RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Navajo code talker Teddy Draper listened to Japanese citizens who lived through World War II speak yesterday at a news conference at Thomas Square. From left are Yoshiteru Kawakami and Tadahisa Megumi.
Former enemies seek peace
Japanese survivors of World War II met Navajo code talkers
In 1945, Tadahisa Megumi was a 20-year-old fighter pilot for the Japanese Imperial Forces in World War II.
More than 100 other pilots who completed flight school with him had flown kamikaze suicide missions, as did his younger brother. But before he got orders for his own mission, Emperor Hirohito announced the war was over.
In the 62 years since then, Megumi says, his feelings about the United States took a 180-degree turn after seeing Americans go to the defense of others around the world.
This past weekend, Megumi 82, and two others from Japan who lived through the Allied bombing raids met with three Navajo code talkers on Oahu's North Shore in the first Code Talkers Peace Project. The six signed a statement of accord promising to put aside their past bitterness in the interest of peace and friendship.
Megumi says in Japan there is a saying, "Yesterday's enemy, today's friend."
Yoshiteru Kawakami, 73, was just 12 years old when the war ended. At the start of the war, his family became wealthy because his father ownesd a wire factory in Tokyo. But the Allied bombing raids wiped out the factory and the family home.
"All of a sudden we were very, very, very poor. We almost had nothing. At that time I had a revenge spirit against the United States," Kawakami said.
But his feelings about Americans also changed over the years. He attended a church in Japan set up by American donations and converted to Christianity. While attending graduate school in Indiana on a U.S. government scholarship, he experienced American hospitality from families that had taken him into their homes.
Navajo code talkers Teddy Draper Sr., Keith Little and Samuel Tso also softened their hard feelings for their former enemies over the years. All three said they joined the U.S. Marines to fight the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor. The Marines sent them to school to learn a new code using their Navajo language and used them to transmit battlefield radio communications that the Japanese could not decipher.
Tadashi Fujita was too young to fight in the war. Fujita, 76, said he spent his teenage years helping farmers feed the country. He said his Christian faith and his training in negotiation drive his desire to make peace with his former enemies. He learned the art of negotiation at Harvard, then later taught it as a university professor in Japan and a consultant to the government and businesses.
He said he learned a new method of making peace with others this past weekend here and that the world can learn a lot from Hawaiians about resolving conflicts.
"This hooponopono is much more important than the Harvard teaching," Fujita said of the reconciliation.