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Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Mainichi Daily News
Flags of Our Fathers:
Japanese Iwo Jima eyewitness tells it in his own words
Joe Rosenthal's famous photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. (AP)
"The Iwo Jima Memorial standing at Arlington Cemetery. The photo showing six U.S. Marines raising the Stars & Stripes on Mt. Suribachi was not only staged, but the summit was retaken twice by Japanese forces, who raised the Nissho-ki (Sun flag) in its place. A young Japanese serviceman who witnessed it all recounts his memories from 61 years ago." (Shukan Bunshun (12/14)
Actually, the U.S. flag was raised by five Marines and one Navy corpsman. The USMC Iwo Jima memorial stands in Rosslyn, Virginia, nearby, but not within the boundaries of, Arlington Cemetery. And allegations that AP cameraman Joe Rosenthal "staged" the famous flag-raising photo have been thoroughly debunked.
Following this acerbic and partially inaccurate lead-in, Shukan Bunshun introduces Tsuruji Akikusa, age 79. In 1944, the 17-year-old Akikusa was dispatched to Iwo Jima as a signalman for the Imperial Japanese Navy. He had enlisted two years earlier following his school graduation.
Akikusa points to a photo in a movie program showing actors portraying American GIs sitting on a patch of grassy turf.
"That would have been impossible," he scoffs. "After the naval bombardment, there wasn't a blade of grass left on the island."
Out of a total Japanese garrison of 21,000 men, only 1,023 men survived, including Akikusa. He was seriously wounded during the pre-invasion bombardment in February 1945 and did not take part in the fighting. Found unconscious in the battle's aftermath, he was evacuated to a hospital in Guam and repatriated the following year.
In "Junana-sai no Io-to" (a 17-year-old on Iwo Jima, Bungei Shunju, 840 yen), his personal memoirs released this month, Akikusa provides a rare eyewitness perspective of what happened on Mt. Suribachi from the opposing side.
Suribachi, the highest point on the island, harbored about 2,000 Japanese defenders. Akikusa himself was situated at a communications post some 3.5 kilometers to the northeast, on a lower peak called Mt. Tamana.
On the morning of February 23, he saw the first U.S. flag go up on Suribachi's peak, followed shortly thereafter by the second, larger flag, the raising of which was immortalized at 1/400th second in Rosenthal's famous photograph. Akikusa's descriptions up to this point correspond completely to American accounts of the event. But what followed afterward appears to contradict the official U.S. Naval version of the battle.
The following morning, as Akikusa relates in his book, "It was not the Stars & Stripes, but the Nissho-ki (Japanese Sun flag) that was waving. Even though the peak was the target of attack from every direction on the island, I thought how hard they must have fought, and tears naturally came to my eyes. The valiant fighters were defending Mt. Suribachi to the death."
The U.S. troops quickly hauled down the Japanese standard and replaced it with their own flag. But early the next morning, February 25, "the Nissho-ki was once again fluttering in the morning sunshine. It was a dazzling, beautiful sight."
"The flag was a different one from the day before," Akikusa recalls. "It was a smaller one, and square. It may have been improvised. The red circle in the center looked brownish, so it could have been blood."
"It may have been made out of a shirt. It moved me to tears. 'Our guys are still up there,' I thought. 'They're giving everything they've got. So will I.'"
"I had hoped to see the Nissho-ki still flying the next morning, but that miracle was not to be," Akikusa writes. "I said to myself, 'Well, I guess that's the end of it.'"
By March 8, the US attackers had turned their overwhelming numerical superiority on Mt. Tamana. Akikusa, wounded in the left leg and right hand, witnessed scenes of incredible carnage. Unconscious from multiple wounds, he awakened in a POW hospital on Guam.
Repatriated after the war, Akikusa called on the families of comrades killed in the fighting. But his visits were not necessarily welcomed.
"Their reactions were about half positive and half negative," he relates. "Many of them told me, 'We've already completed our Buddhist memorial services.' I guess they wanted to put it behind them as quickly as they could."
Shukan Bunshun asks Akikusa if he felt deaths of his comrades in arms was meaningful.
"Considering how this country has been without war for the past 60 years, I think it's commendable," Akikusa replies. "If you regard them as 'sacrificial stones' who caused Japan to relinquish what it sought to become in those times, then I want to believe their deaths were not without meaning." (By Masuo Kamiyama, contributing writer)
December 11, 2006
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