Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pear Harbor Vets Reconcile in Hawaii

Pear Harbor Vets Reconcile in Hawaii

The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 6, 2006; 4:40 AM

The Japanese veteran gripped Rauschkolb's arm with his left hand and briefly hesitated, as if he was searching for the right words. Then he said, "I'm sorry."

"He may have been shooting at me," Rauschkolb said as he shook Maeda's hand.

A significant share of veterans from both countries say they respect each other as professional military men who fought for their countries. Now in their 80s and 90s, they don't want to live burdened with hatred and want to die with peace in their hearts.

Rauschkolb, who had to swim under burning fuel to escape bullets being fired at him from a Japanese Zero fighter, admitted "it's difficult to accept" shaking hands with someone who fired a torpedo at his ship.

But he never believed, even during World War II, in hating his Japanese foes.

"I've never held anything against them," said Rauschkolb, wearing a white aloha shirt and his Pearl Harbor survivors' cap. "They were doing their job. I was doing my job. We were military. They were taking orders. I was taking orders."

Not all veterans can bring themselves put the past behind them. For some, the memories are too painful and their loyalty to fallen comrades too strong for them to reach out.

Don Stratton, a USS Arizona sailor who suffered burns over 60 to 70 percent of his body, said embracing the Japanese who carried out the attack is out of the question.

Maeda has been trying to make amends since 1991, when he and a few other Japanese Pearl Harbor veterans flew to Hawaii for the 50th anniversary of the attack.

He's since become friends with dozens of Pearl Harbor survivors, including many who have visited him in Japan. When in Honolulu, Maeda always pays his respects at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where his friend Richard Fiske, another USS West Virginia survivor, was buried after his death two years ago.

"War is between countries. It has nothing to do with us as individuals. We have no quarrel," Maeda said. "So when the war ends, of course you should make up."

Japanese dive bomber pilot Zenji Abe, 90, led the push for reconciliation when he visited Hawaii with Maeda and other Japanese veterans in 1991. He said he wanted to apologize for bombing Oahu before the Japanese government declared war.

Japan's aviators took off from their aircraft carriers that morning believing their government had already delivered the declaration, Abe said. Striking before doing so was dishonorable and went against Japanese traditions of "bushido" or the way of the samurai, Abe said.

"Even if you are executing an early morning attack, you may not hurt your opponent if he is sleeping. You must make him stand and then go at him with your sword. This is bushido," Abe said. The assault "violated our nation's ideals. I felt bad," he said.

To atone, Abe asked Fiske _ the West Virginia survivor who also became Maeda's friend _ to place two roses on the USS Arizona Memorial on his behalf each month.

Fiske continued the ritual for 12 years until he

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