Airmen, Japanese remember the past, honor the present
GUNMA PREFECTURE, Japan -- Airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan, joined local Japanese citizens March 20, 2013, in Gunma Prefecture, Japan, to remember American B-29 flight crews who lost their lives during a World War II raid over the city and unveil a memorial monument in their honor.
Since 1971, Yokota members have traveled to prefectures throughout the area to participate in annual ceremonies honoring fallen B-29s aircrew members. This year marked the first in Gunma.
The monument dedication reminded both countries of the past, while strengthening their partnership bond in the future. The words inscribed on the monument read, "We wish to commemorate the 23 brave souls and offer a wish for world peace and friendship between Japan and America."
"I'm glad I had the opportunity to be a representative for those families remembering their loved ones who lost their lives for their country," said Lt. Col. Mark Allen, the 459th Airlift Squadron commander. "Many young Japanese and Americans sacrificed their lives during World War II, but the sacrifice they gave is now the lasting friendship between our great nations."
Feb. 10, 1945, the U.S. planned a massive air strike on Nakajima Aircraft Ota Factory to disrupt Japan's combat capabilities and destroy the factory's aircraft and buildings. The night of the operation, one of the B-29s shot by Japanese defense forces crashed into another B-29, sending both crashing into Gunma.
The 23 service members on board the aircraft died. Upon seeing the wreckage, Gunma citizens buried the bodies, showing them proper respect despite their current enemy status.
American family members and friends of some of the crew members flew across the world to join in the ceremony.
Nancy Samp, who is a family member and historian for the 505th Bomb Group (one of the units associated with the crashed B-29s) was glad to see the aircrew members remembered for their sacrifice and dedication to the nation.
"My family would be so proud to know this crew and the lives were lost are being honored in Japan so many years after the mission," she said. "My father was on the same mission, so it is very important and memorable date to me also."
She expressed the importance her family kept in remembering their father's name and honoring the past. With this, she said she was grateful to the local community and everyone involved for keeping the fallen aircrews' memories alive.
The American service members' families aren't the only ones who remember the tragic event.
One local Japanese citizen said most people in the area remember the B-29 crash and how the story was passed down and retold through the generations.
Shinyu Kizaka, the priest of the temple hosting the monument, was just 12 years old when the crash occurred and still recalls the event.
"I just remember being very frightened," he said. "Pilots are bright and honorable people, and I am sorry for all the members who died."
He said, although American and Japan were once enemies, much of Japan's post war rebuilding was due to America, which led to the honor and respect shared between the two cultures today.