President Barack Obama today thanked Marines, sailors and family members at Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for “being the backbone” of the U.S.-Japanese alliance.
The president spoke in a hangar on the base before moving to Hiroshima to place a wreath at the site of the first atomic bombing. He is the first president to visit the site since the U.S. Army Air Forces dropped the atomic bomb on the city in 1945, killing more than 100,000 and effectively ending World War II.
Obama told the Marines that he is proud that the United States is rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific, and continues to do so.
“This region is vital to our shared security and prosperity,” he said. “That takes security cooperation. It takes trade agreements. It takes relationship building between people. And it takes the proud service of men and women throughout the region working with our outstanding men and women who serve with the armed forces of Japan.”
The president said his visit to Hiroshima was an opportunity to honor the memory of all those lost during World War II. “It’s a chance to reaffirm our commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a war where nuclear weapons will no longer be necessary,” he said.
The visit is a testament to bridging divides. The United States and Japan were bitter enemies in 1945. The visit shows “how our two nations — former adversaries — can be not just partners, but become the best of friends and the strongest of allies,” he said. “We see the strength of our alliance on display right here: This base is a powerful example of the trust and cooperation and friendship between the United States and Japan.”
Marines from Iwakuni have partnered with Japan Self-Defense Forces to aid people around the region; from cyclone victims in Bangladesh to flooding victims in the Philippines. Last month, Iwakuni Marines helped deliver relief to families stricken by earthquakes in Kumamoto that left 49 people dead and thousands homeless.
The president related a story about a MV-22B Osprey pilot, Capt. Tessa Snow, who flew aid into the stricken prefecture. One family was so thankful they will name their little girl — who will be born next month — after the young captain.
“They want their daughter to grow up with the same qualities that Tessa has: honor and courage and commitment, and a willingness to help others,” Obama said. “[These are] qualities that define our men and women in uniform.”
The president said American and Japanese personnel working at Iwakuni demonstrate every day the values of the United States and Japan: freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and respect for the rule of law. “As a result this alliance hasn’t been essential to just our two countries, it’s an indispensible source of stability and an essential foundation for prosperity in this region and around the world,” he said.
The president said it was especially fitting he speak to the U.S. troops as Memorial Day approaches. “It’s a reminder of the risks and the sacrifices that are part of your jobs,” he said. “It a reminder that we have to honor all of those who have given everything for our freedom.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)