Death of a Marine Who Helped Reunite US WWII Veterans With Their Japanese Counterparts

Battle of Iwo Jima
Battle of Iwo Jima

Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, but he’s better known for the “Reunion of Honor” missions he participated in and helped to arrange. He passed away on recently at the age of 95, one day before the 72nd anniversary of the first shots fired in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Snowden was believed to be the oldest surviving veteran of the five-week fight for Iwo Jima. Over 6,000 US servicemen died, and 19,200 were wounded, including Snowden who was injured twice but convinced commanders to let him return to the fighting.

He rose to three-star rank. At his retirement from the Marines in 1979, he was the assistant commander of the Marine Corps. Still, it’s the “Reunion of Honor” missions that is known for. The missions arranged meetings between US and Japanese veterans of the Iwo Jima battle. The first was in 1985. Snowden was instrumental in helping set up another in 1995 to mark the battle’s 50th anniversary.

Snowden was emphatic that the reunions were not celebrations of the US victory but acknowledgments of the sacrifices made on both sides and an affirmation of the two countries’ friendship.

Claude Shipley is a retired Army colonel who leads the Tallahassee chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. He called Snowden a “highly respected mentor and leader.” He went on to say that Snowden was respected for his work after World War II to help heal the wounds of Japan and the United States.

Snowden was born in Charlottesville, VA, on April 14, 1921. He joined the Marines just after Pearl Harbor and served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He has been awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.

He published his memoir last year. Entitled “Snowden’s Story,” it tells both of his military experiences and his family life. It tells how he volunteered to help the governor at the time, Lawton Chiles, to set up the state’s Department of Elder Affairs in the early 1990s. It also talks about the 22 years he sang in the choir at Celebration Baptist Church.

His wife, Martha, preceded him in death in 2006 after 63 years of marriage, USA Today reported.

Snowden was 23 when he led a company of 230 Marines onto the shores of Iwo Jima. Over half of them died. Snowden felt hostile and embittered toward the Japanese after the war. His thinking changed during the Korean War. He was assigned to a logistics conference in Japan and was able to get to know some of the military officers and business and government leaders. He realized that they weren’t to blame for the war, but that they were honorably doing their duty.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE