Bullet-riddled U.S. flag that survived D-Day comes home 75 years later

U.S. President Donald Trump, Dutch art collector Bert Kreuk, Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch look at a flag that flew on the first U.S. invading ship on D-Day during a White House ceremony after it was donated by Kreuk to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Shot through by German machine-gun bullets and tattered by the wind, an American flag that flew on the first U.S. invading ship on D-Day came home on Thursday in a White House ceremony.

The flag handover was a main part of the visit to the White House by Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, who held Oval Office talks with President Donald Trump.

The flag has been owned by retired Dutch businessman and art collector Bert Kreuk, who paid $514,000 for it at auction three years ago with the intention of donating it to the United States.

“I cannot keep it myself. It needs to go to the right institution. I need to give it back,” Kreuk said in a telephone interview ahead of the ceremony, at which he spoke.

The flag is to be put on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

The 48-star flag was on the U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Control 60, which was one of three advance ships directing troops onto Utah Beach on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944.

The LCC 60 was the only one of the three to complete its mission in the chaos of D-Day.

The ship and its 14-member crew were commanded by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Howard Vander Beek, a one-time Iowa teacher who brought the flag home from the war and kept it in his basement until he died in 2014.

“It is my honor to welcome this great American flag back home where it belongs,” said Trump, who called it a “reminder of the supreme sacrifice of our warriors and the beautiful friendship between the Dutch and the American people.”

To Kreuk, 54, the flag represented the liberation effort that saved his family from Nazi rule during World War Two. He said he lost family members during a German bombing raid on Rotterdam in 1940.

Kreuk said his donation of the flag is aimed at remembering World War Two. “For many of you, this will be the first time that you will see the flag,” but for many on D-Day, “it was the last time.”

Trump attended ceremonies in Normandy on June 6 marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Dan Grebler)

‘Thank You’ – Queen Elizabeth, President Trump and world leaders applaud D-Day veterans

French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participate in an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Dylan Martinez and Steve Holland

PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth was joined by world leaders including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, paying personal tribute to the veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history which helped bring World War Two to an end.

The queen, Prince Charles, presidents and prime ministers rose to applaud veterans, their coats heavy with medals, as they stood on a giant stage beside a guard of honor after a film of the Normandy landings was shown.

“The wartime generation – my generation – is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today,” the 93-year-old queen, wearing bright pink, said.

“The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country and indeed the whole free world that I say to you all: thank you.”

Prime Minister Theresa May was joined for the commemorative events in Portsmouth by U.S. President Trump, who is on the final day of a state visit to Britain, and his wife, Melania.

Trump read a prayer given by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944: “The enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, German Chancellor Merkel, and leaders and senior figures from 10 other countries also attended.

Soldiers stay stand for the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Soldiers stay stand for the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, Britain, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

BLOOD AND THUNDER

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 allied troops set off from Portsmouth and the surrounding area to begin the air, sea and land attack on Normandy that ultimately led to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.

By the time of the Normandy landings, Soviet forces had been fighting Germany in the east for almost three years and Kremlin chief Josef Stalin had urged British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front as far back as August 1942.

The invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord and commanded by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains the largest amphibious assault in history and involved almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile (80-km) stretch of the French coast.

Shortly after midnight, thousands of paratroopers were dropped. Then came the naval bombardment of German positions overlooking the shore. Then the infantry arrived on the beaches.

Mostly American, British and Canadian men, some just boys, waded ashore as German soldiers tried to kill them with machine guns and artillery. Survivors say the sea was red with blood and the air boiling with the thunder of explosions.

Thousands were killed on both sides. Line upon line of white crosses honor the dead in cemeteries across northern France. Even the codenames of the sectors of the invasion – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword – can draw tears from veterans.

“I was terrified. I think everyone was,” said John Jenkins, 99, a veteran who landed at Gold Beach. “You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together.”

The commemorations featured an hour-long performance recounting the wartime events and a flypast by historic, military aircraft. Afterwards, world leaders met veterans of the landings.

The queen, President Trump, Melania and Prince Charles shook hands with half a dozen veterans were waiting for them, exchanging a few words and asking them about their stories from D-Day.

Sixteen countries attended the commemorations: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

They agreed a proclamation to “ensure that the unimaginable horror of these years is never repeated”.

Merkel said Germany’s liberation from National Socialism brought about something “of which we can be proud.”

“Reconciliation, and unity within Europe, but also the entire post-war order, which brought us peace, for more than seven decades so far,” she said. “That I can be here as German Chancellor, that together we can stand for peace and freedom – that is a gift from history that we must cherish and preserve.”

On Wednesday evening, some 300 veterans who took part on D-Day, all now older than 90, will leave Portsmouth on a specially commissioned ship, MV Boudicca, and retrace their 1944 journey across the English Channel, accompanied by Royal Navy vessels and a lone wartime Spitfire fighter plane.

(Writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry and Toby Chopra)

There to save, not to kill: U.S. survivor recalls D-Day bloodshed

Charles Norman Shay, 94, a Penobscot Native American Indian WWII veteran, poses as he attends an interview with Reuters in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach, France, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Hortense de Roffignac

OMAHA BEACH, France (Reuters) – Seventy-five years ago, 19-year-old Charles Shay leapt off a U.S. landing boat and into chest-deep water just off the Normandy coast. As he came ashore in the first wave of D-Day infantrymen, he had just one objective.

“I wanted to survive, and that was the thought going through many minds: survival,” Shay said.

On June 6, 1944, he was in France not to kill but to rescue. As a medical technician, he was to treat the wounded as the world’s largest ever seaborne invasion unfolded.

One of 175 Native Americans who landed in Normandy that day, he ran across the beach dozens of times, dragging men out of the surf and patching up their wounds under heavy fire — actions for which he was awarded a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, and France’s Legion d’Honneur.

All around him, Shay faced the earsplitting chaos of rattling machine guns, exploding mortars, disfigured bodies and far too many wounded to treat. Of the 160,000 troops who landed during D-Day, more than 10,000 were wounded or killed.

“I had to sit and think, I had to push all of this out of my mind,” Shay, who celebrates his 95th birthday next month, told Reuters. “I did not think about it anymore, and then I was able to operate and do the things that I was trained to do: treat the wounded and try to save lives.”

He grew up in the Indian Penobscot Nation in the U.S. northeast but now, drawn back to the place where he took part in history, he lives in Normandy.

As the invasion’s 75th anniversary approaches, the telling contribution made by Native Americans – many of them Comanche code talkers tasked with sending radio messages in their language’s impenetrable code – is only starting to be fully appreciated.

That is in large part down to Shay.

Charles Norman Shay, 94, a Penobscot Native American Indian WWII veteran, poses holding an eagle feather as he attends an interview with Reuters in Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse, France, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“After the war, long after, I wanted to speak for Native American veterans,” he said, standing on a bluff near the town of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach. In his hand, he holds a feather of a beaded eagle and his chest is adorned with his unit’s insignia, a host of medals and a traditional Native collar.

Last year, his efforts bore fruit when a memorial was erected to the Native Americans who fought on Omaha Beach. In Native folklore, they are known as the boys from Turtle Island, so it features a large granite turtle.

Although he works to honor their sacrifice, Shay – a veteran of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry Regiment, Fox Company – emphasizes that remembrance encompasses all who serve.

“It’s not only Native Americans it’s all soldiers, from every nation, that participated in the invasion of Europe. We do not want to forget them.”

When Shay was a boy Native Americans faced systematic discrimination, having not been granted U.S. citizenship rights until the month of his birth. But his mother successfully fought to get him an education at a better, all-white school, going so far as to write to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Shay and his three brothers all served their country in World War Two, and they all survived. Asked how he views the end of his days, he is unflinching.

“Am I afraid of death? No, no.”

(Writing by Rachel Joyner; Editing by Luke Baker and John Stonestreet)

Blood and thunder at sea: British veteran remembers D-Day

D-Day veteran Richard Llewellyn poses for a photograph on HMS Belfast, on the River Thames in London, Britain May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Alex Fraser

By Andrew MacAskill and Iona Serrapica

LONDON (Reuters) – Seventy-five years ago, a young British sailor stood on the bridge of a warship, its gun barrels pointing out to the coast of France and watched the devastation being rained down on a country he wanted to liberate.

Today, Richard Llewellyn, 93, is among the dwindling number of veterans of the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy; an operation that turned the tide of World War Two and marked the beginning of the end of the conflict.

The invasion of France is usually told as the story of brave, young men struggling across beaches and fighting their way inland. However, another battle unfolded at sea that day, between the Allied ships and the massive German coastal guns.

Llewellyn describes the thunderous explosions rolling along the shore as every ship in the Allied fleet was blazing away. The enormous firepower sent shells pounding into the cliffs, churning earth, rock, and entire landscapes.

All the while the German battery guns blasted back. The men on the boats could hear the scream of the shells as they passed overhead. The engines of the bombers above added to the concussion of noise. Dead bodies floated in the sea.

Llewellyn compares the scene to watching a spectacular firework display. The warship guns belched out enormous orange balls of flames and mustard colored smoke. Some of the battleships fired 16-inch shells, almost as heavy as a car, and so big they could be seen as they went past.

“The noise was just unbelievable. One of the things that I remember afterwards more than anything else was the noise,” said Llewellyn, who was 18 at the time, and a midshipman on HMS Ajax, which was a light cruiser in the British navy.

“If you go to the cinema and you hear a lot of noise and gunfire and so on, it doesn’t really register. But if you are actually there the whole air is vibrating all the time.”

The assault by almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast remains the largest amphibious invasion in history.

In the decades since, the invasion has become a touchstone for the leaders of Britain, the United States, France and other western countries who will gather in Normandy next month to invoke the heroism. The event will take place as the trans-Atlantic relationships that D-Day forged are fraying.

Differences over military spending for the NATO alliance, disagreements over how to approach the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have raised tensions in the decades-old alliance.

SEABORNE ASSAULT

These concerns are a far cry from the epic mobilization of military machinery and manpower that resulted in the invasion of France in 1944. Then, tens of thousands of men piled into ships and planes to cross the English Channel.

Llewellyn, who has a white goatee and is smartly dressed in a navy jacket and beret for his interview on the HMS Belfast in London, is eloquent and perfectly recalls the events that day. He effortlessly climbs the ship’s steep steps without help.

He said the mood among the men as they crossed the sea was more anticipation than fear or tension.

“It was exciting,” he said. “We were far more patriotic in those days than we are now. We knew that the Germans had to be defeated and anything had to be done to make it possible.”

He dismisses the idea that people were praying or savoring their last meal as the invasion began.

“We weren’t Americans, I am afraid,” he said with a chuckle.

THE LUCKIEST SHOT

Although only a teenager, his experiences living through the German bombardment of London, known as the Blitz, meant he was familiar with being bombed.

On D-Day, Llewellyn’s ship was engaged in a duel with German gun batteries, particularly those at Longues-sur-Mer, nestled high on the cliff tops, situated between where British and American troops were landing on the Gold and Omaha beaches.

In what was perhaps one of the most accurate or luckiest shots of the war, his ship situated a few miles offshore, scored a direct hit, landing a heavy shell through the narrow slit of one of the fortifications.

On the bridge of the ship, Llewellyn watched the invasion through binoculars as the haze of smoke shrouded the shore.

“There were landing craft destroyed,” he said. “They really met a hostile reception and you could see that and you could see the landing craft being hit by shells, there were a lot of fires.”

As his ship continued to shell the German positions it faced its own threat from mines, shelling, and the Luftwaffe, the German air force.

At one point, a German plane dropped a bomb that landed just a few meters from his boat. The explosion winded him and sent the ship violently swaying from side to side.

Was it terrifying?

“I suppose it was in a way,” he said with typical understatement.

Llewellyn survived the onslaught and the Allies conquered the coastline. He plans to attend the D-Day anniversary in Normandy next month.

He has been back several times and says it is an emotional experience, particularly visiting the graveyards.

But he also feels guilty about the destruction caused to France, particularly as the navy began firing shells at targets further inland, some of which fell in nearby villages.

“The ordinary citizens come up and say how grateful they are. I found that quite difficult to take actually. I don’t feel that we had done anything special, especially for them,” he said. “Their homes were knocked down by shells and troops. Unfortunately, war leaves a lot of destruction.”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

In western France, a village remembers D-Day’s ‘secret massacre’

A general view shows remains of the former church at the memorial of Graignes, in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Richard Lough

GRAIGNES, France (Reuters) – The lost U.S. paratrooper tapped on the door of the Rigault family’s farmhouse in Normandy, France in the early hours of June 6, 1944, miles south of his intended drop zone and soaking from his landing in the surrounding marshland.

After four years under German occupation, 12-year-old Marthe Rigault, awoken by the roar of aircraft overhead, watched as her parents warmed the foreign soldier with a flask of coffee.

By dawn, dozens of men from the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment had hunkered down on the Rigault farm outside the village of Graignes. As they did, the distant boom of heavy artillery carried inland as allied forces invaded Europe on the Normandy beaches to drive the Nazis from France.

“They said, ‘Don’t be afraid, we’re you’re friends, the Tommies,'” Rigault, now 86, recalled. “We thought we’d been liberated. We were overjoyed. We didn’t know it that morning, but it would be a month before Graignes was set free.”

Some 170 paratroopers had been involved in one of the worst misdrops of any airborne unit on D-Day. Separated from their comrades in German-occupied territory, the troops dug in.

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The inhabitants of Graignes were swift to help, feeding the U.S. troops, relaying intelligence and retrieving their equipment from the marshland. The village would pay a heavy price for offering assistance. It would lead to what they now call the “secret massacre” of D-Day.

“For two or three days, my father, sister and I, and others too, rowed out with the soldiers to recover their munitions and parachutes from the marshes,” Rigault said.

The Americans converted the village boys school into a command center, mined access roads and turned the belfry of Graignes’ 12th century church into an observation post.

Only the church bell tower stands today, a memorial to the U.S. soldiers and civilians killed during the battle for Graignes. The Germans launched their assault on June 11, as Marthe Rigault and her elder sister, Odette, attended mass.

“A woman ran in and told us to hide because the Germans were nearby,” said Rigault. Panic swept through the nave as gunfire erupted outside.

REVENGE

The village has invited both U.S. and German troops to attend a dinner to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings and the battle for Graignes. President Donald Trump will attend a ceremony at a nearby U.S. war cemetery to honor his country’s forces who took part in the D-Day landings.

In Graignes, the U.S. paratrooopers were outnumbered and outgunned.

For nine hours, Rigault sat huddled with her sister against the church’s stone walls as wounded soldiers and civilians were brought in. As dusk fell and their defenses crumbled, the American soldiers were forced to retreat from Graignes.

The Germans were brutal in their reprisals against the village, Rigault recalled.

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses holding a copy of a photograph taken couple of weeks after the D-Day and showing herself among relatives and U.S. soldiers as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses holding a copy of a photograph taken couple of weeks after the D-Day and showing herself among relatives and U.S. soldiers as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The village priest, Father Albert Leblastier, and a Franciscan priest were shot dead and their bodies burned. Homesteads were torched. The maimed paratroopers left behind were split into two groups: some were marched down the road and executed, others were “thrown into the marshes and bayoneted,” Rigault recalled. “We weren’t allowed to pull them out for several days.”

For four decades, Rigault had no news of the U.S. troops she had helped, although word of the villagers’ bravery reached Washington.

Rigault treasures a battered certificate signed by Dwight Eisenhower, in his capacity as the commanding U.S. general in Europe, on behalf of the U.S. president expressing thanks to her father, Gustave, for helping the paratroopers.

Then, in 1984, a small number of U.S. soldiers whose lives had been saved by the villagers returned to Graignes.

“It was tough for them to come back because they felt that in some way they had abandoned the villagers, left them to face the Germans’ revenge,” said Denis Small, mayor of Graignes for the past 22 years. “But the village received them for the liberators that they were.”

Two years later, in 1986, the U.S. government recognized Rigault for her courage in aiding the troops as a young girl with an Award for Distinguished Civilian Service.

Graignes was liberated from the Germans on July 12, 1944.

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Remains of hundreds of Jews unearthed in Nazi-era mass grave in Belarus

A soldier from a special "search battalion" of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

BREST, Belarus (Reuters) – Soldiers in Belarus have unearthed the bones of hundreds of people shot during World War Two from a mass grave discovered at the site of a ghetto where Jews lived under the Nazis.

The grave was uncovered by chance last month on a construction site in a residential area in the center of Brest near the Polish border.

A soldier from a special "search battalion" of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A soldier from a special “search battalion” of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Soldiers wearing white masks on Tuesday sifted through the site with spades, trowels and their gloved hands to collect the bones. They also found items such as leather shoes that had not rotted.

Dmitry Kaminsky, a soldier leading the unit, said they had exhumed 730 bodies so far, but could not be sure how many more would be found.

“It’s possible they go further under the road. We have to cut open the tarmac road. Then we’ll know,” he said.

Some of the skulls bore bullet holes, he said, suggesting the victims had been executed by a shot to the back of the head.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic, was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two and tens of thousands of its Jews were killed by the Nazis.

The site of the mass grave served from December 1941 to October 1942 as part of a ghetto, areas created by the Nazis to segregate Jews and sometimes other minorities from other city dwellers. Brest was part of Poland before the war.

The remains were discovered when builders began to lay the foundations for an apartment block.

Local authorities want to bury the bodies in a ceremony at a cemetery in the north of the city.

“We want to be sure that there are no more mass graves here,” said Alla Kondak, a local culture official.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

German police defuse WW2 bomb after evacuating central Berlin

Police officers look at a dismantled World War Two bomb at a construction site next to the central train station in Berlin, Germany, April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

BERLIN (Reuters) – Bomb disposal experts defused a World War Two bomb in Berlin on Friday after evacuating an area in the heart of Berlin including the central train station, a hospital and the Economy Ministry.

The 500-kg British bomb was discovered during building work this week, more than seven decades after the end of World War Two.

Some 10,000 people – including residents, hospital patients and office workers – were evacuated from 9 a.m. from buildings within an 800 metre radius of the bomb while experts performed the delicate operation.

Police posted a video on Twitter showing officers walking up the stairs in an apartment building with the caption: “We’re not bringing room service or breakfast in bed but a personal wake-up call.”

The gave the all the clear in the early afternoon and the city began getting back to normal.

Long-distance and local train transport at the central station was disrupted for several hours but police said on Twitter that the station had now re-opened. Bus and tram services also restarted.

The evacuation area included the Natural History Museum, the BND intelligence agency, a clinic of the Charite hospital and an army hospital.

Some roads were closed but were due to gradually reopen.

Germany still discovers more than 2,000 tonnes of live bombs and munitions every year.

Last year some 60,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Frankfurt after a massive bomb dropped by Britain’s Royal Air Force was unearthed.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; additional reporting by Laura Dubois; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alison Williams)

Japan plans to send largest warship to South China Sea

FILE PHOTO: A helicopter lands on the Izumo, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) helicopter carrier, at JMSDF Yokosuka base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Japan,

By Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan plans to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May, three sources said, in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.

China claims almost all the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan and the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

The Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned only two years ago, will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and U.S. naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July.

It will return to Japan in August, the sources said.

“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” said one of the sources who have knowledge of the plan. “It will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea,” he added, asking not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

A spokesman for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force declined to comment.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the sea which has rich fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits and through which around $5 trillion of global sea-borne trade passes each year.

Japan does not have any claim to the waters, but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.

Japan wants to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pushed ties with China in recent months as he has criticized the old alliance with the United States, to visit the Izumo when it visits Subic Bay, about 100 km (62 miles) west of Manila, another of the sources said.

Asked during a news conference about his view on the warship visit, Duterte said, without elaborating, “I have invited all of them.”

He added: “It is international passage, the South China Sea is not our territory, but it is part of our entitlement.”

On whether he would visit the warship at Subic Bay, Duterte said: “If I have time.”

Japan’s flag-flying operation comes as the United States under President Donald Trump appears to be taking a tougher line with China. Washington has criticized China’s construction of man-made islands and a build-up of military facilities that it worries could be used to restrict free movement.

Beijing in January said it had “irrefutable” sovereignty over the disputed islands after the White House vowed to defend “international territories”.

The 249 meter-long (816.93 ft) Izumo is as large as Japan’s World War Two-era carriers and can operate up to nine helicopters. It resembles the amphibious assault carriers used by U.S. Marines, but lacks their well deck for launching landing craft and other vessels.

Japan in recent years, particularly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution. It has designated the Izumo as a destroyer because the constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons. The vessel, nonetheless, allows Japan to project military power well beyond its territory.

Based in Yokosuka, near to Tokyo, which is also home to the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s carrier, the Ronald Reagan, the Izumo’s primary mission is anti-submarine warfare.

(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Manila; Editing by Nick Macfie)

On Pearl Harbor visit, Abe pledges Japan will never wage war again

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks with a Pearl Harbor survivor after he and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, U.S., December 27, 2016..

By Jeff Mason

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a symbolic visit to Pearl Harbor with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, commemorating the victims of Japan’s World War Two attack and promising that his country would never wage war again.

The visit, just weeks before Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office, was meant to highlight the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance amid concerns that Trump could forge a more complicated relationship with Tokyo.

“I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place,” Abe said.

“We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken.”

Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, pounding the U.S. fleet moored there in the hope of destroying U.S. power in the Pacific.

Abe did not apologize for the attack, a step that would have irked his conservative supporters, many of whom say U.S. economic sanctions forced Japan to open hostilities.

“This visit to Pearl Harbor was to console the souls of the war dead, not to apologize,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo, adding the trip had showed that the allies would contribute to world peace and prosperity.

Obama, who earlier this year became the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an
atomic bomb in 1945, called Abe’s visit a “historic gesture” that was “a reminder that even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and a lasting peace.”

Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, although three others including his grandfather had made quiet stops in Pearl Harbor in the 1950s.

The two leaders stood solemnly in front of a wall inscribed with the names of those who died in the 1941 attack and took part in a brief wreath-laying ceremony, followed by a moment of silence.

“In Remembrance, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan” was written on one wreath and “In Remembrance, Barack Obama, President of the United States” on the other.

They then threw flower petals into the water.

After their remarks, both leaders greeted and Abe embraced U.S. veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor attack.

In China, which has repeatedly urged Japan to show greater repentance for World War Two and Japan’s invasion of China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said real reflection was needed, not show.

“Reconciliation between inflictor and victim must and can only be established on the basis of sincere and deep reflection by the inflictor,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

DISPLAY OF ALLIANCE STRENGTH

Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the United States amid concerns about China’s expanding military capability.

During a meeting ahead of the Pearl Harbor visit, Abe and Obama agreed to closely monitor moves by China’s aircraft carrier, recently spotted on a routine drill in the Western Pacific for the first time, and to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

The leaders’ get-together was also meant to reinforce the U.S.-Japan partnership ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Trump, whose opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and campaign threat to force allied countries to pay more to host U.S. forces raised concerns among allies such as Japan.

Obama has sought to provide a smooth transition for Trump, but he made his opposition to the Republican’s policies, including his proposal to ban Muslims temporarily from entering the United States, clear during the 2016 campaign.

“It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward,” Obama said at Pearl Harbor. “We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.”

Abe met with Trump in New York in November and called him a “trustworthy leader.”

Obama called for a world without nuclear arms during his visit to Hiroshima. Trump last week called for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability and reportedly welcomed an international arms race.

Some Abe critics noted the Japanese leader’s visit, and the reconciliation with the United States that it symbolized, underscored the stark contrast in its relationship with China and South Korea, where the bitter wartime legacy still plagues ties with Tokyo.

Abe’s cabinet minister for reconstruction of disaster-hit regions, Masahiro Imamura, paid his respects later in the day (Wednesday, Tokyo time) at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, Kyodo news agency said. Abe angered Beijing and Seoul and upset Washington with his own visit to the shrine three years ago this month.

“A symbolic gesture of contrition to your closest ally is easy,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo.

“If he (Abe) really is sincere about reconciliation diplomacy and overcoming lingering enmities he needs to visit similar symbolic sights (in China and Korea) … and make similar remarks of remorse that are more specific about Japan’s responsibility.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Linda Sieg and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell, Lisa Shumaker and Nick Macfie)

Japan’s Abe pays respects at Hawaii memorials on eve of Pearl Harbor trip

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presents a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.

By Emily Stephenson

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday stopped at several memorials in Hawaii, one day before he visits the site of the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor during a trip intended to show a strong alliance between his country and the United States.

Abe made no public remarks and stood in silence before a wreath of flowers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a memorial to those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Abe, joined by two of his Cabinet members, bowed his head before wreaths of white flowers and greenery laid at the feet of stone monuments at Makiki Cemetery in Honolulu dedicated to Japanese who settled in Hawaii in the 1800s.

The crowning event of the trip comes Tuesday, when Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Pearl Harbor, the site of the Japanese attack 75 years ago that drew the United States into World War Two. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, is spending his winter vacation there.

Abe does not plan to apologize for the 1941 attack but to console the souls of those who died in the war, his aides said this month.

Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the United States amid concerns about China’s expanding military capability. Japan was monitoring a group of Chinese warships that entered the top half of the South China Sea earlier on Monday.

“I am very much looking forward to sending out a strong message on the value of reconciliation, as well as our sincere prayer for the souls of the war dead,” Abe, speaking through an interpreter, said at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.

Abe has called U.S.-Japan relations an “alliance of hope” and said the devastation of war should not be repeated.

In China, where the government has repeatedly urged Japan to show greater repentance for World War Two and Japan’s invasion of China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was “wishful thinking” for Abe if he hoped to use the visit to “settle the accounts” for the war.

“No matter the posture, no matter what show is put on, only sincere reflection can realize the key to reconciliation,” Hua told reporters.

Japanese leaders hope to send a message of unity as well to President-elect Donald Trump, who triggered concerns before his Nov. 8 election by opposing the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and threatening to force allied countries to pay more to host U.S. forces.

Abe has tightened ties with Washington during his four years in office, stretching the limits of Japan’s pacifist constitution and boosting defense spending.

Amid wind and rain on Monday, Abe presented a wreath at the armed forces memorial located at Honolulu’s Punchbowl Crater. After a moment of silence, he signed a guestbook and then stopped at the grave of former U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, who fought in World War II in Europe and whose parents were Japanese. He died in 2012.

Abe’s visit will come seven months after Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in the closing days of the war in 1945.

At least three Japanese premiers have visited Pearl Harbor, but the Japanese government says Abe will be the first to pray for the dead with a U.S. president at the memorial built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson, additional reporting by Hugh Gentry, and by Linda Sieg in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Nick Macfie)