Mr. Kunugi’s talk was “Peace Lecture – What we have Learned through the Battle of Okinawa.” He summarized what happened in that battle. More importantly he showed how it affected the people of Okinawa. He gave the lecture at Hawaii Okinawa Center on Oahu.
I knew that this battle had been fierce and bloody. But Mr. Kunugi brought the experience to life using actual war photos and film footage. It was a very moving experience.
The Battle of Okinawa
The Japanese knew they would lose the battle from the very beginning. They were outnumbered 5 to 1. But their mission was to drag the battle out as long as possible to give Japan time to prepare for the “final battle” to protect the Japan Mainland.
The prolonged battle was devastating to Okinawa. By the time the fighting ended, Okinawa had lost nearly 100,000 of its people. (I have learned from other sources that this was nearly one third – 33% - of Okinawa’s entire population at that time.)
June 23 is now Peace Memorial Day in Okinawa.
He spoke about mothers forced to kill their crying babies to avoid being detected in the hiding places. And sometimes the Japanese soldiers would evict defenseless civilians from a cave altogether so they could use it to save themselves. Some Japanese medics would give their own wounded soldiers a mixture of cyanide in milk to kill them, rather than allow them to surrender or be taken prisoner.
He told about how the Japanese soldiers did not want the civilians to surrender. They told the Okinawans that Americans would torture and kill anyone who surrendered. They encouraged people to commit suicide instead. Unfortunately, many did. In reality the stories about American torture were not true.
Peace Memorial and Message
Mr. Kunugi ended by expressing his sincere desire to hand down and spread the “Heart of Okinawa”, the “Heart of Peace” through the creation of these children’s’ works. He captured it in the Okinawan expression “Nuchi du takara”. Life is a precious treasure.
Bringing it Home
Here is her story: When the battle started, she was 3 years old and living in Okinawa. She was one of those who managed to survive the ordeal by living in the caves. When American soldiers finally found her, she was suffering from diphtheria. An American medic cut a hole in her throat so she could breathe, and saved her life. She still has the scar today.
Life is truly precious. Nuchi du takara.