The End On Okinawa

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The next morning we tried again (the Okinawans extremely reluctant, but they had no choice) behind the bulldozer, up the trail, then very slowly along the ridge. No fire. We pushed farther. No fire. No sound. Then, all the way to the end, where a knob of rock thrust upward, the highest point on Mabuni. The Okinawans led us cautiously around the knob and down onto a ledge, where they stopped. They were very frightened. They pointed to the back side of the knob, and there it was, the cave, just as they had said. They wanted to leave.

The cave opening (Okinawa is covered with caves, some wandering underground endlessly) was less than three feet wide, not as tall as a man. We were very quiet, barely whispering. There was no sign of any Japanese, no sound. A crude wooden door was propped against the entrance.

We worked as close as we could get while trying to hold some cover, and the chui called into the cave. No reply. He tried again, and again, each time something different. Silence. We assumed the wooden door was booby-trapped, so we tried dropping rocks onto it from above, hoping to knock it over or set off the trap. Nothing happened. We were getting a little bolder. We found a long, heavy electrical wire, which I tossed at the door, hoping to lasso a corner. It finally caught securely enough for me to pull it over while keeping myself more or less defiladed behind a rock. No booby trap.

We inched toward the entrance and ducked our heads to walk in. We could see some twenty-five feet or so to the first bend. We had no lights, but we needed none to understand the incredible, gruesome scene at our feet. The entire general staff in dress uniform, one behind the other, all facing the same way, had committed hara-kiri, and very recently. Generals Ushijima and Cho were not among them. We were stunned, overwhelmed. After one glance the Okinawans took off. The chui , shaking with emotion, was completely silent and remained so for a very long time. We had almost nothing to say to one another. What was there to say? It was not believable. We had found the cave but felt more horrified and revolted than triumphant. With no desire to look further, we gathered a few important-looking documents, took two sabers, mine from the officer the chui thought to be Ushijima’s adjutant. With great relief we pushed rapidly down the ridge, where we found the Okinawans huddled in the bushes.

A few days later Miles somehow got hold of a remarkable document written by a sergeant assigned to the Japanese general staff. The sergeant had managed to get himself captured rather than killed—not an easy thing to do. Had somebody else handled that paper, it probably would have been ignored, but Miles recognized it as extraordinary. With great emotion and very poetically, the sergeant had described the last minutes and hara-kiri rites of Generals Ushijima and Cho. Miles put it into English. It was entered into the official records of the campaign.

With great emotion and very poetically, the sergeant had described the hara-kiri rites of the two Japanese generals.

It began: “The pale moon glimmered on the peaceful sea, dawn was yet away.” The sergeant then told how the generals, after a special dinner that the staff attended, excused themselves, thanked the staff officers “in a fatherly manner” for their services, and bade them farewell. As they walked calmly out of the cave, General Cho said, “Well, Commanding General Ushijima, as the way may be dark, I, Cho, will lead the way.” Ushijima, perfectly composed, replied, “Please do so, and I will take along my fan since it is getting warm.” They passed through the cave entrance and onto the ledge and carefully arranged a white sheet on the ground. The short blade, the upper half wrapped in cloth, was handed to Ushijima by his adjutant. He took it in both hands. With a shout he thrust it in, ripping upward. He was fifty-one years old. General Cho was next. It was 4:00 A.M. , June 22, 1945.

Thus the Okinawa campaign ended on Mabuni. Staff officers carried the two bodies down the hillside toward the sea and buried them in shallow graves, where they were found a few days later by the 7th Division GIs. We had been just a few hours too late getting to the cave.

I have often thought about that escapade. Why did we do it? What did we expect to accomplish? Nobody asked that question; we never asked it of ourselves. What would have happened had we made it to the cave the first day? The chui would have persuaded the generals and. their staff to surrender to three GIs with three carbines? Utterly senseless. Insane.

When I returned to Okinawa a few years ago, the ridge along Mabuni was covered with shrines erected by cities and prefectures of Japan memorializing their war dead. It is a big tourist attraction. I looked at the field we had walked across, now a cane field, asked myself why we had done it. I could find no rational answer. I sat alone on the ledge in front of the cave, the entrance now secured with an iron gate, staring for a long, long time, my gaze wandering from the cave to the peaceful sea. What was I thinking? What was I feeling? The emotions were powerful, but I could not decipher them. Anger, hate, satisfaction, joy, sadness, regret? None of that. I just don’t know. All I could do was shake my head slowly and repeat, “What a crazy thing to do.”