Ok­i­nawa sur­vivor tells of mir­a­cle af­ter bloody war


Heav­ily preg­nant Takeko Kakazu tried des­per­ately to find shel­ter in a cave as she fled Amer­i­can shelling in the Bat­tle of Ok­i­nawa 70 years ago, but was turned away.

Lay­ing flow­ers at the black mar­ble mon­u­ment in­scribed with the names those who fell, Kakazu, now 97, said Tues­day it was a mys­tery how she sur­vived the 82-day bat­tle, which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 is­lan­ders and 80,000 Ja­panese troops.

De­spite the odds, she gave birth to a healthy son aboard a U.S. bat­tle­ship af­ter be­ing cap­tured.

“We were pushed south from Naha to this point,” Kakazu told AFP, near to the spot in Itoman dubbed “sui­cide cliff” by Amer­i­can sol­diers.

“We were dazed, lost. Bombs were ex­plod­ing ev­ery­where and we tried to hide in a cave, but there was no room. It was aw­ful. I don’t know how I sur­vived, or how I had the baby. It’s a mir­a­cle.”

Kakazu had feared the worst af­ter be­ing or­dered away from the caves by lo­cals ter­ri­fied that once her baby was born it’s cries would give away their hid­ing place.

“The caves were full of vil­lagers so we were lit­er­ally by the road­side, or try­ing to hide un­der trees,” she said, speak­ing be­fore a cer­e­mony at­tended by Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe mark­ing the end of the blood­i­est bat­tle of the Pa­cific War.

“Seventy years have passed but the cru­elty of the war stays with me. It was in­no­cent civil­ians who suf­fered.”

‘There is no point hold­ing

onto anger’

Many Ok­i­nawans plunged

off cliffs or blew them­selves up with grenades rather than sur­ren­der and al­most ev­ery fam­ily on the sub­trop­i­cal is­land suf­fered at least one ca­su­alty dur­ing the war.

“It was a slaugh­ter,” said Ei­hon Arakaki, just an ele­men­tary school­boy when he lost his fam­ily in the bat­tle. “My mother, fa­ther and my younger brother and sis­ter were killed. I’m the only one who sur­vived.”

Sit­ting un­der a tree near the mar­ble col­umns at the top of the cliff, Arakaki still bears the scars of war. His right el­bow was shat­tered by bomb frag­ments and he has been un­able to straighten his arm since.

“Some of the peo­ple whose names are on these stones were my friends,” he said. “I don’t know how Ja­pan thought it could win a war against a power like Amer­ica.”

More than 12,000 Amer­i­can troops also per­ished in the bat­tle, which many feared would be the pre­cur­sor of an al­lied in­va­sion of main­land Ja­pan un­til the atomic bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki has­tened Ja­pan’s sur­ren­der.

Re­sent­ment over the war still runs deep in Ok­i­nawa, which was once an in­de­pen­dent king­dom, and much of their ire is di­rected at Tokyo and Washington over the con­tin­u­ing pres­ence of U.S. troops.

“Ja­pan has be­come a peace­ful coun­try thanks to all the peo­ple who made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice,” in­sisted Kenji Kawai, 78, pay­ing his re­spects to his late fa­ther.

“There is no point hold­ing onto anger. What’s in the past is past — leave it there. What’s im­por­tant is that we make sure it never hap­pens again.”

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