By Gary Schaefer
The writer, a U.S. Embassy diplomat who assisted Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs with logistical arrangements for the ceremony.
Gary Schaefer is a Political Officer who has been working at Japan's Foreign Ministry since September 2011 as part of the annual Baker-Kato Diplomatic Exchange Program.
April 19 - Sixty-seven years ago almost 30,000 Japanese and Americans lost their lives in fighting on the black sands of Iwo Jima. Even today the scars of one of World War II's bloodiest battles are visible from high above the volcanic island.
Peering out the window of a Japan Airlines 737 carrying descendents of its Japanese garrison to a memorial ceremony last month, I could see the wreckage of concrete blockships sunk by U.S. forces in preparation for using Iwo Jima as a staging ground for an air assault on Japan's home islands. On the ground, shattered bunkers, rusted weapons and scattered memorials are a testament to the violence and valor that have become synonymous with the 36-day battle, memorably depicted by Hollywood in "Flags of our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima."
Shipwreck Beach: The wreckage of concrete blockships sunk by U.S. forces can be seen from the air.
A joint color guard opened the ceremony.
But a poignant ceremony held not far from the beach where the first Marines landed on Feb. 19, 1945, reminded me just how much the scars of war have healed. Some 250 Americans and 150 Japanese came together on March 14 for a "Reunion of Honor" to remember those who paid the ultimate price on Iwo Jima and to reaffirm the enduring friendship that our nations have built on their sacrifices. These joint commemorations have become a tradition - veterans groups from the United States and Japan have been hosting them since 1985. I accompanied the Japanese delegation to this year's ceremony in my capacity as an exchange diplomat at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which worked closely with Okinawa-based Marines on the logistical arrangements.
Retired Marine Lt. Gens. Lawrence F. Snowden and Henry C. Stackpole III lay a wreath on the Reunion of Honor memorial during the 67th Iwo Jima Reunion of Honor ceremony March 14. (Photo by Marine Cpl. Justin R. Wheeler)
Under a scorching tropical sun tempered by a steady ocean breeze, we gathered in front of a stone memorial inscribed in English on the side facing the beach and in Japanese on the side facing inland. Dignitaries including Deputy Chief of Mission Tong, Marine Lieutenant-General Kenneth Glueck Jr., and Parliamentary Senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi emphasized the need to preserve the memory of Iwo Jima for future generations.
The black sands of the beaches of this volcanic island contrast with the greenery inland.
It was especially moving to see the oldest surviving U.S. veteran of the battle, 91-year-old retired Lieutenant General Lawrence Snowden, bow to the Japanese delegation before delivering remarks on behalf of the Iwo Jima Association of America.
The reunions continued even after the ceremony ended. I was honored to interpret for Congressman Bruce Braley of Iowa, whose late father survived the battle of Iwo Jima, when he walked over to talk to the son of the Japanese officer who commanded the island's defenders, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. On March 14, Kuribayashi and all those who never left Iwo Jima were remembered for their bravery as the divisions between friend and foe were forgotten.