A Trip Of Nostalgia

Marjorie W. Moore

© Copyright 2002 by Marjorie W. Moore

Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.

My husband has told stories of his time in Okinawa at the end of World War II and one day said that he would like to see it again. I decided that such a trip would be a perfect one for his 80th birthday and so we went. This is the story of our successful travel to a beautiful island, a place of memory.

It was a trip of nostalgia. Raymond had been stationed in Okinawa in 1945-1946 and had a desire to go back. His time of service at the 9th Station Hospital had been satisfying. He had arrived in Okinawa two months after the war with Japan had ended and four months after the Battle of Okinawa had so nearly decimated the southern part of the island.

Buying a tour to Okinawa and the Islands of Japan left us wondering what we would find. Time was spent looking at old photos he had brought home with him and talking about some of his experiences. We set out with hopeful hearts. On the first full day in the capital city of Naha, we looked in the hotel lobby at the travel literature there, but unfortunately we could not read Japanese. A kind gentlemen recognized our dilemma and brought us from the back room a map of Naha in English. We spent some time in our room poring over the map and comparing it to Raymond’s remembrances of the area. He had been to Naha in those early years and it was not far from the location of the permanent hospital, constructed of Quonsets.

Looking again at his pictures, we marveled that Naha, a city of 60,000 before the war, had been almost completely leveled. Now, looking out our hotel windows we could see a thriving city of over 200,000 with no buildings older than 56 years. In one direction we saw, overlooking the harbor, a gateway to a Shinto Shrine. The gateway looked like the one in his photograph. We made mental note that we could walk to it if we had time and perhaps learn more. But in the meantime, we needed to find out where the hospital unit had been stationed. From the lay of the land, it looked as if it might be where the Convention Center now stands.

We found the bus terminal and asked in English when and where we could catch a bus to the Convention Center. We weren’t sure the attendant understood any words of English except Convention Center, but she brought out a timetable and circled the number of the bus and the hour of its departure. We went to the right gate and soon the bus arrived. We used the words “Convention Center” and the driver seemed to know where we wanted to go. Seeing more of Naha than we had ever imagined existed, and making frequent stops, we made our way around the city and out of the city limits at the north edge to the Convention Center. At one point I thought we were at our stop so went forward. “Convention Center?” The driver made me understand, but I still don’t know how, that we should get off at the next stop. Sign language is useful. The amount of fare was electronically displayed at the front of the bus. But we still had to figure out how to pay electronically. After help from a fellow passenger, we managed to pay and leave the bus.

We walked around the imposing complex of modern buildings to the beach and looked out to the China Sea. A hill behind us rose up from the beach and Raymond could identify that there had been tombs in that hillside and that the Officers’ Club sat atop it. This was it! We had found the site where the Quonset huts had sat and where he had spent many months. Excitement welled within us as we walked the area and then made our way back to the hotel via taxi.

When we returned, darkness was nearing and a light mist was falling but the next day was planned for us and we knew that, if we were going to see the gate to the Shinto Shrine, we must go. So we walked a few blocks and found the gate with a now rebuilt shrine beyond it. The steps up to the gate matched those in the photograph as did the harbor in the background. If we saw no more of memory on the trip, we were satisfied.

The next day, we took a bus to the southern part of the island to see a memorial to the students and teachers from an Okinawan secondary school and a normal school who had been conscripted to help in the war as factory workers and as nurses, then left to hide in caves and eventually die, some at their own hand. We also saw a peace memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa in June of 1945, not only Japanese, but soldiers of every country involved. From there we climbed up suicide cliff, a site Raymond remembered well. At the end of the battle, June 23, 1945, many Japanese soldiers threw themselves from the cliff rather than be captured. In October of the same year, the odor was still horrible from decaying bodies. Some of the U.S. soldiers had been looting the bodies, and the United States Army had bulldozed dirt over the bodies to stop them, but the odor still permeated the air.. Another memory awakened, though not a pleasant one.

The next day, a trip to Shuri Castle provided a look at the reconstructed Castle and Gate in the place of the ruins that were there. As we rose up the hill to the highest point in Okinawa, we spotted a church in what seemed to Raymond the spot where he had photographed a bombed-out Methodist Church in 1946. Memories.

After we left Naha, satisfied with what we had found, but always wondering if the other tour members really believed that an 80-year-old man could remember what he had seen 56 years earlier, we headed north to a Resort Hotel on the shore of the North China Sea. The Renaissance Hotel was built on a point of land and had a lovely beach and great views of the sea. To the north was a little island of Ie Shima, where World War II columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in 1945. The map confirmed the identity of the island. Raymond had seen that many times as he spent time wandering along the beach where the 9th Station Hospital spent two months in tents. Chills ran through us as we realized that, once again, we stood where he had stood before.

Though we spent several days on the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu after that, and enjoyed it all, we could have gone home at that point and felt that we had accomplished our goal. Now, when I hear of the South China Sea lapping at the back of the tents, the picture will be there, vivid in my mind.

Marjorie is a retired English Instructor, who, with her husband,enjoys traveling when she can work it in between volunteer work in church and community, doing things with the grandchildren, and other hobbies including genealogy, gardening, reading, writing, and knitting.  They live in south-central Iowa in their own home complete with fireplace, teapot,
and cat. She has edited and self-published a book of her mother’s memoirs to share with friends and relatives.

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