By Mark Weber
After more than half a century, facts about a grim chapter of World War II history are coming to light: the widespread rape by American military servicemen of local women on the Pacific island of Okinawa. The discovery in 1998 of the bones of three wartime US Marine Corps men, each one 19 years old and black, has – according to a New York Times report (June 1, 2000) – “refocused attention on what historians say is one of the most widely ignored crimes of the war, the widespread rape of Okinawan women by American servicemen.”
More than 200,000 soldiers and civilians, including one-third of the population of Okinawa, were killed in the April–June 1945 battle for the Pacific island.
As many as 10,000 Okinawan women may have been raped, one scholar estimates. Rape was so prevalent in the months following US subjugation of the island that most Okinawans over age 65 either know or have heard of a woman who was raped in the aftermath of the war. Marine Corps officials say they have no records of such mass rapes, but books, diaries, newspaper articles and other documents refer to rapes by American soldiers of various races and backgrounds. Apparently few if any Okinawan women reported being attacked out of fear and embarrassment, and those who did were ignored by the US military police.
The three black Marines whose bones were found in 1998, and who were identified by dental records, were apparently killed by men of the remote Okinawan village of Katsuyama because the three had repeatedly come to their village to rape their women. Elderly Okinawans who grew up in village told a New York Times reporter that three armed Marines would come to Katsuyama every weekend and force the village men to take them to their women, who were then carried off to the hills and raped. One day, villagers, with the help of two armed Japanese soldiers who were hiding in the jungle, ambushed three marines in a mountain pass. They were shot and beaten to death with sticks and stones, and their bodies dumped in a hillside cave. Because the three were black, the cave where their bodies were dumped became known as “Cave of the Negroes.”
“It would be unfair for the public to get the impression that we were all a bunch of rapists after we worked so hard to serve our country,” says Samuel Saxton, a retired Marine Corps Captain who has an interest in the case. There are no plans to prosecute anyone for the crimes.