All personal stories are true and printed in italics as spoken.

For student nurse Miyagi Kikuko, the Battle of Okinawa was drawing to a close.

Arasaki Beach was totally silent on the twenty-first. The military ships were still glaring at us from the sea, but not a shot was fired, I had a hand-grenade, and so did Teacher . . . A small boat approached and signaled to us. They waved, “Swim out, we’ll help you!” I shuddered. I was completely exposed. Suddenly, a Japanese soldier climbed down the cliff. A Japanese soldier raising his hands in surrender? Impossible! Traitor! We’d been taught, and firmly believed, that we Okinawans, Great Japanese all, must never fall into the hands of the enemy. Despite that, a Japanese soldier was walking right into the sea. Another soldier, crouching behind a rock near us, shot him. The sea water was dyed red. Thus I saw Japanese murdering Japanese for the first time.

Out of nowhere, a Japanese soldier appeared and dropped to the ground right in front of me. American soldiers must have been chasing him. He was all bloody. Higa-san and I tumbled into a tiny hole, I saw Teacher and this Japanese soldier fly into the air. Then I heard, “Come out, come out” in strangely accented Japanese. Soon a range of small arms fire began, Americans firing at close range. They must have thought we were with that soldier. They blazed away in our direction. A senior student, Aosa-san was killed instantly, as were Ueki-san, Nakamoto-san and the Japanese soldier. I was now under those four dead bodies . . .

Random firing stopped. The American, who had been firing wildly, must have seen he was shooting girls. He could be seen from the hole where my ten classmates were hiding. They pulled the pin on their hand grenade. So unfortunate! I now stepped out over the corpses and followed Teacher. The automatic rifles of four or five Americans were aimed right at me. My grenade was taken away. I had held it to the last minute. The American soldiers lowered their rifles. I looked past them and saw my ten dead classmates. The night before those third-year students had been calling for Teacher to kill them quickly. Now, there was nothing left of them. The hand grenade is so cruel.

It was around noon, June 21. The sun was directly overhead. I staggered, crying, in the blazing sun. American soldiers sometimes called out, “Hey schoolgirl!” I was skin and bones and covered with filth. My only footwear was the soles of workers’ shoes tied to my feet with bandages. “Hey schoolgirl. No poison!” I didn’t know what “no poison” meant, but when I got to their camp I was given something called “ra-shon.” I really didn’t feel like eating. I lay in the sand, crying aloud all night long. I was taken to a camp in the north. For three months, I was taken care of by families I didn’t know anything about. During the third month I met my father and mother. Mother, barefoot, ran out of a tent in the camp and hugged me to her. “You lived, you lived!” I still remember her crying aloud.

The Okinawan battle may have been over for some but there are always those (usually about two percent) who do not get the word. For Ota Masahide, just a boy from the Okinawa Normal School of Shuri, and a member of the “Blood and Iron Student Corps,” the battle was not quite over. He was present and witnessed the last meeting of the Okinawa Defense Forces at their location underneath Shuri Castle. Up to this time, he had been a member of a small group of boys whose job was to carry the latest on the battle situation to the civilians and soldiers in the caves.

It was June 19, when an order was issued to dissolve the Blood and Iron Student Corps, the Lily Student Corps, and other such units, but Masahide’s small group was not to be dissolved. Instead, the group he was in was to become part of a “special unit” to fight a “guerilla war.”

At this last meeting, all leaders were present with Commander Ushijim himself presiding. This included all of his staff officers along with the Intelligence section.

A final sake party was held at headquarters that June 19. All the generals dressed in formal uniforms, all their medals on their chests. Staff officers wore their gold braid. I saw that. When it was over, they took off their military uniforms and donned the black kimonos worn by elderly Okinawan women, to make them as inconspicuous as possible. Some of my classmates of mine were assigned to accompany them as guides, one for every two staff officers. With one exception, all those who left the caves as guides were killed.

With three other comrades, I left for Kunigami in the North. We tried to pass through enemy lines. I was soon injured. Although we set out swearing to remain together, whether in life or in death, I lost all track of them . . . That evening—I don’t remember the exact date, maybe the twenty-second or twenty-third—a man passed by me, then returned and looked at my face. It was my classmate, Shinjo. I’d visited his home once. In that brutal, savage time, when hardly anyone could play the violin, he was a violinist. His elder brother composed beautiful and famous pieces of music.

Shinjo told me he was about to charge into the enemy. “I don’t need this anymore, “he said and handed me rice, packed in a sock, and dried bonito. At that time, we put rice in our socks and tied them up. I still had a rifle and two hand-grenades with me, and one hundred twenty bullets . . . Thanks to Shinjo’s rice I was at last again able to move a little.

Searching for food, I climbed to the top of Mabuni Hill. Below was located the cave where we had previously hidden ourselves. There I found small graves of Commander Ushijima and Chief-of-Staff Cho. They had committed suicide. I suppose you could call them tombs, but they were very plain. Ushijima’s was just the length of a man, thinly plastered over with concrete, and above it a slab of wood, probably prepared beforehand, reading “Commander Ushijima’s Grave.”

As I approached it, at first I thought I saw a cross there. I was very moved by it, sensitive teenager that I was, thinking one had been put up by the American soldiers. But soon I realized that rather than a cross, what I was seeing was a short American dagger struck into the grave marker. Then I noticed scratches on it, too. I didn’t understand the meanings of the words written there, then, but I remembered the shapes of the letters. Later I learned they said, “God damn! Go to hell!”

For a long time we lived in a cave as defeated stragglers. My own survival then seemed inconceivable to me. I thought only of how I might break out of enemy territory. I could hardly walk with my injured leg . . . I buried my rifle. Simply to throw away a rifle with the chrysanthemum emblem on it would have been a serious offense! Finally I made it to the ocean, but I didn’t have the strength to swim far.

Every day American soldiers came to hunt the remnants of the defeated army. Among my companions at this time was a graduate of Bunri University in Tokyo named Shiraishi. He was very gentle, and had the complexion of a girl. He’d brought a Webster’s dictionary into the military. He never got promoted. He looked after me and I stuck to him. I told him at one point I was prepared to meet my end right where we were. “No,” he said, “lets go as far as we can,” and insisted on taking me with him.

About that time, there were only two of us, and we had nothing to eat. All around us were the tents of American soldiers. If you threw a grenade, the Americans would run for cover, and you could sneak in and steal some food. Once, because Shiraishi loved reading, I brought back an American magazine from one of my missions. “Ota, look at this,” he exclaimed. Of course, I didn’t understand English. “Japan lost,” he told me. “The explosions we saw the other day were American salvos of celebration.” “Shiraishi read sentences incomprehensible to me. I was moved more by the force of his scholarship and the splendidness of learning language than by the danger around me. Once he said to me, “If you survive, come to Tokyo and study English.” Those words altered my life completely. From then on we told each other, “Let’s not die in vain. Let’s survive.”

One day, a “placation squad” of former Japanese soldiers came with American MPs. “We’ve lost. We are defeated. Why are you taking so long to come out?” they called out to us. In our cave there were then maybe one hundred forty or fifty people, in all kinds of different groups. They’d all lived separately, but now they came together to consult on what we should do . . . Finally, though, our surrender was decided upon. We raised one final condition. We wanted to be allowed to wash ourselves decent, before we became prisoners of war.

We did so in the open air the next day. Suddenly, everybody looked like someone else because until then we’d seen each other’s faces only at night or under layers of filth. We felt like we had all emerged from a different world.

The bride of kamikaze pilot Araki Haruo, Araki Shigek would finally make her pilgrimage to Okinawa in answer to a strange longing that had plagued her life. He passed away in 1945. Forty-five years have gone by, and yet strangely the face of a man who died in action remains that of a twenty-one year old. My second husband died at fifty-seven with an old man’s face, while Haruo’s is almost like my son’s. I guess that’s why the yearning gets stronger year by year. It’s like the love of a mother cherishing her son’s memory.

I went to Okinawa about six years ago. I wanted to see that sea, once. I was told it was in the vicinity of Kadena Bay that he made his attack. We don’t really know. Anyway, I brought some sand and pebbles from there and put them next to his grave. When I was there, I called to him by name, shouting loudly “Haruo-san!”

Sometimes people ask me to go with them to Okinawa, but it’s not a place I want to go to twice. Okinawans think they were the only victims. It’s amazing how strongly they feel that. That feeling is everywhere. They think Okinawa was cut off and only the Okinawans had terrible times. I see such stories in the newspapers and I don’t like them. Haruo died to protect Okinawa. I get angry when the consider themselves just victims. Did you hear about the incident where they even burned our flag? I’d hate to set foot on the soil of Okinawa again.

So many memories came back to me like pictures on a revolving lantern. There are times when I wish the Emperor had reached the decision to surrender earlier. So many civilians suffered. There was so much damage . . . At that time, we had an unbounded faith in Japan . . . Beyond comprehension today. We felt the Yamato race was unequaled.

Victory at Okinawa was now ushering in an end to the war. Even before Okinawa, the Japanese military leaders knew that ultimate defeat was inevitable and there was already a strong peace faction among their leaders. Emperor Hirohito himself favored the peace faction and eventually, after the fighting on Okinawa had begun, approved the reshuffling of the cabinet to pave the way for negotiations. He even sanctioned a move to appeal to Russia to intercede with the United States on Japan’s behalf. Not a very wise choice as it turned out.

With the loss of the what was left of the Japanese navy, twelve ships, and with the loss of over 7800 aircraft, and without appreciable supplies of gas or oil, the Japanese had little left with which to fight. What was left was described by Araki Shigeko, the bride of Kamikaze pilot, Flight Lieutenant Araki:

We were going to do it with our bamboo spears. When they landed we would attack them. We had those spears at our right hand at all times at the factory. “Each one, stab one, without fail” they’d tell us. “Yes!” We’d replied in unison. Our spear was about a meter and a half long, with a sharp point cut diagonally across at the end. We practiced every morning. “Thrust! Thrust! Thrust!” I thought I’d definitely be able to stab them. We had the image of the Americans as being gigantic. We were told, “Americans are large and well built, so go for the throat. Stab here, drive your spear up into the throat. Don’t look at the face. Stab without looking.” We really believed we could do it. Isn’t it scary? We often called this “Yamato damashii,” the “Spirit of Japan.”

The bamboo spears were going to have to withstand attacks from Allied aircraft sweeping in from naval forces that now surrounded the Japanese islands and which could obliterate any area that appeared to be a threat. Bamboo spears would have to be it. The hope that the capture of Okinawa would be so costly that the Americans would be willing to make peace rather than face an even costlier invasion of the homeland was not to be. Ships like the Emmons and Rodman and other ships of the early warning net deserve much of the credit for absorbing much of the thrust of the kamikazes.