HSINCHU, Taiwan - War veterans gathered Saturday for Taiwan's first military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in World War II, as the island vies with China over the history of the conflict.
Jet fighters and attack helicopters were among aircraft that flew past in formation as President Ma Ying-jeou spoke to the thousands gathered in the northern Hsinchu county on the Kuomintang (Nationalist) government's role in the conflict.
The crowd gave a thundering applause as jeeps carrying more than 20 veterans, displaying victory signs, paraded past along surrounded by trucks carrying ground troops and missiles, as well as tanks.
"There was only one truth: the war battling Japan was mostly conducted by the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official title), thanks to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek," Ma said.
"This must not be distorted and tampered. We do not want to boast about the victory, but rather we want to prevent war... Only in this way can we learn the lesson from history in a correct way." Japan invaded China in 1937 and the two countries fought a full-scale war until Japan was defeated in 1945, during which 3.2 million Kuomintang soldiers died, according to tallies from Taiwan's government.
The country's first parade to commemorate the defeat of Japan comes as Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party fears Beijing is trying to give full credit for the victory to Mao Zedong's communist forces.
But the plans sparked criticism from the radical anti-China opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union, which urged the military to instead step up efforts against continued Chinese influence.
Hsu Ming-teh, a former navy officer wearing a dark blue uniform decorated with a belatedly awarded national medal, was among more than 130 veterans invited to the ceremony.
"I'm really happy," he said in an emotional voice. "This would have been better if it were held 20 years ago, or half a century since the victory against Japan." A fleet of 64 jet fighters, attack helicopters and utility aircraft flew low over the Hukou base while two newly acquired Apache attack helicopters swooped and looped, followed by a group of soldiers unloaded from utilities helicopters.
The Kuomintang government fled the mainland for Taiwan after their troops were crushed by the Chinese communist forces in 1949, at the end of a civil war in China.
Since Ma from the Kuomintang came to power on the island in 2008 with the promise of beefing up trade and tourism links, China has admitted the party contributed in the fight.