PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — In the last 30 years, Anderson Giles, a retired University of Maine at Presque Isle art professor, has made many trips and led many World War II veterans on tours of Pacific theater battle sites in his effort to explore and preserve history for future generations.

In March, Giles made what may have been the final trip for many of the aging survivors who, 70 years after the war, participated in commemoration ceremonies at battlefields on Iwo Jima and the island of Peleliu in Palau.

The lure for Giles has been more than historical. He was only 4 years old when his father, H.A. Giles Jr., died in the Korean War. A member of the 4th Marine Division, Giles Jr. also participated during WWII in storming the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

“Every time I go back, every time I talk to a veteran who served there, it is almost like hearing a story my father would have told me,” Giles said Wednesday.

Once a year, the Japanese government allows U.S. and Japanese survivors, relatives of battle participants, members of the press, and government and military officials to take part in ceremonies on Iwo Jima honoring the sacrifices and loss of life that took place during February and March of 1945.

Giles credited General Larry Snowden, who fought with the 4th Marine Division as a young second lieutenant and later worked in Japan for many years, as having been a facilitator of the yearly ceremonies since 1995. Giles said Snowden established and maintained an excellent relationship with leadership in Japan, which helped broker the battlefield exploration agreements.

While Giles will continue to travel to such historic sites, Snowden has decided this past trip in March would be his last visit because of infirmities of age, according to Giles.

“Time is the great healer and time has allowed physical wounds to heal, but healing has left deep scars for many of the survivors and left deep emotional scars on families of those who died here,” Snowden said in a written statement during one of the ceremonies in March.

During the latest trip, Giles said one of his goals while on Peleliu was to climb and explore Hill 100, where Capt. Everett Pope of Maine led a company of Marines in an assault on the summit. Pope, who died in 2009, earned the Medal of Honor for leading his men in September 1944 to the top of the hill and holding it against Japanese suicide attacks “with rocks and bare fists when ammunition dwindled.”

Giles said those members of his group who could make the climb reached the summit, examined the historic battle site and held a short remembrance for the men who perished there. Human remains were discovered on the battlefield. Dr. John Shively, part of Giles’ group, examined bones and a skull with a fatal bullet wound. It has not yet been determined whether the remains were Japanese or American.

Giles said it is “not at all unusual” to find human remains on the battlefields of the Pacific.

“The day that we went up there a British demolition expert was there, and he discovered six Japanese bodies in a bunker,” Giles said. “It is not uncommon. I can walk around and pick up a handful of bones. It is very eerie. There are just so many human remains left over, even 70 years later.”

A team of local and Japanese archaeologists and munitions experts were on Peleliu in March and April as part of a mission by Japan aimed at finding the remains of Japanese soldiers trapped inside 200 remaining sealed caves by United States forces during the battle, according to The Telegraph.

Archaeologists take the remains back to Japan for testing.

Another notable Marine who was killed in action on Peleliu had strong ties to Maine. Capt. Andrew Haldane, who was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, graduated from Bowdoin College before the start of the war. On Oct. 12, 1944, Haldane was killed by a sniper’s bullet on Peleliu.

Haldane is honored to this day by his alma mater in an annual presentation of the Haldane Cup to the graduating senior who exhibits outstanding leadership and character.

He also was immortalized by actor Scott Gibson in Stephen Spielberg’s HBO television miniseries “The Pacific.”

Giles said as more and more World War II veterans pass away, it will become even more important for future generations to preserve what is left of the battlefields and their stories of the war.

Photographs, video footage and relics collected and archived by Giles and his team members over the years have been sent to museums and used in documentary films about WWII.

Giles said it has been and remains difficult to gain access to some of the Pacific battlefields.

“The Japanese are still very reluctant to open them up because they still have thousands of troops over there, dead and sealed up in bunkers,” he said. “It is like a national cemetery to them. They believe that until those soldiers are identified, their souls are alone out there, wandering in the darkness, so they don’t want a whole bunch of people in there disturbing them.”

Giles said that each day on those islands is spent surveying many battle sites, leaving the group with a profound sense of loss.

“You could see it reflected in everyone,” he said Wednesday. “Some of the veterans looked like they had been taken right back there, even though 70 years had passed.”