Okinawa – grim reality in Japanese underground hospital

Tank-borne infantry moving up to take the town of Ghuta before the Japanese can occupy it. The men are members of Colonel Victor Bleasdale’s 29th Marines.
Tank-borne infantry moving up to take the town of Ghuta before the Japanese can occupy it. The men are members of Colonel Victor Bleasdale’s 29th Marines.

On Okinawa it did not take long before the fighting erupted following the suspiciously quiet landings. The Japanese had already started to suffer casualties from the intense US naval and aerial bombardment.

Miyagi Kikuko was a 16 year old schoolgirl in the High School on Okinawa. Three days before the US invaded they held their graduation ceremony and all the 15 to 19 year old girls formally joined the Lily Student Corps. The boys joined the Blood and Iron Student Corps.

The following day the building was blasted apart by the US bombardment, but by then they were underground, preparing to assist in the military hospital, located, like most of the Japanese positions, in caves. Very soon after the invasion the casualties began to come in, and within days there were too many to cope with:

In no time at all, wounded soldiers were being carried into the caves in large numbers. They petrified us all. Some didn’t have faces, some didn’t have limbs. Young men in their twenties and thirties screaming like babies. Thousands of them.

At first, one of my friends saw a man with his toes missing and swooned. She actually sank to her knees, but soldiers and medics began screaming at her, “You idiot! You think you can act like that on the battlefield?”

Every day, we were yelled at: “Fools! Idiots! Dummies!” We were so naive and unrealistic. We had expected that somewhere far in the rear, we’d raise the red cross and then wrap men with bandages, rub on medicine, and give them shots as we had been trained. In a tender voice we’d tell the wounded, “Don’t give up, please.”

Now, they were being carried in one after another until the dugouts and caves were filled to overflowing, and still they came pouring in. Soon we were laying them out in empty fields, then on cultivated land. Some hemorrhaged to death and others were hit again out there by showers of bombs. So many died so quickly.

Those who had gotten into the caves weren’t so lucky either. Their turn to have their dressings changed came only once every week or two. So pus would squirt in our faces, and they’d be infested with maggots. Removing those was our job. We didn’t even have enough time to remove them one by one. Gas gangrene, tetanus, and brain fever were common.

Those with brain fever were no longer human beings. They’d tear their clothes off because of their pain, tear off their dressings. They were tied to the pillars, their hands behind their backs, and treatment stopped. At first, we were so scared watching them suffering and writhing that we wept. Soon we stopped. We were kept running from morning to night.

“Do this! Do that!” Yet, as underclassmen we had fewer wounded soldiers to take care of. The senior girls slept standing up. “Miss Student, I have to piss,” they’d cry. Taking care of their excrement was our work. Senior students were assigned to the operating rooms. There, hands and legs were chopped off without anesthesia. They used a saw. Holding down their limbs was a student job.

Outside was a rain of bullets from morning to night. In the evening, it quieted down a little. It was then that we carried out limbs and corpses. There were so many shell craters — it sounds funny to say it, but we considered that fortunate: holes already dug for us. “One, two, three!” we’d chant, and all together we’d heave the dead body into a hole, before crawling back to the cave. There was no time for sobbing or lamentation.

In that hail of bullets, we also went outside to get food rations and water. Two of us carried a wooden half-bushel barrel to the well. When a shell fell, we’d throw ourselves into the mud, but always supporting the barrel because the water was everybody’s water of life. Our rice balls shrank until they were the size of Ping-Pong balls. The only way to endure was to guzzle water. There was no extra water, not even to wash our faces, which were caked in mud.

We were ordered to engage in “nursing,” but in reality, we did odd jobs. We were in the cave for sixty days, until we withdrew to Ihara. Twelve people in our group – two teachers and ten students – perished. Some were buried alive, some had their legs blown off, five died from gas .

This account appears in Haruko Taya Cook(ed): Japan at War: An Oral History.

MOVING UP – Marine riflemen moving up behind flame-throwing tank on Okinawa.
MOVING UP – Marine riflemen moving up behind flame-throwing tank on Okinawa.
Marines assault a ridge supported by bazookas.  The action took place two miles north of Naha.
Marines assault a ridge supported by bazookas. The action took place two miles north of Naha.

11 thoughts on “Okinawa – grim reality in Japanese underground hospital”

  1. I have never seen so many responses so quickly to a blog such as this one. I too have no sympathy for the Japanese. I do however have every sympathy for the Okinawa civilians. They should have been evacuated from the island long before the American fleet/army arrived. The Japanese knew we were coming. Instead, perhaps because they looked down on Okinawans as inferior or of a lower class, or holding to their obsolete Bushido Samurai tradition they chose to sacrifice about 100,000 civilians to their deaths. It is documented that they even used Okinawa civilians as human shields. I do feel sorry for Miyagi Kikuko and her classmates. To thrust children into situations such as what is described here and then berate them as “fools, Idiots, and Dummies” is enough to make one cry. Really, what did they expect? And today, it is in Japanese textbooks that the war was not really their fault. The United States “Forced Japan” to attack us. Sympathy? Sorry, none here.

  2. These were all official Marine Corps images, taken I believe by servicemen.

  3. Yes, the Japanese soldiers murdered millions of people as if they were “untermenschen”. Yes, it is a good thing the Allies won the war and the Japanese Army was sent packing back to Japan. Kikuko Miyagi was not one of the soldiers, let alone one of the planners of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, she was a high school student. Is it too much to ask for you to read her story simply as a gruesome and tragic event?

  4. Surely you can spare some sympathy for Miyagi Kikuko? She would have been about 8 years old in 1937, when the Japanese Empire was committing atrocities in China. She lived in a society which didn’t allow women (much less young girls) to have much of a voice in foreign policy, either.

    One of the things I really like about WW2 Today is that it doesn’t shy away from presenting a sympathetic story from the other side now and then. It’s easy (and common) to lose sight of the fact that the “enemy” was not a faceless mass of pure evil, but rather a collection of individuals, many of whom were innocent and involuntarily along for the ride. I feel that remembering their stories is a vital part of understanding the totality of the war. Same goes for remembering that some of the monsters fought for us; see Arthur “Bomber” Harris.

  5. The aspect that this photographer captured is amazing. The depth-of-field of these pictures is worth looking at alone. Does anyone know who the artist is?

  6. i kind of agree with the two comments above mine, but these were kids. They, like many of our kids, were thrust into something huge and horrible, something most probably did not, fully, understand. They did not attack Pearl Harbor, torture prisoners, or rape anyone.

  7. We are not without our own atrocities, torturers, and unspeakable military past. Is every American soldier to blame for earlier activities of a few? Let’s blame their officers, their commanders, their emperor and political leaders…who made it all happen.

    We’re probably all too corrupted by movies and simplistic righteous revenge. Probably most of those who suffered horrible and painful deaths on Okinawa took no part in the Rape of Nanking which happened almost a decade before.

    True, “the past is prologue” works in many ways…I think we should all hope that we and they can overcome the nightmare of many aspects of history.

  8. Hey – let’s not over generalize. Individual Japanese certainly committed horrible atrocities, but the people who should get the blame are/were the officers and their political and royal commanders. Guilt by association is not very a very positive activity. Were al Americans to blame for those few who became no better than animals in treating their enemies, their enemies’ women and children. How do we know that ALL those men who died so violently deserved to suffer as they did? Like the suicide pilots, who were basically forced to accept their role as martyrs, they were mostly young men who didn’t really choose their fate. I think too many of us have seen way too many movies.

  9. The Japanese murdered 3 to over 10 million people, likely 6 million Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos and Indochinese, including Western prisoners of war. In China alone 3.9 million Chinese were killed, mostly civilians, And as in Nanking, they did it with great joy and celebration as they raped, tortured and used innocent people for target practice……….Remember that too.

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