Standing in front of the Commonwealth War Cemetery, several Marines stood in ranks in their dress uniforms, waiting to escort former prisoners-of-war and their families into the cemetery.
"I love the welcome they gave for Daddy," said Pam Eslinger, daughter of one of the former POWs.
Each year since 2010, former American POWs are honored by the Japanese/Prisoners-of-War Friendship Program, sponsored by the Japanese government for the purpose of reconciliation. This year, being the 70th anniversary since Japan's surrender, gave this particular visit added significance.
Former American prisoners of war, from left, William Howard Chittenden, 95, of Wheaton, IL., Carl Dyer, 91, of Oglesby, IL., and Joseph Demott, 97, of Lititz, PA., join others to pray at the Commonwealth War Graves in Yokohama near Tokyo Monday, Oct. 12, 2015 (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) (The Associated Press)
Nine American POWs - the youngest, 91-year-old Clifford Warren - took the roughly 11-hour flight from the U.S. to Japan.
"This is fantastic," Warren said. He was one of 9,000 men captured by the Japanese, when his unit was forced to surrender in the Philippines in 1942. He spent the last year of the war working in a lead mine in Kamioka, Japan. This was Warren's first time back to the country that held him captive.
He couldn't help but be impressed by Japan's development. "I've never seen a more cleaner nation," he said.
The occasion also had special meaning to others who attended, most notably Satoko Kogure, a Newsweek reporter, who traveled all the way from New York and brought her family members to visit Jack Warner, a former POW, and his daughter Pam Eslinger.
Kogure and Warner had met before in Oklahoma. She cried and apologized to him after learning that her grandfather was a convicted war criminal and a commandant of a Japanese camp in Yokohama where Warner, a Marine, was imprisoned.
63 Marines from the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Pacific (FASTPAC) and several Sailors from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet escorted the nine POWs around the cemetery.
The official ceremony included colors, a historical presentation of the cemetery by Japanese representatives and a tribute to the Yokohama Cremation Memorial on the grounds.
Afterwards, some walked around the cemetery and read grave inscriptions of the 1,555 deceased POWs who died during World War II. Others were glued to theirs seats listening to old war stories and words of wisdom from the veterans.
Eslinger said the bilateral Japanese-American commemorative program gives former POWs a sense of peace and closure, but that sense of closure was also visible in the family members who attended.
"A few tears did roll down my eyes. The event is emotional because I do love my country and I respect what my daddy did and what he stands for; and it is emotional to him," Eslinger said.