The Americans came into the life of Taeko Shimabukuro in waves of fighter planes 55 years ago, bursting into the quiet sky of this tiny fishing village with their roar and the whistle of falling bombs.
In one way or another, they never left. They destroyed Shimabukuro's house, but then fed her family. They won the heart of two of her daughters, then broke the heart of one. They became neighbors, spoilers, customers and in-laws.
Now, she fears, they will ruin the peaceful village that has been her only home.
In her 72nd year, Shimabukuro looks at the Americans who have been on her island since World War II through a lens of tears and joy. Many Okinawans, like this stout old woman, also see the Americans with a mix of sentiments that are being put to the test.
The confluence of two events--an upcoming conference of world leaders in Okinawa and a proposal to relocate a U.S. air base on the island to Henoko--is dividing Okinawans and pitting the Japanese and American governments against the people of Shimabukuro's small village.
While she should be doting on her great-granddaughter, Shimabukuro instead works a daily shift in a beach shelter that serves as Henoko's protest headquarters, a place for plotting strategy and drafting defiant declarations.
"Stop the base! The beautiful sea is for our children, not for helicopters!" read the protest banners.
The Japanese government wants to move the American Marine Corps' Futenma Air Base to Henoko from Ginowan city in central Okinawa, 25 miles to the south. And they want the plans for the move to be approved before the summit of the Group of Seven major industrialized countries plus Russia brings world leaders to Nago, just across the narrow island from Henoko, in July.
Government officials uniformly insist there is no connection between the decision to hold the prestigious, economically lucrative summit in Nago and the decision to move the base to Henoko. But the timing conveniently divides Okinawan interests and splinters the opposition that defeated a similar base relocation proposal in 1996.
"It's a bribe," said Hiroshi Ashitome, leader of a citizen's group opposed to the base relocation. "It's very clear today that the reason they brought the summit to Nago was to buy support for moving the base."
Shimabukuro sees only the likely end. With all the noise from the aircraft and disruption from the American base, "How can I continue to live here? They will destroy the peace and quiet I had expected for my life," she says.
The issue of the U.S. presence on Okinawa, and the memories that evokes, is not a simple one for Okinawa. Shimabukuro struggles to explain her conflicts.
"I have not talked of these things for many years," she said, sitting cross-legged. She is a woman shaped by the years who rises stiffly from the straw mats on the floor. She has silver-gray hair and smooth, buttery skin, and recounted her story with a self-amused smile.
When she was young, she recalled, she could wade into the cobalt sea at night and net fish by torchlight. But one day in 1944, she saw waves of aircraft approaching the shore. The Japanese soldiers on the coastline yelled "banzai," but quickly swallowed their cheers. These were not Japanese planes, but American bombers sent to begin the final campaign, to bring the war to Japan.
A few bombs landed on Henoko, burning the rice-thatch roofs. By early 1945, the raids had become numerous, and the invasion by American troops was imminent. Shimabukuro fled with her mother and two younger siblings to the mountain jungles for four months. "It was very difficult," she said. "There was nothing to eat. We would sneak down the mountain at night as the flares went off to try to get some food from the fields. But other refugees did the same, and there was not much to get."
At age 42, her father was drafted into the defense forces. When the other men returned from the war, he was not with them. Shimabukuro and her mother hoped he was a prisoner of war, but a year later they got a simple letter saying he had been killed in combat.
"There were no details. No bones. We just took several stones from the mountain and put them in his grave," she said.
The invasion of Okinawa in April 1945 was the only ground combat on Japanese soil, and it created one of the bloodiest battlefields of World War II. Civilians suffered most--more than 120,000 died, along with 90,000 Japanese soldiers and 10,000 American soldiers.
Despite this, Okinawans carried little personal bitterness toward the American soldiers into the postwar period, according to Etsujiro Miyagi, a former professor and historian.
"Nobody likes to lose a war," said another Henoko native, Muneyoshi Kayo, 77. "But there were many people here who felt a sense of liberation. Democracy came and for the first time we could speak freely without the military police listening."
In 1959, the Americans who had occupied Okinawa expanded their bases and built Camp Schwab near Henoko. It changed the rural nature of the village.
"We were asked to cut down trees for the base. We lost all that nature. And then the night business flourished," Shimabukuro said.
To entertain the GIs, a strip of seedy taverns grew on the hilltop above the town; it became known as "Bar Street." Shimabukuro joined the flight to easy money. She opened a bar called Cherries, employed a bevy of pretty girls who would flirt with the Marines, and charged them for champagne while the girls sipped sodas. Shimabukuro figured it was rightful revenge.
"I thought it was my turn. I thought I will squeeze some money out of them. I didn't hate them; they were the target of our life, because we earned the money from them to live," she said.
The same was true of much of Okinawa. As the Americans expanded their bases, gradually taking 25 percent of the main island, the subsistence economy of Okinawa gave way to dependence on the American military.
Such close association produced other liaisons. Shimabukuro's husband began working on a base. Two of Shimabukuro's five daughters married American soldiers from the nearby bases.
One moved with her husband to North Carolina; the other marriage failed, and that daughter returned to Henoko to raise their two children--Shimabukuro's grandchildren--here.
They learned to live with Camp Schwab, a relatively quiet ammunition dump and base with about 3,500 Marines and occasional helicopters landing.
The plans to move the Futenma base next to Camp Schwab would involve construction of a long runway into the sea, and relocation of 3,700 Marines and a busy airport of 45,000 takeoffs and landings each year.
Since it was built in 1945, Futenma has become encircled by the crowded housing and shops of growing Ginowan city. It is a disaster in waiting for an errant landing or takeoff.
"When I think of it, I get nervous," the base commander, Marine Col. John Metterle, said. "If we ever have a big problem, we're right in the middle of a heavily populated area."
The Japanese government, which will pay for the move, picked Henoko because it lacks that thick density and has proposed using the airport for civilian flights too. To the people of Henoko, their serene village will be lost.
But the Henoko villagers find themselves trying to pit their serenity and the potential disruption to the habitat of the local sea cow, called a dujong, against the vested international interests of both the United States and Japan.
"There is anger at both the Japanese and American governments," said Zenko Nakamura, in the busy Nago headquarters of a group opposed to the U.S. base. "Why should all the bases be forced on Okinawa?" For Shimabukuro, the prospect of the roar of U.S. airplanes over her house in Henoko carries echoes of a past she does not care to relive.
"I feel," she said, "like the Americans are coming again."
Special correspondent Shigehiko Togo contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Taeko Shimabukuro, who has mixed emotions about the U.S. presence in Okinawa, fears American plans to move an air base to her tiny fishing village.
CAPTION: In Nago, Okinawa, construction is moving slowly on the hall for the July summit of the Group of Seven industrialized countries plus Russia.