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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 5, 2004

R.I. Fiske, Pearl Harbor survivor, dead at 82

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Richard I. Fiske, a World War II veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and the battle of Iwo Jima, died Friday in his home.

Richard Fiske made peace with Zenji Abe, a former Japanese pilot who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fiske also served on Iwo Jima, which he described as "36 straight days of Pearl Harbor."

Advertiser library photo • Dec. 6, 2000

He was 82 years old.

Fiske's son, Richard E. Fiske, said yesterday his father was ill for a few weeks and died quickly and peacefully at his Mo'ili'ili home.

The elder Fiske, born in Boston, was the son of a career military man and had begun his military career as a Marine. He was 19 years old in 1941 and a bugler serving his first assignment after boot camp and field music school aboard the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor. He was on the quarterdeck the morning of Dec. 7, the day nine Japanese torpedoes and two aerial bombs crashed into the battleship.

At his battle station, Fiske saw his captain killed. When the order came to abandon ship, he swam to Ford Island. The West Virginia sank in 12 minutes.

Fiske was later promoted to Field Music Sergeant and was transferred to the 5th Marine Division. His bugle was taken away and he was made an assistant platoon leader.

He was with the 5th Marine Division in February 1945 in the battle for Iwo Jima, an 8-square-mile Pacific island. The fighting went on for 36 days and exacted a huge human toll: 6,800 Americans dead and more than 19,000 wounded. Of 20,000 Japanese defenders, only 1,083 survived.

Fiske once described Iwo Jima as "36 straight days of Pearl Harbor."

After the war, Fiske enlisted in the newly established U.S. Air Force in 1948 after completing aircraft and engine school and also receiving his private pilot's certificate. He also served during the Korean and Vietnam wars as a crew chief on KC-97 and KC-135 aircraft. Sgt. Fiske retired from the Air Force in 1973 as a master sergeant.

Fiske had been a volunteer at the Arizona Memorial since 1982. In January, he was among 10 volunteers honored by U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Hawai'i Gov. Linda Lingle for contributing more than 3,000 hours of his time to the memorial.

Before his death, Fiske made peace with the enemy of his youth, becoming friends with Zenji Abe, a Japanese dive-bomber pilot who had participated in the second wave of attacks on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of the West Virginia.

Abe, too, had made a career of the military, retiring as an admiral. In 1991, on Abe's third trip to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona, he gave Fiske $300 and asked him to lay two roses at the memorial each month, one for him and one for Fiske. He also asked Fiske to play taps.

Fiske promised to continue the tribute for as long as he lived.

He kept his word, his son said.

In addition to his son, Fiske is survived by his wife of 58 years, Carmen Fiske; his daughters, Peggy Bundek and Ginny Kawamura; and a granddaughter and a grandson.

Funeral services are pending.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.