TOKYO, June 23 (Xinhua) -- Japan held a memorial service in Okinawa on Monday to commemorate the end of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attending the event.
About 4,600 people gathered at the Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle in the southernmost Japanese island, to mourn the victims.
"I lower my head silently, while closing my eyelids together with all the people of this country and etching deep in our hearts the fact that we owe our existence today to the sacrifices endured by Okinawa, and the blood and tears shed by its people," the Kyodo news agency quoted Abe as saying.
Yet a big question mark hangs over the sincerity of the Japanese prime minister, who has long been attempting to tamper with historical facts.
The Battle of Okinawa started in the spring of 1945, when U.S. forces landed on the main island of Okinawa and other islands in the area. The three-month battle claimed more than 200,000 lives, including some 94,000 Okinawa residents.
According to accounts of survivors, most of those dead Okinawa residents were not killed by U.S. troops, but slaughtered or forced to commit suicide by Japanese forces.
But Japanese rightists have been attempting to gloss over the horrific massacre. During Abe's first term as prime minister, the Japanese government attempted to depict it as a voluntary mass suicide by local residents to show their loyalty to the emperor, and altered history textbooks.
The distortion triggered strong dissatisfaction from Okinawa residents. In late 2007, Japanese textbook supervisors decided to restore the statement that Japanese forces forced Okinawa residents to commit suicide.
Okinawa residents are also concerned that Abe's recent move to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution to lift the self-imposed ban on collective self-defense would once again leave Okinawa in the shadow of war.
In his remarks, Abe also promised to continue to lessen the base-hosting burden on the people of Okinawa, home to roughly 74 percent of the facilities exclusively used by the U.S. military in Japan.
Hirokazu Nakaima, governor of Okinawa, also stressed the need to stop operating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in five years and demanded its relocation outside of Okinawa.
The presence of U.S. bases has come under increasing fire from local residents, who have long been outraged by crimes committed by U.S. service members and crashes of U.S. military aircraft.