The 1950 Hollywood war film, “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” starred John Wayne in the lead role of Marine Sergeant John Stryker, who is killed in action after leading the assault up Mt Suribachi. Wayne received an Academy Award nomination for his performance.
The film, produced by Republic Pictures, also included appearances by three survivors of the six servicemen who had actually taken part in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo of the flag-raising atop Mt Suribachi. As did the actual American flag that appeared at the film's end, on loan from the U.S. Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.
The scene shifts to June 2008. Hideya Yamamoto, the Washington bureau chief of the Sankei Shimbun, raises the U.S. government’s tendency to show insensitivity over Japanese concerns, such as its unilateral decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
But the main thrust of Yamamoto’s editorial concerns his dismay at finding containers of sand from Iwo Jima being offered for sale at the gift shop outside the Marine Corps Museum for $25. The relics include a certificate of authenticity attesting that the sand had been extracted by a high-ranking retired Marine officer who visited the island during a ceremony in observance of the battle’s 50th anniversary in 1995.
Yamamoto also found more Iwo Jima sand -- which claimed to have been extracted in 2005 -- being sold on a web auction site for over $100.
The island, which is administered by the Tokyo government, is populated by a small detachment of the Japan Self Defense Forces and limits visitors mainly to family members of deceased soldiers and the media. Its volcanic black sand, called “uzura seki” in Japanese, is regarded as consecrated soil, imbued with the blood of 20,703 Japanese servicemen who perished in the six week-long 1945 battle. (The U.S. suffered 6,821 dead and 19,189 wounded.)
“At the 50th anniversary ceremonies on the island, we saw some [American] veterans scoop up sand, but thought they were carrying it off as personal mementos,” says Kiyoshi Endo, chairman of the Association of Iwo-Jima Japan (www.iwo-jima.org/english/index.html), an organization of family members of servicemen who perished there. “Doing it for commercial purposes is another thing entirely.”
Speaking on behalf of AMVETS, Jay Agg told the Sankei his organization of U.S. military veterans supports the museum’s sale of Iwo Jima sand as a means of “conveying the battle’s history. But we can understand objections over the sale,” Agg went on to say.
Another U.S. organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was quoted as saying the museum’s sale of the sand was different from its being peddled from a street stall, and the sand could be regarded as “a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of both sides.”
Yamamoto cannot disparage the role the Iwo Jima battle plays in raising Americans’ patriotic sentiments. But as with differences over dealing with North Korea on the abductee issue, the sand controversy serves as another annoying example of this gap in the two nations’ sensibilities and awareness.© Japan Today