‘Recognition goes to Okinawans’
Chief of Staff of the Thirty-second Army Isamu Cho beseeched the Okinawan populace in the January 27 issue of the local newspaper Okinawa Shimpo, saying: “All prefectural residents must be militia, obeying the Army’s instruction without quibbling. The elderly and children should move to a safe area so that they will not be operational obstacles.” He added, “It is not acceptable to lose in battle to save civilian lives.”
For the Army, evacuation and military mobilization were two sides of the same coin. Under the Army’s defense draft rules, more than 20,000 men between the age of 17 and 45 were drafted to form a local “defense corps.” They were assigned to build airdromes and to transport materials. It was a backlash from the Imperial Headquarters’ previous actions— moving the Ninth Division of the Thirty-second Army to Taiwan.
Students of normal schools, middle schools and women’s high schools were mobilized as a student corps. According to the Himeyuri Peace Museum in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, about 1,800 male students were mobilized as Tekketsu Kinnotai (Iron-blood forces serving the Emperor) and communications personnel, while 560 female students were assigned to work as nurses.
Among the female students, 157 belonging to the normal school’s women department and 65 of the prefectural women’s high school Number One were called Himeyuri (Star Lily) Corps. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 worked hard in poorly-conditioned pits, taking care of the injured soldiers and holding the patients when they went through surgery to have their limbs removed. They took over household chores—drawing water and cooking—between firing intervals of the U.S. forces. They ran between pits as messengers and were hit by bullets. Male students carried bombs, drilled trenches and sometimes were ordered to storm enemy forces or make suicide runs against enemy tanks with bombs on their backs. According to records, 876 male and 194 female students lost their lives.
Okinawa residents, whose homeland turned into a battleground, did not only suffer from American shelling and bullets. The Army, which they thought would protect them, instead forced them to give up their lives. One example of this was spy hunting. Taking up the position of the Thirty-second Army’s Commander in August 1944, Ushijima told his subordinates, “Utmost care should be taken against counterespionage.” After U.S. troops landed on Okinawa Island, he ordered all personnel to use standard Japanese, warning that “those speaking the Okinawa dialect would be considered spies and dealt with accordingly.”
The Imperial Headquarters’ Army Department issued a Battle Decree for National Land in April 1945. The document said if the enemy held women or children in custody and tried to persuade soldiers to surrender, “we should not hesitate to destroy the enemy forces.” The decree clearly said that it could not be helped if civilian lives were sacrificed in the destruction of enemy forces. From late June to August of 1945 when the major battles were over, the decree was put into action on Kumejima island, west of Okinawa Island. Under the forceful instruction of U.S. troops, 20 citizens asked Japanese soldiers to surrender but were slaughtered as spy suspects.
Rear Admiral Minoru Ota, who commanded about 10,000 naval landing troops, sent an unusual telegram to Tokyo on June 6 before he killed himself in a trench in Oroku, near the current Naha Airport. Though it was not under his authority, he “could not let the current situation go without comment.” The telegram read: “All the young in the prefecture were drafted for defense corps, and the remaining old people, women and children were burned out of their houses and lost all they had because of the intermittent bombing and firing...Some volunteered to transport bombs and make raids on the enemy. Since the Army and Navy came to Okinawa, the local citizens have been forced to volunteer labor and economize on supplies.”
The telegram, consisting of more than 600 characters, told how the citizens cooperated with the military forces and were ravaged. It closed as follows: “The Okinawa residents fought well; I hope, in the future, they will be given special recognition.”