Former Japanese pilot Zenji Abe paid respects Thursday to friend Richard Fiske, buried at Punchbowl cemetery. Fiske, a Pearl Harbor survivor, befriended Abe after the war.

Bonds of War

A former pilot who bombed
Pearl Harbor honors the memory
of a U.S. survivor

Their 13-year friendship defied all odds: A former Japanese navy pilot who bombed Pearl Harbor and an American Marine bugler who survived the attack and overcame decades of hatred for the Japanese.

But on this Dec. 7, the 63rd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Zenji Abe will not embrace his friend Richard Fiske nor shake his hand as they first did in December 1991 and last did in 2001.

Last week, the 88-year-old traveled from Japan to pay his respects to his dear friend, whose ashes were laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in April. Standing with friends and family, he gently rubbed his hand over Fiske's marble marker.

It was as if to say, "Richard, I'm here. Please rest in peace," said his daughter, Naomi Shin, who with her mother and husband accompanied Abe to the cemetery Thursday.

Abe, his palms pressed together in prayer, wrapped with prayer beads, bowed solemnly, then placed a bouquet that included pink and red roses, along with a wreath.

John DeVirgilio, a teacher who introduced the two men in 1991, could not hold back the tears.

"Friendship and love and truth is stronger than hate and war," he said. "In the end, love and friendship will heal the hearts and minds of all veterans."

He knew the pact the two men made in May 1992. Abe would send $500 each year to Fiske. Every last Sunday of the month, Fiske would buy two roses. One was for American soldiers who died, the other for Japanese soldiers.

He would tie them together and drop them in the waters off the USS Arizona Memorial.

Friends Zenji Abe and Richard Fiske attended the Pearl Harbor 60th Anniversary Conference gala banquet in December 2001.

Abe related how Fiske would then show his photo to the visitors and say: "This is Zenji Abe. He is my dear friend, who once dropped a bomb in Pearl Harbor, but we are friends."

He would then play American taps, then Japanese taps.

Fiske vowed to do it for as long as he lived, and kept his promise, Abe said.

"To make friends with (people of) other countries is the best thing to make world peace," said Abe, through a translator. "It's the best thing to know each other. The reason Japan and the United States had the Pearl Harbor attack was we did not know each other. America did not know Japan, and Japan knew less than the United States."

Hearing those words, his son-in-law, Kyoji Shin, was moved to tears.

"I cannot believe that World War II happened more than 60 years ago," said the 62-year-old Shin. "My father-in-law, Zenji Abe, made big history and after the war contributed to the friendship between Japan and the United States through Mr. Richard Fiske."

Abe, who has been battling cancer, thought he would be the first to go, since he was Fiske's elder by four years. His illness prevented him from returning to Hawaii since 2001, the 60th anniversary of the bombing.

Abe, whose squadron took off from the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, said he can never forget Fiske, who built and gave him a model of the Akagi.

Abe is also in town to meet old friends and work on having his memoirs of the war, already published in Japanese, published in English.

During his visit to the cemetery, Abe freely expressed his views for a Japanese audience in an interview with Asahi TV, explaining that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack and was, therefore, a violation of bushido, the samurai code of honor.

A samurai would never attack an enemy while sleeping or from behind, according to Abe.

Abe said that Japanese soldiers were told that war had been declared with the United States, and did not realize the bombing was a sneak attack.

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