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    Ishigaki locals memorialize U.S. Aircrew lives lost in WWII

    Shikina family host U.S. service members at the 79th anniversary Ishigaki Memorial Ceremony

    Photo By Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Pruett | U.S. service members and distinguished guests pose for a photo during the Ishigaki...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Savannah Mesimer 

    III Marine Expeditionary Force   

    ISHIGAKI, Japan – During World War II, the start of a devastating event unfolded in the skies above Ishigaki. On August 15, 1945, as the war was coming to an end, three United States Navy airmen, Lt. Vernon L. Tebo, 1st Class Robert Tuggle Jr., and 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, found themselves engaged in aerial combat and shot down by Japanese Imperial Forces.
    The airmen parachuted from their aircraft, swam to a coral reef, and were taken captive by Japanese sailors. Shortly after capture, the three were tortured, executed, and buried at sea – a war crime that was later punished. Fifty-six years after the war concluded, a memorial was built by the citizens of Ishigaki on the island to remember the lives and honor the sacrifices of the airmen and heal from the monstrosities of war.
    The memorial was first introduced by the late Takeo Shinohara, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus. Shinohara had learned of the war crimes and premature deaths of the Americans and felt that he needed to do something to honor the lives and memories of the airmen.
    “It haunted me, and I knew that I would suffer for the rest of my life if I did not take any action,” he was quoted saying. He then reached out to Stars and Stripes to gain the attention of the American community on Okinawa. For the next year, he worked tirelessly alongside American service members to construct the memorial plans and gain financial assistance.
    As more people became aware of the tragedy that took place on Ishigaki, they felt compelled to join Shinohara and contribute to the monument – bringing together locals across the Ryukyu Islands and U.S. service members. For decades, the local community and family members of the airmen mourned silently, due to the shame of the war crimes, until the memorial project came to light. As the news of the memorial spread, funding for the project continued to grow with financial donations and media coverage.
    Completed in 2001, the monument now stands in a park overlooking Iriomote Island, near the ocean where the aviators’ ashes were sunk.
    The Shikina family’s dedication to honoring these fallen aviators continues today. Now led by Yasunobu Shikina, chairman of the U.S. Memorial Committee, and his sister, Takako Kanazawa, the Shikina family hosts an annual ceremony commemorating the lives of the three airmen on April 15.
    “This marks the 79th anniversary of the Ishigaki incident,” said Shinkina at this year’s ceremony on April 15, 2024. Shinkina memorialized the lives of the airmen and called on the attendees to “be the bridge for the people today to remember Lt. Vernon L. Tebo, 1st Class Robert Tuggle Jr., and 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, and lay the foundation for the next generation to continue to move forward together with hope.”
    Among the ceremony attendees were Yoshitaka Nakayama, mayor of Ishigaki, Ryuji Gakiya, chairman of Ishigaki City Council, and Matthew Dolbow, U.S. Consulate General Naha, as well as citizens of Ishigaki and representatives of III Marine Expeditionary Force and 7th Fleet.
    Following the completion of the planned ceremony events, Tau Kiyoshi, a 92-year-old Ishigaki local who was in 3rd grade when the incident occurred, unexpectedly shared his story, demonstrating the deep grief of the people of Ishigaki following the incident.
    “I am probably the only one alive who remembers the incident,” Kiyoshi recalled in front of the group, sharing that his uncle was one of the perpetrators of the war crimes. “I came to give my sincere condolences to the three aircrew members and in hopes that the members of the Ishigaki community never forget what happened here,” explained Kiyoshi. “Not just for the airmen, but also for the three Ishigaki community members [we lost after committing the war crime], we must continue to fight for peace to carry on this legacy and memorial.”
    The Ishigaki Aircrew Memorial and the annual ceremony both honor the airmen who were tragically killed and serve as a symbol of healing, peace, and friendship between the citizens of Ishigaki and the U.S.
    “This year, we not only reflect on the sacrifices made but also celebrate the unshakable bond that has flourished from the seeds of past adversities,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “The people of Ishigaki have extended not just their hand in friendship but their hearts in kinship to the families of our fallen heroes. For this profound humanity and love, we owe an immeasurable debt of ‘kansha’.”



    Date Taken: 04.15.2024
    Date Posted: 04.16.2024 01:24
    Story ID: 468608

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