Ja­panese vet­eran re­calls Pearl Har­bor 75 years on

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Navy air­craft me­chanic Ku­niyoshi Taki­moto watched as Ja­panese planes roared off the air­craft car­rier Hiryu to at­tack Pearl Har­bor on De­cem­ber 7, 1941. The shock as­sault 75 years ago Wed­nes­day in Hawaii sparked pa­tri­otic cel­e­bra­tion in Ja­pan but left Taki­moto feel­ing un­easy. “I won­dered if such a poor coun­try would be all right fight­ing such a big one,” the for­mer realestate agent, now 95 and one of the few Ja­panese par­tic­i­pants still alive said at his home in Osaka.

This at­tack brought Amer­ica into World War II-though it was al­ready well un­der­way for Europe, and China. This year’s an­niver­sary comes af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s visit in May to Hiroshima, the Ja­panese city pul­ver­ized by a US atom bomb in the clos­ing days of the con­flict. Ja­pan’s Pearl Har­bor blitz fired up re­solve in the US, with pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt declar­ing the day would “live in infamy.”

“It was just a start... and more or less a de­cep­tive at­tack,” Taki­moto said, stress­ing that given its sur­prise na­ture some success was vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed. He and other crew mem­bers were stunned when first in­formed of the mis­sion af­ter their flotilla de­parted to­wards Hawaii. Reach­ing an area 460 kilo­me­ters from tar­get, the first wave of some 180 planes, in­clud­ing nim­ble Zero fight­ers, roared off the Hiryu and other car­ri­ers, fol­lowed later by a sec­ond swarm.

‘Rolling the dice’

Pi­lots and me­chan­ics were phleg­matic through­out, as air­craft took off one by one mi­nus any spe­cial rit­u­als or even “ban­zai” cheers. “What you see in kamikaze movies never hap­pened on air­craft car­ri­ers,” Taki­moto said firmly. “We had to do our jobs, rolling the dice against death.” De­spite his mis­giv­ings about the risks of at­tack­ing the US, Taki­moto was proud to sup­port the pi­lots. “We built re­la­tions of trust that went be­yond words,” he said. Ja­pan also at­tacked the Philip­pines, Hong Kong, Guam, Sin­ga­pore, Malaya, Burma and the Dutch East Indies, in one fell swoop over­turn­ing what had seemed an eter­nal West­ern colo­nial or­der. But de­spite such ini­tial success, the tide was fated to quickly turn-con­firm­ing Taki­moto’s fears. In June 1942 at the epic Bat­tle of Mid­way a US aerial blitz en­gulfed the Hiryu in mas­sive flames. A thou­sand crew mem­bers died, while 500 sur­vivors, in­clud­ing Taki­moto, were barely res­cued by nearby Ja­panese ships, a scene he de­scribed as “hell.”

Af­ter Mid­way, US-led forces be­gan to re­con­quer the Pa­cific, is­land by is­land on bat­tle­fields in Guadal­canal, Saipan, the Philip­pines, Iwo Jima and Ok­i­nawa. Ja­pan fi­nally sur­ren­dered but only af­ter the US dropped two atomic bombs-the sec­ond on Na­gasaki-and the Soviet Union de­clared war. Taki­moto has no plans to per­son­ally com­mem­o­rate Pearl Har­bor this year, call­ing it just one of many mo­men­tous episodes in the war. For him­self, he calls Mid­way “much more im­por­tant.” In­deed, Pearl Har­bor draws lit­tle at­ten­tion com­pared with an­nual events mark­ing the atomic bomb­ings, solemn, na­tion­ally tele­vised memo­ri­als at­tended by the prime min­is­ter. Among the few in­stances of re­mem­brance are brief fire­works in Na­gaoka, the home­town of Ad­mi­ral Isoroku Ya­mamoto, who mas­ter­minded the at­tack but was killed af­ter the US tar­geted his plane in 1943. In the US, mean­while, ev­ery De­cem­ber 7 is Na­tional Pearl Har­bor Re­mem­brance Day, while the atomic bomb­ing an­niver­saries are not of­fi­cially com­mem­o­rated. — AFP

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