- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

HONOLULU (AP) — Sixty-five years ago, Takeshi Maeda and John Rauschkolb tried to kill each other at Pearl Harbor. This week, now both 85, they met face to face for the first time — and shook hands.

The Japanese veteran gripped Mr. Rauschkolb’s arm with his left hand and hesitated, as if searching for the right words. Then he said, “I’m sorry.”

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy navigator guided his Kate bomber to Pearl Harbor and fired a torpedo that helped sink the USS West Virginia.

Mr. Rauschkolb, a Navy signalman, stood on the West Virginia’s port side as a series of Japanese planes pummeled the battleship with torpedoes and bombs. The West Virginia lost 106 men in the assault.

“He may have been shooting at me,” Mr. Rauschkolb said as he shook Mr. Maeda’s hand.

Overcoming the legacy of the attack, the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor and the Americans who survived the attack are coming together during a five-day series of Pearl Harbor attack anniversary observations in Hawaii.

Some, like Mr. Maeda and Mr. Rauschkolb, shake hands spontaneously after being introduced.

Others are doing so before crowds in a symbolic show of peace, like the Japanese and American World War II aviators scheduled to attend the opening of the new Pacific Aviation Museum today.

A significant share of veterans from both countries say they respect each other as professional military men who fought for their countries. Now in their 80s and 90s, they don’t want to live burdened with hatred and want to die with peace in their hearts.

Mr. Rauschkolb, who had to swim under burning fuel to escape bullets being fired at him from a Japanese Zero fighter, said “it’s difficult to accept” shaking hands with someone who fired a torpedo at his ship.

But he never thought, even during World War II, of hating his Japanese foes.

“I’ve never held anything against them,” said Mr. Rauschkolb, wearing a white aloha shirt and his Pearl Harbor survivors cap. “They were doing their job. I was doing my job.”

Not all veterans can bring themselves to put the past behind them. For some, the memories are too painful and their loyalty to fallen comrades too strong for them to reach out.

Don Stratton, a USS Arizona sailor who suffered burns over 60 percent to 70 percent of his body, said embracing the Japanese who carried out the attack is out of the question.

More than 1,100 died aboard the Arizona, accounting for almost half of the 2,390 Americans killed that day.

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