Iwo Jima is a small volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean about 650 miles southeast of Tokyo. For five weeks in early 1945 Iwo Jima became a hell on Earth as 70,000 U.S. Marines assaulted 22,000 Japanese soldiers defending the Island. Nearly all the Japanese were killed on Iwo Jima and mass graves discovered there earlier this month could hold as many as 2,200 bodies.
Iwo Jima’s killing fields
On Iwo Jima in World War II, every Japanese soldier defending the island was ordered to die trying. The U.S. Marines lost more than 6,800 men before they were able to kill them all. Mass graves were one of the only practical ways to dispose of the bodies. The Japan Times reports that a Japanese government team searching for their remains has found two mass graves in locations marked on documents obtained from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. It’s the first discovery of such burial sites on the island, which the Japanese renamed Iwoto.
Japan’s suicidal strategy
The Japanese knew they couldn’t hold Iwo Jima. Their strategy was to make the U.S. Marines pay such a heavy price that Washington would balk at launching invasions further into Japanese territory. The Japanese dug an elaborate network of tunnels and fought the battle from underground. On Iwo Jima, 100,000 men fought on an island one-third the size of Manhattan for 36 days. From their tunnels and holes, the Japanese inflicted terrible casualties on the Marines. The most effective weapons became flame throwers and hand grenades. The Marines only saw Japanese soldiers after they were dead.
Iwo Jima’s enemy cemetery
The recovery team has found 51 bodies believed to be Japanese troops, according to the Japanese government. The team dug at two sites described in a U.S. document as “Enemy Cemetery.” The documents indicate one site holds 2,000 bodies and the other about 200. The discovery of the remains is regarded as one of the biggest breakthroughs in decades for Japanese families seeking to account for the fate of their loved ones.