01 April 2009

Okinawa, then and now

Landing on Okinawa, 1 April 1945.

On 1 April 1945 the largest and last amphibious invasion of the Pacific campaign, codenamed Operation Iceberg, began at Okinawa.

The American attacking force consisted of 183,000 troops of the U.S. Tenth Army and Marine Divisions commanded by General Simon Bolivar Buckner, supported by Navy and Air Force fire and bombardment. Okinawa was defended by 77,000 troops of the Japanese 32nd Army commanded by Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, assisted by Lt.Gen Isamu Cho and Col. Hiromichi Yahara, and augmented by conscripted 20,000 "Boeitai" (Okinawa Home Guard) as labor and service troops.

Pacific Commander Admiral Nimitz had assembled and launched the greatest amphibious invasion force of the Pacific War, filling the sea with hundreds of ships moving toward the invasion beaches. Among them were 10 older American battleships, including several Pearl Harbor survivors — the USS Tennessee, Maryland, and West Virginia — as well as 9 cruisers, 23 destroyers and destroyer escorts, and 117 rocket gunboats.

As the pre-H Hour bombardment of the heaviest concentration of naval gunfire ever expended to support an amphibious landing lifted, an 8-mile long line of amphibious assault and landing craft moved onto the Hagushi and Chatan beachheads landing 60,000 assault troops, initially without any enemy fire or resistance.

The U.S. military wanted Okinawa for three reasons. American medium bombers could reach the Japanese home islands from Okinawa, its seizure would cut supply lines to Japan, and it could be used as a support base for the planned invasion of Japan proper.

Shoreline 3 days after the landing.

More ships were used, more troops put ashore, more supplies transported, more bombs dropped, more naval guns fired against shore targets than any other operation in the Pacific. More people died during the Battle of Okinawa than all those killed during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By the end of the fighting three months later, casualties totaled more than 38,000 Americans wounded and 12,000 killed or missing, more than 107,000 Japanese and Okinawan troops killed, and an estimated 100,000 Okinawan civilians perished.

Thirty-four allied ships and craft of all types had been sunk, mostly by kamikazes, and 368 ships damaged. The fleet lost 763 aircraft.

Navy casualties were horrific, with a ratio of one killed for one wounded (!) as compared to a one to five ratio for the Marine Corps. Combat stress also caused large numbers of psychiatric casualties. The rate of combat losses due to battle stress, expressed as a percentage of those caused by combat wounds, was 48%.

American losses at Okinawa were so heavy they drew Congressional calls for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders.

The cost of the battle of Okinawa, in terms of lives, time, and material, weighed heavily in the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan just six weeks later.

Hideko Yoshimura was a 19-year old high school student on Okinawa when she was drafted to serve with the the Himeyuri Student Nurse Corps in March 1945. In 2007, Yoshimura spoke about her experiences during the battle, as well as her groups' surrender.

About 50 people, including the students, had surrendered. After they were gathered in one spot, a Japanese soldier disguised as a woman suddenly committed suicide with a grenade. In the tense atmosphere, the captors ordered all male prisoners to take off their shirts.

At that point, Yoshimura noticed a little boy beside a U.S. soldier. He was crying for his father as he tugged on the soldier's trousers. Yoshimura was frightened for the boy's life as she thought the soldier would shoot him.

Instead, she saw the soldier smile at the boy and sang softly, "don't cry baby, don't cry baby." Believing that Americans were demons, Yoshimura was shocked to see they, too, were human.

Today, the US maintains 14 bases on Okinawa, including Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Kadena Air Base, comprising about 18% of the main island. Okinawa itself accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total landmass.

Maj. Bob Hanovich, with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1, talks with Loy, an Okinawan boy whose American father is no longer with his Okinawan mother, during a Big Bear Club meeting on Camp Foster on Sunday. Photo: Cindy Fisher/S&S.

Marines volunteer as ‘Big Bears’

By Cindy Fisher, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Too often, these mixed-race kids have trouble making friends with their Japanese peers. And when the American parent is not part of the family, they lose half of their cultural heritage, Kikuno Higa said. Higa has a 10-year-old, Austin, whose American father is not part of the picture.

"I wanted [Austin] to know about the American culture and then to have other friends of the same cultural background," Higa said Sunday during a gathering of the Big Bear Club at the Globe and Anchor club on Camp Foster. Marine volunteers spent the afternoon teaching the children about Easter and the art of dyeing eggs.

Michiyo Akamine started the club in 1998 after her own mixed-raced son had trouble fitting in with his Japanese classmates. It’s made up of American and Japanese volunteers, and Japanese mothers and their Amerasian children.

Volunteers teach English the first three Saturdays of each month. On the fourth Sunday, the children learn about American customs and holidays.

It’s similar to the Big Brothers/Sisters in the States, except here it is done as a group, volunteer Master Sgt. Mike Hansen said.

Through the club, her 5-year-old daughter is establishing her identity as an American, said Ikuko Goulding, who is divorced from her daughter’s father.

Goulding said that wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers and the time they put in.

But the Marines get just as much out of it, said Maj. Bob Hanovich, a volunteer with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1.

"I get to be with these wonderful kids," Hanovich said.

The club also builds better relations between the local community and the American military, Hansen said.

"This breaks the cycle of disliking Americans," Hansen said, adding that these kids are learning that Marines aren’t so scary after all.

And it also gets young, single Marines to interact with the local community in a positive situation, Hanovich said.

To volunteer with the Big Bear Club, call 090-8290-8860 or visit www.h7.dion.ne.jp/~big-bear/index.html.

Sources include Global Security, Wikipedia, US Army Center of Military History.

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