Traces of War: Ryukyu Islands Surrender Site


Japanese Delegation on the USS Missouri

Japanese Delegation on the USS Missouri

The Japanese in WWII surrendered on September 2nd, 1945, or so most people think. The surrenders of some of Japanese forces scattered across the Pacific occurred later, as it day here on Okinawa. Five days after the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor, the last remnants of their Okinawa garrison officially capitulated on September 7th, 1945.

Japanese Surrender on Okinawa

Japanese Surrender on Okinawa

With General Doolittle in attendance, General Joseph Stilwell and commanding representatives of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy signed a surrender document in a ceremony held at what is now the Stearley Heights area of Kadena Air Force Base.

Japanese Representative Flag Officers Arriving on Okinawa

Japanese Representative Flag Officers Arriving on Okinawa

f3eec8bc2bf66e672bb5bf2a482254f3General Toshiro Nomi, flown in since all Japanese Flag officers in the Ryukyus – including Ryukyu Commanding General Mitsuru Ushijima and his Chief of Staff Isamu Chō – had been killed or committed suicide, signed on behalf of the Imperial Japanese General Headquarters and the Japanese Government.

surrender001

Signatures and Signatories

Signatures and Signatories

g344921g344919The ceremony was held at the then 10th Army Headquarters at what was known as Camp Kuwae. While victory on what was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific theater was declared much earlier on June 22nd by General Geiger, mopping up operations continued for many weeks. The capitulation was formal and befitting the end of hostilities on the Island, and remained marked by a flag pole and historical marker flanked by captured Japanese artillery pieces.

Surrender Site ~1946

Surrender Site ~1946

Surrender Site ~1960

Surrender Site ~1960

But through the years, some way and somehow, this site lost its place of importance, becoming overgrown and unkempt with each passing year.

Surrender Site ~1967

Surrender Site ~1967

Then, the area was repurposed as military housing to support the growing footprint of the American military presence on the island as the growing cold war turned hot in both Korea and Vietnam. Still, the site remained marked with a small granite stone in the center of a residential cul-de-sac, a marker less than befitting the site’s actual historical importance.

Surrender Site 2015

Surrender Site 2015

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, Surrender WMOkinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, HQ Tenth Army Surrender of the RyukyusFinally, and only recently in 1997, the site was re-recognized for the pivotal point in history that it tangibly represents. A construction project was undertaken to transform the cul-de-sac into a “Peace Memorial Garden,” and more appropriate markers and plaques better tell the story of what transpired there.

Peace Memorial Park 2015

Peace Memorial Park 2015

Still, it’s odd that the location is flanked on three sides by nondescript cinderblock single family homes, where the garden doubles as a children’s playground for the immediate neighborhood.

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, Surrender 2 September 1945 WM

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, Surrender placards WMOkinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, HQ Tenth Army Surrender of the RyukyusBut given the blood, sweat and tears shed over Okinawa by all sides civil and military, perhaps there is no more fitting use of this sacred ground than that which can produce laughter and happiness. I was only too happy to see a couple of children giggle and scream as they give chase through the monuments. For it is peace that the site represents, and the innocence of those children are exactly what help to consecrate the grounds to just such ends.

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, war monument and peace garden WM

See more modern photographs of Okinawa Battlesites here on my Flickr photostream.

 

Farm Fresh Fruit: Strawberry Picking on Okinawa


Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, strawberries and smiles WM

Got a hankering for strawberries? Well, you could easily run over to the commissary and buy a package of the oversized waxed fruit that we’ve come to expect, shipped from somewhere distant overseas at a premium price. Alternatively, you could get your strawberries at any supermarket on Okinawa, which are far superior to those available on base in color, size, and taste. But, the farm-fresh strawberries picked by hand at Okinawa ichigo (Japanese for “strawberry”) farms are made oh so much delectable by the fruits of your labor!

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, ripe strawberries WM

It’s strawberry season in Okinawa, and here the fruit is farm fresh – literally.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, yummy fresh strawberries WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, rows of strawberries WMStrawberry picking in Japan is a popular activity this time of year, and strawberry farms across its many islands offer opportunities for highly coveted all-you-can-eat visits. On Okinawa strawberries have only recently been harvested starting as early as March. Traditionally, before modern housed cultivation, the season begun only in early summer. But if you want until then it’ll be too late!

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, strawberries and smiles 3 WM

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, couples' greenhouse selfie 2 WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, a couple of fresh strawberries WMJody and I had an Okinawan friend help make our reservations – they are highly encouraged, and most places require one in order to enjoy their berries. We selected a farm up in the middle of the island, well away from the urban sprawl that seems to infect most of the southern reaches of Okinawa. We left early enough to ensure at least an on-time arrival, but ended up about 15 minutes early. But even then, the first groups of the 1100 picking hour were already being led into one of the large, plastic-draped greenhouse.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, strawberry fields forever WM

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, private greenhouse WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, Kevin likes strawberries WMStrawberry farming is relatively new to Ginoza, starting only about the last decade. Okinawa’s harsh high heat and humidity is hard on the fruit, and strong summer typhoons and winter storms can easily damage the fragile plants. But greenhouses have changed all that. The farms on Okinawa cultivate the berries in greenhouses, which makes variations and swings in climate and temperature a thing of the past. The well-sheltered greenhouses additionally offer protection from strong winds, birds, and insects.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, countryside greenhouses 2 WM

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, sweet reception WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, couples' greenhouse selfie WMJody and I found the registration desk, and after finding our names on the farm’s list – easy to find when you are the only English on a whole page of Japanese – we were led to a 2nd greenhouse (out of the 5 or 6 available) just opened with two Okinawan women, one of which turned out to work on-base and became our impromptu translator for the rest of the day.

Our nearly private greenhouse!

Our nearly private greenhouse!

Lessons

Lessons

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, butterfly pollenator WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, ketchup and jams for sale WMThere, in our nearly private but massive greenhouse full of strawberry bushes, we were given a quick lesson in picking and eating. Remember, there is etiquette for everything in Japan! Then, with plastic cups in hand for the berries’ inedible tops, we were turned loose for the next 40 minutes to wander and wonder, all the while stuffing our faces with the seeded red deliciousness.

Elevated Cultivation is the Way to Go!

Elevated Cultivation is the Way to Go!

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, kids in the greenhouse WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, kids hunting for berries WMWithin the greenhouses, there are two major methods of cultivation: elevated and ground level. In the elevated approach, the crop is planted in waste-high planters that offer a few major advantages over in-ground growth. This tactic keeps the berries off the ground so that there is almost no spoilage, but equally as important, it’s easy on the lower back as no squatting or bending over is required to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Plus the ground is completely covered so there’s no worry about mud or dirtying your footwear.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, beautiful fresh strawberry WM

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, picking strawberries WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, delicious fresh strawberries WMStrawberries on Okinawa are different from those found in the more northern reaches of Japan. Because the sun’s ultraviolet rays are so much stronger here, the berries grown on Okinawa take on a deeper red and develop a richer, sweeter taste. Strawberry farms, such as the Ginozason Agricultural Successors Training Center which Jody and I visited, are extremely busy in the spring, especially during the weekends. But if you confirm your reservation early, the farms in Ginoza will provide your money’s worth, not just of farm-fresh strawberries, but of the overall experience.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, strawberries and smiles 2 WM

Be sure to dress in layers; although Okinawa can still offer chilly early morning breezes, the houses will warm and with some humidity. Oh, and be sure to use the facilities before you start; strawberries are mostly water after all, and forty minutes is a long time….

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, cup of fresh strawberries WM

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, beautiful fresh strawberry 3 WMOkinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, beautiful fresh strawberry 2 WMWhile the large plump berries will tempt you and seem to be the obvious choice, Jody and I found that the smaller, redder berries offered the most sweetness. And since the strawberries here are grown completely organically, they are eaten directly off the bush. No need to worry about chemicals, dirt, or insects. Morning is the best time to pick strawberries when they are chilled and well-hydrated from resting overnight. Jody and I both agree that these are the best strawberries we’ve ever had. While I usually have to add sugar to most berries in order to really enjoy them, the small sweet variety here explode in your mouth in a cascade of full flavor and almost crunchy texture.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, peaceful delicious strawberries WM

Strawberry picking is not to be missed and costs around 1,500 yen ($15) per person, but the prices vary from farm to farm. Most offer all-you-can-eat visits for 30 or 40 minutes, and few offer take-away options based on weight. The details of the facility we visited can be found below.

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, couple of strawberries selfie WM

Ginozason Agricultural Successor Training Center

Prices

Prices

Okinawa Apr 2015, Strawberry Picking, countryside greenhouses 3 WMOffering elevated cultivation, the center is open late January to May, with generally three rounds of all-you-can-eat picking for 40 minutes at a time. 1,300 yen ($12) elementary students 900 yen, preschoolers 600 yen. Reservations are required; call 098-968-5102 for more information or see them online at ginoza-ichigo.net. Sorry, the website is Japanese only!

The farm, along with nearby “Ginoza Strawberry Farm” is easy to find. Take the Okinawa Expressway north to Interchange No. 9 (IC Ginoza), and follow the exit ramp past the tollbooth to your first left. After making the turn you’ll come to a large baseball park and stadium. Here you’ll see signs featuring strawberries along the road directing you to the farm area, which requires a few twists and turns along back country roads. Once you’re close, parking is along the roads wherever you can find it.

Finished!

Finished!

See more strawberry picking photos here in my Flickr Photostream.

Tashmioo’s Tomb: Please Pray for Him


“A tomb now suffices him for whom the whole world was not sufficient.” ~Greek Proverb

“We know little of the things for which we pray.” ~Geoffrey Chaucer

Tashimoo's Tomb

Tashimoo’s Tomb

“Tashimoo,” the large white sign, sized and placed to be easily seen from the frequently traveled road on Torii Station, began. “Please pray at this blacksmith’s tomb because he made tools for farmers.”

I had driven by this “tomb” probably at least 50 times, and with each pass, my curiosity grew. Who was this blacksmith, and who was responsible for placing and maintaining this sign on an active United States Army station? And where exactly was his tomb at this site? All it appeared to be was a small rise in the ground, serving as root foundation for a very large shade tree and associated sub-tropical jungle.

Deciding to stop and explore his resting place on foot, I realize that this tomb appears to be very old, and basically has been reclaimed by nature. Oddly situated next to a modern American style gas station where a woman was loudly vacuuming her car, I can find no real trace of what I would consider an Okinawan tomb, at least not like those ubiquitous turtle-back mausoleums seen all over the island.

Okinawan Turtleback Tombs (Yomitan)

Okinawan Turtleback Tombs (Yomitan)

Turtle-back tombs are exactly one of those things that make Okinawa…oh so Okinawan. They line hillsides along the coasts, prime property for what in essence are neighborhoods of the dead. But they are not seen in other parts of Japan; they were introduced only in the Ryukyus through Okinawa’s long and prosperous seafaring tradition with China.

Turtle-back tombs or turtle shell tombs (Japanese: 亀甲墓, kamekō-baka) are a particular type of tomb commonly found in some coastal areas of China’s Fujian Province and in Japan’s Ryūkyū Islands. In the original Chinese form, the tomb main chamber’s roof is made to look like the carapace of a tortoise. A vertical stone tombstone bearing the name of the deceased is placed where the turtle’s head would be, and serves as the “door” access to the burial vault.

Smaller, More Literal Turtle Tombs in  China

Smaller, More Literal Turtle Tombs in China

In the Ryūkyūan island chain, the turtle-back tombs are thought to have been introduced from China in the late 17th or early 18th century, but there are academic claims that reach back to their origins in Okinawa to the 15th century. The Ryūkyūan version has the same overall shape and layout, but on a much grander scale. Whereas in China the tombs are for individuals, in Okinawa the enhanced size of the body of the “tortoise” serves most often as a family tomb.

Why a turtle? In China, the turtle has long been considered a sacred animal. The reptile’s shape, with its flat plastron (the belly of the turtle) below and its domed carapace above, is said to represent the universe, at least as it appeared to ancient Chinese. But the interpretation in the Ryukyus has the tomb shaped to resemble a woman’s womb. One of the Eastern Buddhist ideas surrounding death is that it is only another form of rebirth, or a means of returning from whence you came.

Turtle-Back (China) or Womb (Okinawa) Interpretation

Turtle-Back (China) or Womb (Okinawa) Interpretation

Okinawa 2015, Kadena Tombs, broken burial urns WMOkinawa 2015, Kadena Tombs, overgrown and reclaimed WMBy the 20th century, the turtleback tomb became the predominant burial chamber in most of the Ryūkyū Islands. These tombs contain a burial vault, where bones of many generations of a particular family could repose. In the long-standing tradition of burial in Okinawa, a coffin and body are placed in the central part of the tomb and the vault is sealed with a massive stone. The newly deceased remains there for some number of years until wholly decomposed. At that point, the bones would be washed, usually by young female relatives of the deceased, placed into a large earthenware vessel, and stored on shallow tiered shelves lining the back and sides of the vault’s interior based on seniority. Larger tombs offer up to 150 square feet of burial space.

Preserved Tombs on Kadena AFB

Preserved Tombs on Kadena AFB

Okinawa 2015, Kadena Tombs, large shaded tomb WMOkinawa 2015, Kadena Tombs, overgrown tomb WMThere are large preserved tombs on Kadena AFB, complete with placarded information. Stopping there one day, I find a substantial picturesque tomb and a brief, generalized explanation describing the aged, intriguing structure. Although the signage claimed that the tombs were still being utilized today, a closer inspection of their interiors clearly shows that no one is home, living or dead. I can only imagine, perhaps, that the family was whipped out in totality during the Typhoon of Steel which occurred here back in 1945….

Empty Tombs

Empty Tombs

WWII Intelligence on Okinawan Tombs

WWII Intelligence on Okinawan Tombs

That spring, during the Battle of Okinawa, many Okinawan civilians sought refuge from naval and air bombardment of the island inside their ancestors’ tombs (as they also do for typhoons). Later, many of these tombs were also used by the Imperial Japanese defenders of the islands in essence as reinforced fighting positions. (See Turtle Back Tombs for an excellent overview of the role the tombs played in WWII) Pre-invasion military analysis of Okinawa included instructions on the explosive firepower required to destroy such tombs. When you consider the propensity of the Japanese to use the tombs in military roles, grave danger emanated from the literally thousands of turtlebacks that dotted the island of Okinawa.

Militarized Tombs 2

Okinawan Tomb along the Hiji River showing scares of War

Okinawan Tomb along the Hiji River showing scares of War

14560717418_1a6bcfc297_bUnfortunately, war often presents just such dilemmas: should the destruction of local culturally significant sites be avoided at the risk of increased casualties, or should they be leveled to discourage their use and save as many of the invasion force as possible? The way it went, it is the Okinawan people who suffered most. And doubly so. The Japanese, who cared nothing for the welfare of the Okinawan people, occupied, militarized, and sacrificed this island chain as a way to simply slow the Americans down on their march northward to the Japanese homeland. The Japanese were directly responsible for the destruction of almost every important Okinawan cultural relic, either by their own hand or by placing such sites in the crosshairs of the American invasion force. The desecration of tombs – many which were destroyed on the mere suspicion of being military strongholds or hideouts – was a terrible and lasting affront to the Okinawans.

Shiimii Observance at a Family Tomb

Shiimii Observance at a Family Tomb

In Okinawa, where highly superstitious and spiritually attuned people actively engage in ancestor worship, the tomb is not only a place for resting the dead, but a place of tangible joy and transcendent comfort for the living.  One such event is known as Shiimii. Each spring at the beginning of the third Lunar month (the Okinawans still use the traditional Chinese measure of time to mark cultural events) Okinawans participate in memorial services of a sort for their ancestors. But these observances are much less solemn that you might think. The practice is, of course, based on Chinese traditions passed along to the Ryukyus with the Chinese tombs. During this festivity, blood relatives gather at tombs in a family reunion, but one which includes both the living and the dead. The entire site is cleaned and neatened; weeds are pulled, trees are trimmed, bushes cut back and debris and trash removed. Irritated forebears, upset at the tidiness of their eternal home, are believed to cause illness or even death when their descendants don’t take good care of the family tomb or participate in important annual ceremonies which take place there. See Banzai for more on the rituals and rites of honoring the dead in Okinawa.

Buddha Standing Guard

Buddha Standing Guard

Once the site is presentable, a brief ceremony is held which includes prayers and the burning of imitation paper money for the dead to use in the coming year. Then a picnic is enjoyed at the tomb. Family members unpack special Okinawan ceremonial foods like mochi, fruits and pork, along with beer, saké and awamori. Offerings are made first to the resident ancestors, and then the extended family consumes the rest graveside. Children are seen laughing and playing while the adults appreciate their adult beverages. Often a strummed sanshin, the traditional Okinawa three-string instrument, offers a musical background where time-honored folk songs are sung in hogen, the local dialect. This joyous time, one which strengthens and reaffirms kinship and ancestral ties, is cherished by the Okinawans.

Modern Gable-Style Tomb

Modern Gable-Style Tomb

But there’s less and less of the turtleback tombs being constructed on Okinawa. More recent trends, given the exorbitant cost of purchasing land and building large kamekō-baka are to build gables, smaller tombs that more resemble a shrine or small home than animal. And given the reduced floor space available, cremation is now the norm.

Scattered Earthenware and Bones

Scattered Earthenware and Bones

Tashimoo's Tomb

Tashimoo’s Tomb

Okinawa Apr 2015, Tori Blacksmith Grave, bones shells and urn fragmentsTashimoo, the blacksmith of Yomitan, had neither. His tomb is crudely formed by stacked chunks of ancient coral. Moving up into the manmade elements of his hillside grave, I spy fragments of earthenware and what appears to be bone fragments, possibly animal, but maybe not, scattered in a leveled area immediately against a small coral wall. The site, adjacent to a busy road serving the base’s gas station and across the street from the construction site where the new base headquarters is going to be, is quite shaded and tranquil.

Tashimoo's Tomb

Tashimoo’s Tomb

And he still has people stopping to pray. In my few moments of silent contemplation of this man’s life – and death – I focus the very nature of his tomb and the fascinating Okinawan interpretation of the circle of life. And I reach a necessary conclusion.

Tashimoo's Tomb

Tashimoo’s Tomb

We all can only hope to be as lucky to be so well-remembered.

Fortress of Peace: A Buddhist Arsenal on Okinawa


This is a Buddhist  Temple.  And a former American nuclear missile site....

This is a Buddhist Temple. And a former American nuclear missile site….

Driving up to the Buddhist Temple entrance, I stopped at the gate where a well-dressed older Okinawan man motioned me to stop. I rolled my passenger window down and greeted him good day.

“Konichiwa!” I said with a big smile.

“Konichiwa,” came the man’s reply, a bit less emphatic.

“Visit?” I asked as I motioned towards the hardened silos ahead in view. He didn’t understand. “Tour?” “Photos?” I finally try as I point to the cameras on my passenger seat and then to the imposing structure just ahead….

Finally, out of desperation, I mimic the launching of a rocket, trace a ballistic arc through the sky, and then mime an explosion, but with appropriate sound effects. Ah, now he gets it…and after signing in with my name and vehicle license plate, I’m directed where to park.

Mace-B Missile being Loaded in Silo

Mace-B Missile being Loaded in Silo

Entrance to the Silo Museum

Entrance to the Silo Museum

Silo's Transformed Interior

Silo’s Transformed Interior

You see, Okinawa is home to the Okinawa Training Center of the Buddhist sect of Soka Gakkai International, a place also known as their “Peace Fortress.” In the early 1970s, SGI’s President Daisaku Ikeda saw the abandoned, dismantled nuclear missile site and was immediately struck by a vision: what better way to utilize such a facility than to dedicate it to peace. In 1984, he achieved this vision when the site was ultimately transformed and officially opened as a base for world peace. The missile silos now provide meeting spaces and offers two free museums, one contained in a restored silo which tells the story of nuclear weapons on Okinawa, and the other which features the story of the sect’s peace movement.

Silo Transformed into a Museum

Silo Transformed into a Museum

Back in the fall of 1962, the US and the USSR teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation after American spy planes discovered Russian-based nuclear missiles deployed on communist Cuba, a short 90 miles from the Florida keys. These atomic weapons placed large swaths of continental America within range of little-notice nuclear attack, something the President and US Government at the time simply would not stand for. The standoff sparked a two-week showdown between the world’s nuclear-armed superpowers that has been claimed as “the most dangerous moment in human history.”

The Onna Site nearing Completion.

The Onna Site nearing Completion.

However, a short six months prior, a potential parallel drama was being played out on the other side of the world. On the tiny island of Okinawa, the US had deployed short-range nuclear missiles, nearly identical to those the Russians placed in the Caribbean, but ones which (unnecessarily) targeted China.

Nuclear Missile Strike Range from Okinawa, 1962

Nuclear Missile Strike Range from Okinawa, 1962

The presence of these missiles on Okinawa, and more widely in Japan, still has not been fully or officially disclosed. But people have started talking: specifically, the people who were responsible for the maintenance and launching of these terrifyingly devastating weapons.

The Base for World Peace as it stands Today

The Base for World Peace as it stands Today

498th TMG PatchIn the early 1960s, men of the 498th Tactical Missile Group (TMG) were the stewards of America’s latest weapon in the nuclear toolkit — the TM-76 “Mace.” The 40 foot long Mace missile, weighing over 8 tons and costing $500k each, packed a 1.1-megaton nuclear warhead that, at many times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, could annihilate anything within a three-mile radius of ground zero. Or, it could create a crater 20 stories deep when employed against hardened, buried targets.

Mace Test Firing

Mace Test Firing

Some of those men, having trained intensively for months in the states destined for combat postings overseas assumed they would find themselves in Europe. Instead, much to their surprise, they found themselves on the long island-hopping flight to the far reaches of the Pacific, destination Okinawa.

Why and how? Well, the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, the one which ended the U.S.-led Allied Occupation of mainland Japan, granted America continued control and administration of Okinawa – which lasted until 1972. After the communist transformation of China in 1949, followed by the hot and almost nuclear war in Korea in the first half of the 1950s, America rapidly transformed this peaceful sliver of land into the linchpin of its Cold War plans for Asia.

Mace Missiles being Transported through Gushikawa Village, Okinawa

Mace Missiles being Transported through Gushikawa Village, Okinawa

Starting in 1954, nuclear armed aircraft (see Nuking Japan for my very personal history involving nuclear bombs) and atomic artillery shells were deployed to and stockpiled on Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. These were the first of what would amount to at least 1,200 atomic weapons that would remain until their final removal in 1972. But that was just the start. Starting in the early 1960s massive construction projects were in-work building semi-hardened silos designed to shelter and launch some of the earliest nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to be deployed.

The Silo's 2nd Level tells the MACE Story

The Silo’s 2nd Level tells the MACE Story

 

War Wounds Remain:  Art on  Display in the Silo

War Wounds Remain: Art on Display in the Silo

Okinawa Traces of War 2015, Mace B Missile Site, preserved silo and museum bottom level war art 3Back then, just 15 years after the Typhoon of Steel (see my blog of the same name for more on the Battle of Okinawa) that overtook Okinawa during WWII, the island still visibly bore the scars of war. Within view of the rusting hulks of war wrecks still lying just offshore, Bolo Point in the village of Yomitan became the first of Okinawa’s nuclear-missile sites to become operational in 1962. The site held eight Mace missiles aimed west over the East China Sea, ready to, as the TMG put it back then, “defend the island, protect the institution of democracy and halt the spread of communism.” The missiles were kept ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

mace

Although some surely thought their posting to the sunny and sea-surrounded sub-tropical island was a dream, the events of October 1962 dashed such hopes. The missile force found out about the Russian deployment of missiles well before the American public, and from that moment on, life for the missilers became much more serious.

Russia had stationed nuclear weapons outside its borders for the first time, missiles capable of reaching Washington D.C. in fifteen minutes with a megaton warhead. President Kennedy took their deployment as a personal affront, branding Khrushchev “an immoral gangster.” The President demanded immediate removal by the Russians publicly, but secretly ordered his top military generals and admirals draw up plans to bomb the Cuban sites and even invade if the Russians refused.

A standoff between the world’s nuclear superpowers ensued. The Pentagon raised the nation’s Defense Condition (“DEFCON”) to TWO. The Okinawan missilers were told that DEFCON 2 meant a declaration of nuclear war was possible within 15 minutes; if DEFCON 1 was reached, missile launch could be expected within 5 minutes.

One Missile = One Chinese City Destroyed = 1 Million Dead

One Missile = One Chinese City Destroyed = 1 Million Dead

It looked as if launch orders might actually be received as events began to spiral out of control on the other side of the world. The Cubans shot down a U.S. spy plane flying over sovereign Cuban territory, and the American Navy dropped explosives on Russian submarines within a self-declared maritime exclusion zone surrounding Cuba, forcing them to surface. Okinawa braced itself for an escalation to DEFCON 1 at any moment. Sealed launch codes were delivered to launch sites, and personnel were locked in place. The world – both eastern and western hemispheres – was seconds away from midnight on the nuclear clock.

Luckily for everyone, those launch orders were never issued. On October 28, 1962, Kennedy and Khrushchev finally struck a secret deal whereby the Soviets promised to withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba in return for promises by the United States not to invade the island and assurances we would pull atomic rockets out of NATO-aligned Turkey.

Art Displayed along the Silos' Lower Level

Art Displayed along the Silos’ Lower Level

But where would have the Maces of Okinawa struck if and when they were launched? The missilers didn’t know for sure, but a safe (and pragmatically the only) assumption was somewhere in China. The relatively short-range of the missiles based on Okinawa put almost the entire USSR tantalizingly just out of reach. At the time, US intelligence leaned toward a belief that China was largely aligned with the Soviet Union. However, the Sino-Soviet split of the time is now well-documented, and highlights one of the worst intelligence failures of the Cold War. Given the existing and serious tensions between Russia and China, it is highly likely that Chairman Mao would have sat out any such Soviet-American Armageddon. On the other hand, had the Okinawan Maces annihilated Shanghai and Beijing – both cities easily within range – killing possibly a hundred million Chinese, the U.S. and China would have been most certainly at war, resulting no doubt in WWIII.

In any case, most agree that the U.S. missiles on Okinawa – if they were known by the Russians – made the island a potential Soviet target. There was a very real chance of Okinawa evaporating in a preemptive or retaliatory Russian strike. JFK in 1962 had accused Castro of turning Cuba “into the first Latin American country to become a target for nuclear war.”   But now it seems clear that the residents of Okinawa were also pawns (see my related blog Pawn Shop) in a far larger power play among distant superpowers that apparently cared little about the civilians whose lives their nuclear weapons were supposed to protect.

Emotional  Art on Display in the Silo's Lower Level

Emotional Art on Display in the Silo’s Lower Level

Throughout the 1960s, neither the government of Japan nor the U.S. admitted that there were nuclear weapons on Okinawa. The Japanese government didn’t want to confirm officially the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons on Okinawa because they hoped to avoid any responsibility for them. This kind of thinking has resulted in a big rift between Japan’s leadership and its ordinary citizens.

Traces of American Presence remain in the Silo

Traces of American Presence remain in the Silo

Traces of American Presence remain in the Silo

Traces of American Presence remain in the Silo

The Japanese government’s hypocrisy in pretending it knew nothing about U.S. nuclear weapons in Okinawa was necessary in order to maintain face with its public, especially since in 1954 the crew of the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon #5 were mistakenly irradiated in the U.S. H-bomb test at Bikini Island. As a result more than 30 million Japanese people sign a petition in protest. Then, in 1956 the Ryukyu Assembly of Elected Officials demands the withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from Okinawa and any other islands. In 1965 a hydrogen bomb is “lost” from the deck of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga 130 km off Okinawa’s coast, and in 1966 Iejima Island residents successfully blocked the deployment of U.S. Nike nuclear-tipped antiaircraft missiles. But it was only in 1971, when America and Japan were negotiating for the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty that the U.S. government publicly admitted to their presence for the first time. And it did so by demanding that Tokyo help pay for the removal of nuclear arms from Okinawa! Wow.

1,200 Nukes in Okinawa!

1,200 Nukes in Okinawa!

My visit to the Temple was fairly awe-inspiring. I consider myself not prone to naiveté, but I had assumed that Japan was left nuclear-free per their wishes. Silly boy! As one of the missilers put it, “We [Americans] were all just kids doing a man’s job. The American military machine taught us that it was our right to take anything or go anywhere we wanted. But we never realized that people didn’t want us or our weapons on their island.” To America, Okinawa then was neither American nor Japanese, but solid ground on which to station a far reach of our war machine. A machine that of course included nuclear weapons.

Peace Sculptures on the Grounds

Peace Sculptures on the Grounds

The Base of World Peace located at the Site

The Base of World Peace located at the Site

The Statue Standing over the Silo Museum

The Statue Standing over the Silo Museum

In the opening of the Monument to World Peace at the site of this relic of a different age, President Ikeda proclaimed, “We turn this missile site into a foundation for our thoughts and reflections on peace, not only for Japan, but for the whole world. Let’s preserve these remnants forever. Let’s leave them as evidence that humanity once engaged in something so foolish as war!”

Unfortunately, it seems that we, along with the majority of humanity, continue to act so foolishly. I however stand firm for change. In leaving the Memorial Hall today, I signed the SGI’s roster, officially making me “Cosmo Politan” World Citizen #90,761. Each of us should always endeavor to Choose Hope…Choose Peace…Choose Life. Even if it’s one of us at a time.

Onna MACE-B Site 4, Now a Fortress of Peace

Onna MACE-B Site 4, Now a Fortress of Peace

 

 

More on Nuclear Weapons Deployed to Okinawa:

Some of the weapons deployed to Okinawa included the B43, B57 and of course the Mace cruise missile. The B43, put in service starting in 1961, was an air-dropped variable yield nuclear weapon used by a wide variety of aircraft, and was one of two primary nuclear weapons that I was trained to employ while flying the A-6E Intruder in the 1990s. The B43 was built in two variants, each with five different “dial-a-yield” options, and 2,000 weapons were produced through 1965. The B43 was 18 inches (45 cm) in diameter, about 13’ feet long, and around 2,100 pounds. Explosive yield varied from 70 kilotons to 1 megaton of TNT. The BDU-8 pictured below is the practice “shape” for this nuclear weapon and was recovered by Okinawans when it fell outside of the bombing range in Ie Island.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, nuclear bomb shapes lost off-range WM

The B57 nuclear bomb was a tactical nuclear weapon developed during the Cold War, entering production in 1963. The bomb was designed to be dropped from high-speed tactical aircraft and was specifically streamlined for supersonic flight. It was about 10 feet long, about 15 inches in diameter, and weighed about 500 pounds. The B57 was produced in six versions with explosive yields ranging from 5 to 20 kilotons. 3,100 weapons were built through 1967, the last of which was retired in June 1993. The BDU-12 Pictured above is the practice shape for this nuclear weapon, and was recovered in the same fashion as the shape described above.

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The Martin Mace (TM-76, MGM-13 or CGM-13) is a tactical cruise missile designed to destroy ground targets. It was developed from the MGM-1 Matador, and reached operational status in 1959. Mace was launched from a transporter-erector-launcher or a hardened bunker using a solid rocket booster for initial acceleration and an Allison J33-A-41 turbojet for sustained flight. The Goodyear Aircraft Corporation developed ATRAN (Automatic Terrain Recognition And Navigation, a radar map-matching system) in which the return from a radar scanning antenna was matched with a series of “maps” carried on board. The missile could reach Mach 0.85 (~600 mph) over a 540-mile range (low-level 750’), or 1,285 miles at high altitude. Mace “B” incorporated a jam-proof inertial guidance system (designated TM-76B), with range exceeding 1,300 miles. The Air Force first deployed Mace to West Germany, where six missile squadrons served with just short of 200 weapons. In South Korea, the 58th Tactical Missile Group became combat ready with 60 weapons in 1959, but was relocated to semi-hardened sites on Okinawa in 1961-62 with the 498th Tactical Missile Group.

 

Sources used in crafting this blog:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/07/08/general/okinawas-first-nuclear-missile-men-break-silence/#.VPWP-fFIuUk

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MGM-13_Mace

https://booksinmynook.wordpress.com/k-k-s-homework-page/okinawas-first-mace-missile-site-at-bolo-point-yomitan/

http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/147414

http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jon-Mitchell/3800

The Day I Became a Japanese National Hero


“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I may be a living legend, but that sure don’t help when I’ve got to change a flat tire.” ~ Roy Orbison

 “Hero, hero,” the energetic cries bellowed one after another, becoming louder and more passionate with each verbalization! The herd of Japanese kids were beaming smiles at me as I stood up, overly appreciative for apparently saving their very lives. Or so it would seem from their reaction to the drama that unfolded over the last ten minutes. Yes, this was the day I had waited so long for. This was the day that never came over 20 years and multiple wars serving in the military. This was the day, finally, when I became a treasured National Hero…of Japan.

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“Everyday people do Everyday things but I can’t be one of them

I know you hear me now We are a different kind We can do anything

We could be heroes Me and you”

Hero defined (dictionary.com): a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities; a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal, as in “He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.”

Or, in my case, when I changed a flat tire.

 

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No, no, no, not YOU too! Please, you’re embarrassing me. Really, it was nothing; just doin’ what any red-blooded American manly male would do. Really, nothing. There was no danger. Well, there was a LITTLE danger (wink), but hey, I put a brave face on and trudged through it. There was this family’s touristy agenda at stake, the very fate of their vacation hung in the teetering balance of the car on its jack….

Maeda Point, Okinawa, Japan

Maeda Point, Okinawa, Japan

11043707896_ce4469909b_bI had arrived at an Okinawan divesite and popular tourist destination called Maeda Point. It is one of those iconic south Pacific island spots which provides a cliff-high scenic overlook of inviting blue ocean waters unable to hide the mysterious subtropical reef just below. In the last decade the Okinawans have gone to great lengths to make this site much more accessible, and thus throngs of mainland Japanese come here to take guided snorkeling and scuba diving jaunts into the sea.

A Darker Side to Misa Misa

A Darker Side to Misa Misa

I call these tourists, or at least the females of the bunch, “Misa Misas” after the bubbling-over cute but amazingly shallow female character Misa Amane in the popular anime series Death Note (see the embedded video below and Japan Hub’s ranking of anime for Americans). These female Japanese mainlanders seem to lose much of their emotional control on Okinawa in a way that may be slightly reminiscent of “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” At least when they are swimming at Maeda Point, it seems. They shriek, they cover their mouths when they giggle (and they giggle all the time), and all seem to be wearing pig tails, better known as “twin tails” in Japan, as they crowd the waters that scuba divers covet.

I had parked next to a small Okinawa rental car which had been backed into its parking spot. In it was a younger, attractive woman at the wheel, but as I parked my truck, I noticed that her rear passenger tire was flat. Like completely done. Kaput. I struggled with what to do.

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Not wanting her to think some barely dressed American was hitting on her (I was set to go diving; the Japanese are very proper about covering up), I at first thought that maybe she would figure it out on her own. But then I spied the baby car seat in the back, and knew right away that I had to get involved.

Moving over to the passenger window, I got her attention. She remotely lowered the passenger side electrically controlled window, and I attempted to speak with my friendliest non-threatening, uncreepy smile I could muster, “Sumimasen!” (excuse or pardon me). “Flat tire,” I continued as I pointed to the problem.

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I’m not sure if she understood, but she understood enough to get out of the car and come over to my side. She gasped when she saw the problem, and took my hands in hers in a gesture of thanks, all the while mumbling exasperations in Japanese. She immediately shouted to a few people nearby in the parking lot, and returned to the driver’s seat with her cell phone already at her ear.

I walked away thinking that my involvement was over. I started to prep my scuba gear for the upcoming dives; all my student divers were late due to a bad traffic accident on the roads leading to this relatively out-of-the-way site. Which got me thinking even more about this woman and her baby attempting to drive away to some uncertain fate that I had a chance of affecting for the better.

I kept one ear on the group, now much larger since an oodles of kids had shown up, and glanced at their goings on. It appeared that Mrs. Flat was visiting Maeda with Mrs. Mom driving another nearby car, and both had what appeared to be a small tribe of kids in tow between them. Seriously, something like 8 kids (and those were just the ambulatory ones), and not a man or boy in sight. Even the Japanese snorkeling concession they were utilizing for their aquatic adventures could only muster the slightest of a man-child, who obviously either didn’t know the first thing about car tires, or didn’t want to get involved.

That's me in the background coming to help in a more "romanticized" version of the story....

That’s me in the background coming to help in a more “romanticized” version of the story….

“Okay,” the inner voice starts in my head, “you’ve got to do something to help.” I hesitate again. There is a precarious relationship between the US military presence in Japan – especially on Okinawa – and the locals. But the powers that be – the US and Japanese governments – will have you believe it is much more caustic than it is in reality. In fact, I have never once had an issue in Okinawa in the seven years I’ve spent here, although I have been “uninvited” from bars up in Honshu…. I debated whether they would eagerly accept my help, or maybe read a darker side into my forwardness. I elected to play ambassador, but more so, to just be a good neighbor.

How can you not help sad Japanese girls?!?

How can you not help sad Japanese girls?!?

I walked over and inquired about a “spare tire” as it seemed they were searching the victim car for one. And from that point on, anything I said in English the kids would energetically repeat. “Spare, spare…spare tire, tire, spare….SPARE!” And not just two or three times. Again and again and again! I doubt they knew much meaning behind the words, but they were happy to be speaking English – even if just phonetically – in a very real context.

But there was no spare! There was a jack and a lug wrench, and even a place for a spare, but no tire. Many of the smaller Japanese cars don’t carry one, but instead carry a can of “fix-a-flat” tire inflation gas/fluid. None of that either. I even checked under the back seat and under the rear of the car to make sure. “No spare,” I muttered astonishingly….

“NO SPARE NO SPARE NO SPARE,” came the misplaced excited replies, like it was a good thing. I smile at the kids and even patted one of the smaller ones on the head, thinking of just how wonderful the innocence of youth is as a treasure that just can’t be valued by the young properly in the those youthful moments.

I ask about her friend’s car. “Spare,” I questioned as I pointed in that car’s direction. Mrs. Mom understands and has her hatchback open in no time. “Aaaaahhhhhhhhh, SPARE-O,” comes her excited reply. That’s all I need to start to get out the tools of the tire-changing trade and arrange them at the ready.

Kids are so wonderful, no matter where you find yourself in the world. Non-judgmental, accepting, sponges for knowledge, and awestruck with the wonders of everyday life, they are so easy to engage and communicate with. They huddle around the tire as I ready everything for the change.

“Parking brake?” I question Mrs. Flat. She doesn’t understand. I approach the passenger side door, wary of making anyone uncomfortable with the baby asleep in the back seat. I mime to open the door to which she offers her eager yet nonverbal consent. I pull the parking brake up and on, stating (for the record and the enjoyment of the kids present), “Parking Brake!”

“PAW-KING BREAK, paking brake, parking brek,” the replies sound again.

I move back and start with the tool phase of the process, more properly referred to as the “Oooohs and Aaaahs” of the change. Each time I manipulated a tool against automobile structure, at least a baker’s dozen “oohs” and a healthy pint of “aahs” sounded. I began to feel almost superhuman at this point with such audience participation.

Trying to keep my language to a unrepeatable minimum, I start to show how things work and fit together. I demonstrate how the jack-screw raises the scissors of the jack lift.

“OOOOOOOOH, aaaaaah!”

I showed how to place the lifting portion of the jack against the notch in the car’s frame.

“EEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHH!”

I took the flathead portion of the lug wrench and wrangled off the cheap plastic hub cap, giving it to one of the nearby children to examine firsthand.

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOO, WOW!”

31-FLAT-TIRE

But now came the strongman show of this circus. There were only 4 nuts holding the tire on, but of course each was most likely tightened into place with a pneumatic torque socket. It takes a little force to break that grip, and I used my body weight to help loosen the nuts in turn. Pushing on the first I barely grunt under my breath, just as the nut starts to give way with a metallic crunch.

“OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

But now there’s an audible change: “Gentleman!” The word spreads like a Santa Anna wind-blown wild fire in a California drought. Gentleman: A chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man; a man of good social position, especially one of wealth and leisure. I may lack social status and the wealth of the top 5% of Americans, but my leisurely actions of the day were no doubt courteous and chivalrous. Nonetheless, I smile, somewhat embarrassingly, turning a bit red as the accolades only continue.

Repeat that sequence three more times and the flat is off in a jiffy. I quickly rotate the tread examining it for damage, and find a nice shiny screw completely imbedded in the tire, having entered on the inner side of one of the tread channels.

“EEEEEEEEEEEH,” came the exasperated replies from the only two drivers of the gang.

I place the spare on the bolts and hand-tighten the nuts into place. I mimic how you must tighten bolts in an X-pattern to ensure the right fit and ride, and then I’m back into superhuman character, tightening the bolts into place using my body weight and muscle power against the lug wrench’s resistance.

The tire is back on. I lower the car and the suspension accepts the replacement without question or complaint. I pull the jack and tools and stand up to look Mrs. Flat in the eye. “Small tire,” I say as I mime motions for small. “Drive slow,” I say as I mimic the hand signal, at least in motorcycles and diving, for slow. And just to be cautious, I end with “Be safe” while smiling, embarrassed at the unearned and unnecessary accolades I was receiving.

Previously, I had only ever been a Guitar Hero

Previously, I had only ever been a Guitar Hero

I was also a Mathlete Calculus Hero in High School, and had I been Val Kilmer and/or an Astronaut, I would have used math to save lives….

And with that my characterization of “gentleman” takes a light-year leap and becomes “hero.” I am proclaimed by all present, particularly the tween and teen-aged girls, as their “hero.” Over and over as I politely reject such a label, you know, for changing a tire!

My adoring fans did make me feel like this though

My adoring fans did make me feel like this though

Okay, seriously, “hero” is a word that EVERYONE uses way too often, all too easily. I’m sorry America, you are not a hero for putting a uniform on. You are no hero if something bad just happens to you while wearing said uniform. Underpaid teachers and non-profit volunteers are wonderful people who literally weave the fabric of our society, but they are not heroes. The idea and label of “hero” should be reserved for the very few that deserve it, and it should be held back for those esteemed occasions where it could/can be applied with great effect. Tire-changing is not one of them.

Unless you were The Batman

Unless you were The Batman

Each of the Japanese gang of Misa Misas came up and thanked me, some in Japanese, and others in English. They all took my hands. “Hero” was a word said often, and each time I politely rejected the very notion, smiling but shaking my hand “no” rather emphatically. Pictures were taken with various cell phones, me towering over the group, with my arms around them and hands shooting double peace signs so ubiquitous in Japan. I so uncomfortable with becoming a Japanese National Hero that I didn’t ask for the photos to be sent to me, but by now surely there’s been a monument erected in my honor in the group’s hometown. Perhaps a proudly chiseled (and buff) statue. Or a play-park full of tires.

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And to complete the celebratory spirit of the afternoon, as the group were leaving the parking area, the thanks continued. The kids – I mean all of them – had their heads stuffed out every open window of both cars, waving and yelling their thanks and my newfound title of “hero.” The cars move away, but stall waiting to pay for parking at the exit gate. Oh boy, even more time for the Japanese to thank me is this most uncomfortable way. “Thank You Hero…Gentleman…HERO!” It continues, but now being yelled across the entire parking lot at Maeda Point. I wave nonchalantly, trying to downplay my overblown role in their lives. And then, as the cars exit the area and drive away down the road leading away, the yells of “Hero” and “Gentleman” turns to screams of “Goodbye” and “Thank You!”

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No, thank you Japan, for embracing me as a National Hero, if only for 20 minutes one lazy Okinawan afternoon!