Okinawa marks battle 70 years on

Okinawa marks battle 70 years on
Bereaved family members join their hands in prayer in front of the Cornerstone of Peace in the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on Tuesday.
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

ITOMAN, Okinawa - Okinawa Prefecture on Tuesday commemorated the lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa (see below) in the closing days of World War II.

The Okinawa prefectural government held a memorial service for the war dead to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the battle at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman's Mabuni area, the site of the last bloody combat.

The ceremony was attended by about 5,400 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, Shunichi Yamaguchi, state minister for Okinawa and northern territories affairs, and US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy as well as bereaved family members.

Kennedy also attended last year's memorial service.

The attendees offered silent prayers for one minute at noon.

In the peace declaration, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga insisted he opposes the relocation of US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko district in Nago, both in the prefecture.

"It's difficult to construct a new base as people expressed their opposition in last year's election [in the prefecture]," Onaga said in the peace declaration. "It [the government] should not remain fixed on an idea [of the relocation], and I urge it to make a decision to suspend the relocation work."

He dedicated half of the peace declaration to the base issue. It is rare for a political message to be included in a peace declaration. It was the first time that Onaga, who assumed his post last December, has attended the memorial service as governor.

Abe said in a speech: "For many long years, the needs of national security have placed a heavy burden on the people of Okinawa. I will continue doing my utmost to alleviate the burden that the [US military] bases place on Okinawa."

It was the first time that Abe has visited the prefecture since Onaga took office.

Bereaved family members mourned their loved ones at the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, which bears the names of soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in the battle, regardless of nationality.

The Okinawa prefectural government estimates that a total of 200,656 Japanese and American soldiers and others were killed in the battle. Of those, 122,228 were from the prefecture.

"It's the responsibility of politicians to alleviate Okinawa Prefecture's burden of hosting bases," Abe told reporters in Itoman after the memorial service. "It's important for all the people to share the burden. The US Futenma Air Station must not remain in its present location. I want to carefully explain this to the governor and people in the prefecture."

■ Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa began when US forces landed on the Kerama Islands, west of Okinawa Island, on March 26, 1945, in the closing days of World War II. US forces then landed on Okinawa Island on April 1. Fierce ground battles claimed the lives of many local residents. Japan's systematic fighting ended after the commander of Okinawa's defense committed suicide at the command headquarters in a cave located in the southern part of Okinawa Island on June 23.

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