PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Whiskey slowly pours from the charred canteen as it splashes against the hallowed waters surrounding the USS Arizona memorial. Sharply dressed men, whose countries years ago were mortal enemies, solemnly stare at the water as the two liquids meet.
U.S. and Japanese military members and civilians observe the annual Blackened Canteen ceremony in commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day, at the USS Arizona Memorial, Dec. 6.
In June of 1945 over Shizouka, Japan, two B-29s collided mid-air, killing the 23 Americans on board. The morning after the wreckage, Fukumatsu Itoh recovered a blackened canteen, bearing what is thought to be the handprint of its former owner.
Hiroya Sugano, M.D, a child at the time, whose family lived through the bombings, was also at the wreckage the same day, but wouldn’t meet Itoh until some time later.
Itoh, a devout Buddhist, began an annual ceremony to honor those who lost their lives during the war. It began with a prayer and was followed by pouring bourbon whiskey from the canteen onto the crash site. Itoh’s devout fortitude throughout the years had a great impact on Sugano. Before Itoh passed away, Sugano promised to carry on the tradition, which he has faithfully executed since 1972.
“I personally feel that consoling and paying respect to the souls of all of the fallen, regardless of who they are, is the first step toward international reconciliation and world peace,” said Sugano. “I truly feel that my prayer has been answered.”
The commemoration is a moment for attendees to observe continued peace between the two nations and honor the victims of the events that took place during the war.
“I’m so sad that we lost a generation of our most promising young folks to war,” said retired Lt. Col. Gary Meyers, a volunteer at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. “But then I’m happy that I see this appeasement of former enemies. This represents reconciliation at its finest.”
After emptying the canteen, flower petals were dropped into the waters representing the lost service members, “Taps” was played and benedictions said. The boat moored back into the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center and the guests dispersed, each with a new understanding for how far the two countries have come.