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Keiko Russo, 77, of Itoman, prays at the foot of the gravestone of her husband, a retired Army sergeant who died in 1975.

Keiko Russo, 77, of Itoman, prays at the foot of the gravestone of her husband, a retired Army sergeant who died in 1975. (David Allen / S&S)

Keiko Russo, 77, of Itoman, prays at the foot of the gravestone of her husband, a retired Army sergeant who died in 1975.

Keiko Russo, 77, of Itoman, prays at the foot of the gravestone of her husband, a retired Army sergeant who died in 1975. (David Allen / S&S)

Veterans (right to left) Larry Alsap, William Killian and Harry Thomas, members of VFW posts on Okinawa, pause for the national anthems of the United States and Japan Sunday during the ceremony.

Veterans (right to left) Larry Alsap, William Killian and Harry Thomas, members of VFW posts on Okinawa, pause for the national anthems of the United States and Japan Sunday during the ceremony. (David Allen / S&S)

Marine Sgt. Robert Marroquin, of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band, plays Taps at the end of Monday's Memorial Day observance.

Marine Sgt. Robert Marroquin, of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band, plays Taps at the end of Monday's Memorial Day observance. (David Allen / S&S)

A Marine color guard presents the colors.

A Marine color guard presents the colors. (David Allen / S&S)

An unknown American is buried in one of the 300 graves at the International Cemtery in Naha, Okinawa.

An unknown American is buried in one of the 300 graves at the International Cemtery in Naha, Okinawa. (David Allen / S&S)

NAHA, Okinawa — While a Marine band played a solemn hymn, representatives of the U.S. military, U.S. Consulate, veterans and civic groups laid wreaths here Monday in a moving Memorial Day observance at the Tomari International Cemetery.

More than 200 people attended the ceremony, which included brief statements by Marine Brig. Gen. Frank A. Panter, commander of the 3rd Force Service Support Group; U.S. Vice Consul Jason McInerney; the 3rd Marine Readiness Battalion Color Guard and Rifle Squad and the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band.

Afterward, many family members tended to the graves of the U.S. veterans buried in a small, walled-off block just across the street from the Tomari Port. The cemetery was established formally in 1854 by U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry during his trade mission to what then was known as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus.

The Perry Monument within the grounds reads: “Prosperity to the Ryukyuans, and may they and the Americans be friends.” Of the site’s some 350 graves, 22 predate Perry’s visit. Destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the cemetery was rebuilt 10 years later during the U.S. occupation.

Most of the graves are those of U.S. servicemen who married Okinawa woman and stayed on Okinawa to raise their families.

Panter said Memorial Day was a time to “remember the people who have gone before us and to pay respect to the U.S. citizens buried here.”

McInerney, a former Air Force officer, said the cemetery is a “living connection to America and those who have helped defend it.”

“To the American fighting men and women around the world who gave their lives for our country we pay our respects,” McInerney said, making a point to mention the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s recent return to Okinawa from duty in Iraq.

“They returned as heroes who gallantly did their part for the creation of a free and stable and democratic Iraq,” he said. “Fifty of their comrades gave their lives in this effort.”

Besides veterans and current servicemembers, also remembered in the program were others who died during World War II, including Okinawan victims of the Battle of Okinawa.

“Sixty years have passed and on this Memorial Day, in commemoration of those sixty years of peace, we pay homage to the thousands of combatants who gave their lives,” stated the requiem in the ceremony’s program. “But most especially, we pay homage to more than one hundred thousand Okinawan citizens who died in the crossfire, as well as those servicemen who are buried … throughout the world.”

After the ceremony, several families gathered at graves of the U.S. veterans and placed flowers and the traditional Okinawan offering of sake and beer at the foot of the headstones.

“I come here every year,” said 77-year-old Keiko Russo after pausing for a prayer where her husband, Army Sgt. James O. Russo, was buried 30 years ago. “It’s important that we remember.”


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