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President Thanks, Cautions U.S. Troops on Okinawa

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2000 – President Clinton thanked U.S. service members stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for their service, but reminded them they must be good neighbors to the Okinawans.

Clinton, on the island for the G-8 summit, told service members July 22 at Camp Foster Marine Base that they are the reason Asia is at peace.

You will never know how many wars you have deterred, how many deaths you have prevented, he said. But you know the number of wars that have been fought in these waters since the United States forces have been stationed here. That number is zero. You should be very, very proud.

While the U.S. presence is crucial to peace in the region, U.S. service members must understand Okinawans' concerns and be good neighbors. U.S.-Japanese relations have been rocked by misdeeds of American service members. The most heinous was the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three service members five years ago. Earlier in July, a Marine was arrested for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old girl while she slept at her home, and an airman was detained in a hit-and-run accident. Both incidents sparked demonstrations against U.S. presence on the island.

About 26,000 of the 47,000 American service members stationed in Japan are based on Okinawa. Japanese officials estimated more than 25,000 protesters gathered July 20 around Kadena Air Base, one of the Air Force's largest overseas installations.

We know our hosts in Okinawa have borne a heavy burden, hosting half our forces in Japan on less than one percent of its land, Clinton said. They, too, have paid a price to preserve the peace, and that is why we need to be good neighbors to them in addition to being good allies, why each one of us has a personal obligation to do everything that we can to strengthen our friendship and to do nothing to harm it.

He complimented the many American service members who volunteer to help at local schools, orphanages, hospitals and retirement homes.

Earlier in the week Clinton visited the Cornerstone of Peace Park on the island. The park commemorates the World War II Battle of Okinawa. The black walls of the monument in the park bear the names of 237,318 soldiers -- Japanese, American and British -- and civilians who perished in a ferocious 82-day battle.

It is a remarkable memorial, not just to one side in a battle, but to all the people who lost their lives, Clinton said. It is a stirring statement of our common humanity. And it strengthens our commitment to see that such a terrible thing never occurs again. That is why you are here. I don't want you to ever forget it, and I want you to always be very, very proud of what you are doing.

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