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Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan


Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan

MCAS Iwakuni is a mission-ready air station, capable of providing continuous base-operating support for tenant organizations and follow-on U.S. and allied forces during training, combat or contingency (HA/DR) operations throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

By Cpl. Richard Barker | | July 20, 2000

Some people work for money, and others to gain success, but Zero Center Director Torao "Tiger" Okuda feels he is working for a greater purpose.

Nearly every day for the past 17 years, Okuda has freely devoted his time to teaching generations of Japanese and Americans the history of one of the most recognized Japanese fighter aircraft of World War II - the Zero. 

The Zero is a physical reminder of the war, but Okuda needs no reminding.  As a soldier in World War II, Okuda knows only too well what it is to have friends who were injured or killed.

"I feel it is my obligation to help people understand how bad war really is," he said.  "I tell young people about my friends who died in the war."
Okuda's office sits within the shrapnel pitted walls of the last standing Zero hanger. It is located near the Main Gate in front of Torri Pines Community Center. 

"This hanger was made in 1944," said Okuda.  "When Iwakuni was bombed on August 9th in 1945, six days before the war's end, its 40-centimeter thick walls were the only ones not penetrated.  All the other hangers were destroyed."

When he isn't spending time teaching history, he spends his time maintaining and cleaning the Zero Fighter.

"The Fero Fighter is a symbol of the tragedy of World War II for Japan and the United States," said Okuda.  "I bring people here to show them this symbol, and I ask them to pray for peace."

Okuda is quick to talk about things like the 2,800 Zero Fighter pilots around the age of 18 or 19 that performed Kamikaze missions. 

"They used to tie bombs on the bottoms of the Zero Fighters and purposefully crash into ships and tanks," he said.

Okuda says although he finds it easier talking to the older generation, it's the younger people he wants to reach.

Okuda believes, "Young people do not understand the tragedy of war, and sometimes they don't understand what I have to say."

At 74 years old he does not let his age stop him from getting out his message of peace.  Although he may not still have the strength to come to work everyday, he is there as much as possible.

"I will not be around forever, and I feel many people will miss the opportunity to hear the message I have to offer," Okuda concluded.

The Zero Hanger is open daily 9 a.m. to noon for anyone to visit.  Japanese who would like to visit the hanger should contact the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Public Affairs Office and arrange a time to enter the air station.