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Mourning our past, celebrating the future

Senior Airman Benjamin Paille, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific trumpet player, plays Taps during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972, Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Senior Airman Benjamin Paille, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific trumpet player, plays Taps during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972, Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Staff Sgt. Joanne Griffin, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific vocalist, pauses for a moment of silence after pouring bourbon from the Blackened Canteen during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972, Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Staff Sgt. Joanne Griffin, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific vocalist, pauses for a moment of silence after pouring bourbon from the Blackened Canteen during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972, Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

The Blackened Canteen is filled with bourbon during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony at the top of Sengen hill, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. The bourbon from the canteen is offered to the American B-29 aircrew memorial. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

The Blackened Canteen is filled with bourbon during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony at the top of Sengen hill, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. The bourbon from the canteen is offered to the American B-29 aircrew memorial. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

A Buddhist monk makes initial preparations for a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. During the ceremony; flowers, incense and prayers were offered to the American B-29 aircrew and Japanese civilian lives lost. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

A Buddhist monk makes initial preparations for a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. During the ceremony; flowers, incense and prayers were offered to the American B-29 aircrew and Japanese civilian lives lost. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Col. Sergio J. Vega Jr., 374th Airlift Wing vice commander, places flowers on a memorial honoring thousands of Japanese civilians who died in World War II during a B-29 bombing raid, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972 Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Col. Sergio J. Vega Jr., 374th Airlift Wing vice commander, places flowers on a memorial honoring thousands of Japanese civilians who died in World War II during a B-29 bombing raid, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972 Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Col. Sergio J. Vega Jr., 374th Airlift Wing vice commander, left, and Chief Master Sgt. Christopher M. Yevchak, 374 AW command chief master sergeant, pay their respects to the victims of a U.S. Army Air Forces’ B-29 bombing raid during World War II, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972, Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Col. Sergio J. Vega Jr., 374th Airlift Wing vice commander, left, and Chief Master Sgt. Christopher M. Yevchak, 374 AW command chief master sergeant, pay their respects to the victims of a U.S. Army Air Forces’ B-29 bombing raid during World War II, June 24, 2017, at Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972, Yokota Air Base Airmen have volunteered their time to take part in a US-Japan joint memorial service to pay respect to those who lost their lives on June 19, 1945, during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Torres)

Yokota Air Base, Japan -- On the night of June 20, 1945, while on a bombing raid over Shizuoka City, Japan, two U.S. Army Air Forces’ B-29s from the 314th Bomb Wing collided and crashed killing 23 crewmen. In the same raid, over 2,000 Shizuoka citizens also died.

The next morning, Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh pulled two American Airmen from the wreckage who survived the crash but died shortly thereafter. Itoh gave the American crewmen and local residents a proper burial. He later began conducting an annual ceremony to those who had paid the price of war until his death in the early 1970s.

Since 1972, Yokota’s Airmen have volunteered to attend the US-Japan joint memorial ceremony and pay respects to those who lost their lives on this day.

“Today was extremely significant for me,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher M. Yevchak, 374th Airlift Wing command chief. “It’s a great symbol of today’s alliance that continues to grow stronger each year. It was absolutely an honor and a privilege being here representing 374 AW.”

The Blackened Canteen, which Itoh recovered from the wreckage and is believed to have the handprint of its former owner, is filled with bourbon whiskey and poured onto the crash site memorial symbolizing a final goodbye to the spirits of the fallen, both Japanese and American. It has since become a symbol of hope, inspiration and peace.

Through understanding the painful truths of war, promoting reconciliation and cooperation, some are able to appreciate opportunities for peace and prosperity.

“Without these ceremonies to pay respect to the victims of war, world peace cannot be accomplished,” said Dr. Hiroya Sugano, B-29 Memorial Ceremony host.