In a rare visit to Iwo Jima, Japan’s prime minister offered prayers Tuesday at two recently discovered mass graves and vowed to find the more than 12,000 fallen soldiers whose bodies have yet to be recovered from the remote island where some of World War II’s fiercest fighting took place.
Kneeling in a deep pit with dozens of remains spread out before him, Naoto Kan clasped his hands in prayer and then helped searchers exhume a badly decayed set of bones swathed in a faded green body bag. Workers said it was one of more than 20 found on Tuesday alone.
For many Americans, an Associated Press photo of U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi has become one of the most lasting symbols of the war, and of American sacrifice and bravery. More medals of honor — 27, including nearly a third of all given to Marines during World War II — were awarded for valor on Iwo Jima than any other single campaign.
In Japan, however, Iwo Jima is seen by most as just one of many bloody defeats.
Kan’s government, inspired in part by the success in Japan of the 2006 Clint Eastwood movie “Letters from Iwo Jima” and concerned that time is running out, has made a strong effort to bring closure on Iwo Jima by stepping up the civilian-run mission to recover all of the Japanese dead.
The discovery of the mass graves is one of the biggest breakthroughs in decades toward recovering Iwo Jima’s dead.
“Letters from Iwo Jima” is an excellent movie and would make a great Christmas Gift for any war veteran.