Japanese Veteran was refused a seat at a WWII memorial ceremony

After having survived one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Pacific War, a Japanese veteran was told he could not join other Japanese attendees at a memorial ceremony held to pay respect to those who died in the battle. He then had no choice but to join US veterans and sit beside them.

Tsuruji Akikusa is among only 1000 soldiers who survived, out of 20,000 Japanese soldiers who took part in the battle of Iwo Jima. The memorial ceremony was held to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima. Veterans, their relatives and officials from both sides attended the ceremony. When Tsuruji was told he had no allocated seat with his compatriots, he went and sat with US veterans, which caused consternation among US veterans and their families.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe – who is said to be very right-leaning and conservative – has urged people and politicians of Japan to rethink their approach towards Japan’s wartime history. In a bid to change the perception of the people and reassess Japan’s policy about World War II, the Japanese government is holding a number of ceremonies up and down the country to commemorate Japanese war heroes. Prime Minister Abe is supposed to be giving a speech on the 70th anniversary of his country’s defeat in WWII; his words will be very significant for Japan’s former enemies and ex-colonies.

During WWII, at the age of 19, Akikusa served in the Japanese Army as a radio operator. Now aged 88, he agreed to pay a visit to Iwo Jima on the request of a TV crew, who paid for his trip. He arrived on the island on a US plane.

The head of the Japanese Iwo Jima Association, Tetsuro Teramoto, told reporters that he is not aware of any such incident taking place. He also said that Mr Akikusa is not the member of the Association, which is for the families of those who died in the battle. Teramoto said that they could only take a limited number of people, due to the location of the island and their limited resources. Teramoto has a personal association with the island, because his father fought in the battle 70 years ago and died on the island.

Attendees on the US side were surprised and amazed to see the treatment of a war veteran by the Japanese authorities. One of the veterans expressed his feelings, saying in America veterans are respected as heroes, whereas in Japan you have to have died to get respect. They also criticized Japan’s hypocritical approach towards the war – creating a huge show for the dead while disrespecting those who survived the battle, The Guardian reports.

The battle of Iwo Jima, which is also known as ‘Sulphur Island’ – for its volcanic soil – had great significance for US due to its location with respect to the Japanese mainland. Planning the invasion of the Island, US commanders thought it would only take a few days to take control of the island, but to their surprise the battle lasted more than five weeks. It turned out to be one of the deadliest battles of the Pacific war theatre. 6,800 US soldiers died and another 17,000 were wounded in the conflict. Japan suffered more in the battle; it lost the island along with 21,000 soldiers and only a handful of soldiers survived. Akikusa, who was serving as a radio operator, got trapped in a cave while his comrades kept dying around him. When a US soldier found him weeks later, malnourished and nearly dead, he was taken to a US base and was treated and fed.

US veterans said Akikusa deserved more respect for his contribution to his country and its people. They added that he should have made a speech, sharing his experiences of the war and his respect for his country, but sadly he was not even given a seat to sit on.

Ian Harvey

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