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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Plaque honoring U.S. airmen who died in raid unveiled in Shizuoka

Staff writer

SHIZUOKA — A retired U.S. Air Force pilot and his friend unveiled a memorial plaque in Shizuoka on Saturday honoring 23 American airmen who died in a mid-air collision during a 1945 raid on the city.

News photo
In memory: Jerry Yellin (left) and Jim Belilove (right) look at a plaque bearing the names of U.S. airmen who died during a 1945 air raid on Shizuoka, after unveiling the plaque in the city on Saturday. TAKAHIRO FUKADA PHOTO

"(With the plaque, I expect) people to understand who was killed here . . . and the names of the people who honored those who were killed," Jerry Yellin, 84, from Florida said before attending the ceremony, which commemorates both Japanese and Americans who died in the bombing.

On June 19, 1945, 123 B-29s took off from Guam on a mission to bomb the city. In the early morning of June 20, they dropped incendiary bombs that killed 2,000 people and wreaked havoc on the city. During the attack, however, two bombers collided and 23 airmen were killed, the ceremony organizers said.

Late city assemblyman Fukumatsu Ito found the wreckage of the bombers, buried the Americans and built two monuments — one for the Japanese victims and the other for the U.S. airmen.

A local doctor, Hiroya Sugano, later discovered the site and was impressed by Ito's actions. Since 1972, he has been conducting a memorial service at the site each year for all of the victims.

Yellin, a former P-51 fighter pilot who flew missions from Iwo Jima in 1945, did not participate in the bombing mission. But he hear about the gestures by Ito and Sugano from his son, Robert, who lives in Shizuoka Prefecture, and was invited to the service in 2006. Yellin then saw the need to have the names of all of the airmen who lost their lives placed in the city, he said.

Sugano agreed, and Yellin asked his friend Jim Belilove, a renowned artist in Iowa, to design and make the granite plaque on which the airmen's names and the flags of both nations are inscribed.

In the ceremony, which was attended by about 300 people, including relatives of the Japanese victims and of the U.S. airmen, Yellin, Belilove, Sugano and others unveiled the plaque. "This site is sacred and holy through the actions taken by Mr. Ito, Dr. Sugano and the citizens of Shizuoka City," Yellin said.

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The Japan Times

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