Naha – Okinawa on Tuesday marked the 75th anniversary of the end of a major World War II ground battle that claimed over 200,000 lives, including large numbers of local civilians as well as Japanese and U.S. combatants.
The annual memorial service was held on a scaled-down basis at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the Battle of Okinawa, without the attendance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other officials due to the coronavirus outbreak.
It also came amid the continued conflict between the Okinawa and central governments over the sizeable presence of the U.S. military in the island prefecture.
“We send our hearts seeking peace to the world and ask (people) to share it,” Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said in his “peace declaration” at the ceremony held at the memorial park. He also said Okinawa shares the desire for peace with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Okinawa initially planned for the first time to invite the mayors of the two Japanese cities devastated by U.S. atomic bombs in August 1945, and a representative from the United Nations, but canceled the plan amid the pandemic.
The mayors sent video messages to the ceremony, calling for working together to achieve world peace.
“In order to avoid repeating the unimaginable suffering the victims of Okinawa experienced, international society as a whole needs to keep world peace and security,” Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said in a video message.
Abe, who also sent a video message, acknowledged the “tremendous burden” that people in Okinawa have been bearing from a concentration of U.S. bases.
“I am determined to achieve results in stages in order to work toward relieving the burden,” he said.
Only invited participants who live in Okinawa Prefecture were allowed to attend the ceremony, a measure meant to curb the spread of the virus. Last year, over 5,000 people attended.
Approximately 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of Okinawa’s population at that time, as well as over 94,000 Japanese soldiers and some 12,500 U.S. troops, died in the fighting that ran from March 1945 through June that year, according to the government of Okinawa Prefecture.
Yasuko Chinen, 82, who lost her father during the battle and escaped from the fires of war, visited the memorial park with her 15-year-old granddaughter and other family members.
“Children and grandchildren are growing up and we want no wars,” she said.
Okinawa accounts for about 70 percent of the total acreage used exclusively by U.S. military facilities in Japan, despite the prefecture representing only 0.6 percent of the country’s land.
Okinawa has opposed a central government plan to move a U.S. base currently located in a crowded residential area to elsewhere in the prefecture, calling for the base to be shifted out of Okinawa altogether.
But Tokyo and Washington have already agreed to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
In a prefectural assembly election this month, a bloc opposed to keeping the base in Okinawa retained a majority, reflecting strong local sentiment against Abe and his administration.