Veterans Day Broadcast: Making Peace with Iwo Jima

Retired Army pilot Jerry Yellin and his wife

On November 10th in honor of Veterans Day, PBS will premiere "Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades," a new documentary that chronicles the journey of three U.S. veterans back to the island on the 70th anniversary of the battle in March 2015. While on Iwo Jima, Lt. General Larry Snowden, USMC (Ret.), US Marine Hershel "Woody" Williams and Army Air Corps fighter pilot Jerry Yellin met with Tsuriji Akikusa, the only Japanese survivor able to make the trip.

The documentary is narrated by actor Ryan Phillippe, who has a strong personal connection to the battle. In Clint Eastwood's 2006 movie Flags of Our Fathers, Phillippe played John "Doc" Bradley, one of the young men in the famous photograph who helped raise the flag over Iwo Jima at battle's end. Both of the actor's grandfathers fought in WWII and his father served in Vietnam.

A Japanese crew interviewed Akikusa and followed his journey to the island, while an American crew performed the same task with the U.S. veterans. Phillippe gives a brief history of the battle and the taking of the iconic photograph.

One of the fascinating angles in the documentary are the varying attitudes of the men in combat. Japanese soldiers were indifferent to their enemies but were expected to show no mercy and die rather than be captured. The Americans all talk about how much they hated their enemies, but Akikusa talks about how he was amazed by the humanity and generosity displayed by his captors.

The Reunion of Honor was started in 1995 by Lt. General Larry Snowden as a way for survivors of both sides to honor the fallen. In the film, Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams is attending the reunion for the first time after previously boycotting the event in protest of the U.S. government's decision to return the island to the government of Japan in 1968. The island is only open one day per year and only for the Reunion of Honor.

The Reunion of Honor is the only war memorial ceremony in the world shared by former enemies. "Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades" salutes combats veterans from both sides of World War II and pays tribute to the vision of Lt. Gen. Snowden, whose leadership created this annual event.

For more on TV programs and movies about the U.S. military, check in with's Under the Radar blog.

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