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Typhoon of Steel: Students as young as 14 called to battlefield in Okinawa (Pt. 8)

A 14-year-old Okinawan boy thought to have been mobilized by the Japanese military, left, stands with a U.S. Marine, in July 1945. (Photo courtesy of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)

NAHA -- Along with adult residents, students were also caught up in the Battle of Okinawa. Mobilized to haul food and supplies, repair destroyed infrastructure or care for wounded soldiers, teenagers found themselves in the middle of the conflict.

    Question: How did teenage soldiers end up on the battlefield in Okinawa 76 years ago?

    Answer: In the Battle of Okinawa, some 1,500 boys aged 14 and older, and approximately 500 girls over 15 were mobilized by the Japanese military. It's been pointed out that the mobilization of boys between age 14 and 16 did not follow legal proceedings. Along with school-by-school mobilization, there were also child soldiers who went into battle in commando or volunteer units, among other groups.

    Male students were divided into units, such as the "Shihan Tekketsu Kinnotai," which literally translates to "student corps committed to serving the Emperor with military might," communication units, or other designations. These child soldiers would transport supplies of gunpowder or food, dig trenches for air raid shelters, or repair bridges destroyed in battle, among other tasks. Some students even engaged directly in conflicts with U.S. forces or participated in raids on U.S.-controlled areas.

    Female students cared for wounded soldiers and assisted in surgeries as nurses in battleground hospitals that were set up in dugout shelters. They also carried out dangerous tasks dodging a rain of bullets outside of the shelters. This included transporting meals and burying the dead. The Himeyuri students, also known as the Lily Corps, is a well-known example of mobilized female students.

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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