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Sat, Jun 05, 2004

WWII Japanese Fighter Pilots Visit Nimitz

Japanese fighter pilots from World War II toured USS Nimitz (CVN 68) May 18 as part of the last international grand reunion of the Unabara-kai (Japanese Imperial Navy Surviving Aviator’s Association).

Carrying the Japanese Rising Sun flag, the veterans and their family members boarded the ship, followed by Japanese reporters who were there to capture the momentous event.

The sheer size of the carrier took many by surprise. One of the former pilots, Kaname Harada, who flew the famous A6M2 Zero, said the carrier was three times the size of the ships he recalls.

“It’s so huge that I can’t believe it’s a ship,” he said speaking through an interpreter.

“It looks like it should be part of the ground like a building. It’s hard to imagine that it can float.”

Harada also commented on how young the majority of the Sailors were that he encountered aboard the carrier. “They are the age of my grandchildren,” he said. “It makes me feel my age.”

Before departing the ship, the members of Unabara-kai and their families purchased ship’s memorabilia. The white Japanese Navy hats the pilots wore upon boarding the ship were replaced by blue and gold ball caps of Nimitz.

"I think it's great the pilots got to come see our ship," said Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class (SW/AW) Branden Baker, a Nimitz Sailor. "Sixty years after WWII, they got to come aboard and see firsthand the advances in naval aviation technology."

The Unabara-kai pilots were visiting Southern California for a week in order to spread goodwill. They were scheduled to meet with American pilots of WWII for a reconciliation handshaking as part of the association’s reunion.

[ANN Thanks Journalist 3rd Class (SW) Kristine DeHoux, USS Nimitz Public Affairs]

FMI: www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn68

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