Fallen veterans remembered during Memorial Day ceremony in Yokohama
By Dustin Perry
U.S. Army photos by Dustin Perry
Representatives from each branch of the U.S. military, allies such as the Royal British Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1054, and organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America stand in line as they prepare to pay their respects to fallen service members during a Memorial Day ceremony held May 27 at the Yokohama War Cemetery in Hodogaya, Japan.
YOKOHAMA, Japan - "Honor" and "sacrifice" were the two words most often repeated by those who were at the Yokohama War Cemetery May 27 during a Memorial Day ceremony that paid tribute to fallen service members.
Representatives from each branch of the U.S. military, allies such as the Royal British Legion, and organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America each took part in the event, which was organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1054, based at U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka.
The ceremony, which Post 1054 has been involved with "all [its] bloomin' life," the organization's adjutant said, is meant to provide those assembled with the opportunity to "pay respect to those who have gone before us; those who have made the ultimate sacrifice."
A bagpiper plays "Amazing Grace" as participants in the Memorial Day ceremony lay flowers and wreaths at the cemetery’s Cremation Memorial. A bugler, in the background, played taps near the end of the ceremony.
"It’s something that, if you don’t do, the sacrifices [of those service members] are diminished," said Mike Lutman, a retired command master chief who served 30 years in the Navy, "and we certainly don’t want to do that."
Participants in the ceremony laid wreaths and flower bouquets at the cemetery’s Cremation Memorial, a shrine which houses an urn containing the ashes of 335 Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen from the U.S., the Commonwealth and the Netherlands who died as prisoners of war in Japan. Most offered words of tribute and thanks to the hundreds of thousands of history’s fallen veterans, but constant among those rendering honors was the silent salute they each gave at the shrine’s entrance.
"Those men and women gave their sacrifice for our freedom today," said Homer Kemper, a retired 22-year Navy veteran and outgoing Post 1054 commander. "I’m glad I was wearing dark sunglasses [during the ceremony] because I had many tears in my eyes; this event meant a lot to me."
The participation in the memorial by such a wide array of military services and other organizations was "very encouraging," said Col. Eric Tilley, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan. Sunday’s ceremony was the first in which Tilley took part since becoming the USAG-J commander last summer.
"Having spent a lot of time in Europe and seeing the [U.S.] memorials and cemeteries we have [there], it’s nice to see that those who died for our country over here in the Pacific are equally as honored," said Tilley.
Along with the many emotions that are stirred up in Lutman when he remembers fallen service members every Memorial Day, he added that he is also instilled with a sense of focus. Ceremonies such as Sunday’s remind him why they should be honored, he said.
"When I come to these ceremonies, it’s a poignant moment ... [that reminds] me why I’m part of the VFW in the first place," said Lutman.
The Yokohama War Cemetery was constructed after World War II and houses the graves of more than 1,500 service members - predominantly from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India - who died in Japan as prisoners of war or with the occupying forces after the war. This includes 53 unidentified burials and a small number of special memorials to casualties known to be buried in the cemetery, whose graves could not be precisely located.
Also located on the cemetery’s grounds are a World War I burial and a Dutch War grave. In addition, the cemetery’s Post-war Plot contains 171 non-war service and civilian burials. The cemetery is open year-round for viewing, including holidays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.