National

Okinawa honors war dead on 72nd anniversary of fierce WWII ground battle

Kyodo

Okinawa on Friday marked 72 years since the end of a fierce World War II ground battle that killed a quarter of its civilian population, as resentment continues to run deep over the heavy concentration of U.S. military bases there.

Touching on a U.S. Osprey that ditched off the main island in December and other accidents, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said at a memorial service for the war dead the same day that residents’ needs weren’t being addressed.

“We see moves running counter to a reduction of the burden,” Onaga said.

He also criticized the central government for moving ahead with the contentious relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which he has fiercely opposed.

Onaga, who wants the air base removed from the island prefecture, said he cannot tolerate the construction work and described it as against “the will of the people.”

The governor said he understands the importance of the Japan-U.S. security alliance and that the use of Okinawan facilities and land are being granted for the nation’s security, but noted that the burden should be shared by the “entire nation.”

“I want people in this country to sincerely think about Okinawa’s situation and how Japan-U.S. security arrangements should be,” Onaga said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also attended the ceremony at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the Battle of Okinawa, renewed the government’s pledge never to wage war again.

Acknowledging that Okinawa’s base-hosting burden is heavy, Abe added, “I’m determined to produce definite results to allay the burden.”

The U.S. bases in the prefecture were built on land expropriated from islanders during a U.S. occupation that lasted until 1972. Despite only accounting for 0.6 percent of the nation’s land, Okinawa is home to about 70 percent of the total area set aside exclusively for U.S. military facilities in Japan.

The plan to move the Futenma base from a crowded part of Ginowan to Henoko, a coastal area in Nago, is perceived by many residents as just adding to the burden. They want the base removed from the prefecture.

But the central government maintains that the long-delayed relocation plan is “the only solution” to removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Okinawans are also frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents linked to U.S. bases. The Dec. 13 ditching of a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey — the first major accident involving the tilt-rotor transport aircraft in Japan — rekindled local safety concerns.

The alleged rape and murder of a 20-year-old Okinawa woman by a U.S. civilian base worker in April 2016 has also deepened anti-base sentiment in the prefecture.

This year, the names of 54 war dead were inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, bringing the total to 241,468, irrespective of nationality and military or civilian status.

The monument was erected by former Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, who died June 12 aged 92.

Ota was governor when major protests erupted over the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawa girl by U.S. servicemen in 1995, bringing national attention to the disproportionately large U.S. military presence there and heightening tensions between the prefectural and central governments.

The Battle of Okinawa began in spring 1945, when U.S. forces landed on the main island and other islands in the area. Some 94,000 civilians, or about a quarter of the residents, died in the three-month battle between Japanese and U.S. troops.

Overall, more than 200,000 lives were lost.