Meal for Japanese Prisoners on Okinawa
Here we see some of the small number of Japanese prisoners captured on Okinawa preparing a meal. One man serves while his comrades wait for their food.
The American POWs Still Waiting for an Apology From Japan 70 Years Later
K athy Holcomb put her hand on the wall of a crumbling factory building in the central Japanese city of Yokkaichi and envisioned her father touching the same spot during his years as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II.
Like thousands of American POWs, her father was made to labor under slave-like conditions in Japan&rsquos war industry. Four of every 10 American prisoners died of starvation, illness or abuse.
Now, the survivors, their families and supporters are demanding an apology from the companies that operated those camps and profited from POW labor. Those include some of Japan&rsquos best-known corporate giants.
&ldquoMy father never really forgave the Japanese. He never understood the cruelty or the constant physical abuse,&rdquo said Holcomb. Her father, Harold Vick, was a tank crewman who was captured in the Philippines in the early days of World War II. He died several years ago.
&ldquoIf he could have come here himself&mdashif he could have heard them apologize and acknowledge what was done to him&mdashit might have helped give him a sense of closure,&rdquo she said.
The campaign for an apology comes as Japan&rsquos political leadership is pushing a revisionist view of wartime history. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year sent a message of support to a memorial service that honored convicted war criminals&mdashincluding some who were executed by the Allies for abuse of POWs.
The treatment of American and allied prisoners by the Japanese is one of the abiding horrors of World War II. Prisoners were routinely beaten, starved and abused and forced to work in mines and war-related factories in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Of the 27,000 Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese, a shocking 40 percent died in captivity, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. That compares with just one percent of American prisoners who died in German POW camps.
The Japanese government issued a formal apology to American POWs in 2009 and started a &ldquoPOW Friendship and Remembrance&rdquo program a year later. That program brings a small group of American POWs and family members to Japan each year to meet with officials and private citizens and, in some cases, visit the sites where POWs were held.
More than 60 companies used POW labor during the war, usually paying Japan&rsquos Imperial Army a fee for the privilege, and using company employees as supplemental guards and jailers, according to the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, a non-profit support organization based in California.
Surviving POWs and advocates have been pressing for apologies from more than a dozen companies, including some of Japan&rsquos largest. But so far, only one&mdasha chemical manufacturer based in Yokkaichi, near Nagoya&mdashhas done so.
Akira Kobayashi, managing executive officer of Ishihara Sangyo, said using POW labor was &ldquoone of the dark episodes&rdquo in the company&rsquos past. Issuing an apology in 2010 was &ldquothe right thing to do,&rdquo he said.
&ldquoWhat we are doing here today is not only to honor your father, but it&rsquos also for future generations, to try to bring our two countries closer together,&rdquo Kobayashi told Holcomb during an emotional meeting at the company headquarters this week.
The 1952 Treaty of Peace with Japan provided for modest compensation payments to former POWs. That money came from Japanese assets seized in the United States and elsewhere outside Japan. But U.S. and Japanese courts have ruled that the treaty explicitly prevents American POWs from seeking additional damages from either the Japanese government or private citizens. A handful of lawsuits filed in California against Mitsubishi Corp., Nippon Steel and other companies that used POW labor during the war were dismissed by federal courts in 2004.
The U.S. government is at least partly at fault for failing to ensure that POWs abused by the Japanese were treated the same as those by the Germans, said Linda Goetz Holmes. She is a former member of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Records Interagency Working Group, and author of Unjust Enrichment: American POWs Under the Rising Sun.
&ldquoGerman companies long ago apologized to those who worked as slave laborers, and additional compensation was paid either by the companies or the German government, &ldquo she said. &ldquoBut when it came to Japan, our State Department said &lsquoOh no, this will interfere with our foreign relations.&rsquo&rdquo
But financial compensation is not the point, said 94-year-old Lester Tenney, a former POW and head of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a POW support group.
&ldquoOur legal fight has never been about money. It has been about honor, dignity and responsibility,&rdquo Tenney said in an email interview from his home near San Diego.
&ldquoThe companies that enslaved thousands of Americans, and failed to provide them with the very basic necessities of life should, once and for all, come forward and apologize for the cruelties that were handed out,&rdquo said Tenney. He was taken prisoner in the Philippines and spent more than two years laboring in a coalmine in southern Japan.
Advocates have asked more than a dozen Japanese companies that used POW labor during the war to apologize. But so far, only Ishihara Sangyo has responded, said Kinue Tokudome, founder and executive director of the US-Japan Dialogue. Given the political climate in Japan, that may not be surprising.
Abe is a staunch conservative who in the past has questioned Japan&rsquos war responsibility. In April, he provided a message that was read aloud during a memorial service honoring about 1,180 convicted war criminals. Those include more than 130 Japanese who were tried and executed for crimes related to the abuse of American POWs, according to Tokudome.
In the message, Abe referred to the war criminals as &ldquomartyrs who staked their souls to become the foundation of their nation.”
Tenney said Abe&rsquos message is &ldquodisgraceful&rdquo and ignores the truth.
The treatment of POWs is not widely discussed in Japan. But that could change later this year, when the film Unbroken is scheduled for release in the United States.
That film, directed A-lister Angelina Jolie, traces the brutal treatment of Louis Zamperini in Japanese prison camps and his fight for survival. A star of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team, Zamperini was captured after his Army Air Force bomber crashed in the Pacific Ocean in May 1943.
The movie is based on the best-selling book of the same name. That book, released in 2010, was denounced on right-wing websites here as anti-Japanese propaganda. A release date for the film in Japan has not been fixed.
The issue of POW treatment by the Japanese is unlikely to go away, says Holcomb. She said her father was haunted by his prison experience and suffered daily from injuries he received while working at what was then a copper refinery&mdashinjuries that were never properly treated.
Holcomb said she decided to visit the Ishihara Sangyo plant after moving to South Korea earlier this year. The facility still has some of the same roads, buildings and dock facilities as when her father was held here officials allowed her to tour the plant and to visit a small shrine dedicated to the POWs and others who died during the war. She said the visit helped bring closure for her, but that others are still suffering.
&ldquoThis isn&rsquot going to end even when all of the former POWs pass away. Their children and grandchildren have heard the stories, and have lived with the stories, and they haven&rsquot forgotten. This isn&rsquot about money. It&rsquos about acknowledging what was done to these men.&rdquo
A key position
Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, located just 350 miles south of the Japanese mainland. The United States, believing an invasion of Japan would be necessary to end the Pacific War, needed to secure the island’s airfields to provide air support.
So critical was the capture of the island, that the United States mustered the largest amphibious assault force of the Pacific campaign, with 60,000 soldiers landing on the first day.
Marines attack a cave system on Okinawa using dynamite
9 Most Haunted Places In Japan Besides Aokigahara Forest And Gunkanjima
Most haunted places in Japan
Image adapted from (clockwise from top-left): @tysk159, @ren_tanaka_516 and @atsukondo48
Japan is a treasure trove of all things horror, from iconic J-horror films that’ll make your teeth chatter to video games that’ll scare you out of your couch. The Japanese love their creepy stuff, and in a country full of spine-chilling urban legends and ghostly folktales, it isn’t difficult to find inspiration.
We’ve compiled a list of the most haunted places in Japan in real-life, along with the creepy tales behind these locations, for daredevils seeking abandoned places for their next adventure and those who are just here to read some scary stories from beyond the grave. You’ve been warned.
1. Round schoolhouse ruins (沼東小学校)
Image credit: @ziyun176
The round schoolhouse ruin is located in a small rural town in Hokkaido, called Bibai. The school was built in 1906, but the eponymous circular school building was only constructed in 1959. Most of the children that went to the school were children of the coal miners that worked in the Mitsubishi coal mine nearby.
Image credit: @hokkaido_asahikawa_4484
It’s surrounded by overgrown woods, and the only way to get to the ruins is by trekking through it. You can spot abandoned cars in the road leading up to the woods – go figure.
Image credit: @hokkaido_asahikawa_4484
The school was abandoned in 1974 after Japan slowly shifted towards importing coal instead.
Much of the school furniture was left behind, such as the desks and chairs.
Image credit: かえるさん鬼引き
There are stories of people who ventured into the schoolhouse ruins but returned deranged, traumatised by what they saw inside the school. Some have never returned.
Image credit: @hokkaido_asahikawa_4484
According to rumours, people have reported hearing voices and footsteps, the feeling of being watched, shrill screams from the woods at night, and even attacks from shadowy figures that emerge from the woods.
One story goes that a group that decided to explore the ruins of the schoolhouse was attacked and had barely made it back to their car before the figure slammed into it and disappeared.
Image adapted from: @tysk159
It was once a popular spot for ghost-hunting back in the 70s and 80s. Although it’s no longer as popular these days, a handful of daring souls still visit once in a while.
According to a group of paranormal investigators that encountered a shimmering patch in the school building, t he site is an interdimensional portal .
Japanese mediums refuse to go anywhere near the site because of the heebie-jeebies they get.
Image credit: かえるさん鬼引き
Address: Higashibibaicho, Bibai, Hokkaido 072-0000, Japan
2. Oiran Buchi Bridge (花魁淵)
Image credit: S Jun
Oiran Buchi , which translates to “Courtesan Gorge”, is a suspended bridge situated off Highway 411 in Yamanashi Prefecture. It overlooks the surrounding area, which has great natural scenery. The picturesque cliffs and river, however, hide a dark past – it’s said to be the site where 55 oiran perished in the 16th century.
According to legend, back in the Sengoku Era (15th century), the area had gold mines that were run by the Takeda Clan . The clan also ran brothels to keep the guards and miners entertained. These brothels kept oiran (花魁) – high-ranking prostitutes also referred to as “courtesans”. They were prized for their beauty, and you can imagine that they were regularly visited.
Image credit: The Francis Lathrop Collection, Purchase, Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1911
Following a lost battle, the Takeda Clan had to retreat and abandon their mines. They didn’t want the mines to fall into the hands of their enemies, so the clan lined up all 55 courtesans on the bridge before chopping off the ropes in a bid to silence them. The women plunged to their deaths, into a watery grave at the bottom of the valley. It is said that their vengeful screams can still be heard till this day.
Image credit: Google Maps
The locals still believe that the area is haunted by strong, vengeful spirits. They claim that they feel a strange, cold feeling while passing by the area. The forbidding mountains surrounding the area certainly add to the eerie atmosphere. While the road leading to the bridge is blocked, the highway outside is the site of multiple fatal accidents .
Address: Enzanichinose Takahashi, Koshu, Yamanashi 404-0021, Japan
3. Nakagusuku Hotel ruins (中城ホテル跡)
Image credit: @derachi
The ruins of the Nakagusuku Castle in Okinawa are a famous tourist attraction, but the nearby Nakagusuku Hotel ruins aren’t as well-known, even though it’s only 50 metres away from the castle walls.
It’s believed that a rich developer from Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, wanted to build a hotel and leisure park to capitalise on the tourists attending the 1975 Okinawa Ocean Exposition . The hotel’s site seemed ideal – it was chosen to be on the hill south of the castle, and it had a scenic view of both the castle and the sea.
Image credit: @domisotaka68
But Buddhist monks warned that ancient graves and sacred sites lay upon that hill, and that angering the spirits was not wise . After multiple mishaps which delayed construction, some even fatal, the workers refused to continue and construction ground to a halt.
Image credit: @atsukondo48
The owner was exasperated and decided to volunteer to spend a night in the site to dispel any rumours that the place was haunted. When morning came, he was found demented and was admitted into an asylum, where he soon disappeared.
Image credit: @domisotaka68
Today, the unfinished ruins of the sprawling leisure complex still stands there, empty and abandoned. Parts of the complex are overgrown with vegetation and sections of the roof have caved in. While the site is still accessible by a dirt track from the castle, there are signs warning of the unstable infrastructure. Even the US Marine Corps declared the hotel ruins off-limits in 2009 after a serviceman sustained injuries from exploring the area.
For more abandoned places in Japan, check out this article about abandoned theme parks in Japan.
4. Camp Hansen Gate 3
Image credit: Okinawa.org
Okinawa Island was the bloodiest battlefield in the Pacific Ocean theatre of World War II (WWII). Both the Japanese Imperial Army and American forces suffered heavy casualties, with over a quarter of the civilian population either killed or committing suicide. It’s no surprise that a large number of haunted places in Japan are in Okinawa.
Gate 3 of Camp Hansen in Okinawa was said to be haunted by the ghost of a US Marine from WWII. Dressed in blood-splattered WWII-era fatigues and toting a cigarette in his hand, he would approach the security forces at 3AM and ask for a light. The ghost would then disappear after his cigarette was lit.
The hauntings were frequent and the guards were spooked. The entry point was eventually closed because the adjacent gate was more accessible, but some claim otherwise. Some have also seen the ghost of that Marine protecting the gate of the camp from other WWII Japanese soldiers who were haunting the same gate.
Location: Somewhere around here .
5. Okiku’s Well (お菊井戸)
Image credit: Hokusai Sarayshiki
In the era of the shogunate, a samurai, Aoyama Tessan, had taken a liking to a beautiful servant named Okiku. She repeatedly refused his advances, which frustrated the samurai. He devised a plot and hid one of his ten precious heirloom plates, and then blamed its disappearance on the maid. Even though the poor servant frantically recounted the plates over and over again, the tenth was nowhere to be found.
The samurai then offered to pardon her, but only if she’d agree to be his lover. Once again, she refused, and the samurai threw her down a well in his rage .
Image credit: @coolarttokyo
It is said that Okiku became an onryo, or vengeful spirit , and rose from the well every night. She’d count from one to nine before letting out an unearthly scream, much like a banshee, to mourn over the tenth plate that she never found.
Some versions of the story were set in the Himeji Palace , which is a popular tourist attraction in Hyogo Prefecture today. In the palace, there is a well called the Okiku-Ido (お菊井戸), or Okiku’s Well. Some claim that at night, when the castle is closed, Okiku’s vengeful ghost still rises nightly to count her plates and shriek.
Image credit: @lotusland2
Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0012, Japan
6. SSS Curve
Image credit: 東京別視点ガイド
Very little information can be found about the SSS Curve online, which makes it hard to locate. The name of the spot comes from the S-shaped path leading to it, and one has to trek through the woods to get there.
Reportedly, visitors experience an unnatural cold, nausea, hallucinations, and vomiting. Local psychics say that there’s an overwhelming negative energy, and you can feel as if something is touching you.
Some say that the ghosts of the WWII Japanese soldiers come back to haunt this spot in Okinawa, or that there is a self-mutilating cult that causes the negative vibes. It’s said to be a training ground for psychics and spirit mediums, who try to make contact with the highly-active spirits. It is rumoured that some psychics lose their lives during training here.
You’ll have to hunt around in the forest for the exact spot, but there’s a large red sign forbidding entry. Enter at your own risk .
Location: Somewhere inside here .
7. Ikego Middle Gate
Image credit: @takashi_shibasaki
Located in a US Navy Housing Area campground in Zushi City, Yokohama, Ikego is a thickly-wooded area and it can get quite foggy.
The middle gate to the campground was allegedly a Japanese ammunition depot and prisoner-of-war (POW) concentration camp during WWII, where many prisoners were either executed or worked to death. Guards of the middle gate to Ikego have reported seeing legless Japanese soldiers in WWII-era uniform, as well as hearing disembodied voices and footsteps.
The area surrounding Ikego is also the resting place of about 50 yagura , or ancient burial tombs. These yagura were dug into the cliff sides and contain human bones and artefacts from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Japanese samurai committing seppuku
Image credit: Project Gutenberg
There are also stories that the area was a battlefield for warring factions of samurai in the 14th century, where many committed seppuku or were beheaded. Ikego’s violent past may explain why there are multiple reports of sightings of ghostly figures in the woods eerily staring back at them.
8. Weekly Mansion Akasaka
Image credit: Sungsik Cho
It may not look like much, but some claim that the Weekly Mansion Akasaka was the most haunted hotel in Tokyo.
Image credit: Rentalo
Visitors have experienced the haunting in various ways, such as white smoke billowing through the air vents and icy fingers touching guests. More horrifying accounts include a guest being pushed onto a bed and rendered immobile, and fingers stroking guests’ hair as they feigned sleep. One female guest claimed that she was grabbed by her hair and dragged across the room, and later found unexplained scratches across her back.
The mansion was also where four kidnapped elementary school girls were held by a child prostitution ring in 2003.
Image credit: Tripadvisor
Today, the mansion has been torn down and a new hotel stands in its place. We won’t name the hotel, but we wonder if ghosts still haunt that spot.
9. Inunaki Tunnel (犬鳴トンネル)
The main entrance of Inunaki Temple
Image credit: @__y__825
The Inunaki Tunnel is a well-known haunted place in Miyawaka Town, Fukuoka Prefecture. There’s even a video game and a movie from the director of the acclaimed Ju-on (2000) based on this place.
The other end of Inunaki Temple
Image credit: @rlykn_
Inunaki Tunnel translates to “Dog’s Howl Tunnel”, and the tunnel is just as chilling as its name sounds. Opened in 1949, the mountain tunnel saw little traffic because it was remote and eerie. Unsurprisingly, it was also home to biker gangs and eventually fell out of use. It didn’t help that the areas around it are steeped in ghastly urban legends, macabre murders, and suicides.
Image credit: @supercub1100
The tunnel is also the scene of a grisly murder. On 6th December 1988, a group of youths aged between 16 and 19 assaulted 20-year-old factory worker, Umeyama Kouichi, before stealing his car and abducting him. Deciding to silence Umeyama to hide their crime, they brought him to the old tunnel and tortured him, even going as far as tying him up and repeatedly smashing a rock against his head.
Image credit: @ren_tanaka_516
Finally, the gang doused the poor worker in gasoline. Umeyama was set on fire, and in his maddened state, screamed as he ran to the end of the tunnel before collapsing on the ground and writhing in agony. Some say that his blood and the charred remains of his clothes can still be spotted on the guardrails.
Umeyama’s body was discovered the next day, after the youths were seen in a bar the previous night, boasting about their gruesome deed.
Image credit: @ikki10609
Today, Inunaki Tunnel is off-limits to everyone. There is a fence barricading the road leading to the tunnel, and the tunnel itself is blocked off by cement blocks.
The official reason is that the tunnel is out of commission and no longer maintained, so there’s a risk of the mountain tunnel caving in. That hasn’t stopped foolhardy adventurers from visiting the tunnel though.
Image credit: @shihiro_0720
The locals claim that cars break down when they’re near the tunnel, and communication devices won’t work in that area. Plus, they get bad vibes from the area, so they’ll avoid it like the plague.
While the tunnel’s barricade is meant to keep these thrillseekers out, it seems a little too easy for humans to climb inside. So, we can’t help but wonder: was it actually meant to keep people out, or was it meant to keep whatever’s inside, inside?
Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World War, Vol,1,p.451
In their negotiations with the Japanese through neutral channels, the Allied authorities never ceased trying to obtain from the full information concerning the Allied nationals in their hands, regular facilities for the sending of relief supplies and mail, and permission for neutral inspectors to visit prisoner-of-war and internment camps. In spite of repeated requests for the regular forwarding of complete lists, not only of captures but of transfers and casualties, the Japanese never appear to have set up an organisation capable of dealing even with the notifications of the capture of the 300,000 Allied nationals in their hands. The first British lists did not come through until May 1942 by January 1943 less than a quarter had been notified and by September 1943 only 65 per cent of the British prisoners of war and only 20 per cent of them civilians. On the average New Zealand page 351 next-of-kin waited 18 months for the first news of their prisoner or internee relative the news even then was often only a card or a message over the Japanese-controlled radio. News of those held in the Dutch East Indies seems to have been withheld the longest.
The Japanese were similarly indifferent about mail. Besides, that sent on exchange ships, mail for prisoners of war in the Far East was by July 1942 being transported across Russia to her Pacific seaboard and thence to Japan, under an agreement reached with the Soviet Government. The distribution of this mail among the prisoner-of-war and internment camps in Japan and Japanese-occupied territory was slow and haphazard. Censorship was a prime difficulty in the way of prompt delivery: piles of uncensored mail were found in some Japanese camp offices on liberation, and it seems probable that some were destroyed to avoid the work involved in censorship. The amount of mail received varied greatly and almost inexplicably. One New Zealander who worked on the Burma–Thailand railway received 126 letters, another only three. Prisoners in Japan, on the whole, fared better, especially those at Zentsuji (where one man received 80 letters), than men in the Dutch East Indies where the number seldom reached double figures. New Zealanders at Macassar received no mail at all. The average number of cards which the Japanese allowed being sent out was from four to five for the whole period of captivity, and only some of these reached their destinations. Again those at Macassar fared worst: they were each allowed to write one letter only, which was not despatched but readout, often in a mutilated fashion, during a broadcast from Radio Tokyo.
While the attitude of the Japanese authorities regarding prisoners' mail seems to have been one of indifference, their attitude regarding visits to prisoner-of-war and internment camps was much more positive. In the first place, they refused for the greater part of the war to recognise, except in Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the right of representatives of the Protecting Power and the International Red Cross Committee to pay visits of inspection. The result of this was that International Red Cross Committee delegates were able to visit only 43 camps and Protecting Power representatives only, whereas there were (at the end of the war) 102 camps in Japan, Formosa, Korea, and Manchuria alone. Moreover, for most of the war period, it was estimated that some nine-tenths of the 300,000 Allied prisoners and civilians in Japanese hands were held in occupied territories, south of a line running roughly from Rangoon to the northern Philippines, in which not only were inspections of camps forbidden but no relief action of any kind could be undertaken without express permission from the Japanese authorities. Only in 1944 were the agents of the International Red Cross Committee in Singapore and the Swiss Consul in Bangkok able to work openly and effectively as distributors of Red Cross relief supplies.
Some ex-prisoners of war and internees have directly or implicitly criticised the neutral representatives who were able to visit camps because they accomplished nothing with the Japanese authorities. It should be mentioned that they had the greatest difficulty in obtaining the necessary permits for each visit, that during the visit they had to refrain from all reference to humanitarian texts in order not to anger the Japanese authorities, and that the latter always regarded them with suspicion and ill-will. The report of the International Red Cross Committee gives the best idea of how the visits were conducted:
Were U.S marines used as guinea pigs on Okinawa? 米国海兵隊員は沖縄でモルモット扱いされたか
Damage done: Fellow ex-marine Gerald Mohler (seen in 1961 and today) suffers with pulmonary fibrosis and Parkinson's disease, the result, he believes, of exposure to similar tests on Okinawa. COURTESY OF GERALD MOHLER
Newly discovered documents reveal that 50 years ago this month, in December 1962, the Pentagon dispatched a chemical weapons platoon to Okinawa under the auspices of its infamous Project 112. Described by the U.S. Department of Defense as "biological and chemical warfare vulnerability tests," the highly classified program subjected thousands of unwitting American service members around the globe to substances including sarin and VX nerve gases between 1962 and 1974. 1
According to papers obtained from the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the 267 th Chemical Platoon was activated on Okinawa on Dec. 1, 1962, with "the mission of operation of Site 2, DOD (Department of Defense) Project 112." Before coming to Okinawa, the 36-member platoon had received training at Denver's Rocky Mountain Arsenal, one of the key U.S. chemical and biological weapons (CBW) facilities. Upon its arrival on the island, the platoon was billeted just north of Okinawa City at Chibana — the site of a poison gas leak seven years later. Between December 1962 and August 1965, the 267 th platoon received three classified shipments — codenamed YBA, YBB and YBF — believed to include sarin and mustard gas. 2
For decades, the Pentagon denied the existence of Project 112. Only in 2000 did the department finally admit to having exposed its own service members to CBW tests, which it claimed were designed to enable the U.S. to better plan for potential attacks on its troops. In response to mounting evidence of serious health problems among a number of veterans subjected to these experiments, Congress forced the Pentagon in 2003 to create a list of service members exposed during Project 112. While the Department of Defense acknowledges it conducted the tests in Hawaii, Panama and aboard ships in the Pacific Ocean, this is the first time that Okinawa — then under U.S. jurisdiction — has been implicated in the project. 3
Corroborating suspicions that Project 112 tests were conducted on Okinawa is the inclusion on the Pentagon's list of at least one U.S. veteran exposed on the island. "Sprayed from numbered containers" reads the Project 112 file on former marine Don Heathcote. Heathcote, a private first class stationed on Okinawa's Camp Hansen in 1962, clearly remembers the circumstances in which he was exposed.
"I was assigned for approximately 30 days to a crew in the northern jungles of Okinawa," Heathcote says. "I sprayed foliage with chemicals from drums with different-colored faces. As we did this, a guy came by with a clipboard and made notes. How better to run a test than to color-code each barrel?"
Heathcote believes the chemicals were experimental herbicides, including Agent Purple, a forerunner to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange. He says the spraying killed large swaths of the jungle — and took an equally devastating toll on his own health.
"Soon after I returned home, I underwent an operation to extract polyps from my nose. The doctors removed enough to fill a cup. Plus they diagnosed me with bronchitis and sinusitis connected to chemical exposure," said Heathcote.
The records of the 267 th Chemical Platoon were first uncovered by Michelle Gatz, the Minnesota-based veterans services officer who has also been at the forefront of investigations into the usage of Agent Orange on Okinawa. Gatz suspects that Heathcote may have been exposed to substances even more dangerous than defoliants. "Project 112 had thousands of sub-projects testing a variety of poisons, drugs and germs. It has been compared to an octopus with its tentacles all over the place — and one of those places was Okinawa."
Gatz and Heathcote are attempting to persuade U.S. authorities to disclose details of Project 112 tests on the island, but so far to no avail. The Defense Department was approached for comment on Nov. 5 as of Dec. 13, the Pentagon said it was still investigating the issue.
Body of evidence: Former U.S. Marine Don Heathcote (left, in 1962) holds documents related to his exposure to biochemical agents on Okinawa. COURTESY OF DON HEATHCOTE
Due to the controversial nature of its Cold War CBW program, which many countries alleged breached the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing such toxic agents, the U.S. government has been reluctant to divulge details of Project 112 and similar tests. This reticence is particularly apparent in relation to Okinawa, where the U.S. military still controls approximately 20 percent of the main island, and where many residents oppose its presence. However, thanks to an investigation spearheaded by Gatz and Florida-based researcher John Olin - who uncovered the smoking gun of the Pentagon’s storage of Agent Orange on Okinawa 4 - the true history of America's CBW program on the island is gradually becoming clearer.
No sooner had the ink dried on the Treaty of San Francisco — the 1952 agreement ending the U.S. occupation of Japan while granting it continued control of Okinawa — than the Pentagon began to stockpile chemical weapons on the island. This was at the height of the Korean War. The island - in particular Kadena Air Base - was already operating as a launch pad for the conflict and the first consignment of its toxic arsenal was shipped to Okinawa under orders from Col. John J. Hayes, chief of the U.S. Army's Chemical Corps. 5
Col. John J. Hayes
At the same time as this top-secret delivery, the Chinese media began to allege that the U.S. Air Force was dropping biological weapons, including typhus and cholera, on North Korea. 6 Thirty-six captured U.S. airmen admitted to flying more than 400 of these sorties many said the missions originated from American bases on Okinawa. 7 After the 1953 ceasefire, the U.S. military maintained that the confessions had been extracted by torture, and the now-repatriated prisoners renounced their claims. For its part, China countered that they'd been forced to backtrack under threat of U.S. court martial.
While the jury may still be out on Korean War CBW sorties from Okinawa, there is no disputing the island's role in the Pentagon's biochemical program in the ensuing years. Publicly available records show that the U.S. conducted bioweapons tests on Okinawa geared towards depriving potential enemies of food sources, particularly the staple crop of Asia's peasant armies: rice. In 1961, the U.S. military on Okinawa staged tests of rice blast, a highly infectious fungus that can decimate entire harvests. According to Sheldon H. Harris in his authoritative history of CBW, "Factories of Death," the tests on Okinawa were so successful that they led to a further 1,000 military contracts for herbicide research. 8
One former U.S. Marine who believes he was unknowingly exposed to this batch of experiments is Gerald Mohler. In July 1961, at the age of 21, Mohler was ordered to participate in an unusual mission in the jungles near Camp Courtney, in present-day Uruma City.
"We were told to erect tents at a five-acre brown spot devoid of vegetation and sleep there for a few days. We received no training during that time. We just sat around and did nothing," Mohler said in a recent interview. "Nearby we discovered a stash of approximately 40 50-gallon (190-liter) barrels of defoliants. The odor was unmistakable."
Today Mohler has pulmonary fibrosis — a scarring of the lungs caused by exposure to toxic chemicals — and Parkinson's disease. "Were we marines used as guinea pigs on Okinawa?" asks Mohler. "I think so."
The Pentagon denies that herbicidal chemical agents such as the ones Mohler described were ever present on Okinawa.
Poisoned ties: Okinawan women hold placard reading "Remove poison gas from Okinawa" at a Japan Mothers Association meeting in 1969 in Tokyo, just weeks after a poison gas accident at a U.S. installation on the island. KYODO
In 1961, as the Cold War deepened, the U.S. initiated a comprehensive overhaul of its defensive capabilities in more than 100 different categories No. 112 on this list was the study of CBW. Envisaged by President John F. Kennedy's secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, as "an alternative to nuclear weapons," Project 112 proposed experiments in "tropical climates" and, to evade laws regulating human testing in the U.S., it suggested the use of overseas "satellite sites." 9 Fulfilling both prerequisites, Okinawa must have seemed a perfect choice. In particular, the Northern Training Area in the island’s Yanbaru jungles must have been a particularly tempting target for U.S. scientists since it was (and continues to be) the Pentagon’s prime tropical guerrilla training center.
Throughout the late 20th century, rumors of Project 112 were widespread among U.S. veterans, but they were quickly dismissed by an American public unwilling to believe its government would test such substances on its own troops. However, following a series of TV news reports by CBS, the Pentagon admitted to the existence of Project 112 and promised to come clean on the issue.
That disclosure began in 2000, when the Pentagon claimed that there had been 134 planned tests, of which 84 had been canceled. The experiments it admitted carrying out included the spraying of troops in Hawaii with E. coli, subjecting sailors to swarms of specially bred mosquitoes, and exposing troops in Alaska to VX gas. The Pentagon stated that no participants had been harmed in these tests. 10
Almost immediately, skeptics accused the Pentagon of attempting to pull the wool over the public's eyes. These allegations were supported by the General Accounting Office, 11 the congressional watchdog, which found the Department of Defense had not attempted to "exhaust all possible sources of pertinent information". One of the major omissions was its failure to try to retrieve CIA records - the Agency has long been suspected of being involved in Project 112. Even when the Pentagon did bother to investigate, for example at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, the department checked only 12 out of 1,300 boxes of documents
The Pentagon's failure to fully investigate Project 112 creates an immense hurdle for those seeking the truth about tests on Okinawa. "After more than 50 years of lies, secrecy and ever-changing stories, one cannot rely on any information the Department of Defense provides to Congress or the public. It is not known exactly what happened on Okinawa or which of these hazards might have been present on the island," says Olin, the researcher.
Olin believes the U.S. military has been too quick to dismiss Okinawan civilians' worries that they too may have been affected. His suspicions are supported by the GAO report which states, “DOD did not specifically search for civilian personnel -DOD civilian employees, DOD contractors, or foreign government participants - in its investigation."
During the 1960s and '70s there were a number of unexplained incidents on the island, including chemical-like burns suffered by more than 200 Okinawans swimming near U.S. installations on the east coast in 1968 and, two years later, a fire at Chibana munitions depot that sickened employees at nearby Zukeyama Dam.
Throughout the Cold War until 1969, Washington adhered to a strict policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of CBW on Okinawa. In all likelihood, it would have continued to do so, were it not for the events of July 8 of that year. On that day, American service members were conducting maintenance on munition shells at the Chibana depot when one of the missiles sprung a leak. Twenty-three troops and one civilian fell sick from exposure to the missile's contents — likely VX gas — and were hospitalized for up to a week.
Considering the toxicity of such weapons, those exposed escaped lightly. Nevertheless, when the accident was reported, its ramifications were far-reaching: The Pentagon was forced to acknowledge its chemical arsenal on Okinawa — infuriating local residents — and promised to remove the entire stockpile before the island's reversion to Japanese control in 1972.
Proof of Project 112 on Okinawa?: An excerpt from the history of the 267th Chemical Platoon.
Operation Red Hat, the mission to transport the weapons off the island, was organized by the same man who had brought them to Okinawa two decades previously: John. J. Hayes (by then a general). It also involved the 267 th Chemical Platoon, which had been renamed the 267 th Chemical Company. During two separate phases in 1971, the military shipped thousands of truckloads of sarin, mustard gas, VX and skin-blistering agents from Okinawa to U.S.-administered Johnston Island in the middle of the Pacific. The consignments totaled 12,000 tons — a terrifying amount considering that many of these substances' fatal dosage is measured in milligrams. After the final shipment had left the island, Hayes assured journalists, "Every round of toxic chemical munitions stored on Okinawa has now been removed." 12
The involvement of Hayes and the 267 th company appears to tie the tale of Okinawa's CBW into the kind of neatly knotted circle loved by historians. However, new evidence has surfaced that Operation Red Hat was only the latest round in a long game of smoke and mirrors contrived by the Pentagon to hide the true extent of its CBW arsenal.
In 1972, one year after Operation Red Hat, marine Sgt. Carol Surzinski participated in a defense readiness class on Okinawa's Camp Kuwae, in Chatan Town. The training involved barrels of what appeared to be chemical weapons and, initially, she was told that the classes would help to identify substances that might be used against the U.S. military in times of war. Such practices were common on U.S. installations at the time, but what the trainer told Surzinski toward the end of the two-week course disturbed her. "The instructor finally admitted that we had to stay one step ahead of the enemy. We needed to learn what worked against them — and use it against the enemy if need be," she says.
Surzinski's account appears to contradict the Pentagon's claims that it had removed its entire CBW stockpile from Okinawa in 1971. In addition, it raises another question: What has happened to the barrels in the intervening years? Considering the U.S. military's poor environmental track record on the island, it seems likely they were buried. On the marines' Futenma Air Station in 1981, for example, a maintenance crew unearthed more than 100 barrels — some apparently containing Agent Orange — that appeared to have been buried at the end of the Vietnam War.
This year marks 60 years since the first delivery of chemical weapons to Okinawa this month is the 50th anniversary of the launch of Project 112 on the island. However, the continuing illnesses suffered by U.S. veterans including Heathcote and Mohler suggest this problem is far from a purely historical matter — and only now are potential correlations between toxic munitions and illnesses among Okinawan residents coming to light.
In the near future, Washington plans to return a number of U.S. installations on Okinawa to civilian usage. However, just as former U.S. CBW storage sites elsewhere — such as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Johnston Island — remain dangerously contaminated, Okinawan land is likely to be handed back in a similarly toxic state.
Under the current U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the host government is solely responsible for the cleanup of former bases — a task that's expected to set Japanese taxpayers back hundreds of millions of dollars. With the true cost in terms of health and capital yet to be determined, there is a real risk that these weapons of mass destruction will poison not only the soil but also the Okinawan people and American-Japanese-Okinawan relations for decades to come.
Jon Mitchell is an Asia-Pacific Journal associate. In September 2012, “Defoliated Island”, a TV documentary based upon his research, was awarded a commendation for excellence by Japan’s National Association of Commercial Broadcasters. A program is currently in production in order to assist U.S. veterans exposed to military defoliants on Okinawa. This is a revised and expanded version of an article that appeared in The Japan Times on December 4, 2012.
My thanks to John Olin, Michelle Gatz, Don Heathcote, Gerald Mohler, Carol Surzinski, Natsuko Shimabukuro, Ben Stubbings and Mark Selden for their invaluable input on this article.
Recommended citation: Jon Mitchell, "Were U.S marines used as guinea pigs on Okinawa?" The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 51, No. 2, December 17, 2012
Cuisine born from a mixed culture
Okinawa was the recipient of rich cultural influences from other Asian nations through a bustling trade during the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom. American culture came into the lives of the people with the US administration of the island that followed World War II. With the added impact of Okinawan immigrants in Hawaii and South America before and after the war, Okinawan culture evolved as a reflection of diverse foreign cultures, often seen as the charm of this island. This aspect of mixed culture is also found in Okinawa’s cuisine, appreciated as much by locals as traditional fare.
Taco ｒice is an Okinawan dish using taco ingredients that have been put on rice. Despite the origins of the taco and the American fast food chain Taco Bell, Taco rice is believed to have been created in Okinawa and has become an integral part of the island's food culture.
Canned pork, or SPAM, was introduced from the States to Okinawa after World War II. It is believed that Okinawan immigrants in Hawaii created Pork tamago and then introduced it back to Okinawa. Since then, it has become a mainstay of Okinawan cuisine.
A large number of Okinawans emigrated to Argentina and Peru about 100 years ago. Many of them eventually returned to Okinawa, bringing with them the food culture of their adopted homes. Rotisserie chicken is one example. Grilled with a lot of garlic, a whole chicken is usually priced at between ¥1,000 and ¥1,500.
Japanese people want the US military out, and they’ve rioted over it in the past
“M ilitary bases on Okinawa are hotbeds of serious crimes!” read one sign at a protest in Okinawa on Sunday. And the protester had a point: in May, a Marine veteran was arrested in connection with the murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman, whose body was found in the woods near a US air base. And in June, a US Navy sailor was found responsible for a drunk driving crash that left two Japanese civilians injured.
Okinawans say they’ve have had enough. On Sunday, 65,000 people assembled to protest the American military presence in their backyard. That’s more than the number of US service members in Japan, but not by much: We currently have 50,000 troops and military-adjacent citizens stationed in Japan, the majority on Okinawa.
Since World War II, the US military has crowded the small island, which makes up less than 1% of Japan’s land mass but hosts 62% of the America’s forces in the country. The Japanese government officially sanctioned the military’s presence in 1951, but then, it had little choice. After World War II, the US had stripped Japan of its army and then offered to protect the nation in return for uncontested land use.
But many Okinawans, their island carved up by army bases and the sound of planes and helicopters constantly roaring overhead, feel the arrangement has run its course. “The government should know,” said the Governor of the Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday, “that the anger of the people in Okinawa is almost reaching a limit and it is not [right] to sacrifice Okinawa people for military bases anymore.”
The whole scenario feels like history on repeat — a fact that only adds to Okinawans’ frustration. In 1995, three US servicemen raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl, and 50,000 Okinawans took to the streets in anger. “We Okinawans are rather gentle people,” said one protester at the time. “But this rape, this time…we feel we cannot put up with any more.”
The 1995 incident was an echo, too. In September of 1970, a drunk American serviceman killed a Japanese woman in a hit-and-run, and was acquitted by a military court. There had already been hundreds of crimes committed by military personnel that year, including an attempted rape of a Japanese schoolgirl, but the drunk driving acquittal was the last straw.
When, on the evening of December 20th, 1970, yet another drunk American serviceman hit an Okinawa pedestrian, locals did more than just protest — they rioted. More that 3,000 people took to the streets of Koza, Okinawa, chanting “no more acquittals”, “Yankee go home” and “don’t insult Okinawans.” The rioters began to attack Americans — dragging them out of vehicles and beating them in the streets. The group proceeded to the Kadena Air Base, where they set administrative buildings ablaze. By the morning, 60 Americans were hospitalized, and 80 cars sat torched in the streets.
The Koza riot, as it came to be known, touched on a variety of sources of Okinawan frustration. First, there was the poor behavior of servicemen, who were known to drink heavily and act belligerently, sometimes violently. Then there was the issue of fair punishment. When a serviceman committed a crime, he could be apprehended by local authorities but was to be immediately handed over to the military. In an article about the Koza riot, Christopher Aldous explains:
“In short, it was not so much the crimes and misdemeanors that caused such resentment and anger, but rather the palpable sense that a crime committed against an Okinawan went unpunished, that military justice meant no justice for Okinawans.”
Not much changed after the riot, though. And not much changed after the 1995 mass protests, either. Recently, the US has made a greater attempt to control the behavior of its personnel — after this year’s incidents, it has placed all troops under a strict curfew and banned drinking off-base, a first for the military.
But the protesters’ demand that the US withdraw entirely from Okinawa is, at present, little more than a pipe dream. Okinawa played an important role in US strategy during the Vietnam War, and remains prime military real estate. The US has no intention of giving it up.
“We deeply regret this incident and express our heartfelt sympathies for the accident victims and their families,” said the commander of US forces in Japan after this month’s car crash. Curfews and condolences may not satisfy Okinawans, but it’s likely all they’ll get.
New era of warfare on brink as Army robots take on more advanced obstacles
Posted On April 29, 2020 15:51:14
Robotic assault breacher vehicle
Some interesting implications are on the line with the success of new military robots. The U.S. Army has been experimenting with robots in hopes of creating a more competent unmanned instrument for battle. The robots took on a variety of complex tasks, each associated with a real-world battlefield application—like sorting through minefields and clearing anti-tank trenches. Not only were the robots successful, but they actually began to complete the tasks faster with each successive attempt. The exercises took place at Yakima Air Base (WA).
Some military robots have mundane uses like these LS3 “robot mules” designed to carry heavy gear and cargo.
The Yakima Air Base exercises were spearheaded by Lt. Col. Jonathan Fursman and Capt. Nichole Rotte of the 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion. The team was tasked with creating complicated breach obstacles (within the context of “a realistic and plausible scenario”) for the robots to overcome.
According to Defense News, these breaches included: anti-tank trenches, minefields, and razor wire. The robots also had to breach all of the obstacles while under fire while paving the way for a counterattack into enemy lines.
The exercise was also monitored by a quadcopter, deployed under the watch of the Alabama National Guard, to monitor the use of any chemical, nuclear, or biological agents used. Another separate unit, using an unmanned Polaris MRZR vehicle, shrouded the breach with a smokescreen that clouded the field and heavily impaired (human) vision.
A “battlefield extraction assist” bot prototype designed to transport wounded soldiers.
At the very start of the breach, the U.S. Army robots used two NGCVs to lay down clear lines of suppression fire at the “enemy.” In a bizarre backward glimpse into the future of warfare, a humvee controlling yet another humvee—was equipped with a 7.62mm gun. This robot-meta suppression fire humvee (I’m sure the Army will come up with another alphabet soup acronym for these in the coming years) was accompanied by an M113 armored personnel carrier (actually controlled by a human).
While the “enemy” was hunkered down by suppression fire, two ABVs (assault breacher vehicles) took on the actual obstacles laid out by Fursman and Rotte. These ABVs were controlled by the Marines Corps (as it is quickly becoming apparent that manned robots should be clarified).
The initial ABV led the way and cleared a safe path through the minefield—leaving stakes in the ground to highlight a path of safety through the exercise for the other ABV.
Could we see robot infantry within the decade?
The second ABV used a blade to fill a tank trench and, once filled, led a clean path for allied forces to form an assault on the “enemy.”
According to Defense News, via Rotte, the initial breach exercise took “two and a half hours,” but the subsequent attempt took only two hours. The second, faster, attempt matches the same time frame it would take human soldiers to complete the same task. This leads us to the important question: are we on the brink of seeing robotic warfare replace boots on the ground?
The answer lies only in how quickly these machines can begin to operate efficiently and be productive on a mass scale. There were some hangups in the exercise, such as latency issues (lag, as gamers would call it), camera feed problems, and other hiccups. Reports indicate that none of these posed too much of an issue.
The unmanned machines were easy to control. Finding human soldiers to operate the machines isn’t necessarily a problem, as the machines in this exercise were all operated with a standard Xbox One controller—seeing as most members of the armed forces have trained themselves with the intricacies of an Xbox controller in their spare time.
So as unmanned operations become simultaneously more efficient logistically, and more simple practically—the idea of taking boots off the ground in place of robots isn’t a matter of if but a matter of when. If these exercises are any indication of the nearing of that all-important when—then we are well on our way to seeing a new era of battle in which casualties will be measured in gears and bolts.
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The Battle of Okinawa
The Battle of Okinawa started in April 1945. The capture of Okinawa was part of a three-point plan the Americans had for winning the war in the Far East. Okinawa was to prove a bloody battle even by the standards of the war in the Far East but it was to be one of the major battles of World War Two.
Alongside, the territorial re-conquest of land in the Far East, the Americans wished to destroy what was left of Japan’s merchant fleet and use airstrips in the region to launch bombing raids on Japan’s industrial heartland.
Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyus islands at the southern tip of Japan. Okinawa is about 60 miles long and between 2 and 18 miles wide. Its strategic importance could not be underestimated – there were four airfields on the island that America needed to control. America also faced the problem that they had not been able to get much intelligence information about Okinawa.
The Americans estimated that there were about 65,000 Japanese troops on the island – with the bulk in the southern sector of the island. In fact, there were over 130,000 Japanese troops on the island with more than 450,000 civilians. The Japanese troops on the island were commanded by Lieutenant- General Ushijima who had been ordered to hold onto the island at all costs.
Ushijima decided on his tactics – he would concentrate his forces in the southern sector of the island and station his men in a series of secure fortifications. If the Americans wanted to take these fortifications, they would have to attack the Japanese in a series of frontal assaults. Alongside the land side Japanese defences, the Japanese high command put their faith in the kamikazes which it was believed would inflict such serious casualties on the Americans in Okinawa that they would retreat.
The Americans land commander was Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner. He had 180,000 men under his command. The bay selected for the American landing was Hagushi Bay on the western side of the island. As with Iwo Jima, the landings were preceded by a period of intense bombardment but America’s forces were also open to attack from Japanese fighters flying out of Taiwan or Japan itself.
The attack on Okinawa was scheduled for April 1st 1945. In the days leading up to it, the Americans had landed some units twenty miles southwest of Hagushi Bay to secure an anchorage. By March 31st, this landing force, comprising of the 77th Division, had secured its position.
Kamikaze attacks were being experienced by the American navy anchored off of Okinawa. Out of the 193 kamikaze plane attacks launched against the American fleet, 169 were destroyed. Those planes that got through did caused a great deal of damage especially to America’s carrier fleet that did not have armoured flight decks – unlike the British carriers. However, the destruction of so many kamikaze flights did a great deal to undermine the potential for damage that the kamikazes could have inflicted.
For the actual invasion, America had gathered together 300 warships and 1,139 other ships. The first landing of Marines did take place on April 1st. They met little opposition and by the end of the day 60,000 American military personnel had landed at Hagushi Bay. By April 20th, all Japanese resistance in the north of the island had been eradicated except for some guerrilla activity.
The real battle for Okinawa was in the south of the island. On April 4th the XIV Corps (US 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th infantry divisions) ran into the Machinato line. This brought to a halt the advance of the Americans in the south of Okinawa. The Machinato line was finally breached on April 24th. However, it then had to confront the Shuri Line which further slowed the American advance. Together with the success of the kamikazes who had sunk 21 American warships and badly damaged 66 other warships, American forces experienced heavy losses.
On May 3rd, Ushijima ordered a counter-attack but this failed. By May 21st, Ushijima ordered his men to pull back from the Shuri Line. However, the resistance by the Japanese stood firm. It was only into June that it became obvious that the Japanese had lost the fight for Okinawa. On July 2nd, Okinawa was declared secure by the Americans – Ushijima had committed suicide some days before this.
The American flag planted in Okinawa
The attack on Okinawa had taken a heavy toll on both sides. The Americans lost 7,373 men killed and 32,056 wounded on land. At sea, the Americans lost 5,000 killed and 4,600 wounded. The Japanese lost 107,000 killed and 7,400 men taken prisoner. It is possible that the Japanese lost another 20,000 dead as a result of American tactics whereby Japanese troops were incinerated where they fought.
The Americans also lost 36 ships. 368 ships were also damaged. 763 aircraft were destroyed. The Japanese lost 16 ships sunk and over 4,000 aircraft were lost.