Since the end of World War II, the United States and Japan have been building greater trust every year.
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- One small link in our nation’s chain of trust is the “Zero” Hangar Visitor Center located next to the Marine Memorial Chapel here.
The nickname “Zero” evolved from the fact that Mitsubishi designated the aircraft as “Type 00” at the factory where they were made. It was also known as the “Zeke II” and “A-6M.” The first single-seat model was designated “Zero” in July 1940.
The Government of Japan completed construction of this air station Dec. 1, 1939. It served as a training base for the Japanese Imperial Naval Air Force. At the peak of activity, the air station had more than 100 “Zero” fighters stationed here.
The Visitor Center is the only remaining hanger from that time.
“When Iwakuni was bombed August 9, 1945, six days before the war’s end, (the hanger’s) 40 centimeter thick walls were the only walls not penetrated. All the other hangars were destroyed,” said Torao “Tiger” Okuda, former “Zero” Hangar Visitor Center director as interviewed in the July 21, 2000 edition of the Torii Teller. “The ‘Zero’ fighter is a symbol of the tragedy of World War II for Japan and the United States. I bring people here to show them this symbol, and I ask them to pray for peace.”
Okuda spent nearly 28 years explaining to younger generations about his friends who lost their lives during kamikaze attacks and other horrors of war.
While under the control of Japanese forces, the air station was attacked only once. The Visitor Center still has the war wounds of a strafing aircraft.
After the close of World War II, during different periods of time, control of the air station passed from Great Britain to Australia and finally to the United States. It was designated a Marine Corps Air Station in 1962.
Through the years, the hangar has remained a silent reminder of the station’s past, and it is now a testimony to the deepening friendship between the peoples of the U.S. and Japan.
“I’ve been to the ‘Zero’ Hangar Visitor Center at least a dozen times,” said Sgt. Maj. Drew C. Benson, Marine Aircraft Group 12 sergeant major. “I always brought my kids with me because knowing history, especially World War II history, will ensure those tragedies will never happen again.”
The Type Zero Fighter, also known as the “Zero,” had a fixed-speed rotary propeller, fully retractable landing gear, tear-drop style canopy and was equipped with two 7.7 millimeter cowl-mounted machine guns and two 20 millimeter machine cannons installed in the wings.
The fighter was very maneuverable and held a good record against early U.S. and British fighters.
“Zeros” were produced during the war. The performance of the “Zero” far overshadowed allied fighters opposing it in the early stages of the war in the Pacific.
The power of the 20-milimeter machine guns, its long cruising range and its maneuverability remained superior until 1942 when American fighters such as the P-38, F-4U, F-6F and the P-51 were deployed to the Pacific.
The full-scale model of a “Zero” fighter in the Visitor Center is authentic in every detail. The Toho Company Ltd. donated the aircraft, which was manufactured by the Mitsubishi Corporation.
Today, the hanger is a testimony of the growing friendship between the citizens of the United States and Japan. The Visitor Center is dedicated to the preservation of peace through mutual understanding and cooperation between the U.S. and Japan.
To visit the “Zero” Hanger Visitor Center contact the public affairs office at 253-5551 and set up an appointment.