WWII's Baby Nurses: Remembering the Himeyuri Students

The haunting portraits of the Himeyuri students displayed at the Himeyuri Peace Museum.
Source: Yahoo! Japan
"Whenever I saw dead bodies on the ground, I thought I wanted to die before the others so they could bury me. My fear was to be the last one on Earth." 
   --Hideko Yoshimura, Himeyuri survivor (Japan Times, 2007)
Although they attended high school in Japan over 70 years ago, the girls of Okinawa Daiichi Women's High School and Okinawa Shihan Women's High School were, in essence, like any other high school girls you'd find in any place at any time. They giggle with their friends, shared secrets, played sports, and studied hard as they worked toward graduation. But unlike many other high school girls, the young women from the two high schools were mad to grow up quickly during the chaos of the last days of World War II. Shooting and basic nursing care lessons progressively took precedence over math and Japanese classes. Eventually, they traded their school uniforms and classrooms for nursing outfits and crude cave clinics. By the end of the Battle of Okinawa, 12,000 American soldiers, 200,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians, and 136 Japanese schoolgirl nurses perished. 

The Iwamakura Monument on which is inscribed
a poem dedicated to the fallen girls written by
Mr. Seizen Nakasone, one of the Himeyuri teachers.
It was erected on April 7, 1946.
Even in the chaos of war, how could those girls have imagined losing their lives in cave bombings? What raced through the minds of those who held grenades to blow themselves up in order to avoid capture? What were the last thoughts of those who leapt off the capes at the southernmost tip of Okinawa island toward an imminent death in the beautiful turquoise ocean? 

And what of the survivors who had no choice but to leave their friends to die and live on with indelible memories of crude surgeries and the smell of death? 

The Himeyuri Peace Museum may not answer these questions for you, but after your visit, you will feel the pain of the Himeyuri or "Lily Corps" girls. You will feel their heartache and the echos of their unfulfilled wishes caused by tragic, untimely deaths. 

Himeyuri was the name given to the military nursing unit formed by 222 students and 18 teachers from the two women's high schools. After training as part of the curriculum in 1944, the girls were sent to the front lines on March 23, 1945 to assist the Imperial Japanese Army. 


Reflection: 21 Solo Days Through East Asia

Overlooking the ocean in Okinawa.
Hiking, biking, laughing, crying...it seems I experienced it all when I took a 21-day trip through East Asia from mid-January to early February of this year.

I've taken a few solo trips before, but none were as long and extensive as this one. As day one of the trip approached, I felt a new kind of anxiety and excitement. 

Would everything pan out?

What would I learn about and see?

How would I hold up on such a long trip?

Have I finally gone too far?

I planned to travel by train, ferry, and airplane to each destination, just me and a suitcase. Expectations? I can't say I had any. Well, I knew I'd have to change currencies and SIM cards several times! But I truly didn't know what to expect. Comments from others on travel websites can only give a Pollock-style preview of what you might see on your travels. What others see and describe online may or may not be an accurate picture of your destinations. So, even in this technological age, traveling still means going off into the unknown.