GRASS VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – Survivors of World War II on both sides of the Pacific expressed mixed feelings ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Tuesday.
U.S. Navy veteran Louis Conter, who survived Japan’s 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, says Abe should offer an apology.
“I have no bad feeling toward the Japanese,” Conter, 95, said in a recent interview. But Abe should face up to history and apologize, the former sailor said at the site of the USS Arizona, which was sunk in the Imperial Japanese Navy’s raid.
Conter, born into a poor family in Wisconsin, joined the navy in 1939 after working at a meat-processing factory in Colorado.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Conter was on the afterdeck of the USS Arizona when the ship’s front section suffered a bomb hit.
“I lost all of my friends. But I was not injured,” he said. The battleship sank as it burned. A total of 1,177 officers and crew members aboard died.
Without enough time to heal his psychological wounds, he was retrained and sent to Papua New Guinea as a naval pilot.
The Japanese military shot down his plane and he had to wander through the jungle. He said that if Japanese soldiers had caught him, they would have killed him.
“I fought against kamikaze young boys who were loyal to the Emperor,” he said. “Now, the Japanese have a different way of thinking.”
Conter attended this year’s ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. He said he had wanted to see Abe join the event.
On Monday, hours before he left for Pearl Harbor, Abe said he wants to send a message to the world that Japan will never repeat the atrocities of past wars.
“The alliance between Japan and the United States is one with hope in dealing with various problems in the world,” Abe said in a speech to the Keidanren business lobby.
“I hope this visit will be a historical one with leaders of Japan and the United States jointly visiting Pearl Harbor in a show of reconciliation,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Hiroshima, atomic bomb survivor Shigeaki Mori said Abe should mourn for all victims of the war.
Mori, 79, is a Hiroshima hibakusha who has researched U.S. prisoners of war killed in the 1945 atomic bombing of the city. He welcomed Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor.
“I hope he will mourn for all war victims,” he said in a recent interview, adding that the prime minister does not need to visit Pearl Harbor as a trade-off for Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May.
On Aug. 6, 1945, Mori, then 8 years old, experienced the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima just 2.5 km from the center of the blast. He first learned about U.S. POWs who died in the bombing while conducting research into hibakusha, which he did while working for a local company.
After decades of research, he published a book in 2008 on 12 U.S. soldiers killed in the bombing. He searched out their families and presented what he had learned through his research.
On behalf of the POWs’ families, Mori completed the procedures to register the names of the soldiers at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, which keeps the names and photographs of atomic bomb victims.
As his research gained recognition in the United States, Mori was invited to a ceremony to mark Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the first by a sitting U.S. president, in May this year.
In his speech during the ceremony, Obama referred to the outcome of Mori’s research. Obama embraced Mori, who had been moved to tears. The scene was broadcast around the world.
“I was happy that what I did with so much effort for so long had gained recognition,” Mori said, looking back at the ceremony.
“I’m sure that both Japanese and U.S. war victims will be happy if the prime minister and the president mourn for them,” Mori said. “I earnestly want them to do that.”