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In Uniform

June 2024
1min read

During the months following Pearl Harbor, soldiers and sailors of our new allies were a common sight on the streets of New York City. One Sunday afternoon, I saw two Asian naval officers of obviously very senior rank. We had Oriental allies at that time, and well-disposed Far Eastern noncombatants were about the city. But the cap devices worn by these two officers rang a bell of recognition in my head: The device was a gold wreath, within which was what appeared to be a juxtaposed chrysanthemum and an anchor.

In the week following Pearl Harbor, every newsmagazine had on its cover a photograph of the architect of the devastating sneak attack, Admiral Yamamoto. And at the front of his cap was what appeared to be the very same device that I had just seen.

Why would Japanese naval officers be walking through Times Square amidst the Sunday strollers? Had they perhaps landed from a submarine hidden in New York’s vast harbor? Even if apprehended, they couldn’t be treated as spies, for they were in uniform.

For several blocks I tailed this couple, looking desperately for a highranking United States naval officer to whom I could report my suspicions. Everyone I saw appeared to be too junior to cope with the situation, and finally I went to a pay telephone and asked the operator to connect me with the FBI. I requested a duty officer to put me through to naval intelligence. The person who subsequently spoke to me was polite, obviously bored, and unimpressed with another crank call. But as soon as I described the cap device, he was suddenly galvanized: Where had I last seen this pair? How long ago was that? In what direction were they heading?

Before he hurriedly terminated my call, I asked if I could phone back later to learn what action had been taken. Yes, he said hastily, but did not pause to give me his name.

I called the FBI a few hours later but could get no one who admitted he knew anything about the matter. Later attempts proved just as fruitless. No one, seemingly, ever had heard of my call or what had resulted from it.

I was not able to spot the officers again. I never learned who they were. Perhaps it was a sick practical joke, or a wager, or a dare. Perhaps a government agency was seeking to test the alertness of its security system. The lack of reaction of the civilian population was not remarkable. Who expected Japanese naval officers to be within a thousand miles of New York City in 1941? Who, at 7:59 A.M. on December 7, 1941, expected Japanese naval officers to be within a thousand miles of Pearl Harbor?

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