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One of the bloodiest battles of WWII and in Marine Corps history took place on Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan. The battle raged for 82, days beginning in early April and ending in mid June of 1945, and resulted in the highest casualty counts for the Pacific Theater. The allies needed this island, which is only 340 miles from the Japanese mainland, as an airbase to launch the planned invasion of the mainland.
There have been some 47,000 American troops stationed on Okinawa since the signing of mutual defense agreement between the United States and Japan in the early 1960s. During the Vietnam War it was a major transit base for Marines going to and returning from Vietnam. Many a Marine can remember stopping there for a week to “acclimatize” before being flown to Vietnam to begin their tours and stopping there again on the way home. The huge Kadena Air Force Base was one of the main bases for many of the B-52 bombers that flew missions over Vietnam. I can remember watching and hearing them taking off over the barracks I was housed in while acclimatizing for my tour. They were huge.
The Okinawans have been pushing for a reduction in the U.S. military presence for many years now. On Thursday, April 26, 2012, it was announced by the Obama Administration that the first reductions of U.S. military forces on Okinawa would begin. It was announced that 9,000 Marines are going to be moved off of Okinawa and be spread out between three Pacific locations: Guam, Hawaii, and Australia.
Our mutual history, the good, the bad and the ugly, is entering a new stage. Memories of Okinawa for WWII veterans, Vietnam veterans, and all those who were and are currently stationed there, will be many and varied. It has been a part of the conscious memories for both the Japanese and Americans for 67 years, since those terrifying days in the spring of 1945. And we’ve had troops stationed there for some 50 years. Change is inevitable in life; growth is a choice. In this relationship, mutual growth was the path we took.
History is most important for what we learn from it. We had been the greatest of enemies in WWII, but the subsequent years have proven the human capacity to move on, to turn onetime enemies into lasting friends. The U.S./Japan relationship has grown over the decades into one of mutual respect, and mutual economic, political, and strategic benefit. May that relationship continue long into the future.