When the US downed an Iranian plane When the US downed an Iranian plane
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When the US downed an Iranian plane

    NHK Tehran Bureau Chief
    The eyes of the world are on the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf as tensions between the United States and Iran escalate. But it isn't the first time the strait has been at the center of tensions between the two countries, and Iranians have not forgotten what happened there 31 years ago.

    American patriotism reaches its apogee each year on July 4, Independence Day. In Iran, anti-US sentiment peaks a day earlier.

    July 3 is when people remember Iran Air flight 655, which was shot down by the US on that day in 1988.

    The commercial airliner was heading to Dubai from Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. It was flying over the Strait of Hormuz when it was hit by a US Navy missile. All 290 people aboard were killed.

    The US called it an accident and agreed to pay compensation, but has never formally apologized.

    The Iranian government says it was a deliberate attack. Each year on the anniversary they hold a memorial ceremony in the area where the plane went down. This year, relatives of the victims threw flowers into the sea, while the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps rode alongside in patrol vessels. A banner on the boat read: Down with the USA.

    Every year, to mark the anniversary, Iran's state-run broadcaster airs footage showing the wreckage of the plane. Newspapers run special features.

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    Hesam Ansarian, 41, lives in Bandar Abbas. His father was on Flight 655.

    Ibrahim Ansarian ran a store in a local bazar. He was the man people went to when they needed someone to mediate a dispute. Hesam, who was 10 at the time, was supposed to fly to Dubai with his father, but he said he didn't want to and his father allowed him to stay home.

    Hesam would usually see his father off at the entrance to their home, but on that fateful morning he couldn't wake up. To this day it's one of his biggest regrets.

    Hesam says it's difficult to move on from the loss of his father. And he's worried that what's happening now will lead to more pain for people in both countries.

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    Hesam Ansarian lost his father when Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down 31 years ago.

    Hesam felt that the official memorial ceremony was overly political and trying to incite anti-US feelings. So he decided to organize his own version, with a more peaceful tone last year.

    He invited people to a square facing the Strait of Hormuz and flew 67 kites, each representing a child killed in the incident. He then prayed for their souls.

    Hesam says his father wouldn't have wanted his death used to incite hatred. "I want Flight 655 to become something that reminds people about the beauty of life," he says

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    That's not an unusual sentiment in Bandar Abbas. Feelings about flight 655 are still raw, but the overwhelming view of the people who live there is that they want the politicians to calm things down so they can get on with their everyday lives.