IWO JIMA, Japan — Eight U.S. veterans recently returned to the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II as part of the 19th annual Reunion of Honor ceremony on Iwo Jima.
For 36 days in 1945, U.S. Marines and soldiers battled 20,000 dug-in Japanese soldiers for control of the remote island, which America wanted to secure for its strategic location and the use of its runway for bombing runs. At the end of the fighting, more than 6,800 Americans and 18,000 Japanese troops had fallen.
Each year since 1995, retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden, a veteran of the battle, has organized the Reunion of Honor tour, which has hosted veterans and descendants from both sides of the battle to honor the sacrifices made on the black sand island. This year, the event was held on March 19.
Dignitaries and distinguished guests laid wreaths on their respective sides of the Reunion of Honor memorial, and the Japanese guests also performed a traditional water blessing on the site.
In a smaller ceremony, two men quietly laid to rest a 69-year chapter in their lives.
Owen Agenbroad, a Marine veteran of the battle, found Yoshikazu Higuichi, the son of a Japanese soldier who fought and died on Iwo Jima. A few weeks after Agenbroad had been on the island, he found a Japanese straight razor, shaving kit and tin cup in a Japanese fighting position, or pill box.
Agenbroad kept the items in a shadowbox in his Dayton, Idaho, home for decades before he had the writing on the razor translated. A few contacts with Japanese government officials later, and Agenbroad had found Higuichi, a retired school principal.
The men spoke briefly through a translator, Higuichi smiling and thanking Agenbroad for bringing these pieces of his father home.
“We are bound by a common history and common values,” said retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden, founder of the Reunion of Honor. “Our countries have overcome a difficult past to embracing a promising future.”
For more information about the Reunion of Honor, or to support the living Iwo Jima veterans, visit their website.