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06-27-03, 07:06 AM
Battle of Okinawa: Quiet remembrance at former battlefield

By Mark Oliva and Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, June 26, 2003

ITOMAN, Okinawa — Warm, humid winds provided little relief from the summer heat as a group of Americans gathered Monday near the polished slabs of black granite. Soft murmurs filled the air as people passed the zigzag patterns of chest-high stone, each filled with names.

Thousands of names are here at the Cornerstones of Peace at the Peace Prayer Park. Hundreds of thousands, actually.

Some are etched in Japanese, the names of Imperial soldiers killed defending their homeland.

Others are etched in English, names of invading U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who fought, bled and ultimately died here. Still others are written in Korean.

Some Japanese names are distinctly Okinawan — they were those caught in the crossfire.

It’s silent here now. But on June 23, 1945, the echoes of war still were fresh. Fifty-eight years ago, this was where Okinawans came to throw themselves off the cliffs, dashing themselves on the jagged coral rocks hundreds of feet below. They believed they were better dead than facing the invading U.S. forces.

A few hundred yards away stands a nondescript shelter from the sun. There, Marine Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger raised the Stars and Stripes and declared the end of combat on Okinawa.

The signs of war have faded — but the names have not. Two hundred thousand names etched into cool black stone remind passers-by that this once was a battlefield where warring forces clashed — and died — mightily.

Brig. Gen. Timothy B. Larsen, commanding general of Marine Corps Bases Japan, stepped in front of the stone wall. He cleared his throat and, in a clear and deliberate voice, spoke of the occasion’s significance.

“My father fought on Okinawa as a Marine,” the general told the small gathering. “There are seven Larsens on these walls. My father wasn’t among them.”

Larsen attended Okinawa’s official memorial services for the war dead, marking only the second time a U.S. military representative has received an official invitation to the event.

“It is truly significant for me to be included in this,” Larsen added, standing in front the Cornerstones’ American section. “It is because of their sacrifice, we’re able to be here.”

Larsen told reporters he grew up hearing his father’s stories of the Battle of Okinawa. He saw the island for the first time in 1969. Decades later, being part of the ceremonies to honor the dead was soothing, he said: “I felt very good about this today. It was a very difficult time for everyone.”

Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine spoke of the war’s legacy during the ceremony, which included a poem read by an Okinawan schoolgirl and the release of doves.

“Okinawa is the island where the last ground battle in the Pacific war took place, and more than 200,000 precious lives were perished and numerous invaluable cultural assets were lost,” Inamine said.

But he also used the ceremony to press his long-standing argument against U.S. bases on Okinawa, saying, “Although Okinawa has achieved remarkable development … vast U.S. military are still concentrated on the island, forcing an unproportionately heavy burden to the people of Okinawa.”

The U.S. military presence contributes to Japanese and regional Asian security, said Hiroyuki Hosoda, minister in charge of Okinawa, reading a statement by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. However, Koizumi’s statement said, the U.S. military concentration on the island imposes a “heavy burden. … I will commit myself to reduce the burden of Okinawan people.”

For retired Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Stanley Stewart, though, the ceremonies were about neither politics nor debate over the U.S. role on Okinawa. They were to honor sacrifice.

Monday marked the fourth straight year Stewart and his Veterans of Foreign Wars group gathered to mark the occasion — a practice he vowed to continue.

“I look out here and see 14,000-plus American names from all branches,” Stewart said. “It makes me feel proud [to] see all these names.

“It is a personal policy of mine to come down and pay tribute to this final resting place,” he said. “It’s very important for anybody to pay tribute to lost comrades.”




06-27-03, 07:07 AM
Battle of Okinawa: Lone survivor returns to site of betrayal

By Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, June 26, 2003

NAHA, Okinawa — In World War II’s waning days, 21-year-old Jo Oka, a Japanese Imperial Army soldier, was wounded and lying in a cot in the dark cave that served as an Imperial Japanese Army field hospital in Haebaru, in southern Okinawa.

The cave hospital was filled with more than 2,000 seriously wounded soldiers. No treatment was given to them. Instead, they were given poison.

Much has been told of the atrocities that took place in that cave, where wounded soldiers were disposed of by cyanide in the last stages of the Battle of Okinawa, as the devastated Imperial Army retreated farther south.

Until recently, however, the massacre was thought to have left no one alive. Even today, Oka believes he is the only survivor among soldiers who were given cyanide-laced milk by their own army.

Conscripted in January 1944 in his hometown of Kyoto, Oka was sent to China after two weeks of training. In August, his unit was reorganized and sent to Okinawa. In April 1945, the battle for Okinawa began.

Oka was a gunner with the Ishi Battalion; his unit was positioned on the front lines in Maeda in Urasoe.

“We were able to see Americans about 300 meters ahead,” he said. “It was the morning of April 28 in 1945.

“I was hiding in a trench with my sergeant, watching the movement of the enemy. When we found enemy troops near us, we fired at them, but then the return fire was tremendous.”

A trench mortar shell burst nearby. Shrapnel tore into Oka.

“My sergeant put me on his shoulder and carried me to a hospital in Shuri, where they removed a piece of shrapnel from my body,” he said.

Two days later, he was sent to a field hospital in Haebaru packed with wounded soldiers, he said. “The chamber I was put in was about 50 meters long. I was laid in the farthest row from the entrance and the closest to the exit.

“I don’t remember what I ate or if I ate at all because of the pain from my wound. Around May 23, everyone who could walk left the cave together with student nurses.”

Only the seriously injured and some medics remained. Food had never been plentiful — a small rice ball once a day. But eventually, the feedings stopped completely. No food or water was given for three days.

“We were simply abandoned there,” Oka said.

On the fourth day, a voice echoed in the cave, telling them that milk would be distributed.

“The murmur of excitement rose among nearly starving soldiers,” he said. “Everyone was overjoyed with long-awaited food, and I was excited, too.”

Patients in the rows near the entrance received the milk first.

“Shortly after, I heard some noises among patients near the entrance, but I thought that they were just carried away by the milk treat,” he said. “Soon, they all became quiet, so I thought they all went to sleep satisfied with the milk.”

His turn came. He first dipped his finger in the milk and licked it.

It was bitter.

Then, he remembers a block of brown sugar a student nurse had given him on the way to the cave hospital. “She handed it to me while I was on a stretcher, telling me that it would do me good at some time,” he said.

He added some of the sugar to the milk and tasted it, but it was still bitter. He added some more and tasted it. Even though moaning sounds drew closer, and he thought the milk was strange, he said, “I drank it anyway because I was very thirsty.” But soon, “I felt dizzy and a sharp pain ran through my stomach.”

He recalls shouting, “This is poison! We are being poisoned!” Immediately, he stuck a finger in his mouth to induce vomiting.

“I guzzled water in a canteen and vomited, at the same time handing the canteen to the solider next to me, urging him to do the same,” he said. “We repeated it again and again until all the water in the canteen was gone.”

Soon, the entire cave became quiet. They heard no more moans.

“I could finally understand what was going on,” Oka said. He realized they would be killed if they remained. “The next moment, the soldier next to me and I jumped off our cots and started to run away from the cave.”

That soldier soon was killed by U.S. fire. Oka escaped and wandered the front lines in Mabuni, Okinawa’s southernmost point, for about a month before being captured and made a prisoner of war June 28.

For 46 years, he remained silent about surviving the death cave. Only after a September 1991 story about the poisoning appeared in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper did Oka decide to talk about his experience.

Judging by the angry phone calls he received after his story was published in the newspaper, he said, many readers wished he hadn’t. Many found it hard to accept that their military committed such an atrocity to its own soldiers, he said.

“I can understand that because I could not believe it either,” he said. “But it was what actually happened and a part of history that cannot be denied.

“I come back to Okinawa every year to see my comrades and to console their spirits.”

There is one more thing he never fails to do on his annual visit: He buys blocks of brown sugar to take home.




06-27-03, 07:09 AM
Blackman to replace Gregson on Okinawa

By Mark Oliva, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, June 25, 2003

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Maj. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr. is expected to become the ranking Marine on Okinawa next month.

Blackman’s nomination to replace Marine Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson as 3 Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general was announced Friday.

A change of command is slated for July 16.

Blackman, currently the Marine Corps Forces Central deputy commander at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., also has been nominated for his third star.

Gregson was selected earlier this year to be Commander, Marine Forces Pacific, which oversees all Marines in Japan, Hawaii and California. He will replace Marine Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, who is retiring.

Blackman, commissioned after graduating from Cornell University in 1970, was a platoon commander and company executive officer with 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. He also was a series commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, directed Sea School and was a company commander in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. He was executive officer for 8th Marines in 1987.

In 1988, he assumed command of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. In 1991, he was the U.S. Central Command’s commander-in-chief’s executive officer. In 1993, he commanded the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. In 1998, he was 2nd Marine Division’s assistant division commander and commanded the division from 1999 until 2001.

He has held numerous staff billets, including tours as a fellow in National Security Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, military assistant to the secretary of the Navy and president of the Marine Corps University.