“A girl who ran about trying to escape in the battlefields and still had a hard time at the orphanage”

“A girl who ran about trying to escape in the battlefields and still had a hard time at the orphanage”
Yoko Kamiya, 80 years old
(Place of birth: Tsukenjima, Katsuren Town, Okinawa Prefecture)

[Upon the 10/10 air-raid]
On the day of the 10/10 air-raid, I saw white planes which looked so small from a far distance away and, not before very long, two of them flew over toward us. My mother told me, “Yoko, come over here. The war will start soon. Look, they are carrier-based aircraft.” As I never saw anything like them before and did not know what war was like, I was chatting about it with my friends for fun.

(During evacuation)
We evacuated deep into the mountains, from Nesabu through Madanbashi. We had no serious problem with food then since my mother made rice balls for us with abura-miso (miso-paste with sautéed minced pork) which we carried with us. However, all food we had was requisitioned by the Japanese Army later.

A few days later, the attacks by the American Force became fierce and there were many dead people with their internal organs exposed on each side of the road. We had to step over the exposed internal organs to cross the road. We saw some people who were trying to push their internal organs back into their bodies with debris on the road since roads were not so clean as nowadays.

(My mother’s death)
My mother was shot in the cheek, although not sure if it was her right or left, and the left arm and we somehow got to the Army Hospital in Haebaru. However, we were turned away as they had no extra capacity. Dozens of wounded Japanese soldiers were carried in to the hospital every day and many were dying there.

(In the shelter)
When the young nurses at the Army Hospital, after finishing their work for the day such as dressing wounds, were taking a rest while singing a song at the entrance of the shelter, a cannon shell hit our shelter. My mother and younger brother were killed on the spot. I recall that my mother’s last words were, “Yoko, come over and sleep here.” Then I said, “Yes, mother,” and dozed off by my mother. Although I am not sure how much time had passed, I think we were spotted by an American reconnaissance plane and the cannon shell hit the shelter and the next thing I knew was that my mother and younger brother were blown up into pieces and many of them fell all over me. I was the one who survived despite the fact that we were in the shelter so close to each other.

The shelter entrance collapsed and was blocked, and the shelter was full of evacuees. A man was trying to open the collapsed entrance by force. I did not know what to do other than cry after having lost my mother. Then someone dragged me out of the shelter. I heard someone saying, “All survivors, get out! The entrance is open.” I was out of the shelter alive, but things got harder thereafter.

After living in comfort for a long time, I lost my mother, had no food, was wounded in the ribs and did not even know where I could get water to drink. In addition, I had a fever due to my injury. I had a stinging pain due to the maggots which bred at my wound as they were eating my flesh.

(While escaping with a family)
I saw a family of seven or eight and followed them. Since I was following them crying, “Mother, I am scared. Help me, mother,” I was slapped and told, “Do not cry here or you will cause another bombing.” I was even told, “Get lost!”

One day, the family got into a big house and was eating. I looked inside. I did not mean to do anything bad, but was just wondering if they were still there. A man in the family picked up a wooden stick from the ground and hit me with the wooden stick while shouting, “If you cry here, we will be killed as well. Go away!” Because I did not have anyone else to follow other than this family, I walked around the house and hid in the pigpen at the back of the house. I was watching them through a peephole with the intention to follow them anyway after they left. Then, the house was hit by a cannon shell and there was a big crater. If they had said, “Oh, poor girl. Come and join us,” I would have been blown up as well.

(Continuing evacuation)
The fierce American naval gunfire continued. Many cannon shells fired with red fire flew over from the American warships. I tried to evacuate in fear and find somebody in the houses around me only to fail. Everyone hid in what we called a “turtleback tomb” after removing the remains of those buried. I asked people hiding in a tomb saying, “I lost my mother due to the bombings. Please help me!” but I was told, “Sorry, there’s no more extra room here.” I sat there and kept asking for help in hopes that they would let me hide somewhere even by the entrance, but they never let me in. Even when I was down on the ground and trampled on by people, they never helped me get back up on my feet.

Then I wandered about many places, but I could not find any people. I wondered if they were hiding somewhere or killed in the burning flames that I saw here and there.

I just kept walking barefooted without any destination in my mind. Sometimes I took a rest in a gama (natural cave). When I got to a stairway-like slope, I slipped and fell to the foot of the slope. I found many dead people there. Their bodies were scattered around all over the place, but some were still alive because I heard some people groaning with pain. Because I could not get back up to the slope, I stayed there for two days.

Then I got to a river. There were many people trying to cross the river. The bridge was destroyed and many dead people were caught on the bridge. The adult men were helping women and small children cross the river while removing the dead bodies caught on the bridge. Because I could not find anyone who could help me cross the river, I decided to cross the river while holding on to the dead bodies. Since the rotten dead bodies easily crumbled, I repeatedly went under the water, then came back up and held on to another dead body, and finally crossed the river.

When I was sitting by a natural cave after having walked for days without any food and water, a Japanese soldier came by. He said, “Do not cry, girl. You can have this,” and gave me some hardtack in a white bag after eating some first. It was the first meal I had in a long time. After filling my stomach with some of the hardtack, I became sleepy and fell asleep. Then, two other Japanese soldiers came and took my hardtack away saying, “Give us that! You should not eat that because you will not be of any help to the country.” I hung on to the hardtack in an effort to get it back while shouting, “It’s mine. Give it back to me, please!” but it was in vain. One of the soldiers kicked me away with his leather boot. Since then, I started to be afraid of people. To make things worse, I became feverish again due to the wound in my ribs and the maggots at the wound; which was healed under the medical treatment given at an orphanage at later date.

(Becoming a prisoner of war)
When I was captured as a prisoner of war, a man who, I believe, was second-generation Japanese, gave me something saying, “Hi, girl. Eat this.” Because I thought that he was trying to kill me with poison, I told him in tears and waving my hands, “No I do not want it!” Then he removed the wrapping paper, ate it first and told me, “See, it is OK and safe. Now why don’t you try this?” When I put it in my mouth, I realized that it was chocolate. It was so sweet and delicious that I never had anything like that before. I kept eating with tears in my eyes with joy.

The man took my hand and told me, “Let’s go over there. You can have food and candies.” I still remember that his hand was warm and that I felt the warmth of a human hand.

It, I believe, was a camp and there were hundreds or maybe thousands of people there. We were divided into three groups: orphans, individuals and families. Then I was sent to an orphanage.

Prior to being sent to an orphanage, while I was running away for safety, I met a boy who was fourteen or fifteen years old in the third grade of junior high school with two little children in the south of the island. He made me carry one of the children on my back. If I quit walking, he grabbed my hair and dragged me around saying, “Why did you quit walking? Keep walking!” He also sometimes hit me.

Because the child the boy made me carry on my back was so heavy and wearing me down, I untied the band holding the child on my back and escaped into the mountains while the boy was away to go to the toilet. He found and caught me at my first attempt. I watched for a chance and escaped again. I made desperate efforts in my second attempt. However, while I was running away from the boy, I was captured by the American soldiers instead and became a prisoner of war.

I was sent to an orphanage, but I saw the boy I was running away from again at the orphanage. He was captured and sent to the orphanage before I was. Whenever he saw me at the orphanage, he hit me and took my milk or rice gruel away from me saying, “You ran away then. Why did you run away from me?” I became dehydrated day by day and when it came to the limit, I hid myself in the disposal site where urine and feces were dumped. After a short while, a female teacher took me to a military doctor who wiped off my body and applied a medicine to my wound which finally was healed shortly after that.

There were about eleven orphanages in Okinawa. After being captured as prisoners of war, all orphans were gathered to be transported to orphanages. Although I was standing in the front of a line, because I was so small that I could not get on a big truck, I was just walking around to find a smaller truck. Then I was put on the last truck and transported to the nearby orphanage. If I had been taken to an orphanage in the north of main island Okinawa while I was in such a bad physical condition, I would have been dead. I believe that I was fortunate to be put on the last truck and taken to the nearby orphanage.

(Looking back at the war)
I still wonder why we had to go to war. I believe that we can resolve any issue through negotiation to avoid wars once we have learned a lot and accumulated knowledge and wisdom. After all, we are all human beings regardless of being black or white, and the value of human life outweighs the earth. I firmly believe in this. I never want anyone to experience again what I have experienced in the war.