On Iwo Jima's beach, war dead are remembered

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IWO JIMA, Japan -- A breeze carried the scent of salt off sun-speckled waves, and a pod of whales spouted playfully near shore, but it was a prayer of mourning that Yoshitaka Shindo directed toward the sand and surf that stretched before him.

This was Invasion Beach, where 62 years ago 61,000 American marines poured onto this remote volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, in one of the bloodiest and final campaigns of World War II. It was Shindo's grandfather, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who commanded the badly outnumbered Japanese defenders, most of whom fought to the death.

The blasted concrete bunkers and splintered, rusting machine guns that still litter the island testify to the ferocity of the battle of Iwo Jima, recreated in two recent movies by director Clint Eastwood. Now it is a Japanese airbase that is usually off-limits to civilians, though once a year a joint American- Japanese ceremony is held to mark the battle. Shindo said that he came to pay respects to his grandfather, whose remains have never been found.

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