Japanese Zero Fighter Pilots Return

Published: Dec. 3, 2001 at 9:50 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 12, 2011 at 6:28 PM HST
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Japanese bomber pilots return to Pearl Harbor, this time, under very different circumstances.

On December 7th, 60 years ago 765 Japanese pilots flew in the attack over Oahu. Today, 45 of those pilots returned to Pearl Harbor, this time to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.

This was the mission of Japanese fighter pilots almost 60 years ago, to cripple Pearl Harbor and instill fear in Americans. Now their mission is about peace and friendship and lunch. About 45 pilots lounged on the lawn before lining up for an experience that heals the hate, a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial.

John Divirgilio, a naval historian, says, "it's a letting go of years and decades of piled up emotions." The zero fighter pilots association organized this reunion, and here's its president setting the kind of example that says forgiveness, and future.

Two pilots from this group participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, here they are as fighters. Today they wear smiles and see eye to eye with American Pearl Harbor survivors. It's not just a book you're reading or a movie. You're actually seeing people here, "teary eyed people, people with emotions expressing sorrow and regret, hoping for a reconciliation, redemption in some way," says Divirgilio.

They want their visit to the memorial to be private. A moment when they pray for Japanese and Americans who died.

Pearl Harbor researcher, Gerald Brodick, says, "I think it takes a lot of guts to come here and do something like that."

Most of these Japanese fighter pilots have visited the Arizona Memorial before. But this trip may be their most significant, their last chance to make peace. "It is a very significant event. Perhaps their last hurrah," says Brodick.

The visit ends with relief and sadness for loss of life. Kunio Iwashita, Zero Fighter Pilots president, says, "of course I have sadness and I also want to pray for the people on the American side who died during the war." There has to be forgiveness on both sides if there is to be any progress toward peace and understanding and nothing says forgiveness like a handshake.

A total of 51 Japanese fighter pilots are attending the 60th Pearl Harbor ceremonies.