Airmen honor fallen at annual B-29 ceremony
SHIZUOKA CITY, Japan -- Twenty-six Airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan, attended the annual Shizuoka Memorial Ceremony along with the Japanese service members and guests from Shizuoka, Japan, June 15, 2013.
The ceremony commemorates the events of June 20, 1945, when two B-29s collided above Shizuoka City. The entire crew from both aircraft perished along with more than 2,000 Japanese citizens in the densely populated city. Even though war was underway between the U.S. and Japan, Fukumatsu Ito, a Japanese farmer, respectfully buried the American Airmen alongside the Japanese citizens and erected two monuments atop Sengen Hill in their honor.
Upon arriving at Sengen Shrine in Shizuoka, Airmen walked up the hill with fellow patrons to visit the monuments.
The ceremony began with a silent prayer, Presentation of Colors by Yokota's Honor Guard and the playing of the American and Japanese national anthems by the Pacific Air Force Brass Quartet.
Dr. Hiroya Sugano, the host of the ceremony, gave welcoming remarks.
"Hate cannot be eliminated by hate," Sugano said. "We must not forget there are sacrifices of both countries behind today's peace. I believe that promoting mutual understanding, friendship and good will can avoid many troubles between countries, even a war."
Following Sugano's address were remarks by Seiji Takai, an inspector for the Committee of the Survivors of Shizuoka City; Lt. Col. James Hackbarth, 374th Operations Support Squadron commander; and Col. Takayasu Yamashita, Shizuoka Base, Japan Air Self-Defense Force commander.
"We gather here as friends and allies to remember those who lost their lives, and the benevolence of one man," Hackbarth said. "The actions of Itoh-san serve as an example of the potential for compassion that exists in all of us. Let us continue to strengthen the bond our two great nations share and ensure harmony and freedom for future generations."
After the remarks, Hackbarth and Yamashita presented flowers at the base of each shrine.
Ceremony attendees were invited to offer incense and pay their respects before the two monuments.
Following the events of that fateful night in 1945, amongst the debris, a blackened canteen was found that still bore the imprint of a hand from one of the departed aircrew members.
Following tradition, attendees took part in pouring whiskey from the canteen over the marble monument to honor the fallen Airmen.
As the ceremony came to a close, "Taps" was played by representatives from the PACAF Band.
For the Airmen that attended, the ceremony will be a memory they won't soon forget.
"The ceremony was a great experience and even as small as my part was, I'm grateful to be a part of it," said Senior Airman Simon Tarango, Yokota Air Base Honor Guard. "Being an Honor Guard member and presenting honors for the ceremony was really great. As long as I'm at Yokota, I plan on being a part of the ceremony every year."