Mission Partners pay tribute at B-29 Memorial June 28, 2023

SHIZUOKA CITY, Japan -- Airmen from the 374th Airlift Wing, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and Shizuoka City residents attended the annual U.S.-Japan Joint Memorial Service to honor the victims of the Shizuoka air raids during World War II, and to commemorate the selfless actions of Fukumatsu Itoh held at Mt. Shizuhata, Shizuoka City, Japan, June 24. 

On June 20th, 1945, two U.S. Army Air Force B-29 Superfortress aircraft collided midair during an air raid over Shizuoka City,  which killed 23 crewmembers from both aircraft as well as over 2,000 Japanese civilians from the raid itself. 

Shizuoka City resident, Fukumatsu Itoh, survived the raid and searched through the wreckage for survivors. He found two Americans struggling for their lives and tended to their injuries as best he could despite the raid. The rescued Airmen ultimately perished from their injuries, but received proper burials alongside the Shizuoka citizens who died in the raid, thanks to Itoh. 

“I am grateful for Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh, a man who exhibited remarkable compassion after the collision of the B-29s,” said Col. Andrew Roddan, 374th Airlift Wing commander. “It is because of Mr. Itoh’s utmost care for human life that we have the opportunity to stand here as allies and reflect on the message conveyed through his actions.” 

Dr. Hiroya Sugano, the ceremony’s host, was 12 years old during the Shizuoka air raid and has pledged to honor the fallen from that day, Japanese and American alike, by hosting the U.S.-Japan Joint Memorial Service. 

“By the protection of heaven, I have succeeded the late Mr. Fukumatsu Ito’s will,” said Sugano. “We must not forget the peace we enjoy today, which was gained from sacrifices by the people of our nations.”

Alongside 374th AW personnel, attendees included Col. Kyouichi Takeda, JASDF Shizuoka Provincial Cooperation Office director, and for the first time ever, the Shizuoka City mayor, Takashi Nanba. 

Attendees showed respect for the fallen by laying flowers and  burning a ritual incense offering. They also completed the tradition of using a blackened canteen, found at the original B-29 crash site, to pour American bourbon on the shrine’s B-29 monument. This tradition’s origin coincides with the first ceremony in 1972. 

“As American and Japanese, I believe we now reap the benefit of an immensely close bond forged from struggle,” said Roddan. “It is our duty and privilege today to remember the sacrifices made and work continuously to protect the peace that has ensued.”

Sugano, now 90 years old, says he would like to one day pass the U.S.-Japan Joint Memorial Service tradition to Shizuoka City itself.  

“This is my life’s work, ” said Sugano. “I’ve been supporting this ceremony for the greater half of my life, and as long as my physical condition allows, I want to host this event. To see the U.S. and Japan come together to celebrate tradition, friendship, and joy makes me extremely happy. This is what Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh would have wanted.”