Okinawa Marks 79 Years after End of Fierce Ground Battle (UPDATE1)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People pray over the names of their relatives who died in the Battle of Okinawa at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sunday.

ITOMAN, Okinawa (Jiji Press) — A memorial ceremony was held in Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday to pray for some 200,000 people who lost their lives in a fierce ground battle fought in the southernmost Japan prefecture 79 years ago toward the end of World War II.

During the memorial service, sponsored by the Okinawa prefectural government and held in the Peace Memorial Park in the Mabuni district in Itoman, Okinawa, participants observed a moment of silence in honor of the war dead, laid flowers and renewed their pledge for peace. Mabuni was the last grueling battlefield during the Battle of Okinawa, to which numerous civilians fell victim.

In a peace declaration, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki called for resolving the challenges created by the increasingly complex security environment through peaceful diplomacy and dialogue. “Let’s work unceasingly together to establish lasting peace,” he said.

Noting that the excessive burden of hosting U.S. military bases remains in Okinawa today, the governor sought the scaling down of the bases and the abandonment of the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air station within the prefecture.

Furthermore, bearing in mind Tokyo’s efforts to strengthen defense around the Nansei southwestern islands, including Okinawa, Tamaki said, “Combined with memories of the tragic Battle of Okinawa, the people of the prefecture have strong anxieties.”

In an address at the ceremony, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “When I think of the regret of the war dead whose names have been inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace and the grief and a sense of loss felt by the families left behind, I can’t help but feel heartbroken.” The Cornerstone of Peace is a monument erected in the park in Itoman to remember those who died in the Battle of Okinawa.

Kishida said the Japanese government will comprehensively promote the development of Okinawa as a national strategy.

On the issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa, however, the prime minister only said, “We take seriously the fact that Okinawa bears a heavy burden and will do our utmost to alleviate this burden.” Okinawa hosts about 70% of U.S. military bases in Japan.

Elsewhere in the ceremony, Yusuke Nakama, an 18-year-old student of Okinawa Prefectural Miyako High School, recited a poem about peace, expressing his determination to continue praying for peace at a time when wars are ongoing in various parts of the world.

Bereaved family members and the heads of both chambers of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, also participated in the ceremony.

On June 23, 1945, organized fighting during the Battle of Okinawa, the fiercest ground battle on Japanese soil during World War II, is said to have ended with the suicide in Mabuni of the local commander of the now-defunct Japanese Imperial Army.

The names of 181 war victims were newly inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace this year, bringing the total number to 242,225.