Enemies during WWII, pilots meet aboard Midway

Americans, Japanese come together in reconciliation
By Karen Kucher
May 19, 2004

The two opposing warriors never met in battle, but nearly 60 years after the end of the World War II they came together in the name of friendship and reconciliation.

Hamilton "Mac" McWhorter, an American F6F Hellcat ace who shot down 12 enemy aircraft during the war, somberly shook the hand of Kaname Harada, Japanese Zero fighter pilot who flew missions in Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and the Battle of Midway.

After the two shook hands, Harada smiled and bowed.

The greeting between the former adversaries both in their 80s came during a ceremony yesterday as former Japanese Zero fighter pilots met with American veterans, most of whom had won the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism or extraordinary achievement in the air.

About 200 people attended the 90-minute ceremony on the deck of the aircraft carrier Midway, which opens next month as an aviation museum. The event was arranged because the Japanese Imperial Navy Surviving Aviators' Association was in the United States for a weeklong visit and reunion.

After the ceremonial first handshake, veterans met individually, shaking hands, exchanging hats and trying to bridge the language barrier. Some Japanese reporters, who were there to record the event, served as impromptu translators.

Former Zero pilot Jiro Yoshida thanked the American veterans for participating and said the event was meaningful because of "what it is saying about the human heart."

Today is a historic meeting between the veterans of Japan and America in the continuing story of December 7, 1941," Yoshida said. "It will be recorded for posterity so the future generations around the world will study and learn from our outpouring of friendship and understanding."

McWhorter, who flew 89 combat missions and won five Distinguished Flying Crosses, said he never felt any personal animosity toward Japanese pilots and he welcomed meeting them.

"I think it is wonderful they are doing things like this," said McWhorter, who retired from the Navy in 1969 and lives in El Cajon. "These pilots were just doing their job, the same that we were. It just brings everyone closer together."

Louise McWhorter, 83, said she was delighted her husband was chosen for the first handshake. "The sooner we learn we are all one people, the better the world will be," she said.

A Navy band played both countries' national anthems to open the event and American and Japanese flags were displayed behind a raised stage on the carrier's deck. At one point, two vintage warplanes a Japanese Zero and a SBD Dauntless dive bomber flew overhead, side by side.

A Japanese doctor, who was a child during World War II, brought a battered canteen to the ceremony. Hiroya Sugano told the audience the canteen had come from an American B-29 bomber that crashed in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1945, and bore the handprint of the pilot who carried it.

As a way to honor those who died in the war, Sugano invited U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Barthelmess to join him at the railing of the carrier to pour water from the canteen into the bay.

Oliver P. Kolstoe, a bombardier and navigator on a B-17 bomber during World War II, said he was glad he drove down from Orange County for the ceremony.

"This is the kind of reception I hope we would have in some other places in the world at some future point in time," Kolstoe said.

Karen Kucher: (619) 542-4563; karen.kucher@uniontrib.com

NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
Former pilots Hamilton "Mac" McWhorter (left) and Kaname Harada, enemies during World War II, met yesterday aboard the aircraft carrier Midway, with the American flag and the Japanese naval ensign providing a backdrop.