A Look Back At Iwo Jima

CBS News' Barry Petersen looks back on Iwo Jima, and the memories of the battle and what went on after the fighting was done. CBS

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter From Asia comes from Tokyo. When World War Two ended, America's soldiers went home as heroes, Japan's came home as reminders of defeat. In America, this was a good war, a just war, and we turned out movies to prove it.

In one, John Wayne helped win the battle for Iwo Jima, a movie made only four years after the actual battle. That film provided the image that inspired war-weary America.

It was left to an American, Clint Eastwood, and his "Letters From Iwo Jima" to tell us what the Japanese went through. But wars don't end when the fighting stops; Wars go on in memories from families like the Japanese people who visit Iwo Jima. Americans have come here too, asking what life may have been like if a loved one had survived.

What if one man, Jin Ichi, had come home to his brother? "I barely remember him, " says Koki Noguchi. "I remember my brother took me to the farm land where my parents were working. I was clinging to his arm, and swinging back and forth."

But Jin Ichi was among 20-thousand Japanese killed at Iwo Jima. For years after, Koki told us, "Whenever my father heard footsteps from the train station, he would say, 'Maybe it's Jin Ichi, coming home!'"

Seven thousand Marines also died. One American survivor took home a flat as a trophy and sent it back to his family as he lay dying. "There's my hand-print on the flag," says Shinsaku Yamada. "This is my younger sister's handprint, and here is my mother's poem. From those things, the Association found out this flag belonged to Kiyoharu Yamada, my father. He was 28 when he died."

Aiko Uogaeshi's father sent letters, and she still has them as a memory. "When he was leaving," she says, "he lifted me up and said, 'Listen to what your mother tells you to do and eat a lot and study hard.' I still remember he said those three things to me. I am now 65 years old, but I still remember."

Letters like these were the basis for the movie, where every Japanese soldier was expected to die fighting or commit suicide to escape the dishonor of surrender. Every American who hit the beach desperately wanted to survive and come home.

The Japanese were taught that their individual lives didn't matter; They knew this fight was a lost cause, but they still fought because their war was measured by a different standard. It went like this; Death is light as a feather, duty is heavy as a mountain.
by Barry Petersen
  • Erin Petrun

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