Seventy years on, Japan, U.S. remember epic Iwo Jima battle

Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:39am EDT
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By Linda Sieg and Mari Saito

TOKYO (Reuters) - When Yoshitaka Shindo was a boy, he did not hear much from his family about his grandfather Tadamichi Kuribayashi, commander of the Japanese troops who fought and died in the bloody battle of Iwo Jima.

The battle, in which nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines and almost 22,000 Japanese defenders died, was etched in America's memory by an Associated Press photo of six soldiers raising the U.S flag on the small volcanic island's Mount Suribachi.

For many in Japan, however, it was long a tragic defeat best forgotten.

"Human beings don't want to talk about what is most painful," Shindo, a conservative ruling party lawmaker and former member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, told Reuters in an interview.

"As a child, I was told that my grandfather worked diligently for the sake of the country and that he was a very gentle person. But as for details such as what happened when, neither my grandmother or mother really spoke about that."

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Health Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki will attend a memorial service with U.S. representatives on Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary of the epic 36-day battle.

More ordinary Japanese are now aware of the battle, in which just 1,083 Japanese defenders escaped death, in part because of Clint Eastwood's 2006 film "Letters from Iwo Jima", inspired by letters from Kuribayashi to his family on the eve of the battle.

But the years of silence have left a gap that makes it harder to pass on wartime experiences to younger Japanese.   Continued...

A smaller version of the United States Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia  is seen at sunset at Marine Corps Base Hawaii December 31, 2014.    REUTERS/Gary Cameron/Files