ITOMAN, Okinawa - Naeko Teruya, head of the association for the families of war victims in Okinawa Prefecture, said Tuesday she is determined never to let her children, grandchildren and people around the world experience the horrors she lived through in the Battle of Okinawa.
Speaking at a memorial service in Mabuni in Itoman on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, Teruya said: "Hellish experiences enter my mind and hurt my heart. I feel deep sorrow and increasingly miss those I lost." Mabuni was the site of last hard-fought battle in Okinawa.
With the sun beating down on the heads of those attending the memorial service, the 79-year-old woman spoke as if she were speaking to those who were killed in the war.
The Battle of Okinawa was fought when Teruya was 9 years old. She fled from her hometown of Naha to Itoman, trying to escape the constant bombardment. Of a family of 10, she lost four, including her 2-year-old brother who fled with her, and her father who was conscripted into the military.
"If we die, let's die where we were born," her mother said shortly after Teruya's brother and others died in an attack on a village in Itoman.
Her mother was carrying Teruya on her back when they encountered a US tank while they were walking along the coast toward Naha.
"Run, children," her mother whispered, and Teruya said she thought, "They'll run over us and kill us." But the US Army protected her.
After the war, her elder brother used to go to a US military dumping ground to pick up canned food and other items because the family was hungry. Teruya often heard her mother saying, "Something bugs can eat is something human beings can eat." Teruya and her family boiled grass from around their house, and ate it.
Teruya started collecting the remains of war victims shortly after the war. In February this year, she found 10 remains on a cliff on the Itoman coast. "I feel heartache when I think about the victims who are in a dark place under the ground," she said. Every time she touches the remains, it reminds her of the days just after the war.
Two years ago, she talked about her experience during the war for the first time in front of high school students.
In her memorial speech, she expressed her determination by saying: "I will pass lessons from the war to the next generation, telling them the importance of peace. I will work much harder to achieve eternal peace."Speech