Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965

By Donna Alvah | Go to book overview

5
“Dear Little Okinawa”

While dining at the home of an Okinawan minister and his wife in the early 1950s, Air Force wife Marian Merritt asked her hosts about their experiences during World War II. “Can you imagine how I felt,” Merritt later wrote, “as they told of American planes wrecking their homes and American troops causing them to flee to the northern part of the Island, walking day and night, one woman, who was eight months pregnant, finally, having her baby by the side of the road?”1 The Battle of Okinawa during the spring and early summer of 1945 resulted in the deaths of 75,000 Japanese military personnel (including Okinawan draftees), along with tens of thousands of civilian Okinawans and 12,520 Americans, during the eighty-one days of combat.2 Altogether, over 148,000 Okinawans—between one-fourth and one-third of the prefecture's population—lost their lives in the war.3

Though saddened by the terrible losses suffered by Okinawans, Marian Merritt firmly believed that ultimately the war had enabled Americans to bring material and social progress to the Okinawan people. In her memoir, Is Like Typhoon: Okinawa and the Far East (derived from letters to her mother in Wisconsin), she wrote: “War is bad and we see and think so much of it here, but it has brought some good things to Okinawa—tremendously increased spread of Christianity, American help, better living conditions and an increased desire for improvement.”4 Convinced that Okinawans desperately needed American assistance and deeply concerned about their welfare, Merritt wanted to use her position as a military wife to help Okinawans recover from the war. Her personal concerns and efforts coincided with U.S. military policies and goals. After World War II the military mission in Japan included demilitarizing and democratizing the former enemy, rebuilding the devastated society and economy, and guarding against the spread of communism in Asia.

Marian Merritt and other military wives in Okinawa considered themselves part of the American international Cold War mission in the 1950s. In their charitable activities, church groups, and relations with maids, children, and other ordinary Okinawans, American women established

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Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Going Overseas 14
  • 2: Unofficial Ambassadors 38
  • 3: A U.S. Lady's World 81
  • 4: “shoulder to Shoulder” with West Germans 131
  • 5: “dear Little Okinawa” 167
  • 6: Young Ambassadors 198
  • Conclusion 226
  • Notes 235
  • Bibliography 261
  • Index 273
  • About the Author 291
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