Okinawa Traces of War: Haebaru Army Field Hospital


The Okinawa Army Hospital Unit 18803 was organized within the 32nd Imperial Japanese Army forces in Kumamoto in 1944.  Although medical activities started in Naha in June of that year, allied aircraft carrier attacks of 10/10 (as they are known to history) destroyed the hospital facilities, which forced a move of the hospital to the Haebaru National Elementary School building.  Soon thereafter, under guidance of the 32nd Army’s Engineering Unit, approximately 30 cave tunnels were dug into Aza Kyan and Aza Kanegusuku.

Buried Meds:  many medicines were found deeply buried and intentionally hidden.

Buried Meds: many medicines were found deeply buried and intentionally hidden.

In late March 1945, allied naval bombardment forced the abandonment of all the regular facilities, and the entire operation was moved into the cave system. The hospital was staffed by approximately 350 surgeons, nurses and hospitalmen, who were augmented by 222 female high school students from the First Prefectural Girl’s High School (Himeyuri Gakuto), who trained and served as nursing aids under the guidance of 18 of their teachers.  The director of the hospital was Hiroike Bunkichi.

Patient items recovered in the cave.

Patient items recovered in the cave.

Although initially organized into three departments of Infectious Diseases, Surgery, and Internal Medicine, after allied forces landed on the first of April, 1945, the hospital reorganized all the wards into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Surgical Departments due to the sharp increase in battle-related injuries requiring emergency intervention.

Charred Support Beams:  Charring is thought to be from the use of US flamethrowers, a common weapon used to clear and destroy tunnels.

Charred Support Beams: Charring is thought to be from the use of US flamethrowers, a common weapon used to clear and destroy tunnels.

By the end of May, allied forces had pushed the Japanese far to the south of Okinawa, and the decision was made for all Japanese forces to retreat to the Mabuni area to make a last, protracted stand.  The order was sent to the hospital to disband and move all ambulatory patients by foot.  Those that could not travel were given potassium cyanide in their milk, and, as the museum’s brochure in English states, “…and compulsion of self-determination was carried out on this occasion.”  The Japanese killed all their seriously ill patients, and I’m not sure if this was out of compassion to end their suffering, or simply an act of murder so that they would not fall into US hands where they could provide military intelligence.

An American M4 Tank Turret recovered in the area.

An American M4 Tank Turret recovered in the area.

A visit to this sit starts in the Haebaru Town Museum, just west and across a ridge from the tunnel’s entrance. This museum houses a terrific reproduction of the hospital bunker complex, and is designed to give visitors a feel of the conditions at the time.  It features replicas of bunk beds (which you can try out), and an operating table as well as artifacts from the original tunnel.  Realistic replicas of an Imperial Portrait Shrine and a War Dead Memorial bring visitors to the time of Japanese militarization, begun decades prior to the Battle of Okinawa.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, medicines and medical implements

I visited the tunnel during what turned out to be a tropical storm, and I’m happy I did. I think it provided a more realistic experience.  To get to the tunnel, you walk along the trace of the old footpath that leads to and from the kitchen area and well which supplied the entire tunnel complex.  It has been improved with a modern set of stairs, and thankfully so; moving up and over a substantial ridge would have been otherwise a challenge in the driving wind, rain, and slippery mud-soaked surfaces.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, food portage for the tunnels

Tunnel #20, the only one reinforced enough to be open to the public, is a man-made tunnel completely dug by hand, measuring roughly 70 meters in length (230 feet) and about 1.8 meters in height and width (a smidgen under 5’11”). It was the main tunnel used by the 2nd Surgical Department, where the eastern half of the tunnel accommodated patients; the central “T” intersection with another tunnel was where most surgeries were performed; and where the western half quartered the staff which worked there.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, Tunnel #20 recreation

My guide open the doors to the tunnel, and a river of water greeted us as it was freed to seek itself further down the hill. The cave tunnel was much smaller than I expected and that reproduced in the museum, and I found myself having to at least nod my head downwards, otherwise my hardhat would be riding along the tunnel’s ceiling.  Lighting was originally provided by candles spaced quite far apart, today the only light comes from the small flashlights provided with your admission fee, and the passage is at once impedingly dank and dark.  The tunnel was leaking everywhere, and water pooled in various depressions along the earthen floor.  While some areas have been reinforced with modern construction techniques and materials, much of the tunnel remains bare rock.

Crossing tunnels which have collapsed.

Crossing tunnels which have collapsed.

Most artifacts have been moved down into the town museum, but there are still some left in place, which are pointed out by the guide. All the remains have been removed and reburied.  The one thing missing from the actual tunnel is the missing bunk beds which billeted patients.  These “beds” were bare wood planking, just over 35 inches in width.  Keep in mind our standard twin size bed is 39 inches…and even kids’ narrow beds are generally 36 inches wide!  Each patient got a canteen for water, a small dish for food (which consisted only of rice balls, the size of Ping-Pong balls by the end of the war), and a pot in which to relieve themselves.  No light, no padding, no sheets, and probably not a lot of hope.

Doctor and Nurse ready a surgical table.

Doctor and Nurse ready a surgical table.

And after leaving the site, that was the overwhelming emotion with which I was left: hopelessness.  While Japan did bring the war on themselves, and there is absolutely no doubt that many Japanese regulars were violent and vicious actors playing their parts in a morally-bankrupt Imperial Japan, I stand by my claim that I wish no one’s son (or daughter) die in conditions or place like this.  Do me a favor:  if you visit, divorce yourself from whatever prejudice you may hold from your own conditioning, education, and exposure to World War II.  Remember, at our cores, there is not much that separates us in our shared human condition.  Death is death, and loss is loss, no matter.  War is tragedy, and immoral by most any definition.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, deep dank dark small rainy cave by flashlight only

The town of Haebaru opened the 1st Surgery Tunnel #20 in 2007 as an important cultural asset that serves to educate the public about the misery and tragedy of war, and to protect this history for future generations to learn from.  The Hospital Tunnel is open from 0900-1700 by reservation only, and is closed on Wednesdays, and across the Japanese New Year holidays (Dec 29-Jan 3).  Admission is 200 Yen.  Phone 098-889-7399; Address 257 Kyan, Haebaru-cho, Okinawa 901-1113.

Deep in Hospital Tunnel #20 with my Japanese Guide

Deep in Hospital Tunnel #20 with my Japanese Guide

The Haebaru Town Museum is open from 0900-1800, and is closed on Wednesdays and across the Japanese New Year holidays (Dec 29-Jan 3). Admission is 300 Yen.  Phone 098-889-7399; Address 257 Kyan, Haebaru Town, Okinawa; Email bunka-c@town.haebaru.okinawa.jp.

 

Read more about this topic here:  Okinawa’s Sobering Sick-Wards

2nd Class Shopping: Living in spite of the Military Postal System


“I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”  ~ Rosa Parks

“I get mail; therefore I am.”  ~Scott Adams

“The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens.”  ~ Wendell L. Willkie

 

Anime mail delivery in Japan

Anime mail delivery in Japan

 

“So how long will it take to get that special order,” I eagerly ask the Base Exchange (BX) supervisor, thinking that I had found a solution to my growing outdoor storage needs.  After trying various staff and two stores, I finally found an employee who seemed to be able to talk with some knowledge and authority.

“Six months.”

I double over laughing, literally, in the man’s face.  “S I X   M O N T H S!?!?!” I say incredulously, but with a look of total disdain for this the military’s inertia-driven, bureaucratically-burdened attempt at providing commercial shopping services….

“That’s what we’re supposed to say.  I have seen it take as little as 3 months,” came a completely serious response.  While smiling, he wasn’t sharing in the ridiculousness of the situation.

Okay, I understand a large plastic outdoor storage shed is large and heavy, and even bulky.  I understand that it is going to take some time to be shipped overseas…maybe even coming by ship.  But I never assumed that ox-driven, covered-wagons of the 1800s Oregon Trail would be a faster mode of transport than dealing with the Military Postal System….

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range....

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range….

I have written about mail before, particularly about the magic that receiving snail mail can illicit (read Snail Mail).  However, after having resided on Okinawa now for seven months, it’s time to re-address (get it – re-address?!?) my conclusions….

You see, we have an overseas military address here in Okinawa, even though we live out in town.  That means that our mail is handled and delivered by the Military Postal System (MPS).  The MPS is designed to handle the mail between America and the military, but at no additional cost to the service member.  In other words, when we mail a package here, we are only paying the coast to ship from San Francisco (where our mail goes) to its ultimate destination stateside.

With a process diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

With a detailed process flow diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

Except that the MPS doesn’t deliver, rain or shine.  In fact, it doesn’t deliver at all.  We have to go to a base and check our (Military) Post Office box.  And even though Jody – the military member in our case – works on one base (Camp Foster) in a brand-new hospital, apparently no one thought about including a mailroom or mail center to support this rather large command.  So, our mailbox is located on another base, and while on Jody’s way home from work, it’s on the wrong side of a very busy road (requiring a right turn, equivalent to our left), and, of course, it seems to be closed as often as the petroleum industry raises oil prices, and much for the same reasons.  “Unrest in Syria?  Shit, let’s close and do some ‘training’.”  “More terror attacks in the Middle East?  Well, let’s close for Force Protection.  And those uniforms just make us stand out like sore thumbs….”

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Oh, and besides being complete inconvenient for me (it’s the other way from where I work and most places I habitually go), we were initially only issued ONE KEY to our PO Box.  Fother-muckers.  This is where the government fails the most:  claiming “too expensive” and “accountability issues” at the complete discomfort of the customer and failure in their very mission of getting us our mail!  Yes, like Rosa Park’s opening quote, I too tire of being treated like a 2nd Class Citizen.  Maybe I could stage a sit-down on a delivery truck.

If they would only focus on actually delivering our mail, instead of obsessing over its packaging….

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

PO-box-fullThat’s not enough though.  The thugs and hooligans working at the Navy’s Post Office on Camp Lester are, in a thin-slicing of their capability, undependable at best, and downright negligent at their worst.  While it’s not their fault we have a tiny mail box designed to hold only normal-sized letter mail, such restrictions shouldn’t challenge them to creatively bend, fold, and otherwise mutilate our oversized mail and literally stuff it so tightly in the slot that it’s hard to remove.  No, they don’t want to take the extra step of filling out a package notice and placing oversized mail aside for reasonable pickup.  They are never in uniform, at least when I’m there, although I’m told that they are Active Duty Navy enlisted.  They certainly don’t act like it; on more than one occasion, I’ve had to ask an “employee” there to take off his oversized headphones in order to conduct business with me.  Oh, and our address isn’t hard:  last name “KING” and “BOX 46;” from the amount of erroneously “delivered” mail we get, I’m unsure that basic math was part of their ASVAB testing.  While getting mail for another “King” in Box 14 can be understandable, getting mail for “Kong” in box 1032 is not, unless you really stretch and connect our names as, wait for it:  King-Kong.  I actually feel so strongly about the First Class mess that is this 3rd Rate Post Office where I’m treated as a 2nd Class Citizen for actually wanting my mail delivered, correctly and without damage, that I no longer go to pick up mail.  I love to get mail, but the experience of this MPS negates any such joy or comfort.

Our "postal" clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game....

Our “postal” clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game….

Now, to be fair, this is – thank goodness – NOT the case on the Air Force Base here.  The Air Force’s Post Office is really every bit as good as any USPS back home, if not better.  It’s full service, clean, organized, well-lit and professionally staffed.  Oh, and looky-see, the military members are actually in uniform and provide courteous and efficient service…all without the aid of headphones!  We have not had an issue using this post office, and this is the only one I will use…although the Marine Corps post office on Camp Foster is well-run too.

lost-in-the-mail

BUT, the core issue of our 2nd Class Citizenry is a problem shared by any and all military members stationed outside of “CONUS” (the continental United States):  we have military addresses.  What does that mean?  That means that large swaths of commercial America do not or cannot service us at our military FPO or APO addresses….

Fleet Post Offices (FPO, for the Navy and Marine Corps) and Army Post Offices (APO, for the Army and Air Force) serve in place of the city in our address.  The state block of addresses is replaced, in our case, with an AP, referring to “Armed Forces Pacific.”  There are other codes, such as “AE” if you live in Europe, and so on.  So, if we want something shipped to us here to be picked up with our normal military mail, we enter “FPO, AP” for city and state.  While most vendors’ online ordering and shipping systems will allow “FPO” to be typed in for city, many systems do no offer “AP” in their pull-down menus, which negates us from ordering.  While the situation is MUCH better than it was in 1991 during my first deployment, it still creeps up too many times to brush away.  It’s really shameful in my opinion that so many companies and businesses fail to account for a sizeable portion of Americans living overseas – especially the ones that talk about “supporting the troops.”  It makes us (or at least me) feel like 2nd Class Citizens, or at least 2nd Class postage.

lost mail cartoon

I ran into this recently with my dive organization, PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors).  The subcontractor they use for online commercial transactions decided to upgrade PADI’s web portal for shopping, but in their upgrade, failed to account for overseas military addresses.  Compounding the problem, PADI has decided to use only FEDEX and UPS for shipping, while MPS addresses can only receive mail from the USPS.  That’s double jeopardy for people like us overseas.  Believe me, I have expressed my concerns as a 2nd Class citizen via both email and phone, but with little effect.

Mail-topia, our dream.  Except for the bullet bra.

Mail-topia, our dream. Except for the bullet bra.

I still hope that we receive mail often in Japan.  Although the letter dance I so happily wrote about previously in Snail Mail results in stepped-on toes here in Okinawa, snail mail – and packages – are certainly no less emotionally comforting.

As for the 6-month “Special Order” from the Base Exchange?  I’ll save our MPS thugs and hooligans the challenge (and pleasure) of attempting to stuff that gigantic package into our PO Box.

~ Far East Fling, PSC 482 Box 46, FPO AP 96362-0100

I would prefer this delivery method....

I would prefer this delivery method….