17 October 2009

SUICIDE CLIFF

Back to Okinawa in July 1969.....

Tom Kerrigan and I started our trek to the southern end of Okinawa later on the morning of 21 July. In 1969, Okinawa was still under American military government dating from 1945. The greenback was legal tender. The major American presence was in the center of the island.

We hired a cab and told the driver where we wanted to go. He shook his head and off we went. As we drove south, the “modern” Okinawa began to quickly disappear. Small farms reminiscent of the villes in the Arizona took precedence. More rice paddies appeared and there were no towns to be seen.

We finally took a gravel road to a place where the driver let us off. All around us were stone monuments with Japanese writing. I looked at the road and saw that the gravel was crushed coral. Part of a human skull was buried under some of the coral.

We followed a path to the top of the cliff where we entered a veritable forest of monuments. The cliffs were well over 100 feet high, presenting a sheer drop to the ocean below.
In 1945, as the Japanese prepared for the invasion of Okinawa, they indoctrinated the local population to resist us to the death. Some will recall that it was at Okinawa that the kamikaze made its first major appearance. The civilians were being turned into a land-based kamikaze corps. They were told that if they were captured by or surrendered to the Americans, we would kill the men, rape and kille the women and cook and eat the children. It worked.

The Okinawa operation was truly a “Typhoon of Steel.” Casualties were some of the highest of any World War Two operation: the Japanese lost over 100,000 troops, and the Allies (mostly United States) suffered more than 50,000 casualties, including over 12,000 killed in action. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, wounded or attempted suicide. Approximately one-fourth of the civilian population died due to the invasion.

As we closed in on the end of the last battle of WWII, huge numbers of civilians crowded behind the dwindling Japanese line. The Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima and his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Isamu Chō committed suicide and the Japanese troops launched final banzai charges. To the horror of American troops, whole families jumped from the cliffs rather than face capture. To this day, many Okinawans hate the Japanese for their callous abuse of the people of Okinawa in 1945. They still claim that they were ordered by the Japanese army to commit suicide.

It was this example that led many US commanders to the conclusion that an invasion of the Home Islands must be avoided if at all possible. Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed.

In 1969, not many Americans made the trip to the southern end of the island. It did not take Tom and me long to realize that we were not welcome. After walking a couple of miles, we found a cab and headed back to the center of the island.

Still, I am glad that I saw it all.

3 comments:

Reformed Catholic said...

I recall watching the series Victory at Sea as a child. Watching the episode about Okinawa was horrifying to my six or seven year old self.

It was only later that the realization of what propaganda, rumor and innuendo could do to a populace made me understand what exactly was happening.

Of course, that realization has helped me understand the legions of dittoheads on the right, and the Obama cult on the left.

It has made me question much of what I'm told by our government, news and other sources to find out the facts for myself.

Which has caused me problems over the years ;)

Rev Kim said...

I've just spent about 20 minutes catching up on your blog, reading all the way from your new truck purchase to here. Reading your memories and your reflections is always time well-spent.

Now it's off to watch my team, the Angels (and I'll never call them the "Los Angeles Angels") play an afternoon game against the dreaded Yankees. I'm still recovering from Saturday night. 16 men left on base? Are you kidding me? (Which is all that Dave has been hearing for the past couple of days).

Mike said...

Thank you for your post on the Suicide Cliffs. I was stationed at Kadena AB in '68,69 and'70 loading munitions on B-52s. Today, I'm a history buff and while I was aware that Okinawa had been a major action at the end of WWII, I'm embarrassed about how little I was aware of what happened there. I did make a trip to the suicide cliffs, probably in '69 as you did. I do recall the beauty of the location, some sense of the horror that occurred there and all of the family monuments located there. I'm glad I went... thanks for the reminder.