SAIPAN – The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Saipan was marked Sunday by a ceremony that drew around 400 participants, including former Japanese and U.S. soldiers.
Hitoshi Kikuchi, head of the Consulate General of Japan on Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, was among those in attendance to mark the major battle, which claimed the lives of about 30,000 Japanese and 3,300 Americans.
The Battle of Saipan began on June 15, 1944, when the United States landed military forces on the island, which was being settled by Japan under a mandate from the League of Nations.
Organized Japanese resistance ended on July 7, allowing the island to be turned into a U.S. base for launching air raids on the Japanese mainland.
A number of Japanese soldiers staged suicide attacks on U.S. forces during the battle, while thousands of local Japanese civilians leapt to their deaths from “Banzai Cliff” or other places to avoid falling into American hands.
“My fellow soldiers died calling the names of their mothers and family members,” said Yoshio Ideguchi, an 88-year-old former sailor from Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, during his 30th visit to the island to console the souls of the war dead.
“I feel sorry that only I survived,” he said with tears in his eyes.
At the event, former Imperial Japanese Army artilleryman Teruki Okazaki, 92, shook hands with an 89-year-old former U.S. Marine from Texas, who described the battle as hell.
After being captured, Okazaki was transferred to the U.S. mainland. During that time, “I made a pledge to come here to pray as long as I have breath,” he said. He goes to Saipan each year to pray, and was accompanied this year by his five family members, including a great-grandchild.
A major service is held for the war dead on Saipan every 10 years, but this year’s will be the last, considering the age of the former soldiers, U.S. organizers said.