TOKYO >> A brass band played under a blazing sun as American veterans and Japanese dignitaries gathered Wednesday on the remote island of Iwo Jima to mark the 67th anniversary of one of World War II’s bloodiest and most symbolic battles.
The guests from both nations stood to salute their flags near the foot of Mount Suribachi, where five U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the U.S. flag in 1945. An Associated Press photo of them would become the most iconic image of the Pacific war.
“Our prayer today is that the souls who died here are resting in peace,” said retired Lt. Gen. Larry Snowden, 91, who was a company commander on Iwo Jima. Snowden is the senior surviving officer of the battle. His address at the ceremony was broadcast live to media via a military link-up.
Fighting began on Feb. 19, 1945 and Iwo Jima was declared secure on March 26. Virtually all the Japanese soldiers defending the strategically located crag were killed in the battle, which claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives.
The island, 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) south of Tokyo, is now uninhabited except for a small Japanese military outpost. It is known in Japan as Ioto.
The annual memorial, called the Reunion of Honor, was canceled last year because of Japan’s devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami. American veterans have returned to the island each year since 1985.
Dozens of remains are recovered every year, but about 12,000 Japanese, along with 218 Americans, are still classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the island. In 2010, two mass graves that may hold the remains of more than 2,000 Japanese soldiers were discovered by search teams.
Iwo Jima was seen as key to the United States because it had an early warning radar station and three airfields used by Japanese fighter planes that posed a threat to U.S. bombing raids on Tokyo and Japan’s main islands.
The U.S. wanted the airfields for its fighter escort planes.