TOKYO, Aug. 15 -- "It was a nightmare. A hellish nightmare," recalled Yasuhito Watabe, a former Japanese Imperial Army infantryman who was still a teenager when the U.S. forces landed on Iwo Jima in February 1945, describing the battle then.
The 88-year-old veteran, who now lives in the coastal area of Atami in Shizuoka Prefecture, said that only two members of his unit survived the battle.
"Nothing could have prepared us for the battle that ensued," said Watebe, as he reflected on the horrifying experiences he had at such a tender age.
This Thursday, for many Japanese people, is a day spent with relatives as a part of a string of national holidays known as Obon in August. However, for a certain generation, like Watabe, the meaning of the date of Aug. 15 runs far deeper.
For this year, the day marks the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.
Exactly 68 years ago, Japan's Emperor Hirohito gave an unprecedented recorded radio address to the nation, announcing Japan's surrender, putting an end to the war.
The announcement followed a massive firebombing campaign of key sites in numerous Japanese cities by the allied forces. After ignoring calls from the allied forces for Japan's surrender in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, two atomic bombs reiterated a message to Japan's emperor and the Imperial Japanese Forces of the impending "utter destruction of Japan."
At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people by the end of the year. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 that year, and Japan surrendered six days later, bringing an end to World War II.
"The anniversary of Japan's surrender is a day of mixed emotions for me personally, although those of my peers that are still alive share the same feelings -- sentiments that have evolved over time," said Watabe.
His gaze was shifting from the ground and off into the distance, as the painful memories flooded back to his mind. The veteran was deployed in the Philippines prior to the Iwo Jima battle, which took the lives of nearly 30,000 troops on both sides, with more than 20,000 of them being Japanese.
"If we were having this conversation a few decades ago, my feelings may have been different, but today I stand here declaring that no good can come of war and this is the message I've passed on to my children and my grandchildren," the veteran said with a shaky voice.
The softly spoken, white-haired veteran had to take a moment to compose himself. "It's important that the future generations hear it firsthand and we're among the last of our generation able to pass on this message personally and that's of great importance," he said more resolutely.
"History books can never paint a real picture of the atrocity of war... I wouldn't want any living soul on the planet to have to go through what we went through," Watabe said.
Takehiro Yanagawase, an 86-year-old retired carpenter from Gunma Prefecture, remembered his days as a pilot for the Naval Volunteer Corps. As with Watabe, Aug. 15 brings with it conflicting emotions.
Yanagawase's conflicting ideologies -- those of past and present -- are evident in his deeply furrowed brow as his thoughts drift back to old days.
"The war time ideology defies logic now ...we had it (ideology) instilled in us ...," he said, shrugging somewhat hopelessly in a way to suggest that in those days, he had no control over his choices, his actions and even his own mindset.
"I lost family members and so many dear friends, It's when we look back we realize the futility of it all -- the loss, the pain, the suffering, on all sides, not just ours. So, in reflection, and with hindsight comes remorse," Yanagawase concluded.
While Japan's Imperial Rising Sun flag is being waved by some at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Shoichi Ishikawa, 83, believes that there is a clear divide in Japanese consciousness regarding this.
"Most of the flag wavers you see here are too young to have served their country. Their actions are merely pseudo-political -- if you quizzed them on facts and history, I'm sure they'd come up short. I'm aware there are those whose stance is very nationalistic, isn't it the same in every country? But that doesn't necessarily reflect the majority."
"But as for me, I have experienced the truth and the real truth of the matter is that Japan will never revert to its past ways because the majority of us are pacifists," said Ishikawa.
"This is because we (veterans) know the torment and agony of war and this is the message we're passing on, and this is the message that resonates louder than recent pseudo-politics," Ishikawa said.