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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 142-151

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Himeyuri Student Nurses

Editor's Note

The Battle of Okinawa--later called, because of its savagery, the "Typhoon of Steel"--claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. Included among the dead were girls aged fifteen to nineteen from the Okinawa Women's Normal School and the First Prefectural Girls' High School. A total of 219 students and 18 teachers from the schools were mobilized as nurses attached to the Haebaru Army Field Hospital, and another 79 students and 3 teachers were dispatched to other medical units. More than 200 of them were eventually killed.

Adding to the tragedy and futility of their deaths is the fact that many of the girls survived the bombardment of the battle; the majority were killed after the defeat of the Japanese army was already a certainty. In the midst of heavy fighting on Kyan Peninsula and the disintegration of Japanese forces, the military abruptly disbanded the corps of nurses. On 18 June, the defenseless girls were ordered out of the caves where Japanese soldiers were hiding, but were forbidden to surrender. As a result, during the fire storm of American bombardment, reinforced by u.s. infantry with tanks and flame throwers, the young nurses were denied not only protective shelter but also rations of food and water reserved for the military. In the next five days--during which all organized resistance collapsed--most of the young girls were killed.

The Himeyuri Peace Museum was modeled after the main school building in which the girls had once studied. It contains portraits of all the young victims who died after the military's retreat to the southernmost tip of the Kyan Peninsula, panels explaining the circumstances under which they died, twenty-eight volumes of testimonials and memoirs by 90 survivors, and a life-sized diorama of Himeyuri Cave. The testimonials bring to life each phase of the battle, as witnessed by the student nurses.

The Himeyuri Alumni Association writes, "Today, memories of the battle are fast being eroded away by the passage of time....We are determined all the more to do our best to tell our stories of war, and by exposing the brutality and insanity of war, to never allow it to happen again." [End Page 142]


Yabiku Toshiko (now Shimabukuro Toshiko)
Then 17 and a junior, Preparatory Course, Women's Normal School
Assigned to Itokazu Detachment

It was 1 May when fifteen of us were taken from Haebaru to the Itokazu Detachment cave, now called Abuchira gama (cave), by our teacher, Oshiro Chizen. There were only about twenty medical personnel--including military surgeons Oshiro and Nishihira, one nurse, several corpsmen, and us --taking care of some seven hundred patients. The cave was always filled with an odious smell. The stench was unbearable, so it was almost impossible to nurse the wounded or tend to their wounds.

I can still hear the cries and shrieks of those soldiers in the throes of death during surgical operations. It was hell itself. We didn't have enough anesthetic, so doctors administered it just enough to ease their patients' tension.

One patient begged desperately, "That's enough! Doctor, kill me! Just kill me now!"

"Shut up! You can't put up with this much pain?! You're a Japanese soldier, aren't you?!" the surgeon shouted at him.

By mid-May, you could tell the condition of the patients had gotten really bad. All of them were smeared with pus, and lice crawled all over their bodies. The number of brain-fever and tetanus patients rapidly increased. Completely deranged, brain-fever patients were really terrible. They'd suddenly stand up and start walking, trampling seriously wounded soldiers lying in the cave.

"Take this madman somewhere else!" panicked soldiers would shout. Medical corpsmen would rush to the scene and take him further into the cave. "Where are you taking him to?" somebody would ask, but the corpsmen never replied.

Tetanus patients developed cramps in their legs and arms, finally getting lockjaw. When they reached that point, they...