Colorized Photo of a Soldier cutting hair amongst ruins during the Battle of Okinawa, June 10, 1945

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Colorized photograph of Pvt. Troy Dixon (standing) and Sgt. John Anderson (seated), Members of the 363rd Field Artillery Battalion, using a Japanese barber chair to cut hair on 10 June 1945 near Shuri, Okinawa.
Colorized photograph of Pvt. Troy Dixon (standing) and Sgt. John Anderson (seated), Members of the 363rd Field Artillery Battalion, using a Japanese barber chair to cut hair on 10 June 1945 near Shuri, Okinawa.
Credit: Richard White

The Battle of Okinawa took place on the island of Okinawa, one of the main islands of Japan, during World War II. United States Marine Corps and Army forces invaded nearby islands before launching an invasion on Okinawa itself on 1 April 1945, though the battle is said to have lasted from March 26th (when the Kerama islands were captured) to July 2nd. The battle has been called a “typhoon of steel” in English, while Japanese names include “rain of steel” and “violent wind of steel”, due to the ferocious fighting that took place.

After capturing the Kerama Islands in five days, US forces landed on the western coast of Okinawa while deceiving the Imperial Japanese Army by also sending forces to the southeastern coast. This allowed them to sweep throughout Okinawa from multiple points, capturing Kadena, Yomitan, and the Motobu Peninsula within a week. While Japanese forces were cleared from their defensive positions in the north of the peninsula, the Americans began to head south, battling against outposts guarding the Shuri Line. Using fortified caves around Shuri, Japanese soldiers hid and sprung out at the invaders while forcing civilians to provide water and supplies for them.

From April 12th, Japan began to take an offensive stance, resulting in bitter battles in the night that were repelled by the Americans. From there, switching between offensive and defensive strategies, both sides continued to push back and forth for control of the territory.

Original Black and White version of Private First Class Troy Dixon, Leadhill, Arkansas, uses a Japanese barber chair to cut the hair of Sergeant John Anderson, Anita, Pennsylvania Both men are members of the 363rd Field Artillery Battalion., located near Shuri. Okinawa, June 10, 1945.
Credit: National Archives // Public Domain

Monsoon rains in May forced the soldiers to return to World War I environments as mud dominated the battlefield. It affected the retrieval of the wounded and dead greatly, with flooded roads and body-strewn fields. 

The Japanese forces abandoned the Shuri line and retreated under the monsoon weather to the Kiyan Peninsula, a decision that led to thousands of civilian deaths. From June 4th to June 21st, the Japanese resistance was assaulted continuously by the invaders, with many, including 4000 sailors and multiple officers, committing suicide.

Said to be the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War, the Battle of Okinawa resulted in the deaths of 150 thousand civilians, 77 thousand Imperial Japanese soldiers, 14 thousand American soldiers, and several hundred other nationalities. Okinawan civilians were drafted into the Japanese resistance or were killed, including 2000 students aged 14-17. Many more were exposed to the war: houses shot at, women raped, and starvation.

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