Woman claims to be the iconic “trembling girl” in war footage

Woman claims to be the iconic “trembling girl” in war footage

U.S. military footage of a seated girl, visibly shaking (courtesy of Okinawa Prefectural Archives.)

June 23, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Yosuke Anri

A girl trembles in fear at the sight of an American soldier—this girl appears in a video footage recorded by the U.S. troops, a clip often incorporated in films about the Battle of Okinawa. Sometime before June 22, Sueko Urasaki (nee Kakazu), 81, a resident of Oroku, Naha City, came forward as the mystery girl. Urasaki claims the footage was shot in Osato, Takamine Village (present-day Itoman City.) Urasaki said during this interview, “It was my first time seeing an American [soldier] with blue eyes. It was frightening.” For the first time in 74 years since the war, she returned to the very spot she encountered the soldier, and looked back on the horrendous experience in which she lost four of her family members.

Minoru Yamauchi, former part-time lecturer at Ryukyu University, and former editor for the nonprofit organization, Battle of Okinawa One Foot of Film Movement, said, “The video was likely shot in the southern area of Tomigusuku City at the end of the Battle of Okinawa. Based on [Urasaki’s] claims, it’s highly possible she is indeed the girl in the footage.”

Sueko Urasaki, who claims to be “the trembling girl.”

According to Urasaki, the footage was taken sometime in late June in 1945. She was on a farm road in Osato, Takamine Village, when a pair of U.S. soldiers pointed their camera at her. Urasaki was 7 years old at the time, and was seeking shelter with her 22-year-old sister.
Urasaki, her mother, sister, and younger brother, had been hiding inside the family’s turtle-back tomb in Yoza, Itoman City, until moments before the encounter. U.S. attacks were intensifying, and the family left the tomb upon learning that another tomb their neighbors were hiding in, was bombed.

The family decided to split; Her mother took her brother, and Urasaki went with her sister. When Urasaki crossed paths with the American soldiers, she was alone, waiting for her worried sister who went back to check on their mother and brother.

Urasaki recalled the moment and said, “It was my first time seeing an American. I was afraid of his blue eyes. I was shaking in fear.”

The horror of war remains; Tracing her footsteps 74 years later

June 17, Osato, Itoman City–for the first time in 74 years, Sueko Urasaki visits the location where the footage was shot.

“The trembling girl” provides a powerful image of the atrocities of the Battle of Okinawa. Sueko Urasaki, 81, now a resident of Oroku, Naha City, came forward as the mystery girl, 74 years after the war. Painful memories still haunt her to this day: fleeing battlefields and raining shells; anxiously hiding in the turtle-back tombs; and the frightening encounter with the American soldiers. On June 17, Urasaki and Minoru Yamauchi, former part-time lecturer at Ryukyu University, retraced her footsteps through Osato and Yoza, in Itoman City.

“Everybody died in that war.” Urasaki said in a hushed voice, standing on a sidewalk wet from the rain. Her gaze was fixed on the road she claims the footage was filmed. She had walked 700 meters from the tomb her family was hiding in, covered in mud, when she came across the soldiers. In the film, the girl places her lips on the canteen offered to her, and appears to take a sip. According to Urasaki, the soldier also handed her a biscuit, but she did not drink or eat what they handed her.

“We were told that anything the Americans offered us would be poisoned. The Japanese soldiers also handed out fliers saying so. I didn’t consume anything they gave me.”

An American soldier offers water to the girl shaking in fear (courtesy of Okinawa Prefectural Archives.)

In 2005, she saw the film footage on a television program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. She thought the girl looked like her, but was uncertain.

Two years ago, a friend showed her a still image of the scene, which suddenly brought back vivid memories. She recognized the girl’s kimono–it was the kimono she was wearing that day.

Following the filmed encounter, Urasaki and her sister were detained in a camp located in Goeku (present-day Okinawa City). There, they were reunited with their mother and younger brother. However, it was not long before her brother died, from causes related to the teargas attack on the cave he was hiding out in. Urasaki lost her father and older brother, who were conscripted by the Japanese Defense Forces, and her sister, who died from an injury sustained during the war. Urasaki lowered her voice and remembered her younger brother: “He was on his deathbed groaning, ‘Oh, oh, oh.’ Wars are truly horrific. It must never happen again.”

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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