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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A Yokota delegation led by Col. Scott Goodwin, 374th Airlift Wing commander, is headed to Shizuoka City on Saturday for the 33rd annual joint commemoration honoring the 2,000 Japanese people killed there in a B-29 air raid, and the 23 U.S. aircrew members who died when two of the planes collided in midair.

The ceremony is to begin at noon.

Monday marks the 60th anniversary of the incident, which unfolded in the waning days of World War II.

In 1967, Fukumatsu Itoh, a Shizuoka City assemblyman, built two monuments on top of Sengen Hill: one for the Japanese victims and another for the U.S. airmen who perished that day. He conducted the inaugural B-29 U.S.-Japan Joint Memorial Service five years later.

After Itoh’s death, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, Zero Fighters Club president, kept the ceremony alive. He returns this year as host. In addition to Goodwin, Saturday’s speakers include the mayor of Shizuoka City, U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer and John Colli Jr., the 48-year-old nephew of Kenneth Colli, an aircrew member who died in the tragedy at age 19.

The airman’s brother, John Colli Sr., attended the service on the 50th anniversary of the attack in 1995.

“I’m truly honored to participate in this annual ceremony in Shizuoka City, which honors both the Japanese citizens and the U.S. aircrew members (who) perished there 60 years ago,” Goodwin said Thursday. “It is events such as these that truly demonstrate the strong friendship between Japan and the United States, which creates a solid foundation for peace and prosperity here in the Western Pacific region.”

The ceremony is marked by a Buddhist service and flower presentation at the monuments. Traditionally, Air Force members pour a canteen filled with American bourbon whiskey over the B-29 monument in tribute to those who died in Shizuoka.

Itoh plucked the charred U.S. canteen from the planes’ wreckage and preserved it, said Capt. David Westover, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman at Yokota.

“The canteen had the clearly marked indented fingerprints of one of the U.S. pilots,” he said. “It was thought that perhaps the pilot’s spirit merged with the metal canteen at the moment of impact. It was a courageous act during those difficult days, but Mr. Itoh mourned for the dead Americans not as enemies, but simply as fellow human beings caught up in the tragedy of war.”


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