Japanese WWII pilots in Hawaii to commemorate Midway battle
• Photo gallery: Zero pilots visit Pacific Aviation Museum
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
FORD ISLAND — Sixty-eight years ago, after he had taken part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Imperial Japanese Navy pilot Kaname Harada was on the tail of American pilots off Midway Atoll.
Harada's Zero fighter shot down five American torpedo bombers. But history was turning against Harada — and Japan.
Historian Dan King said Harada flew off the aircraft carrier Soryu, but that ship was then hit by U.S. aircraft and he was diverted to the carrier Hiryu for landing.
Harada jumped into the cockpit of another Zero, and shortly after takeoff, "he looks back and he sees the Hiryu explode," King said.
The four Japanese aircraft carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor only six months before were sunk in the Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942.
After Midway, the U.S. took the offensive in the Pacific.
Harada, now 94, and nine other Japanese World War II aviators were on a different mission yesterday in Hawai'i — relating the history in the pivotal battle of the former enemies and now longtime allies.
The Japanese veterans and family members were guests of honor at the Pacific Aviation Museum-Pearl Harbor for a Midway Symposium.
"This is exactly what the museum is like — it's a living museum," said executive director Ken DeHoff. "We live in an era where the stories are still coming out of the mouths of the people who participated in them. So having a different side of the story here adds so much more depth and wealth to what we're doing at the museum."
More than 100 people, including World War II veterans from the United States and Japan, visited Midway Atoll to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the battle.
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is owned and administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The atoll is about 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu.
The Japanese veterans followed up the commemoration at Midway with the visit to O'ahu.
There were an estimated 2,500 Japanese casualties in the Battle of Midway. The U.S. had approximately 300 losses.
Among the "Unabarakai Association" of enlisted fliers at the Pacific Aviation Museum yesterday, in addition to Harada, were Saburo Kawabe, Isamu Iwakura and Jiro Yoshida.
The latter three World War II veterans are all 85, officials said.
Speaking through an interpreter, Harada said he was a pilot in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
King, the historian who went to Midway with the Japanese veterans, said the Zero fighter flown by Harada was heavily armed and had little pilot protection.
"It's a flying gun, is what it is," King said. The aircraft had 20mm cannons and 7.7mm machine guns, he said.
Harada had graduated from Imperial Navy flight school at the top of his class in 1937, and the achievement was so notable the emperor gave him a silver pocket watch, King said.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Harada was flying combat air patrol off of Hawai'i and did not participate in the attacks on O'ahu.
"He was mad when the assignments came out," King said, because the Japanese pilots favored attack over defense.
In the Battle of Midway, Harada downed the five American aircraft and then realized that both the aircraft carriers Soryu and Hiryu had been damaged, King said.
The pilot, low on fuel, ditched the aircraft in the wake of a Japanese destroyer, which didn't stop, King said. Harada spent four hours in the water with a float vest before he was spotted by another Japanese ship and plucked from the waves.
Harada was shot down and wounded at Guadalcanal, but not before amassing nine solo kills and 10 shared kills, King said.