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IWO JIMA STILL INHABITED BY JAPANESE AND U.S. MILITARY AFTER 5 DECADES

The war is long over, and the rough waves of the Pacific have washed the sandy, brown beaches clean of the blood of tens of thousands who died here.

Nearly five decades after Japan's surrender, Iwo Jima continues to be inhabited by the Japanese and American military. Only now they are working together."To me the whole island is sacred ground," said Lt. Commander Kiichiro Tomita, head of flight operations on Iwo Jima, a tiny volcanic crag covered with bunkers and surrounded by the wreckage of sunken ships.

"So many people have died here," he said.

An 11-mile long network of tunnels and shelters stretches underground. Many still are cluttered with broken helmets, rusted grenades, rifles and bottles of medicine. Many of the tunnels have collapsed, and some have the rotten-egg smell of volcanic gases.

The island, made famous by a photograph of American Marines raising the Stars and Stripes, was the site of a February 1945 battle that claimed the lives of 19,900 Japanese soldiers and 6,821 Americans.

Its tunnels and shelters continue to give up the dead, many buried alive by American bombing raids. The remains of 197 soldiers were recovered earlier this year in a government-led search.

The bones of 7,816 Japanese troops have been recovered in similar searches, which began in 1952, although Iwo Jima was administered by the U.S. government until 1968.

Attesting to the intensity of the battle, the Japanese military digs up and detonates five tons of unexploded World War II-vintage ordnance every year, said Lt. Commander Isamu Kinoshita, who led a small group of reporters on a recent tour of the island.

A total of 335 Japanese air force and naval personnel are stationed on Iwo Jima, 750 miles south of Tokyo, along with 25 U.S. Coast Guard personnel.

Because of opposition from neighbors to their use of a U.S. base just outside Tokyo, U.S. Navy fighter pilots from the carrier Independence also began using the island last year for nighttime takeoff and landing practice.

Iwo's sole runway, 8,745 feet long, cuts through thick tropical bush that now covers the once barren island of nine square miles.

Though the United States has called the move temporary, the Japanese government is spending $125.6 million to construct facilities to accommodate 400 American personnel and 25 aircraft by spring next year.

"We are extending our maximum cooperation to U.S. personnel," said Tomita.

In the past three practice sessions on the island, Japanese and U.S. servicemen slept in the same Japanese barracks and ate their meals together, he said.

Japanese jet fighter pilots also fly into Iwo Jima for practice landings from time to time.