In the early hours of December 7, 1941, Lt. Zenji Abe, squadron leader, pulled on his best flying uniform, then solemnly bowed and prayed at the ship’s shrine, saying, “I am going now.” He climbed into the dive bomber that would carry him and his navigator from the deck of the aircraft carrier Akagi to the skies over Pearl Harbor.
Thus began an adventure that would culminate 50 years later in a remarkable friendship between Zenji and his sworn enemy, an American Marine.
Terrible memories and old hatreds die hard. Acceptance and friendship between former U.S. and Japanese soldiers didn’t come easily. It was only when Zenji and a few others from Japan travelled to the 50th Anniverary Symposium in Pearl Harbor in 1991 that gestures of friendship began to slowly emerge. When Richard Fiske wrote Zenji that “yesterday’s enemy is today’s friend” and invited his former enemy to come to Hawaii, bonds of friendship were forged that would never be broken — not even by Fiske’s death in the spring of 2004.
Zenji writes to our granddaughter Jennifer: “Children can learn from the mistakes of the past and maybe teach their countries how to spread peace. It is most important we work together to understand each other.”