Common history of Pearl Harbor attack strengthens bond between Honolulu, Nagaoka

In our “Pearl Harbor: Untold Stories of Heroism” documentary, you learned of the humane action of Capt. William Callahan of the USS Missouri. He ordered a burial at sea for the pilot of a kamikaze plane that flew into the Missouri.

Two months ago, a piece of that plane was returned to Kanoya Air Base in Japan.

To look at it today, you’d never guess Nagaoka was reduced to rubble 7 decades ago.

Nagaoka has had a complex relationship with the U.S. and, in particular, Honolulu. Nagaoka is the birthplace of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Four years later, the Japanese city was a prime target of the allies.

“They told us to come to the temple if the bombs fell,” said survivor Tomi Kaneko. “They told us we would be safe.”

But no one was safe from the American firebombs. The ashes of Kaneko’s family are somewhere among the remains of nearly 1,500 people that were killed in one night.

“I hated America then, but then I saw film of Pearl Harbor, and I saw that Americans suffered as we did,” she said.

Japan and America are now allies, and Honolulu and Nagaoka are sister cities. To observe the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific, Nagaoka brought its famous fireworks to Pearl Harbor last year, each sparkling blossom representing a hope for peace.

Now, a Pearl Harbor icon returns the gesture — a piece of the kamikaze Zeke, or Zero, that flew into the Missouri in 1945 will take its place in the Nagaoka War Damage Museum.

Spokesperson Masai Hasebe said this gesture — representing the moving story of Capt. Callahan’s order of a full military burial for the Japanese pilot — “hopefully, this would strengthen ties between Japan and the U.S..”

“More than anything else, it is a symbol for hope and peace,” said Mike Weidenbach, curator for the Battleship Missouri Memorial Museum. “This city has found a way to so eloquently translate the horrors of war into something beautiful with their fireworks. They have achieved more than we have yet.”

“I recall children from Nagaoka going to see the display and learning that even in war there could be such humanity, and seeing this piece brought back those memories,” said Takashi Hoshi of the Nagaoka museum.

A sister city agreement exists only on paper for some locales, but Nagaoka takes this one very seriously because of a history of shared tragedies and a shared commitment never to see war again.

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