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IWO TO, Japan - Thirty two Sailors from the forward-deployed amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42), along with elements of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) attended the Reunion of Honor ceremony on Iwo To, formerly known as Iwo Jima, on March 14. The ceremony commemorated the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Almost 28,600 American Marines and Japanese soldiers lost their lives defending the 8-square mile island, which saw some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. On this day, veterans, their family members and dignitaries from both sides came together to honor the men who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their countries.
Before the start of the ceremony, Sailors had the opportunity to walk around the beach the Marines stormed almost 70 years ago. They had the chance to view remnants that have stood the test of time, such as an old bunker and various ships that lined the shore. They also spoke with several veterans of that long ago battle and heard first hand about their experiences.
During the ceremony, various speakers discussed the war and how both nations have become close allies over the years and how each side remembers the brave men who sacrificed their lives for their respective countries.
“The battle of Iwo Jima was a fierce battle, rarely seen in the history of war,” said Yasunori Nishi, president of the Japanese Iwo Jima Association. “Here, I would like to pray for the repose of the souls of the heroes of Japan and the United States and to offer consolation to their families, whose deep sorrow will never disappear.”
Ichiro Aisawa, a member of the House of Representatives of Japan and president of the Parliamentary League for Iwo Jima, said since that time, both nations have enjoyed a successful relationship with each other.
“The world today is faced with new threats,” he said. “Japan and the U.S. are now working hand in hand to achieve international peace and stability. I believe such cooperation console the souls of soldiers from both countries who fought and died on this island. We should never forget that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today is built on the sacrifice of these soldiers.”
Kurt Tong, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, thanked the surviving warriors of Iwo Jima for the sacrifices they made for their country, reminding everyone of the purpose of the ceremony.
“We gather here today to pay our respects to the young American and Japanese who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries on this very ground on which we stand exactly 67 years ago,” he said. “We are proud to also honor the veterans of this battle who are here with us today, as well as veteran’s family members, and all who have born the burden of the memories of this battle over the years that have passed, and those who have felt the memories and echoes of the sacrifices of war. To you all, we owe a great debt for our ability to stand here together today.”
After the ceremony, Sailors and Marines once again mingled with the veterans, taking photos and listening to them reminisce about their experiences on the island. For those in attendance, the experience of visiting the island and talking with the veterans who personally witnessed and participated in the battle was a humbling event.
“I think this ceremony was really wonderful,” said Information Technician 3rd Class Valerie Hadley. “It was humbling to be here where so many people died defending their respective countries.”
Hadley also commented she especially enjoyed talking to the veterans and getting a real understanding of what they experienced during the battle.
“There was one veteran who told me a story about how he went into one of the caves and found maps with all the enemies’ position,” she said. “It was amazing how many things were still fresh in his mind after so many years. I’m very glad I had the chance to experience this today.”
Germantown, commanded by Cmdr. Carol McKenzie, was commissioned Feb. 8, 1986 and is capable of carrying more than 721 Sailors and Marines. Germantown recently completed CG12, along with USS Tortuga (LSD 46), and reports to Commander, Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, Rear Adm. J. Scott Jones, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.