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Shige Nakahodo, 77, a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa with a piece of shrapnel embedded above her left eye, said she believes it is her sacred duty to share her war experience with younger generations.

Shige Nakahodo, 77, a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa with a piece of shrapnel embedded above her left eye, said she believes it is her sacred duty to share her war experience with younger generations. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

HAEBARU, Okinawa — The Battle of Okinawa ended 61 years ago, but it was just the beginning of a long, tough journey for Shige Nakahodo, one of the survivors of the battle that claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Nakahodo, now 77, visits schools, community halls and even resort hotels to share her war experiences with younger generations.

“I feel that it is my sacred duty to pass on to the next generation my experience and the cruel reality of war,” she said.

Nakahodo was 16 and living in the southern Okinawa village of Ozato with her mother and two younger brothers when the battle began. On June 10, 1945, they were forced to evacuate their home as the battle crept south on the Chinen peninsula. They fled with an uncle and his family, 13 people in all.

On June 19, they arrived in Mabuni, near an area now known as “Suicide Cliff.” While sheltering in a natural cave near the beach, they saw a tank approaching them.

Resigning himself to death, her uncle told them that they should commit suicide, Nakahodo said.

“He was about to detonate a grenade he held in his hand,” she said. “But my mother stood up and grabbed his wrist.”

Her mother’s words are still vivid in her mind: “Look at these children with their innocent looks. How can we kill them?”

After her uncle changed his mind, they left the cave — and saw dead bodies all around and the hills in flames.

“We were walking in one line when a bomb hit us,” she said. “My aunt fell down and my 10-year-old cousin, who was carrying his baby brother on his back, was killed instantly.”

Nakahodo was wounded in one leg and a piece of shrapnel hit her face, barely missing her eye. To this day, the metal sliver remains beneath the skin between her left eye and the eyebrow.

The family hid in a succession of caves until June 26, three days after the official end of battle. The first person she saw was a Japanese-American who was serving as an interpreter.

“I saw a man with blue eyes and a big nose,” she said of the first foreigner she had ever encountered. “They gave us food and treated our wounds.”

Nakahodo and her family settled into a refugee camp in Hyakuna and she found a job on a camp in Chinen, home to the U.S. Army’s 7th Psychological Operations Group.

“My job was to wash clothes for soldiers and wash dishes in the kitchen,” she said. It was a completely different life, free from the fear of death.

One day when she was doing the laundry, a young American soldier noticed her bare feet. The next day he bought her a brand new pair of shoes, she recalls.

“I was overwhelmed by his kindness,” she said, smiling at the memory. “It was one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.”

Nakahodo, who later married and raised seven children, said it is important to convey to younger generations what Okinawans went through in 1945.

“I will continue to speak about my war experience as long as my life goes on,” she vowed. She guided a visitor’s hand to her forehead to touch a small, hard lump just under her skin.

“The piece of shrapnel near my eyebrow is the living proof of the horror of war,” she said.

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