On the 5th of December, a small ceremony will take place on the Japanese island of Okinawa in which tribute will be paid to all American veterans of Basque origin who died during World War II (WWII) in the Pacific, with special recognition for those who perished on the island. They were over twenty young Basque-Americans, six of them killed in Okinawa. Their identification and now visibility and public recognition are the result of the research project Fighting Basques: Memory of WWII, led by the homeland history association Sancho de Beurko since 2015. To date, more than 1,600 combatants of Basque origin have been identified in the United States Armed Forces, of which 1,100 biographies of both the veterans and their emigrant families have been completed.
This event is the result of a collaboration between the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and the Sancho de Beurko Association, under the auspices of the North American Basque Organizations (NABO).
The Battle of Okinawa (March 26-June 22, 1945) was the last major battle of the last world conflict, in which more than 12,500 American soldiers fell, including five Basques, and more than 36,000 were wounded, many of whom died after the battle. On the Japanese side, more than 77,000 soldiers and more than 100,000 Okinawan civilians died. A sixth Basque died on the island as a result of a tragic accident at the end of the war. This will be the first tribute on Japanese soil to our Basque WWII veterans.
Among them is Sergeant Joseph Uriola Alcorta, born in Boise, Idaho, on May 22, 1919, to immigrant parents from Bizkaia, Juan Urriolabeitia, a native of Markina, and María Dolores Alcorta, born in Ondarroa. Joseph enlisted in the US Army a few months before the United States entered the war. As a member of the 184th Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division he participated in the Aleutian Islands Campaign and in the battles of Kwajalein and Leyte. Joseph was killed in combat on April 7, 1945, in Okinawa, at the age of 25. He received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, posthumously, for saving the life of a wounded comrade in the Philippines.
Dr. Pedro. J. Oiarzabal, co-principal investigator of “Figthing Basques,” will travel to Okinawa to participate in the event. He will also take the opportunity to see WWII memorials first-hand, as NABO will soon launch a fundraising campaign with the goal of establishing the first national WWII memorial to publicly recognize the selfless service of Basque and Basque-American veterans.