From: Oregon, USA
April 25, 1945
Location: 280 miles north-northeast of Marcus Island
Attached to: TF 21
Mission: Surface combat
System Damage: 0
Float Damage: 0
Orders: Proceed south and raid enemy shipping
Nanami Ariga awakens early in the morning in her father’s cottage on Okinawa. For a moment she lies on her narrow sleeping mat, staring at the plastered ceiling. What sound has awakened her? Then she hears it again, a distant rumble of thunder.
Her grandmother enters the room, already dressed and moving briskly despite her years. “Come, child,” she says. “Get dressed quickly.”
“What is it, Grandmother?” says Nanami. There is something in her grandmother’s voice that quickly banishes her sleepiness. “I hear thunder. Is there a storm coming?”
“That is not thunder,” says Rin Shun grimly. “But there is a storm coming.”
As Nanami belts on her kimono and hurries out into the common room she hears the thunder again. It is coming from the south, she judges. But then she hears another sound, low but rapidly building in intensity. It is like nothing she has ever heard before.
Her grandmother is standing outside the front door, looking north. Nanami joins her. Already the sound, a vast droning noise, is growing quite loud. Nanami shields her eyes from the morning sunlight and follows her grandmother’s gaze. What she sees causes her to cry out in amazement and fear.
Airplanes are coming, hundreds of them. Their formations seem to cover the sky. Nanami had never imagined there were so many airplanes in all the world. Many of them are quite high, but other smaller planes are coming in ahead of them, coming in low and fast.
With a roar even above the general din two silvery fighters come in very low, following the road along the curve of the hill. They flash pass the cottage at almost eye level, close enough that Nanami can see the pilots in their cockpits. Nanami sees black bands on the fuselage behind the cockpit and between them the white American star in its circle, then the planes are gone.
Though she cannot hear them the four soldiers in their blockhouse down by the beach are all outside, pointing skyward and yelling to one another. They seem very agitated.
Slowly the planes pass, heading southward towards Kadina. As it becomes quieter Nanami hears the thunder-like rumbling again. It seems louder now. It sounds to Nanami as though it is coming from the village of Kunigami, a short ways to the south.
Her grandmother turns towards her. “Fill all the water jugs you can and take them to the root cellar,” she says. Then the old woman goes into the cottage and wrestles the old Lebel rifle down off the wall. Nanami runs to do as she is bid.
The root celler is located behind the cottage, a short ways upslope on the far side of the neat little terraced garden. Nanami struggles up the path from the pump, carrying two full jugs of water. As she does so her grandmother emerges from the back of the cottage. She has the rifle slung across her bony shoulders. Bags filled with food and other items dangle from both stock and barrel. Nanami puts down the water and runs to help her grandmother with the burden.
“Climb down and I will hand things down to you,” her grandmother says. Nanami lifts the stout wooden door and climbs down the ladder into the cool dimness below, where she is surrounded by the pleasant smells of earth and wicker and roots. This cellar was built by her father some years ago. The walls are lined with wooden planks and sturdy timbers support more planks overhead. It is by far the deepest and sturdiest such cellar Nanami knows of in the neighborhood and she has always wondered why her father built it so. Now she thinks perhaps she knows.
Nanami reaches up and takes the water jugs, the bundles of food, and the rifle. Then she climbs out and runs to fill the last two jugs of water. She pauses for just a moment to look out to sea.
Down the hill, across the road, and down past the beach with its blockhouse slow breakers roll in, sunlight glinting off the curling waves. Farther out is calm water and beyond that is the dappled water that marks the line of reef that runs offshore all along this part of the western Okinawa coast. Beyond the reef Nanami sees lean dark shapes moving slowly up from the south. She is a sailor’s daughter and knows warships when she sees them. She cannot see their flags from here but feels somehow certain they are not Japanese. As if to confirm this she sees a flash and billows of smoke from some of the ships. A moment later comes the thunder sound again.
“Quickly, Nanami!” calls her grandmother urgently. “Forget the water. Come here!” Nanami runs back up the hill as slope echoes to the sound of explosions from somewhere close by to the south.
Nanami helps her grandmother down the ladder and then follows, sliding the wooden door into place overhead. As it thunks into place the root cellar is plunged into darkness. Nanami carefully negotiates the ladder and then finds her grandmother’s hand. The two women sit against the far wall, nestled between two root bins. The faint vibration of explosions is transmitted through the earth and a little grit sifts down from between the tight-fitted boards overhead.
“I am scared, Grandmother,” whispers Nanami. And she is. Her hands will not stop trembling.
“I know, love,” says her grandmother. “Nanami, listen to me. Bad things may happen. You are going to have to be strong. Whatever happens, remember that you must live. You have a young man waiting for you and children in your future. Even if…” Her grandmother’s voice is cut off as a monstrous rumble comes through the earth. Items tumble off the shelves built into the wall on one side of the cellar and crockery shatters. The ground shakes like a wounded animal.
It is the blockhouse, Nanami thinks dazedly. They are shelling the blockhouse.
More explosions follow. The two women wrap their arms around each other and cry out, though the sound is lost amid the crash and din of the shelling. Timbers groan and earth spills down.
Then comes the mightiest blow of all. The concussion bounces the two women like rag dolls in a box. Nanami sprawls on the dirt, deafened. She tastes blood from a split lower lip. Then comes another roar, followed by the crack of breaking timbers. Something crashes into the back of her head and in the darkness of the root cellar Nanami is swallowed by an even deeper blackness.