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Seattle Times Article
War and peace: Former foes
are now friends and in-laws
Seattle Times staff reporter
article was printed
in the Seattle Times on the 60th anniversary
of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor,
on December 7, 2001.
was a U.S. sailor, a veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the
Coral Sea. The other was a junior officer in Japan's imperial navy, training as
a kamikaze pilot. Sixty years later, any bitter feelings have long since washed
started as a faint rumble.
decks on the USS Neosho, an oil tanker moored along Battleship Row in Pearl
Harbor, Fireman 3rd Class William Leu had just come off night watch. He had been
in the Navy six months, assigned to the boiler room. He was 19 and already knew
it wasn't the fun job he had signed up for.
drone grew louder.
4,000 miles away, in Hokkaido, Japan, news of the attack was greeted with joy.
Yoshiichi Sato was a 16-year-old student thinking of college. He and his
classmates were as surprised as anyone to learn their country had attacked the
United States so boldly. "The
feeling was, 'We did it!' " Sato recalled. "We went through school in
a closed, militant society, so there was no way of developing a different point
bombs sounded like thunderclaps. General quarters sounded at 8 a.m. and Leu
scrambled to his battle station. "I couldn't believe what was
smoke billowed, he thought about his parents. He had gone to Ballard High in
Seattle until he was 16, when his parents moved to Skykomish. He wondered if he
would ever see his parents again.
Neosho was moored between the battleships USS Oklahoma and USS California. Less
than 10 minutes into the attack, the Oklahoma rolled heavily to her side.
Sailors plunged off its deck into the oil-slicked sea. Three battleships down,
the USS Arizona exploded into flames. Capt. John S. Phillips ordered the Neosho
crew to cut the bow lines. Slowly, the giant oiler backed away from dock, barely
clearing the capsized Oklahoma. Threading
torpedoes and bombs, the ship reached safety at Merry Point across the channel
without losing a man. It was the only fleet oiler left in the mid-Pacific,
according to news accounts at the time.
the next five months, it crisscrossed the Pacific to refuel the fighting ships,
often without escorts, which couldn't be spared for an oiler. On May 7 — exactly five months after surviving Pearl Harbor
— the ship took seven direct hits from Japanese dive bombers in the Coral Sea.
Leu drifted five days in a crowded life raft alongside the burning ship. British
planes spotted the wreckage, and five days later the USS Henley picked up 123
was studying economics in Shanghai when he interrupted his studies to join the
military. It was 1944. He was sent to flight school at a base near Nagoya, about
12 hours south of Tokyo by train. He and his 500 classmates practiced on gliders
to conserve fuel and took turns on the only motorized fighter available.
were told that the war was going as planned, that we were winning victory after
victory," Sato said through an interpreter from his home in Tokyo.
"But when we heard news of the great fires burning in Tokyo in the spring
of 1945, and heard of (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur's victory in Saipan, we had a gut
feeling that was not the case."
continued, slowed by the lack of planes and fuel. They would take the plane up
50 meters, turn it around and land. They knew they were training for one
mission, to be kamikazes — suicide bombers. They didn't question the orders
and didn't fear them.
was no explanation, and no explanation was necessary," Sato said.
"Even though we'd heard about the less-than-successes in the Pacific, I
remember talking to my colleagues, and we were ready to do our part to protect
Aug. 14, 1945, after the United States had dropped its atomic bombs, Emperor
Hirohito announced the empire's unconditional surrender. Sato and his classmates
heard the news from solemn commanders. "We
were told, 'Go home, get on a train and go home,' " Sato recalled. Some of
the pilots, refusing to believe the news, ran out to the tarmac in anguish to
continue training. "My personal reaction was, 'Well, this is the beginning
of the rest of my life.' "
the war, Leu came home to Skykomish and took a job as a railroad engineer. Like
many returning servicemen, his hardened feelings toward the Japanese lingered.
Sato felt bitterness, there was no time to dwell on it. People were starving,
industry and agriculture were devastated, the atomic bombs had wrought colossal
destruction, but the country had to move on. He returned to college, this time
at Tohoku University. He also began to acquire a new respect for the United
States. "They brought food and changed our political system from one of
militarism to one of democracy," Sato said. "In
just seven or eight years, there was a tremendous change in the Japanese
mentality. It was a very important step in the postwar era."
married and became an executive with Mitsui Petrochemicals, often traveling to
the United States on business.
1972, Leu's son, Bob, came to him with a request: He wanted to spend his senior
year in high school in Japan as an exchange student.
"I was real anti-Japanese after the war and it took a long time to
get over it," the elder Leu said. "But I didn't hesitate. In fact, I
was all for it."
Leu thrived in Japan, completing high school, college and landing a job as a
public-relations executive for United Airlines' Pacific Rim division. On New
Year's Eve at the end of 1986, friends set him up on a blind date with an
administrative assistant for a Japanese multinational firm. Her name was Kazue.
She was Yoshiichi Sato's daughter. A
year later, they married; a second ceremony was held a few months later in
Index, where their fathers met for the first time.
always wanted a son, now I have a great big one," Sato, who speaks some
English, told Bob's father. Leu returned the compliment, saying what a wonderful
person Sato's daughter was.
men became friends, golfed together, but while they each knew the other had
served in the war, they never spoke of it. Fourteen years later, they still
haven't. "I didn't want
to discuss the war with a person on the side that lost," Leu said. "I
didn't think it was appropriate, and I didn't think he would want to discuss
it." Sato, interviewed
by phone from his home in Tokyo, said he also didn't feel it was appropriate —
because he had never been in battle as Leu had.
Leu is in Hawaii to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack,
as he was for the 25th and 50th anniversaries.
has no plans. There, Japanese commemorate the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks the
way Americans commemorate Pearl Harbor, he said. Their memories remain but the
wounds are healed, replaced by respect for each other and love for their
a great person, and his daughter's a great person," said Leu. "I'm so
glad we didn't meet during the war."
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
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