The photo above is from the video1 below. The video is brief. Only three minutes long. But it’s high definition and in color, and it looks as though it could have been shot yesterday. But it was June 1945, near the end of the 82-day-long Battle of Okinawa and about two months before Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945. The part that we all must see is the second half, which begins at about the 1:30 mark. Here we see civilians — women, children, elderly — emerging from caves after months of deprivation.
In the first half of the video, we see U.S. soldiers throwing explosives into caves. We have to wonder how many civilians were in those caves, how many were killed, how many were injured, how many survived.
In the video, toward the end, we see a U.S. soldier giving water to a little Okinawan child, shaking and covered in mud. Of all the images that emerge from this, “the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War of World War II,”2 this is the one that haunts me most.
This one image leaves so many questions unanswered. They begin with the little child, but they extend to all the survivors. Who is he/she? What’s his name? What became of him? His family? Did he survive the aftershock of the battle? Of the war? Did he grow up to marry and raise a family? Is he still living? What are his thoughts and feelings about the war? About life?
I hope he survived and lived a full and happy life.
Update 8/13/15: See E. Heinrich-Sanchez’s “Search for ‘The Little Girl’ Is Renewed,” Japan Update, 6/23/15. This “little girl” is apparently not the child pictured in this post. Interestingly, the person featured in Heinrich-Sanchez’s article is Ray Gillespie and the person who commented on this post is named “Ray.” However, they can’t be the same person since Gillespie died 17 years ago. According to Heinrich-Sanchez, “Gillespie, a U.S. Marine from Toledo, Ohio, was a USMC 6th Division Veteran of the Battle of Okinawa, wounded in the stomach by machine-gun fire…. ‘He spent much of the last year of his life trying to find a little girl who haunted him. He contacted Japanese, Okinawans, and Americans, but died without any answers’” (Laura Homan Lacey, Stay off the Skyline), Potomac Books, 2007).
1 “1945 Okinawa: The Final Hours” uploaded to YouTube by UnknownWW2InColor on 30 Nov. 2010.
2 “Battle of Okinawa.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 7.15.13.