Ja­pan em­peror prays at WWII is­land bat­tle­ground


The em­peror of Ja­pan vis­ited a re­mote Pa­cific is­land Thurs­day to pray for thou­sands of Ja­panese and Amer­i­can sol­diers who died dur­ing the World War II battle of Pelelilu.

Em­peror Ak­i­hito and his wife Em­press Michiko laid bou­quets of white flow­ers in front of a me­mo­rial for Ja­panese vic­tims af­ter ar­riv­ing by he­li­copter on Pelelilu is­land in the west­ern Pa­cific na­tion of Palau. They later prayed at a sep­a­rate me­mo­rial for Amer­i­cans.

“Our thoughts go out to all those who went to the bat­tle­fields to de­fend their coun­tries, never to re­turn home,” Ak­i­hito said in a state­ment be­fore his flight to Palau on Wed­nes­day. “We must never for­get that those beau­ti­ful is­lands in the Pa­cific Ocean have such a tragic his­tory.”

Ak­i­hito, who is 81, was 11 years old at the end of the war. His fa­ther, Hiro­hito, was em­peror at the time.

Peleliu is one of sev­eral is­lands where Ja­panese sol­diers fought to the death dur­ing the fi­nal year of the war. The three-month battle of Peleliu, which started in Septem­ber 1944, left about 10,000 Ja­panese and 1,700 Amer­i­cans dead.

One Ja­panese sur­vivor, 95-year- old Kiyokazu Tsuchida, trav­eled to the is­land for the im­pe­rial visit.

“Of the 34 sur­vivors, sadly I’m the only one who made it back here,” he said Wed­nes­day in an in­ter­view from the is­land with Ja­panese broad­caster NHK. Af­ter a mo­ment of si­lence be­fore the me­mo­rial, he added: “My per­ished fel­low sol­diers must be all de­lighted to see the em­peror.”

The visit by the em­peror high­lights the slow-mov­ing search for the re­mains of miss­ing Ja­panese sol­diers.

Only half of the 2.4 mil­lion Ja­panese who died over­seas have been re­cov­ered. Of those, about 300,000 are be­lieved to be lost at sea and un­re­cov­er­able.

Of­fi­cials cite a lack of doc­u­men­ta­tion and ge­o­graph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal rea­sons for the de­lay. In re­cent years, vet­er­ans groups and rel­a­tives of the dead have pres­sured the gov­ern­ment to do more, and Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe has promised stepped-up ef­forts.

In Palau, half of the es­ti­mated 16,200 war-dead are still un­ac­counted for more than 60 years af­ter the search be­gan in 1953, ac­cord­ing to the Ja­panese Min­istry of Health, La­bor and Wel­fare. Six sets of re­mains were ex­ca­vated dur­ing the lat­est search last month.

Palau, which lies about 800 kilo­me­ters (500 miles) east of the Philip­pines, was ruled by Ja­pan for about 30 years af­ter World War I.

The em­peror’s visit in the 70th an­niver­sary year of the war’s end fol­lows a visit to Saipan, an­other World War II bat­tle­field in the Pa­cific, in 2005, the 60th an­niver­sary year. He also prayed for Ja­panese and U.S. war-dead in Iwo Jima in 1994.


Ja­pan’s Em­peror Ak­i­hito, third right, and Em­press Michiko, sec­ond right, re­ceive salutes from U.S. sol­diers as they visit a me­mo­rial for Amer­i­can vic­tims on Pelelilu is­land, Palau on Thurs­day, April 9.

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