Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi - (July 12, 1902 – March 22 1945) was a Japanese Imperial Army officer, equestrian show jumper, and Olympic Gold Medalist at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. He was a tank unit commander at the Battle of Iwo Jima and was killed in action during the defense of the island. Nishi was born in the Azabu district of Tokyo. He was the illegitimate third son of Tokujirō Nishi, a danshaku (baron under the kazoku peerage system). His mother was not married to Tokujirō and was forced to leave the house soon after giving birth. His father had various high level positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and imperial Privy Council, leading up to ambassador to China’s Qing Dynasty during the Boxer Rebellion.
After extensive air and naval gunfire bombardment, the US Marine Corps launched an amphibious assault on Iwo Jima starting February 19. The American forces, who knew that Nishi was an enemy commander, broadcast daily appeals for him to surrender, stating that the world would regret losing “Baron Nishi”. Nishi never responded to those appeals. The American intelligence officer responsible for this attempt was Sy Bartlett of the 315th Bomber Wing out of Guam, who would later write the novel and film screenplay Twelve O’Clock High. In 1966, Bartlett visited Nishi’s widow in Tokyo and paid his respects at Yasukuni Shrine.
The circumstances of Nishi’s death are unknown and subject to competing theories. One theory is that he found himself in the midst of enemy forces on the morning of March 21 and was killed by machine gun fire while moving to the regimental headquarters. Another is that he and his aide killed themselves with their pistols near Ginmyōsui or Futagoiwa. Yet another is that he was burnt to death by American flamethrowers on March 22, or that he and several subordinates carried out a final assault and were killed in action. In the novel, The Last Lieutenant by John C. Shively, Shively recounts a story told by his uncle in which his uncle’s platoon fires upon a group of Japanese soldiers during the night. In the morning, a body resembling Nishi’s was found wearing riding boots and jodhpurs. Shively recounts how his uncle is almost certain that this was the body of Nishi. Nishi was 42 years old at the time of the battle.
Nishi was posthumously promoted to the rank of colonel. His son Yasunori Nishi (currently vice president of the Association of Iwo-Jima), succeeded him as the 3rd Baron Nishi. His hereditary title was abolished during the American occupation of Japan after the war.
In the 2006 film Letters from Iwo Jima, the role of Nishi was played by Japanese actor Tsuyoshi Ihara. The film portrays Nishi as being close friends with General Kuribayashi, but in actuality, there was antagonism between the two. Nishi ignored Kuribayashi’s prohibition on using precious water to wash tanks, as well as the general’s orders to punish soldiers who did so. Regardless, the popularity (mainly in Japan) of both men as defenders of Iwo Jima grew. An anecdote repeated by Kakehashi Kumiko in the February 2006 issue of Bungei Shunju magazine is that in the final days of the battle, as the number of commanding officers who refused to put their men in caves increased, Nishi agreed that they should go out and fight together. In the 2006 movie, Nishi uses some of the scarce medical supplies on a wounded US Marine he is questioning. Ōno Kaoru’s biography of Nishi gives credence to this as an actual event. However, according to surviving veterans, even Japanese wounded were usually told to “shut up or were strangled”, which makes this anecdote very doubtful. The film also portrays Nishi as having taken his own life after being wounded and blinded during the battle.
Ōno states, “Few people comprehended him and only Uranus understood him.”
Uranus died one week after Nishi. In 1990, Uranus was commemorated at the War Horse Memorial in the History and Folklore Museum in Honbetsu, Hokkaido.
Author Bio: Founder and Executive Editor for research and publications at World War II History - focused on preserving the history of WWII and providing related data and materials to the public.