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3 Japanese boys in Okinawa play with dud US military grenade from WWII

The hand grenade with which children in the southern Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan found and played with. (Photo courtesy of Okinawa Prefectural Police)

GINOWAN, Okinawa -- Local children played with an undetonated hand grenade near a field in the Kakazu district here, an incident that emerged only after one of them took the dud ordnance home.

Students from Ginowan Municipal Ojana Elementary School and others found a single hand grenade about 11.5 centimeters in length and weighing approximately 640 grams near a field on May 30. They threw it around and played with it, and one of the children subsequently took it home.

The detonating mechanism of the grenade was broken, so the grenade would not have exploded.

The hand grenade was made in the United States, and is believed to be a remnant from the Battle of Okinawa at the very end of the Pacific Theater of World War II. According to Ojana Elementary School and other sources, the grenade was found by three boys in elementary and junior high school on the evening of May 30, near a pile of rocks by a field.

After washing off the soil that was caked onto the grenade, the boys threw it around, and biked around with the grenade in the basket of their bikes. One elementary school boy took the grenade home afterward.

Three boys on May 30, 2019, found a hand grenade among the rocks to the left in this photo taken on June 6. (Mainichi/Tadashi Sano)

The boy's guardians reported the incident to Okinawa Prefectural Police's Ginowan Station, which contacted the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF). The GSDF retrieved the grenade that night.

The boys are said to have recognized that the grenade was "something like a bomb" but did not feel that it posed a danger to them.

Ojana Elementary School called on students, guardians and neighborhood community associations to practice caution. "At first, what may look like a rock could turn out to be a hand grenade or an artillery shell," school officials said. "When you find something (suspicious), do not touch or move it."

Ojana Elementary School principal Minoru Soda said, "Fortunately the latest incident did not turn into a serious one, but there is a need to recognize the dangers that are in our midst and to repeatedly call on people to be prudent."

The Ginowan Municipal Board of Education also sent out a document urging caution to all elementary and junior high schools in the city.

The Kakazu district of Ginowan, where the hand grenade was found, saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Battle of Okinawa 74 years ago. U.S. forces made landfall on Okinawa Island on April 1, 1945, and until June 23 when the Japanese military commander killed himself, thereby effectively ending organized fighting in Okinawa on Japan's part -- though guerilla warfare continued longer -- one in every four Okinawans were killed in the extremely bloody ground battle.

U.S. forces are said to have used around 200,000 metric tons of bombs in the Battle of Okinawa, and even now, approximately 600 unexploded ordnances are discovered in the southernmost prefecture annually. Meanwhile, the GSDF's 15th Brigade says that 3,036 cases of duds, totaling 99.6 tons, were disposed of by bomb squads in the five years ending with fiscal 2018. Additionally, according to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, in the 45 years between fiscal 1972, when Okinawa reverted from U.S. military rule to Japan, and fiscal 2017, bomb squads were called in to dispose of some 2,037 tons of unexploded ordnances. And yet, an estimated 1,963 duds are still believed to be buried throughout Okinawa Prefecture.

(Japanese original by Tadashi Sano, Kyushu News Department, and Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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