World War II took the lives of millions of civilians and military personnel worldwide. Caught in the middle of the conflict were the servicemembers who fought on both sides. In war, these men were enemies, fighting out the politics of their nations on the battlefield. These warriors, these surviving few, on both sides have helped to forge an alliance of peace and prosperity from the ashes of that bloody war nearly 70 years since.
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- A group of these same surviving warriors, eleven Japanese Imperial Navy World War II veterans, reached out and across the decades during a recent visit to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, April 20, 2012.
“You are all fighters, I was a fighter," said Masayuki Matsumuro, World War II veteran. "We have a special language, we understand each other even though I speak Japanese and you speak English. I really like the Marine’s spirit. I feel at ease when I’m here.”
Matsumuro said his first experience with Marines was when he was traveling on a train with his fiancé after World War II, and a Marine was being belligerent to his fiancé. Matsumuro jumped on the Marine and ended up detained. He was brought to a military court-martial where the Marine confessed his mistakes for being intoxicated on the train, allowing Matsumuro to go free. When Matsumuro married his wife, he invited the Marine to his wedding. The Marine, along with his commanding officer and a military policeman, brought American cigarettes, Hershey’s chocolate and whiskey as gifts. Matsumuro said ever since this event, he has gone from never wanting to see Marines, to enjoying the friendship of Marines so much to devote all of his remaining life in promotion of the friendship of the U.S. and Japan.
The veterans started their tour in Building One, looking through the trophy cases and reading across the Marine Aircraft Group 12 timeline, which stretches into the entranceway.
The visitors then made their way to the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force museum, a building aboard station which houses a multitude of historic articles, including pieces of uniforms, gear, newspapers, photographs and other important memorabilia.
This wasn’t the first time for some of the veterans to see this material, though.
“I have donated about one-fourth of what is in the museum,” said Matsumuro.
Later in the evening, the veterans visited Indian Joe’s Lounge to talk with pilots and other officers aboard station.
Some of the veterans shared stories from their World War II experience.
“I was in a submarine during the attack at Pearl Harbor. My job was to report the results of the battle,” said Itho Susumu, World War II veteran. “I traveled about 90 days consecutively in my submarine, going from Yokosuka to Pearl Harbor to the West Coast and back. After the battle at Pearl Harbor, I chased a U.S. ship to the West Coast. My submarine sank five regular commercial boats. The U.S. news media recorded only two sunk, but I watched five of them go down.”
Susumu also said he fought in a J2M Raiden to counterattack U.S. bombing runs on Japan, shooting down a total of five and a half (himself and one other Raiden getting one half each) B-29 bombers.
After more than 70 years, the bond which ties American and Japanese veterans, troops and civilians, can continue to grow and prosper.
“I believe we share the mentality to protect nations, peace and democracy,” said Matsumuro. “During war, we are enemies. But now, during peace, we can become best friends. I may be getting old, but there are still ways for myself and the other veterans with me to promote our friendship. That’s why I’m here.”