Surviving WWII student-soldiers pray for peace during memorial ceremony

Surviving WWII student-soldiers pray for peace during memorial ceremony

The surviving WWII gakuto-tai (student corps) members honor their fallen classmates before the cenotaph located at the Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman City, on June 18, 2020.

June 19, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo

On June 18, a WWII gakuto-tai alumni association held a memorial ceremony to honor their fallen classmates at the Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman City. The gakuto-tai association comprises alumni from 21 schools that were mobilized by the Imperial Japanese Army as student-soldiers to fight in the Battle of Okinawa. The memorial service was originally scheduled for March but was postponed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Only 20 former gakuto-tai members and close associates attended, as the event was downsized and closed to the public. The group prayed that the future generations will carry on their pursuit of peace.

Shoken Yoza, 91, was drafted at age 16, when he was a fourth-year student at the prefectural middle school (current day Shuri High School). Yoza, who now co-heads the gakuto-tai alumni association, stood before the Cenotaph for all Student Corps (Zen Gakuto-tai no Hi) and read outloud a peace declaration. Yoza hopes that the younger generation will become champions for peace on Okinawa. He said, “Our ultimate wish is for a conflict-free society without war.”

Kiku Nakayama, 91, was a fourth-year student at the Okinawa Daini Girls High School when she was summoned. She co-heads the gakuto-tai association with Yoza. She said, “I hope that next year we can get the younger generation involved, and tell the rest of Japan and the world, ‘nuchi du takara’ (an Okinawan expression meaning life is precious) and that peace is ichiban (number one).”

Seisaburo Miyagi, secretary of the gakuto-tai alumni association wrote in a letter, “Protecting the Japanese Constitution is truly the road to peace. I will not forget that this is what my fallen classmates would have wished for, and I will advocate antiwar and pacifism as long as I live.”

During the Battle of Okinawa, school boys were conscripted at age 14 and school girls at age 15, to be sent into the battlefields. The surviving gakuto-tai members requested the prefecture to build a cenotaph for their fallen classmates, and in March 2017 the prefecture erected the Cenotaph for All Student Corps (Zen Gakuto-tai no Hi) in Itoman City. In March 2018, a plaque bearing the names of the 1,984 war-dead student-soldiers was installed.

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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