The Blackened Canteen Ceremony – December 6, 2016

Dr. Hiroya Sugano - Blackened Canteen Ceremony - December 6, 2016

Dr. Hiroya Sugano – Blackened Canteen Ceremony – December 6, 2016

This year’s Blackened Canteen Ceremony was co-hosted by the National Park Service and the Pacific Aviation Museum and the NPS Chief Historian, Daniel Martinez oversaw the entire event of remembrance and reconciliation. The ceremony was both poignant in its meaning and solemn in its delivery. From the Buddhist Monk to the Rabbi who said prayers, there was a significant feeling of loss, remembrance, and the coming together of  peoples of different cultures. This event symbolized the rebirth of friendship and peace in the world that rose out of the ashes of World War II. It also showed me personally that there is a path to peace and understanding between all peoples regardless of background or ethnicity.

Taken from the bulletin of today’s event. This spells out exactly why there is a blackened canteen event and what significance it has played through the years in bringing about peace and reconciliation between once enemies. Jerry Yellin, former P-51 fighter pilot during WWII, and Dr. Hiroya Sugano lead a wonderful celebration of life and remembrance along with the tossing of plumeria blossoms into the waters of Pearl Harbor as offerings to the spirits of the fallen.

From the bulletin:

On the night of June 20, 1945, while on a bombing raid over Shizuoka, Japan, two U. S. Army Air Forces’ B-29s from the 314th Bomb Wing collided and crashed, killing 23 crewmen. In the same raid, over 2,000 Shizuoka citizens also died.

The Blackened Canteen from the crashed American B-29 Bomber

The Blackened Canteen from the crashed American B-29 Bomber. Picture by Stan Cromlish

Dr. Hiroya Sugano, a child at the time, and his family lived through the raid. He visited the crash site the next morning. Another person at the scene was Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh. Mr. Itoh had pulled two of the American airmen from the wreckage who were still alive, but they died shortly thereafter. Mr. Itoh also retrieved a blackened canteen from the wreckage which appeared to bear the handprint of its former owner.

Being a devout Buddhist, Mr. Itoh gave the American crewmen a proper burial along side the local residents who had also died. For his selfless act of compassion, Mr. Itoh was roundly condemned by the local citizenry, he bore the hatred silently.

He began conducting a modest annual ceremony to honor those who had paid the ultimate price that war often exacts. A silent prayer was offered and bourbon whiskey was poured from the blackened canteen onto the crash site memorial as an offering to the spirits of the fallen, both Japanese and American. Eventually, Dr. Sugano met Mr. Itoh. His display of courage and benevolence had a great impact on Dr. Sugano, and before Mr. Itoh died, Dr. Sugano promised to carry on the tradition which he has done faithfully and selflessly using his own funds since 1972…

2016 marks the 25th year that Dr. Sugano has attended the December 7th commemoration at Pearl Harbor. When the occasion has permitted, he has sometimes conducted an unobtrusive, semi-private ceremony at the Memorial in the company of close friends.

For the past six years, with the official recognition, support, and generous hospitality of the National Pars Service, Dr. Sugano has been able to share the poignant story of the Blackened Canteen with visitors from around the world. He is deeply appreciative for having been given this opportunity by the National Park Service.

The battered canteen which rose from the ashes of a wartime tragedy has since become an inspiration for peace. Its blackness and heat-distorted shape represent the inevitability of conflict. Yet its presence represents eternal hope for a future of peaceful understanding and reconciliation between former enemies. It is a symbol of the courage and determination of one man. Dr. Sugano likes to think that Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh’s spirit remains always beside him and the Blackened Canteen.

The ceremony took place this morning, December 6, 2016, at 7:00am. Pictures from the event appear in the slideshow.

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