Japanese WWII vets reflect on past battles during visit to Kadena
October 1, 2010
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The group of elderly Japanese men peered into a dark bunker Thursday as cicadas chirped loudly in the overhanging vegetation.
Looking into the cement hovel, they could smell damp earth and see a distant, bloody past.
They could see a time when the dim bunkers at Kadena Air Base still sheltered Imperial Japanese suicide bombs and the catastrophic Battle of Okinawa was just unfolding.
“Yes, I lost my arm but so what?” said Kentaro Togashi, 89, a World War II veteran who wears a prosthetic limb. “There are so many who could not even make it home.”
Togashi and 27 other Japanese World War II veterans who traveled from mainland Japan to Kadena on Thursday were among those who did make it home from the war.
Some fought in the Battle of Okinawa and others fought in China, Burma or elsewhere.
About 110,000 Japanese troops and Okinawa conscripts and more than 150,000 Okinawa civilians died during the fight for the island, the last major land battle in the Pacific war.
The U.S. Air Force allowed the Japanese veterans to visit historic sites on Kadena. Local veterans toured the base last year but the visit Thursday was the first time a group from the mainland came to Kadena, according to the base public affairs office.
Togashi, who lost his arm while serving in China, said visiting historic sites at Kadena provided a connection to those who served and died here.
“It tells how much sacrifice people of Okinawa had to pay in the battle,” said Togashi, who is of the Japan Disabled Veterans Association in Tokyo, which arranged the visit.
Shigeru Miyagi, 78, said he was a mountain guide for Imperial soldiers on Okinawa in 1945 when American machine gun fire raked his left arm and jaw.
“About one week after I was injured, the wounds became worse and I almost died because of a lack proper treatments,” Miyagi said. “That’s when my mother decided to turn ourselves in to a U.S. military camp nearby.”
Remembering the tragedies and pain of Okinawa may the way to avoid another great war, said Yoshio Takeda, 88, who lost an arm during a battle in Singapore.
“Those who experienced the war are getting old,” Takeda said. “After all of us are gone, no one can pass on the stories of the fierce war any longer.
“Preserving war sites such as these is therefore a very important way to hand down the tragedy to future generations,” he said.