Memorial Day ceremony on Okinawa honors U.S. troops and fallen civilians
NAHA, Okinawa — More than 200 people attended a Memorial Day observance here Monday, paying homage not only to U.S. veterans but also honoring the 150,000 Okinawan civilians who died in the crossfire during the Battle of Okinawa 59 years ago.
In the International Cemetery at Tomari wharf in Naha, a small cemetery established 150 years ago by U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry and set aside for foreigners, headstones were washed, taps was played and a 21-gun salute was fired for the honored dead.
Many non-Japanese are buried there in graves that pre-date Perry’s pact with the Kingdom of the Ryukyus. Of the 22 earlier graves, two are for Frenchmen, two for Englishmen, eleven for Americans, six for Chinese and one, dating back to the 1750s, is for a person of unknown origin.
But most of the graves are those of U.S. servicemen who lived, and later died, on Okinawa. During the ceremony, many Okinawan widows, wearing traditional black mourning dresses, could be seen washing the headstones, snipping the grass with hand shears and placing fresh flowers in small pots at the graves of their husbands.
During the ceremony, with opening remarks by Marine Brig. Gen. Frank A. Panter, commander of the 3rd Forces Service Support Group, and a short speech by U.S. Consul General Thomas Reich, persons representing veterans’ groups, the Okinawa Prefectural Government and American and Japanese businesses and associations, laid wreaths at the foot of a flag and stood at attention during the playing of the anthems of the United States and Japan.