A Haunting Image from the Battle of Okinawa

Last updated 10/9/14, 8/13/15

A survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, where nearly half of the estimated 300,000 islanders were killed.

A survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, where roughly nearly half (142,058) a third of the estimated 300,000 civilians were killed.

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.
2Battle of Okinawa.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 7.15.13.

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10 Responses to A Haunting Image from the Battle of Okinawa

  1. Art says:

    My mother survived the battle of Okinawa. She was born in ’38 and was seven when the war ended. She remembers hiding in caves (we visited the caves on a trip in ’72), seeing neighbors die by detonating grenades to avoid capture by the Americans, and seeing dead bodies all around. Most of her family survived, but she lost her father. He was a conscript who fought and died in China. My aunt remembers her mother trying to use motor oil to cook with and how her family became very ill after eating food prepared with the oil. It was a terrible time, but they also speak poorly of the Japanese. They used civilians as human shields, abused women, and treated the Okinawans as second class citizens.

    Regarding the picture, I have seen it and have also wondered about the child. Some questions won’t have answers, but posting a pic like this hopefully leads to an answer. Another pic I’ve seen on Ebay is one of two Marines sleeping in a foxhole keeping an Okinawan child safe between them.

    Anyhow, I just wanted to write a few lines of what my mom and relatives have told me about the war.

  2. loochoo77 says:

    Art, thanks for sharing your story. The story of your grandfather sounds familiar. My father was educated in Okinawa, and just before he graduated from high school, his parents shipped him off to Hawaii. They had gone to Hawaii years earlier as contract laborers, and while there, he was born. They returned to Okinawa after their contracts were up. Thus, he had a U.S. birth certificate that allowed him to return to Hawaii. The reason for leaving Okinawa was to avoid the draft that targeted high school graduates. Had he remained, he would have been drafted to serve in the Sino-Japan War. If you have the URL for the photo of the Marines protecting a child, please share it with us. Thanks again.

  3. Ray says:

    That child is a girl. I saw Japan appeared on television approximately five years ago. The reason why she shakes is that I suffered from malaria. She was treated in the hospital in U.S. forces. She seems to still live in Okinawa well.

    • Mike says:

      Seriously? I know it may sound odd, but it makes me feel a great swell of relief to hear that she ended up ok. Interesting that he’s a “her” though, and that her name is Japan. Wouldn’t have guessed.

  4. Ray says:

    No,of course her name is not ‘Japan’. I watched her on Japanese TV. I forgot her name but she is Survived and is still fine. This is true.

    • loochoo77 says:

      Ray, thank you very much for this update. If possible, please share with us more information about the Japanese TV program that featured the child in this photo. For many of us, she symbolizes innocence in the midst of battle, and as a symbol, she represents the suffering of not only Okinawans but the children and civilians around the world who are the victims of war. -JS

  5. Jim says:

    Well done that soldier, very moving,, and the right thing to do,, I would buy you a pint!

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