February of 1970, on the 25th anniversary of the battle landing, the Fifth Marine Division Association, under the guidance of member Charles Early, sponsored a Reunion of Japanese and American veterans on the island of Iwo Jima.
Men from both sides met in peace for the first time since the horrific battle and had full ceremonies of raising flags, singing national anthems, saying prayers, laying wreaths, and making speeches. The former enemies shook hands on top of Mt Suribachi.
BGen William Jones, the commanding General of the 3rd Marine Division represented the Commandant. Other dignitaries included Buddhist Monk Reverent Tsunezo Wachi, and NBC’s senior correspondent in Asia, John Rich, who along with Japanese Major Horie, of Chi Chi Jima, acted as translators.
The entire Reunion in Peace lasted from Feb 17 to March 2, 1970, and events were attended by the widows of Gen Kuribayashi and Baron Nishi. The reunion was widely publicized at the time, featured on a segment of the Huntley-Brinkley report and covered in Stars and Stripes. However, in the days before the Internet, somehow this seminal event which set the tone of peace and co-operation, has been mostly lost in historic accounts.
The importance of this first reunion, which preceded the First Reunion of Honor by fifteen years, cannot be overestimated. Among the significant results of the 1970 reunion was the beginning of a large scale collection and return of Japanese souvenirs to bereaved Japanese families of war dead. Fifth Marine Division Association member Marty Connor, who attended the 25 th anniversary event on Iwo Jima, met Rev Wachi there, and forged a long lasting friendship and cooperation in identifying and returning these items, of deep significance to the families in Japan. The effort of the Marines in returning the war souvenirs helped with the growing spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and understanding.