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Paying Respects: 374 AW, 515 AMOW, JASDF honor the fallen in B-29 Memorial Ceremony

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Taylor Slater
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from across the 374th Airlift Wing, 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing and Japan Air Self-Defense Force joined representatives from Shizuoka City in remembrance during the annual B-29 Superfortress memorial ceremony on Mt. Shizuhata, Japan, June 29.

Since 1972, the victims of a B-29 aircraft collision during World War II have been honored with an annual ceremony in Shizuoka City. This year over 50 personnel from the 374th AW and 515th AMOW attended, the highest since COVID-19.

“As American and Japanese, I believe we now reap the benefit of an immensely close bond forged in the wake of our struggle,” said Col. Andrew Roddan, 374th AW commander.

On June 20, 1945, two U.S. Army Air Force B-29 Superfortress aircraft collided in mid-air during a bombing run over Shizuoka City. Approximately 2,000 Japanese civilians were killed as well as 23 members of the aircrew. One of the residents who survived the raid, Fukumatsu Itoh, rescued two American aircrew members who later died from their wounds. Itoh, despite wartime relations, buried the two members out of respect. Since 1972, Americans and Japanese alike have gathered in memorial for the victims as well as remembrance for the selfless actions of Itoh.

“Today, it is because of Itoh’s compassion and his utmost care for human life that we have the opportunity to stand here as allies and reflect on the message conveyed through his actions,” Roddan said.

The ceremony is hosted by Dr. Hiroya Sugano, who has hosted the event for 52 years following Itoh’s death. Sugano was 12 years old during the Shizuoka raids.  

“I personally feel that there is no way to establish international reconciliation and world peace without consoling and paying respect to the souls of all the fallen,” Sugano said.

Other attendees included Takashi Namba, Shizuoka City mayor, and Akiyoshi Igarashi, Japan Air Self-Defense Force deputy director of Shizuoka Provincial Headquarters.

For Staff Sgt. Haruna Hamamoto, first-time attendee and ceremony master of ceremonies, the B-29 ceremony was an event full of emotions.

“I’m full Japanese,” Hamamoto said, “I grew up in Japan so this was very educational and interesting for me. Seeing the war from two different perspectives is so fascinating. You’re learning more than anyone can teach you.”

Memorial attendees offered incense for the victims of the raid, with the Yokota base honor guard posting colors. Roddan and Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Hauck, 374th AW command chief, used a canteen recovered from the crash site of the raids to pour ceremonial bourbon over the memorial in a showing of remembrance for the victims.

The ceremony is a reminder of the selfless actions of humanity and how despite their past differences, two countries are still able to come together in remembrance, and as allies.