Japanese island marks 75 years since Battle of Okinawa

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Kyodo News

Children pray in front of the "Peace of Fire" at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, Japan, Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Okinawan people find it unacceptable that their land is still occupied by a heavy U.S. military presence even 75 years after World War II. They have asked the central government to do more to reduce their burden, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government repeatedly say it is mindful of their feelings, but the changes are slow to come. (Koji Harada/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO – Residents on Okinawa prayed for peace and remembered lost loved ones Tuesday on the 75th anniversary of the end of one of WWII's deadliest conflicts, the Battle of Okinawa.

At the ceremony held on the southern Japanese island to honor the more than 200,000 who died in the fighting near the war's end, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said accounts of the tragedy must be remembered accurately and handed down to younger generations.

Many people live in places of conflict, or face poverty, discrimination and environmental pollution. Fear and economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic have further divided societies, Tamaki said. That makes tolerance, mutual trust and cooperation more important than ever, he said.

“We must gather our wisdom and push forward to achieve nuclear weapons ban, war renouncement and lasting peace,” Tamaki said.

Okinawa was Japan’s only home battleground in WWII, and the island remained under U.S. occupation for 20 years longer than the rest of Japan, until 1972.

Resentment over a continued heavy presence of U.S. troops runs deep, with more than half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan based there under a bilateral security treaty.

Many Okinawans believe the post-World War II Japan-U.S. security alliance was built on their sacrifices during the war and then after Japan’s 1945 surrender, when American troops confiscated Okinawan land for their bases.

Okinawa has asked the central government to do more to reduce the burden from numerous U.S. military facilities, but changes have come slowly. Many Okinawans also want a revision to the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, which gives American military personnel certain legal privileges.