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Historic Battle of Okinawa Anniversary Saturday

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2007-06-21

Even as controversy over the end days of the Battle of Okinawa is rekindled, thousands of survivors of the fighting will gather Saturday to pay homage to those who died.

The bloodiest battle of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa ended with more than 12,000 Americans and 107,500 Japanese troops killed, along with at least 42,000 Okinawa citizens dead. It began as Operation Iceberg, a massive military invasion American planners expected to be the stepping stone to attacks on mainland Japan, the first step in bringing and end to the war. Instead, the Battle of Okinawa, which commemorates its 62nd anniversary Saturday, combined six weeks later with atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to abruptly end the conflict.

Ceremonies remembering the tetsu no bow, the storm of steel that fell during 82 days of combat, will take place at Memorial Peace Prayer Park in Itoman. Tens of thousands flock to the park each year to honor victims of the battle. The battle for Okinawa officially ended with Japanese surrender at what is now Kadena Air Base on June 23rd.

The ugly end to the war is fueling clashes between Okinawans and the Japanese government, with angry denouncements over the Ministry of Educationís insistence the historical accounts of the battle be rewritten, with textbooks removing references to Japanese soldiers being involved in the forced suicides of local citizens. The Ministry has ordered all such referenced removed from school textbooks before next Aprilís classes begin.

Okinawans who survived the battle and recall the tumultuous days, recount the horror stories of Japanese soldiers giving the citizens hand grenades and telling them to commit suicide with them, rather than allow themselves to be captured by American soldiers. City assemblies across Okinawa have issued resolutions and demands for and end to the proposed changes, and the Prefecture government is opposed as well.

Preliminaries to the Battle of Okinawa began with bombing runs over Naha in October 2004. More than 200 aircraft criss-crossed the island in five separate attacks. More than 180,000 troops launched the actual attack on Easter Sunday, April 1st, 1945, backed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet and its more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, more than 200 destroyers and hundreds more support ships.

Initial attacks in the north were met with little Japanese Imperial Army resistance as soldiers remained in bunkers in the south. The pride of the Japanese fleet, the Yamamato, the largest battleship ever built, was attacked and sunk by a half-dozen American submarines and an aircraft carrier. Japanese began using more than 1,465 kamikazi aircraft to stage blitz attacks on U.S. ships, sincking 30 and inflicting damage on more than 160 others.

Allied victories in early days came with a hefty toll. Hard fought battles at places now registered in the history books, like Sugar Loaf, Strawberry Hill, Sugar Hill and Conical Hill, are synonymous with American victories. Battles in the central Shuri area saw land seesawing back and forth from Japanese to American to Japanese control, while monsoon rains turned the Okinawa clay into quagmire.

Official records register 12,000 American deaths in the battle, along with 38,000 wounded. Combat stress and other non-combat casualties were listed in the tens of thousands. Japanese troops suffered 107,500 dead, along with another 23,000+ trapped and sealed in hillside caves. Another 10,700 surrendered. The toll was extremely high for the civilian population, where at least 42,000 were killed and another 100,000 wounded or injured during the fighting.

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