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Thinking of our veterans

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
I got this in an email, I've read it before, and it always brings tears to my eyes. It seems appropriate for our 4th of July celebrations, to stop and think of all of our military personnel.

Former Enemies

Some years ago, while leading a church group on a tour of
Pearl Harbor, I stood among the clergy and their spouses in the
gleaming white-arched and covered Memorial above the USS Arizona. One
minister in our group, a man from Maine, had been there on December
7th, 1941 - the day the Japanese flew in to sink our Pacific Naval
Fleet. He had not been aboard the Arizona, but his ship had also been
hit. He described vividly the horror of being aboard the flaming and
sinking vessel as bullets flew and bombs roared.

As I listened, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a
Japanese tourist entering the Memorial. It was the man's fine
clothes - long tie, buttoned sports jacket, and shiny brown lace-up
shoes - that initially attracted my attention. In Hawaii,
professionals like lawyers, corporate executives, soldiers and
ministers seldom, if ever, wear ties or jackets. Even network
television news anchors wear open-collared aloha shirts. This man,
dressed as he was, stood out.

Two women walked with him. The older one I took to be his
wife, the other perhaps an older daughter. Both wore conservative
dresses and fancy shoes. The man appeared to be in his sixties, and
while he may have spoken English, I only heard him speak Japanese.

In his left hand, he carried, almost shyly, an ornate and obviously
costly multi-flowered wreath about eighteen inches across.
Our group's veteran continued to speak as we clustered around
him. He described being caught below deck: feeling disoriented as the
ship took on water where he stood, fire coming from above and the
smoke stealing his breath. His buddy lay dead at his feet as the
young sailor struggled in the darkness to escape, fear and adrenaline
propelling him to the surface.

Everyone in our group was so engrossed in his story, that no
one, except for me, noticed the Japanese tourist and his family who
walked quite near to us. As I watched, the tourist stopped, turned to
his wife and daughter and spoke to them. They stood quietly, almost

Then the man straightened his tie, first at the neck and
then near the belt, and tugged at the hem of his jacket. As if in
preparation, he squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and then
exhaled. Alone, he somberly stepped forward toward the railing at the
water's edge above the sunken warship.

The other tourists swirled around him. From what I could see
and hear, they were apparently all Americans. They were talking,
laughing, looking, asking questions; some were listening to our
minister's story, but none seemed aware of the tourist who had
captured my attention.

I don't believe the Japanese man understood the minister's
words. As I listened to one man and watched the other, the Japanese
tourist came to the rail, bowed at the waist, and then stood erect.
He began to speak; I heard his words but could not comprehend then.

However from his tone and the look on his face, I felt their meaning. His manner conveyed so many things at once - confession, sorrow, hurt, honor, dignity, remorse and benediction.

When he had finished his quiet prayer, he gravely dropped the
flowered wreath into the seawater - the same water the minister kept
mentioning in his reminiscence - and watched as the wreath floated
away on the tide. The man struggled to remain formal, to keep face,
but his tears betrayed him. I guessed he must have been a soldier, a
warrior of the air, whose own plane had showered the bombs and
bullets that had torn through our soldiers, sinking their ships.

It struck me that he had come on a pilgrimage of repentance, not to our government, but to the gravesite of those young men whose lives he had taken in the name of war. Stepping backward one pace, the Japanese veteran then closed his eyes and bowed again, very deeply, and very slowly from the waist. Then he stood tall, turned around and rejoined his family.

His deed done, they began to leave. All the while, our minister veteran continued his narrative. He and the group were oblivious to the poignant counterpoint occurring behind them. But I was not the only American to witness the Japanese man's actions. As I watched his family leave, I noticed another American step away from the wall on which he had been leaning.

He was dressed casually, and wore a red windbreaker with the VFW emblem on it. He had a potbelly, thinning hair and held his hat in his hand. I assumed the man was a WW II veteran. 'Perhaps he had served in the Pacific,' I thought, and was himself on a pilgrimage.
As the Japanese family walked by him, the American stepped
directly into their path, blocking their way. I immediately tensed,
fearing a confrontation.

The startled Japanese tourist, who had been deep in thought, stopped short, surprise and sorrow mixed on his face. His family, eyes on the ground, stopped abruptly, then crowded closer around him.

But the American simply stood at attention, once again a strong, straight-backed soldier. Then he raised his right hand slowly and stiffly to his forehead, saluting his former enemy. The American
remained in salute until the Japanese, with dawning understanding,
returned the gesture. As the tourists milled by, the two men stood as
if alone, joined by their shared pain, glories, honors and memories,
until the American, while remaining at attention, slowly lowered his
arm and formally stepped backward one pace.

The Japanese tourist, when his arms were both once again at his side, bowed formally to the man in front of him. To my surprise, the American returned the honor. Neither said a word. Neither had to. Their solemn faces wet with tears, expressed to each other in a universal language what could never have been said in words. I watched as the two men, their reconciliation complete, went their separate ways, united in a way I had never imagined possible.

By Peter Baldwin Panagore
From the new Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul by Jack Canfield,
Mark Victor Hansen and Sid Slagter.
post #2 of 7
What a touching story. Thanks for sharing that.
post #3 of 7
Wiping a tear from my eye That was beautiful, thanks for posting it.
post #4 of 7
That was lovely, Bren1. Thank you.
post #5 of 7
Thanks for making me weepy at work!

Honestly - that was very moving.
post #6 of 7
Very moving. I've got a huge lump in my throat right now. Thanks for sharing that.
post #7 of 7
That was beautiful
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