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Government launches investigation to study Battle of Okinawa

Date Posted: 1999-07-03

Japan plans to conduct an investigation into the Battle of Okinawa, the first such attempt by the central government to determine the number of casualties and damage caused during one of the most vicious campaigns of World War II. No official report on the number of Okinawan casualties has ever been published.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said independent researchers will cooperate with government offices, including the Okinawa Development Agency, of which Nonaka is chairman, the Defense Agency and the Prime Ministerís Office during the investigation. Researchers will also study government documents in an attempt to determine the exact number of Okinawans who died during the battle.

The battle between U.S. and Imperial Japanese forces was fought over approximately three months, and despite massive Japanese military casualties, the affect on the Okinawan population was particularly devastating, with the exact number of dead still under debate. Researchers and historians tend to disagree over figures, but many believe losses number approximately 120,000, almost a third of the entire population at the time.

Some historians, however, claim the exact number of dead can never be known, as many Okinawans killed themselves during the closing days of the battle, either by jumping off cliffs, or in mass suicides in caves dotted throughout the island. Confusing the issue even further are the many skeletons and bone fragments still found regularly on the island, which only add to the number of war dead.

As the last major campaign of World War II, Okinawa was the only region in Japan where ground battles between the United States and Japanese forces took place. Of the 237,318 casualties of the Okinawa campaign listed at the Itoman memorial in southern Okinawa, approximately 12,000 are American.

The battle also claimed the life of Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist. The legendary newsman was killed while accompanying Army troops on Ie Island on April 18, 1945. Pyle was noted for his dedication to GIs men he said were the real heroes of the war. Also killed was Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Tenth Army, who fell victim to Japanese artillery shells on June 18, 1945, just a few days before the Japanese surrender.

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