NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – In a ceremony held in Okinawa Prefecture on Friday on the 70th anniversary of the incident, survivors and bereaved relatives mourned the 1,485 people who were killed in the 1944 sinking of a Japanese ship carrying hundreds of schoolchildren following a U.S. submarine torpedo attack.
The memorial service for victims of the Tsushima Maru incident during World War II was held in front of the Kozakura-no-to cenotaph in Naha, which was established in memory of those killed in the attack.
Among the victims were some 780 schoolchildren on their way to Nagasaki Prefecture from Okinawa, before the island prefecture became a battleground in the spring of 1945. All told, more than 1,000 children lost their lives aboard the 6,754-ton ship.
One survivor, Masakatsu Takara, 74, who now heads the operator of the Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum in Naha, lost nine family members in the tragedy. He was just four years old at the time.
Takara said it’s important to pass on knowledge of the incident to the next generation.
Hisa Tsuhako, 86, a resident of Haebaru in Okinawa Prefecture who lost her older brother and sister in the sinking, said that her siblings, who had helped guide the schoolchildren, were criticized after the war for having instructed them to leave Okinawa.
Maria Miyagi Bartruff, 83, who currently lives in the United States, said she lost three of five relatives in the sinking and remembers the incident as if it happened yesterday.
On Thursday, Empress Michiko, who is personally acquainted with Bartruff, placed a phone call to her to say that she mourns the loss of life in the incident.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Okinawa in late June ahead of the anniversary of the sinking of the Tsushima Maru and offered their condolences.
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