HONOLULU — World War II veterans and family members gathering for Wednesday’s 75th anniversary observance of the attack on Pearl Harbor expressed support for a planned visit to Hawaii this month by the Japanese prime minister to pay respects to U.S. victims of Tokyo’s sneak attack.
“Why would I have any animosity?” asked Dick Ramsey, 93, of Brooklyn, New York, who served as a boatswain mate on the USS Nevada from 1943 to 1946. “If it was right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I’d want to kick him in the ass. … (But now) I have no hate for the Japanese.”
Cliff Burks, 91, a seaman first class on the USS Nevada from 1942 until the end of 1945, echoed those sentiments. He called the visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month a “nice” gesture that recognizes the important relationship between the countries that grew after the war’s end.
“Our idea was to protect our freedom,” said Burks, of Galveston, Texas. “We beat them, but we didn’t take control of their country. We will live in harmony, but we will protect our country.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged Tuesday that some WWII vets could feel “personally embittered” if Abe doesn’t apologize for the attack on Pearl Harbor during the planned visit with President Barack Obama to the USS Arizona Memorial on Dec. 27 – the first by a Japanese leader.
But Earnest expressed confidence that even they would “set aside their own personal interests and prioritize the ambition and opportunity of the American people.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor in the early hours of Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen and propelled the United States into World War II. The conflict ended nearly four years later, shortly after U.S. warplanes dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing and wounding 225,000 Japanese, by conservative estimates.
Earlier this year, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the memorial in Hiroshima for victims of the U.S. atomic bombing of that city.
Despite the carnage wrought by the former adversaries, signs of bitterness were in short supply among the World War II vets and their family members assembling on the Hawaiian island of Oahu to attend Wednesday’s commemoration events.
Ramsey, the former USS Nevada sailor from Brooklyn, said younger generations in both countries have never known the animosity that once gripped his generation and their counterparts in Japan.
“At this point in time the young people of Japan, just like the young people in our country, don’t know much about what happened during the war,” he said.
Lisa DuPere, of Las Vegas, whose father Lenoard Nielsen, 94, rescued sailors from the burning oil slick around the sinking USS Arizona after the Pearl Harbor attack, said Abe’s visit will be “an amazing experience to bring the countries together.”
“It’s very important. We want to make sure that we keep the honor going for Pearl Harbor and what happened, and that it’s never forgotten,” she said at Waikiki Beach, where she brought her family to observe the commemoration events even though her father remained behind in Las Vegas.
Barbara Emerson, whose father, Joe Calvin Hays, served as an aviation radioman second class on the USS Nevada’s Kingfisher scout plane , also made the trip without her father, who died in 2009. But she had a another reason to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive: Her son, Andrew Emerson, is a machinist mate on board the USS John C. Stennis, the flagship aircraft carrier at the 75th Pearl Harbor commemoration events.
She said Abe’s visit is symbolically important to bury any ill will that remains between the former adversaries.
“(He’s) making a statement for people of his country to pay homage and ask for forgiveness of mistakes from their past, and to carry on with positive things for the future,” she said.
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