U.S., Japanese Tradition Honors the Fallen

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Savary, 730 Air Mobility Squadron communications administrator, salutes during the playing of the National Anthem

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Savary, 730 Air Mobility Squadron communications administrator, salutes during the playing of the National Anthem, June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. Savary was one of many Yokota Airmen who volunteered to participate in the 46th annual B-29 Memorial Ceremony, which commemorated lives lost during a bomb raid over Shizuoka City during World War II.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William Villegas, 5th Air Force deputy director, participates in an incense ceremony

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William Villegas, 5th Air Force deputy director, participates in an incense ceremony during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. During the ceremony, flowers, incense and prayers were offered to the B-29 aircrew and Japanese lives lost. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

Flowers and whiskey are placed by the B-29 Memorial during a ceremony

Flowers and whiskey are placed by the B-29 Memorial during a ceremony June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972 Yokota Airmen and Japanese citizens have come together to honor those who lost their lives during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka City. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

U.S. Air Force Col. Tanya J. Anderson, 374th Mission Support Group commander, speaks during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony

U.S. Air Force Col. Tanya J. Anderson, 374th Mission Support Group commander, speaks during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. Anderson spoke about the importance of how having compassion for one another can evolve into a close partnership. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

Japanese military leadership present flowers

Japanese military leadership present flowers during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. The ceremony honored the 23 American Airmen and over 2,000 Japanese live lost during a bombing raid over Shizuoka City. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

U.S. Air Force Col. Tanya J. Anderson, 374th Mission Support Group commander, pours whiskey on the B-29 memorial

U.S. Air Force Col. Tanya J. Anderson, 374th Mission Support Group commander, pours whiskey on the B-29 memorial June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. The Bourbon Whiskey is poured from the Blackened Canteen as a symbol of a final shared drink with departed comrades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

A Japanese military member pours sake onto the Japanese memorial

A Japanese military member pours sake onto the Japanese memorial during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. The sake is a symbol of a final shared drink with departed comrades.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

Yokota Air Base members place flowers at the Japanese memorial

Yokota Air Base members place flowers at the Japanese memorial during a B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. The ceremony has been held for over 7 decades; commemorating the American and Japanese lives lost during a B-29 bombing raid and subsequent collision over Shizuoka City. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

Japanese military officers play the trumpet

Japanese military officers play the trumpet during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. Since 1972 Yokota Airmen and Japanese citizens have come together to honor those who lost their lives during a World War II air raid over Shizuoka City.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

U.S. Army Specialist Thomas Smith, U.S. Army Japan Band member, plays 'Taps'
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U.S. Army Specialist Thomas Smith, U.S. Army Japan Band member, plays 'Taps' during the B-29 Memorial Ceremony, June 23, 2018, in Shizuoka City, Japan. The ceremony has been held for over 7 decades; commemorating the American and Japanese lives lost during a B-29 bombing raid and subsequent collision over Shizuoka City. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spalding)

SHIZUOKA CITY, Japan --

Traditions celebrate many things all across the world. For Yokota Airmen and members of the Shizuoka community, the annual B-29 Memorial Ceremony celebrates a tradition of honor, respect and unity.

 

On June 19, 1945, in the midst of WWII, two U.S. Army Air Force B-29 Superfortresses, from the 314th Bomb Wing, were on a bombing raid over Shizuoka City when they collided and crashed. As a result of that raid and the crash; 23 crewmen and over 2,000 Shizuoka citizens lost their lives that night.

 

Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh, a Shizuoka City resident, spent the morning after the attack digging through the wreckage looking for any signs of life. He managed to pull two American Airmen from the rubble who had somehow survived the initial impact of the crash. Although they later succumbed to their injuries, Itoh would go on to give the crewmen and local residents who passed that night a proper burial.

 

“The 2,000 local citizens and the 23 crewmembers did not have anything in common, but shared one thing at the deepest level, preciousness of their lives,” said Yoichi Kakegawa, Shizuoka War-Bereaved Association president. “This is what drove Mr. Itoh to give proper burials to the fallen crew. As far as he was concerned, they were just people who deserved to be treated with respect.”

 

In the early 1970’s, Itoh began the annual tradition of memorializing those who had paid the ultimate price of war during a ceremony held atop Mount Shizuhata; thus the B-29 Memorial Ceremony was born. Yokota Airmen began joining alongside the Japanese in 1972 and have done so every year since.

 

At the request of Itoh, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, B-29 Memorial host, has maintained this ceremony, allowing the Japanese and Yokota community a unified space to commemorate the tragedy of life lost and remember the honorable actions of Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh.

 

“I personally feel that consoling and paying respect to the souls of all the fallen, regardless of who they are, is the first step toward international reconciliation and world peace,” Sugano said.

 

That fateful night, though tragic, has garnered a stronger friendship between two countries by the actions of Itoh and the endurance of this tradition of honor, respect and unity.

 

“Today, generations removed from the disaster, we stand together to remember those who lost their lives and the benevolence of one man,” said Col. Tanya J. Anderson, 374th Mission Support Group commander. “It is through acts like these that the atrocities of war between two enemies can evolve into the partnership we have today between our two nations.”