NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Residents and government officials marked the 68th anniversary Sunday of the end of the World War II Battle of Okinawa, which left more than 240,000 people dead, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging to ease the concentration of U.S. bases in the prefecture.
A memorial service for the war dead was held at Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle, with about 5,800 people, including residents and government officials, attending.
“I will do all I can to reduce the load on Okinawa,” Abe said in his speech at the ceremony, while Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima again urged the Japanese and the U.S. government to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma out of the prefecture and “drastically revise as soon as possible” the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which gives special treatment to U.S. service members in Japan.
Abe told reporters after the ceremony that he will make “more efforts” to eventually move the Futenma base out of Ginowan.
Under an agreement between Tokyo and Washington, the Futenma base in the crowded city of Ginowan is to be replaced by a planned new airstrip in the less-populated Henoko coastal area in Nago, further north in Okinawa.
Other attendees included Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, marking the first time a U.S. ambassador has attended the event since Walter Mondale in 1995.
It was also the first time that the foreign and defense ministers attended the ceremony. Abe’s government has made little progress in reducing the heavy concentration of U.S. bases in Okinawa.
Antipathy toward U.S. bases has risen since the deployment last October of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to the Futenma base.
A state-sponsored ceremony held April 28 in Tokyo commemorating the day Japan recovered its sovereignty in 1952 after losing World War II also angered the Okinawan people because their prefecture wasn’t included in the deal and was left under U.S. control for another 20 years.
This year, the names of 62 war dead were newly inscribed in the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, bringing the total to 241,227, regardless of nationality and military or civilian status.
The Battle of Okinawa started in spring 1945, when U.S. forces landed on the main islands of Okinawa and remote islands nearby.
Some 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of the prefecture’s residents, died during the three-month campaign.