gary nila henry sakaida

Henry Sakaida left, and Gary Nila in 1995, holding a Japanese Army officer’s sword belt which he bought from a military auction.

I have this knack for making old WWII artifacts “talk.” One day in 1995, my collector friend Gary Nila told me that he had just purchased a Japanese Army officer’s sword belt and he was excited! It was not only in great condition, but it also had two brass identity discs sewn into it. This was very unusual and quite rare. I drove over to his house to inspect it. As I held it in my hand, I thought: “If this thing could talk, what a story it could tell!”

“Where did it come from and and is there a history behind it?” I asked. Gary had purchased it from an auction and paid a whopping $800 for it. Sadly there was no history behind the belt. “You want me to make this thing talk?” I asked. He thought I was kidding. He didn’t realize that I had “supernatural” powers when it comes to making inanimate items talk. Gary had such an ability too, but it only involved people.

Gary Nila is a retired FBI agent and he had worked on several well known cases, one of which was made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie (The Goodfellas, 1990). As a senior investigator for Northrup Grumman, he could make anyone “fess up”  during criminal interviews. This “churchy” Lakota Sioux with a charming disposition reminded me of the great German WWII Luftwaffe interrogator, Hanns Scharff, “The Master Interrogator.”

Gary was one of the premiere collectors of Japanese WWII militaria in the US and has authored three books. Back in his collecting days, Hollywood studios would contact him for advice when they were planning to make war movies involving the Japanese military. The producers wanted to make certain that the gear looked authentic. Gary has been on The History Channel and has given talks at veterans events. Fellow collectors seek him out to authenticate Japanese military uniforms and equipment, and determine their value.

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Forensic historian and former FBI agent Gary Nila today. His father was a WWII veteran who fought in the Philippines; he brought back a Japanese rifle, bayonet, and other items which Gary played with as a kid. This led him to collect and study Japanese military gear from WWII.

I took the belt over to a Japanese Navy veteran who lived locally. He had served at the great naval bastion at Rabaul (New Britain Island) in the Southwest Pacific. He read the kanji on the dogtag: Rikugun Chu-I, Ogata Yuki (Army 1st Lieutenant Yuki Ogata). Now, I had the person’s name. What a great start!

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Disc on the left is inscribed with the owner’s name and rank; the disc on the right has his unit number. Without the unit number, it would have been nearly impossible to solve this mystery.

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Yuki Ogata when he was serving in Manchuria circa 1939-40. His collar rank insignia indicates that he was a 2/lieutenant.

Gary contacted Tom Long, a collector of Japanese WWII dogtags and a real expert in his field. Long stated that the unit number on the brass tag indicated a Japanese Army unit assigned to Luzon, Philippines. Now we were on a roll! Yuki Ogata fought in the Philippines! We surmised that he was killed there.

Next, I contacted my friend, the late Jiro Yoshida of Tokyo, a former Zero pilot veteran and my “go to” man in these matters. Jiro did some checking around. BINGO! On 18 May 1995, Jiro informed me that he had located the brother of Yuki Ogata! Mr. Junki Ogata of Tokyo, then aged 77, was also a WWII veteran, and he had served at Rabaul as a paymaster. He was shocked to receive the phone call inquiring about his brother! And when I told Gary, he was equally shocked. This was his first exposure to forensic history sleuthing on a WWII Japanese artifact and he was now hooked.

I traded several letters with Junki Ogata. He, of course, was interested in getting the sword belt back and how it was acquired. He explained that during the war, his home area was totally destroyed in the fire bombing by B-29s and nothing survived. He sent me a photo of his brother which he obtained from a relative.

Gary understood Yuki Ogata’s feelings about the sword belt; he decided that it needed to go home. He told me that he hated to part with it, but it was the right thing to do.

I was quite proud of my sleuthing and was enjoying my one-upmanship on Gary, until he said, “We had a saying in the FBI and it goes like this: ‘You’re only as good as your last case!'” Then I looked around in his office, spied a WWII Japanese photo album belonging to a floatplane recon pilot, and asked, “You want me to make that one talk, too????!!!”

ogata gary nila henry sakaida

Junki Ogata holds his brother’s sword belt, along with the only photo he has of him. Junki Ogata served in the Navy as a paymaster at Rabaul.  The belt was returned without charge, but Junki Ogata reimbursed Gary for the belt with much gratitude. How many collectors would do what Gary did? Damn few.

For Related Articles See:

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroes of the Soviet Union 1941–45

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai

Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945

B-29 Hunters of the JAAF

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