Peace Wall Brings Tears, Memories of World War II’s Final Battle
ITOMAN, Okinawa (AP) _ Former foot soldier James Grant was searching for a dead buddy. Okinawa native Eiichi Kamiya, a whole village.
After a half-century, they and thousands of others gathered today on the site of World War II’s last major campaign for the unveiling of a monument bearing the names of 234,183 people from both sides who died.
Grant, now a Roman Catholic priest in Spokane, Wash., was shot 19 days into his Okinawa tour. He returned to look for the name of the battlefield comrade who bandaged his wound.
``We were real close,″ Grant said, looking out over the field of 10-foot-tall black markers atop the cliff where the three-month battle drew to a close. ``Then he was killed. That’s why I wanted to come back.″
As he searched for his friend’s name, dozens of other veterans made rubbings or stood silently by the rows and rows of granite markers, each listing hundreds of names.
Nearby, old Okinawan women sobbed quietly, rubbing their hands over the names of loved ones lost in the battle.
The Peace Wall in Itoman, on the southern tip of Okinawa Island some 1,200 miles southwest of Tokyo, is the first in Japan to list the names of Japanese and Allied casualties.
Kamiya, who was 11 years old on April 1, 1945, said the battle was literally fought in his backyard. Soldiers took over a shelter his family had built, and his father and grandmother were killed, he said.
So was virtually everyone who lived in a nearby hamlet.
``I probably will recognize 200 or 300 names here before I’m finished,″ he said as he wandered among the markers.
The monument was five years in the making. Present at its unveiling today were Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale, along with thousands of Japanese and Americans who survived the battle.
Glaringly absent were official representatives of either the 27,000 U.S. troops still stationed in Okinawa or the much smaller Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which serve in place of the military Japan disbanded after the war.
Local officials said members of the two forces refused to attend unless they could do so in uniform. The local government, intensely anti-military, said uniforms would stain the ceremony’s message of peace.
Okinawa’s war-wariness is easy to understand.
Historians believe some 14,000 Americans, 80,000 Japanese soldiers and as many as 150,000 civilians _ one third of the population _ were killed in the battle for Okinawa.
More than 16,000 U.S. troops came ashore in the first hour of the Easter Sunday assault, and 60,000 by nightfall _ far more than during the D-Day landing at Normandy.
For the next three months, the U.S. Marines and Army battled a determined enemy deeply dug into an intricate system of tunnels. The Navy armada offshore, meanwhile, faced a terrifying onslaught of kamikaze suicide missions.
Though U.S. planners saw Okinawa as a major staging point for the expected invasion of Japan proper, that was made unnecessary by Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15 following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.