Japan’s Okinawa mourns lives lost in US military jet crash into school

An elementary school in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa held a memorial service to remember the lives lost when a US military jet crashed into the school 63 years ago killing 18 people.

During the memorial service on Thursday, a moment’s silence was observed and some of the 140 students in attendance placed flowers at a monument on which the names of the victims are engraved and rang the “Bell of Peace” that was put in the schoolyard as a memorial, local media reported.

The accident-prone F-100 warplane took off from Kadena air base before crashing into the residential neighbourhood of Ishikawa and careening into Miyamori Elementary school in what is now Uruma City, on June 30, 1959.

The crash involving the US military plane known for its accidents and mishaps, with 47 of its pilots killed in crashes during the aircraft’s lifespan, killed 18 people, 11 of whom were children and injured 200 others.

The US pilot ejected to safety and sustained no injuries, according to official accounts.

The incident sparked outrage in Okinawa at the time, which was still under US rule, Xinhua news agency reported.

Following the memorial service, relatives of those who lost their lives and those who were students at the school at the time of the fatal crash also paid their respects to the departed.

During the memorial proceedings, however, local media reported that US military planes could be seen flying near the school.

Local residents in Okinawa have for decades been forced to shoulder the burden of hosting the majority of US bases in Japan and have often been subjected to a steady flow of accidents and mishaps involving US military aircraft.

They have also had to endure US base-linked workers’ criminal activities, which have included heinous cases of rape and murder.

The Okinawa prefectural government and local citizens, as a result of their base-hosting hardships, remain staunchly opposed to the Central government’s ongoing push forward with the contentious relocation of the US Marine Corps. Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to a coastal region also on the island.

The overall plans for the new base involve at least 157 hectare of land being reclaimed from pristine waters off the Henoko area and the building of a V-shaped runway.

The plans stem from a pact made between the US and Japan in 1996, with the coastal region of Henoko being selected as the replacement site for the Futenma base in 1999.

The local and Central governments have long been at odds over the relocation of the base, with Okinawans calling for the new base to be relocated outside of their prefecture or Japan altogether.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan from post-war US rule, but many locals still feel occupied by US forces, due to the overwhelming number of US bases and troops still there.

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