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Thousands mark Battle of Okinawa 60th Anniversary

Date Posted: 2005-07-02

They all came.

Rich and poor, national leaders and commoners, gathered in Itoman to pay homage to the tens of thousands who died during 82 bloody days of battle as Japan fought the final fight of World War II. From black mourning coats to military dress uniforms, they all were there to remember.

The Battle of Okinawa’s 60th anniversary was commemorated at Peace Prayer Park June 23rd, with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine leading the 5,220 who solemnly parked the date with prayers, short speeches, wreathes and flowers. Hundreds of relatives of those who died gathered around the memorials to share their grief one with another.

“We must protect peace so we will never again have to experience this tragedy of war,” the Prime Minister said during the hour-long ceremonies. The Battle of Okinawa was fought April~June 1945, ending with roughly 240,000 military and civilian deaths, tens of thousands more casualties, and even more left homeless. One-quarter of Okinawa’s civilian population was killed during the battle, many from disease and starvation.

An additional 720 names were added to the black granite memorial walls winding through the park, including nine Koreans and Chinese. Official records peg the death toll at 239,801, and includes the Japanese crew of the battleship Yamato, which was sunk by American planes as it sailed to Okinawa from Kagoshima Prefecture during the early stage of the battle on April 7, 1945.

Okinawa’s Governor Inamine used the ceremony as a political platform as well, calling on the U.S. government to sharply reduce the numbers of American troops stationed here in Okinawa. “Even 60 years after the war,” he said, “our prefecture is forced to be under the excessive burden of military bases.”

The Prime Minister didn’t disagree that bases are an issue, but underscored the importance of their being in Okinawa as a strategic deterrence. Okinawa was under U.S. control until being handed back to Japan in 1972. Today, more than 25,000 Americans are based here, including an estimated 20,000 U.S. Marines.

The senior American military officer on the island, Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, was present, but did not join in laying wreathes during the main ceremonies. Instead, Blackman gathered with American Battle of Okinawa veterans, present day soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, and American civilians to pay their respects at a smaller ceremony at the memorials in which the names of U.S. dead are engraved.

The walls, called the Cornerstone of Peace, has 14,000 American names carved in the chest-high granite stones, as well as hundreds of allied British, Korean and Taiwanese names. There are now 239,801 names engraved in the walls at Peace Prayer Park, situated in the Mabuni area of Itoman.
Itoman and southern Okinawa were the setting for the most ferocious fighting of the war, with heavy casualties at Mabuni in the closing days of the fighting.

The Battle of Okinawa was the turning point to World War II. Intended by American military leaders to be the jumping off point for an attack on mainland Japan, it instead became the last battle.

President Harry S. Truman, studying the high casualty figures for Okinawa, decided to use the atomic bomb to end the war, ordering planes to drop one on Nagasaki and one on Hiroshima.

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