Working through the taxing heat, more than 40 U.S. Army volunteers carefully placed thousands of ceremonial candles at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Itoman City June 22 to honor the more than 250,000 Japanese and American lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa -- the third deadliest battle ever fought by U.S. service members.
The candles were lit during the Lamplight of Peace event the day prior to "Irei no Hi," or Okinawa Memorial Day, which has been revered across the prefecture since 1961. Together with volunteers from across the island, the Army volunteers made quick work of the set up and admired the beauty of the park and the Cornerstone of Peace Memorial.
"We really appreciate for Army volunteers support and dedication under the blazing sun," said event organizer Naoki Matsukawa. "Their hard work led to the success for the event. Those candles lighted up the Memorial park beautifully."
Army units from across the island, along with Family members, participated in the event and some even stayed into the evening to watch the candles on display. For many Soldiers, the event was a chance to show the local community that being a good ambassador is critical when stationed overseas.
"During this time, this was really important for [Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers] to come out and make sure that it was put out to all the units," said Spc. Erin Uttke, Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment. "Being a good ambassador means displaying to the people on this island what America stands for and what we represent," said Uttke who is on her second year on Okinawa and hopes to extend. "It's life-changing … you live on a tropical island, the culture is wonderful, the food is fabulous. There's nothing not special about being a Soldier on Okinawa."
For Directorate of Public Works employee Douglas Ledford, volunteering in the community is about respect and a shared experience that can help bridge divides.
"We're guests in another county," said Ledford. "The Army's relationship with the community is very important. I feel like the Army's relationship is pretty good right now, even though there's some issues overall. I hope it stays that way," he said.