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
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.”