Interview — The War Stories by the Experienced

Ume Miyahira

b.1923 from Zamami

Kerama Airstrikes on March 23

On March 23, I went to cook rice for the Japanese soldiers
I went in the morning, as usual
When I was trying to start a fire
A soldier said to me,
“You cannot start a fire today”
“Evacuate to the maintenance company bunker”
The information today is worse than usual and so evacuate
So I went to the maintenance company bunker
I didn’t do anything in the bunker
We were just hiding in the bunker all day
The soldiers told us rice cooking girls to come
So we answered, “yes” and went
We climbed up from a sunken spot
And looked out to the west as we were told
We saw a peaceful ocean
Very beautiful, with not a single wave
“It’s so nice out”, we said
Then were told to look at the horizon
When we looked ahead with a telescope to see
Not a ship, but something like it was pulling an island
Tall ships and low ships
Lined up and headed towards us
I will never forget
We were told by the soldiers
“We are about to go in battle”
“But if women are with us soldiers, it’ll set us back”
“We won’t be able to fight properly”
“So you all need to go home”
Our families had already evacuated
We don’t know which mountains they hid at
But I looked for my family frantically shouting,
“Mom, the Mobile Forces are coming!”
Meanwhile, soldiers were going around each houses
Looking for the families that took care of them
To tell them that the Mobile Forces would arrive soon
So they came to say their goodbyes before leaving for battle
We were looking for our own families
An headed towards the mountains
Trying to run the other way
Because they’ll be coming from this way
Everyone in the village followed the crowd
And frantically headed to climb the mountain
We couldn’t all be together
So we scrambled and ran
Once we climbed the mountain we could see the ocean
Even though we were scared, once we looked towards the ocean
The fleet of ships that looked like an island from afar
Had already come towards Tokashiki
With so many ships that covered the water surface

Moving to Shijiyama (Sugi-Mountain) and Self-Determination

The mountain where we evacuated to called Shijiyama
Was the tallest mountain in the village
Behind this mountain were enclosed spaces in between mountains
We escaped in this hollow space
The U.S. Forces shoot towards the highest point of the mountain
Because they knew
That was the Japanese Army’s headquarters
They shot aiming at the Japanese Army’s headquarters
Bullet fragments and debris of the Japanese Army’s headquarters
Came falling down like fireworks
For about a month, we all gathered
In Shijiyama (Sugi-Mountain)
Not quite gather but
More like we had no where else to go
There were some trees remaining in the enclosure between the mountains
But everything else had burned down, leaving no where to else to hide
Everyone in the village would just rather die together
So they gathered
“Once the U.S. Forces land (and we become captives)”
“Young women would get tossed around like toys”
“The elderly and children would get killed”
That was what we were told
Death would be better
Than getting tossed around
I wasn’t scared to die, I was envious of the dead
“How lucky of you, you don’t have to go through any of this”
I would say to them

About Food Shortage

Living in the mountains,
We were able to manage it at first
But after 5 months food became scarce
There were many soldiers too
No vegetables or kantaba (potato vines) left
We went to the field in the mountains to get them
But there was nothing left anymore
Next, was the rice (from the food storage)
The food storage was blown to pieces
I brought rice that had bugs in it
When you wash the rice, about two-thirds
Were floating with bugs
I scooped just the rice that sunk
And put it in the pot
For vegetables, if we had Japanese silver leaves,
Mulberry leaves and potato vines, we would chop them up
Take powdered miso and powdered soy sauce from the military
And add water into that
Once the vegetables cooked and withered
We added another basket full of vegetables
All the way to the rim of the pot
Filled the pot all the way and boil
We ate this
And got by with butterbur and mulberries

The Condition of Aka Island, Postwar

When we returned to the village
Houses were burned down and gone everywhere
But my house remained
A few households lived in one house
But we couldn’t keep living in those conditions
So we cleaned up the destroyed houses
We started by cleaning up the village first

American Soldiers Seen at Zamami Island

Even if we were at home
Once we heard the American soldiers were coming
We ran to where other people were
To try not to get caught
It wasn’t just me
Everyone was doing the same thing
We didn’t know the language so we couldn’t speak
We ran because we were scared

Handing Down the War Experience

Even when I try to tell others about the war
It’s hard to speak the truth
Unresolved feelings, although it’s in the past
I can’t get the Mobile Forces out of my head
When I try to tell my children
They tell me they don’t want to hear about it
I haven’t talked to my children about my experience in the war

A Message to Your Children and Grandchildren’s Generation

Please don’t have another war no matter what
We can never have another war
Please teach the young children
Not to have wars