Photo/IllutrationA photo shows a kindergarten pupil whose wound to the head was stitched up. (Provided by the Ishikawa Miyamori 630 Kai)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

URUMA, Okinawa Prefecture—Images of children injured in the worst postwar accident involving a U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa were unveiled for public view for the first time.

On June 30, 1959, a U.S. military jet crashed into Miyamori Elementary School in Uruma, which was formerly known as Ishikawa, killing 17 students and residents and injuring more than 200 people.

The photographs, taken by the U.S. military, show 32 injured children and others, including a victim whose wounded head was stitched with what appears to be wire and another whose arms were severely burnt.

Many victims underwent treatment at the U.S. Army hospital because Okinawa was under the mandate of the U.S. forces.

The images are part of more than 2,000 sheets of the U.S. official paper discovered at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

The Ishikawa Miyamori 630 Kai, a citizens group comprising victims of the accident and others, obtained the documents from the Okinawa East Asia Research Center, a nonprofit organization studying the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Masaharu Kudaka, 70, head of the group, who was a fifth-grader at Miyamori Elementary School at the time, described the photos as “being important in that they show how terrible the accident was.”

The group is looking to collect and publish accounts related to the 32 victims shown in the photos to pass down the tragedy for posterity.

In June, Tsukasa Nakama, 66, spoke of what he experienced on that day in front of the audience for the first time at an event organized by Kudaka’s group.

“It was like a living hell,” said Nakama, who was a second-grader at the school. “The classroom was illuminated in red by flames, and I ran home in desperation.”

While he had only his right arm burnt, six children who were studying in the same classroom were killed in the crash.

Nakama became a pediatric surgeon in the Japanese mainland. He returned to Okinawa at age 49 and now lives in Naha.

Still, Nakama had never spoken of his experience.

“I may have wanted to forget about the accident,” he said.

But Nakama felt he should explain what happened to him and his classmates.

Okinawa remains home to about 70 percent of the U.S. bases in Japan decades after its reversion to Japanese sovereignty, and a number of U.S. military aircraft accidents have been reported.

Following the crash of an Osprey transport aircraft in the waters off Okinawa in 2016, a U.S. military helicopter crashed and burned the following year.

“The circumstances have never changed,” Nakama said. “The worst accident may soon occur.”

In December, a U.S. helicopter window fell to the grounds of an elementary school near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in the prefecture.

“I survived the accident in a miraculous way,” Nakama said. “I feel that my life was saved so I could achieve something meaningful. It is my responsibility to tell my experience to others before I die.”