A Japanese sergeant was killed in a car crash near a naval base where U.S. and Filipino troops were involved in joint military exercises, officials said Monday, in what Japan’s military confirmed was the first time that a member of its Ground Self-Defense Forces died during an overseas drill.
Sgt. 1st Class Suguru Maehara, 38, died on Oct. 2 as Japan joined as an “observer” in this year’s exercises, codenamed “Kamandag” (Venom) and held at a Philippine navy base north of Manila, Department of National Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong told reporters.
“The Department of National Defense extends its condolences to the family and loved ones of Sgt. Suguru Maehara who died in a most unfortunate vehicular accident while he was in our country,” he said.
Maehara, a member of Tokyo’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, was aboard a vehicle on an administrative mission when it collided with a truck at a highway in Subic, a former U.S. naval base north of Manila, according to the Philippine News Agency.
The Japanese soldier was helping in the delivery of food supplies to members participating in the drill, officials said.
“The vehicle was driven by a Filipino civilian, while the other passenger was another Japanese soldier. Both were injured in the accident but have been released from hospital,” Andolong said.
The incident was confirmed by the Philippine military, which did not release any other details.
Japanese military officials said Maehara’s companion, a member of Tokyo’s central transportation command, suffered a broken rib and was discharged from the hospital where Maehara was also taken.
Maehara and about 100 Japanese Marines were observing the 10-day exercises dubbed “Cooperation of Warriors at Sea” and involving more than 1,300 U.S. and Filipino Marines. The drills focused as well on humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief operations.
Japanese armored vehicles, backed by a small contingent of Japanese soldiers in camouflage, played the role of wounded combatants during the drills on Saturday – in what officials said marked the first time that Tokyo’s armored vehicles had rolled on foreign soil since World War II, according to the news agency AFP.
Japan occupied the Philippines for more than three years after it launched an invasion on Dec. 8, 1941, about 10 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The occupation ended after Japan surrendered to Allied forces on Sept. 2, 1945.