Colorful Japanese kimonos blended with Navy gray yesterday on the deck of battleship USS Missouri, as former enemies paid tribute to the ship's first captain and the kamikaze pilot he buried with honors 56 years ago.
Navy captain honored
for tribute to kamikaze
Even in war, WilliamBy Burl Burlingame
Callaghan gave the pilot
a dignified burial
The event marked the first time the ship has been used to recognize Japanese veterans.
During the battle of Okinawa, an Imperial Navy A6M5c "Zero" fighter aircraft with a bomb attached reached the ship despite heavy gunfire and crashed onto the starboard fantail. Although the bomb did not explode, the aircraft was ripped apart and flaming debris flooded the deck. The pilot was killed and his body recovered by American sailors.
Capt. William Callaghan, impressed by the pilot's bravery, insisted on an honorable burial at sea, despite protests by some of the crew. Sailors quickly sewed a Japanese "rising sun" flag, and the next day, the unknown pilot's remains were committed to the deep.
A half-century later, historian volunteers at the Missouri, attempting to identify the pilot, narrowed it to three. Family members of each were invited to the ceremony, titled "Courage, Honor and Compassion."
Rear Adm. Steven Kunkle, a deputy chief of staff for U.S. Pacific Fleet, pinch-hit for guest speaker Rear Adm. Kenneth Fisher, who was at Hickam Air Force Base welcoming the crew of the captured Navy reconnaissance plane.
Kunkle drew parallels between the two experiences, saying Callaghan behaved honorably despite flak from his crew, and the Navy crew "also did the right thing under adverse conditions, including criticism from so-called experts in the media."
Japanese Consul General Minoru Shibuya called Callaghan's actions "a glorious deed, to salute the (pilot's) bravery."
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye noted that "from the dawn of civilization, warriors respected their adversaries; it was an unspoken code of honor. When Callaghan saw the broken body of his sworn enemy lying upon his ship, he saw him not as an enemy, but simply as a man."
Some veterans were not happy about the ceremony. Marine Corps veteran Rand Potts of Honolulu said the event was "just a promotional deal to excite Japanese visitors into visiting the Missouri."
A veterans organization in Indianapolis wrote a letter to their congressman protesting the ceremony. "If the Japanese want to memorialize their pilots and soldiers, let them do it on THEIR soil," Indianapolis vet Lloyd Prang noted in the letter.
"It's just an ill-thought-out move by (Missouri Association Chairman) Don Hess," Potts said.
After the ceremony, Hess said it went about as well as it could have. "There aren't that many events that are unusual to the Missouri," he said. "And we had the opportunity to do this one. I doubt it'll be a continuing event."