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.”