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June's Thoughts of Life
by Noe Yonamine
Nishihara High School, Okinawa Prefecture
Messages of Peace from Chiran
13th Annual Speech Contest, 2002
First Prize, High School Division

"I want to see my mother. I want to see my father. If only I could see them for just a moment and could say farewell before dying, I would have no regrets." The teenage boy ran desperately down the dark Waitoi road. The face of the furious military officer at the head of the group, and then the faces of his classmates who looked at him with pity and contempt, appear and disappear one after another like a kaleidoscope. As he ran, the thoughts of wanting to see his mother and father came like a rushing torrent that could not be stopped.

Mr. Tamanaha, who now gives talks on peace, was assigned during the war to the Antitank Attack Squad as a member of the Imperial Blood and Iron Corps. He was a member of the land-based Special Attack Corps who carried bombs on their backs and threw themselves against enemy tanks. This assignment took place when he was a fourth-year student in the Okinawa Prefectural Daiichi Middle School. Even now at the schoolhouse next to Shuri Castle, crowded with many tourists, each day "To the Death" special drills are reenacted with a young man carrying a replica bomb on his back. During the war Mr. Tamanaha decided in his heart that he would die for his country.

"Young cherry blossoms not spared for you, willing to be scattered, worthwhile lives." In those days, both from the sky and the sea, even from the ground, many young noble lives were lost as they offered themselves in order to cut down the enemy. For what reason did they die? Why did they sacrifice their lives? What was their reward? The answers to these questions must have been "to save our country." However, I think it must be a fact that their hearts only wanted peace, "We want to protect our loved ones. We want to keep them away from the fighting." Their hopes and lives met an end in the sea around Okinawa, where enemy ships floated like the meshes of a net, and on the main island, where tanks had landed.

Early summer is the most vivid and beautiful season. Both the color of Okinawa's deep blue sea and the color of the clear sky were burned and dyed red with fallen lives during the war. "Each year when June comes, it becomes gloomy," Mr. Tamanaha said quietly. Only I, who deserted from the Imperial Blood and Iron Corps, survived. My classmates did not return. Whatever the reason may be, even now my guilt and my debt to my friends goes after them.

"War has nothing to do with dignity of life," he told us with uncontrollable sadness. In the midst of the firing from the ships' guns called the "Storm of Iron," he desperately fled down the road in the dark night. He stepped on corpses fallen at his feet. Even after becoming a prisoner, he strongly felt the miseries of war. When he saw corpses piled in trucks and buried recklessly by bulldozers, he did not know how to vent his anger. Corpses were thrown in carelessly, not knowing who they were. People's lives were trampled underfoot, disposed of as mere objects. He felt then for the first time what sort of thing war was and what was the meaning of people's lives.

Everyone who experienced the Battle of Okinawa greets the month of June with unspeakably painful thoughts. June 23 is Memorial Day in Okinawa. In front of the "Cornerstones of Peace," with engraved names neither of enemies nor allies, but of all the dead from the Battle of Okinawa, there were many figures of elderly people who had the lives of precious people snatched from them. Lightly touching many times the names engraved in the mute monuments, they had tears running silently down their faces. Only those deeply engraved names are proof that these people surely had lived. Each name told the story of the precious life of a person who had perished in the Battle of Okinawa.

This year the names of 252 more persons were engraved on the monument. The greatest number of these was 151 people from Kagoshima Prefecture who committed their young lives for the future. There were 220,000 Japanese and 10,000 American soldiers in total. The memorial has engraved the lives of all 230,000 victims of the battle. It silently tells of the tragic past and pleads for the preciousness of peace.

Last year on Memorial Day, my mother and I visited Mabuni Hill, and we went down the steps from the top of the hill to the sea. Suddenly when I looked ahead, I spotted a small bouquet of flowers that had been placed on the ground, and next to it a cigarette package and beer cans. "There must have been people who died in this place," said my mother next to me. Was he someone's father? Or was he a close friend of someone? This was Mabuni Hill, where people had been driven to the far southern end of the island and finally killed themselves. Even the step on which I stood was a place where someone had taken his life. Fleeing from the fierce fighting and desperately trying to live, what did they think here, in this place, at the moment of death? Even now the conditions of that time are clearly evident, with marks from the bombs still on the rock cliff. My mother and I were deeply touched, and we paused for a while at that spot.

Next year another June came around. Now, our country has peace we can enjoy, and we have precious lives we can live. We must remember not only the sad thoughts of the people who died hoping for peace but also the things that exist now due to the many lives that were lost. June's thoughts, June's lives speak to us even now. "What is peace? Do you know the preciousness of life?" Hearts that respect life. We must resolutely continue forward from the past to the future with hearts thinking of these lives. Believe in the radiance of boundless lives and in peace for tomorrow.

Translated by Bill Gordon
February 2004