participating in this attack is a little over a thousand. Will try to take enemy artillery position. It seems the enemy will probably make an all out attack tomorrow.[20]


Japanese troops killed during Yamasaki's final attack on May 30

Yamasaki launched his attack early in the morning on May 30. Although the attack succeeded in penetrating the enemy lines, American rear-area personnel rallied and killed Yamasaki and the majority of his attacking troops. Most of the remaining Japanese then committed suicide and only 27 were taken prisoner.[21]

Two versions exist of how Tatsuguchi died. One version is that he did not participate in the attack. Later in the day on May 30, two American soldiers, Charles W. Laird and John Hirn, who were helping mop-up remaining Japanese forces after Yamasaki's attack was defeated, approached the cave containing Tatsuguchi's field hospital. Tatsuguchi emerged from the cave, waving his Bible in the direction of the Americans and yelling in English, "Don't shoot! I am a Christian!" Laird heard and understood what Tatsuguchi was saying and withheld fire. Hirn, however, shot and killed Tatsuguchi. Hirn later stated that he could not hear what Tatsuguchi was saying over the wind and noise of battle and that he thought that the Bible Tatsuguchi was holding was a weapon.[22]

The other version was told to Taeko and Laura by Charles Laird in 1984. Laird, a former US Army sergeant who served on Attu, stated that he was sleeping in a tent the morning of May 30 when Yamasaki's troops broke through the American front lines. A man ran into Laird's tent and Laird shot and killed him, only to discover that the man was American. Then he saw eight Japanese soldiers approaching through the fog, so he shot and killed them too. One of them was Tatsuguchi. Laird said that he found Tatsuguchi's diary and an address book in which he was shocked to see American names and addresses.[23]

J. Mudry and another of Tatsuguchi's Loma Linda classmates, J. L. Whitaker, were medical officers with the US Seventh Division on Attu during the battle. Whitaker was in the path of Yamasaki's final attack, but survived without injury. Whitaker and Mudry were stunned to later learn that their former classmate was on the island with Japanese forces and was killed nearby.[23]


After Tatsuguchi's death his diary, which was written in Japanese, as well as his Bible and address book, were forwarded to the division intelligence section. At division headquarters, an American Nisei serviceman named Yasuo Sam Umetani made the initial translation of the diary.[24]

Word of what the diary contained spread quickly through divisional headquarters and then through the other American troops on Attu. The news that an American-trained doctor had been with the Japanese forces on Attu and Tatsuguchi's descriptions of the battle from a Japanese perspective intrigued the Americans. Unauthorized copies of Umetani's and later translations, some of which contained variations of the translated text, spread quickly among the American troops on Attu and to military installations on other Aleutian islands. Civilian crews of transport ships in the area who obtained copies of the diary translation took their copies with them back to the continental US, where it gained wider public exposure, including press attention.[25]

Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. the US commander of the Alaska Defense Command (ADC), learned of the diary and was concerned about Tatsuguchi's claim that the Americans had used poison gas in the Attu battle. Buckner ordered the diary sent to his headquarters and all copies of the translations confiscated. In transit to Buckner's headquarters, the diary vanished without a trace. In early September 1943, the ADC's intelligence section reported that efforts to control the distribution of copies of the diary's translation had failed.[26]

Several American newspapers published portions of the diary's translation. Most of them highlighted the aspect of Tatsuguchi's account that indicated that he, a professed Christian, may have been involved in the killing of wounded patients. The Chicago Tribune on September 9, 1943 published an article headlined "Japs Slew Own Patients on Attu, Diary Discloses". In contrast, the Loma Linda School of Medicine Alumni Journal defended Tatsuguchi as a gentle and caring doctor who was trapped in a situation beyond his control, where his actions did not violate his religious and medical creed. Most Western historical accounts of the Battle of Attu mention Tatsuguchi and quote from his diary's translation, especially the diary's last entry.[27]

Family legacyEdit

Attu peace monument

Peace monument on Attu erected by the Japanese government

The Japanese government notified Taeko of her husband's death in August 1943. Taeko and her two daughters survived the remainder of the war on a small widow's pension and with help from relatives. Taeko hoped that her husband was still alive and would return. Just after the war ended, B. P. Hoffman, one of Tatsuguchi's former college instructors and a friend of Taeko's, visited her in Osaka where she was living. Hoffman told her that a US Federal Bureau of Investigation agent had visited him during the war because Hoffman's name was in Tatsuguchi's address book found on Attu. The agent told the story of Tatsuguchi's death to Hoffman, who related it to Taeko. Taeko accepted that her husband would not be coming back.[23]

After the war, Taeko worked for the American occupation forces as a secretary and teacher. In 1954, she and her two daughters left Japan and joined Taeko's parents in Hawaii. All three became naturalized citizens of the US. Joy and Laura both attended Pacific Union College and became nurses. Joy later married a Japanese man and returned to Japan to live. Laura married an American and moved to the Los Angeles area, where Taeko later joined her. In 2005, Taeko told Kyodo News of her husband, "He was a faithful Christian doctor and a gentleman who devoted himself to God and communities."[28]

In May 1993, Laura traveled to Attu and spoke at a 50th anniversary commemorative event of the Battle of Attu. In her speech at the event, Laura stated "How ironic that my father was killed in combat against his beloved America while in loyal service to his Japanese homeland ... Like my father, I too have a great love for Japan and America."[29]

Years earlier in 1984, Laura received A call from Charles Laird. Laird told her that he has some artifacts of the battle that may belong to her father. At Laura's invitation, he visited Laura and Taeko. The items he had turned out not to have belonged to her father. At the end of his visit, he said goodbye to Taeko and asked Laura if she would walk him out. When she did, he told her that "I did not want to say this in front of your mother, but the reason that I know about your father's death is that I am the man who killed him." He recounted what had happened, and how shaken he was when he realized that one of the men he had killed was and American trained doctor with American friends. When asked by an interviewer from 20/20 why his role in Tatsuguchi's death haunted him Laird responded, (referring to the barren stretch of land over which the battle was waged) "Because neither of us had any business being there." He later described his frequent and painful recall of that event to Laura as "daymares" After a telephone conversation with him about the flashbacks he described, Laura wrote to him asking him to let go of any guilt he carried about killing her father. She wrote,

"It was so good to have had a chance to talk to you tonight. I am writing this letter to express even more completely my gratitude to you for coming to my home so many years ago, and to ask you to let go of any feelings of guilt or pain you still have over what happened between you and my father at Attu. What happened there was neither your fault or his. Neither of you, nor any of your comrades chose that particular battle or that particular time to fight. .....

"The only thing that dignifies and sanctifies that terrible battle was the bravery, duty and loyalty to country that those of you on both sides who were left to fight that battle displayed under the most terrible circumstances. You were an American soldier. Your native land had been attacked, and you accepted the task of defending it. You did the duty thrust upon you bravely and ably. So did your comrades. So did the men on the other side. None of you, on either side, chose to make this horrible war happen. When others did, it fell upon you and your comrades, and my father and his, to do what was left to you to do. "When you confronted my father he appeared to be, and was in the eyes of the conflict, one of the enemy. You and your comrades were all in a "kill or be killed" conflict. When interviewed almost 60 years later, you remarked that what hurt about the memory of my fathers' death was that my father had no business being there and neither did you. But that could be said for most if not all of the men who fought and suffered and died there. None of you should have been there. But you were, and that fact cast upon you terrible duties, duties you discharged the only way you could. What happened, happened. You were not at fault. The men you fired upon that day would have fired upon you. Had you not fired when you did, you, or more of your own comrades may have died. How could you know that there was an American trained physician, and a father and husband facing you? And what could you have done, other than what you did, even had you known? "Whatever happened out there that day, and whatever painful flashes of memory still visit you, I ask you to let them go. I ask you to accept what happened and forgive yourself and to be at peace. And I want you to know that the daughter and the wife of Paul Tatsuguchi both hold you in honor and gratitude for coming forward and visiting our home that day, and wish you peace and happiness."

Laura and her family and Laird remained in touch with each other until his death.


Widowed and with two small children, Taeko was left to care for and protect them in a war devastated Japan, moving from place to place during the war to keep them safe. She and her children remained in Japan until 1954 when they joined her parents, who were Seventh Day Adventist missionaries in Oahu, Hawaii. where they remained until she moved her children to California so they could pursue their education. She died in June 2011 at the home of her daughter Laura, where had she lived for many years, loved and honored by her daughters and grandchildren. She was 98. Those who knew her best spoke of her loving warmth and quiet courage at her memorial service in the Seventh Day Adventist chapel filled to overflowing by people, young and old, whose lives she had touched. Of her life with her children during the war years it was noted that "She made them feel safe when there was no safety. She made them feel nourished when there was nothing."


  1. Hays, p. 32.
  2. Hays, p. 32–33.
  3. Tominaga, McDaniel, Hays, p. 33.
  4. Tominaga, McDaniel, Hays, p. 33 & 141.
  5. Tominaga, McDaniel, Beauchamp, Hays, p. 33 & 141.
  6. McDaniel, Hays, p. 33.
  7. Tominaga, Hays, p. 34 & 141.
  8. Beauchamp, Hays, p. 34 & 141.
  9. Beauchamp.
  10. Tominaga, Beauchamp, Hays, p. 35.
  11. Beauchamp, Hays, p. 35.
  12. Tominaga, McDaniel, Beauchamp, Hays, p. 11, 19, 35–36.
  13. Tominaga, McDaniel, Hays, p. 36.
  14. Hays, p. 135.
  15. Garfield, p. 298, Hays, p. 36 & 136.
  16. Hays, p. 36 & 137.
  17. Hays, p. 138–139.
  18. Garfield, p. 324, Cloe, p. 289, Hays, p. 140.
  19. Garfield, p. 327–328, Cloe, p. 289–290, McDaniel, Hays, p. 36–37.
  20. Not all of the copies of the translation of Tatsuguchi's diary include the sentence, "I took care of all patients with a grenade." Garfield, p. 328, Cloe, p. 290, McDaniel, Hays, p. 140–141.
  21. McDaniel, Hays, p. 22–23.
  22. McDaniel, Hays, p. 31 & 156.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Tominaga
  24. Tominaga, Hays, p. 29 & 31.
  25. Tominaga, McDaniel, Hays, p. 31–32.
  26. McDaniel, Hays, p. 37–38.
  27. Garfield, p. 328, Cloe, p. 290, Tominaga
  28. Cloe, p. 335, McDaniel, Tominaga
  29. McDaniel



  • Cloe, John Haile (1990). The Aleutian Warriors: A History of the 11th Air Force and Fleet Air Wing 4. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. and Anchorage Chapter – Air Force Association. ISBN 0-929521-35-8. OCLC 25370916. 
  • Garfield, Brian (1995) [1969]. The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press. ISBN 0-912006-83-8. OCLC 33358488. 
  • Hays, Otis (2004). Alaska's Hidden Wars: Secret Campaigns on the North Pacific Rim. University of Alaska Press. ISBN 1-889963-64-X. 


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