TOKYO (Reuters) - Former Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota, who as a student fought for Japan in the bloody Battle of Okinawa in World War Two and then campaigned to rid the island of U.S. military bases, died on Monday at the age of 92, his office said.
Ota, a historian, sprang to national and international attention as governor of the southern Japanese island at the time of big protests against U.S. bases following the rape of a Japanese girl by three American servicemen in 1995.
The protests led to a U.S.-Japan agreement in 1996 to close the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base and move its functions from a crowded part of the island to a less populous location.
But persistent resentment of the American military presence, associated by many residents with crime, pollution and accidents, has delayed the move for more than two decades.
“During the war, Okinawa became a bulwark for the defense of Japan and many people were sacrificed,” Ota, who fought in the so-called Blood and Iron Corps mobilized to defend the island, told Reuters in 2010.
About 140,000 civilians died in the three-month Battle of Okinawa, along with about 94,000 Japanese soldiers and more than 12,000 Americans.
“We don’t want Okinawa to become a battlefield again,” Ota said, explaining his opposition the bases on the island, host to the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan.
Ota was also critical of the Japanese wartime military and worried the lessons of Japan’s wartime past were being forgotten.
During his tenure as governor, he was responsible for the building of a “Cornerstone of Peace” monument in the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, on which the names of those who died in the Battle of Okinawa - regardless of nationality or whether military or civilian - are inscribed.
Ota, who received a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University in New York, was also a prolific author.
Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel