“Act to keep peace. Experience of the battles from Shuri to Mabuni”

“Act to keep peace. Experience of the battles from Shuri to Mabuni”
Eiki Ishikawa, 87 years old
(Place of birth: Henza, Yonagusuku Village, Okinawa Prefecture)

I was enrolled in Jinjo Higher Elementary School in Henza. When I was a fifth grader, the school became Henza National Elementary School. When a teacher asked all of the male students about his hope in the future, everyone said, “I want to be a soldier.” It was the atmosphere that was prevalent in society and the education which made them respond that way.

When new soldiers were departing for the war, the all classes were cancelled and the all students and all people living in the area joined the send-off. In the meantime, when we had returned soldiers or the white coffins holding the remains of fallen soldiers, the classes were halted and we all went out to the beach to receive them.

The copper plates with the engraving of “House of the soldier in duty” were put out in front of the houses of the families whose sons were sent out to war. Boys were supposed to clean the pigpens of those families, cut weeds and spread the weeds in the pigpens. Girls were supposed to help clean the houses of the families and wipe floors.

One thing that I particularly cannot forget is the day my military uniform was distributed. Although I had no idea what I wanted to do in mind, I simply felt brave. I walked back and forth to Naminoue in Naha.

I received a completely militaristic education throughout my national elementary school and junior high school days. I was thinking things like, “Come on, Yankees (the American soldiers). Come out where I can see you!” I fell asleep thinking things like that almost every night. However, when the U.S Armed Forces landed and the artillery bombardments started, the thoughts that I had were all gone. The thought that I had changed to one of fear.

What scared me most in the Okinawa Battles was the U.S. Armed Forces Cessna planes. They flew like gliders. They flew so low that I could see the faces of the American pilots and sometimes they fired on us.

We were bombarded with high-explosive projectiles and trench mortars. The mines fired from the trench mortars flew very close to the ground and the high-explosive projectiles were dropped vertically down. They did these at the same time. People who were lying down or hiding in a pit were killed by the vertical attacks and the people standing were killed by the horizontal attacks by the trench mortars. Most of us were killed by this tactic.

The people who had the most authority in our junior high school were the commissioned officers attached to the school. They always were in their military uniforms and wore their Japanese swords. Everything in our school became very strict after they started to reside in the dormitory dean room. Our education became predominantly militaristic.

We were no longer able to have classes at the schools in Shuri and Naha in Okinawa as all schools were occupied by the Japanese Army. The students were mobilized for setting up encampments in the southern area every day. Most of the shelters, called “gama,” in the Shimajiri area were made by elementary and junior high school students. We picked at the rock bed with pickaxes for about seven hours a day. The rocks I picked were placed into a bamboo basket by the smaller students and thrown away. I desperately wished that I were smaller. The work was that hard.

When we had students in the school building in Shuri, we, the dormitory students, prepared food for them. We stole chickens, rabbits, goats and so on from the houses around the school as the all houses were evacuated and totally empty. The food was not enough to be distributed to everyone, but the cooking squad had a privilege, inviting the teachers and enjoying “sukiyaki” (simmered meat and vegetables) with them. The food for the students was so bad it wouldn’t be considered food today.

When we had the students who would become the members of the Prefectural Junior High No.1 Tekketsu Kinnou Tai (Student Corps of Blood and Iron for Emperor) stay at the school building in Shuri, the total number of the students we had was in the hundreds. We prepared food for them. However, as the war situation started becoming worse and fierce, they were assigned to the various corps in groups of 4-5, 10 or 14-15 students.

We had 14 or 15 teachers. As they needed someone to prepare food for them, the dormitory students were divided into groups and attached to each teacher as cooking squads. We called the squads “The Attached to the Headquarters.” The cooking squads consisted of a couple hundred students, I believe, since they were called “Issen Kenji” (one thousand kids).

All first graders were sent home. The second graders were forced to join the Signal Corps. They had temporary and simple lessons in the Kendo training hall used for school physical education. The Japanese Army came to the school and gave lessons on Morse code. The third, fourth and fifth graders were assigned in small groups to each corps as the “Tekketsu Kinnou-tai”. After the U.S. Armed Forces landed, the orders for the assignment were issued by the commissioned officers rather than the school principal.

It was on April 12; I was off duty on that day. When the fourth-grade student named Zensei Ikehara and my classmate, Kanben Sakugawa, from the neighboring village were lying down on the shelves in the kitchen closet, they were bombarded directly. The U.S. Armed Forces used a material called white phosphorous (one of the materials used for incendiary bombs) which starts fires immediately and the place hit by the bomb immediately started burning and caught fire. None of us could do anything.

The next day, we picked the hideously burnt remains of Ikehara and Sakugawa from the ashes, which still were burning here and there, and buried them in the school yard. I did not feel sad, but simply thought that I would be killed someday as well just like them.

The last shelter we took refuge in before the end of war was the one in Makabe in the Shimajiri district. While we were hiding in the shelter, an American tank suddenly appeared and we figured that we no longer could remain hiding in the shelter. Everyone kept watching the tank and escaped from the shelter when the opportunity came. As we had to climb up the hill, where we could be easily found by the Americans, to escape, we had one of us watch the tank in turn and escaped one by one climbing up the hill.

We ran away toward Mabuni Beach, passing in front of the place where the current Himeyuri-no-tou (Tower of star lily, a monument of the war) is located. It was the most southern area we could possibly go. We saw some Japanese soldiers who joined the residents in evacuating. Then we escaped along the coast toward Yanbaru in the north, hiding ourselves under the screw pine (pandanus odoratissimus).

There was a big water spring near the shelter close to Himeyuri-no-tou. It was a pond-like water spring fenced by big rocks and it was the only place we could get our drinking water. When we were not able to get to the water spring to scoop up the water, we drank the pooled water directly from rice fields lying in front of the shelter like dogs drinking water from a pool of water on the ground.

We were hiding for a while, but the residents lost all their hideouts. Some of their hideouts were taken by the Japanese Army. They escaped the bombardment by the U.S Armed Forces by forming a line like elementary school kids on a field trip and then running in all directions. My heart aches whenever I recall what happened during the war and Okinawan people being killed one after another by the bombardments.

(Looking back at the war)
It is said that two hundred and forty thousand lives were lost in Okinawa, and I worry most about the fact that we have few people who remember and recognize that Okinawa became a battle field. We should not reduce the peace education on the “memorial day for the war dead” on June 23 every year to a formality. Peace education as a formality should not be acceptable. It is quite important to act if you want to keep peace. I am worried that we now have less people taking part in peace-keeping actions or even having the sense of peace-keeping because we all are too much used to the peace we are enjoying now.