Tokyo: Japan`s Prime Minister vowed at a
memorial ceremony Tuesday to find the remains of the estimated 12,000 soldiers who are still missing from the battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest and most symbolic campaigns of
World War II.
Naoto Kan, who has set the ongoing search for Iwo Jima`s
dead as a top government priority, made the comments at a
ceremony to inter 822 sets of remains recovered last year, the
largest annual figure in four decades.
"There remain many fallen soldiers," he said. "We vow to
find them as soon as possible. We will do all we can to
facilitate searches for them."
The number of remains has increased dramatically because
of the discovery of two grave sites on the tiny island, now
known as Ioto, which was what it was called by residents
before the war.
Virtually all the Japanese soldiers tasked with
defending the rugged crag were killed in the battle, which
claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives.
Dozens of remains are recovered every year, but about
12,000 Japanese, along with 218 Americans, are still
classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the
Iwo Jima was seen as key to the United States because it
had an early warning radar station and three airfields used by
Japanese fighter planes that posed a threat to US bombing
raids on Tokyo and Japan`s main islands.
The US wanted the airfields for its fighter escort
Fighting began on Feb 19, 1945, but Iwo Jima was not
declared secured until March 26. Japan surrendered in August
of that year, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and
Generally ignored since the war, the island, 700 miles
(1,100 kilometers) south of Tokyo, has been left largely
untouched and is now uninhabited except for a few hundred
troops at a small Japanese military outpost.
But Kan`s government inspired in part by the success in
Japan of the 2006 Clint Eastwood movie "Letters from Iwo Jima"
and concerned that time is running out, has made a strong
effort to bring closure on Iwo Jima by stepping up the
civilian-run mission to recover all of the Japanese dead.
That project began last July and took a big step forward
in October, when two mass graves that may hold the remains of
more than 2,000 Japanese soldiers were discovered by search