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Typhoon of Steel: Battle of Okinawa continued long after Japan general's death (Pt. 6)

A Japanese prisoner of war stands at the grave of Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, former commander of the 32nd Imperial Japanese Army, and others, in Mabuni, Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on June 28, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)

NAHA -- With orders from the commanding officer of Japan's forces in Okinawa to fight until the last man, soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa refused to surrender even after their leader took his own life. These battles continued for months, even after the close of the Pacific War.

    Question: When did the Battle of Okinawa, which started in late March 1945, end?

    Answer: Following the landing of U.S. forces on the main island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, and the subsequence advance across the island, Japan's 32nd Imperial Army abandoned its encampment under Shuri Castle, now in the city of Naha, at the end of May. The troops moved their headquarters to the southern part of the main island, and continued to resist the Americans. However, Japan had already lost the majority of its military might in the battle. The once roughly 100,000-strong force had dwindled to some 30,000. There were not even enough weapons to go around.

    In mid-June, the U.S. had closed in on the 32nd Imperial Army's headquarters in a bunker on high ground in Mabuni, on the southernmost tip of the island, now in the present-day city of Itoman. Surrounded with no escape, Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, the commanding officer of the 32nd army, took his own life on June 23. This ended the organized Japanese front against the U.S. invasion. It is still debated when exactly the general died, with some believing that it was on June 22.

    Before his death, Lt. Gen. Ushijima ordered his men to "fight until the end," and the Japanese military continued its resistance against U.S. forces even after June 23. Many residents also continued to hide, unaware that the conflict had ended.

    On July 2, after carrying out a search-and-destroy mission to clear out any remaining Japanese troops, the U.S. declared a close to the Battle of Okinawa. However, on Okinawa's remote islands and other locations disconnected from the central battle, Japanese soldiers continued to fight.

    Commanding officers and others barricaded themselves in the mountains. On Aug. 18, there was an incident where civilians calling upon residents to surrender were massacred by Japanese soldiers. It was three days after Emperor Hirohito's nationwide radio broadcast that announced the official end of the Pacific War. A month later, on Sept. 7, 1945, the Imperial Army in Okinawa finally signed a declaration of surrender.

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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