Service members visit battle sites throughout Okinawa
As service members and civilians crawled through an Imperial Japanese Army bunker from World War II, looking out through a gun port that controlled
commanding fields of fire almost 70 years ago, the reality of the Battle of Okinawa began to dawn on them.
This scene set the tone for an afternoon of taking in the not-so-distant history as service members and status of forces agreement personnel toured the island Oct. 20 during a Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa battle sites tour.
The Battle of Okinawa was the largest ground battle fought in Japan during World War II, where hundreds of thousands of people were affected by the conflict and lost their lives, according to the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau in the foreword of “Message from the Underground,” an exhibit in the Former Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters.
The battle, which began April 1, 1945, included some of the heaviest causalities of the war, with more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers, 65,000 U.S.-Allied service members and tens of thousands of civilians killed or wounded over the 82 days of fighting.
“People don’t realize the extent of the battle and just how it affected the lives of those involved,” said Lance Cpl. Austin J. Gilkey, a financial management resource analyst with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “You hear people’s names and (about) things they faced in certain battles, (information) you wouldn’t hear unless you were on a guided tour.”
The tour was designed to help attendees understand the battle by visiting important sites, such as the Battle of Okinawa Historical Display, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Park, the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters and Kakazu Ridge.
“At Kakazu Ridge, it was so strange to see that we were standing on a hill and knowing there were tunnels underneath us that the Japanese had dug and used to plan attacks,” said Michelle A. Moore-Robinson, the principal of Kinser Middle School. “Then we got to see the (Former) Japanese Navy Underground
Headquarters, where there is so much history of workers and (evidence of) what life had been like staying in there.”
The tour also emphasized how the events of 1945 still live within the memory of Okinawa residents who survived the battle and how it altered the landscape.
“All the trees you see here are less than 70 years old,” said Mark Wayaster, an MCCS tour guide, referring to the lush greenery covering the landscape that had been barren and charred black during the war.
The memorial park honors all those who died during the Battle of Okinawa, with the names of each casualty written in their native language, including nearly 150,000 civilian names and more than 14,000 American names.
The tour provided service members who attended the opportunity to understand and relate to those who fought and died on the same soil so many years ago, according to Moore-Robinson.
The tour left many in awe, and those who know veterans or have family that were involved in the battle know how vital it is to understand the significance of the battle.
“The tour guide was great with the historical perspective from the Japanese side and the American side and how both sides were impacted,” said Moore-Robinson. “It’s really amazing, and to conclude the tour at the Peace Park was a calming and a humbling experience.”