Tuesday , 19 November 2019

U.S., Japan Honor Fallen Vets in Whiskey-Pouring Ceremony

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Many ceremonies are held each year around the anniversary of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks to pay tribute to the nation’s military and remind all Americans that we shall never forget their efforts during World War II.

From left: Japanese WWII pilot Shiro Wakita, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, Army Air Forces Col. Jack Detour and Army Air Forces Capt. Jerry Yellin pour whiskey from the sacred blackened canteen into the waters of Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona Memorial Dec. 6, 2016. DoD photo by Katie Lange
From left: Japanese WWII pilot Shiro Wakita, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, Army Air Forces Col. Jack Detour and Army Air Forces Capt. Jerry Yellin pour whiskey from the sacred blackened canteen into the waters of Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona Memorial Dec. 6, 2016. DoD photo by Katie Lange

One of the most interesting commemorations might be the Blackened Canteen Ceremony.

This year, two American heroes took part: Army Air Forces Col. Jack Detour, who piloted bombers during the war, including in New Guinea, Okinawa and the Philippines; and Army Air Forces fighter pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin, who escorted bombers to the Japanese mainland during the war and also flew the last combat mission on Aug. 14, 1945, the day the war ended.

The Blackened Canteen sits ready to be poured into Pearl Harbor. DoD photo by Katie Lange
The Blackened Canteen sits ready to be poured into Pearl Harbor. DoD photo by Katie Lange

One of the coolest parts of the ceremony, though, was that there was one other pilot there – Shiro Wakita, who flew missions for the Japanese Imperial Navy.

That’s part of what makes the ceremony so fantastic – that both American and Japanese veterans take part to remember those who were lost during the war, as well as to continue to highlight the peace and reconciliation that our two countries now share.

So what’s it all about, and why did the tradition begin?

The Blackened Canteen Ceremony focuses on one item – a blackened canteen that was recovered from a B-29 Superfortress that collided with another B-29 over the city of Shizuoka, one of Japan’s larger cities, during a U.S. bombing run on June 19, 1945. The crash caused the deaths of 23 American airmen, as well as about 2,000 Japanese civilians.

Crash Lore

According to history, a Japanese farmer named Fukumatsu Ito witnessed the crash and rushed up Sengen Hill, the crash site, to help the American victims. He was able to pull a few of the airmen from the wreckage, but they all died. Out of respect, he buried them among the Japanese citizens of Shizuoka who were also killed during the raid.

Several members of Yokota Air Base, Japan, pay their respects during the B-29 remembrance ceremony held in Shizuoka, Japan, by pouring whiskey on the shrine. Air Force photo by Airman John D. Partlow
Several members of Yokota Air Base, Japan, pay their respects during the B-29 remembrance ceremony held in Shizuoka, Japan, by pouring whiskey on the shrine. Air Force photo by Airman John D. Partlow

Shortly after the crash, Ito built monuments at the top of Sengen Hill, hoping to promote peace between our two nations.

What’s the Tradition?

The only item that was really recoverable in the wreckage was a blackened canteen that still bore the handprint of one of the fallen airmen. It’s become a cherished relic to both countries.

Air Force Col. Todd Freece (right), and Dr. Hiroya Sugano, the host of the annual B-29 remembrance ceremony, pay respects in front of a shrine in Shizuoka, Japan, June 11, 2011. Air Force photo by Airman John D. Partlow
Air Force Col. Todd Freece (right), and Dr. Hiroya Sugano, the host of the annual B-29 remembrance ceremony, pay respects in front of a shrine in Shizuoka, Japan, June 11, 2011. Air Force photo by Airman John D. Partlow

The Blackened Canteen Ceremony represents a peace offering of sorts, one that was started in 1972 by Dr. Hiroya Sugano, who had been inspired as a child by what Ito had done.

Unofficially, the ceremony begins in June, as it takes places in both locations – Shizuoka and Pearl Harbor. At Shizuoka, service members from Japan and the U.S. make their way to the Sengen Hill monuments and pour bourbon whiskey from the canteen onto the B-29 monument, symbolizing a final drink shared with their departed comrades.

Dr. Hiroya Sugano, the host of the Blackened Canteen ceremony, share moments with two World War II Army Air Forces pilots; Col. Jack Detour (left), and Capt. Jerry Yellin. DoD photo by Katie Lange
Dr. Hiroya Sugano, the host of the Blackened Canteen ceremony, shares moments with two World War II Army Air Forces pilots; Col. Jack Detour (left), and Capt. Jerry Yellin. DoD photo by Katie Lange

The canteen is then brought to Pearl Harbor, where the same actions are performed at the USS Arizona Memorial to remember all of those who died on U.S. soil. Sugano has hosted every ceremony since they began decades ago.

Detour, Yellin and Wakita all helped Sugano pour the whiskey into the harbor. The men, who had been enemies 75 years ago, shook hands afterward.

It was a powerful symbol of the horrors of war, as well as reconciliation and communication – something all generations must understand.

“Thinking of the younger generations – so many of you that are here may be questioning why we do this,” said Ken DeHoff Jr., the executive director of the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor. “It’s to learn to communicate together – to have the opportunity to not only use today’s technology to share a message but to take that message and communicate it to each other so that we never experience a crash like one that happened on June 20, 1945, or a war that was started Dec. 7, 1941.”

Names of the fallen on the wall of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. DoD photo by Katie Lange
Names of the fallen on the wall of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. DoD photo by Katie Lange

So why whiskey?

“The whiskey is really the water of life,” said Daniel Martinez, USS Arizona Memorial chief historian, at last year’s ceremony. “For the Japanese, the highest honor is to pour whiskey, American whiskey, as a part of home. To pour it on the stone that’s in Shizuoka and here at the USS Arizona Memorial, as it falls into the water it’s a way of extending the hand of friendship, forgiveness and peace.”

A small portion of the USS Arizona can be seen from atop the water of Pearl Harbor as the sun rises Dec. 6, 2016. DoD photo by Katie Lange
A small portion of the USS Arizona can be seen from atop the water of Pearl Harbor as the sun rises Dec. 6, 2016. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Follow the Department of Defense on Facebook and Twitter!

———-

Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.