Battle of Okinawa Remembered 78 Years Later

The Yomiuri Shimbun
At the Cornerstone of Peace in the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, people pray on Friday for family members who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa. The monument is inscribed with the names of those who died in the 1945 battle.

ITOMAN, Okinawa — Okinawa Prefecture on Friday marked Okinawa Memorial Day, remembering the Battle of Okinawa that took the lives of many residents 78 years ago in the final days of the Pacific War.

The Okinawa Memorial Service for All War Dead, organized by the prefectural government and assembly, was held at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman City, where the last fierce battle took place.

With the easing of coronavirus prevention measures, it was the first conventional ceremony held in four years. Many attendees lamented the wars still happening around the world today also renewed their pledges for peace.

The event was attended by 4,000 people, including Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the speakers of both chambers of the Diet and surviving family members.

The coronavirus pandemic had limited the number of memorial service participants to 327 in 2022, 36 in 2021 and 161 in 2020. This year, however, attendance was almost back to the level of the 2019 service, which about 5,100 people attended.

Following the shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July last year and an attack on Kishida in April, both during election campaign events, the Okinawa prefectural police have been on alert with their largest security presence in history.

In 1945, from late March to early April, U.S. forces landed on the Kerama Islands and Okinawa’s main island to engage in fierce ground battles against the Imperial Japanese Army. The battle resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people from both sides, including 94,000 civilians.

The battle is said to have come to an end with the June 23, 1945, suicides of Japanese military figures including commanding officer Mitsuru Ushijima of the 32nd Imperial Japanese Army, which was in charge of defending Okinawa.

On Friday, Tamaki presented a Declaration of Peace in which he expressed concern over moves to beef up defense in Okinawa, saying, “It has created anxiety among the people in Okinawa, combined with the memories of the land battles [78 years ago].”

Noting the increasingly severe security environment of the Asia-Pacific region, Tamaki said, “It is necessary to ease tensions through dialogue.”

The governor also called for the consolidation and reduction of U.S. military bases concentrated in the prefecture.

Kishida, in his speech as a guest, said, “The security environment has been the most difficult of the postwar era, but we will work tirelessly.” The prime minister added that he would work with all his strength to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting the bases.

Early in the morning in the park, family members put their hands together in prayer at the Cornerstone of Peace, where the names of the war victims are engraved.

This year, 365 names were newly added to the list, bringing the total number of inscriptions to 242,046. This is the first time in 12 years that the number of new inscriptions has exceeded 100, which was because the inscriptions include crew members from Hiroshima of the battleship Yamato, which sank off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture on its way to Okinawa.