“War Experiences in Kanegusuku, Kumejima”

“War Experiences in Kanegusuku, Kumejima”
Shinko Shinjo, 85 years old
(Place of birth: Kanegusuku, Kumejima Village, Okinawa Prefecture)

When the first air raid over Kumajima Island happened, we were in our classroom listening to the airplanes fly over. We thought that they were Japanese airplanes and when we were clapping our hands in excitement, and then they suddenly started firing. We were taken by surprise and dashed out of the classroom. The area around us was riddled with bullets.

There was a fleet of Japanese warships alongside of the pier in front of the community center. The Americans attacked the warships and all the villages in the area at the same time. Although 90% of the senior students, who were the last drafted soldiers, were scheduled to leave the island soon, the ship which they were supposed to take was sunk by the air raid before they went aboard. The ship was berthed at the pier in front of the current Kumejima High School.

The people in the village were divided into groups and each group had an air-raid shelter for evacuation. We called it a “shelter,” but it in fact was just a space which was big enough for all group members to evacuate made by opening a burial chamber and clearing the chamber. Moreover, there was a natural cave which was the biggest in the area and could hold 40 or 50 people. Although there were many remains from the past in the cave, people in the village buried those in a pit and used the cave as a shelter. About a half of the people in the village usually hid in this shelter.

When night fell, we went home and boiled potatoes to prepare our meals. The food available then was mostly potatoes.

The ships coming to Kumejima Island then were food carrying ships to transport rice and other food to the south. When one of the food carrying ships was attacked and sunk before departure, some people in the village, who heard from one of the crew members that the ship was loaded with rice, recovered some of the rice from the ship. Although the rice recovered smelled like oil because the inside of the ship was covered with oil, we washed and ate it because we knew that we would be starving otherwise.

The ship with a load of rice that was sunk under the attack was one of the ones in the 2nd fleet. Although I felt sorry for the crew of the ship in the 2nd fleet, I especially felt sorry for the crew of one of the ships belonging to the 1st fleet. They were doing the laundry at the communal well located next to my house after they arrived in the port. When I drew water from the well, did laundry and was about to get back home, they invited me to their ship. Because my hair was getting too long, they gave me a haircut on the ship. Shortly before I left the ship for home, one of the crew members told me, “We are leaving today, but we are not sure how far we can go. We do not know when our ship will be attacked.” The 1st fleet was scheduled to leave at around 5 o’clock. I went to a field on the nearby hill to see the ships leaving, but I saw them all already sunk from an airstrike.

(Atmosphere in the village)
If any of us talked in Okinawan dialect, we would be hit by a senior student. Then, we would have to hang a “dialect tag” from our neck and could not take it off until someone else spoke in the dialect. The people who went to mainland Japan for work were not treated well back then. Therefore, they tried to hide that fact and lied about being from Okinawa, I heard. It was a time when people from Okinawa had to face discrimination.

(War situation in Kumejima Island)
We were more afraid of the Japanese soldiers than the American soldiers.
When the Americans landed, the person who guided the Americans was Mr. Meiyu Nakandakari. When the Americans came to the village under his guidance, he asked the Americans, “I will take the whole responsibility. Please do not fire.” The people in the village calmed down because of the explanation he gave them, but he was suspected of being a spy and killed by a Japanese soldier.

More people were killed by Japanese soldiers than American soldiers on Kumejima Island. The people who were captured and soon released by the Americans shortly after the Americas landed on the island were killed by Japanese soldiers. They were telling people, “The Americans will not harm us,” and were suspected of being spies and killed.

Japanese soldiers kept hiding in the mountains to avoid danger and did nothing but order around the people in each village, “Bring us some rice. Bring us this. Bring us that.” If we did not obey their orders, the leader of each village would be given a hard time.

Before going into the mountains to wipe out Japanese soldiers, American soldiers were building military housing and an airport. They came to us and asked us to do their laundry saying, “Please wash, wash.” My mother and the neighbors did their laundry for them at the communal well.

A few days later, an American soldier told me, “If we had not been able to bring Kayama corps hiding in the mountains under our control, you all would have been killed.” The Americans seemed to have complete information on the movements and activities of the Japanese soldiers in the mountains.

Seven or eight Japanese fighter planes and bombers made emergency landings on Kumejima Island due to insufficient fuel. I saw a Japanese bomber which made an emergency landing without any damage in the field close to the current Eef Beach. The bomber did not seem to have enough fuel for the return trip. Additionally, four or five planes made emergency landings near the current Kumajima Airport, I believe. Although one hydroplane made an emergency landing in front of the current Kumejima High School, after being moved to a beach and refueled, it flew away.

(After learning that the war was over)
I was so relieved because I could come out of the mountains for the first time since the war started. Additionally, I realized the limitations of escaping as we were on an island after all. I never want to be involved in war again.