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Japan returns to old name for Iwo Jima

June 21, 2007|From the Associated Press

TOKYO — Japan has returned to using the prewar name for the island of Iwo Jima, site of one of World War II's most horrific battles, at the urging of its original inhabitants.

The revised name, Iwo To, was adopted Monday by the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute in consultation with Japan's coast guard.

Surviving islanders evacuated during the war praised the move, saying their former home's identity has been hijacked by movies such as Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima."

But others said it cheapened the memory of a brutal campaign that is inextricably linked to the words "Iwo Jima."

In 1945, the small, volcanic island was the site of the fierce battle immortalized by a famous photograph showing Marines raising the U.S. flag on the islet's Mt. Suribachi.

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, who was a 24-year-old captain in the regiment that raised the flag, was surprised and upset by the news.

"Frankly, I don't like it. That name is so much a part of our tradition, our legacy," Haynes said.

Haynes, 87, heads the Combat Veterans of Iwo Jima, a group of about 600 veterans who travel to the island every year for a reunion.

"It was Iwo Jima to us when we took it," he said.

"We'll recognize whatever the Japanese want to call it, but we'll stick to Iwo Jima."

Even some Japanese war veterans, such as 84-year-old Kiyoshi Endo, feel uncomfortable about the switch.

"Naval maps have long used the name Iwo Jima," the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun quoted Endo as saying.

"We should respect that history."

Before the war, the isolated islet was called Iwo To -- pronounced "ee-woh-toh" -- by the estimated 1,000 people who lived there. In Japanese, that name, despite the different sound, looks and means the same as Iwo Jima -- Sulfur Island.

The civilians were evacuated in 1944. Some Japanese navy officers who moved in mistakenly called it Iwo Jima, and the name stuck. After the war, civilians weren't allowed to return.

A map with the new name will be released Sept. 1.

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