One of the World War II vets was a former U.S. Air Force flight engineer who was captured, tortured and confined in a Japanese POW camp.
The other WW II vet was a former 16-year-old Japanese Army Air Force pilot who was days away from his solo and last flight as a Kamikaze pilot—a suicide bomber.
On August 14, 1945—the official end of World War II—both men were sworn enemies.
But on Tuesday, 67 years to the date that World War II ended when Japan surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces, the two men sat together on a stage at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas before a crowd of 750 people and professed their friendship and forgiveness of one another and their respective governments.
“Japan was under militaristic rule,” said Mitsuhara (Bill) Nagase, the former Kamikaze pilot who came to the U.S. at age 23 under the sponsorship of a U.S. Air Force Colonel to attend Texas Christian University. “When you wear the uniform of the Japanese army, you were no longer a private citizen. We didn’t mind dying for our country. We were brainwashed.”
If it were not for President Truman’s decision to drop two Atom bombs on Japan, the war would have most certainly ended his life in the Japanese POW camp run by the Japanese Kempei Tai military police, said Fiske Hanley II, who was posted with the 504th Bomb Group in the Pacific Campaign.
“The Kempei did not follow the rules of humanity in how they treated us,” said Hanley, saying his captors were worse than the Nazi Gestapo.
Both men—the U.S. airman and the Japanese pilot—would end up working at General Dynamics in Fort Worth when, in the 1970s, a chance meeting put them in the same office for what both described as a few awkward moments.
“Once Fiske spoke to me and asked me about my story, well, the rest is history,” said Nagase.
Over the ensuing years, the two one-time enemies in battle became best friends, sharing family stories and military experiences. “We forgave each other,” Fiske said.
Fiske told the story of inviting Nagase to a reunion in Wichita Falls, Texas of some battle-hardened U.S. Marines who fought on the Island of Iwo Jima where Japanese treatment of U.S. POWS during World War II was horrific. “I warned Bill that these guys had not forgiven the Japanese as I had done,” said Fiske. “He was more than a little nervous on the ride up there.”
But when Nagase entered the room to meet the former Iwo Jima Marines, “It was love at first sight," said Fiske. "The guys liked Bill so much that they invited him to be their speaker at their next reunion.”
Daughters of World War II sponsored the program, which the C-SPAN History channel taped and will air later this month.