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Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
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Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
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Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
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Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
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Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
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Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
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Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
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Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

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Battle of Okinawa
Battle of Okinawa
by Laura Lacey

Beginning in April of 1945, over fifty years ago on an island in the Pacific, American and Japanese men fought and killed each other as never before. Caught in the crossfire between these warring powers were the native inhabitants of Okinawa. The battle's significance has been lost despite the unprecedented events that occurred during those eighty-two days.

The Battle of Okinawa is distinguished among battles, yet often unrecognized when referring to the great battles of the Second World War. Over 250,000 people lost their lives. Approximately 150,000 Okinawans, about a third of the population, perished.[1] At the battle's end, somewhere between a third and half of all surviving civilians were wounded.[2] No battle during the Second World War, except Stalingrad, had as massive a loss of civilian life. The stakes were high. The Japanese, determined to fight to the last man, almost achieved their objective, but in defeat 100,000 Japanese combatants died rather than surrender.[3] In the end, fewer than 10,000 of General Mitsuri Ushijimas's Thirty-Second Army were taken prisoner.[4]

United States loss of life was staggering as well. The United States Navy sustained the largest loss of ships in its history with thirty-six lost and 368 damaged.[5] The Navy also sustained the largest loss of life in a single battle with almost 5,000 killed and an equal number wounded.[6] At Okinawa, the United States Tenth Army would incur its greatest losses in any campaign against the Japanese.[7] The Tenth Army, which initially was made up of 183,000 army, navy, and marine personnel.[8]  During those eighty-two days, the Tenth Army would lose 7,613 men and over 30,000 men would be evacuated from the front lines for a minimum of a week due to wounds.[9]  Moreover, the largest numbers of U.S. combat fatigue cases ever recorded would occur on Okinawa.[10]

A new motivation existed for resistance in the bloody fighting in the Pacific. The stakes had just become higher. Now in the spring of 1945, for the first time, Japan's military machine began defending home territory. Although the Japanese may not have seen the Okinawans as their equals, or even as Japanese, the island had been their colonial possession. The Satsuma clan, a feudal shoganate, had conquered the island during the seventeenth century and over the centuries had subsequently impoverished the once wealthy kingdom.[11]  Everyone involved, the Okinawans, the Japanese, and the Allies realized that Okinawa, within 350 miles of Kyushu, the southern tip of mainland Japan, would be the stepping-stone for the United States.[12]  Okinawa would be a virtual 'springboard to victory' for the Allies.[13]  From Okinawa, the Allies could launch an attack on the mainland by air or sea.

The Battle of Okinawa would generate many 'firsts' for the history books beyond the first time that United States troops fought on Japanese soil. The battle occurred during a time of unprecedented historical significance. The two highest-ranking officers to die during the Second World War were the commanders on Okinawa, General Mitsuri Ushijima and General Simon B. Buckner.[14]  Furthermore, when General Roy Geiger, a Marine aviator, assumed temporary command until General Joseph W. Stillwell arrived, it was the first time that a Marine would command a fighting force as large as a field army.[15]

The operation on Okinawa was named Operation Iceberg. It began on Okinawa on April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday. The landing would be referred to as 'L Day' or 'Love Day' and perhaps in keeping with April Fools Day, the landing encountered virtually no opposition. This lack of opposition was unexpected and unprecedented. The Tenth Army itself was unique. With the combination of Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur's forces, a joint task force had been assembled. Not just a U.S. joint task force, but one that included Great Britain. The British Task Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings, turned over operational control to Admiral R.A. Sprunce, U.S. Navy, Commander, Fifth Fleet.[16]  This combining of marines, soldiers, and naval personnel created the largest group of Americans and Allies to land in the Pacific, 548,000, before it was all over.[17]

The United States Navy assembled an unprecedented armada in April of 1945, with 1,300 ships laying in wait off the coast of Okinawa.[18]  In fact, the effort in the spring offensive of 1945 was far greater than the previous spring offensive in Europe. During the Normandy invasion, the Allies had employed 150,000 troops, 284 ships, and 570,000 tons of supplies, all of which required a very short supply line. On Okinawa, in Japan's back yard, maintaining the supply line seemed an incomprehensible feat. In the invasion of Okinawa, there were 183,000 troops, 327 ships, and 750,000 tons of supplies.[19]

Events even larger than the life and death struggle on Okinawa occurred during the spring of 1945. All of these events were common knowledge to the troops fighting and those on the home front, and these events did shape contemporary perspective regarding Okinawa. Ironically, because Okinawa is the final battle of the Second World War, the war's end would obscure the battle's accomplishments. In 1945, journalist Sid Moody of the Associated Press summarized it best: 'Before Hiroshima there was Okinawa. Because of Okinawa, in considerable part there was Hiroshima.'[20]  Okinawa lost its place in history in part because of Hiroshima.

Other events also contributed to the neglect of Okinawa in the public memory of World War II. In February 1945, the Battle of Iwo Jima raged. The loss of life and the willingness of the Japanese to fight to the last man were beyond the comprehension of most Americans. Trying to grasp the loss of life that bloody spring in the Pacific was just too painful for the American populace. On Iwo Jima by noon, March 2, 1945, Americans had counted 7,127 enemy dead and only thirty-two prisoners were taken.[21]  On March 9-10, 1945, the massive bombardment of American incendiary bombs destroyed much of Tokyo.[22]  Five days after Love Day, the Soviet Union entered the war and joined the Allies on the Pacific front.[23]  Twelve days after Love Day, April 12, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt died. Many of the young men fighting could remember no other president. Nor did many of them know anything about their new Commander-in-Chief, Harry S Truman. The famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who so captured the hearts of troops in the foxhole and the imaginations of the home front, would be killed early in the battle.[24]  On May 8, 1945, while the men of the Sixth prepared to 'move out' and relieve the Army on the southern end of Okinawa, the Germans surrendered.[25]  On July 2, 1945, while the Sixth Marine Division rested, trained, and prepared for the expected invasion of mainland Japan, the first Atomic Bomb would be detonated in New Mexico. Now an alternative to invasion seemed possible.[26]  The morning of August 6, 1945, an Atomic Bomb exploded over Hiroshima.[27]  Three days later, Nagasaki suffered a similar fate.[28]  Japan finally bowed under the weight of this new technology and in Tokyo Bay, aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, the Second World. The Battle of Okinawa lost its place in history because the history that was being made in 1945 was itself so monumental.

Military units fought bravely on Okinawa. The Tenth Army consisted of five Army Divisions, the 77th, the 96th, the 27th, the 81st, and the 7th. Three Marine Divisions fought on Okinawa, the 6th, the 2nd and the 1st. These divisions were all supported by naval, amphibious, and tactical air forces.

In April 1945 Ernie Pyle joined the fight in the Pacific. He quickly became acquainted with the Pacific Marines and tried to describe, 'Who they were.' He wrote that their battles in the Pacific had been so fierce that his imagination had turned them into men from Mars and that he was almost afraid of them. Instead he found them 'confident but neither cocky or smart-aleckey. They had fears, and qualms and hatred for the war the same as anybody else. They want to go home as badly as any soldier I've ever met.'[29]  Pyle tried to understand the minds of the Marines he had chosen to follow. He found them young, sentimental, and compassionate, bowing to Okinawan civilians on the road and adopting animals of all sorts as pets. They were Americans, with all the contradictions that the word implies. He finally concluded that the 'marines do not thirst for battles. I've read and heard enough about them to have no doubts whatever about the things they can do when they have to. They are o.k. for my money, in battle and out.'[30]  The same perhaps could be said for the other Americans who participants in the campaign.

The Japanese on Okinawa were prepared for an invasion. As early as 1943, the Ryukyus, the islands that make up Okinawa, had been part of the Japanese plan of defense, the 'Absolute National Defense Zone.'[31]  Japan's Thirty-Second Army came into being on March 22, 1944.[32]  In the beginning, their mission was just to defend the Ryukyus, build airfields, and help hold the 'Tojo Line' in the Central Pacific. As the situation deteriorated for them, so did the infrastructure of the Japanese military machine. Arguments over how to use assets created a situation in which General Ushijima's loss was unavoidable.[33]  For the Japanese the objective of the campaign would never be victory on Okinawa.

The Japanese knew they could not win, therefore their mission, jikyusen, became a battle of attrition.[34]  For every man lost he must take ten Americans, for every plane, a boat. The objective would be to destroy or at least delay the U.S. Fleet. This would give the Japanese time to prepare the homeland. The southern end of Okinawa seemed ideal for Ushijima's battle of attrition. Honeycombed with caves that had for over a year been reinforced to create interlocking defenses (often by conscripted labor), the southern end was easily defended. Ridges and rocky embankments, trees and foliage, made it an easy place to fight a battle of attrition. Delaying tactics and groups to slow the Allies would be employed, but Ushijima's plan was always was a southern standoff below the Shuri-Yonaburu line.[35]  Meanwhile, the U.S. fleet would be supplying the troops on land, leaving them exposed to Japanese air and naval attacks. This, argued Tokyo's leaders, would further slow the Allies attack on the mainland.[36]

At the beginning of the campaign, Ushijima would command approximately 110,000 men. Twenty thousand consisted of Okinawan Home Guard that supplemented the Japanese Army made up of the 24th Division, 62nd Division, the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade, the First, Second, Third, Twenty-sixth, Twenty-seventh, Twenty-eighth, and the Twenty-ninth Independent Brigades. As a U.S. Special Operations report prior to the invasion predicted, 'it can safely be assumed that most of the troops entrusted with the defenses of Okinawa will be Manchurian trained.' The Thirty-Second Army consisted of tough combat veterans.[37]  Ushijima's artillery would be the heaviest concentration so far encountered by the Allies in the Pacific.[38] Furthermore, the Thirty-Second Army had naval, amphibious, and air assets at its disposal.[39]

The Battle of Okinawa became an important part of overall U.S. Pacific military strategy. The goal of the Pacific campaign was to reach the 'industrial heart of Japan,' southern Honshu between Shimonoseki and the Tokyo plain.[40]  This strategy entailed taking successive steps towards mainland Japan, which has been called 'island hopping' in the Pacific. One plan, code-named 'Operation Causeway, considered Formosa as the next island in the Pacific in the spring of 1945. Allied occupation of Formosa would enable them to provide support to China as well as establish air bases to bomb mainland Japan. 'Operation Iceberg' an alternative plan called for the invasion of the Ryukus, the island chain that contains Okinawa. The Ryukus were within medium bomber range of mainland Japan and would provide airfields for both bombers and fighters. Okinawa would provide good anchorage, and the islands would help establish support positions for the invasion of first, Kyushu, and eventually industrial Honshu.[41]

The Formosa plan was rejected because military planners believed that the island could be neutralized without an invasion. On October 5, 1944, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz advised his command that the plan for Formosa had been deferred and that General Douglas MacArthur would invade Luzon in December of 1944. Then the Pacific forces were to seize Iwo Jima on January 20, 1945 and positions in the Ryukyus by March 1, 1945. [42]

The commanders for 'Operation Iceberg' would be Admiral Raymond Spruance and Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, Task Force 58; Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, Task Force 51; and Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, the Tenth Army. Major General Roy S. Geiger would lead the 3rd Amphibious Corps with three Marine Divisions, the 1st, 2nd, and 6th and four Army infantry divisions, the 24th Corps, made up of the 7th, 27th, 77th, and the 96th.[43]  The total number of assault troops for the initial landing was estimated at 182,821 men.[44]  The landing, Love Day, would be April 1, 1945.

The campaign on Okinawa involved seven U.S. divisions, support units, and naval assets. If one were telling the story of the Navy on Okinawa, the stories would be about kamikazes and the largest loss of life in the U.S. Navy's history. The Army would recount tales of places called Hacksaw, Ie Shima, the Pinnacle, and Kakazu. The First Marine Division would remember Wana Draw, Shuri Castle, and Kunishi. The Sixth Marine Division, however would be pivotal in the story on Okinawa

However, the rest of this article will highlight the Sixth Marine Division, because they were so essential and are credited with taking the majority of the island of Okinawa. The Sixth Marine Division has a unique place in military, especially Marine Corps history. Its place has been under-recognized in part because, unlike most other divisions, the Sixth never reactivated after the Second World War. The Sixth was formed on Guadalcanal in September of 1944 under the command of Major General Lemuel Shepard, a veteran of the First World War, who had been commanding the First Marine Brigade on Guam.[45]  The core of the Division was made up of battle-hardened Marines, some of whom were veterans of Eniwetok, some of whom had fought on Saipan. These hardened veterans of the Central and Western Pacific were augmented with replacement troops newly arrived from the United States and by special troops such as corpsman, reconnaissance, tanks, engineers, and other auxiliary units. [46]

This combination of the battle hardened and the untested created a new outfit, the Sixth Marine Division. In addition to battle-hardened Marines, the Sixth supplemented its ranks with Marines who had previously held stateside billets. This became possible after 1943 when women Marines, the Women's Reserve, began taking over clerical and other non-combat positions stateside. Their numbers grew to 18,000, and this substantial expansion freed able-bodied men to go overseas. The Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1944 to 1947, General Alexander A. Vandegrift, said that the addition of women to the Corps accounted for the ability to put 'the Sixth Marine Division in the field.'[47]  The Division was composed of four regiments: The 15th Marines, which was the artillery regiment and was comprised of artillery units previously attached to other units; the former Raider Battalions, which became the 4th Marine Regiment; the 29th Marine Regiment, which was brought up from battalion to regimental strength; the 22nd Marine Regiment, which was the first Marine regiment organized for independent duty after the United States entered the war, completed the Sixth Marine Division. After training as a unit on Guadalcanal for five months, they felt ready for the challenges that were in their future. The Sixth, although a new division, entered the Battle of Okinawa with more combat experience than any of the other Marine Divisions in their initial assaults.[48]

Although few marines other than Shepherd knew the destination, the division had been planning and training for a landing for months before their departure from Guadalcanal in March 1945. After a rest and rendezvous stop at the Ulithi atoll, in the Carolines, the division's briefings and preparation began in earnest.

The fleet began moving into place around the Ryukyu Island chain in March. The first kamikaze assault of the Okinawan campaign occurred on March 18, 1945. The navy began 'softening up' the island on March 21 with naval bombardment. The 'softening up' would make the landing easier for the assault troops when they came ashore. Naval bombardments would remove walls, foliage, and other barriers as well as kill troops. The Okinawan came to refer to the bombardment of Okinawa as the 'Typhoon of Steel.' The Kerama Islands that were off the coast of Okinawa were occupied March 25 through March 28 by members of the tenth Army, which gave the Allies a place for fuel replenishment and pre-invasion bases.[49]

The landing began early on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. The first waves went in at 8:30 am. The landings were to take place on the west coast of Okinawa on the Hagushi beaches, known as Green Beach and Red Beach by the landing troops. The plan called for U.S. forces to spread out and sever the island in two. The Marines of the First and Sixth Divisions were to move west to east and then go north. After landing, the Army headed south. On Love Day, the 2nd Marines were to conduct a diversionary operation on the southern end of Okinawa. The expected bloody landing never materialized. The Tenth Army strolled onto the island with little opposition.

The left flank of the Tenth Army became the Sixth's zone of action. The 4th, the 22nd, and the 15th regiments, the lead contingents for the Sixth, achieved their first day's objective by 10:30 am. The Tenth Army controlled Yontan and Kadena airfields. By that evening the 29th regiment, which had been held in reserve and had not anticipated an Easter landing, were on land. Equipment and 60,000 troops were on shore by the end of the first day, which was beyond the scheduled L-2 objective. By L-7, the Marines had secured Nago, Okinawa's second largest city, and were headed further north. The division would run into resistance on the Motobu Peninsula especially on the well-fortified positions around Mount Yaedake in mid-April. Organized resistance on the northern two-thirds of the island would end April 20. The Marine divisions thought their job finished.

However, word began to filter back that events were not going smoothly in the south. The Army had mired down. The Army first ran into stiff opposition north of Naha at a hill known as Kakazu. One of the Army units, the 27th, already had a reputation for having preformed poorly in previous island fighting. Now the Marines felt they were being ordered to bail them out. The Marine divisions headed out and the First eventually broke through at Kakazu.

In April General Alexander Vandergrift, Marine Corps Commandant, visited the island and discussed an amphibious assault on the southern end of the island rather than Bunkner's plan of continued frontal assault. This has become a major point of debate in the battle's history. The debate revolves around the contention that a southern assault would have been less costly. Bunkner prevailed and at the end of April, the Marines began replacing the Army on the front lines. They were about to run head on into the Shuri-Yonaburu Line.

The Japanese military had been unsure of where the Allies might land next and had removed troops from Okinawa to Formosa. This condemned the Thirty-Second Army to fight a defensive battle. Rather than meeting the Tenth Army at the beachhead, as in previous encounters, they would move to the Shuri-Yonburu line, a high ridge that essentially cut the island in two, just north of Naha on the eastern side of the island and its center the pride of the Okinawans, Shuri Castle. The Thirty-second Army's goal was to inflict as much damage from that spot as possible. From the walls of Shuri Castle, the Thirty-Second Army's headquarters, Ushijima and his staff watched the Americans land. They positioned their many guns, the Japanese soldiers dug interconnecting tunnels, and they waited.

A problem for the Tenth Army would be the rain, which by May 9 had begun in earnest. Everything became muddy. Moving supplies and equipment proved almost impossible and often had to be accomplished hand-over-hand. Asa Kawa River seemed to be the biggest obstacle between the Sixth Marine Division and Naha, the capital of Okinawa. The river would be breeched by the 22nd regiment a yard at a time. Then all that stood between the division and Naha were three 'insignificant' hills, Half Moon, Horseshoe and Sugar Loaf.

May 12 through May 18 would be filled with some of the most savage fighting in Marine Corps lore. The Shuri-line cut the island in half east to west. It consisted of mutually supported defensive positions, which consisted of mortar, artillery, machine guns, and interconnected tunnel complexes. These tunnels, an estimated sixty miles of interconnected passages, made movement and flanking maneuvers easy for the Japanese. In addition, the Marines ran into what they referred to as 'spider holes.' Flush with the ground and covered with brush or dirt, these hideaways kept the men constantly vigilant about what might be behind them. The Marines had found the flank of Ushijima's Shuri-line of defense and the Japanese were unwilling to give it up without a tremendous payment. Finally, under the cover of darkness, during a rainstorm, the remnants of the Thirty-Second Army would head further south. They would prepare for a final stand on the southern tip of Okinawa. They left Sugar Loaf and the Marines of the Sixth to recover their dead and wounded. The Sixth suffered over 2,000 casualties. Sugar Loaf would be assaulted eleven times; some companies would be literally wiped out twice.[50]

Once again, the Marine command staff would attempt to convince Bunkner to make an amphibious landing. Finally Bunkner concurred. The Marines would have their amphibious assault on the Oroku Peninsula. They had less than thirty-six hours to plan the landing. The Japanese naval forces had made the Oroku Peninsula their base of operation. They were ordered south along with the Army. The naval contingent, under Admiral Ota, chose to stay in their elaborate cave system on the Oroku and fight to the last man. After two days, the Naha airfield fell into American hands and Sixth secured the peninsula within ten more days. Very few Japanese prisoners were taken.

Another aspect of the Okinawa campaign that must be addressed is the plight of the civilian population. The Okinawans were a, docile people of small-stature who were faced with an unenviable situation. Whether considered, 'like Go pieces, in a game of Go,' as often referred to by former Okinawan Governor, Masahide Ota, or as caught between the hammer and the anvil, their situation during the war was miserable. At battle's end, one-third of the native population had perished. The Japanese military had told the Okinawan civilians to go south. They were thrown out of their hiding places as the Japanese retreated and took those caves for themselves. Very little consideration was offered these noncombatants by their Japanese overlords. A lone exception to the normal disregard that the Japanese reserved for the Okinawans was exhibited by Rear Admiral Minoru Ota, on June 6, 1945, shortly before Japanese naval headquarters on the Oroku Peninsula was overrun and Ota and his staff committed 'seppuku.' No other description better reveals the Okinawan's plight:

Since the enemy attack began, our Army and Navy has been fighting defensive battles and have not been able to tend to the people of the Prefecture. Consequently, due to our negligence, these innocent people have lost their homes and property to enemy assault. Every man has been conscribed to partake in the defense, while women, children and elders are forced into hiding in the small underground shelters which are not tactically important or are exposed to shelling, air raids or the harsh elements of nature. Moreover, girls have devoted themselves to running and cooking for the soldiers and have gone as far as to volunteer in carrying ammunition, or joining in attacking the enemy.[51]

The fact that a Japanese officer would admit negligence makes this passage especially important. Also significant is his comment that the men had been conscripted. This is not to say, as Ota points out, that some Okinawans were willing participants. Like all civilians who had been fed wartime propaganda, the Okinawans had unwarranted fears that accounted for their initial resistance and the large number of suicides. Many Okinawans made it clear that they felt they were fighting for their lives against the barbarous Americans, who would rape the women and eat the children. Once the civilians discovered the Allied troops did not intend to harm them, they surrendered and again became extremely docile. The Naval military detachment established to support the local population commented on their passivity, attributing it to 'great shock and fright,' but added that from that point on they were docile and cooperative.[52]  Rear Admiral Ota also described the particularly horrific move south for the Okinawans: This leaves the village people vulnerable to enemy attacks where they will surely be killed in desperation. Some parents have asked the military to protect their daughters against rape by the enemy, prepared that they may never see them again. Nurses, with wounded soldiers, wander the battlefield aimlessly because the medical team had moved and left them behind. The military has changed its operation, ordering people to move to far residential areas, however, those without means of transportation trudge along on foot in the dark and rain, all the while looking for food to stay alive.[53]

Other accounts regarding civilians support Ota's claims. The naval personnel responsible for their relocation during the battle explained that the Okinawans had been living in caves and were terrified to come out. Even at the battle's beginning, 'seventy-five percent of their homes were found destroyed, two-thirds having been burned. They were covered in lice and unclean, starved and injured from bombing, shelling and bullets.'[54]  One of the most riveting stories regarding the civilians of Okinawa is the story of the Himeyuri Student Corps, composed of schoolgirls. Schools in Japan, including Okinawa, had been militarized early in the forties. Conscription, activation and intensive nurses training began late in 1944 in all female schools. The First Okinawan Prefectural Girls School and the Women's Division of the national Okinawa Normal School made up the Himeyuri Students Corps. These were the most well thought of girls on Okinawa.[55]  When the battle began, the Himeyuri girls, numbering roughly 225 and ranging in age from fifteen to nineteen, were used as nurses aides in the Japanese military hospital.[56] These privileged young ladies usually did the most menial and often the most dangerous work. Thoroughly indoctrinated, most would have had it no other way. By May 30, 1945, the Japanese had already lost seventy percent of the forces stationed on Okinawa.[57]  At this point, they abandoned the Shuri/Yonabaru line and headed south. The military also abandoned these young women. Medical units were deactivated and the girls were left to their own devices. Pushed out of the caves, they moved south, unprepared and unprotected, which exacerbated their losses as they tried to find family and safety. By the end of June, just twenty-one remained alive. They have become a symbol on Okinawa of what the Okinawan's endured. Explained Setsuko Ishikiwa, 'My classmates died one after another.' [58]  Admiral Ota's conclusion to his telegram to Tokyo exhibits unique understanding of what the Okinawans had endured. He expressed his concern for a people that the Japanese had done little to protect: Ever since our Army and Navy occupied Okinawa, the inhabitants of the prefecture have been forced into military service and hard labor while sacrificing everything they own as well as the lives of their loved ones. They have served with loyalty. Now we are nearing the end of the battle, but they will go unrecognized, unrewarded. Seeing this I feel deeply depressed and lament a loss of words for them. Every tree, every plant is gone. Even the weeds are burnt. By the end of June, there will be no more food. This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war. And for this reason I ask you to give the Okinawan people special consideration this day forward.[59]

The Americans who landed on Okinawa had been briefed regarding the Okinawans, but they quickly surmised for themselves the pitiful situation that they were in. U.S. troops tried to look out for them as best they could. In The Last Chapter, Ernie Pyle wrote that the Okinawans were 'obviously scared to death, shocked by the bombardment, and that after a few days when they realized that they would not be hurt, they came out in droves to give themselves up.'[60]  He concluded that the real befuddlement occurred when they realized not only that the propaganda concerning the horrors of the Americans was incorrect but also that part of the intricate invasion plan included enough supplies to feed them.[61]  This is not to suggest that all encounters with the Okinawans were benign. Many would be caught in the crossfire of war and, as in any war, some men were not always compassionate to others when assessing their own chances of survival.

The battle ranged on often with the Okinawan civilians caught in the middle. As the men pressed on to the south the land flattened. Cane fields, terrified civilians desperate Japanese, as well as small hills, almost always fortified, made the fighting treacherous and chaotic. The last battle for the Sixth on Okinawa, Mezado Ridge, occurred on June 17. On June 21, 1945, George company, 22nd regiment, Sixth Marine Diviison, the same outfit that raised the flag on the northern end, did the honors on the southern end. The Battle for Okinawa was over.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2003 Laura Lacey.

Written by Laura Lacey. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Laura Lacey at:

Her website is

Published online: 04/13/2003.
© 2018, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: