(Bloomberg) — Tetsuro Teramoto never set eyes on his father, who died in the bloody five-week battle for the remote island of Iwo Jima 70 years ago as the U.S. closed in on Japan at the end of World War II.
Preparing to honor him at a joint memorial event with Japan’s former foes on the island on March 21, Teramoto said the two countries should continue to mark the battle together as they have done for decades, to set an example of reconciliation.
Despite the death toll on both sides, the U.S. and Japan forged an enduring alliance after the war, with nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, providing a check on China’s growing military muscle. Japan has failed to achieve a similar rapprochement with its neighbor, where bitterness and territorial disputes remain a legacy of its occupation of much of China in the 1930s and 1940s.
“It’s something the former enemies do together,” Teramoto, the head of the Japanese Iwo Jima Association, said of the commemoration in a phone interview on Wednesday. “From the point of view of the relatives, we want it to continue. It’s very significant — it’s something we should tell the world about.”
About 21,000 Japanese and nearly 7,000 U.S. troops were killed in the battle for Iwo Jima, a volcanic island 1,220 kilometers (760 miles) south of Tokyo. The Japanese dug an intricate maze of tunnels that enabled them to hold out against overwhelming odds, launching surprise attacks on the invaders. Only 216 were taken prisoner.