Photo/IllutrationA replica of the damaged cross atop the reconstructed tower of the Shuri church in Naha (Ikuro Aiba)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAHA--An elderly woman froze when she looked up at a cross atop the renovated tower of the Shuri church here, remembering how she survived the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

The cross is a replica of the one damaged by the fierce ground battle. It appears just as the original cross did, with its steel frame exposed and its body and arms chipped.

“People’s memories of the war have been fading,” said Kazunari Takehana, 67, a pastor at the church. “We, as members of a Christian church in Okinawa, have a responsibility and a mission to stop the tragic history from being forgotten.”

In the closing days of World War II, a vast area of the Shuri district was reduced to ashes. But the cross of the Shuri church, which belongs to the United Church of Christ in Japan, barely withstood the destruction.

It served as a landmark for residents returning to their homes in the aftermath of the war.

Fumiko Higa, 82, who lived near the church, said she could find the church building easily when she returned to Shuri after the end of the war from evacuation, although she could not even locate Shuri Castle and other local landmarks.

“Although severely damaged, the church and cross stood there flying high,” Higa said. “I felt glad that they remained.”

The cross was replicated based on collected photos and accounts of people who viewed the wartime cross. Many people visited the Shuri church to see the replica in October, when the reconstructed tower opened to worshippers.

During the war, the headquarters of the imperial military was set up under Shuri Castle. The area around the castle was exposed to heavy shelling from the U.S. military, and the terrain changed due to the battle.

The cross, which was on the verge of collapse, was repaired with mortar. The church building underwent repeated renovations and continued to be used until it was torn down in 1984. The cross was transferred to a new chapel at the time.

In 2008, on the 100th anniversary of the church’s founding, church members proposed rebuilding the former church tower. They later unanimously decided to reproduce the damaged cross, instead of setting up a new one.