Monday, February 25, 2013

Mystery Monday or Military Monday? More from Nolan Lane's WWII Photo Album and the Japanese Passport

Passport of Maka Kanehawa
issued in Okinawa, Japan, 1931
Well, the search continues for more information about the strange Japanese passport found in my Uncle Nolan's WWII photo album.  (If you need to catch up on this story, click here and here.)

First of all, I got a great suggestion from fellow genealogy buff Heather Kuhn Roelker who writes the wonderful blog Leaves For Trees.  After reading my first post about the passport, Heather recommended that I contact the PBS show "History Detectives" to see if they might be interested in investigating the story behind the Japanese passport.  So I did just that!  I went to the History Detectives website and submitted my story.  It's probably a long shot, but at least it's worth a try, right?  Thanks so much for the suggestion and the encouragement, Heather!

I also spent some time this past weekend researching the Battle of Okinawa.  I specifically wanted to find out about the aftermath of the battle since this is what my Uncle Nolan and the 9th USN Construction Battalion (Seabees) encountered when they arrived in Okinawa in late June of 1945.  According to all the accounts I read, the Battle of Okinawa, which lasted from April 1, 1945-June 21, 1945, was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific as well as the largest sea-land-air battle in history.  There were numerous military casualties on both sides and over 100,000 civilian deaths and even more civilian injuries.  To find out about Maka Kanehawa, the original owner of the passport, I think my focus should be on these Okinawan civilians.

By all accounts, the Okinawan people endured tremendous pain and hardship during and after the Battle of Okinawa.  At the beginning of the battle, they were told by the Japanese military to go south, away from the advancing American forces.  Okinawans were also warned by their military that the American soldiers would rape and/or kill them.  So they fled south, taking refuge in caves, abandoned buildings, and makeshift structures.  As the Japanese army also retreated south, the civilians were driven out of even these meager living quarters so that the soldiers could use them.  Laura Lacey, in her account of the battle on Military History Online, notes that even at the start of the battle, 75% of civilian homes had been destroyed.  The Okinawan people, she writes, "were covered in lice and unclean, starved and injured from bombing, shelling, and bullets."  When American forces closed in, many civilians committed suicide rather than face the torture they feared from the Americans.

Thus, a land and it's people destroyed by battle is what my uncle and his fellow Seabees encountered when they arrived in Okinawa to construct roads, living quarters, work and communication centers for the American military that would establish a presence there for nearly thirty years.  Below are some more photos from Uncle Nolan's album that offer some visual details about what the Seabees found in Okinawa.

Nolan A. Lane (seated on left) & other USN Seabees in front of one of the
numerous caves used by Japanese civilians and soldiers during the
Battle of Okinawa, 1945

After doing this research, I wonder if my my colleague, Japanese teacher Nathan Patton, was on the right track about the owner of the mysterious passport.  Was Maka Kanehawa a casualty of the Battle of Okinawa?  That certainly seems possible.  Did she flee her home leaving her passport behind where my uncle found it among the ruins?  Did my uncle find the passport while searching through one of the caves where civilians hid, or maybe he found it simply laying on the ground where it had been dropped?

While doing my research, I also ran across several references to the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Okinawa, Japan.  Part of the park is a memorial which contains the names of all those who perished during the Battle of Okinawa.  I've found a contact email address for the park, and my next step will be to submit my passport story to someone there in hopes that they can help me discover Maka's story and actually return the passport to her family.  Stay tuned. . .


Laura Lacey, "The Battle of Okinawa," Military History Online, 2003

John Prados, "Battle of Okinawa," The Reader's Companion to Military History, Houghton, Mifflin, Harecourt Publishers, 1996, on

Nicholas Kristof, "The Darker Side of Okinawa," The New York Times, Jan. 21, 1996, on New York

"Okinawa Story," on Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial


  1. Beth you are very welcome! I also looked at the records on familysearch but didn't find any for Maka Kanehawa, or that family name. This is such an interesting but sad story. I haven't done a lot of research on the war in the pacific so you are definitely educating me. I can't wait to see where this goes.

  2. One of the many things I love about genealogy is how much history it teaches me. I knew very little about this WWII battle until I started searching for answers about the passport. I'm anxious to see where this goes, too, Heather! Thanks for reading :)