NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Okinawa on Friday commemorated the 55th anniversary of the end of fierce fighting in the prefecture between U.S. and Japanese forces during World War II — less than a month before it hosts the Group of Eight summit.
The memorial service began at noon with a minute of silent prayer at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, where the Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) monument stands. The monument lists the names of all those who died during the battle, including about 14,000 U.S. soldiers.
The service was attended by about 5,000 people, including Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine and the relatives of more than 200,000 people who died during the 1945 battle.
Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, chief of U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa, and South Korean survivors of the battle also took part in the service.
It was the first time the chief of the U.S. forces in Okinawa has attended the event.
The park is located on Mabuni Hill at the southern tip of Okinawa Island, where the final and most fierce battles raged in June 1945 and tens of thousands were killed.
“Our prefecture experienced disastrous ground battles in the last world war, which claimed so many invaluable lives, including those of civilians,” Inamine said in a speech.
“The scars left by the war are so deep that our pain has yet to abate,” he added.
With the G8 summit scheduled for next month, Inamine said: “We must try to appeal to the world the spirit of Okinawa, the aspiration to create peace, and convey to the younger generation the misery of war and the preciousness of peace.
“Memorial Day is a day to solemnly remember the historical fact of losing invaluable lives, precious possessions and part of the cultural heritage of our ancestors.”
Mori said in his speech that the government is steadily working to scale down military facilities.
About 20 U.S. veterans also visited the park and paid their respects.
U.S. military sources said many veterans had hesitated to visit the park in the past, considering local feelings.
But since Hailston was invited this year, a U.S. welfare group called on veterans to attend Friday’s service.
Hailston said after attending the service that the names on the monument are a reminder of the tragedy of war and that it is important to vow to not repeat such an event.
On Friday, the names of 204 more Okinawans and South Koreans were added to the monument, which now bear the names of 237,969 people killed in the battle, regardless of their nationality. The monument consists of numerous walls with more than 1,200 plates.
June 23 is designated as Memorial Service Day in Okinawa and is a holiday.
The battle began on April 1, 1945, and on June 23 the Japanese forces in Okinawa surrendered to the U.S. forces after Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the 32nd Army Garrison, and his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Isamu Cho, committed ritual suicide.
Call to up security ties
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) A group of U.S. defense experts that has played a key role in the current administration’s security policy on Japan is preparing to propose that the Japan-U.S. security alliance be strategically reinforced, sources close to the group said Thursday.
The proposal is likely to call for the next U.S. administration to review the current policy of maintaining only 100,000 troops in the Asia-Pacific region based on possible developments in the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, the sources said.
The proposal would emphasize the need for the administration to calculate the number of U.S. troops to be stationed in the region after deciding which tasks need to be undertaken there, they said.
The group includes Joseph Nye, former assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, Kurt Campbell, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Richard Armitage, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
The experts are drawing up the proposal because they are concerned by a lack of a grand strategic vision under the current administration, the sources said.
U.S. policymakers have focused on pressing issues, such as the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station heliport in central Okinawa and problems of pollution near the U.S. Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture, at the expense of a long-term strategy, the sources explained.
The defense experts are likely to call for the U.S. military to scale down facilities at its bases in Japan to improve local residents’ sentiment toward them, the sources said.
But the experts will stress that such reductions should not adversely affect the functions of the bases, the sources said.
Bilateral treaty to stay
Japan pledged to maintain its close security alliance with the United States on Friday, the 40th anniversary of the security treaty entering into force.
“We will maintain the security alliance as one of the pillars of our security policy and will work to improve its credibility,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said at a regular news conference.
The treaty “has not only brought peace and prosperity to our nation and the Far East, but has also functioned effectively as the fundamental framework for stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region,” the top government spokesman said.