Thursday, September 30, 2010

History: An eyewitness account of the hell that was the Battle of Okinawa

By Haruko Oshiro
Republished courtesy of IDN-InDepth NewsTestimony

OKINAWA (IDN) - "There was a hell called war in my youth. As long as live, I would like to speak out about the importance of peace and education so that we have no more war," says 88-year old Haruko Oshiro in a poignant eyewitness account of the desperately tragic situation confronted by Japanese in Okinawa toward the end of World War II.

Every fourth civilian was killed during the U.S.-led invasion of Okinawa. The fierce Battle of Okinawa -- referred to as the "Typhoon of Steel", which was fought on the Ryukyu Islands -- lasted from early April until mid-June 1945. Some two months later, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan to surrender.

Eyewitness account:

During the Pacific War Okinawa was sacrificed in order to protect mainland Japan and many local residents' lives were sacrificed during the ground battle of this tragic war. I personally lost my dear fiancé and my younger sister and her daughter in the war. Even today after more than 60 years have passed since World War II, I am convinced that we should never repeat the hell of war.

In my youth, every day was coloured with war. I had no doubt about Japan winning the war because l was taught that Japan was the kingdom of god. We were ready to fight anytime against the enemy and we wore baggy work pants in preparation for the war. In order to prepare for the war I took the lead in participating in bamboo spear training. Everyone was burning the tip of bamboo sticks to make use as a weapon but l felt unsafe so l tied a sickle to the end the bamboo.

In the summer of 1940 I was engaged to a young man I met in a youth group. I knew that he was going to the frontlines in six months but l wanted to make him feel safe and have hope that he would come back safe. We promised each other that when he came back safe we would be married.

I will never forget the day November 5, 1944: it was the day that I received notice that my fiancé had died on the battlefield in Burma. I was so shocked that my whole body shook. Because l was told that the wife of a Japanese soldier should never cry even though her husband might die in the war. I couldn't cry in front of other people. My sadness welled up from the bottom of my heart and l bit my lip so hard to contain my emotion so much that my lip was bleeding. I could not accept my fiancé's death so at night l went to his tomb where the plain wood box of my fiancé's ashes should lay. But when I opened the plain wood box there were only three small rocks inside. I could not believe what l saw. During that time there was construction project under way at Le-Jima (Ie Island), the most important airport to the east.

Since most men went to the frontline, many women were helping with the construction. Believing that Japan would certainly with thee war no matter how hard the work might be we didn't mind. However this huge airport project became the main target for U.S. soldiers. On 0ctober 10, 1944, 90% of Naha City was destroyed due to an air raid. Day by day bombardment by warships and bombing by air hit hard in Okinawa as the war became more severe. A decision was made by the Japanese military that if U.S. soldiers landed on Le-Jima and gained the advantage of the airport there, it would result in a very dangerous military situation and so we were ordered to destroy the construction that we had risked our lives to build and we were told to dig holes so that U.S. soldiers' tanks would be trapped in the holes.

Offshore, there were countless enemy warships, torpedoes crossing the ocean and bombs from the air and there were fighter planes flying at low altitude. I decided that if l was to die l wanted to die where my family resides. Together with four other women we decided to escape from the Le-Jima aboard a small boat headed toward the main island of Okinawa.

We reached the seashore and in order to avoid the air raid we were all hiding under the shade of Japanese Sago palm trees and bushes. It took three days to get to home only to find our houses were all burned to the ground. Somehow l was able to find my family and after living in a trench for about four or five days we saw U.S. soldiers coming down from the mountain. In those days Americans were considered brutes and they were considered a great threat to women. We cut off our hair and smeared our faces with soot from the bottom of pots and pans to make ourselves look ugly to avoid the American soldiers. But l was soon captured and became a prisoner of war.

A few days before we were captured, my young sister left the shelter of the trench because her one year old daughter was crying so much and she didn't want our whole family to be caught by the soldiers. She headed to a nearby grave to take shelter. However, I was informed that a grave had been attacked and l felt uneasy and went to look for my sister.

I heard a frail voice behind me, saying, "Sister, thank you for coming." I then found a person whose face was swollen and covered with dirt mixed with blood; her internal organs protruding from her kimono. I couldn't recognise who she was but the pattern of her kimono caught my eye. It was the same kimono that I had given to my sister.

Knowing that it was my sister I asked where her daughter Sa-chan was. She was half conscious and replied that she was killed in the grave. My sister was probably trying to breastfeed her baby when the attack occurred as her breast was smudged with milk. American soldiers took my sister away by truck while l was looking for a straw mat to carry her. That was the last time l saw my sister. No news about her was heard until her ashes were found after the war in a shelter of a nearby village. She was identified because of the pattern of her kimono. Her daughter Sa'chan's ashes were never found.

My fattlily along with other villagers were taken to a concentration camp as a prisoner of war. The ten of us in our family lived in a shack and had to look for food at the bottom of a dangerous valley where there were habu snakes.

One day when we were looking for food, we found seven young Japanese soldiers. They said they were running around to escape from American soldiers. Listening to these young soldiers made us feel like helping them somehow. Okinawa was occupied by the U.S. military forces on June 23 but we didn't know that the war was over. Believing that these Japanese soldiers would one day play an active role, we sheltered them. However, ten days later we were found by the U.S. military forces. The seven Japanese soldiers were deported and we had to face military trial for harbouring them.

I was prepared to be sentenced to death. My fiancé died in the war and I had no dream or hope whatsoever for the future. I had nothing to fear. I thought that my fiancé would welcome me with open arms saying, "You fought so well for the country." I was filled with patriotic spirit.

The day l knew the war was really over, was on August 15, 1945 when the trial was concluded, I heard the lmperial broadcast.

Then l knew that Japan was not the country of god. I knew that Japan was in embroiled in a foolish war. I was sentenced to one year in prison on the day of the end of the war.

The concentration camp was surrounded by wire with a tent inside. It was a poor camp. We had to move between Kushi and Ginoza every two months and we were showed off to people as prisoners.

After finishing the sentence l went back to my hometown and started working as an employee for U.S. forces. The U.S. base had everything needed including food and supplies. And l realized that we (Japan) had been fighting against this rich country.

I married a man who had also worked on the U.S. base and l struggled to raise seven children and support my husband who was not in good health. After the war the wounds in my heart were not healed, I was thinking about those who died in the war in an effort to help Japanese soldiers. In order to worship those who were deceased, I spent so much money going to see a Shaman. I encountered the Soka Gakkai in 1961 and was told that I could pray by myself for those who died during the war. Since then l have been praying for them every day.

Okinawa is the only place in Japan in which a fierce ground battle was fought. One out of every four Okinawans became a victim. SGI President lkeda has said, "There will be no future in Japan and no true world peace including Asia unless Okinawa, which had gone through the severest suffering, becomes the happiest island." In his words, I found my mission and l have made every effort l could during my life. I raised my children and my grandchildren to inherit the spirit of peace taught by the Soka Gakkai.

Translated from Japanese into English by Makoto Higas.