Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco

Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco
Information Source for the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center

Friday, February 18, 2011

Symposium: Lessons from the Battle of Okinawa

On January 29, 2011, Nuichi du Tukara: Lessons from the Battle of Okinawa Symposium took place at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. This event was divided into two parts: informal and formal.

The first segment of the event began at 12pm. At the informal "talk story" session, San Francisco State University students, NJAHS staff members, and Doctor Wesley Ueunten walked to the Union Bank Hospitality Room in the Miyako Mall and watched a very touching film. This film captured the stories of many innocent lives during the Battle of Okinawa. The Battle of Okinawa struck the world on April 1, 1945 and lasted until June. Viewers observed several children falling out of their ships and getting attacked by sharks. As the audience drank their refreshments and watched the scenes, they saw Okinawa turning into an ocean of fire with air raids. One man who was interviewed in the film shared his experience during the battle. He mentioned that he crushed his mother's skull while looking in her eyes. He remembered seeing droplets of tears rolling down on her face. Rough times during Battle of Okinawa showed that survival was tough and many family members were affected. As a touching stone for remembrance, many monuments have been dedicated to the thousands of victims. The Kozabu and Kobata monuments were set in memory for school children who died and thousands of names were engraved on the cornerstones. What's outrageous was that bombs were strapped onto the backs of boys. There was also another monument for the Korean victims. Most of their names could not be confirmed so they used Japanese American names instead. At Maeda Heights, bodies were seen shot to the ground and piled next to each other with bugs. Similar to Maeda Heights, the film reported that three female soldiers at Kliwo Milaga were wounded and four were dead. At this location, American soldiers kept shouting "Come out" in the caves and started shooting. One of the girls was dangerously harmed and her body scattered all over the place. In addition, a soldier stuffed a towel into an infant's mouth and killed him. As Aka Island appeared on the screen, we observed that many individuals consumed food such as yam. However, local people complained and they had the imperial soldiers search their clothes. They found twelve men with rice in their pockets and shot them all at sunset. This battle was marked with countless shootings and bombings in the air.

After the film, several Okinawa survivors joined the students and shared their stories. Frank Higashi, a translator in the Military Intelligence Service during the Battle of Okinawa, explained a surprising detail when he saw his brother. During the bloody battle, he discovered that his brother was acquainted with his army's enemy—the Japanese army. He said that he lived in America because his father wanted him to work and financially support his family in Japan. An emotional story began to unfold when Fujiko Dandoy spoke. It was difficult for her to speak about her life during the battle because the memories would invite some heartache. As she sat in her seat, she shared the fact that she lost many friends and families. She mentioned that she would sit in front of her journal and tear up. Like many people, she believed that Japan would be victorious. She grew up hearing "victory is ours" and was stationed in Okinawa in 1951. In the middle of this session, students were given the opportunity to ask them questions. By the end of the first session, students, like me, obtained a better understanding of the Battle of Okinawa.

When the clock struck 3:30 pm, we walked to the Issei Memorial Hall located at Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern Californa. The event began with an incredible collaboration performance from Doctor Wesley Ueunten and Francis Wong. Dr. Wesley Ueunten played a traditional melody with his lovely instrument called Sanshin. Their live performance definitely built a peaceful atmosphere in the auditorium. After his performance, Yuko, the volunteer coordinator at NJAHS, introduced the items on sale. Then, Dr. Wesley came back and performed another great song. The song allowed the audience to tune into the Okinawa culture and become exposed to their music. After his musical presentation, he gave opening remarks about the Battle of Okinawa. He said that the subject of Okinawa is quite heavy. It is sometimes painful to speak about war and destruction. He thanked the guests for coming and supporting the event. Following the opening remarks, the panel discussion began. Dr. Ben Kobashigawa, the moderater, introduced the four panelists: Frank Higashi (MIS veteran), Fujiko Dandoy (survivor), Noriyoshi Arakaki (survivor), and Dr. Mitzi Uehara Carter (candidate in Anthropology). Dr. Ben Kobashigawa gave a brief introduction about himself. He was born in Los Angeles and he is currently teaching Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. He told us about the first speaker, Frank Higashi. He was born in the early 1900s in Southern California as a Kibei Nisei and worked as a Military Intelligence Service translator. The second spokesperson was Fujiko Dandoy. She was only a teenager when the battle took place. As Dr. Ben Kobashigawa stated, she is currently the president of the Sacramento Okinawa Kenjin Kai. She described how the memories of the battle would usually wake her up in the middle of the night. She does not like to speak in front of people, but she felt that this project was vital, that it was her duty to speak up and share her story. She said that she has no regrets in her. It has been several decades since the battle, yet the memories stay very intact with her. After she spoke about her life, Dr. Wesley Ueunten translated for her. She remembered the Lieutenant committing suicide and seeing women being carried in stretchers. In addition, she can still recall her friends’ faces and soldiers asking for water before they died. Others were forced to move to the southern part of Okinawa. As I looked around the room, I noticed one of the ladies tearing up. Mr. Noriyoshi Arakaki is a dance performer and professor. He said that he was only four months old during the battle. Because he was an infant, it was tough for him to remember the battle. However, he would usually hear stories from his siblings. Tragically, ten people in his family died. His story about his sister was sad because she was killed by an airplane. But he got a good laugh when he shared with the audience that he was dirty when he was a baby because he did not take baths very often. A couple of seconds later, he stepped away from talking about his family and discussed the structure of the government. There was the high commissioner, U.S. military government, civilian government, etc. At the time, he worked as a motorcycle police officer in Okinawa. The United States usually stored poisonous gas as weapons. His duty was to escort trucks to carry them to the seaport and take it somewhere. He said that Americans wore gas masks, but he did not wear one. Before coming to the United States, he was stationed near Village of King. He made a surprising statement when he shared the fact that middle school girls were raped by American militarists. After the battle, the population decreased. Many people, including himself, attended traditional plays which encouraged them to live and move on. Like Mr. Noriyoshi Arakaki, Dr. Mitzi Uehara Carter grew up with war stories. She witnessed dodging bombs and bullets. In addition, she saw scattered bodies which left scars for many generations. She would say that her mother’s stories were not in chorological order since they would bounce around. She also learned that her mother changed her own name.

After these panelists spoke, the audience was given the chance to raise questions and obtain answers. Around 5pm, Melody Takata, Dr. Wesley Ueunten, and Francis Wong played a couple of their last pieces. The mixture of the taiko, sanshin, and saxophone sounded amazing together! Just like how these instruments came together, this event built unity and community. After the event, students helped rearrange the auditorium and carry things outside.

Overall, I was blessed that I got the opportunity to participate in this event. The Battle of Okinawa is often excluded in our history texts, but this event exposed me to the traumas that occurred. In many ways, I can understand that it is not easy to speak about the battle since my own family lived through the Vietnam War. It was nice to hear the survivors talk about their experiences though. The point of the presentation was to explore the historical trauma that shapes the identity of Okinawas in the community. This event was very emotional, but I learned so much in these two sessions. I would like to thank the panelists and all of the supporters for coming!

By Lang Le

1 comment:

  1. Greetings--Mitzi here. Thank you for writing about this event in such great detail. I wanted to make a couple of corrections about my part. I am not a doctor yet (soon I hope!) but am still only a PhD candidate. And the stories I told were those of my mother so I did not personally witness the physical war itself, nor saw the bodies. Those were the stories my mother recounted to me as I've been interviewing her over the years as part of an oral history project.

    And lastly, my mother's name was changed from an Okinawan name to a more Japanese sounding one by her family, not by her. I have to continue researching this and how many Okinawans in fact did this as part of the assimilation project "to become" more culturally Japanese but her name was changed she recalls for the sake of a more Japanese sounding family registry--I will investigate when I go back to Okinawa. My point there was to emphasize that many Okinawans were struggling with their national identity when the war began and that made things all the more complicated in the post-war period, esp in regards to being in-between two super powers that tended to prioritize defense matters over human rights.

    Thanks again for your post! It was wonderful to read about the event and am glad that more people are getting a chance to learn about the historical and some contemporary matter relating to Okinawa.