• Jiji, Kyodo

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On the night of Aug. 22, 1944, the Tsushima Maru sank off Akuseki Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, due to a torpedo attack from a U.S. submarine, after leaving a port in Naha the previous day.

Nearly 1,500 people, including hundreds of schoolchildren, were on board the vessel, with many dying as a result of the attack.

Now, 76 years on, relatives of the victims and others are worried that the history of the sinking is fading from people’s memories, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During an Aug. 22 event to mark the 76th anniversary, participants prayed for the victims at a monument in Naha. This year’s service had a limited number of participants amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

After the participants observed a moment of silence, Masakatsu Takara, 80, a survivor of the attack and head of a group working to prevent the tragedy from being forgotten, said in a speech, “While the memorial service was held under irregular circumstances this year, we’d like to send our prayers to the victims.”

Noting that Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum in Naha had faced a plunge in the number of visitors after it reopened following a temporary closure due to the pandemic, Takara said, “We must keep open Japan’s only war memorial museum focusing on children.” The museum has closed again because of measures to tackle the coronavirus.

Hisashi Teruya, 80, who lost his mother and his older sister in the attack, said, “I wonder what my life would have been if they didn’t die in the attack. I hope the world will be a place without conflict.”

In Hiroshima Prefecture, where a similar memorial event was held, Teruko Umemoto, 84, mourned for her friends at school who lost their lives in the attack. Umemoto was supposed to be on board the Tsushima Maru but was told to board another ship at the last minute.

“If I had been on board, I would have shared the same fate as others,” Umemoto said. “We must never allow wars.”

In the village of Uken on Amami Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, where many of the bodies washed ashore, local residents also offered flowers and silent prayers in a memorial event on the same day.

According to the museum, 1,484 of some 1,800 people aboard the ship lost their lives in the attack. Of the victims, 784 were schoolchildren.

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