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As Japan marks anniversary of end of Battle of Okinawa, painful memories linger for some

NAHA -- Japan marked the 71st anniversary of the end of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa on June 23, but for one Okinawan woman, the terror of war and a fear of U.S. military personnel linger in her mind, compounded by the recent arrest of a former U.S. Marine on suspicion of murder.

In April 1945, U.S. military planes came flying above the village of Haneji, which is now part of northwestern Nago in Okinawa Prefecture, and the sounds of bombing were heard.

Teruko Kuwae, who was 6 years old at the time, heard someone say, "A battle is about to break out," and she fled to a mountainous area with her six siblings.

Amid gunshots, they heard someone say, "U.S. troops are coming," and wandered from one place to another in the forest. She recalls having seen many bodies of victims. It was raining, and her 5-year-old sister Mieko had a high fever.

Mieko groaned in her sleep saying, "Give me some water ..." before passing away several days later.

After the bombings and shooting stopped, they came down the mountain more than 10 days later to learn that the fighting was over. However, their father Shuko Sakihama, then 49, who had gone to the southern area of Okinawa's main island as a member of a guard corps, remained missing.

Even after the end of the war, Kuwae and others were terrified by U.S. troops. Whenever U.S. servicemen approached her neighborhood, local vigilantes banged metal tanks to alert local residents. Kuwae hid in a closet at her home. She heard her neighbor say, "A woman was assaulted again."

Kuwae's mother said with a deep sigh, "I wish the war hadn't broken out."

When Kuwae was working as an official of the Okinawa Municipal Government, three U.S. servicemen sexually assaulted a young girl in 1995. The incident reminded her of her experience of being scared of U.S. soldiers at the end of the Battle of Okinawa. She joined a women's organization calling for removal of U.S. bases, which was founded following the 1995 crime.

Kuwae wrote a letter addressed to the victim of the incident, though she did not even know the girl's name, and had it run on a magazine in the hope that the girl would read it.

"We will all think about what we should do to prevent a recurrence of such a terrible incident, and put our ideas into practice. We'll work hard to make sure that Okinawa is a peaceful island where all people can live without worries," part of the letter reads.

Earlier this year, however, Okinawa saw the murder of a woman and the subsequent arrest of a former U.S. Marine. In early June, Kuwae offered a flower in a forest in central part of Okinawa's main island where the body of the victim was found. On June 23, she also offered a prayer at her home in the direction of the Cornerstone of Peace in Itoman, a monument on which the names of the victims of the Battle of Okinawa and other war dead are inscribed.

"I feel a sense of responsibility for being unable to fulfill my promise in 1995. I ponder the meaning of my mothers' words, ' I wish the war hadn't broken out,'" says Kuwae who is now 77.

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