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Posted on July 11, 2015
Salt and Light Citizenship Ministry Co-Leader, Celebration Baptist Church
Tallahassee’s own retired Lieutenant General Lawrence Snowden knows former enemies can become friends. During a service on May 24, 2015 at Celebration Baptist Church he shared how his one-time enemy, the Japanese in the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, now consider him one trusted friend.
In 1995, following a long career in the Marine Corp., General Snowden was asked to organize the 50th anniversary memorial of the battle of Iwo Jima. The General had three objectives on this mission.
First General Snowden wanted to honor the more than 25 thousand dead from both sides of the battle on an obscure island in the Pacific. Second, he wanted the Japanese government to be well represented in the service, an objective he would not fully accomplish the first time around. Third he wanted the remaining Japanese survivors of the battle to gain respect at home despite fighting in a losing effort.
The General persuaded two top officials to come for the ceremony along with fewer than a dozen members of the Japanese elected Imperial Diet. At the service they were impressed with the honor that was bestowed and that there was no grandstanding on our part as a country. Trust was being built between the two countries from a small but extremely official ceremony to honor the dead on both sides. But General Snowden wanted to see more Japanese commemorating the battle. Ten years later more officials came as well as veterans of the battle of Iwo Jima.
General Snowden understood that the challenge of that task lie in nuances of Japanese culture. During the battle Japanese soldiers were tasked with killing 10 Marines each before taking his own life in honor. About 1,000 Japanese were captured on the island of Iwo Jima and most of them were so badly injured that they could not take their own life. Their mere survival brought shame to the Emperor and therefore the people of Japan. The loss of the war brought more shame, suffered to a degree by these Japanese veterans even today. If you are a survivor of Iwo Jima and still alive you don’t exist according to their culture, especially to the older generation. And in a place where ancestry worship is the religion of most you can only imagine how a veteran would never let someone know who he really was.
General Snowden was tasked by his fellow Marines to organize this memorial because he had lived and worked in Japan for a number of years, had served as Chief of Staff, U S Forces, Japan and, after his Marine Corps retirement, had served as President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan for two years while he represented a major US corporation in the Far East. During those years he had built trust with the Japanese in government and in business which made it easier to approach them on such a sensitive issue.
In 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, ten ministers and thirty congressman along with several war veterans attended the service. At the age of 94, General Snowden had finally seen his vision come to fruition and it would not go unnoticed. On April 29, 2015 the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed a joint session of Congress in Washington DC for the first time ever: and sitting next to Yoshitaka Shindo, a member of Japan’s Imperial Diet whose grandfather Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi commanded the defenders of Iwo Jima, was Tallahassee’s very own Lieutenant General Lawrence Snowden. The Prime Minister honored him by saying that, “Enemies that fought each other so fiercely have become friends bonded in spirit. “
The Prime Minister of Japan’s words about General Snowden’s main objective, lived out in a place he never thought he would be or in his wildest imagination that it would be played out in that way. Prime Minister Abe concluded his speech by saying: “The finest asset the U.S. has to give to the world was hope, is hope, will be and must always be hope.” He couldn’t believe that it was happening. At Celebration Baptist Church the General said that this was the proudest moment of his life. All this because of one man’s desire to forgive and to let go of the hate that once so burdened his heart and the hearts of other Marines.
Just as General Snowden reached into the hearts of a hurting enemy, Christ can heal the broken hearts of those who turn to Him. This is the mission of the Salt and Light Citizenship Ministry at Celebration Baptist Church, to connect with our community, state and nation sharing the truth of the gospel message of Christ in love and forgiveness. Throughout the summer, Celebration Baptist Church is hosting a series of sermons called “A World of Trouble” which is geared toward how to live out your Christian faith in today’s culture while sharing the truth of God’s Word in love. As part of the “World of Trouble” series the General spoke as part of the topic on Religious Liberty.
To see General Snowden’s talk at Celebration go to “icelebration.org” and click on “our videos.”