HONOLULU (Reuters) - Former U.S. airman Jack DeTour, 92, and Japanese fighter pilot Shiro Wakita, 88, sworn enemies during World War Two, together poured whiskey from a battered canteen into Pearl Harbor on Sunday to commemorate the 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base.
As the sun rose over the USS Arizona Memorial, the two former enemy pilots joined the “Blackened Canteen” service on the eve of the 74th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack, which took 2,403 lives and drew the United States into World War Two.
Standing side by side after meeting for the first time ever, retired Air Force Colonel DeTour and former Imperial Japanese Navy Zero Pilot Wakita together gripped the war-torn U.S. military-issue metal canteen and poured whiskey into the watery grave of the U.S. Navy ship sunk by Japanese bombers.
Now a symbol of friendship, the scorched war relic was recovered in 1945 in Shizuoka, Japan after two B-29 U.S. bombers collided overhead. The 23 Americans killed were buried alongside Japanese citizens who died in the bombing raid. Found among the wreckage was the blackened canteen, filled with whiskey, and it was kept in Japan to remember loved ones lost.
Since the 1980s, Japanese residents have regularly brought it to Pearl Harbor for the ceremony aimed at maintaining peace.
“To know we have this friendship is great. It’s fantastic,” said DeTour, who wore a purple flower lei over his dark suit.
DeTour now lives in Honolulu and was a young man from Oregon when he joined the military in 1942.
There were no Pearl Harbor survivors among the World War Two veterans attending this year’s canteen ceremony, said Gary Meyers, spokesman for the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.
The last surviving officer from the USS Arizona, Joseph Langdell, died on Feb. 4 in California at age 100. An internment service for Langdell, who was a 27-year-old ensign sleeping in quarters on shore when the surprise attack was launched, will take place at Pearl Harbor on Monday.
At the canteen ceremony, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, director of the Zero Fighter Admirers’ Club, said he keeps the canteen in his possession and carries it to the ceremony each year because it is a powerful symbol.
“The blackened canteen is an inspiration for peace,” said Sugano.
Writing by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay