War vets face off — and play ball
|Video: Army 7th Engineer Dive Team|
By Ashley Hamershock
For The Associated Press
By Ashley Hamershock
WAIPAHU — More than 60 years after the end of World War II, a few dozen veterans from the United States and Japan traded the battlefield for the softball field.
Andy Devine, 82, a World War II veteran from Seminole, Fla., was part of the Florida-based U.S. team that gathered in Hawai'i Wednesday.
"I think it's a great thing when you consider 60-some years ago, we were shooting at each other," he said. "I'll never forget what happened, but I'll forgive."
He said he couldn't think of a better way for people from two countries to patch up old wounds than to play softball together.
Toshio Fujioka, 78, of Kyoto, made the team after he saw a plea on TV for healthy veterans who would pay their own way to Hawai'i for a softball game against American veterans.
He practiced every day since then, and called the meeting "the greatest pleasure" to recognize the bonds between fellow soldiers. He was enlisted in the Miho Navy Air Corps as a pre-trainee in 1944 and was discharged when the war ended.
The game started with a bang for the U.S. team, which led 5-0 at the end of the first inning of the seven-inning game.
American and Japanese flags hung side by side under the press box. A banner reading "Super Senior Baseball Match Between U.S. and Japan" decorated the fence behind home plate. World War II-era music floated from the loudspeakers.
The game, played at Hans L'Orange Park in Waipahu, was proposed by Sho Ishida, an independent, New York-based Japanese TV director.
Both teams — the Kids & Kubs from Florida and the Over the Rainbows from Japan — wore all white. If not for their different-colored hats, it would have been difficult to tell them apart.
Jim Archey, 77, a Korean War veteran from Clearwater, Fla., said spending several days with the Japanese veterans had changed his view of the country.
"I have an extremely different outlook on the relationship with Japan," he said. Archey said he's known intellectually that the two countries have been allies for years. But his heart hadn't caught up until this trip.
"This makes it personal," he said.
The two groups have dined together, visited through interpreters and laughed. Before the softball game, they visited Pearl Harbor together, as well as prominent cemeteries for Japanese and American veterans.
"Even though they've been very nice and polite to us, we're going to do our best to win for the U.S. today," Archey said with a wink.
Before the game started, each country's national anthem was played. The long row of white uniforms stood respectfully with their hats over their hearts for both songs. Then, they lined up on the field and shook hands, smiling and telling each other good luck.
Susumu Yasukura, 84, of Tokyo, said he's been fond of baseball for a long time, but had been more of a swimmer than a ball player for about 15 years until he decided to play in this game.
"Baseball is hard practice," he said.
Despite all the practice, the Americans won handily, 14-2.
"My impression?" Yasukura said after the game. "It's completely, we lose."
He laughed. "But much enjoy. I'm happy."
Devine grinned, "We won. I told you we'd win."
But it was fun, too.
"It was a historic game," he said.
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