Japan marks 79th anniversary of Battle of Okinawa

The 79th anniversary of one of the fiercest ground battles in the closing days of World War Two is being observed on Sunday in Japan's southwestern prefecture of Okinawa.

More than 200,000 people lost their lives, including roughly one-fourth of Okinawa's civilians.

Okinawa recognizes June 23, 1945 as the final day of organized combat between Japan's now-defunct Imperial military and US-led forces.

A service to remember the dead will be held at Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman, where the final battle was fought.

An Okinawa-based think tank suggests the number of Okinawa residents who experienced the war is now less than 10 percent of the prefecture's population.

Last month, new footage was released of underground headquarters built by the Imperial Army beneath Shuri Castle. That is where it is believed a fateful decision was made that led to heavy civilian casualties in the prefecture.

Experts say that ways to convey the realities of the battle to younger generations are reaching a turning point as the number of survivors who can describe their first-hand experiences is decreasing.

Residents of Okinawa had hoped the prefecture would become peaceful. But about 70 percent of US bases in Japan are still concentrated in the southwestern prefecture.

Okinawa's role in Japan's security, and the burden it places on residents, are both growing.

The central government is advancing plans to strengthen the nation's defense capabilities in its southwestern islands, including Okinawa.

There are plans to deploy additional Self-Defense Force units in the region.

Sunday's anniversary will be a day for Okinawa citizens to renew their pledge for peace.