I resisted joining Instagram for a long time, until I ran across the Veteran Vision Project. It is a sad reality that 22 veterans kill themselves every day. The project highlights the lives of the people who have served their country and what their lives are today. Some have successful lives, some live with PTSD, some are on the verge of being one of the 22. If you have a chance to read through their archive, take your time and do so. The images and the tales are worth reading.
This one got posted today:
"When I went home, my draft call was in the mail. I was then sworn in on the 5th of October, and they said that anyone who has any unfinished business would be given 15 days. We went on to Okinawa, I was probably one of the first 50 men to step foot on the Island that morning. I told the fellas before we left 'now when we get into action, don't spread the horses on that gun, you use it and we will go from there when it's gone'. I was a machine gunner, it was pure hell. 134 days on the front line, 83 days in Okinawa, 83 days of not knowing if we would wake up the next day. Oh yes we lost a lot of men, we had 7,294 casualties in the one division and there was 1,506 of those were dead. They were buried there on Okinawa. I don't know, I always maintained the idea that somebody was going to get to go home, and I had hoped to be one of them, and I was." -John Mitchel, United States Army. World War II.
It made me remeber my Grandfather, Eugene and Okinawa. So, here’s a throwback Thursday. I wrote this on my old blog when we were still in overseas.
Before we moved to Okinawa, there weren’t many things I knew about the island. This pretty much sums it up, in no particular order:
- It’s an island in Japan.
- It’s ‘featured’ in the Karate Kid series (though really, it was Hawaii).
- It was the stage for a very brutal battle during WWII.
- ….that’s about it.
I have learned many things about Okinawa in the last four years. I have fallen in love with the island. But one thing that you cannot forget when you’re here (specially if you’re either Okinawan or American), is the fourth item on my list up there. It was the stage for a very brutal battle during WWII.
There is to this day a military presence on island and the relationship between both cultures is varied. Some love it, some hate it, some merely tolerate it, some learn about each other. My presence on this island alone, is the result of my husband being in the Air Force. I was born and raised in Mexico. My Mom, however, was born and raised in the U.S. Her entire family is from North Dakota.
I knew that none of my Grandma’s brothers fought in WWII due to their age (they were considered too old). But I also knew that at least four of the Beaton boys (my Grandpa and three of his brothers) fought in the war. My Grandpa was in the Navy and he spent the war in the Pacific. I think the closest he came to Japan was the island of Guam. I didn’t know of any other members of his family (or my Grandmother’s extended one) who had taken part in the conflict.
There are many parks and monuments in Okinawa and if you have the chance to come here, you need to take the time to visit as many as you can. One of these, is Peace Prayer Park. That’s how we military and dependents know it. Some know it as the “Cornerstone of Peace”, the “Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Park”, the “Okinawan Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum”, etc. Names for it also vary a little on the road signs. It’s located on the southern part of the island and if you have a map and a good sense of direction, you’ll find it. It overlooks the sea and you can spend a lot of time sitting there and thinking.
Amongst the many things in the park, you’ll find a series of wave-like dark granite low walls (stelai/screens/etc). They are inscribed with the names of all who died during the 82 day-long Battle of Okinawa, military and civilian alike. We visited once, late in the day and with the dwindling sunlight, we didn’t have much time to explore it.
The second time we visited the park, back in November 2011, we arrived with enough time to go through the Museum and take pictures.
Allow me to repeat myself here: if you’re ever in Okinawa, this has to be one of your stops. The museum alone is an impressive place to spend time reflecting on the history of this island and on the history of the world. There is one section of the museum, where you can sit and read first-hand witness accounts of those who survived the battle. Take your time. Read them.
As we walked out, we made it to the granite walls and for no reason other than sheer curiosity, I started looking at the names on the wall and…I found Eugene Charles Beaton. We took a picture of the name and went home, where I posed the question to my Mom’s side of the family. Had anyone heard of a Eugene Beaton? My cousin answered that yes, there was an Eugene. And yes, he had died during WWII. So I looked it up and sure enough…..Eugene was my Grandpa’s cousin. He was a Marine, who died on June 3rd, 1945. Eighteen days before the end of the Battle of Okinawa. He was 26.
I’d never heard of him, but ever since I found his name on that wall, he has been on my mind. Every time we’ve visited a war memorial on this island, I have wondered……what did Eugene see? He was on this island during a very violent time. You cannot visit historical sites here without seeing pictures like these:
I cannot help but wonder, what life was like for Eugene here. Specially after being in the museum, looking at the models, the pictures, reading the accounts. We went back to Peace Prayer Park last week to visit Eugene and so we could make a rubbing of his name. On our way there, we stopped at another WWII Memorial: the Former Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters (the link’s in Japanese, sorry).
After going through a museum and then a rather long staircase, you find yourself in a series of tunnels dug during WWII and where near the end of the Battle of Okinawa, hundreds of Japanese soldiers committed suicide. If you’re claustrophobic, this might not be the place for you to visit. The main corridors are wide enough, but some of the minor ones can get narrow (I’m 5’3″ and I could feel my hair rubbing the top of some archways). If you don’t suffer from any confined space problems, then yes…you have to go there. There is more than one side to every episode in history. You should become acquainted with as many as possible. The place is eerily quiet, save for the shuffling of tourist’s feet and the sound of water running down the little channels cut on the ground of each tunnel.
Pictures and sketched dramatizations of life in the tunnels hang here and there, giving you an idea of the conditions soldiers lived in during the battle. The stone is cool to the touch, but the humidity and overall heat underground is stifling and you’ll feel sweat running down your back in no time. As a side note, there are free paper and plastic fans by the ticket counter. Take one. You’ll use it, trust me.
There are few ‘rooms’ in the headquarters, and those either served a military purpose or where inhabited by high ranking officials. For everybody else, there were roughly carved smaller caves by the tunnels. One of these was the ‘Medical Room”, barely lit with a naked bulb. As a CNA, I cannot imagine what it must’ve been like trying to attend to your duties in such a place. But the room that shocked me the most, was this:
The sign on the walls, in both English and Japanese, reads: “Wall riddled with a hand-grenade when committed suicide”.
I cannot even begin to picture that moment. We left the headquarters and as we emerged form the tunnels, it started to sprinkle. The rain felt like a blessing after the suffocating heat, but nothing could dispel the heaviness in my heart. Then we got in our car and drove down to the Park and after gathering all of our materials, made our way back to the granite walls.
“Hello, Eugene” I mused as I ran my fingers over his name. I wanted to cry. The Bear proved better at getting the name rubbed onto paper and later, he went off in search of a place where we could watch the sunset and take pictures (something we’ve been doing a lot of in the last few months). I took a few pictures around the park and then sat, watching the sea. I could try to write something philosophical about the war and both sides of the battle. I could try to sound smart, but I won’t. I don’t have the brains nor the wisdom to do so.
Furthermore, I think it will be a long time before my heart comes up with a conclusion. So instead I’ll say this: There are very dark episodes in history. And they’re painful. But we need to know about them. We cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from them.
We’ll be leaving Okinawa in less than a month and I’ll take a lot of things with me. About food and fun and sun and sand and wonderful places. But I will also take Eugene’s memory. I never met him, but now he’s in my heart. And he will always be.
Have a blessed day everyone.