CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — World War II ended 69 years ago, but shells are still exploding off the coast of Okinawa.
Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians detonated two dozen U.S.-made munitions Wednesday morning about 800 yards from shore in Kadena town’s Mizugama district, an area known as the “sea wall,” close to Kadena Air Base.
Nineteen of the 24 rounds were 5-inch shells found near the mouth of Hija River in Kadena town along with an 81 mm mortar shell, according to Kadena Town official Nobukazu Kobashigawa. They were accompanied by four 5-inch shells found on the Yomitan Village side.
“It is not surprising to find those shells because the beach is where the allied forces first landed during the Battle of Okinawa,” Kobashigawa said. “I am sure there are lots more.”
As the detonation time neared, a countdown was pronounced in Japanese for a group of town officials, joined by members of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, Japanese Coast Guard and local police.
The explosion was barely heard over the whipping ocean wind but sent a plume of gray-and-white smoke along with sea spray toward the overcast sky. A team of Maritime Self-Defense Force explosives experts then inspected the site to ensure the detonation was a success.
“Since the local area and base areas were once battlefields, it’s not uncommon to unearth or randomly find UXOs (unexploded ordnance),” 18th Wing public affairs spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Amber Jacobs wrote to Stars and Stripes.
“Typically when UXOs are found off base, the Japanese government will dispose of the UXOs, and when it is on base [U.S. military explosive ordnance disposal technicians] would dispose of the UXOs. You tend to hear a lot about UXOs when new construction projects kick off or when someone needs to disturb the ground.”
Japanese officials said a diver discovered the rounds last Dec. 24. The fuses were confirmed to still be operational, then the munitions were moved to the offshore detonation area Tuesday and marked with a red flag and buoy.
It is unknown how many unexploded munitions remain buried on Okinawa in coastal waters, according to the 15th Brigade Okinawa of Ground Self-Defense Force. As of July 12, some 1,708 tons had been recovered and detonated by the Self-Defense Force since the island prefecture was returned to Japan in 1972.
The Battle of Okinawa landing is known as the “Typhoon of Steel” in Japan for the shear ferocity of the fighting and the amount of munitions that were expended. It is unknown how many tons of UXOs were removed by the U.S. military between the end of World War II and the island’s reversion to Japanese control.