• SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—World War II veterans Howard Johnson (left) and Raymond Russell Kelly (right) hold a conversation at the end of a parade honoring the WWII veterans as a part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Johnson served as a Merchant Marine and a logistics special in the Army while Kelly was pilot. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—World War II veterans Howard Johnson (left) and Raymond Russell Kelly (right) hold a conversation at the end of a parade honoring the WWII veterans as a part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Howard Johnson, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, walks through the American Memorial Park Museum before a parade honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Johnson was 19 when he landed on the beaches of Saipan during the battle, he first served in the Merchant Marines before enlisted into the Army. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Howard Johnson, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, walks through the American Memorial Park Museum before a parade honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Johnson was 19 when he landed on...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Col. Michael Forsyth, 196th Infantry Brigade Commander, U.S. Army Pacific, talks with World War II veteran, Howard Johnson before a parade honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Johnson was 19 when he landed on the beaches of Saipan during the battle. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Col. Michael Forsyth, 196th Infantry Brigade Commander, U.S. Army Pacific, talks with World War II veteran, Howard Johnson before a parade honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Johnson was...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Bishop Yoshio Okamoto of the Tenrikyo Onomichi Church in Japan reads a prayer honoring and asking for peace for the fallen U.S. and Japanese warriors during a parade and wreath-laying ceremony honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Nearly 36,000 Japanese and U.S. service members died during the Battle of Saipan. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Bishop Yoshio Okamoto of the Tenrikyo Onomichi Church in Japan reads a prayer honoring and asking for peace for the fallen U.S. and Japanese warriors during a parade and wreath-laying ceremony honoring the 70th...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Service members, World War II veterans, community leaders and members, paid tribute to the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan parade and wreath-laying commemoration ceremony held at the American Memorial Park in Saipan June 15. Six of the few surviving WWII veterans attended the ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Service members, World War II veterans, community leaders and members, paid tribute to the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan parade and wreath-laying commemoration ceremony held at the American Memorial Park...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—A Marine color guard presents the colors as the team passes the review stand during parade for the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. All branches of service were represented during the ceremony. The 70th anniversary may mark the last commemoration ceremony of the Saipan Battle due to the age and health of the WWII veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—A Marine color guard presents the colors as the team passes the review stand during parade for the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. All branches of service were represented during the ceremony...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Robert A. Burke, a World War II veteran waves as his car stops at the review stand at the end of a parade honoring the World War II veterans as a part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Burke was one of six veterans to return to Saipan for the ceremony. The 70th anniversary may mark the last commemoration ceremony of the Saipan Battle due to the age and health of the WWII veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Robert A. Burke, a World War II veteran waves as his car stops at the review stand at the end of a parade honoring the World War II veterans as a part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Burke...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Coast Guardsmen pass the review stand during a parade honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. All branches of services were represented during the ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Coast Guardsmen pass the review stand during a parade honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. All branches of services were represented during the ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt...

  • SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Carl Matthews, a World War II veteran shows a little spirit and points at the crowd as his car stops at the review stand at the end of a parade honoring the World War II veterans as a part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, June 15. Matthews served with the 9th Marine Heavy Artillery Troop during the Battle of Saipan. The 70th anniversary may mark the last commemoration ceremony of the Saipan Battle due to the age and health of the WWII veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson, USARPAC PAO)

    Proudly saluting after 70 years

    SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island—Carl Matthews, a World War II veteran shows a little spirit and points at the crowd as his car stops at the review stand at the end of a parade honoring the World War II veterans as a part of the 70th Anniversary...

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Island--Current service members, World War II veterans, and community leaders honored the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Saipan by attending a parade and a wreath-laying commemoration ceremony held at American Memorial Park in Saipan June 15.

Nearly 400 people attended the parade and ceremony where six of the last few surviving U.S. and Japanese veterans gave speeches about their experiences 70 years ago.

With the liberation of Saipan from Japan, the U.S. commonwealth territory became a strategic stronghold for American forces in the Pacific region. The newly liberated country helped to strengthen the American defenses and Saipan's location proved to be vital to America's offensive campaign during WWII.

Howard Johnson, who started his military career with the Merchant Marines before transferring into the Army, said he landed on the beaches of Saipan around 8 a.m. on June 15, 1944. He described the scene of the beach as utter chaos and his only thought was to survive.

"There was no time to think about what I've gotten myself into," said Johnson, now a 96-year old World War II veteran. "Back then, we didn't think twice about what we did. There were a handful of us that were drafted, but most of us were volunteers. There was a word we used back then and it was called patriotism. We loved America, so we wanted to defend and support it so we could stay a free nation. I was always proud to be a part of that. Nobody enjoys war, but we felt that we had the obligation to defend our nation. All the American men and women tried to do that during World War II."

The commemoration ceremony for the Battle of Saipan is held every 10 years, however, Vicente Camacho, director of Veteran Affairs in Saipan says this will possibly be the last ceremony held based on the age and condition of the surviving veterans.

"As Soldiers, as public servants, we should remember where we come from," said Camacho. "As a 24-year Army veteran, I was brought up, if you don't live through it, you don't feel it. "We only see photos and video clips from back then, we weren't there, but it's our duty to remember and honor their sacrifices for our nation."

The ceremony holds a significance in the lives of the surviving veterans. Most of the surviving WWII veterans were in their teens when they arrived to Saipan. This is Johnson's first trip back in 67 years, while Yoshio Ideguchi, an 88-year-old former Japanese sailor from Nasushiobara-Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, has made 30 trips to pay homage to the 36,000 fallen U.S. and Japanese warriors.

"The veterans were very young when they fought here in Saipan, so they have so many important memories of their times here. So it's partly coming home for them," said Jim superintended for the American Memorial Park.

While the 70th anniversary may possibly marks the last official ceremony, Camacho said that the veterans' sacrifices and memories will continue to live through the peace and strengthening relationship fostered between the U.S. and Japan.

Page last updated Fri June 20th, 2014 at 21:18